Amy Gluck, MS, RD, CPT

Registered Dietitian
Certified Personal Trainer
5 time USA Triathlon All-American
5 time Kona Qualifier
Boston Marathon Qualifier

Kona 2009

It’s All About the Bike


The biggest challenge that I would face in this race would be the fact that I would be racing 6 weeks after my qualifying race in Louisville where I laid it all on the line. I had never raced 2 Ironman races in 1 year, let along 2 six weeks apart. My training in between Louisville and Kona can be described as survival, at best. I didn’t have the power I typically do during a workout and was constantly struggling with the decision as to whether it would be better to complete my planned workout, or listen to my body and bail early. Some days I listened, some days I struggled through. It was just as tough mentally, as I wasn’t able to put in the long training miles I had planned and feared that I wasn’t doing enough to prepare. However, this was a great reason to make the decision to just enjoy Kona this year without the stress I felt last year of being a first timer.

As we flew into Kona, I could see the Queen K from my window. This was where I fell apart last year. I was happy with my swim and my run, but I was way off my goals for the bike. As much as I said I just wanted to have fun this year, I still had to redeem myself on the Queen K.

We arrived in Hawaii the Sat before the race. My pre-race training this year was somewhat scaled back from last year. The weather was hot and everybody was talking about it. I was happy. I love the heat. I tried not to pay attention to the time or the pace of my workouts leading up to race day. I knew I wasn’t going to like what I saw and I didn’t need the added stress.

The day before race day, I did a short swim, a short run, and headed out for a quick bike to go through the gears. As I headed up Alii Dr., my front derailleur cable snapped. It was only noon. I headed back to the expo, and as it turns out, the expo ends at noon on Fri. I made it back just in time for the Look rep, the Shimano rep, and the Cannondale rep to get together the tools and cables needed to get me all fixed up. Sometimes, however, it’s best to leave well enough alone. As the Shimano rep was working on my cable, he noticed a problem with my front brake caliper. Who needs brakes anyway? So, from the expo, I headed over to the nearest bike shop in hopes of actually getting my bike worked on the day before race-day. I got everything repaired in time to get my bike down to transition during my designated time period, but the extra craziness put me behind schedule and had me on my feet much longer than I had hoped. I’m so glad it happened on Fri and not during the race. It would have been a long 112 miles in the small chain ring. Overall, I was just happy to have everything fixed and ready to roll in the morning.

Race Day
I woke up at 4am and started getting my breakfast ready when I heard a knock at the door. Was it another racer from our hotel urgently in need of something for the race? No, just my Mom, up since 2:30am and excited for race day! I was very grateful for the support, but this put me way behind on my schedule. I ate a bowl of Special K Red Berries with vanilla soymilk and a banana. The Clif Bar I usually eat as well gave me so many problems in Louisville that I decided to forego it and get extra carbs from my Gatorade Endurance that I carried down to transition with me.

As I left my hotel to walk down to transition, I ran into Amanda and her fiancé Luke walking down as well. I thought I was way behind schedule, but I figured I couldn’t be too late if they were just heading down now too. Transition on race day morning is quite a spectacle. There is media everywhere. I went into body marking and, of course, my line was moving wayyyyy slower than any other line. I put my nutrition on my bike, had my tires pumped up by race support, and watched the Navy Seals jump out of the plane. By the time I dropped my morning clothes bag off, the cannon had already gone off for the pros. I headed into the water to get a good spot and tread water for about 15 min. prior to the amateur start. It’s a good warm up and a fun scene: Mike Rielly, the helicopters, the sea turtles, the scuba divers, the spectators, and competitors…. Just before the start, Laura spotted me and yelled to me. She was right in front of me. It’s always great to see a familiar face in a race of 1800.

The Swim

As the gun went off, the battle began. It was a typical mass start and I was taking a good beating, probably delivering one as well. I figured it would taper off and we spread out over the course of the swim. It sure didn’t seem to. The winds down in Kailua were fairly strong that morning and there was a little chop in the water. We were getting washed in one direction, and we would come to a bottleneck as the surfboards steered us out and around the next buoy. I later heard that, from the shore, it looked like we were swimming a zigzag line all the way out, and all the way back.

This year, at the turn around, there wasn’t a boat. There were some Ford buoys with buoy line strung between them. If found a clear spot right along the buoy line and thought, “This is too good to be true!” It was. A few seconds later, somebody grabbed the buoy line and snapped me right in the face. Back off the buoy line and into battle with the swim masses.

