Kgo in Wonderland: IRONMAN Lake Placid Race Report

IMLP Alice in Wonderland

“One can’t believe impossible things,” Alice laughed.

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Six Impossible Things

The queen would have been proud of me last Sunday. As I prepared my breakfast on the morning of my 5th IRONMAN, I too believed six impossible things:

1. That I could swim under 1:05

2. That I could bike to minimize the gap that my strongest competitors had built during the swim

3. That I could break 3:20 in the IRONMAN marathon

4. That chasing these goals wouldn’t land me in the med tent

5. That I could take the amateur title

6. That I could break the amateur record (10:01)

In this race report, I examine the outcome of each of these impossible things.

IMLP Sleeveless WetZoot

1. That I could swim under 1:05.

IRONMAN Lake Placid adopted the self-seeding rolling start this year. Not my fave.

IMLP Swim Self Seeding

Too many burly men with strong kicks overestimated their ability; I lost count of the shots I received to the face as I worked to pass them. Forget the underwater cable stretching the length of the course. Though it was supposed to minimize the need to sight, there were so many others fighting for position that it created a violent traffic jam.

IMLP Swim Loop 1

Luckily, my arms and core felt strong throughout the 2.4 miles, thanks in part to my new sleeveless Z Force 2.0 WetZoot and in other part to the hundreds of hours I’ve spent in the pool this year. I emerged in 1:04, a time I truly thought impossible.

Let’s put that time into context: Three years ago, I didn’t know how to swim, but my desire to finish an IRONMAN overrode my fear of putting my face in the water. Learning to swim is hands-down the greatest athletic challenge I have faced. Last year, my slowest IRONMAN swim was 1:51. Twice I swam a 1:14 though I had put in hundreds of hours of practice in between the two attempts. So when I emerged from the final loop to read a 1:04 on the clock, I struggled to hold it together.

Running and crying tears of joy, I raced over the half mile to and through transition.

IMLP Bike Smile

2. That I could bike to minimize the gap my strongest competitors had established during the swim

Like every other triathlon in which I have competed, I needed a strong bike and run to fight my way back into contention. Knowing that several of the strong swimmers were also strong bikers, I had to believe in the impossibility that I could chip away at their lead before the run.

The formidable bike strength of Katie, Alyssa, and several others, however, served to widen the gap they had established in the swim. I have no regrets believing in this impossibility, though. Without it, the damage would have been even greater, far too great to mend on the run.


3. That I could break 3:20 in the IRONMAN marathon

In the week leading up to the race, my coach asked me what I was ready to run. Sub-3:20, I replied. He called that a low-ball estimate, but a good place to start. I knew before I ever jumped into the water that day that, given even my best-case scenario swim and bike, winning the amateur title and breaking the amateur course record (10:01) would require a sub-3:20 marathon.

This was perhaps the most important of impossibilities that I believed.

IMLP Run Peace 2

Hot kicks love to run!

By the time I put on my running shoes, I was 24 minutes behind eventual amateur champion, Katie Thomas. That’s a hell of a lot of time to make up over 26.2 miles when you are racing one of the best triathletes in the country. But I went right on believing.

Even when my lace malfunctioned before mile 1, forcing me to run the first 12 miles with just one shoe tied. Even when I stopped at my special needs bag to change shoes so I could finish the second half with laces.

IMLP Run Downhill 2

Notice the shoe change: The other pair of hot kicks also love to run!

Slowly and steadily, I chipped away at the lead the others had established. The two-loop, out-and-back course allowed me to see how far ahead the stronger swimmer-bikers were, but it also gave us the chance to encourage one another. Each time I crossed paths with Katie, Alyssa, and Marni, we exchanged words of encouragement. I love this about IRONMAN ladies.

Believing I could run this IRONMAN marathon under 3:20 meant that I kept pushing even when I knew that the amateur champion had already crossed the finish line. In the end, I clocked a 3:22, just ten minutes shy of my stand-alone marathon record.

4. That chasing these goals wouldn’t land me in the med tent

Two miles before the finish line, I hit the long and final climb. On that first agonizing step uphill, I literally reached my hand forward as I do to downshift on the bike. Strange feeling of disorientation when I remember that I was no longer biking, but running. That I had no gears to downshift but my own legs. That confirmed what my tingling fingers and lips were telling me, which was that I had raced myself into dehydration.

