Thursday, October 23, 2014

Kona 2014- Ironman World Championships

Photo by Nils Nilsen. Full gallery on a day in the life here at

I flew back to Kona, Hawaii from Ironman Malaysia...How convenient that I planned my Ironman recovery to coincide with 2 weeks on the big island as Luke tapered for Ironman Hawaii. I'd like to say I spent 2 weeks resting and relaxing, but those words don't really come into play when you have a 4 month-old baby and all your friends from around the world convene in one little town for 10 days or so. The week surrounding Ironman in Kona is quite possibly my favorite time of the year. Whether you are racing or not, if triathlon is your thing, the energy on the island is indescribably amazing. As a spectator this year, and a recovering spectator at that, I got to enjoy my fair share of fish-watching ocean flops, easy rides & coffees with friends from around the globe, happy hours ($5 piña coladas!) at the Royal Kona, sunset BBQs, great times with Luke's family and of course- the underpants run. For the first time ever, Wynne got to experience these things too...I'm pretty sure she loved her first annual Hawaii vacation. She slept like a baby the entire time (oh wait...she IS a baby)- but she slept so well that Luke even slept in the living room with her every night during pre-race week (he thought our room was too hot) and not a peep from Wynne. Pretty funny when I tell people I "made" Luke sleep out on the couch w/ our 4 month old baby the night before Ironman Hawaii.
Wynne's first Ironman Expo- so many sights & sounds! 
Queen-K-ing it on my Cannondale
Emma Snowsill (Olympic gold medalist 2008 in triathlon) recaffeinates on our ladies ride. 
Running into the Betties at the Underpants run

Daily ritual- coffee at Daylight Mind (Photo: Nils Nilsen)
Play time in the pool (Photo: Nils Nilsen)

Pro press conference... Luke looking serious
Race day was so exciting and lots of eyes were on Luke, as he placed 2nd in Kona last year. Luke's day didn't pan out exactly as he had hoped, and he finished 15th on the day. 15th isn't 2nd, but when we look at the grand scheme of things- Luke went to compete with the top 50 ranked Ironmen in the world, and even on a day that was not his day, he came 15th. To me, that is pretty impressive and I was incredibly proud. But to be honest, I would have been proud and happy even if he was last as Luke is the most kind, generous, hard-working, dedicated and genuine person I know every single day. And Ironman Hawaii is just one day of the year. Maybe next year will be his year, and hopefully I will be there racing too. If I am, please forgive me if I stop in my tracks on the Queen K to cheer him on...One day he will win and no one will be more deserving.
Running on Ali'i making up some ground

Special thanks to Steph at SOAS for Wynne's amazing custom cheering onesie... Even has pockets on the back for her gels ;) 

Hi fives for Dad w/ Auntie Jacque

We are now back in San Diego for a few much-needed weeks at home. I'm back to training for the next big one (more on this next week!) & we're having fun catching up with friends and just being home with Wynne. Next stop on this world tour is the Bahamas Triathlon on November 9th! The travel seems to never end, but we are getting "traveling-with-baby" dialed in and we still are lucky to have the help of auntie Jacuqe. I didn't quite know what I was signing up for in becoming Luke's partner, but I'm pretty sure I'll never wake up in 20 years and regret taking these opportunities to experience the world. On to the next adventure!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Ironman Malaysia: It's just like riding a bike

The thing about racing an Ironman less than 4 months after you have a baby is that no one is pegging you for the win or expecting the performance of a lifetime, so I was lucky to go into this race without mammoth expectations. Of course, in my own head, I wished for a miraculous extra 20 watts to appear on Ironman Malaysia race day, but we all know that 6 weeks of solid training isn't going to gift you that. Race day magic only works when you  have put in the work, and I just didn't have the time to put in the body of work yet.

