Kona Reflections

Fawn Whiting on stage at Ironman World Championship in Kona Hawaii collecting her bowl

Fawn looks back on her recent Ironman World Championship performance where she placed 3rd overall in the women’s 30 – 34 age group. For more information on Fawn and more race reports visit her new website at fawnwhiting.com

Fawn Whiting heading out the Queen K at the 2016 Ironman World Championship

Having qualified for Kona at Ironman Muskoka, in August 2015, this race was a long time coming.  I had more than a year to prepare and all of my racing and training plans were set so that my peak would be in October 2016.

I learned a lot from my experience in Kona in 2014.  That year my swim was slow, and I came out of the water much farther back than I wanted. I think inexperience caused me to go too hard on the bike at the beginning and cook my legs before getting to Hawi. It didn’t help that it was incredibly windy and a challenging ride for anyone that day. I cramped the entire way back to Kona from Hawi and didn’t know if finishing a marathon was even in the cards for me that day.  Things got a little better on the run and I did finish in just over 11 hours.  My dad and brothers were on the course supporting me that day and I was happy to see them, but overall very negative in my thoughts.  Negative thinking is not the way to go when trying to get yourself through an Ironman, so it was a tough day that I didn’t want to repeat.  I knew I had to come back and race, but the next time I would be back, I would be stronger and smarter.

2016 was filled with consistent training, day after day, week after week, and month after month.  I’m happy to say that since switching to Hokas I have been able to run without bone injuries. In my earlier running years, I was plagued by stress fractures that would take me out of the game for healing and I never felt like I was able to achieve anything close to my potential.

All year, I felt like I was slowly getting stronger and more efficient.  I was happy to come away with good results in Ironman Texas (1st age group (30-34)), Whistler 70.3 (1st female), and Challenge Penticton Long Course (1st age group, 3rd female including pros).  I knew I was fit, but I knew that the key to having success in Kona was smart racing.

Race day in Kona started with getting to transition. It was a long line up for body marking, but Nathan, my boyfriend, and I eventually got through and to our bikes.  We still had plenty of time before the race start and could spend a few moments enjoying the beautiful sunrise on race day.

Eventually pro men and women got going and then age group men.  I was incredibly nervous for my swim and when the gun went off, I hoped for the best (I know, hope is not the best strategy). I felt like none of my swims in the races I had done earlier in the year reflected my improvements in the pool so it was always a toss up whether it would go well or not. I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of swimming strong and relaxed. Within 400m I knew that this would be a good day. I was in the middle of a pack, and it felt like we were moving well. I was swimming much straighter than I normally do.  I exited the water in 1:03, and was excited to see that my bike wasn’t the last on the rack!

On the bike, it was busy through town but I was able to pick out friends and family that were on the sidelines cheering.  It was great to have Nathan’s parents as well as my mom, aunt, sister and her husband spectating. I felt like I was in a good position and was happy to get onto the Queen K to get into a rhythm.  Having started to use power this year, I knew what I was capable of in training rides, and also knew what my heart rate should be at that power.  Everything was going to plan and I was feeling good.  The problem in Kona lies with the volume of fast athletes that participate.  There are times where you have to stop pedaling and sit up to exit someone’s draft zone as they pass you. There are other times where you have to go harder than you want to and for longer to pass packs of people.  The stop and go nature of the ride was slightly frustrating at first, but as the wind picked up, it seemed more possible to get into a rhythm. Coming back from Hawi, the groups had broken up and I feel that the wind made the day more honest.  I was mentally prepared for the wind after my experience in 2014, and I was also saving my legs in case there was an unexpected headwind coming home as well.  I’m happy to say that my legs still felt good coming off the bike in 8th place in my age group.

I knew going into this race that there were some talented age group women that I was competing against.  I also knew I couldn’t control anything about their races so I focused on executing mine as well as I could. I started the run steady but conservatively. I took in calories and water regularly. I used ice and sponges to keep cool.  At the turnaround on Ali’i drive, I saw that there were girls not far back and decided that I would have to pick it up a little, still keeping in mind that I had to keep my heart rate under control. I was surprised at how good I felt and how easy running felt, even going up Palani.  Out on the Queen K, I was still feeling good. I saw HPR teammates out spectating and they gave me a boost of energy as I went by.  The energy lab is where some doubts began to come into my mind.  My legs were getting tired. I did not want to get passed in the last 10km. Luckily, I had a flask of gels in my special needs and quickly replaced quite a few calories and felt like I had a second wind.  I was positive and happy and so excited to be executing my race well! I saw my boyfriend several times on the run and knew that he was having a good day, even without much run training due to an injury.  I couldn’t wait to get across the line to see him and share our experiences from the day.

I made it to the top of Palani, and at that point, I wasn’t being caught and I wasn’t going to catch anyone else, so my coach, Mike, told me to just enjoy it.  I truly did enjoy the last 2km, coming back into town.  I crossed the finish line in 10:04:40, and still probably felt better than I had in any of my other Ironmans.  I placed 3rd in my age group at the World Championship. It was a dream come true and incredibly motivating for me looking to the future. I will continue to train hard and consistently to see where my limits truly lie.

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