My ‘Big Kahuna’ Race Report:
 October 13, 2012

Kona is the race that every long course triathlete dreams about every single day! The starting line contains a diverse range of Age Groupers, consisting of: qualified Age Groupers, lottery winners, inspired athletes, military, CEO’s, challenged athletes, and inspiring professional athletes. However, if asked, every competitor would tell you this is the race they have all been waiting for. The Kona Ironman naturally brings out the top performances of all its competitors because they are tapered and primed for this particular race, there is no other triathlon bigger in the world! No matter how you qualify for Kona, every athlete has the same goal, to cross the line on Ali’i Drive knowing you raced with the best in the world and left everything you had to offer that day out on the course. In the sport of Triathlon this is where dreams are made!

Race morning is always nerve racking to me. I woke up after a decent night of sleep and relieved that I didn’t have the nightmare that plagues me before most of my big races. Subconsciously, I typically can predict when I will have a flat tire in my races because I have an uncanny ability to dream about it the night before. However, the night before Kona I didn’t dream about the race at all.

I got out of bed, put my uniform on, ate my typical breakfast of oatmeal with sliced bananas and drank some Pedialyte. The house I was staying in was filled with the best support team anyone could ask for. My boyfriend, Jeff Mack, my Uncle Kevin, Coach Lee Gardner and his wife Regina all came to cheer me on in the race; I am extremely blessed to have such wonderful people in my life. However, race morning it was extremely quiet in the house, everyone was anticipating the race and had little to say to one another.


We stayed about 30 minutes outside of Kailua-Kona to avoid all of the hoopla that occurs race week. Last year, I stayed on Ali’i drive and was exhausted before the race even started due to the unending stimulus created by the World Championship atmosphere. However staying just outside of a town called Caption Cook, allowed me to practice on the race course the week leading into the race, and then go back to a cozy house where I could truly relax and free my mind from the task at hand. Race morning, the way to the course I tried to get in my last nap before the race. I wasn’t extremely successful because the butterflies in the pit of my stomach were having a party.


Upon arrival to the transition area you start to realize this is really happening; this is no longer a dream or rehearsed visualization, this is real life! Everything you have worked for all year long comes down to one performance and the grand stage is laid out before you. Do you have what it takes to push through sheer exhaustion, to push past pain? Why do we do this to ourselves? Every time I am asked why I do Ironman’s, I have the same answer, “I absolutely Love it and I want to make a difference!” I know that Ironmans change the lives of every finisher giving them confidence and empowerment. I would love to be a role model to others to pursue their dreams!


Race Day


Every athlete is funneled into several lines to receive their body makings. Usually this is done with a black permanent marker and you hope you get a volunteer who has good to decent handwriting but here in Kona every athlete including all the age groupers are marked with number stamps, so your number is as legible as possible. Right after getting body marked you are sent to get weighed, and then sent into transition where you can do your last preparations to your bike before the race. I fixed my SRM powermeter computer to the bike, filled my bottles with water and Nuun tablets, stocked my bento box with a vast supply of Gu’s and Chomps, filled my tires and made sure my Exustar shoes were on the bike and my helmet and sunglasses were easily accessible from my aero bars. Because I got to transition so early, I had all my transition preparations completed before any other female in my age group even arrived. I love being the early bird and missing the majority of the crowds, if possible. After I was satisfied with everything in transition I went to locate my amazing cheering crew. Getting to hug everyone who came to support me before the race and say thank you to them, was extremely meaningful to me.

Going into any race it is crucial you have a ton of confidence in your preparation before the race and in your ability to execute your race plan. Lee Gardner, my coach for Trismarter, did an excellent job of this all year. He practically did every single one of my bike and run sessions with me. He knew when to push me and when we needed to back it off so I could fully recover. We both knew that if I was able to have the race I was capable of producing it was going to be a fun day!



