My 2013 Ironman World Championship Experience


IMWC picMy 2013 Ironman World Championship Experience

The door to the plane opened and I could not wait to get to the doorway to smell the Hawaiian air. I was told to stand there and look around, take a deep breath and take in the energy form the island.  I did just that.  Kona’s airport is not like any other airport I have visited.  It is a bunch of really, huts and you exit the plane down a stairway to the tarmac. My plane was full of Ironman athletes and spectators and the energy of the people, as well as the island, was off the charts.  It was sensory overload for me.  After getting my bike, luggage and car I headed to my condo to get settled in for the week. Once I arrived to my condo I did a simple 20 minute run to shake out the legs.  Obviously with never having been to Hawaii and never having raced Ironman World Championships this week was full of firsts for me.  My first run along Ali’i drive was unbelievable.  The amount of happy, fit people out and about was amazing.  Here I was, running along the ocean, in Kona. Somebody pinch me.

 Kona beauty Collage

I arrived on the Monday before the race to give myself the week to get used to the hype of Kona as well as preview the course and to thoroughly enjoy the entire Iron week. Tuesday, I put my bike together and took it for a spin to make sure everything was working fine.  I then took a drive to Hawi, the turn around point for the bike, to see what it was like and to experience the wind. Hawi is a very cute small town and I could just imagine what it was going to be like on the bike on Saturday during the race.  The trade winds are so strong that the trees grow sideways.  I really focused on mentally preparing myself to just laugh at the wind.  It will be what it’s going to be and it will blow on us all.  I took this time to really embrace being on the island and experience as much of it’s beauty as possible.

Wednesday, I went for a swim from Dig Me Beach, the swim start for the race.  I showed up at 7am and was surprised at how many people were there. It was packed with bodies that were in tip top shape.  This was my first exposure to the athletes that I was going to share the course with on Saturday.  The level of people sizing up one another was unreal.  I quickly figured out there were two kinds of athletes there. One type was the type A, super aggressive, there to RACE and the other type was the type that was there to embrace the experience.  I was  the latter.  Luckily, PowerBar was there to do bag check for the swim so I did not have to worry about leaving my things unattended while swimming.

Swimming in Kona was like no other place I have experienced.  It was like swimming in an aquarium.  There were so many different kinds of fish and the clarity was amazing.  I found myself not wanting to turn my head to breathe.  The only annoying thing was there was no rhyme or reason to how people were swimming so you had to be very careful to not swim into anybody.  The farther you got from shore the easier it was to navigate through all the people.Swim start Collage

One of the experiences I was told to check out was the Coffee Boat. The Coffee boat is about 400 meters off shore and yes, they serve coffee.  I could not figure out if all the individuals hanging out were racers or spectators. Most would just hang on to the side of the boat and some would just tread water and hang out.  I did not have any coffee but I did hang out long enough to see Leanda Cave toss bright green swim caps to us like we were a bunch of seals waiting for a prize.

After swimming I went to Athlete Check In.  As confirmation that this is a unique experience, the process began sharply at 9am with a man blowing into a conch shell in all four directions then once again to the north.  Check in was so incredibly streamlined and effective, more so than any other race I have been to.

Later that day I decided to run on part of the run course on Ali’i Drive.  No matter what time of day it was, there were always people out running.  kona - CWIt was absolutely beautiful and I had to force myself to stop running and stay mellow.  Thankfully I still needed to head to the Expo to see what was there because I knew by late Thursday I would not want to be on my feet very much.  The Expo was incredible, it was like an expo on steroids.  You name the brand, they were probably there.  I quickly walked through to see all there was and then I was on my way.  Before I left I did get a chance to breifly chat with the legendary Chrissie Wellington.

Thursday started out quite exciting with the UPR (Under Pants Run) which is an absolutely hilarious event.  This run began in 1998 as a protest against wearing Speedos in public places and has morphed into an Ironman pre-event ice breaker and local fund raiser.  I was invited to be part of the Wattie Bikini Girls Team and boy was that entertaining.  We had matching outfits and created quite the buzz.  The run itself is more like a jog/walk and is only 1.2 miles with calisthenics on the pier.  If you ever make it to Kona during Iron week, you must attend the UPR, I can promise you, you will laugh!wattie girl UPR

Following the UPR, I went to breakfast with some friends and then headed to the pier for a swim.  This was the best swim ever.  There were fewer people and I could truly enjoy the beauty below me in the water.  About 500M off shore I saw this very dark area that was moving in the water and I quickly determined it was a school of sardines. I stopped swimming and just floated there watching this mass be push and pulled by the current.  It was quite magical, I couldn’t help myself, I dove down into it and watched the mass split and scatter then resume their shape as I floated to the surface.  It was so beautiful to watch and I could have stayed there all day.  Unfortunately, I needed to finish my swim and move on with my day.  Later that afternoon I had a bike ride scheduled and I chose to ride another part of the bike course.  I felt very ready and mentally prepared for Saturday.  That night was the Wattie Party and I was not about to miss that.  Plus, my awesome sister and her husband arrived on Thursday and I wanted to take them to meet some of my comrades.  We did not stay late as I needed my beauty sleep.

