Friday, October 26, 2018

Kona Race Report 2018: Julia Slyer

Julia Slyer out of New York is simply amazing... check out her race report from the Ironman World Championships!

Kona 2018 was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a triathlon. After a disappointing race and age group placement last year, I had a fire burning in my belly all season to punch my ticket to the big dance for the third time and get back out in the lava fields to show Madam Pele what I’ve got. I had a few setbacks early in the season, but clearly my training whipped me into shape once the summer got started. I had some spotty training in April and May as I was approaching graduation and, ahem, enjoying college life a bit as I had been so focused on training for all four years of school. I also had my first ever DNS at Rev3 Quassy 70.3, making the game time decision to pull myself due to bronchitis literally two minutes before the start.

Luckily, I ended up having a great race at Ironman Lake Placid in July, winning my age group and qualifying for Kona, as well as clocking the second fastest age group female bike split in some seriously challenging conditions (hello confidence boost!). After about two weeks of forced rest and recovery while volunteering in Cambodia (so hot, so humid, so much air pollution) I was ready to jump back into training and give the last block everything I had. I ended up getting in some amazing workouts in August and September, and I really feel I was in the best Ironman shape of my life when I got to the Big Island.

Swim – 1:10:32

I decided to line up a bit back from the front and further to the left this year to try to avoid the washing machine effect of 650+ uber-competitive women starting at once, and it seems to have helped me successfully avoid the thick of it. I only got swam over once, and even found some feet to hang onto on the way out. I started the swim feeling fantastic – a bit of a surprise considering that my swim training has been almost non-existent since IMLP (pools are the worst). However, about ¼ of the way through the swim I developed possibly the worst headache of my life. I figured it was probably from my swim cap or goggles, but having had some massive leaking issues with my goggles in all my practice swims, I didn’t want to take the chance of adjusting my goggles. I ended up pretty much leisurely swimming my way back, and was honestly expecting a much slower time. I was so happy just to get out of the water and take my goggles and cap off, and even happier to see it was still 2 minutes faster than my 2015 split!

T1 – 3:53

I rinsed under the cold showers for way longer than I normally would because the cool water felt so good on my head, and thankfully my headache went away. I grabbed my nutrition (2 gels and 3 packs of blocks) out of my bike bag, tried to get through the ridiculously crowded changing tent as fast as possible, and went down the wrong aisle to grab my bike. Cue about 5 seconds of panic when I thought someone else was out on course on my rocket bike until I spotted it.

Bike – 5:11:22 (28 minute PR!), 166 W, 21.7 mph

I was so happy to finally be out on my bike! One of my 2018 goals was to break 5:30 and I felt I had the fitness to do it on this course. I felt great immediately, although my boyfriend later informed me that I looked so slow while getting my shoes on at the very start that he thought I might actually fall over! Once I got going, I immediately started passing people. I had no idea how far back I was in my age group, but I knew I usually passed a ton of girls on the bike at Kona, so I was excited when I flew by about 10 girls in the first 15 miles or so. Turns out I’d exited the water in 28th (out of 36) in my age group, which is definitely the furthest back I’ve ever been.

I had planned to use my own liquid nutrition on the bike, alternating between Infinit and red Gatorade that I’d concentrated in my bottles, and mixed with aid station water in my aerobottle. About 30 miles in, I decided this was not going to work for the rest of the ride, as my bottles were so hot that they wouldn’t mix with the cold water. I chucked my Gatorade concentrate and went only with diluted orange Gatorade endurance for the rest of the ride, which my stomach handled much better than I expected.

I was keeping an eye on my power and heart rate, and even though my power was at the low end of the 162-172W range my coach had given me, my heart rate was pinned at 160bpm, and I felt like I was flying past the majorly drafting groups so I decided to keep taking it “easy.” I knew I hadn’t been passed by any girls in my age group, and only about 10 women passed me over the course of the entire bike. Every 10 miles I would look at my splits, realizing I was well over 20mph. Heading up to Hawi I felt great, but was mentally preparing myself for the headwind on the way back – which never came! Feeling fast but a little disappointed since my bike handling skills usually give me an advantage, I killed it on the descent.

*Drafting rant ahead.* I was then informed that a woman had been drafting on me nearly the entire first 70 miles, slow pedaling and never making a move to pass. After she was called out by the woman who informed me, she seems to have dropped back, but not after getting a 22mph pull for about 3.5 hours. Especially at this level of competition, it’s just ridiculous to blatantly cheat and take advantage of others. Do better, drafters. *End rant.*

I passed three more girls in my age group on the way back, and realized around mile 70 that I may break 5:20 for the bike split. After I passed an 18-24 girl around mile 85 and she tried to stay with me, I decided to drop the hammer the last 25 miles to put some time into her. I managed to increase my average power by 5W in a little over an hour, and felt great doing it. I was super excited by my time and I knew when I got off the bike that I was somewhere within the top 5 in my age group.

T2 – 3:09

It was nice to have an uncrowded changing tent, and the volunteers practically dressed me and got me out on Ali’i Dr. super fast. I took a gel to make up for my lack of eating on the bike and ran out smiling my head off ready for the marathon.

Run – 3:54:53, 8:53 min/mile

I started out strong on the run with 3 sub-8 minute miles, which was the pace I’d been training my long runs at, but I knew from my heart rate that I needed to slow up to avoid blowing up and losing my position. At this point my race became less about the time and more about running a smart marathon to ensure I ended up on the podium. I decided the best way to keep my heart rate down and stay cool was to walk the aid stations, so that became the game plan for the rest of the run.

After drinking Gatorade Endurance for most of the bike, I couldn’t even think about drinking it on the run as well. I stuck to water and Coke, taking some Base salt a few times, and dumping ice down my kit and water on my head to stay “cool.” I knew it wasn’t going to be my fastest marathon but I was still feeling pretty good until I got out onto the Queen K around mile 8 and started dry heaving every time I had liquids. Not the most fun way to spend a marathon.

Heading in to the Energy Lab my legs were feeling good still. I saw at the turn around that I was running in 4th, with one of the girls ahead of me walking, and 5th place fairly close behind me still running strong. At this point it became a game of not getting caught while realizing I still needed to run my own race and not blow up or mentally freak out. I managed to pass a girl who was walking for 3rd at mile 23, and just pushed as hard as I could to the finish without looking back. Turns out I beat her by 48 seconds!

Finish – 10:23:46, 3rd place F18-24, 24 min PR!

The finish line was amazing, and I remembered to celebrate as I crossed! I stopped my watch and then immediately felt my legs absorb the 140.6 miles and needed a volunteer to haul me over to the medal tent, where I found out I had placed 3rd! This is definitely my greatest athletic achievement so far, and the most fun I’ve ever had during a race. The conditions were great, my fitness showed, and I had the time of my life achieving my giant goal for the year. A huge thank you to my crazy supportive family and boyfriend, amazing coach and awesome sponsors for helping to make this year and this performance possible. Now to have some free time and do “dangerous” sports with my offseason!

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