Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ironman World Championships Hawaii 2009


I flew into Kona five days before the race on Monday October 5. I’d never been to Hawaii before and landing in Kona I experienced that sweet feeling of excitement and anticipation. I remember feeling the same way when I landed in the United States (JFK) for the first time as a foreign exchange student more than 9 years ago.

After a short cab ride, I checked into the 2BR condo that I was renting for nearly 2 weeks a couple miles away from downtown. Once settled in, I jogged down to the swim start and did a short 30 minute swim. The bay was pretty choppy on that first evening, but other athletes around me assured me that it is usually much smoother in the morning. I finished the evening with an obligatory visit to Lava Java for a smoothie and an awesome sunset.


On Tue morning I took a longer swim (around 1 hour). When I was just about ready to turn around, I found myself, along with 3 or 4 other swimmers, surrounded by hundreds of dolphins. They were swimming, playing, jumping and doing flips all around us. There were literally on the order of a hundred. They would swim as close as within one meter from me. It was one of the most incredible moments in my life. I swam back to the shore very happy. After the swim, I picked up my race packet and put together my bike.


That night was the Ironman Parade of Nations. I didn’t know what to expect, but I figured I’d come down and check it out. I saw different countries gathering in the parking lot behind the host hotel. I found Slovenia, Ukraine and Poland, but didn’t see Russia anywhere. Turns out, I was the only representative of Russia at the event. When there’re less than three representatives for a country, they don’t even have a flag and a sign prepared for you, so I had to put together a homemade sign. I got a lot of cheers during the Parade as the only Russian :)


Wednesday and Thursday flew by – I kept waking up on Seattle time at 4am local time, working remotely for a few hours, then sneaking out for a short swim, ride or run, eating lunch and working some more in the afternoon. My boyfriend arrived on Wednesday and my Mom and her husband Boris arrived on Thursday. They were all really accommodating of my last minute pre-race needs as well my dietary requests and schedule. My family made T-shirts with “Go Lilia!” and an awesome star logo, but unfortunately their luggage got stuck in London. It didn’t arrive till Monday. So they didn’t get a chance to wear them for the race. Nice work, British Airways! :(


Thursday night we went to the pre-race banquet. It was very inspiring to see Rudy Garcia-Tolson speak. He is the first double amputee to race at the Ironman World Championships pedaling a regular bike with prosthetic legs (as opposed to a handcycle). The story of Kyle Garlett was another amazing story of overcoming a lot of odds to compete in Kona. Kyle has won a battle with cancer more than once, however, all the chemo therapy made his heart really weak and he had to have a heart transplant exactly three years ago on October 10. Finally Matt Hoover, the winner of the Biggest Loser was also to compete on Saturday. The oldest competitors were 80 and 79 years old respectively for Male and Female. The youngest Female and Male competitors were both 20 years old.

On Friday morning, I packed my race bags. This process went much faster this time than in Coeur D’Alene. I had a TYR speed suit for the swim portion, thanks to my friend Rhae (who kicked major butt in Kona and came in as the 3rd overall AG woman). I decided to use my regular road helmet after finding my aero helmet way too hot for the conditions. The T1 bag had my bike shoes, socks, race belt, tri top and sun glasses in it. T2 bag had running shoes, a pair of dry socks (that came in handy), a hat, a running shirt and some awesome pink shades. I put some shot blocks and a spare tube + CO2 in the bike special needs bag, and I didn’t use the run special needs bag. I went for the last 3 short workouts – 20 minute swim, 25 minute ride and a 15 min run, before checking in my bike and gear bags. On the way into the transition there were representatives of all bike, components, seat posts, aero bars and helmet manufacturers. Each was counting their respective bikes and other gear represented at the race as the athletes went by.

My current goggles started leaking in the last few weeks (again!) and I made a stupid decision to try some new goggles on that last swim, AquaSphere Vista – they are top of the line goggles made from silicone unlike the cheaper goggles that I’d been swimming in. They fit very well, so I went ahead and bought them. On Saturday I learned the original Ironman commandment the hard way. Don’t ever try anything new on race day!

I drank lots of Gatorade throughout the day and enjoyed a pre-race meal consisting of pasta with veggies and Yves veggie protein and went to bed around 9pm.

Race morning

I woke up at 3:45am. I had some coffee, mango juice, banana and a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast. My pre-race routine consisted of taking a quick shower (kind of silly to take a shower before an Ironman, huh? Well, it helps me wake up), putting on sunscreen (yes, it probably all comes off in the swim, but I still do it before every race), body glide, putting on my race clothes, braiding my hair. After doing the final sanity check to make sure I had everything I needed in my pre-swim and my bike special needs bags, I was ready to head down to the race. Boris drove me down to the start at 4:30.


I got body-marked and dropped off my special needs bags. Then, I headed into transition, where two volunteers helped me pump my tires. It was a father and his young son (probably around 8) who traveled from San Diego to watch the race and volunteer. I thought that was pretty cool. More Gatorade was consumed and more porter-potty line chats were had. I ran into Rhae, we wished each other luck and took a pre-race photo.

