Kona Kualifyin’!

SSSMST’s Jeanne DeBonis has been on a absolute tear this season, with overall victories and National Championships to her palmares.  Her latest sortie was toward the Pacific Northwest and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho for Ironman Coeur d’Alene, where she had a date with destiny to try and punch her ticket to the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii later this year.  Let’s hear how it went!

Ironman Coeur d’Alene (IMCDA) 2014 was my first Ironman since dropping out of Kona in 2012 with what I thought would be a career-ending hamstring tendon injury. I had done this race in 2009, and, although I finished, I suffered severe hypothermia (body temperature of 90.3). This year it wasn’t as cold, but the race was plagued by high winds gusting to 30 mph – causing a very rough swim and headwinds on an already-hilly bike leg. The conditions resulted in a 23% drop-out rate.

As for my race.. IMCDA 2014 was the first time EVER that I panicked and reconsidered entering the water at an Ironman start. The 2.4-mile swim was two loops with a short beach run between. The swim start is a rolling self-seeded affair – like a marathon start with faster swimmers up front, slower swimmers in the back. The way out was a mess because we were swimming into the swells. I stayed on the outside to avoid getting clobbered, and for the first time in a race, I noticed people grabbing onto the support kayaks. My swim took 1:04 (slower than usual, but faster than 2009).

With temperatures in the 50s for the bike start, I decided to wear wool socks, gloves, hand warmers, a bike jersey, and arm warmers. The 112-mile bike course consisted of two loops starting in downtown CDA: a short out-and-back with a steep hill along the lake followed by a longer out-and-back with long rolling hills on US 95. The second part went out into the wind and local Cleveland triathlete, Ben Norton, summed it up well: “We were going downhill, PEDALING, at 13-14 mph.”

Keeping it real on a tough bike course under tough conditions

Keeping it real on a tough bike course under tough conditions

My goal on the bike was to go easy and not feel anything for the first four hours, but I NEVER felt good on the bike (bad taper perhaps?). My legs were fatigued and my hamstring hurt like it had only partially been rehabbed. I backed way off. Heading out on the second loop, my husband indicated I was third in my age group. I tried to pick things up in the final 15 miles – but I now know I need better bike-handling skills going downhill in the aero position with the wind. It was so windy that last years mens winner, Ben Hoffman, crashed and shredded his tire when an age-grouper was blown into him (amazingly, he still finished third overall this year).

When I pulled into transition, I was still in third place, but now only three minutes behind the age-group leader. Knowing the Ironman marathon can be undone in the first mile, I had promised myself I would not go out faster than an 8-minute pace. The soreness and fatigue in my quads dissipated (surprisingly) at the run start, and the day had warmed into the high 60s. Excited at the thought of being “IN” the age-group race, I went through the first four miles at a 7:30 pace and passed both women in front of me.

But the 26.2-mile IMCDA run course is too loops with a 6% hill, so I got the run under control and focused on proper nutrition. At mile 8, I had put ten minutes between me and second place, but my legs were sore and cramping. At the half, my husband said I was running at least a minute-per-mile faster than the other women in my age-group. But by mile 18, I was struggling with stomach issues (my biggest problem in Ironman), and had to stop and walk a few times.

I knew it was my race to lose – or WIN – so I had to figure out how to get through the final 8 miles. And I chose to do something I’ve never done (willingly) during an Ironman: I ate pretzels. My nausea vanished, and I was able to get back to running in time for the hill. But the weather had one last trick. When I hit mile 23, the wind kicked up and it started to rain. It didn’t last long, and shortly after, a rainbow appeared and that was all I needed. I focused on letting the crowd support carry me through the last two miles.

You are an Ironman....Champion!

You are an Ironman….Champion!

20 months ago, I never thought I’d see another Ironman finish line, and here I was IMCDA W45-49 age group champion – and Kona qualifier – a month after turning 49. I can’t say enough how much it’s helped me to have a team and teammates like SSSMST this year – I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do it without their support. (Especially Kevin Krol who dragged me through so many long bike rides in windy conditions this spring.)

Age Group Podium!(Jeanne center-left)

Age Group Podium!(Jeanne center-left)

On to Kona.

Awesome, awesome job!!  We knew you would do it!

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One Response

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