As I spotted the giant Gatorade bottle on my way back in, I was happy that this beating was almost over. I was also happy that I made it this far with the masses. If these people all finished at the top of their age groups to get here, and I’m in the thick of it, I must be having an awesome swim! I figured things would thin out as people sprinted to the finish. Instead, things started backing up for some reason. All of a sudden, I was blasted square in the forehead with a heel. As I reeled back, I took a stiff elbow to the ribs. It was a battle the entire 2.4 miles, but I expected to be rewarded as I exited the water and spotted the swim clock. This was not to be: 1:15. Three minutes slower than last year and I was much worse for the wear.

I have read several times that it is best to pay no attention to your swim time during an Ironman. The swim can be greatly affected by the conditions and course variability and you have no idea how everybody else faired in the swim. I decided to stay mentally tough and shake it off. I had plenty of practice with this in Louisville! Besides, I was really here to the kill the bike section of this course.

T1
I was in and out of T1 after getting plenty of sunscreen and a quick stop in the port-a-potty. The daunting task of this bike course lay ahead.

Bike
Heading out on the bike course, I was determined to stay focused, even if my legs weren’t fully recovered. What I didn’t remember about this bike course from last year is that the first 5 miles are completely uphill, and some pretty steep up hills at that. The course winds through town to give the spectators a view of the race before it heads up the Queen K and out to Hawi. As I was just finishing the 5 mile climb, I got some cheers from Peter Reid who was standing at the side of the road spectating. That was pretty cool.

Heading out on the Queen K, it was just as I had remembered it. Rolling hills that seemed to go on forever and ever. On this type of course, I find it very difficult to stay focused. Everybody out there seems to be an amazing cyclist; so getting passed every few minutes just adds insult to injury. I maintained my speed as planned for the first few miles. As a cyclist passed me, I could see a bagel in the back of his jersey. This didn’t occur at all strange to me, and all I could think was, “I want that bagel!” Looking back, it seems like a tough way to get the calories down, but it was my first clue that my body was going to require a different type of nutrition plan for this race (and maybe I shouldn’t have skipped that Clif Bar at breakfast). I rarely take many solids during an Ironman. I plan for two Clif bars on the bike, but I wasn’t even able to get that down in Louisville. This time, I was ravenously hungry for solids about 30 miles into the bike.

As I rode on, I decided to get the nutrition down while I had the opportunity. I ate my “Mile 50 Clif Bar” at mile 40 and got down my “Mile 80 Clif Bar” just after the descent out of Hawi. I was ahead on my nutrition and my stomach was feeling great. I grabbed something at every aid station. There are aid stations every 7 miles, so last year, I was hitting about every second to third aid station. This year, Laura had told me to dump water into my aero-helmet at every aid station to keep cool. I would grab a bottle and dump it over my head, and then I would grab a second bottle of water and drink it. Normally, I wouldn’t drink water, but I totally went against the rules and tried something new on race-day. I had never used salt pills before, but the forecast called for intense heat.

In addition to my usual routine of 3 liters of EFS for the first 40 miles and then Gatorade from the aid stations for the rest of the bike, I was also taking 2 Endurolytes every hour. The combination worked perfectly. My nutrition was going down without a hitch and I was only slightly off pace. Towards the end of the bike, I was just having fun with it. I was taking orange slices and bananas, things I had never taken during a race before. Whatever looked good was going down and my stomach didn’t complain one bit. I really believe in having a nutrition plan, but I also believe it’s smart to abandon it when necessary and listen to your body if it’s telling you something different.

I was very surprised to see that the crosswinds were very light this year on the climb out to Hawi. As I made the turn-around and started the descent, I rode aero the whole way down. It was a white-knuckle ride down on the descent last year, and there was no way I dared go aero. I made up some time here and hoped I could ride it in strong. This was not meant to be. Somewhere around mile 70, the head winds really picked up. I was fighting, but going nowhere. It was really tough. Sometimes, I would start to wonder if I was the last person out on the bike course. I just felt like I was going so slow……wait, I WAS going so slow. I couldn’t wait to get off the bike. Only 2 more hours, or maybe closer to 3 at this rate. If the wind would just stop…..please wind, just STOP!

T2
I finally made it into T2. My bike time far behind where I had hoped, so much for redeeming myself on the bike. As I fell way off pace on the bike and started fighting the wind, I reminded myself that my goal this year was to really enjoy everything this experience has to offer. As I hopped off my bike (which I never wanted to see again) and tossed it to a volunteer, I began running into transition. Rounding the first corner, I nearly lost it. The ground was slippery and those carbon fiber soles don’t offer a whole lot of traction. I stopped right there and took off my shoes before running the perimeter of the transition area and into the changing tent.