Rhae and me

My family came down to the race around 6:30. We watched the Navy seals drop from the sky together. Then, I gave my Mom my iPhone so that she could tweet in Russian while I was racing :) Finally, it was time to head towards the beach. I heard the pro gun go off and watched them speed through the water.


The entrance to the beach is pretty narrow, so it took a while for 1,700 age groupers to get into the water. Once in the water, we were supposed to swim out about 20-30 yards towards the official starting line marked by a Gatorade bottle on each end. I realized that my ankle strap with the timing chip was not tight enough and had to come back out of the water to adjust it (this is not usually a problem as all my other races have been in wetsuits). I positioned myself in the back of the pack given that I am not a strong swimmer and this was a World Championship after all. There was a volunteer catamaran nearby, so I followed the example of other back-of-the-pack swimmers around me and hung on to it until the gun instead of wasting precious energy treading water.

Swim – 1h 32m 48s


The gun went off without much warning, I started my watch and off I went. I actually had to swim around a few swimmers, so maybe I started a bit too conservative, but at least I avoided the brutality in the front of the race. It was fun to see the divers underneath. I think there were some in Coeur D’Alene too, but the water here was very clear, so you could see everything unlike CDA. On the way out I actually caught some feet and drafted for a bit which was nice. Despite the fact that my goggles fit nicely when I tried them on I had to stop and adjust them a few times throughout the swim on race day, which made me lose my draft. I didn’t let it get to me and continued on at my own pace. The turning buoy came up before I knew it, we turned right and then turn right again after we cut over about a 100 yards. I checked my watch at that point and was surprised to see that I’d been at it for almost 50 minutes. Wow! I expected to be closer to 40. But again, I just continued at my own pace and kept looking around for any dolphins or sea turtles. I didn’t get to see any – probably way too many people for them. At some point on the way back it became harder to see, particularly out of my right eye. I adjusted the goggles a couple more times and continued on. When I finally came out of the water and took my goggles off, I realized that my right eye was very swollen – that’s why I’ve been having trouble seeing.

T1 – 7m 20s

I was sconcerned about my eye, so after thoroughly rinsing off in the showers and grabbing my bike gear bag, I headed straight to the medical volunteers. They said that both of my eyes were actually swollen, but the right one was in worse shape. It apparently looked like an allergic reaction and it would go down soon. They put a few different eye drops in both of my eyes and said to come by again in T2 to take a quick look. I still don’t know what caused it for sure. I had swum for over an hour in that bay before, so I doubt it was because of the salt water. I don’t remember anyone kicking me in the face during the swim or any jelly fish stinging me. So I am guessing it was a reaction to the new material of the goggles. Dang! I guess no silicone implants in my future :P

Oh well, some temporary swelling of my eyes wasn’t going to stop me from continuing the race. A volunteer helped me put on my bike stuff – socks, shoes, tri top, race belt, sun glasses. Another volunteer spread some sunscreen all over me. I drank some water, ran to my bike, put on my helmet and I was on the bike. I got to see my Mom, Kevin and Boris as I was leaving the transition so I waved at them and they cheered me on.

Bike – 6h 54m 51s


Bike was definitely the most brutal part of the race for me. It turned out to be hillier, windier and hotter than I expected. I followed the advice of Kona veterans Mark and Rhae, and held back on the first half of the bike to make sure I don’t fall apart on the second half. I made sure my heart rate stayed between 150 and 155 (whereas in Coeur D’Alene it was definitely at least 10bpm higher on average).

My right eye was so swollen that for the first few miles I couldn’t actually see out of it. That was interesting. It got better later on though.

My stomach felt fine, so I started sipping my Carbo Pro + Nuun mix right away. I had 2 bottles of that with 400 Cal and 2 tablets of Nuun in each. I finished both of them about a third of the way through the ride. After that I switched to Gatorade. I lost count of how many bottles of Gatorade I consumed. I tried to refresh it at every aid station even if I wasn’t finished with the bottle to get the cold stuff. I also had 2 packages of Clif Shot Blocks (200 Cal each) and I grabbed one of those whenever I felt like it. I went through both packs by the end of the ride. At each aid station I would grab a cold water bottle and pour a bunch of water on my head, legs, arms and body to keep my core temperature down. It felt really nice.

Somewhere between my mile 30 and 40 I saw that first Male pro, Chris Lieto, fly by. I didn’t see much of him, but did notice that it wasn’t Craig Alexander. Then, the rest of the male pros followed along with Chrissie Wellington holding a pretty good overall position. It was awesome to see those guys! I kept looking for Rhae, but I missed her somehow. I also saw Rudy Garcia at some point and cheered “Go Rudy!” as I passed him.

The wind was strong and mostly switched between vicious headwinds and gusty side winds that almost took me out a couple times (ok, not really, but if I was using my own race wheels, 60/90 Heads, I would probably have a harder time than with the 404s that my friend Cathleen kindly landed to me). The last few miles before the turnaround were really hard with the uphill and a headwind – it was heartbreaking to look at the sub 10 numbers on the speedometer.