Friday everything started to feel more real.  After my morning run I got my transition bags ready, double checked my bike and got ready for drop off.  Butterflies were fluttering in my tummy as I walked up to drop my gear and bike.  There were so many spectators, vendors accounting for all the bikes that were coming through, and tons of volunteers to support.  When going through the drop off process I was given a personal volunteer to walk me through everything.  It was absolutely amazing.  He was old enough to be my dad and was volunteering for the fifth time.  He was so patient and calming. When we entered we actually walked through the process backwards and then he allowed me to walk back through it once more so I felt comfortable.  It was so incredibly surreal when I was walking through it all, it looked just like it did when I would watch it on TV.  I know that sounds silly but just imagine watching something on TV or your computer many times and then all of a sudden you are there and seeing with your own eyes.  I found myself many times just in complete awe of my surroundings.  Once I was done with drop off I wanted to get off my feet as soon as possible and just relax.  My sister and her husband chose to go out to dinner which was perfect because it left me with my crazy self to prep my things for race morning and get to bed to try and sleep.  I emphasize try because I never sleep well the night before a race.  Before I retired for the evening I had an absolutely wonderful call with my kids.  Thank goodness for FaceTime!  They had made signs for me and I knew they would be pulling big time for me.

boys posters Collage

Race day!

Kona race start CollageI got up 3hrs before race start to get some food in my belly and allow enough time to not be rushed.  I ate 2 packets of instant oatmeal and a cup of caffeinated coffee.  Thanks to my awesome sherpas, Emily and Tony Agin, I received door to door service.  Once I stepped out of the car the energy of the venue swallowed me up.  I was here and was moments away from embarking on one of the greatest days.  The whole process is so streamlined and organized it is crazy.  The amount of volunteers it takes to pull off an event of this magnitude was astounding.  Once I entered the “Athlete Only” area I headed to my line for body marking.  I must say being a mom of three and having done my fair share of temporary tattoos this was fun to have two ladies apply my numbers to my arms.  From there I was funneled to the medic area where I was weighed in.  I would have loved to known what I weighed at the end of the day but then that would have meant that I needed to go to medical and that would have been a no bueno.  From there we were funneled to where our bikes were. I put my shoes and nutrition on my bike, pumped my tires up and made sure she was ready to fly.  After that I wanted to add something to my run bag.  Interestingly enough, if you wanted to add anything to your gear bags you had to be escorted by a volunteer and they stayed with you until you were done.  After I felt ready and everything was set up I headed into the host hotel, the King K, to rest and get off of my feet.  The excitement was building and I tried to look at as many racers as I could.  Some were so stressed and crying and others were super intense and then you had those, like me, that were so happy to be there to simply enjoy the day.  The male pros took off at 6:30 with the females 5 minutes later.  I just listened as the canons sounded and visualized what my day was going to look like.  I got into my blue seventy PZ3TX swim skin, took my first of many PowerGels for the day, hugged my sister and brother-in-law and headed to the swim start.  The butterflies were present but in a good way.  I had prepared well for this day and knew that I could only control me, not the elements and not the other racers.  I was racing against my clock and no one else.  My goals were well defined and I was ready for a great day!

As I entered the water my heart started pounding, I waited until the last possible moment to swim out to the start. By waiting I could now see the magnitude of this race by seeing almost the entire field in the water.  Mike Reilly then asked, “How many first timers here in Kona do we have today?”  I was shocked and excited to see so many raise their hands.  The countdown began, I said a little prayer, the cannon blew and we were off.

Here is a video of the swim start, it is about 6 minutes long but really fun to watch the anticipation build and plus you can hear Mike Reilly talking a little bit in the background.  Everytime I watch this video I get chill bumps.


Many people told me that this swim would be like no other because you are racing against the best and will constantly be surrounded by great swimmers.  It was pretty physical right out of the gate and I quickly determined to just go with it and not fight it.   Every once in a while I would find open water but then it would be quickly filled with other swimmers.  I knew if I continued to waste energy trying to swim faster I would payswim start for it later in the race so I settled in.  My swim goal was 1:10 and I swam a 1:11, so I am pretty happy with that.

