Ironman Arizona 2011: From Can’t Swim to Kona Qualifier in 365 Days

Kgo and brother D-Ro ready to put on the wetsuits

CALM

Calm accompanies me to the starting line of my first Ironman. I roll, tug, and yank on my wetsuit and neoprene cap. I hug my brother-in-law. I follow 2800 other Ironman Hopefuls into the frigid waters of Tempe Town Lake.

Orange Caps: Girls. Green Caps: Boys. Blue lips: Me.

WATER

When I jump in, I understand that my mind is already on my side. Although the air temperature is in the low 50s and the water temperature a chilly 61, my mind lets me believe otherwise. The cold water comes at me through my wetsuit. (This isn’t as cold as I thought it would be.) I don’t dare my Raynaud’s to reveal to my mind how cold I really am. I keep my hands in the water because it is 9 degrees warmer than the air. As the clock creeps closer to our start time, I look right and then left, and then behind me. (This isn’t as crowded as I thought it would be.) Another huge victory for my mind.

Cannon fires; I feel a swift kick to my nose. I remain calm. Upon confirming with a quick swipe across my face that there is no blood, I smile and keep moving.

Look for the girl getting her face kicked in

A mile later, I feel a crack as my left hand hammers into someone’s right elbow of steel. My mind doesn’t register that I still have about 139.6 more miles to go with that hand. The water is so cold, and my hands so numb, that the pain doesn’t register. I only hear Coach Steve’s voice in my head, “Pierce, Catch, and Pull; Pierce, Catch, and Pull.”

Out of the water in 1:14. (Ridic. A year ago I couldn’t even swim across the pool.) Fistpump.

WATER to ROAD

My mind tries to convince me that I am running on flat concrete, but my feet register a surface of knives and needles. A quick glance at my toes. (Holy freakin’ blue!)  The air temperature is still in the mid-50s, which feels a lot colder at 20 mph, and feels a lot scarier with Raynaud’s. (Keep it together, girl! Remember that ride when your water bottles froze? You got this.) Fistpump.

Can’t quite feel my fingers or toes

Getting on my bike out of T1, I hear “Bob Young of Virginia is out of the water!” Fistpump for my teammate. The next time I see him is from the side of the road at mile 10. I struggle to fix my flat.

I have never had a flat before, but I am prepared. I practiced changing my tube again and again on my living room floor. The tumble weeds and sand of the Beeline Highway are not as comfortable as my living room carpet. (No problem, Kgo. You’ve got this.) But I didn’t have it. “It” punctures my only spare tube as I inflate the spare with my only CO2 cartridge. There, in the bushes on the side of the road, I chuckle. (Andy is going to love this.)

The day before, my sherpa Andy Lipscomb convinced me to leave my 2nd spare tube and cartridge behind. As someone who has never had a flat, I agreed that it seemed silly to plan for two. Yet there I am, 10 miles into my first Ironman, in need of a second spare tube. I invoke a mantra that had saved me in countless challenging scenarios this past year. (What would Poppy Tony do?) I peak out from behind the bushes and start fistpumping everyone who passes by. Within a minute a very nice Ironman Hopeful throws me his own spare tube and cartridge.

I remove my tire to locate the sharp and unrelenting culprit, but I find nothing. Just as I prepare to inflate the new tube, the roving support vehicle arrives. Fistpump! While the race photographer opens the back door and proceeds to film me (smile!), the mechanic attempts to inflate the second spare tube with a hand pump. Pop! Third tube of the day. He hands me a brand new wheel, takes my old one, and remarks that he just fixed pro Leanda Cave’s bike too. Genuine smile for the cameraman.

18 minutes lost. 102 more miles to go. (What would Poppy Tony do? Race like the wind.) Though I noticed the swelling and discoloration in my hand when I removed my glove to change the flat, the severity of the pain only starts to register as I change gears on the gradual climb to the first turnaround.