I struggled through those final miles, watching my average pace nosedive. And as I always do when I am digging deeper than I thought possible, I remembered that I wasn’t just running for me. I was running for my father too.

Kendra crosses the finish  IMLP 2013

When I crossed the finish line, the volunteers whisked me away to the med tent where the doc took my bloods and monitored my vital signs. Within a half hour, and after several cups of chicken broth, I began to inquire about my place and time. That was a good indication that I was on the road to recovery.

5. That I could take the amateur title

Unfortunately, I came up seven minutes short for the amateur title. Katie Thomas is a powerhouse and, over the last few months, has become a friend. And though I really wanted to fly by her in the final loop of the run, the title couldn’t have gone to a more deserving athlete.

Believing in the impossibility of running down a 24-minute lead kept me focused and hungry and helped me to clock a 10:16 on an unforgiving course.

6. That I could break the amateur record

Breaking 10:01 on the Lake Placid course really would have taken a steller swim-bike AND run. I may not be there yet, but part of the reason I believe in the impossible is because doing so has helped me redefine possible again and again. It wasn’t long ago that swimming across the pool was outside my realm of possibility.

I guess the queen knew what she was doing when she set aside a half hour each day to believe in the impossible.

In what impossible will you believe?

IMLP Podium 30-34 v2

Thank you:

The MMRF, for helping myeloma fighters, including my dad, redefine possible

Zoot, for giving me the best gear in triathlon

SmartWool, for the happiest feet on the course

Nalgene, for pre-race hydration

My Coach, the German Sage, for calling out my low-ball estimate

Coach Beth Baker, for her coaching patience and persistence in the pool

Katie Thomas and her family, for their kindness on and off the course

The Greene Family, for adopting me for the weekend

My parents, for cheering so loudly that I could hear them all the way from San Diego

The DC Triathlon Community and Team Wattie, for incredible cheers from racers and spectators alike

IMLP CheerSquad 2

IMLP Wattie 2

And finally, to the town of Lake Placid!

IMLP Snow v2

53 responses to “Kgo in Wonderland: IRONMAN Lake Placid Race Report

  1. Great article Kendra. Proud as always of you 🙂

  2. I love reading your race reports! You are awesome – I can’t believe you ran 12 miles with one shoe tied!! I am curious about the decision you made re your Kona slot – I don’t really understand. Was that so that you could re-qualify with your dad present? (I know you don’t address that here – but I’ve been wondering since you mentioned it on FB).

    As always – you inspire me. 🙂

    • Thank you, Clarissa! Look at you! All up on the IRONMAN lingo with this Kona slot question 🙂 And so sweet of you to ask. I’ll explain more in an upcoming blog…but basically, had the option to race in Kona in October, but my dad wouldn’t be able to go (because of the toll that flying takes + timing of chemo treatments). So instead I am going to race in Sept and Nov, both in locations that my parents can drive to from San Diego (Vegas and Tempe) and that won’t interrupt his chemo treatments! Thank you so much for your support, Ris! Hugs to you and your family. –Kendra

  3. Well done. I think of your card with the Queen’s motto from time to time 😉 You are living inspiration. Glad you had fun.

    • Thank you, Fierless! Love the queens motto, though truth me told, she kind of scared me as a child 🙂 And I love the motto on the card you sent me. Life does begin at the end of your comfort zone. Glad you pushed yours this year, though certainly glad to have you coming back! –Kgo

  4. Wow…you’re amazing!! I can’t imagine not only the physical strength but mental strength it took to complete this! Sounds like an awesome race! Way to go!!

  5. You are amazing kendra….you make others see that “impossible” is just a word, and definitely not something that should stop anyone.

  6. Amazing job! I can’t believe that you didn’t swim three years ago, and now you’re swimming 1:04. Very inspiring to someone like myself that can barely swim. Obvious that you’ve put in tons of time/energy into it. And you look so happy on the run! Congrats on a fantastic finish!

    • Thank you, Jesse. It was such an incredible feeling that I truly cried when I emerged from the water to see a 1:04 on the clock. After so many frustrating days in the pool when I was crying for other reasons, it was great to shed tears of joy! Thank you for the note. Keep believing. –Kgo

  7. I think all this swimming and biking is distracting you from your true love…running! Seriously, nice job, that is an amazing time on a tough course!! That last hill on the run is NO JOKE. Congrats!!