Transition 1

Have you ever been in a crowded place and needed to get to the restroom so bad that you become tunnel visioned and all you can think about is that restroom? You do not care who is in your way, you do not hear voices, you simply are mowing through and over people to get where you need to be so you don’t pee your pants.  I know that is a crazy analogy but that is what transition is like for me.  I visualize transition so much before a race that once I get there it is like I go robot mode and get it done.  Coming out of the water there were hoses with fresh water running and I quickly made my way through two of them and on to get my T1 gear bag.  I dumped my swim skin with the volunteers and made my way to my bike. As I exited transition I looked at the clock, which I have never done before, and saw 1:13; I knew I hit my swim goal and was super excited. I was surprised but happy to see my T1 time was 2:45, I thought it would have been longer.


This race I did something new.  I rolled out of transition with only 1 disposable bottle of water to rinse my mouth out and finish rinsing my body off from the salt water.  Because of the elements I knew I would go through a lot of water and Powerbar Perform and decided to solely rely on liquids from the aid stations.  I train with Perform, so it was perfect.  My only nutrition on the bike was 5 PowerGels, 1 stinger waffle, and 10 salt sticks and it was perfect.

Kona Bike 2 CollageThe first section of the bike is in town, VERY fast and crowded.  I simply went with it and  figured things would mellow once we got up to the Queen K.  My biggest concern going into the race was wondering what it was going to be like on the bike course.  In the video clips I had watched it appeared as though it was just a stream of bikes.  I certainly did not want to get a drafting penalty and was fearful of getting caught in a group of riders that I could not pass.  There were a handful of cyclists that got warned for drafting and I saw quite a few in the penalty tents.  I simply made sure I kept my distance and if I came upon a group of riders that were not going my speed I would wait a few moments at the back of the pack and then make my move to move to the front.  The weather did not concern me because I knew it was going to be a challenge.  However, it was relatively fair compared to what I thought it was going to be.  The winds played their role, just as I thought they would.   As I got closer to Hawi, I noticed the winds were kicking up and I just chuckled.  Up to this point I was making great time and it looked like I could possibly have a 5:30 bike split.  Possibly, did you catch that?  In long course racing you have to be prepared to take whatever comes your way and be flexible with your time goals.  Because one of my big goals was to enjoy the day I made it a point to chat fellow racers, thank as many volunteers as I could and take a moment to look around every once in a while.  Just prior to reaching Hawi I saw the pros for the first time and they were flying down the hill.   It is pretty cool when you can share the same course and day with the professionals in this sport.

After the turn around in Hawi, I looked out at the ocean and could not believe my eyes.  The views were amazing and I was so proud of myself for not getting so wrapped up in racing that I forgot to take a look around.  At this point I was feeling really good and can not believe I was over half way through the bike.  Having only one other full Ironman experience to pull from, I relied on my long training rides for experience.  To ward off the mental fatigue I played number games in my head and  tried to have as many conversations with fellow racers as possible.  As I approached mile 90 I was still on the mark to have around a 5:30 bike split, I was completely stoked to think I was going to be off my bike in about an hour.  Well, then things dramatically changed, or should I say the wind shifted.  Lucky me, I was now riding directly into a head wind.  As I watched my MPH drop I knew I was going to be on the bike longer than I had hoped.  Oh well.  I stayed low and pressed on.  My big goal for the day was to bike conservatively enough to allow me to run a 3:30 marathon.  All I could think about as the miles ticked down was getting off of my bike and running.  I love my bike and am thankful for my ISM Adamo Road saddle but I was so mentally done with my bike, I wanted off of her.  When I finally started seeing signs of Kona, I was relieved to know I would be on my feet soon.   I was very proud of my bike. Yes, I probably could have gone faster but who knows what that would have done to my run.  I ended up with a 5:42 bike split, very super happy with that.

Transition 2

After doing a flying dismount, I handed my bike to a volunteer and took off running.  Why did the ground feel harder than normal? My legs felt discombobulated.  But why does the ground hurt?  Oh well.  Keep moving.  Smile.  Say thank you.  These are the things I repeated to myself as I made my way through transition.   The volunteers were so helpful.  They put sunscreen on my arms and back and vaseline on some chaffed skin from the swim.  They put my race belt and hat on me as I slipped my KSwiss Kwicky Blades on my feet.  My transition time was pretty good with a 3:04.