Post-race hand: ugly and swollen

I remain calm and try to take my mind off of my hand and lost time. So I talk. Sometimes to myself. Sometimes to riders around me. I search for my brother. I look for other Zers. I scream and fistpump at them. I tell every tall man I pass that I wish it were a draft-legal race. This softens their egos as I leave them behind. I tell every fool who tries to draft off of me that I am about to pee. Most of them get it. The rest get wet. I converse with veterans, teachers, whiners, first-timers, hotties, men with large calves, women with larger calves, and a new U.S. citizen.

So excited to see Team Z Support Crew

As I pull into transition, I look down at my bike computer and see a 5:25. Fifteen minutes faster than my “best case scenario” race plan. Since the computer captures my moving time, it displays what my time would have been without the flats. I no longer care what my time really is; I am overjoyed that I am capable of biking a 5:25 on a 112 mile course in the middle of an Ironman. I am so.damn.proud of myself for keeping my mind in the race. (Forget the flats! Just go run. Run like you are your father’s daughter.)

ROAD to CONCRETE

I have to hold myself back. I am out of the T2 gate at 7:35 pace. No matter what I do, I can’t slow myself down. My goal is to run a 3:30 marathon. Knowing that “even splits” are the most efficient way to run, I don’t want to run faster than 8:00 minutes per mile.  But my legs have a mind of their own. A fast mind. A mind that knows no limits.  (Slow down, Kgo!)

Stoked to be running

Again, I talk to people. I search for a pace partner. “Want to go sub-3:30 with me?” I ask every person I pass. Eric from Seattle is my first taker, but he can’t hold on and I am alone again.  Mile two: 7:48 (Slow down, woman!) Mile Three: Another 7:48. (Maybe I can go faster than 3:30.) Mile Four: 7:52. And then, going in the other direction, I see Meredith Colaizzi, the girl who beat me at Musselman by 2 minutes, only she is two miles ahead of me looping back toward transition. Then, a 7:44. (Yeah, you know you want her.) Mile six, the main hill on the course, I hit a 7:43 (How’s that for consistency?) And then I just let my  legs go.

And they go.

Mile Seven: 7:30. Mile eight: 7:39. Up ahead I see two nephews, two parents, a sister, an Andy, and a C-Ride all cheering for me! Andy yells that I was 17th off the bike and my dream of top ten starts to feel like more of a reality.

High Fives to the Nephews and Sherpa

Mile Nine: 7:34. Ten: 7:47. I am running way ahead of 3:30 marathon pace. I haven’t run a single of the first 10 miles at my goal pace of 8:00/mile, but I feel good and I feel like I am wasting energy questioning it. So I stop questioning. Mile Eleven: 7:29. Twelve 7:39. Thirteen: 7:43. (Holy goodness. I just killed that half marathon.) Fourteen: 7:55. (There is my brother!) David, come with me! I yell.  He later tells me that I passed him like he was standing still. Fifteen: 7:36. Sixteen: 7:41 (I. freakin. love. this.) Seventeen: 7:40. I see my family just up ahead. Smile! High fives to the nephews.Andy screams as he matches my stride, “YOU ARE FREAKIN’ CRUSHING THIS RUN!” (Hell yeah, I am!! Where the hell is Meredith?) Eighteen: 7:42 (Holy consistency!) Nineteen: 7:43. Twenty: 7:52. (Okay 20-mile wall, I’ve heard all about you. Bring it!)

Twenty one: 7:52. Twenty two: 7:49. Twenty three: 8:04. (Is that that you, wall?) No, instead I find a guy from London running my pace. I ask him to come with me. He obliges. What the hell is wrong with your hand?, he asks. (Oh yes, my hand.) It is a beautiful bruised and swollen rainbow, but my mind is still protecting me. I remain calm. I think I broke it, I say. You are f-ing crazy, he replies. You got a 3:25 in you? I ask. I listen incredulously as I repeat those words silently to myself (Three-twenty-five marathon???) He tells me he’s already been out there for 3 hours and 25 minutes and he wants to know what the hell am I doing trying to get him to run my pace.

