Beautifully Brutal – Ironman World Championships

**Warning: This post is long, not as long as the race, but still long.  You may need fluids and calories, I suggest a Bloody Mary and possibly a pizza**

I jumped into triathlon back in 2013 as way to find myself again, and the only way I thought that I could do that was to do something that I knew was going to test my limits physically, mentally, and emotionally.  So I signed up for a local Olympic distance triathlon in Couer d’Alene, ID to obtain just that.  Halfway through the bike as I was pedaling as hard as I could I found exactly what I had come looking for; I had found my inner strength, my passion, and I had found myself again.  A huge smile erupted on my face and while I did not know it at the time it there was the feeling that this was the start of something great.

Fast forward four years and while I’m still out there wanting to test my limits (more on this soon) but now there is more behind it.  Now it isn’t just tiny little Kayla Lloyd out there pedaling away on her mom’s old touring bike; now it is Kayla Lloyd Bowker and her team of family and friends, chasing dreams and living a passion.  That first race will always hold a special place in my heart as it was a rebirth for myself during I time when I needed it most.  The difference is that during that race it was all just about me, but now it is about everyone else out there, family, friends, other competitors, volunteers, and supporters all over the world.

So now that I have blabbered on longer than I intended let me get to the Ironman World Championships race.  The say that Kona is one of the toughest races in the world, built to test your mind, body, and soul – it is a world championship after all- well they did not lie!


Pre-Race Morning

It is amazing how the alarm can go off so early on race day but you can just hop right out of bed, maybe with you eyes half closed but still hop right out.

It was a nut house down at the race start, so many people, and very overwhelming.  I will admit that after having been wrongly led towards body marking three different times I was very close to losing it.   Once you got to body marking it really did become a lot smoother.  I was body marked, weighed, and sent on my way to my bike to get set up for the day.   It had POURED rain the night before, I spent much of the evening laying in bed praying it would rain this hard on race day, and noticed when going over my bike that my chain had already rusted.  Thankfully the tech guy said it shouldn’t be a problem so I chose to not worry about it.  I got all set up, gave Stella a last past and asked her to please go fast today, and went back out into the crazy to find my family and hang out before the swim.


As the clocked ticked closer and closer to my start time my stomach started to drop a little bit further and the nerves increased dramatically.  I thought I was nervous for Ironman Arizona last year, nothing can compare to how I felt race morning on this day.


At 7:00 am I hugged my family and made my way to the swim start.  Even though the gun didn’t go off for Age Group women until 7:20 we had to funnel our way down off the pier and then swim out to the start line so I wanted to ensure I had enough time for all of those things.

I have never done a mass start where you are treading water before so I really had no clue what to expect, and as mentioned many times prior this was the piece I was most nervous for.  After swimming out to the start we tread water for about 5 minutes or so, it sure felt a lot longer than that.  Right at 7:20 the cannon sounded and the washing machine started.

kona 1

Photo Courtesy Ironman Triathlon

The washing machine start did not disappoint. It was really tough; water churning, hands, feet, and bodies every where!  Honestly, I didn’t really know what I was doing and just tried to keep swimming and finding an open spot hoping that I would get out of the mess at some point.  At one point I was being run over by two people and just started flailing my arms and feet as fast as I could to get myself out of the mess.   At 2.4 miles the swim was really long, yet oddly beautiful with the crystal clear water, there came a point when I just really wanted to be out of the water.  You turned around a big yacht at the 1.2 mile marker, it was here that it finally spread out enough that you felt like you weren’t going to be trashed by everyone else out there.  I was able to find some feet for about a 1/4 of the way back and settled in just waiting to see the Gatorade bottle on the pier.

Anyone who has ever done Ironman Kona says that the energy is different there but I never believed you would feel that energy radiating from the water of your swim.  we came up to around 400-600 yds left in the swim, you could see the massive Gatorade bottle marking the pier, hear the voice of Mike Reily announcing swimmers as they came in, and the energy in the water became electric.  You could feel the tension, excitement, and desire of each person in the water just reaching for the pier.  I’ve never felt that in a race before.

I came out of the water around 1 hr 15 minutes.


