Sarah Piampiano's Ironman World Championships Race Recap

November 13, 2018

Wow!  It is so hard to believe 4 weeks have already gone by since Kona.  I can say for myself I have been thinking about the race non-stop. Analyzing data, trying to make decisions about where to place focus, race planning for next season - scrutinizing everything to understand how to get more out of myself next year.  


I would say at the heart of it all I am a racer.  And NOTHING gets me more excited than lining up for the Ironman World Championships.  I came into the race this year feeling calm and prepared.  I felt like I had done the work I wanted to do in order to feel ready to race and was confident in my preparations.  For one of the first times ever I had confidence in my swim and the possibility of what might happen.  I believed I could ride well and knew that I had a great run in me.



My husband, Mike, and I at bike check in



 Signing in Pre-race



Running errands before race day



On race morning I was nervous, but in an excited kind of way.  I think it is hard NOT to be nervous for an Ironman - particularly Kona! Knowing you are about to push you body to its limit for 9+ hours in the sweltering heat and winds all while effectively only eating gummy bears for that period of time is enough to get your heart pumping!


During my Kona prep this year we had put a BIG emphasis on my take out at the start of the swim.  I went to Kona twice to do on-course specific training camps.  In September I had 3 teammates with me and much of open water swim training revolved around getting me comfortable with taking out hard for a specific amount of time and then settling in to a stronger- than-comfortable pace.  I knew this is what it would take to make my target swim pack and I also knew this was the part of the race that has historically made me the most anxious.  


When I lined up on the start line I was READY.  I knew I had prepared exactly for this moment and was ready to fight to make the pack I wanted to be in.  The gun fired and the next thing I felt was an overwhelming sense of panic.  This was NOT what I had prepared for in training.  This was not playing out how I had visualized! In all the training I had done, I had always lined up to the left of everyone (I breathe to the right) and in doing so, I always had clear water on the left side.  Suddenly, in the race, I was getting clobbered from the left.  People were swimming over me, everyone was jockeying for position.  I hadn’t mentally prepared for that moment and in a split second I panicked.  As a weaker swimmer contact makes my heart rate skyrocket. Rather than fight through it, I did what I always do - I backed off.  And by the time I regained composure, the pack I had so badly wanted to be part of was just a few too many strokes ahead.  I had lost them.  I’ve had enough experience with getting dropped on the swim to not let it phase me in the moment.  I immediately turn my attention to swimming my best and then moving on to the bike and run.


After the race, I analyze and think about it all, but in the moment I do a great job of putting blips in the race place behind me and looking forward.


Out onto the bike my race plan was simple - race MY race.  Looking back at prior years I had seen a big drop off between my first half and second half of the bike.  I always rode very hard in the beginning and them wimpered my way home.  This year my plan was to ride more conservatively on the front half, eat and drink like my life depended on it, and put up a solid second half of the bike.


Well - My plan worked and didn’t work.  I felt great the entire ride and my power didn’t drop off much in the second half of the bike - all big successes.  I also rode one of my stronger rides this season (though I  have really struggled all year on the bike).  That all said, a conservative first half led to me getting gapped by almost every female out on course.  With the exception of Daniela Ryf I rode as fast if not faster than everyone on the second half of the bike, but I lost anywhere for 6-13 minutes on the first half.  Ughhh.  Not ideal.  But again, like the swim, I never get deterred if things on the bike don’t go well.  The beauty and the beast of Ironman racing is that you never know what can happen.  People falter all the time and the race is truly not over until it is over.  


I set out on the run calm and in control.  Panicking and over-running of the first half is one of the worst things you can do to set yourself up for a good marathon.  For me, I focus the first several miles on core temperature management.  I walk through aid stations taking on as much ice, electrolyte and water as I can.  I use the sponges.  I dunk my head in ice buckets.  I believe that until your core temperature is under control you can’t run at your best, so my primary focus in those first miles is all about getting cool.


But, I felt good.  I had fueled and hydrated well on the bike and I got off feeling ready to run.  I had great energy and felt fluid from the get go.  Matt Dixon (my coach) kept yelling from the sidelines, “Stop looking at your pace, run with freedom!!!”.  He wanted me to go all in.  And I have to say, that is a hard thing to do.  I haven’t quite mastered yet the willingness to run at my limit - I am scared of blowing up, so I often run in control.  That frequently leaves me at the end of races feeling like I could have/should have given more, but particularly in Ironman, it is hard in early stages of the run race to really gauge what the limit is. 


As I ran I began picking people off, one by one.  And when I got out of the energy lab and made some final passes on the Queen K I thought I had put myself into 10th position.  This was not where I had hoped to be, but at the same time, with the quality of the field, I was thrilled with a 10th place finish.  


I crossed the line with a 2:59 marathon.  And, in 11th place.  I had mis-counted out on course.  I felt a mix of emotions.  I was proud of my mental resilience, my “never give up” attitude and for running under 3 hours.  But I knew I had mis-executed the swim and it cost me big time.  I was disappointed with my place and with the knowledge that my mistake on the swim had potentially cost me a top 10 or even top 5 position.  But, I felt proud too.  I NEVER give up.  Ever.  And I raced all the way until the end.  




Running along Ali’i Drive            



The start of the bike



Exiting the Swim in my Zone3 Streamline Swimskin and Attack Goggles



The finish line - a mix of relief, satisfaction and disappointment - all the emotions!


In the aftermath of Kona I took about 2.5 weeks off.  It was wonderful to get caught up on life, stay up late, binge watch shows, drink wine and enjoy the comforts of home.  I also spent a lot of time planning my goals for 2019, considering what my priorities were for racing, where I wanted to place focus.  Key highlights for me as I look to 2019 will be:


1. Significant swim focus with a goal of swimming under 1 hour.  The key for me will be mobility development, take out speed, stroke rate, and breath timing 


2. Significant run focus targeting a 2:50 marathon and 1:15 half.  The key here will be leg turn over development in the half and back end resilience at pace on the run for the marathon


For now it is back to work.  I have two races left - Xiamen 70.3 in China next weekend and then I will head down to Argentina to defend my title at the South American Ironman Championships.


A huge huge thanks to my many sponsors and supporters who have worked so hard to get me to every start line this year.  THANK YOU. Thank you to Saucony, Clif Bar, Shimano, Zone3 North America, Bear Mattress, Polar, Rudy Project, Ixcela Wellness, Cercacor, SOS Rehydrate, Purplepatch Fitness, Wattie Ink, Zealios, Michael Lord, Charlie Reid, Scott Tindal, Kevin Burns, David Brown and so many more!  




Don’t dream it.  Be it.




Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Please reload