Mile twenty-four: 7:32. I push harder. I work to finish my third and final loop, but it is not clear who I am racing. (So. Many. Runners. So many calves. Who am I passing? Who am I racing?)

Mile twenty-five: 7:34 (STFU, Central Governor.)

Mile twenty six, my fastest mile of the day: 7:12

I am an Iron(wo)man!

26.2 miles in 3:21. (Three-twenty-one??) Kendra Goffredo, You are an Ironman! 140.6 in 10:27:58. (Sub-10:30??) I hug my parents. My eyes are teary. My mind stops protecting me. (Holy hell, my hand is killing me!)

RULES are RULES

Ninth amateur female. Fourth in my age group.

My Fourth Place Rock

I wouldn’t learn until the next morning that fourth  qualified me for the World Ironman Championships in Kona. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn in time how to “claim” my slot. For future reference, one does not claim her slot on the podium, and the rule book says as much. But should you forget, rest assured that Mike Reilly will yell in your face that “rules are rules.” Powerless, I watch as my unclaimed slot rolls down to Meredith who came in fifth behind me. Stomach ache.

But as I slip sadly back into my chair, I look across the table at my dad and remember why I started doing any of this anyway. And the familiar sense of calm returns. I remind myself that I just raced the race of my life, that I stayed mentally tough despite MAJOR setbacks, and in doing so, I honored my dad’s athletic legacy. And he was healthy enough to see the entire race! Those things will always be more important to me than racing in a Hawaiian city I never knew existed 365 days before.

Team Poppy Tony

Though it baffled me at the time, the calm I experienced leading up to, throughout, and after my first Ironman makes perfect sense. I stepped to the line knowing that I had done every last possible thing to prepare for that day.

Fight on, Team Poppy!

73 responses to “Ironman Arizona 2011: From Can’t Swim to Kona Qualifier in 365 Days

  1. Nice report! It’s exciting just reading it. I assume you were fistpumping as you wrote it? 🙂 I’ll be fascinated to see what you put together in St. George, NYC, etc.

  2. You are incredible. My Ironman hero–and an amazing and humble friend! Congratulations Kendra, and thanks for your creative recount of your day. Can’t wait to hear more from you here!

  3. A-Mazing! You are too much. Great work K-Go and Cheets and Team Poppy.

  4. Best line: Run like you are your father’s daughter.

  5. I agree with Eugene – I may have even teared up a bit. I hope my daughters feel the same way about me some day. Great report and even better race – Congrats again!

  6. Awesome, Kendra! Thanks for the shout out too. What an amazing race! I’m inspired … and impressed.

  7. Kendra,
    You are an inspiration to us all and truly brave for confronting the cold in AZ. I decided long ago that it would be too cold for me. Team Z Rocks!

  8. Kendra, stoked you started a blog! Great race and great 1st year in triathlon. See you in Vegas!!??

  9. I am proud of you Kendra! You now are the official STUD of the family!
    Uncle Johnny

  10. Great report. Awesome race. And your joy was infectious. Every time I encountered you (tho I missed you on the side of the road), your big smile and cheery greeting gave me a huge boost. Now that I think of it, that’s been true before and after IMAZ as well.

    • Thank you, Bob. I saw you blow by when I was trying to change my tire in the bushes. My fistpumping had just stopped a minute earlier to dedicate both hands to the tube changing process 🙂 Such a joy being your teammate!

  11. Alexis Lopez-Buitrago

    Si se puede!!!!! And you did it! Funny what the body can do when the mind is willing. Glad I was there to witness your beat down of the competition. You’ve made us all proud of you.
    Congrats.
    Alexis

  12. Kendra, Thanks for the awesome read! I am honestly inspired just knowing you. And I tell you what I was reading a note from someone about you recently and I don’t remember the words exactly, but it said something about the fact that you are as nice as you are fast and all I could do was smile because I know that is SO TRUE!! Congratulations IRONMAN!!

