2012 Ironman St. George: [Race Report] – Every Step of the Way

Ironman / Race Reports
Race Day Morning:
The morning of the race I woke up at 3:45 a.m.  after a night of ‘off and on’ sleep due to a headache I acquired at about 1:30 a.m. due to nerves.  I lay in bed for about 5 minutes and envisioned my perfect race that I had mentally practiced over a dozen times throughout the week leading up to today. Then I stretched and slowly rolled out of bed.  It’s hard to move quickly at the crack of dawn.  I grabbed my uniform and as I was getting ready for the long day ahead.  My coach, Lee Gardner, prepared my breakfast, oatmeal with fresh cut strawberries and a banana on top. Lee checked the daily forecast again and informed me that the winds were predicted to be 5-10mph and a high of 83 degrees, perfect racing conditions.
After we had everything we needed, we jumped in the car so that Lee could drive me to T2 where all the athletes stood in line like cattle to get on a shuttle (AKA School Bus) to be taken to Sand Hallow Reservoir.   Once, I got to the front of the line, Lee and I agreed that it would be amazing if he was able to make it to my swim start. So he wished me luck and before I knew it I was being escorted onto the bus. I took an empty row and after about 15 people loaded onto the bus an extremely sweet lady asked to sit next to me. Once the bus made its way to the reservoir which was about a 30 minute drive, we started talking; she asked me how many Ironman’s I have done and what got me interested in them in the first place, etc. But then she asked me a question that so many have asked leading into the race, “Well, what is your goal for this race?” I knew I had busted my butt the past five months and if I had the race I was capable of, I would set a huge statement. However, I replied saying, “I have two goals, one to have FUN and two, to FINISH!” When you really think about it, if you are not having fun, what’s the point? We continued chatting and laughing the entire shuttle ride, which significantly helped to calm my nerves. Meanwhile outside, the full moon illuminated the sky, giving me a sign that today was going to be a great race.
At 5:00 a.m. the shuttle pulled into the Sand Hallow Parking Lot which was now transformed into T1. All the athletes scrambled off the bus and were led to several volunteers who were doing body marking. Here, you are marked with a permanent marker on your arms with your race number. I was #115. On your right calf your racing age is marked, which for me is 25. I got extremely lucky; the gentleman doing my numbers had great handwriting, which I much appreciated.
Then you are guided into the actual transition area where you can make sure your bike is prepped and your transition is exactly how you want it. I aired up my tires, made sure that my tires weren’t rubbing against the brake pads and bike frame,  put a bento box on my bike which held all my food (9 GU packs, 2 packets of Chomps, 1 nut and fruit bar, and several Nuun tablets), and filled up my Speedfill (AKA water bottle). The day prior we had to drop off our T1 and T2 bags which in my T1 bag I had my: helmet, sunglasses, biking shoes, socks, my race belt, and one GU packet. In my T2 bag I had another GU packet, my running shoes, additional pair of socks in case my other pair was soaked after the bike and a pair of running shorts in case my biking shorts were rubbing me raw. Once I was content with my transition setup I went to stand in the unending porta potty line.
As I was waiting in line, Lee yelled my name and was waving to grab my attention; he was able to make it to the swim start! It was fantastic to have him there to calm me down and get me in the right race mindset, until he suggested that I do lunges in my wetsuit to warm up. Lee and I do a lunge matrix before we run which significantly helps to warm up your legs, but in a wetsuit with hundreds of athletes watching your every move, it’s easy to get self conscious.  As I was doing them I said to Lee, “I feel like such an ass at the moment” and he responded back “see who feels like an ass at the end of the day”. 
The early morning flew by and before I knew it they were announcing that all the age groupers needed to line up and start making their way to the water’s edge.  Lee and I walked up to the front of the group of age groupers which initially tallied to be over 1,400 athletes. This time Lee told me, “You know how to race; you have done all the hard work, you’re going to do great”.