Despite the chaos transition went really smoothly.  I ran through the clean water showers they had, drench myself, relishing in being able to get rid of some of the salt on my skin, grabbed my bag and made my way into the changing tent.  The volunteers were brilliant helping to keep everyone moving and on track.

All in all I was able to get in and out of transition fairly quickly at just under 5 minutes.


Everything they say about the bike is true.  Well everything they say about this race in general is true but the bike was in true form on race day.  As mentioned it had poured rain the night before and race day should up beautiful and clear skies which meant that the bike course was brutally hot and the humidity was extreme.  Nothing that any one tells you can prepare you for the never ending searing of Hawaii sun bearing down on you for 112 miles while the wind whips you at your core.

The bike course had a short out and back before heading out on the Queen K where the fun started.  I had a pretty strong first half of the bike, and did everything I could to keep myself cool.  Every aid station in made sure to grab a water from the volunteers, dose myself from head to toe in water and use the rest to fill up my aero bottle so that I ensured that I did not run out.  I felt like I hit my nutrition pretty solid, taking a sip of either water or Infinit about every 7 minutes.  I also made sure to take in some salt as much as I could remember.  Ps. Base salt literally saved me on that bike course.

There was not as much wind as there probably has been in past years though that did not mean there wasn’t any.  We had a lovely little head wind, I looked down at one point and realized I was crawling at 13 mph and felt as though I was going nowhere, as we made the last bit towards Hawi that just sucked the life right out of me.  I remember hitting the 56 mile mark and thinking oh my goodness where the hell is the turn around point.

We did have a bit of a tail wind on the way back from Hawi but it was combined with a brutal side wind.  I just do not know how to ride fast in those instances.  There is a nice little climb in which the wind quit, it became brutally hot, and the talking to yourself really started.  The top of the hill was mile 80 and I was pleased to see my family at this point. They had driven the back way, taking upwards of 1.5 hours to get there, to be able to cheer me on.  Seeing their faces kept me going for the next 30 miles.


It is a lonely road after you make the turn from Hawi onto the Queen K back towards Kona.  You spend a lot of time in your head.  It was at mile 85 that I went downhill, I just did not have the umph.  I could not generate the power I normally do and my speed deteriorated along with that.  Most of way back into town I was repeating the same things over and over again: “Come on Kayla” “Come on Kayla” “You got this Kayla”.

Around mile 85-90 at whatever aid station was there I made the split second decision to grab a Cola from a volunteer.  I am going to preface my next statement with the only time I enjoy Cola is when it is mixed with rum, and prefer diet as it is not a sugary; however, at that moment that Cola was straight up the best drink I have ever had in my life.  It was cold, it was bubbly, it was something different than my nutrition, and it was full of sugar that went straight to my head and brought my brain back.



T2 was a flurry of people dropping off bikes, volunteers helping you put your shoes on, and bringing you water.  Dear volunteer who fed me water in T2 I do not know who you are but thank you!  Water never tasted so good!

I was able to once again get through transition fairly smoothly and headed out for what was supposed to be my best leg….


I am going to preface a couple things before I delve into the Kona marathon; 1) I am very very proud of what I accomplished on Saturday 2) I believe in the performance I had and 3) I am beyond grateful for having competed with the best.  I preface these because I am going to give you the raw truth of the run and honestly that includes a little bit of negativity, something I am not totally proud of.

I knew right away the run was going to be brutal.  Even with my dad yelling at me that I’ve got this, this is the easy part.  Honestly, this was the part I had been looking forward to.  I love to run, running is my thing, and I had been NAILING my runs up to Kona.  I was so stoked to run a killer marathon. Well in true Kona form it just did not happen.

I was able to settle in for the first 5 miles at around an 8:30 min/mile pace and just kept telling myself just hang right here and you’ll be good.  Ali’i drive was a riot to run on even when you didn’t feel good.  There were people every where, the aid stations were rocking, people had hoses out spraying you down (thank god for these people), and it was slightly shaded so didn’t feel brutally hot (or so I thought).