    • I think you’re right, Andrew. But I do find that I savor my running miles more now that I don’t get to have them every day! How are your swimming and biking coming along? –Kgo

  8. Each time I read your new post, I get teary eyed and humbled.
    I contemplate your goals, applaud your training, and commend your devotion to your DAD. I celebrate your accomplishments!🌀💗🚲
    My daughter is an IRONMAN (x5)! Lake Las Vegas, here we come!

  9. Always, always, always a huge inspiration to all of us Kendra! I’m so fortunate to know you and count you as a friend 🙂

  10. Love it! You are so inspirational! Loved reading about shifting gears during your run. You are amazing! 🙂 XO

  11. Melanie Shepherdson

    Great race report, Kendra! Congratulations again on such an impressive race. It was really exciting to track you dropping the hammer on the run.

  12. Love reading your race reports, Kendra. I am so proud of you, as always. I’m really, really close to signing up for my first Ironman, but I am nervous!! Every time I read your posts I get more excited about going for it, but also know it is an incredible effort that sometimes I’m not sure I have in me. It is really amazing to see how hard you can push yourself time after time!

    • Thank you, Micaela. You are already a studette! With the proper training, you can definitely do this. Let me know if you want help in choosing the right IRONMAN for you. –Kendra

  13. Great race Kendra, so fun watching you over past few years!!!

  14. BEST race report! So humble, such a community-oriented personality…love it!

  15. Magnificent, well done and well written!

  16. Congratulations on believing in yourself and achieving so many amazing things in just one day.

  17. I am blessed to watch you grow as a person and as an athlete – you are an inspiration to many – thank you for the Light you bring into my life and the life others – Namaste

  18. wooooty woot. I love how you write! GO Ko-Go!

  19. you are amazing! always stepping up to challenge yourself to a new level. love to you and your beautiful journey.

  20. I found your blog after reading your amazing article in Triathlete magazine and I am hooked! Your positive attitude and belief in the impossible is SO inspiring! Congrats on an AWESOME race and being one step closer to making the impossible possible!

  21. CONGRATS! Even if you didn’t make all of your impossible dreams, it was an amazing day – one I watched in awe as it unfolded! So inspiring and what an amazing story! Congrats again!

  22. I met you in the 0 lane in the pool 3 years ago, a lane filled with all these other adults who barley knew how to swim. Flash forward- a 1:04 OWS 2.4 mile split; that’s incredible! Congrats again on another personal and athletic achievement.

  23. Wow, what an uplifting Race Report! Congratulations Kendra! When my daughters were small and I was coaching them I always said that I merely wanted them to experience the Character-Building benefits of sports. Learning to work hard, try your utmost, win with joy, lose with grace, respect your competitors, be a good sport.. It is all there in your Race Recap, and I can only imagine how proud your parents are of you.. I think the impossible comes a tiny bit easier when you have a strong character and good spirit..

    I had a bunch of friends doing this race and I snuck a few peeks at your splits as I followed my friends all day. You had an amazing day and an amazing run! Really impressed by your swim improvement. Congrats!

    Above in the comments I note that you made a choice to defer KQ and instead do some races where your Dad/Mom could come see you. I wish I could hire Mike Reilly to yell “Kendra you are an amazing daughter”

    As I watched online I also saw an sidebar article that MMRF will be the official charity partner of IMLP next year. That is pretty cool! You are making an impact! Nothing is impossible….

  24. We delight in your success, Kendra, and so appreciate your excellent writing that takes all of us along for the ride. As a personal aside, Cindy’s latest three-month checkup was all positive so we are very thankful…Love to you and the family.

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  26. Hi Kendra,

    I just finished reading your interview from Triathlete mag. Congrats! How did you learn to swim? I’m 34, cant swim and because of this, I’m forced to do Duathlons. I’d like to eventually compete in an Ironman but that’s not happening if I can’t swim. What would you recommend?


    • Hi Enen, So glad you enjoyed the interview! At first, I joined a “masters” swim team that had caters to beginners. They showed me the basics. Then I took a few one-one-one lessons with a private coach and worked a lot on my own on the things I learned from the coach. I would definitely recommend finding someone who knows who to teach swimming, and not someone who is simply a good swimmer. Teaching someone to swim is an art! Once you learn the basics, it will take thousands of hours of practice, but it’s totally worth it! Keep up the good work in your duathlons and update me on your progress learning to swim. Be in it for the long haul 🙂 –Kendra

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