Minnetonka’s own Pam Nielsen had the experience of recently racing at the Ironman World Championship in Kona. Here’s how it went for her:
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When I qualified at IMWI last year, I knew it would be another long year of training, asking Mike to sacrifice and support me and try to stay injury free. Oh, and get through 2 IMs in one year. I see many people who do it effortlessly, whose body can hold up to the repeated long distance challenge. Unfortunately, I am just not one of those people – or not yet anyway. After coming off of a really nice race at IMSG, I could tell my body was in a bit of disrepair. Partly because I didn’t give myself any break between Wisconsin and Utah, not to mention a very heavy running calendar throughout winter – and some biomechanical issues that I still need to fix. All of that led up to a rough summer of some left leg issues that never really went away. I’d usually get enough relief through stretching, PT, muscle work to get me through each week, but I really just needed a few weeks of rest and didn’t feel I had that kind of time. Pair that with the worst ankle turn in August during a training run (that included urgent care and x-rays) and by the time 6 weeks from this race rolled around, I was just hoping to get to Hawaii in one piece!
Needless to say, I made it here and was thrilled. I have a history of putting a ton of pressure on myself and can be counted on for at least one pre-race meltdown about a week out from any IM. I always want to do well at these races since I do so few, and this one started out as no exception. Thankfully I have great friends, family and a coach who knows me well, and they were instrumental in helping me realize that this was really about getting to the big show – not so much about how I would do when I got there. By the time we departed on Friday, October 1st, I was feeling pretty good mentally and was able to keep my head in check all the way up to race day.
Leading up to race week, I took the opportunity to soak up some of the hot sun during afternoon runs, acclimate to the ocean since this was my first ever ocean swim and experience the winds of the Queen K on a couple of test rides. I could tell leading up to race day that the heat would be my biggest contendor and that proved to be the case. More on that later.
Race day started for me at 3:45 am. I had been eating and sleeping pretty well the week leading up to the race, but of course that had changed on race morning. I promptly put on my gear and gathered my stuff, but still didn’t have an appetite. Mike was trying to be as helpful and encouraging as possible, but I had to ask him to stop on the breakfast front when he kept asking me if I wanted things like a chicken breast or eggs made for me. On any other morning, that might be okay, but the thought of stuff like that just made me want to gag! After grabbing a granola bar, banana and dose of liquid nutrition, we headed downstairs to grab a shuttle to the start.
Things went smoothly as I went through the process of being bodymarked, putting nutrition on my bike and checking the air in my tires. I came out of transition to find fellow race JMatt Keil, Mike and my friend Helen ready to help with the last of our prep. I put on A LOT of sunscreen, my speed suit and off I went to head for the water.
With 15 minutes to go before the start, I made my way into the water for some warm-up treading. Let me just say that this was the roughest 15 minutes of treading ever! It’s amazing how feisty over 1800 type-A people with pent up aggression can be! Pretty soon the cannon fired and we were off. I was really hoping for a 1:10 swim, but after some leaky goggle issues paired with some tragic sighting after the turnaround, I found myself quite a bit off course and it cost me precious time. I was disappointed, but not at all surprised when I came out of the water and the clock read 1:15. My biggest fear in seeing that was knowing how far behind the main group I would start out on the bike.
After an uneventful T1, I hopped on the trusty steed and started making my way out to the Queen K. As suspected, the majority of folks were already in front of me. I had told myself going into the race that I would not overcook the first 40 miles of this bike. It just wasn’t worth it with unknown head winds on the return trip from Hawi. Things progressed just fine until the turnaround and my nutrition was on track. I had heard many say that the trek back from Hawi can be downright treacherous based upon the winds. And while I agree it was very windy, I can honestly say that I was comfortably finding myself doing somewhere between 35 and 40 mph in my aero bars despite the wind. I’ll chock that up to being a bit more ‘dense’, if you will, in terms of my build. It was definitely getting hot on the return trip and I was more thankful for the winds than anything as I continued along on the bike. Without them, I think I would have been miserable. And if you look at the vicious sunburn on my back – you’d know why. So much for globbing on the 85 SPF! At one point, radiant heat coming off of the pavement was measured at something like 127 degrees. Mmmm…toasty! More nutrition and peddling aside, I completed my bike in 5:59 – and came into transition truly wishing I would have pushed much harder on the bike.
T2 was once again uneventful and was able to see my family again on the way out. I remember telling them at that point that I was “so happy to be running”. It really is my happy place, but as I started the run, I knew the biggest factor would be the heat. I hadn’t done much in the way of heat training going into the race and generally don’t run strong in high heat. My plan was to walk the aid stations to ensure I was getting enough fluids and ice to keep myself cool. I started out pretty well, and continued to put ice down just about every opening in my suit! The Queen K portion of the run on the way out found me slowing down considerably. Despite passing several people on the run, I just knew this wasn’t going to be a great marathon for me. I was happy to hit the energy lab and start to climb my way out of there with a lovely lady from Philly that said her goal was to be done before she got one of those “glow stick thingys”. I, too had a goal that day of finishing in the daylight – and for very special reason. My dad has a degenerative eye disease that has stripped him of a great deal of eyesight in the dark. He was there to cheer me on and I didn’t want to let him down, so finishing in the daylight was really important to me. I continued to push through and really started to get my groove back by about mile 21 in the race. Hitting Ali’i drive with all of the people cheering was something I will remember and cherish for many years to come. I was able to see most of my family before I crossed the line and my dad was able to see it all. And as always, it was awesome to hear Mike Reilly call my name as I crossed the line. I was quickly ushered back to the finisher area to take loads of pictures with my friends and family.
I had many highlights throughout the day. To have made it to this race is truly special. Couple that with seeing so many great racers from Minnesota while being cheered on by 12 friends and family members along with countless others online is amazing. I will admit that the total time of my race (11:15:41) is not what I’d hoped for – but that is a small part of this journey. Some day I hope to be back here again to take some time away from the Queen K – but she will never be able to take away the incredible day I had in my inaugural journey to the IM World Championships.
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Congrats Pam! That’s great you could make it to the finish in time for your Dad to be able to enjoy the sights! It was fun to watch you finish with a smile on IronmanLive! Now enjoy the off-season, Pam!
Check out some photos of Pam racing IM below.
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