The turn around was 5 miles into the run and the day hit me like a cold soggy  bag of potatoes, or a brick wall you take your pick.  I just did not feel good.  Legs were heavy, brain was foggy, felt like cement, heart rate higher than normal, arms numb, and just did not have it.  I saw my mom around mile 6 and she kept me going through the next mile or so.  I was able to hang on to it until we made the turn onto the Queen K, it got ugly here.  As in true fashion the Queen K was brutal, it was hot, slightly uphill, and the only people out there were the volunteers.  The Queen K beat me to hell, I could just feel the weight of the area pushing down on my shoulders willing me to break, to quit.


Head tilt and left arm across my chest – classic sign I am struggling

Truthfully I was in a pretty negative place on the run.  I was feeling like an incredible disappoint to everyone, the fact that I was not running to my potential made me feel as though I was disappointing all the people who support me near and far.  Then I was made at myself for being negative but I could not shake it, running is my favorite part and I was angry that I was hating it.  I have never wanted to walk so badly in my life, and there came a point that I was about two seconds away from walking.  At that point my husband appeared out of nowhere, way the hell out on the Queen K, and saved me.

He had borrowed a bike from my dear friend Anna who had seen the struggle I was going through and biked all the way out to the corner where we were going to be turning onto the Energy Lab.  The best thing he did for me was remind to cool myself off, it was something I had forgotten to do at the last aid station and was probably the reason for wanting to start walking and my declining attitude.  There was an aid station right before you turned onto the energy lab and I took in all the water, Gatorade, cola, used all the cold sponges, and did everything I could do to cool myself off.

I had always thought the Energy Lab was going to be one of the hardest pieces of the run course, but at a time when negativity and struggle was encompassing my mind and body I turned onto the Energy Lab to find it ROCKIN!  There were volunteers everywhere, music blaring, people dancing, screaming, and cheering.  It was beyond amazing and just what I needed to get a small amount of pep back in my step.


When I came back around Brandon was waiting for me ready to kick my ass in gear.  The best thing he did for me was allow me to express how I was feeling, understand it, but also tell me I was being ridiculous.  At the time I was feeling very pathetic and bad for all these people, family and friends, had spent a ton of money, taken time off work, and traveled a long way just to watch me unfold.  He allowed me to say those things and then reminded me that not a single person felt that way, not a single person was disappointed in me, and by the way I was still in the top 30 in my age group.  It was exactly what I needed, it spurred me on.  I made the turn back onto the Queen K and just focused on my form, get my arms back on track, and lift my knees up.  Those last 8 miles where the hardest 8 miles but also the easiest of the day, I could feel the finish line pulling me towards it.

The slogan for Ironman is “anything is possible” and while I have always believed very strongly in this slogan it never rang more true than during those last 6-8 miles of that race.  During those last miles I am not sure what I was digging into but it got me to that finish line.  Those last 8 miles I ran with my mind on that finish line; I am still not really sure what it was that I tapped into that allowed me to run the last 5 of the 8 miles under 9 minute miles, but something pulled me towards that finish line.

My mom was standing at the top of the Palani hill and when I rounded the corner she started pumping me full of good energy.  After heading down Palani you made another left hand turn and ran parallel to Ali’i drive which was where the finish line was.  At this time it was dark but you could see and feel the lights of Ali’i drive and the finish line.  I just kept me eyes forward, never looking to the side, and arms pumping; I knew that if I strayed my vision it would be my end, I had to just keep focusing on that finish line.  Ali’i drive was vibrating with energy and the second my feet touched the red carpet I could feel the smile start to break across my face.  I could hear my mom and mother in law screaming my name even if I couldn’t see them, and at the last second I saw my dad reach his hand for a high five (I Totally missed it).  I remember thinking arms forward, eyes forward, keep going you are there.  I took one step underneath the finish, pulled up, and lifted my eyes to the sky.  I don’t know what I was looking for, or who I was speaking to but at that moment there seemed no better place to speak to; “thank you.  I did it”.