  13. Amazing race! Great report. See you in Kona, and soon.

  14. Fistpump K-bop! I love the paragraph about those trying to draft you getting wet! Ha ha! XO-B-bop.

  15. welcome to the blogging world, friend! What a great report. You rock 🙂 Cant wait to see you this weekend. oh, and ps- you and Andy need to come to Colorado asap.

    • Thank you. The blogging world has changed so much since I was blogging from an internet cafe with shoddy electricity in rural Nepal in 2003. Wow! Trip to Colorado on the top of my dream list. I’m going to miss you!

  16. You are amazing! We all followed you from our computers and Val kept updating…two flats, still rocking it, possible broken hand, still flying. Nothing could keep you down. Thanks for being an inspiration as an athlete and a person. Bring on the next race!

  17. Kendra – What a fun report (except for the flat)! It was inspiring to follow your race from DC as you blew out the competition. And you did the most important thing – have fun!
    Congratulations

  18. you are crazy. my favorite part “run like you are your father’s daughter” . congrats again!

  19. KGo, you are my hero. I can’t wait to see what you’ll do next. A big fat double fist pump for the freakin’ amazing way you conquered your first Ironman!

  20. Kendra – I loved reading this! You are (as you’ve always been) a great writer. 🙂 I still can’t believe your marathon time — I mean, that kicks ass on it’s own — and at the end of an ironman?? Seriously amazing. You are inspiring!

    • Thank you, Clarissa! Just found your blog too. Wow–you have a beautiful family. Keep up the good motherness. With so many life experiences, I know you are an awesome mom. –Kendra

  21. Hooray you started a blog! Fantastic race report and an even more fantastic race! You are definitely an inspiration and I look forward to reading your blog!

  22. I love your writing….so exciting and almost felt like I was there! Amazing accomplishment!

  23. Amazing, simply amazing Kendra!! I’m so proud of being able to call you a friend & teammate. You are truly an inspiration to all of us 🙂

  24. Great report from one great lady. Your ability to balance the joy of triathlon with the competition and discipline is incredible. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you, Jen. On the night before the race, I re-read your note and got tears in my eyes all over again. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I’ll trade sweaty tights and shorts with you any day! –Kgo

  25. Congratulations Kendra! I really enjoyed the play by play of your race, very exciting! Have a wonderful holiday time and keep blogging, you are really good at it!

  26. Wow I’m speechless (fist pump :)) I wish I had a sliver of whatever it is you’ve got! Hugs to you AND Poppy Tony.

  27. This is awesome. Looking forward to hearing about the next race. Go get em.

  28. Kendra! I was totally enthralled with your play-by-play!! WOW. I’m so inspired by your strenght. You have not only challenged yourself but all those you are in your life. You are a beautiful example of living life to the fullest and claiming the power each and everyone of us has within!!! Much love

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  30. You are incredible! How were you running sub 8min miles in miles 7 & 8. I could get sub 8 for maybe the first two miles, but then after that we are talking walking and lite jogging….coasting on in at 10min. You are inspiring me to go work out.

  31. This race report gave me chills. Great delivery, fun to read… looking forward to reading more 🙂

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  36. Marcus Kallenbach

    Kendra: I am impressed by your blog and this very first Ironman story. You are such a good story teller. I will follow dearly your very movements.

    Abrazos (in spanish for HUGS). Marcus

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  39. Still the fastest amateur female marathon at Ironman Arizona. Elisabeth Ruel from Canada ran 3:23:09 today.

  40. Still the fastest amateur marathon by a female in Ironman Arizona history. Elisabeth Ruel from Laval, Quebec had the best time today in 3:23:09.

  41. Pingback: Ironman Texas 2014 – More than a Feeling | The Adventures of ChiTo and Kgo

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