Ironman CdA: Stay Proud

Photo by James Richman

There are times that success is realized not by a stellar, mind-blowing performance but rather seeing what your body and mind can do when the situation is less than ideal. This concept sums up my race in Coeur d’Alene. I walk away feeling like I was successful, despite not a perfect race, but having dealt with a small curveball thrown my way, and staying focused on what I was there to do; and realizing that every race isn’t always about setting a PR but sometimes just maintaining focus, positivity and coming out on the other side.

The Friday prior to race day, I was preparing for a busy day of commitments at the race venue, when I moved…yes, moved (a gentle turn, not even a harsh twist)…and felt a seizing up (and shooting pain) in my lower back/SI joint. It stopped me in my tracks, I threw out a few expletives, and I immediately laid down on the bed on my back. A few minutes later I sat up, which was painful. I had no clue what had just happened, but I knew it was not good. We proceeded to head to the expo, and I went about the afternoon, which culminated in an easy 20 min run with Zoot. I was nervous as hell to even do it and every step was very painful. In my mind I was freaking out, but I tried to remain calm. I had some low back pain a few weeks prior but nothing like this. I tried to manage it as best as I could, but Saturday, it was pretty significant. Just going from sitting or lying down to sitting up was very difficult, as I could not engage my abs. I slammed about a lot of Ibuprofen that day and used a Capsaicin patch on my back, which I also used on race morning (generates heat). Truth be told, it took a lot of wind out of my sails. While I knew that I was there to just have a solid day, I had been feeling good, motivation was high and I was hoping for a great performance; and honestly every time I toe the line, my goal is to try to win. Going to bed Saturday night, I was simply hoping the pain would lessen and I would have a chance of finishing.

Race morning we headed down to the race site and were greeted with a windy but beautiful morning. The air seemed a bit warmer than expected, but the winds were ripping. Honestly the conditions didn’t faze me, I just wanted my body to hold up. Funny how perspective can change. I set up, and did a 10-12 min jog to try to relax. It hurt. I tried to ignore it. I had a few moments I thought I could lose it, shed a few tears, but I realized…shit happens. Who knows why, but I tweaked my back. Life could be far worse. This may be a day of mind over matter, or I may have to make a decision to take care of my body and withdraw. I’ve raced long enough to realize that all I could do was give it a go, stay positive and be smart.

The canon sounded at 6:05AM and off we went. I knew it would be a tough swim but WOW! The weather gods in CdA truly wanted to toughen us up today! Let’s set it straight, I’m a bit of a crap swimmer in rough conditions. This is a work in progress but it’s hard to practice (choppy) open water swimming in Austin. I was glad I got to the front of the field, but I thought to myself “This is not swimming, this is flailing,” out there. More than once. I told myself to suck it up and that this would make me stronger! My Zoot Z-Force wetsuit was perfect, kept me warm but comfortable and my stroke felt as good as it could in this washing machine. I was happy to come out first, though little did I know a few women were hot on my heels.

Into T1 and out on the bike, I was stoked to get on my new Felt IA. My setup included Reynolds 58/72 AERO wheels, along with my Rudy Project Wing 57 helmet with the visor. I felt good from the start (a bit cold) but was not pleased to see Tall Heather bust by me only a few miles into the bike. Ah well…so it goes, I tried to continue to focus on my race. As I went along, I was getting some time splits. It seemed that every 10 miles she was putting about 1.5 minutes on me. Upon quick calculation I realized this would give me a 15-20 minute deficit, assuming I could maintain. The back felt alright in the TT position but hurt a bit when I stood, which was often, given the tough hills the course delivered. I was passed by a very strong riding Jess Smith, but just tried to focus on myself, my race. The bike was fairly uneventful; as anyone who raced would say, it was a grind on the way out into a strong headwind followed by a ripping tailwind whereby you had to be pretty careful with regards to control. I enjoyed the course and was pleased to see the new bike handled awesome.