Ahhhh, the run.  This is my happy place.  No matter how tired I am, I can still run.  As I exited T2 I saw my sister and brother-in-law, Emily and Tony.  Seeing family and familiar faces is such a boost.  The first part of the run is about 5 miles down Ali’i Drive in Kona.  It is lined with people and you have views of the ocean, it does not get much better than that.  Right out of the gate I started to have a mental battle.  Remember I said my big goal for the day was to have a 3:30 marathon?  Well, that is an average of 8 minute miles.  I know I can do that but I have to race smart.   And I have only done one other Ironman marathon.  At the 1 mile mark I looked at my watch and I was cruising at just over a 7 minute per mile pace.  Here was my battle, I felt great but wondered if I could sustain that.  Odds are….no.  So I decided to just slow up just a bit and ride the “feel good wave” through all the energy of the people.  In that moment I felt awesome and soon enough I would be up on the Queen K running with no people to cheer me on and the sun and the wind.

Kona run Collage

I broke the marathon up into four sections.  The Ali’i Drive section, the Queen K section before the Energy Lab, the Energy lab, and then finally the 10K home from the Energy Lab.  Every marathon has a section where you can lose the story or fall prey to the black hole of racing.  For me, I knew it was going to be the Queen K section headed toward the Energy Lab.  There are big rollers, no spectators, you are headed away from Kona, you are only about half way done and it is hot.  Sure enough, that was the case but I was half to winning this battle by being prepared.  My pace slowed a bit but I knew I could still stay well within the range to meet my goal. I gave myself permission to walk every aid station.  As soon as I approached the aid station I briskly walked, took what I needed nutrition wise, thanked the volunteers and took off running again as soon as I hit the end of the station.  This strategy worked well for me as it also allowed me to really embrace the experience.  Once I got to the top of the Energy Lab, I knew all I had to do was get in and get out of the Energy Lab and then it was a 10K home.   All I remember about the Energy Lab is how badly I wanted to get out, it was so stinky and now my legs were hurting.  After exiting the Energy Lab, I had 10K to get home.  With every step I could feel my quads crying.  My coach, Toby Baum with Camelback Coaching,  knows me well and knows I race for myself but I really pull my strength from others because I love to inspire people.  Before Kona he so eloquently reminded me to think of all the people that dream of going to Kona and would give much to be where I am.   No matter how tired I get, no matter how much discomfort I have, no matter what “issues” I face, they all would rather face those than follow online.  I did think of all those people, my friends, my family, my kids, and all my supporters.  Somehow the pain subsided and I pushed home.  As I headed down Palani, about a 400 yd hill, my legs were so numb.  The muscle contractility was not there and I focused on keeping feet below me so I did not fall on my face.  There is something very odd when you are running down hill on thrashed legs, it hurts more than running up hill.  At the bottom of Palani was the “Hot Corner” where a media tower with an announcer was calling out names and he cheered me to the finish.  At this point I had less than a mile to go with two little side streets to go down before I hit Ali’i Drive for the home stretch.  Those two little side streets felt like forever.  I made a right turn onto Ali’i and I immediately welled up with excitement.  I can still go back to that moment like it was yesterday, I’m getting teary eyed sitting here typing about it.  It is like no other experience I have ever had.  I immediately reflected back on all the months of training.  All the early mornings.  All the sacrifices.  All the hard work.  All the support that went into making it possible for me to train and race.  I was so proud of myself for racing my race, sticking to my plan and not letting a moment pass me by without soaking it up.  I loved every second of that day and relished my run down Ali’i drive into the finishing chute.  I looked at the smiles on people’s faces and listened to all the cheers.  I did it.  The sense of accomplishment was overwhelming.  As I walked up the ramp to the finishing arch Mike Reilly said those awesome words, “SheriAnne Nelson, you are an Ironman.”

Kona Finish Collage

I am so incredibly grateful for all the support I receive to make it possible for me to chase my dreams.  I could not make this happen without my A-Team.  My husband and family is behind me 110% and without their support I could not get out there to train for this crazy sport.  My coaches Toby Baum, Bill and Anne Wilson with Camelback Coaching help prepare me mentally and physically for every event.  Rolfs Salon made it possible for me to register and race all my races this year.  Dr. Marc Weissman at Mercado Chiropractic keeps me healthy to perform my best.  Triple Sports/Destination Kona makes it possible for me to get all the gear and gadgets I need to train and race. And my outstanding Wattie Ink Elite Racing Team has made it possible for me to meet more people than I thought possible and provide partnerships with some great companies.

Up next Ironman Arizona, November 17, 2013.

Thanks for reading and Happy Training.


About sherianne

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is SheriAnne Nelson and I am happily married to my husband Mike. I’m a mother of three beautiful children ages 9, almost 6, and 3, am a passionate fitness professional, and a Star Diamond Level fitness coach within the Team Beachbody program in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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