Age Groups Entering the Water

The male professional athletes got a 30 minutes head start while the female professional athletes got a 25 minute head start over the age groupers. Once the cannon fired for the professional women the age groupers started entering the water, all 1800 of us! To ensure a front starting position you have to tread water for about 20 minutes, which I use as my warm up. The anticipation to get the race started builds as more and more athletes enter the water. The helicopters thundering blades send goosebumps through your entire body. The spectator’s cheers echo in the distance. The Hawaiian drums being played over the intercom produce an uneasy sensation. Several of the athletes around me started to chatter their teeth because of the chilly ocean water. I positioned myself by a huge buoy left of the main cluster of athletes. I was fortunate enough to be starting with a pack of age group women who were not nearly as aggressive as the men I placed myself next to, last year.


The Swim Start


Due to a malfunction of the cannon we were started by Mike Reilly yelling into the intercom, “GO, GO, GO”. This caught a lot of people off guard and allowed me to maintain a font position for the first few strokes without getting clobbered by the masses. I had a great start and early into the swim I told myself that it was an extremely long day and to make sure to go easy on the swim. Just a few weeks prior to Kona I started working with a fantastic swim coach, Joe Novak. He has significantly improved my confidence with long and smooth strokes vs. the frantic and fast swimming I was used to. I kept saying key words in my head to help me relax and just stay as calm as possible and translate this into my swimming technique. I improved my swim by over 6 minutes from last year and felt rejuvenated vs. exhausted coming out of the water. I smiled to myself pleased with my 1:07:30 swim split but knew I still had a lot of time to make up to catch the women age group leaders. One of the best places to make up time is in transition where I grabbed my bike bag took off my speed suit, goggles and cap throwing them inside and quickly handing it off to a volunteer before running to grab my bike. Once locating my red saddle and water bottle cages, what I use to distinguish my bike from all the others around me; I put my helmet, sunglasses and socks on and turned on my SRM computer before charging out of transition with my bike.


Exiting T1

At the bike mount line, I quickly mounted my bike and put on my Exustar bike shoes. This is my favorite portion of an Ironman, the 112 mile bike ride, I absolutely love it!!! I was feeling really great as I headed out on the Kuakini Hwy which was lined with spectators. As I nearly hit the turnaround, about 5 miles into the bike, a group of spectators ran across the road in front of the group of riders I was with at the time. When they made it safely across a female spectator decided to follow her husband who was in the group who made it across the road and without looking charged onto the bike course. Without any time to react a male cyclist just slightly ahead of me collided with the woman flipping over his handle bars and taking her completely out. I had the best seat in the house, it was absolutely horrible. Quickly, I had to dodge his water bottles which were rolling across the road. At this point I had crazy amounts of adrenaline rushing through me and was seriously pissed at the people not paying attention. Once I finally calmed down I said a prayer for both of them. After the race, I received word the woman was taken to the ER and the man racing got back on his bike about 10 minutes after the accident but I never heard if he finished or not. If you would like to see the video Jeff caught of the accident please click on the video below.


Crash at the 2012 Ironman World Championship



As I was clearing my mind from the accident I could hear Jeff’s voice yelling at me that I was 14 minutes behind the first age grouper who was in the same age group as I (25-29). I kept my poise knowing who it was and having confidence within myself that I could catch her on the bike. Once I got off of Kuakini Hwy and up Palani Rd. (which is a steep short hill) I felt a lot safer on the bike. The majority of the ride is on the Queen Ka’ahumanu Hwy or the Queen K. for short. This section is super-hot from the sun’s rays being absorbed by the black asphalt and even more so by the black lava fields which go on for endless miles. White coral messages are placed on the lava to provide inspiration for athletes on this dauntingly hot, humid, and what seems endless stretch of unscenic portion of road.



I got into my groove on the bike but my SRM power meter was reading extremely low. I was not hitting the numbers Lee and I had hoped I would. This concerned me at first but we had done so many Ironman simulation efforts on the bike I knew if I pushed any harder I would be toasted on the run. So I set new goal numbers on the bike and was content with the fact that I kept passing several age groupers and no females had passed me. Having a SRM power meter is absolutely crucial to monitor your efforts and produce the best bike split you are capable of for that day.



As I turned onto Kawaihae I got to see my support crew again who were giving me more updates on my current position and how far back I was from the other amateur women. I knew I was not having the best bike I was capable of but hearing I was gaining on the women in front of me helped build my confidence. At this point the winds started to pick up alot and since I was making my way to the notorious turn around at Hawi, I would have to do the biggest climb in the race with a pretty nasty crosswind. I love it when race conditions become difficult and this felt more at home. Throughout my race I pray the entire time but when I am getting blown across the road due to crazy crosswinds my prayers intensify.


