**Forewarned this may be a bit of a long post***
It is 4 am on Sunday November 20th and my alarm clock goes off. Normally a 4am wake up call would be cause for some serious grumbling, hitting the snooze button about two times and not actually waking up till 4:30 am. This day was different. This day was Ironman. A day that I had been working towards since January, a day that I had thought been taken away from me on July 23rd when the lady hit me with her car, a day that has taken a lot of hard work, time, understanding from myself and my family, sweat, blood and broken bones to get to. Today was different; it was the day I fulfilled a dream.
Surprisingly, I woke up hungry that morning. Normally I have to force down the food on race day as it is way to early for me to be up and eating. But this morning I was hungry and getting my bagel with peanut butter and bananas was not hard. I followed the bagel up with a half of a blueberry muffin in order to get some simple carbs and fat into my system.
At 5 am, dressed in our Team Bowker sweatshirts, we all piled into the rental car and headed off to the village.
I feel as though I stayed pretty calm until I got to the athlete village and then everything went crazy. My stomach instantly turned to knots, I felt rushed, had no clue what I was doing, and had to focus very hard to keep my heart rate down. I am so thankful for my family at this point as they did a great job of letting me be slightly cranky, probably more bossy than I should have been, complain about the fact that I wanted to throw up, and just did everything they could to keep me calm.
I didn’t realize that we would have access to our bike and run bags that morning to add things so when I went to my bike to put my nutrition on there I was jamming things all over the place (in between wires, in my handle bars, etc) hoping the bike wouldn’t get bumped. Later, I realized you could go to your bags and I was able to put a couple things in my bag.
After squishing myself into my wet suit, a workout in itself as my wet suit is a bit to small for me, I gave my family a big hug and made my way to the rolling start line of the swim.
I got lined up for the swim right near the end of when transition closed which meant I had to try to push my way up to the time I wanted to be at. If you are claustrophobic this would have been terrifying; it was was a mass of humanity each trying to jostle their way to the front.
The swim was a rolling start which I love. Based on my training I was pretty sure I could do the swim in 1 hr 15 minutes however I seeded myself in the 1 hr 20 min group, mostly because by the time I got to that seed I was tired of pushing my way further up front.
A lot of people had complained about the water being dirty and gross, however when I dove in I quickly realized it was not that bad. Could you see much in the water not at all, but what do you really need to see anyways. It was a beautiful morning for a swim, the water a great temperature with not much chop.
I quickly settled in and made myself focus on my pull. I spent a lot of time swimming with a buoy due to my ankle and I swear it helped my stroke, as it forced me to grow a lot of strength.
I broke the swim into two parts; the first 1.2 miles and then the second. This made it go a lot faster for me. The swim took us under two different sets of bridges which was a great land mark for me; the turn around was at the second set of bridges so I knew that once I hit those I was almost done with the first part of the swim, and vice versa at the end of the swim. I hate not knowing where I am at time wise on the swim but I felt strong so I had a pretty good idea I was right on target and I was, I came out of the water at 1 hr 16 minutes. The wet suit strippers were AMAZING as mine was so tight it took some tugging to get it off (time for a new wet suit). I had glanced around for my family but didn’t see them, then all of the sudden I heard KAYLA and there they were! Seeing them just boosted my spirits.
Swim time: 1 hr 16 mins
Again the volunteers at this race where amazing! They were so helpful guiding everyone to where they needed to be, had my bag available the second I got to it, and helped me get dressed. I could see where you would want to just relax during transition but I wanted to keep moving, keep the energy up, and try to keep my transition times a low as possible.
After getting everything set I ran out to my bike and chugged the chocolate milk that was sitting on my bike. We love chocolate milk in my family, Brandon uses it whenever he is low and through that I have learned that the mix of carbs, proteins, and fats in chocolate milk is a great pre and post workout drink for me.
Transition time: about 7 minutes
This was my first time on my bike with my race wheels and right away I could tell it was going to be fast. I got myself into the Aero position, took a look at my watch and got myself settled. I knew I needed to calm myself down a little bit as it was a long ride, so I focused on slowing my breathing and just settling in.
The Arizona bike course is very friendly, however a bit deceiving as it does not seem to go uphill until you are on it.
It was three out and back loops in which you spent the first part of the loop steadily grinding up. Now this was not a steep uphill however with the wind gusting in your face by the time you got to the turn around it started to feel steep. I felt really strong on the first loop and by the time I got to the turn around I remember making the turn and telling myself alright Kayla lets make up some time. Grind out the downhill, use the gravity and wind to help increase speed without tiring out your legs too much. I also used this time to eat and drink as it was a bit of a rest for me and I was FLYING! This was probably the most fun I have ever had on bike in my life. I actually came to the turn around looking for my family with a smile on my face, who knew Ironman could be so much fun.
The spectators were amazing and my family was nicely spaced out that I got family support at multiple points during the turn around.
Some people may not like the looping aspect of the course as it could seem tedious or long, however it worked to my advantage for each time I completed a loop I put it out of my mind and told myself only two laps to go, only one lap to go. It made it shorter for me, broke it into small segments.
The wind picked up a bit for the second and third loop and I remember just focusing on trying to get to the turn around to get out of the head wind. I focused on drinking, eating, and keeping my legs turning over. I knew that I was strong and as long as I kept an even pace it wouldn’t be a problem, I just needed to get to that run.