Instead, I cheered on the other racers that passed me or that I passed. I thanked the volunteers and the policemen whenever I had a chance and waived at the spectators. A few aid stations had some music, so I performed some fine fist pump and raising the roof action.


The turnaround (when it finally came) was very lively with lots of volunteers and spectators. I blew some air kisses at every one and happily made that U-turn. I was looking forward to the tailwind! I did get some nice tailwind for a few miles and even hit some 30+ speeds. It didn’t last too long though. As we turned back onto Queen K, came more uphill, side winds and headwinds.

I definitely consumed more liquid on this ride than I did in CDA so at some point on the way back I really needed to go to the bathroom. However, I really didn’t want to stop. My time was already going to be super slow, so I was hoping to at least keep it in check by not stopping. (Feel free to skip to the next paragraph if you don’t care for the details). I figured it’s time to try the whole pee off the bike thing. If Lance can do it, why can’t I? One thing I learned is that it’s not possible to do that while pedaling, so you have to wait for a nice downhill. Once I hit the downhill, it was easy! I felt like I joined some secret club :)

It was again really tough in the last 30 miles into town. It felt like it was mostly uphill and the headwinds were back. I just kept my positive attitude and kept cheering other people which helped me stay strong. At this point I also started to take a sip of Coke at each aid station. It felt so refreshing in that heat. We did get a break from the wind during the last few miles into town, plus seeing all the marathoners was nice. I did get to see Mirinda Carfrae running to her new Female Kona marathon record.

I feel that I executed well given the conditions. Reducing the Carbo Pro bottles from 600 in CDA to 400 was a good call. I never felt overly full and at the same time never hungry. In CDA, I consumed way too many calories in the first half, then couldn’t eat anything for about an hour which lead to being hungry at the end of the ride. Maybe, I could have pushed a bit harder, but who knows that might have killed my run.

T2 – 7m 44s

A volunteer grabbed my bike and I headed to the changing tent via a porter potty. I was happy that I packed a dry pair of socks. It was nice to put on a dry running t-shirt as well. I changed into my running shoes, put on my hat and my awesome pink shades. I asked the medics how my eyes looked. They said still swollen a bit, but much better than in T1. Off I went on the run.

Run – 3h 49m 15s


Coming out of the transition I saw my family and stopped for a second to give some hugs and kisses. Then I heard a helicopter overhead and Mike Reilly announcing that Chrissie Wellington has just finished. That was good timing! :)

I started running really strong. For the first 10 miles most of my mile splits were sub 8 minutes except for the uphill ones. I got lots of cheers from the spectators, some even yelled “Do it for Mother Russia!” – must have remembered me from the parade. I even had visions of keeping this pace and finishing a sub 3:30 marathon.

I did slow down as I went up Palani and turned onto Queen K to around 8:30 minute miles. At the aid stations, I grabbed some combination of water, Gatorade, Coke, bananas and oranges. No gels or other solids though. I also grabbed some ice and put it in my hat at the first few stations. As the sun lowered, it wasn’t quite as hot anymore and I wasn’t in danger of overheating like I was on the bike.

I watched the most beautiful sunset at the Energy Lab. After the sunset there was a fire show on the course - that was nice of them. I just kept chugging away at the miles in the dark. 20, 21, 22… I did slow down some more in the last few miles. 2 people passed me around 22 or 23. But I feel like I still held it together pretty well.

The last half a mile down Ali’i drive was magic! People are cheering like crazy. The finish line is in sights. There’s something different about the Ironman Finish Line when it’s dark outside. It makes it that much more desirable to cross it – it’s like the light at the end of the tunnel. I saw my Mom, Kevin and Boris near the finish. I stopped briefly for more hugs and kisses before I ran down the finish chute. I sped up as I finished and passed 2 people in the finish chute. I felt sort of bad, but they were moving pretty slow. Looking at the results now, they are both almost 1 minute behind me. I high-fived as many people as I could along the finish chute. I opted against the cartwheel because for some reason they build a ramp up to the finish line in Kona. I still jumped as high as I could as I came up the ramp.



I finished in 12:31:56 and felt pretty good after finishing – must have not worked hard enough :) My support crew appeared to be more tired after 12 hours in the sun. I got my finisher t-shirt, hat and medal (sadly, Chrissie Wellington wasn’t there yet giving them out). Then, I dragged my family into Fish Hopper - a restaurant with the view of the finish line. We celebrated with beers, delicious food and watched the other athletes finish.

I learned that Kyle (who had the heart transplant) didn't make the swim cutoff by a few seconds, Rudy Garcia (the double amputee) didn't make the bike cutoff by 8 minutes or so, and Matt Hoover (the Biggest Looser) didn't finish until 12:03 which means he is not an official finisher. That was really sad :( None of the big stories finished the way we were all hoping. I am sure they all will be back again...