Holy Mary hear our prayer; keep us in your loving care,

Whatever the perils of the way, let us not add to them this day.

For our caution and attention we ask a prayer for your protection,

To place God’s blessings on us to travel safely near and far.

I got to see the professional men and women on their way back down from Hawi and thought to myself I cannot wait until that is me! Once I got up to Hawi it is mostly downhill the majority of the way back to Kona so I tucked into my aero bars, continued to pray but tried to not think about the wind, and just ‘stay in my zone.’ I stayed well hydrated and up on my nutrition throughout the entire bike. Once I hit T2, I was just so pleased to be in second place overall female amateur and be off the bike without any malfunctions or flats. I finished the bike with a time of 5:11:26, sixth fastest bike split including the professional women.



I dismounted my bike and a volunteer grabbed it from me so that I could quickly transition into my running gear. I grabbed my running bag and had several women volunteers help me put on my running shoes and exchange my helmet for my racing cap. I downed a Gu and got slathered in sunscreen, so I wouldn’t burn again like I did last year. Meanwhile the third place overall female amateur came into transition as I was exiting and we looked each other in the eye without a word exchanged between us. We both knew the girl who was in the lead had over a 14 minute head start and we had a lot of ground to make up if we were to catch her. I was out of transition within 2:14 and out on the run course. At first, I felt pretty good and was thinking to myself, “Wow! What a difference one year of quality and precision training makes.”  The crowds were erupting and made me feel as if I was winning the professional race. I was eating it all up! However, this euphoric experience quickly came to a halt as I was once again greeted by my ever not so welcoming G.I. discomfort. It was so terrible that I knew if I could not find a port-a-potty in the next mile I would be going in some unlucky local’s driveway on Ali’i drive. My running pace slowed considerably and I was feeling worse by the seconds. Prior to the turnaround on Ali’i drive about 5 miles out, I saw the overall Age Grouper Female and at that point in the race, she looked super strong. I kept telling myself that it was a long race and anything could happen.


On my way back down Ali’i drive I finally found an open port-a-potty and barely made it to the toilet, it was bad news bears. Horrible memories of last year’s race filled my mind; I just had to pray I could stay strong. I knew I needed to be conservative for the first half of the run so I would be able to finish strong. I recollected myself and headed back out on the race course but lost a considerable amount of time and within minutes I was being passed by the same woman who entered T2 as I was leaving. She sounded horrible, so I comforted myself with the belief that she would run out of steam further into the marathon. Once I got onto the Queen K., the pain really started to set in. My right leg was throbbing from my foot all the way up to my hip and I even started to limp to compensate for the pain. Thankfully, Lee was all over the run course constantly providing me with race stats and encouragement. The pain continued to intensify every step I took, it got to the point I thought I might have to walk in order to finish the marathon. Again, my pace slowed but I was able to maintain a jogging pace which was a huge improvement over last year’s race. I did my best to maintain a positive outlook on the race reminding myself that I was still in third place overall amateur.


One of the highlights of the race was when Chrissie Wellington, an idol of mine road past on her bike as I was running cheering encouraging words, saying “Girl, you look fantastic, keep up the great pace.” I had convinced myself earlier that “it couldn’t possibly be her cheering me on.”

After the race it was confirmed that she was out on the course.

Once I hit the Natural Energy Lab, two girls were making up a significant amount of time on me, one of which was in my age group. This made me pretty nervous but at the turn around in the energy lab I was able to see them and noticed they were suffering as well. I was also happy to hear that I was making some time up with one of the girls in front of me.