As I arrived in the changing tent sock footed, my volunteer grabbed me and my bag and began escorting me over to a chair. There were many other chairs much closer and I decided to grab one of those instead of following her. As I sat down, she looked at me and said, “GO TO THE PORT-A-POTTY!” I said, “No, I’ll hit that on my way out.” I was still in my socks. Gross. She was insistent, “Are you SURE you don’t have to go to the bathroom first?!?” “No,” I assured her, “I’m good.” She went on, “If you go to the bathroom in the chair, you will be disqualified!!” That’s an odd thing to say, I thought, and why was she so persistent? At that point, it did occur to me that I was drinking about 2 liters an hour on the bike and hadn’t had to go at all. Anyway, by this point in our rather strange conversation, I had my shoes and visor on and I was ready to hit the port-a-potty and head out onto the run course.

It wasn’t until several days after the race that it occurred to me that maybe the reason my volunteer was trying to steer me to a chair much further away from where I was, and the fact that the ground was all wet, and the fact that she was so adamant about me going to the bathroom before changing was that I may have chosen the chair in which somebody had made the ultimate disqualifying mistake. I really hope not. Some things, I’d really rather not know!

Run
As I headed out onto the run course, my legs felt very heavy and tired. I had never had such dead legs during a race before. I seriously doubted that I would be able to run a marathon. I thought I might be able to make it up and back on Alii Dr. This is the first 10 miles of the marathon and the only section of the run course with spectators until you get back down the Queen K at mile 25. I actually started to wonder what people do when they drop out. Do they just stop running? As I headed up Alii Dr., I saw my Mom had a great seat on the deck and my favorite restaurant, Bongo Ben’s. Maybe I could hang out there for a while after the turn around on Alii Dr.? This is when I decided that the Ironman distance is just too far and that I’m done with it. The 70.3 distance is much more manageable and that’s all I’m racing next year.

I just ran….one foot in front of the other. The miles went by. My pace was somewhere in the 8’s. The heat was taking its toll on other athletes. I was passing people. That’s all that kept me going. I waved to my Mom again on the way back down Alii Dr. I was pretty sure I could make it to the half-way point in the marathon. I ran up the big hill and back onto the Queen K. This section of the course is awesome because you can see all of the pros heading back. I like to calculate exactly how many miles each of them is ahead of me. It helps the time pass and gives me motivation to continue on.

I made it to the half marathon point, only a few more miles to the Energy Lab. Just then, I spotted a girl in my age-group. She was way ahead of me on Alii Dr. Now, she was in my sights. I managed to pass her just before mile 16. This gave me some fuel for my fire. Speaking of fuel, I was hitting every aid station. They are every mile on the run course. I stayed with my routine of dumping water over my head first, then taking a Gatorade to drink. I would also grab a cup of ice. Some ice went in my mouth, I held some ice in each hand, and the rest was dumped down my sports bra. This kept me very cool when the temps were 100+ degrees. I heard the coolest part of the course hit 98 degrees in the heat of the day. The area in which the marathon is run is much hotter.

Cruising to the turn around in the Energy Lab, I could see I was putting some time into the people I was passing. It was the motivation I needed to keep going. Heading back down the Queen K, I started taking solids again. Solids? On the run? I had never done that before. Oh well, oranges and bananas looked good and they were going down. I went with it. I had planned to carry Endurolytes with me on the run, but I had left them on the Glux Capacitor. No worries, my nutrition was going well. My legs, however, were dying. My splits were falling into the 9’s. I kept myself motivated by spotting people and reeling them in.

There’s a big hill just before mile 25. I wanted to stop and walk SO BAD. I tucked in behind “colorful do-rag guy” and he pulled me up the hill. FINALLY – the 25th mile marker and the final aid station. Normally, I don’t take anything at the last aid station. My theory is, “Why risk it?” However, my nutrition was going down so well all day that I decided to go for it. As I grabbed my last Gatorade and attempted to take a swig, I splashed the contents of the cup all over my face! It was up my nose and in my eyes. I was coughing and I couldn’t see a thing as my legs flew down the big hill on Palani Dr. At that moment I thought, THIS is why I never grab anything at the last aid station!!

As I struggled through that last 1.2 miles and onto Alii Dr., it was such an amazing feeling. To see the crowds, the finish line, and to hear Mike Rielly announce, once again, “You ARE an Ironman!” is the best feeling in the world. It magically makes all those thoughts about being done with the Ironman distance virtually disappear and makes you proud of every 140.6 miles covered. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Although I beat my time from last year by 17 minutes, the Glux Capacitor and I were, once again, humbled by the Queen K. My finish time was 11:21:40. My swim and run were slower, and even though I took 22 minutes off my bike time, I STILL haven’t hit my goals on the bike course out there. If I get a chance to race in Kona again, I WILL redeem myself once and for all!

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