by Jenna-Caer Seefried
When I first heard what Ironman, was I said, “Why would anyone want to do that?”
Then as a new runner who quickly became an injured runner (turns out running 80+ km training weeks within three months after you start running is a bad idea), I started reading anything on endurance sports while I was recovering. During that time I read Chris McCormack’s book I’m Here to Win and first learned of Kona.
For some reason it caught my interest: the challenge, the brutal conditions, the insane distances, the puzzle to get it all right. At that point, I had never swam a length of a pool or cycled a kilometer, but it lit a fire in me.
I started triathlon fuelled by the motivation to get to this race. I joined Macca’s triathlon team, MX Endurance, eventually became a coach for the team, and finally reached my dream of racing Kona. Things came full circle.
I qualified at Ironman Cork in the exact opposite conditions Kona has: 11 degrees, pouring rain all day and freezing wind. I went into that race with the goal of qualifying for Kona. Maybe it was ambitious being my third Ironman start, but I think having the belief that you can do it is a big part of the battle. For my age group you have to win to qualify: there is one slot and it doesn’t roll. It took until the last five kilomeers of the run to take the lead and make the dream of Kona a reality.
I went down to Kona on the Friday just over a week before the race. Leaving Calgary we had a couple feet of snowfall before I left, so I wanted to get in a bit earlier than I usually would for a race to get some sense of the heat and humidity of Kona. I spent a ridiculous amount of time in an infrared sauna to try to prepare for the conditions and it really made a difference. I was aware it was hot but in the training that week I never felt overheated; the heat of the day felt comfortable.
Ironman really takes over Kona and everyone is there. It was such a cool experience to get to meet so many people I knew through social media or e-mail correspondence and catch up with friends I’ve met around the world through this crazy sport. The support leading up to race day and then on course from everyone was absolutely incredible and really made the whole experience for me.
I actually slept great the night before. I went into the race feeling relaxed and ready I was going out there to get the best out of my body and see where that lined up, knowing that I was getting to the start line in the best shape of my life: fit, healthy, and confident. I had done everything I could to be prepared for this race.
The pier and volunteers were unreal. I was guided all the way through the different check points with incredibly positive people, some familiar faces and just a feeling of pure excitement. I ran into the awesome Tri-It ladies the morning of the race and got some great pre-race hugs and encouragement.
This swim terrified me. I’m a very late-onset swimmer and I’ve never raced without a wetsuit for anything further than the 300m Super League races, and the though of jellyfish was unappealing. I had trained for it, but tried not to think too much about being in the middle of the ocean with no wetsuit. I figured race day I would just gut it out; turns out I didn’t have to be so worried. It ended up being a pretty choppy swim, with rolling water, currents pulling in every direction, and sighting a challenge if you didn’t look while on top of the swell. However, with the buoyancy of the salt water, the surreal feeling of knowing I was racing in Kona, and the wave start on the day, I got through it just fine.
I went through transition and got slathered with all of the sunscreen (redhead problems) and felt really good running out with my bike.
So usually I get on the bike and start passing people all day. I knew there would be less of that with the calibre of field in Kona, but the bike is typically my strength so I knew I would be still catching people. It was pretty cool to be on the Ventum bike course with my Ventum – two things I dreamed about just a year ago, before either was a reality.
Well unfortunately that’s where the race would go south for me pretty quickly. Of all of my pre-race visualisation, puking on the side of the road 20 miles in was not part of it. I’ve never seen watts so low, even on recovery days, but nothing was staying down. In my first two Ironman finishes, I got the result I wanted and while it’s always a mental and physical battle, things went pretty much to plan. Not this time.
Pulled over on the side of the road, sick for the third time, I wanted to quit.
Getting a spot to Kona is never a guarantee. I had worked so hard to get here and there’s no promise I’ll make it again. I was on the roads where legends were made, riding along roads that I had dreamed of, head about for years.
I watched the men’s field go the other way looking like a power train, then the women flying by.
I had to finish this race.
While my race wasn’t going to plan it was still surreal being on this course and that kept me moving forwards. About 75 miles into the bike fuel started staying down and I started to feel a little better even pushing into the headwind I knew I would make it back to town.
I had talked with our team sponsor ENVE in the days leading up to the race to figure out what wheel set to use. Coming from a background of super sport motorcycles on the race track, I’m solid with bike handling skills and the Alberta roads gave me some great crosswind training. I had done all of my training on the 7.8’s and their advice was stick to that if I hadn’t had any issues with them leading up. I’m glad I did; the crosswinds were seriously legit but nothing I couldn’t handle almost entirely in aero position. Up the climb to Hawi, through the turn around, flying down battling the crosswinds, on roads that felt so familiar after years of watching this race.
It felt pretty cool being able to hand my bike off to a volunteer like you see the pros do and just keep running to my bag. I had no idea what to expect on this run; I had been riding on empty until the last bit of the bike.
Turns out if you bike with near zero watts your run legs are pretty good. Energy was another thing but at least I knew pretty early on it wouldn’t be a 4+ hour marathon like I was worried about on the bike.
Unfortunately my family didn’t come down to the race course to cheer, but I saw so many friends, new and old and familiar faces it was such a boost out there when I needed it. Plus with the Canadian flag on my MX Endurance kit I got so many “Go Canada” cheers out there!
On Palani Hill there were so many people cheering and it just lifted me onto the Queen K. The heat adaptation training had helped; while I had not run in anything near these temps or humidity I felt comfortable, even though sweat was flying off my hands with every arm swing.
I kept counting down waiting for the Energy Lab. I just wanted to experience it, the place where races are made or broken. I was starting to get calories on board and feeling better as the run went on, so I started using some fast-burning cola and water for fuel.
The run turned into a victory lap to experience everything Kona had to offer: the incredible volunteers, the competitors around me, being on the course knowing the points where this race had been won and lost in previous years.
I watched Anne Haug go the other way on the Queen K, finish-line bound. Wondering where Daniela Ryf was, I asked about the race results on course curious to see how it had gone down. I was geeking out on triathlon while racing.
Then it was time to fly down Palani, knowing the end was getting close. That turn onto Ali’i Drive felt incredible. I gave all of the high fives I could coming down the finishing chute.
I had made it; I had fulfilled the dream that had started years earlier and fuelled me through years of training and racing, constantly trying to get the most out of myself. Triathlon changed my life on the road to reaching this goal, and I am so grateful for everything it has given me.
Don’t worry, I’ll be back. I’ve got a lot more to give on the roads in Kona.
Thanks to triathlon, Jenna-Caer Seefried went from 50 pounds overweight to an age group world champion and Ironman World Championship finisher. A team coach for MX Endurance, she wants to help more athletes realize what triathlon and sport can do in their lives.