Exiting the Natural Energy Lab you have approximately seven miles back into town. I have done so many long runs this year and I knew I was absolutely on the home stretch and seven miles seemed extremely doable. With this in mind, I was able to mentally minimize the pain I was experiencing. With about a mile left I passed the girl who at the start of the run had a fourteen minute head start over me. I knew I needed to pass with a surge so she would not have a chance of re-passing me.  It was the last mile when it all started to set in. I was going to be first in my age group and second overall female. I did everything I could to pass the female in the lead by running my last mile in 5:36, but, on that particular day it was not meant to be. I left everything I had on the race course and she upright beat me by 1 minute and 4 seconds. The last mile was a tunnel of deafening cheers from the thousands of spectators. As I passed several men and got closer to the finish line the cheers grew even louder. I crossed the line in 9:51:07, almost an hour faster than last years’ time with tougher racing conditions due to the the crazy crosswinds on the bike and the scorching temperatures.


Crossing the Finish Line

Upon crossing the finish line one of the male racers I passed at the very end congratulated me, saying you had a “smashing Performance, darling.” Right away two volunteers came over to see how I was doing and I said I needed to go to the medical tent. They weighed me to confirm I needed medical attention and once they realized I had lost over 5 pounds I was instantly admitted into the medical tent. I was also notified that since I placed within the top two overall female age groupers I had to do a drug test. My two drug test administers followed me into the medical tent and never left my side. The medical staff was incredible and I had three nurses at my bedside for over three hours as I was hooked up to a total of three I-Vs. I received potassium in my I-Vs because my muscle cramps were so bad. I could not release my death clenched fists and extend my legs. By my third I-V, I started to shake so heavily that the doctor came over to monitor me for about an hour to make sure I didn’t need to be transported to the hospital. I was told later that I almost had to go because my condition was getting so bad. In my third I-V they shot valium inside to help with the muscle spasms which were getting out of control. I have never experienced anything like this before, it was actually very scary. The valium made me extremely sleepy and I almost fell asleep several times. After three hours of intensive care by the nurses and physician in the Ironman Medical tent I finally felt well enough to stand and do my urine drug test. So with several nurses holding blankets at my bedside to prevent any other athletes or bystanders to see me I provided my urine test. However, since I had just received three I-Vs I ended up filling six urine cups, “A new record!” I was told by the administrator taking my urine. Several minutes later I was finally released to see my family. Being able to see Jeff and my Uncle for the first time after the race was amazing. We hugged and hugged, it was truly special to have them there!


The day I flew back from Hawaii, I drove up to Glenwood Springs with my mother to see my sister deliver her third perfect son Joshua Daniel Haffele. This ended up being a week to celebrate in the Kehoe house!



Thank you so much to my incredible family! Dad and Mom, I would not be where I am today without both of you, I love you both so much and want you to know how incredibly thankful and blessed I am to be your daughter. Jeff, you are truly the best boyfriend and the love of my life! I am so happy you and Uncle Kevin were there to cheer me on in Kona; it will be an experience I will never forget! To all my other family and friend supporters’ thank you so much for all the prayers and good luck wishes, they truly make a huge difference on race day!


God, thank you for being with me every step of the way, I couldn’t race without your guiding hand and strength!

Jeff and I at the Award’s Banquet


I want to also thank all my phenomenal sponsors for the 2012 season; I couldn’t do it without you! Lee Gardner with Trismarter, for helping me achieve my most successful triathlon season to date with two Age Group World Championships titles and one Overall Amateur World Championship title. To SRM for providing me with the best tool imaginable, a Power Meter, to enhance my cycling training and racing abilities. Cafe Velo, who has done a great job prepping my bike for all my races this year, I am so pleased to be sponsored by you. Cervelo, who is not a sponsor yet but I would love them to sponsor me. I want to thank you as well for the incredible care your bike mechanic staff provided me with at both World Championships. Cervelo is truly top of its class when it comes to bike companies. Of course, thank you to Wheat Ridge Cyclery, Colorado Running Company and Exustar for all your amazing support. Lastly, thank you to the angel hands and hearts of both my chiropractor, Dr. Grove Higgins and my masseuse Krista Lewis.



2013 will be my first official Triathlon season as a Professional! I am so excited to see what the future holds for me in the sport of Triathlon, I feel as though it will be filled with incredible experiences and accomplishments!

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!

1 Comment

  1. 27 October 12, 1:17pm

    Simply AWESOME! Phenomenal performance & great report. You certainly left everything out on the Queen K and Alii … the way it should be done … but, only done by a few. Way to go, Danielle!

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