Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Kona Bound!! IMTX Race Report - Jess Perry

Utah was well-represented at last weekend's Ironman Texas, and congrats to everyone who raced! Jess Perry & Brice Williams both managed to punch their ticket to Kona, which as you all know is an epic accomplishment. Knowing that Jess came up painfully short (cough cough was robbed) at Ironman Santa Rosa last year, we reached out to get her race report and feelings on lassoing a Kona slot in the Lonestar State.

I came back into the triathlon scene just over 2 years ago after taking some time off to have a few more babies and focusing on some goals I had in the running/marathon world. When I was ready to come back I approached Jen Johnson, coach at Balanced Art Multisport (BAM), and shared with her some goals I had, the biggest being ultimately qualifying for Kona!! And so the journey began to change me from a runner into a triathlete!

The last two years of training has been full of highs and lows, breakthroughs and setbacks. Each race and training block has been different and each has helped me grow in a new way to prepare me for Ironman Texas 2018!!!

The prep for IMTX was some of the more intense training I have done. I have been building my fitness for the Ironman distance for 2 years now so my body was able to maintain a pretty high volume of workouts week after week. The balance of recovery and intensity was awesome and my body responded so well. I have never felt so ready to RACE hard as I was this time around. I had nailed down a solid nutrition plan of F2C…everything was ready! The week of Texas the workouts were smaller but the training continued. This time around I spent way more time mentally preparing myself. We had a sports psychologist come and talk to us in preparation for Texas. He said something that really sank in. He talked about how we need to normalize the nerves and emotions we have before and during a race instead of trying to minimize or ignore them. One thing I thought about a lot the week of Texas was how READY I was to go to dark places, because anyone who has done an Ironman knows of the dark places I am talking about. The dark places of an Ironman are scary and lonely and painful, but even those…I was ready for. I was ready to do what I needed to do to have the race I knew I was capable of.

We arrived in Texas on Tuesday, April 24th and got settled in our house that was just a few miles from the race venue. The next few days were filled with a Houston Astro game, a movie, good food and just relaxation. And when I say “we”…I was lucky enough to travel to Texas with two of my favorite people & training partners, Tracy Campbell & Kristi Monks! We were all in this together and had a blast prepping, and it was a blast traveling with them too. 

We headed to the Ironman village on Thursday and got all checked in. The wristband was put on and things started getting a little more serious! :) Thursday is also when I got my bike & run gear bags prepped and ready to go. I also prepare my nutrition (F2C) 2 days in advance to get one more thing out of the way that needs to be prepped for race day.

The day before the race we went down to the lake for the pre-race swim… water temp was 71.8. This could be the first year that we had a wetsuit legal swim, but you never know with Lake Woodlands! The water felt great and I was reminded once again how much I LOVE open water swimming! Really I love everything about it. The chaos, the sighting, the distance…so much better than swimming back and forth in a pool and having to flip turn at the walls! After the swim we went for a little bike & run and then went straight to transition to drop all our gear. We were done with everything by 11:30 and went for some lunch, then back to the house to lay low and get off our feet before game day. I sat in the same place on the couch for almost 7 hours but it was awesome! My pre-race meal is always the same…spaghetti, marinara & meatballs. Finished that meal around 5:30 and knew the carb load had been good and all that had been done before the race was executed perfectly.

RACE DAY! APRIL 28, 2018!

We arrived at the transition about 80 mins before the gun went off for us. I added nutrition to my bike, checked everything out and then headed to the swim start. Water temp was 74 something… wetsuit legal swim. First time ever! To get the belly moving we did a light jog to warm up and some dynamic stretches. My magic number of trips to the port potties is 3…after that was met it was time to get the wetsuit on and get ready to swim.

Swim: Like I said, I love open water swimming! But there is always lots of anxiousness before the swim start… I was feeling it. I lined up right around the 1:00-1:10 swim group. I have been wanting to swim a 1:05 Ironman for sometime. I knew I was capable of it but learning to “race” the swim has taken me some time to figure out. But if there was a day when I was going to race the swim… it was IMTX! The gun went off and I took off. The water wasn’t as bad as I remembered… but it was Texas and the water was still gross. The beginning is always a little rough as you are fighting for position in the swim. I finally got into a good groove and followed the advice from my coach which was at every buoy, pick up the pace. So that is what I did. It felt like forever before we made the turn into the canal, but then before I knew it I was out of the swim. I hit the lap button on my watch so I never saw what the time was. I actually don’t like looking at my swim time because at that point it doesn’t matter, it is what it is. Ironman is a long day and if it wasn’t the swim you wanted, it is too early in the game to start worrying. But later I found out…1:05! I finally got my swim time I wanted! As I was leaving transition I heard Jen yell…AWESOME SWIM JESS!!!

Bike: This is where I really felt I had made improvements during the last 6 months. I felt stronger than ever on the bike and had put in some really hard training sessions. The first 20 miles flew by and then we made the turn for the Hardy Toll Road. The Texas course is flat and fast and fun! The weather couldn’t have been more perfect and in our favor. I settled in and just biked. It got very crowded, very fast and you did your best to navigate the circumstances of the day and race hard! I got some good advice from a friend before and he told me that there should never be a comfortable time of the day. The line you have to teeter on to get to Kona is a thin one. If I felt myself getting comfortable I put my head down and got back to work. I biked hard… harder than I ever had. In fact I pushed more watts than I should have but I was there to race and knew what I needed to do to be in contention for that coveted Kona spot! As I came into transition I thought to myself, “I don’t think my legs can run a marathon!” I had the same thought in Santa Rosa ’17 and remembered that once I started running during that race, the legs came around and I felt great the first half of the run. This gave me encouragement heading into T2.