The professional men and women started 15 minutes before the age groupers. Once they were off we were allowed to swim to the start line which was about 150 meters from the shoreline. As we were all treading water some of the kayakers came over so that we could hang on to the side of the kayak to conserve some energy.  Instantly, the image of Titanic sinking and everyone wanting to get to a boat as fast as possible crossed my mind. Athletes almost knocked the kayaker closest to me out of his kayak as they were fighting to get a hold of this floatation device. I had to laugh to myself! Here we were just about to swim 2.4 miles and yet several of the athletes were in panic mode treading water before the starting gun.
Finally, the air erupted with the starting canon and over 1,400 athletes were off swimming. Open water swims are all about being able to defend your position and not be pushed around. With arms and legs kicking and flying in all directions you are bound to be swum over, knocked in the head, etc. Luckily, I had a decent start and didn’t have any issues.   
The course was design to have the swimmers swim straight out to the middle of the reservoir, make a left hand turn and swim around an island make another left hand turn to the home stretch back to a boat ramp. The way out to the first buoy was calm water but the second I reached the first turn, it felt like I just dove into a very angry ocean with 5-6 foot waves.  At the top of the wave you could see the line of buoys but in an instant you were crashing down with the wave. It was actually pretty fun; it reminded me of a water roller coaster ride. I knew instantly that the swim time Lee and I had hoped for me was not in the cards today. I smiled to myself thinking maybe this is a good thing; perhaps it will scare and slow down some of my competitors.  I am strong and I should be able to power through this. Well, my prediction couldn’t be further from the truth, as I made my way up the boat ramp to transition I looked at my watch, 1:16, yikes, that was terrible! 7 minutes slower than last year’s time. I was ninth out of the water in my age- group alone. Saying I had a lot of ground to make up was an understatement, but for some reason I wasn’t concerned. I felt fresh after the swim and I couldn’t wait to get on my bike, my favorite part of every triathlon. After the race was over, I found out that over 360 athletes got pulled from the swim due to the bad conditions; I guess it really was like a Titanic scene.
In transition, the volunteers were amazing; I had two ladies strip my wetsuit off.  The second it was off I took off running through the massive line of T1 bags, another lady volunteer saw my number, grabbed my bag and together we took off to the women’s changing tent. Here I put on my socks and shoes, helmet, sunglasses and race number. As I was running to my bike I downed a GU and then I was out of transition in 2 minutes 35 seconds, which wasn’t bad.
Once on the bike it was game time! Lee and I had determined that if I could hold 185 watt average for the entire bike I would have a great bike split. I would have never told Lee this, but in the back of my head I was thinking, “You are nuts if you think I can hold 185 watts for up to six hours!”  The first section of the 112 mile bike is mostly downhill but due to the massive headwind and slight crosswind, there was no rest.  As I passed the women one by one I was hanging with most the men. In Ironman, it is non-draft legal which means you must keep up to three bike lengths between you and the rider in front of you. When you pass you have only a few seconds to do so.
Approximately the first 23 miles of the St. George Ironman bike course is from Sand Hallow Reservoir through Hurricane, UT into St. George, UT. Here I was able to maintain 184 watts, I was right on target. At this point the real fun begins! Then the athletes do two bike loops of about 45 miles each. Every loop has two major climbs so that the total elevation gain of the entire bike is 7,144 ft. The bike loop takes you through a canyon of incredible views; however, the winds got out-of-control tallying in at 45 mph. I was just trying to stay on my bike without being blown-off the road. My smaller (body) frame has a hard time keeping a bike from just taking off. At points, I was screaming on the bike because in my head, I was thinking, “This is it! I am going down for sure.” As always, when I am scared I immediately started to pray. “Come on God, we are in this together, please keep me upright!” He not only answered my prayers but gave me the courage and strength to push even harder. By the end of the first loop, including a massive downhill I was still at 180 Watt average; I was beyond excited! I knew that if I could just maintain the same pace for the second loop, I was going to have an excellent race.  Luckily, the winds did subside for the second loop and I didn’t have to fear for my life.
I was able to pass all the amateur women by mile 40 which meant for 72 miles I was just trying to keep up and pass the men.  I thrive competing with men and love when I can surprise a few of them. By mile 70 I was getting some words of encouragement from the men that I kept going back and forth with, up to this point. “Keep it up girl, you look great.” This just got me even more excited and made me want to push even harder. For the very last descent into town I received my max speed of 49.67mph and I averaged 172 Watts for the entire bike which took me almost 6 hours exactly, 14 minutes slower than last year’s time. The windy conditions were making this year significantly harder than last year.