I remember looking at my watch at the end of the second loop and being like HOLY SHIT I’m flying, then immediately oh man can I hold this for one more loop? For a second I thought no way I can hold this, I’ve never averaged 20 mph and then been able to have a killer run afterwards. For a second I doubted myself, then instantly said well you’re gonna find out, might as well punch it as no matter what you know you can run, so I punched it and did everything I could to hold on and go for it.
I came into transition with mixed feelings for I was never more glad to be done biking as I had a splitting headache and was having a hard time eating but at the same time the bike was so much fun and my legs felt like they could go forever.
Bike Time: 5 hrs 19 mins
Most people are fairly graceful when they get off their bike. Not me. I am not flexible enough to get off my bike gracefully and since I can’t clip out quickly with my left ankle I was the goober who was sitting at the dismount clipping out and awkwardly trying to swing my leg over my bike.
I had been looking for my family as I came through transition and couldn’t find them, all of the sudden I heard my mom and husband. GO KAYLA GO!! Instantly a smile came on my face.
Not having to deal with my bike during transition was beautiful! I could then focus on getting my shoes on and grabbing whatever nutrition out of my bag I wanted.
I was able to get out of transition fairly quickly.
T2 time: about 4 mins.
Here is where I always have some fun. I love to run, no I am not joking, I am comfortable out there running. I had trained to run a sub 4 hour marathon during the Ironman however the past month prior to the race I had been hitting times to run about a 3 hr 30 min to 3 hr 40 min marathon, however I chalked that up to the fact that it wasn’t in the Ironman.
The Ironman Arizona run was very flat and two loops of 13 miles each, so I figured if I could get my legs stretched out and ready to run I could really go for it. Normally it takes me about two miles after a bike to really get my legs moving but this day they just seemed ready to run. I could feel the excitement from the crowd and from the rest of the athletes and it seemed to fuel my legs with an energy I didn’t know they had.
Looking down at my watch and I was comfortably hitting sub 8 min miles and wondered do I slow down to that 8:10 pace that I trained at or do I keep it up. Everything was feeling good and I had already decided that I was going to give it everything I had even it meant I had to crawl across that finish line so I just kept it up and would see if I could hang on or not.
From the start to the finish I just focused on doing what I do best on a run, reeling in people little by little. Whenever I pass someone I immediately pick the next person and use them as my end game, they are the next person I go after.
What I can attribute most of my success to on the run is two things 1) the support system from my family and 2) I was just fricken having some fun. There was a bridge that connected the two segments of the loops and allowed my family to run back and forth over it in order to cheer me on at the start, middle, and end of the loop. Seeing them made me pick up my feet just a little bit more every time. My dad has this amazing way of telling me to Run Faster that actually makes me run faster, he keeps track of who is in front of me giving me that knowledge of where I am and how much faster I need to go. My mom is the support system that makes you want to stop and give her a hug. My sister is my motivation as I want to make her proud. My husband is a mix of my mom and dad and always knows exactly what to say to me when I need it.
I had held a pretty solid pace for the first 13 miles and when I came through with about 7 miles to go I started doing some math in my head and all of the sudden I was like “holy shit can I go under 11 hours?”. At that same time I came across my husband asked hmy im “Where am I place wise?” At that point I think I had already run my way into first however I wasn’t sure still. The immediate question after was “what overall time am I at? Am I on track? If I did my math right I should be able to go sub 11? Is that right?” All those questions happened in about a span of two seconds and he responded with “If you keep this up you should hit a 10:15 to 10:20”. That was all I needed and I took off.
I had 6-7 miles left and I knew that was easy, I could do anything for 6-7 miles. Right after seeing my husband I came across my mom who was jumping up and down and all I said was “MOM I’M GOING SUB 11! I’M GOING SUB 11”. There was this fire that just erupted within me, it was like after everything that I had gone through I had done exactly what I set out to do, to prove that no matter what if you believe in yourself and have faith in yourself you can do anything. That NO ONE could keep me down, not hip surgery, not someone telling me I couldn’t come back fast enough from hip surgery, not some idiot who decided to not pay attention while driving, no one. I was Kayla Lloyd Bowker and I was stronger than it all and at that moment I was going to prove it.
So I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, pumping my arms, and picking off the miles one by one. With three miles to go my feet where on fire and I couldn’t wait till the finish line, I was running with this great group of guys who just kept pace with me. I fueled myself off of their energy.
With one mile to go I didn’t have any speed left in me however I just needed to maintain. “One mile to go, you can do anything for one mile.” With a half mile to go there was nothing that was going to stop me, I could hear the chanting, I could feel the energy, and I could see myself crossing.
You can’t run down that red carpet without a smile crossing your face. My husband shouted to me to enjoy the moment, high five people, but there was this power drawing me to that line.
When thinking about crossing the finish line I had always thought I would cry, especially after having it taken away from me at first. But when I crossed that line there were no tears just strength. At that moment under the lights of Ironman and the support of my family and friends I had done something amazing.
I was riding such a high that all I could think about was my family. I wanted my family so badly that I skipped right through the medical tent, skipping my free massage, and right to them. Where they told me that I was noted as unofficially winning the race. All I could say to them was I CRUSHED IT!!!!
I had this permanent smile on my face. There I was surrounded by the people I loved, those who had never given up on me even when I wanted to, the people who give me the strength to do what I do, and who motivate me to never give up and it was all I needed in the world (besides that Starbucks coffee that I had been thinking about since mile 11).
Stay tuned for more on choosing to go to Kona and the week after Ironman!