Run: The day had heated up! But I am little and I can withstand the heat more than most. I started the run and the legs felt heavy and unresponsive. I kept thinking just give it some time and they will come around. Quickly into the run I saw my husband, Trent, and Jen and they gave me encouraging words to just be patient, steady and run my race. So I tried to settle into a pace and get my legs to come around. Mile 3 came… the legs still were heavy and I had already hit some dark places that I always tell myself to keep running through. The golden rule of Ironman… don’t get stuck in the suck. Don’t get stuck in the dark place, keep moving through and know they will pass. I just kept moving and finally came around for the second loop. I saw Wes and he asked if I wanted to know where I was in the run. I told him NO! At this point I thought I was in 5th place or so heading into the run.

The first loop of the run I had passed girls but no girls in my age group. I was wondering where they were and feeling a little defeated that I hadn’t found any of them yet but I just kept moving. Heading into the 2nd loop I realized I still had 18 miles to run down who I needed to. I came around the other side of the canal of the second loop which was around mile 14, still no sign of anyone in my AG. I finally ran into Jen and she let me know I was in 3rd. I was about 2 mins away from 2nd place and about 7 mins off of first. So I got moving. I wanted to catch 2nd and seal the deal for a Kona spot.

As I was coming into my 3rd loop I still hadn’t found 2nd place that I knew of. Once again I found myself wondering why I couldn’t find them. Wes found me and let me know that I actually had ran myself into 2nd and 1st was hurting and under 6 mins ahead of me. I must have passed the other girl in an aid station or just not have noticed. I was in a serious place of hurt and just trying to focus on the finish line in front of me… that I wouldn’t hit for another 10 miles or so but I tried to not dwell on that thought because 10 miles is still a really long way to run! So I began my 3rd and final loop wanting to see if I could gain ground on 1st but wanting to gap myself from 3rd even more. So I just kept running. The dark places came faster and they were longer but I told myself to keep moving. I FINALLY found myself at Mile 22… just another 30 minutes or so of suffering. I could do it! Just past this point I found my husband and he told me first was 5 mins ahead and I had gained time on 3rd so he told me to go get 1st! I was in such a place of hurt that I decided in my head that I would just maintain… I just had to maintain to the finish so that is what I did.

Two miles to go I wanted to quit, everything HURT but I told myself to hurt for 2 more miles and then once I finished I wouldn’t feel the hurt anymore, so I kept going!! Finally I hit the point where you can either head to your 2nd & 3rd laps or you head to the finish. I was there!! I was almost done! I had done it! I veered off to the finish and could hear the cheers. I don’t even know if it gave me any pep in my step or if my pace sped up but I felt energized and ready to finish what I had started earlier that morning! I made the final turn to the finish chute and emotions just overcame me. I tried to sprint but my legs wouldn’t move any faster so I ran as strong as I could. I had a secret goal of coming in Sub 10 for this Ironman and when I crossed the finish line I saw the clock overhead and it said 9:57 and change! At this moment I was so excited that I had done it. I had broke 10 and I had come in 2nd in my AG and I knew I had secured a Kona spot! The adrenaline of finishing took over and for a moment the pain subsided. I found my husband and he gave me a hug and he told me, “You slayed it Jess! 9:40 Ironman.” I thought I was hearing things so I said…”WHAT??” He told me again, “You just did a 9:40 Ironman!” I was overwhelmed and excited and so tired!! I found Jen and gave her a big, sweaty hug and told her thank you for believing in me!

I made the walk through the finish line, got a coke and pretzels and made my way over to the rapid reboot tent where I immediately sat in the boots! I smelled so bad and hurt everywhere, but none of that seemed to bother me! It was so surreal what I had just done that it took awhile to sink in. Slowly my friends and teammates gathered together and celebrated with me!

The next day was awards and Kona allocations. I sat there nervous, even though I was sure that my AG had at least 2 spots I was still nervous! If anyone knows, I had been in this situation before. At Ironman Santa Rosa last year I was 2nd in my Age Group, 4th Female Overall and at the Kona Slot Allocations my age group was only awarded 1 slot to Kona…WHAT??? Yep... no Kona slot after that performance. It was finally time for my AG and the Kona slots…my name was called and it was so surreal. I walked up and got my lei and headed over to finalize my entry to KONA…the World Championship of Ironman! I did it! I did it!! After all the attempts, all the fails, all the breakthroughs, all the hard workouts and early mornings…I had done it!!

I have to say thank you to my family! My husband is the most supportive person ever in this crazy journey. I think he was just as excited as me when I finally got that spot! My kids are amazing. They support me in all I do and are dang excited! I think they are excited because they think they are coming…just kidding…I think we will bring them (at least the two oldest) because they deserve it, they are patient through the crazy! And lastly, I have to thank Jen! She has been here through it all. She has seen me at my highs and lows and is always there to celebrate with me or help me pick up the pieces and head back to the drawing board. This process hasn’t been easy but it has all been worth it. To everyone out there my advice is NEVER give up on your dreams. See failures not as a negative thing but as a stepping stone to your end result. Learn from the journey and find joy in it all!! I am excited to race on the big stage and excited to keep training and see where this body can take me!! I am excited to represent Intermountain Tri Team (@intermountaintri) and all our sponsors this year. Thank you everyone for cheering me on, supporting me and celebrating with me!

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