Then came the scary part, actually getting off of the bike. I came into T2, dismounted, and ouch. As I ran to the tent, I put my hand on my back as if that would fix it. It ached, but I expected that. Zoot TTs went on, visor, Rudy orange Noyz’s, stuffed my pockets with Powergels and proceeded to walk out of the tent. I had to let myself ease into this. It was strange to walk, as I usually bust out onto the run.

After a few seconds I transitioned into a run, and the crowds were awesome. I had pain, but it seemed that it would be manageable. I immediately tried to put it out of my mind and focus on running; strong, but steady. I knew given the circumstances, I’d likely not be posting a PR run split today, and the gap to Heather was about 15 minutes. A quick assessment told me the dumbest thing I could do was run too fast too soon and blow up; rather, control myself, try to relax and run as normally as possible and hope to make back some time.

The run course in CdA is very scenic. But I only enjoyed about 8 miles of it before it turned ugly. I saw Derick at mile 10 (at which point I had moved into 2nd) and I told him I was hurting bad. Which was the truth. I was already physically just in a place that I didn’t hit much at Texas. I came in and out of this ‘bad place’ for the next 16 miles, but it felt like I spent more time on the bad side. This is where it became entirely mental. I had to remind myself that 2nd would be great today. That would accomplish what I came here to do. I told myself this shit is supposed to be hard. I told myself to savor it, I was RUNNING… to be grateful my body was holding up…to be thankful I was here; I would not have even been at Coeur d’Alene if Texas had not gone so well. Don’t be greedy, Kelly. I had so much to be thankful for, the last thing I could do was feel sorry for myself; even those two times that I slowed to a brief walk.

At 20 miles, I told myself “This is just 2x5k’s! You love 5k’s!”

At 23 miles, I told myself “Only a 5k to go!  You love 5k’s!”

I’m pretty sure that mile 25-26.2 was long. Anyone agree!? Sherman Avenue could not come soon enough. When I made the final turn, and I could see the finish banner, I tried to give it all I had left, which was not much. I realized I had a hell of a lot to appreciate right now, given all the uncertainties, worries and doubts only 10 hours ago. It definitely is a dose of humble pie to realize how vastly different one Ironman finish can be from another!

One thing I noticed after this one was how many times my husband Derick (and coach, but #1 he is my husband) said to me “I’m so proud of you.” I truly did not feel like what I did was that great, especially when I saw my time splits… it was rather slow! But, he meant, and I knew, it took a hell of a lot of guts to face the fears I had going into it. Do I feel like I would have had 15 minutes more in me without the back incident? Likely not. This was Heather’s race to win, and that she did, in impressive fashion as she has been doing all year. Had I hoped to of been closer to the win? Of course. But every situation must be taken in context. In hindsight, I had to separate myself from being perfect today and realize it was about playing the hand I was dealt and giving it 100% effort. I know I did, and for that, I too am proud.

Thank you to my sponsors, my husband Derick, our amazing homestay Paul and Stephanie Brown and their pup Murphy Brown (he kept us relaxed… or was that the wine they fed us?) my massage/physical therapist and friend Kendal Jacobson who fielded frantic text messages from me prior to the race, and my ever-supportive family and friends. I hope this race showed that even when the going gets a little ugly, you can know I’ll give it all that I’ve got. Next up is some rest, and some finger crossing that my efforts will land me a spot in Kona come October.

Thanks for stopping by,


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Photo by James Richman



Photo by James Richman


When you’re looking at the ground on the run, it ain’t good….


Photo by Sue Hutter

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This is Murphy Brown!

3 replies on “Ironman CdA: Stay Proud”

Way to persevere! And you got SECOND with that mishap?
Very impressive Kelly. Hope your back is better and that new bike is slick.

first- congrats even though it wasn’t the race you had hoped, 2nd is still ridiculously awesome and toughing it out for the run- so amazing.
love all the pics & hope that you are enjoying the down time and looking forward to cheering for you in Kona!

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