My reflections from the first all-women’s Ironman World Championship

For years, Kona was a legendary event that I watched from the sidelines, dreaming of one day completing myself. In 2023, for the first time, this iconic race was a women-only competition. The men had their world championship in Nice, France several weeks earlier. 2023 was also the first year that, after years of hard work and dedication, I finally crossed the iconic finish line on Ali’i Drive and achieved my ultimate triathlon goal. As Women’s History Month ends, I want to share what it meant to me to participate in the first all-female Ironman World Championship in Kona.

Racing on the iconic Big Island

Something I didn’t truly appreciate until I started preparing for this race was how the course and the island conditions make it incredibly difficult – even by Ironman standards.

The weather on the island is far from ideal endurance race conditions. The temperature starts high and continues to climb as the sun bakes the lava rock throughout the day. The heat doesn’t just come from the sun above you, or the humidity settling around you, it also radiates up from the lava rock that is being warmed by the unrelenting sun all day. There is no shade. The wind blows fiercely, and to make things even more difficult, it picks up the pace towards the middle of the day when most athletes are halfway through the bike leg. Then—for the hottest part of the day, after the concrete has been cooking all day—you start your marathon.

The course itself is daunting because of its straightforwardness. The swim is one long lap and when you look out at the swim course from shore you’re forced to acknowledge how far out into the ocean 1.2 miles is. Out on the lonely Queen K, most of the day is silent except for the wind blowing, heavy breathing, and bike components whirring. The first 9 miles of the marathon take you on an exhilarating run through town, and you feel on top of the world with the streets completely lined with cheering spectators.  Until you are back on the Queen K for another 16 miles and you again face mostly silence until the end. The monotony of the straight highway presents another mental challenge. The only things to add interest to this section are the aid stations that only come only 1-1.5 miles. If you lose momentum on that lonely stretch of highway, there are no cheering crowds to give it back to you – you have to find it within yourself.

Competing among professional athletes

Kona marked my first encounter with a professional field in a race. It was an inspiring experience to tackle this course alongside the pros I admire. I can be hard to impress generally, but I had a couple of fangirl moments seeing these elite ladies racing up close. I even missed the start gun for my swim wave as I was preoccupied with cheering on the leaders as they passed me by on their swim exit.

I later saw the whole pro lineup again out on the bike course – they were, of course, a few hours ahead of me on their way back to town as I was making my way out to Hawi. It’s certainly humbling to see the best in the world at a particular craft do the same thing you’re doing, only much, much better. But there’s also pride in knowing that I faced the same course and the same conditions and made the most of it.  

Racing in an all-women field

The lack of respect women’s sports receive in general is a challenge I’ve grappled with personally. I still remember the off-handed comment of a coworker dismissing all of women’s sports as “unwatchable.” While I’ve since lost touch with them, this comment stuck with me.

Women having their dedicated race at Kona was meaningful in pushing back against that attitude. It meant a lot to me to have the opportunity to be a part of that day and to know the full media attention was on the professional women that day, rather than being split between the men’s and women’s races.

On race day, and in the week leading up to race day, the sense of camaraderie among the women competing was palpable. I think we all shared a collective awareness and appreciation for the historic significance of the day.

Embracing the moment to conquer Kona

My build-up to Kona was more challenging mentally than physically. I was transitioning from a taxing corporate environment to pursuing a career in endurance sports. Despite having more freedom and time to focus on my passions, I struggled to overcome burnout and exhaustion from my previous jobs. This even pervaded my training and made it difficult for me to feel the same motivation and love for triathlon that I had cultivated for many years. 

The first two Ironmans I completed, I felt like I was just gritting it out by the end. I went to dark places in my mind that were tough to pull myself out of. Honestly, I don’t even think I did pull myself out of the rut – I just stayed in the rut and somehow managed to finish the race anyway. Kona was different. Racing in Kona was pure joy, the whole day. A few things didn’t break my way that day – there were instances where I could have let this joy slip away and let the doom and gloom take over. I didn’t get off to the start I wanted. I was slower on the bike than I wanted to be. My special needs bag halfway through the marathon was lost. But at each of these points, I found a way to feel joy and gratitude that I was there. I am eternally proud of myself for being able to dig myself out of that rut and find so much happiness that day.

Starting a new chapter with Offbeat Races

Kona’s all-women’s field was a historic moment and a testament to the power of women in sports. Witnessing the camaraderie and determination of the women at Kona solidified my passion for helping others achieve their athletic goals. That’s why I’m launching Offbeat Races – to connect athletes with inspiring events, foster a supportive network, and equip them to achieve their athletic goals.

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