SRM Power Meter took me on as a sponsored athlete at the end of March 2012. They are the GOLD STANDARD power meter and to have their support in my race made all the difference in the world!  I can honestly say that the power meter allowed me to stay focused, mentally, on a specific goal (Watt output) and not get discouraged by my speed; which was substantially slower this year due to the winds.
As I rode into transition, a crew of volunteers grabbed my bike from me and again I was off and running through lines of T2 bags. A young lady grabbed my T2 bag and was walking towards the changing tent. I looked at her and said, “We got to go, come on let’s make this quick!” trying to encourage her to run beside me. The other volunteers started to laugh saying, “You better step-to-it…” to the volunteer helping me, “…this girl means business.”  She quickly got the hint and together we flew through transition, changing out my helmet for a baseball cap, and putting on my 1400 New Balance running shoes.  I had one of the fastest T2 times of 1 minute 10 seconds, I was thrilled.
The run is the moment of truth: Did you conserve enough energy to run 26.2 miles? Lee and I had done several killer brick workouts to prepare for this race and I knew if I was holding a 8 min per mile pace at this point in the game, I would be very happy.  The run course was changed this year to ~ 8.6 mile, three-loop course.  The entire elevation gain was 2,488 ft, nothing like last year’s course, but at least it wasn’t ‘pancake’ flat. As I was leaving transition, Lee, was yelling to me that I had a few professional women not far ahead of me. Wow, this was very encouraging to me because they started 15 minutes ahead of me!
My legs felt pretty good and I felt like I was able to get into a good pace for the first lap. Lee was able to cheer and give me updates 8 times per lap which was beyond helpful. By the end of the first lap things started to get very exciting. I had passed one of the pros putting me in 5th place overall not including my 15 minute deficit. As I passed her she was extremely nice saying, “Good job” but I was in the zone and could barely get out “You too” to her.  The top 5 males and females each get a mountain biker who rides in front of you with a plaque that says which position you are in. So as I passed her the gentlemen with the 5th place started riding in front of me. He turned around and with a huge smile asked me, “What is your name?” it took me a few seconds to register what he had just asked me and once I told him it was Danielle, he was telling the thousands of spectators my name as we went by. I felt like one of the top professional women because everyone was now cheering me by my first name. I have never had that happen before. I could hear one of the spectators saying, “Who the hell is that girl? Danielle…who?”  
By the start of the second loop I could start to feel a cramp developing in my right hamstring, again, I was praying super hard. “God we have made it this far, please let my leg hang in there.” Lee was fantastic, giving me splits, words of encouragement and informing me that I was gaining on the professional ahead of me. However, apparently, he could see some pain forming on my face.  So he yelled to me, as I was down the road, “Toodalu…” an inside joke that made me laugh and realize: I was here to have fun. Just by smiling I started to feel better. Before I knew it, I caught the 4th place professional and was making time up on third place, I couldn’t believe it.
The last lap still seems like a dream. My legs were in so much pain at this point but mentally I was on top of the world. The spectators were starting to recognize me as I started my last lap so the cheers grew even louder. Certain volunteers at the water stations greeted me as I ran by “Welcome back Danielle, this is it, you look great.” My legs were screaming that the finish line wasn’t close enough but at the same time I didn’t want this moment to end. I was having so much fun! The excitement I was receiving from the crowd and especially Lee was overwhelming!
When I made the last turn to the finishing shoot, the announcer said “Danielle Kehoe our fourth place Female OVERALL, you are an IRONMAN”.   However, the announcer forgot to subtract my 15 minute delayed start time, since I started with the age-groupers. Therefore, I really was the third place female overall.  I ran my fastest marathon to date, 3:25:24 a (7:50 per mile pace), 19 minutes faster than last year’s run.