I did it: A whole hour slower than I had anticipated and hoped for but here I was standing at the finish line having just completed the most beautiful and brutal thing I have yet to do; it was a beautifully brutal day and I did it.  Even now almost a full week later I am not fully sure how to put words into the feelings of crossing that finish line, all I can come up with is I DID IT.  I crossed that line and even when I wanted to quit I didn’t.  Yes, it did not go totally as planned but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t epic.  When Brandon saw me out on the energy lab I was in 32nd place in my age group when I crossed the finish line 8 miles later I had run myself into 29th place in my age group and the 7th American in my age group.  That is what I am proud of, that when I was at my darkest moment I was able to pull myself up by whatever was left in me to run an epic race.

The finish area was wonderful.  I had two amazing volunteers walk me through the finisher’s area as I was having a hard time focusing on what I was doing.  In the finisher’s area I ran into my dear friend Kristen Yax and her coach.  Kristen kicked butt on the course that day, I spent all day on the run trying to catch her and I remember thinking just catch Kristen and you two can finish the run together.  Apparently she was thinking the same thing, that would have been so awesome!

They had a ton of food for the finishers but honestly the idea of food made my stomach turn over and all I wanted was to see my family and get my shoes off, my feet where on fire.  I made my way through the throngs of people to find my family, I was so happy to see them!

The rest of the evening was filled with picking up my bike, trying to walk to the car, finally getting my shoes off, having to have my husband piggy back me up a hill to the car, eating ice cream for dinner because it was all I wanted, talking with my best friend Anna about the craziness of the day, and feeling the beautiful aches and pains seeping out of your muscles that remind you that you just did something amazing.  There is so much to this race, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually I could probably talk forever but at this moment I am going to sign off and leave you with this; Kona you were everything you were made to be, beautiful, brilliant, and beyond brutal.  I promise I will be back as I have some serious unfinished business with the run course, but until then Cheers to the hardest but best day of my life so far.



Husband – none of this journey could have been done without you.  More than anything you let me go on this crazy journey, you keep me grounded when its going to hell, you remind of the beauty of the journey, and you love and support me every step of the way.  I can’t thank you enough.  #TEAMBOWKER

Mom and Dad – you may think I am crazy but this crazy comes from you.  This crazy was built off of strength, love, and always believing in me.  Mom you said something very important to me right before the race; “I never count Kayla [you] out” and that stuck with me.  Thank you for always being by my side through thick and thin, my love for both of you is beyond anything I could explain.

Scott and Tracy – as mentioned none of this journey could be done without Brandon and that is due to the beautiful, thoughtful, and kind son that you raised. Thank you for allowing him to be my husband and share this journey.  Thank you for your constant support, cheer, and love I couldn’t ask for better in-laws.

Heather Casey – Coach Heather, I don’t even know where to begin with the thank yous.  With your support, push, and belief I was able to take myself from where I was to a strong Kona finisher.  Thank you for believing that there is more in me and believing in the strength I know is in there.  You may be my coach but you have also become a great friend and I am glad to be working with you.

Anna – thank you for your friendship, there is so much I could say but that sums all of it up.  A friendship that is strong, faithful, kind, and never ending.  Having you there at Kona was perfect.

Northwest Legal and Associates, PLLC – thank you for your sponsorship and ability to allow me to race.

Edward Anderson Broker – thank you for your sponsorship as I chase my dreams.

Second Skin Gear – thank you for providing me with some of the best athletic gear around to keep me comfortable, functional, and looking good during all of my training.

Rudy Project North America – thank you for the amazing helmets, and sunglasses that not only kept me safe during my race but totally matched my kit.  I got a lot of compliments on my sunglasses.

Kevin with This Bike Life – for ensuring Stella (Felt IA 14) was all set for this race, I was dialed in, comfortable, and with the best gear you can imagine.  Thank you for always being willing to adjust my fit, and deal with my lack of knowledge when it comes to bikes.

Thank you to everyone, far and wide, for all your support, messages, and love during this journey.  I can’t wait to see where else our feet take us and the next journey in this life.

7 thoughts on “Beautifully Brutal – Ironman World Championships

  1. Michael Larsen says:

    Kona crushes even the best athletes, so keep your head up and be proud of your ass-kicking performance. You don’t lose, you learn. Take time your to reflect and analyze possible mistakes that you might’ve made, then come back stronger next year. #fuelthefire


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