I was able to see everyone I knew in Kona as well. Amy Farrell - Very tippy-top AG athlete who is from the same town as my husband's parents and went to college with me despite us not knowing each other. Justin Ehring - PPT athlete from Philadelphia who once helped me get through the worst tri camp I've ever had. Russell Marks - A friend of my best tri friend who races on the Rev3 Team and captured an emotional roll down spot at IMLP. And Laura Straub - The girl who took the other spot in our AG at Maryland and who has become a friend and training buddy. I learned that Russell also hadn't tackled the Queen K by bike yet so he and I made plans to meet up and go out together after a quick swim to the coffee barge.
At this point, my race plan was destroyed and I needed to find a way to get to the finish. Jack jumped in a ran with me for a few feet early on and I couldn't stop apologizing; if there's anyone who would never be upset, it's Jack, but he's also the person who knew what we were capable of doing in Kona and I felt sad for him too. Just finishing this race was never the plan - going for a top AG spot was. I held pretty good pacing from aid station to aid station, but walked each one, trying to eat anything that I could - luckily everything stayed down. At Mile 11, Amy gave me a huge shout out as she was finishing up her final mile. I saw Laura headed out to start the run and I knew instantly she'd had a day much like mine. Then somewhere on the Queen K I ran into Russell. We stopped, chatted for a few minutes, mostly just incoherent spoutings of "WTF!?" A high five from Justin just before the Energy Lab got my spirits back up. And then it happened, right as I dropped into the Energy Lab; a huge aid station with some good music. I started smiling, dancing, and running the paces I intended to from the start. Night fell pretty quickly and my pace naturally slowed in the dark. Unlike other races I've seen, you are 100% on your own after dark on the Queen K. There are no lights other than the distant glow of the next aid station and competitors who were smart enough to have illumination. I continued walking aid stations and even just walked because someone looked like they needed a friend. I walked with one woman who was doing her 9th Kona. She asked where my flashlight was. Trying not to sound like a jerk, I said that my day hadn't gone as planned, and I didn't prepare to be out this late. She asked if it was my first time in Kona, I said yes. She started laughing, "Oh sweetie, rookies always finish in the dark." I know this isn't true as I've had friends with great results here in their first year, but it made me smile.
As I neared the final 2 miles I picked up the pace. I knew it was downhill and that I'd be able to stop moving as soon as I got there. I was thrilled to see my family and Jack with a mile to go and then again at the finish. My finisher photo says it all, overjoyed to have been given this amazing opportunity. Ten minutes later in the hotel tells a more accurate story.
Digesting this race has been hard. I have friends that want to celebrate the accomplishment, and I've struggled to see what there is to celebrate because I've only focused on what went wrong, not what went right. It's probably what makes me a good athlete, but also fails to let me see the forest for the trees. But I keep thinking of Johnny Agar quoting John Maxwell in the 2016 Kona NBC show, "Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn." Well, I learned a lot in Kona. I learned that I'm tougher than I think I am. I learned that the Ironman slogan is true, "Anything (including really crappy stuff) is Possible." I learned that my ego shouldn't dictate what I pack in special needs bags. I learned that dreams become reality. And while the reality may not be the vision you had in your dream, the dream was still realized. I learned that a few BLs and a pizza can fix most problems. I learned that I'm more loved than any human deserves.
I gave it what I had, I got to go to a place many people don't get to voluntarily explore. I got to have a gut check in a safe environment, on my terms. I wasn't forced to be tough because I was facing tragedy, illness, or injury and that's the most valuable learning experience one could ask for.
Until next time, Madame Pele...until next time.