As I ran though the shoot, you would have thought I was the overall winner! I had a huge smile and giving high fives to all the spectators I could reach. As I crossed the line I throw my hands up in the air, with such relief. Lee was standing right there to grab me as I crossed. Instantly, my body shut down, thank goodness he was there to hold me up. Lee was beyond excited himself; I looked at him saying, “We did it!” We had done it; we worked extremely hard for five months so that we could come to St. George to make a statement.  

I finished in the time of 10:45:33, 1 minute 11 seconds faster than last year’s time. Which doesn’t sound like a big improvement but some of the professionals added up to 40 minutes from their last year’s time due to the rough wind conditions.  They took me to the pre-medical tent where I saw the professional who thought she had come in third place. I congratulated her on a great race, and she was super sweet saying, “You had me worried that you were going to catch me on the run,” last year she beat me by 36 minutes. She asked me what my name was and when I had turned professional. When I said, “I am still an age-grouper,” you could see her doing the math in her head on who came in third. This year I beat her by almost 8 minutes. She again nicely said “well, you should turn pro.” Wow, what a compliment!

The medical staff laid me in one of the beds; my legs were completely knotted and my throat hurt like hell. Lee and I did everything we could so that I could get an IV but they were only giving them to athletes that had crashed. After several minutes Lee and I decided that sitting here wasn’t doing anything so I went to get a massage. My masseuse was a sweetheart but could barely touch my leg without me groaning in pain.  The head masseuse came by my bed and asked me if everything was OK, I looked at him and said “no, I am not ok”. He asked “what can I do to help you”; I said “I need an IV”. You ask and you shall receive before I knew it he was helping me walk into the back side of the medical tent where I was treated like a queen. I had four nurses, Lee and a doctor at my bed side. I was given an IV and it was a really good thing that I got it because my blood pressure was significantly low. Instantly, I started to feel a ton better.  
One months prior to the race I had been in urgent care due to chest pains, I had an EKG and echocardiogram done and both came back normal. The doctors asked me if I had a lot of stress over the past few weeks. I answered saying “yes” quietly, but inside I was screaming “Hell Yeah” on the top of my lungs. My full-time job is at, LifeQuest Transitions which is a nonprofit organization that helps injured, ill and wounded soldier’s transition to their next phase of life, was struggling to get the donations and grants we needed to pay the bills. Going into the race I had missed FOUR of my last paychecks. Then two weeks before the race, after a long run, Lee and I were getting in the car when I got stung by a bee in my right glut. Since I am allergic to bees and receive a two week late reaction the timing was terrible.
Lee is the best coach anyone could ask for! His coaching style suits me perfectly. When I am feeling great we push extremely hard. But if I am struggling in any way we shut it down immediately.  Due to the incidents in the weeks leading up to the race, I wasn’t getting the quantity of training we were hoping for. We were both concerned that my body wasn’t going to be ready come race day. Lee, however, only told me his concern after the race. Prior, he was like a rock, saying to me, “You are super fit; no need to worry; it is all going to come together race day!” His encouraging words echoed in my head throughout the race. He was right we had a phenomenal day! Thank God, everything came together!!!
I want to thank my family and friends for your unending love and support; I couldn’t do this sport without you. Lee, I cannot thank you enough for everything, I am so blessed to have you as my coach! You have pushed me to a whole new level in just five months; I cannot wait to see what the rest of the summer has in store.  I want to thank my sponsors; Trismarter Triathlon Coaching & Nutrtion, SRM Power Meters– your powermeter was absolutely key in the race, Transformation Massage– Krista Lewis your massages are the very best, Dr. Grove Higgins-your adjustments have made a huge difference in my training, Colorado Running Company, Wheat Ridge Cyclery, and LifeQuest Transitions.  Most of all, I want to thank God, for being at my side every step of the way!!!
I did this race as an Ironman Foundation athlete for LifeQuest Transitions to raise money for our so deserving injured, ill and wounded soldiers. Please help my cause by donating to: http://ironman.kintera.org/stgeorge2012/daniellekehoe
Danielle Mack is professional Triathlete residing in Boulder, Colorado. She found her passion for triathlons at a young age. However, it wasn’t until she turned sixteen did she really start training strictly for triathlons. Through various paths God has lead her through the years including Xterra’s and Adventure Racing she discovered her ultimate love, long course triathlons, especially Ironman’s!