I actually felt really good going into the race and was prepared to surprise myself. BUT, I knew my biggest limiter would be that depth of endurance that you just can't get going from ground zero to Ironman in 8 weeks. I wanted to give my best, but not be too hard on myself. When you come from a place where you want to win races, it's hard to downgrade to "I just want a respectable finish" but I knew I had to race within my means. Luckily, Malaysia is stinking hot and not only do I love hot conditions, but I know it forces all athletes to slow down a bit (or risk an epic blowup). So, my hope was that my steady eddy pace would eventually reel in a few people and I could make some KPR (Kona Points Ranking) points and earn a paycheck. When I got those "What the heck am I doing?" and "Will I even remember how to race after a year off?" feelings, I reminded myself that it's just like riding a bike. Because, well, it IS riding a bike.

check, check, check. 
Everything pre-race went as smooth as possible in a completely foreign country and I had a fun time exploring (See my Ironman Malaysia: Travelogue). I got all the Ironman gear bags to the right places, had a pre-race swim with Julie on the course, and tucked myself into bed super early the night before the race. Race morning was a little different as I had to add in extra time for pumping (yes, still exclusively breastfeeding) at my hotel and then again right before the race start. Oh, the glam life!

Pre-race swim with Julie. 

swim venue the day before- Kuah bay
The Swim- 2.4 mi/3.8k (1:03 - 1:40/100m)
First of all. HANDS DOWN my favorite Ironman swim of all time for a few reasons: 1) super warm (like bathtub!) water and non-wetsuit so I got to wear my Zoot Speedzoot which I love. 2) The most well-marked course I have ever swum- flags every 25m and large buoys marked 1-10 every 450m 3) Kayakers everywhere- this course made it simply impossible to go the wrong direction (and believe me I can often find a way!) 4) a clockwise one-loop swim. I breathe to the right so I pretty much never had to look up for sighting.

Really cool pics from - check out this "IM Swim for Dummies" course- so rad!
I cracked open a fresh pair of Aquashpere Kayenne's and headed to the swim start. The pro women started at 7:16am, one minute after the men (daylight didn't even break until about 7:00am). I had a clean start and not much of the usual anxiety I get at race start. I think the warm water and relatively small field (10 pro women) helped. I swam my own pace from the get-go and was please to find a pair of feet to trail behind for the first 1200m. By the time we rounded the far turn buoys, I was on some different feet, but always had at least one person to swim with which was refreshing. I exited the water happy and feeling good. I yelled around, "what time is it?" Someone said, "8:20" and I knew I had swum in a nice ballpark for me at this stage.

T1: Big surprise- FOUR other bikes still on the rack! That meant I was in the top half of women out of the water. My smile got a little bigger.
Transition. Bike Bling!

The Bike- 112mi/180k (5:34- 20.1mph)

up the hill....P.S. the new Smith Overtake aero road helmet is the bees knees for a hot race! 

I knew that I wouldn't be able to ride "hard" on my current/limited fitness, so my goal was to ride steady and strong.The course starts with three pretty big climbs with fast descents and I was immediately passed by a couple of girls.  I knew my limit on the climbs and decided not to go above them- it was going to be a long day. The course winds its way around to the north side of the island and the Red Bull "tough zone" out to Datai Mountain. The "tough zone" was a series of 5 hills where age groupers competed for fastest segment. Also near the tough zone was the "monkey zone"- 12k of the course where eating gels and bars was not allowed due to the prevalence of local monkeys who would literally jump at the chance for an exotic treat. I feel like I rode steady and attempted to ride strong throughout the bike. My Cannondale Slice RS fits me so well and I was super comfortable the whole way (the ISM Attack saddle helps- LOVE! Also, based on the course profile, I chose a Zipp 404/808 wheelset which turned out to be perfect.)   Midway through loop one, I had just gone ahead of Michelle Duffield and then promptly decided to take a wrong turn off course where we were supposed to U-turn. I didn't see signs for a U-turn and thought the yellow barricades were blocking the road (not indicating the turnaround), so off on a solo mission down a random road I went. I figured it out soon enough and turned around, probably only losing a minute or two. My bad, though, as I didn't hear of anyone else making that mistake. Other than that, my ride was uneventful, but I was aware that I was executing a slow fade to the finish, my 2nd lap watts dropping about 5 below my first lap watts. I was happy to leapfrog with Michelle on and off throughout the day to keep the motivation high and make me feel in the mix of the race. 

Though my ride was uneventful, the actual course was far from it! Some of the race route roads must remain open to local traffic for the residents and this requires the athletes to be on their toes. Lots of families on scooters buzz by going every direction and occasionally you'd be behind a line of cars. Also, monkeys and wild dogs galore so there is always something to look out for or speed away from. Nothing felt really unsafe as the traffic was respectful and the dogs weren't too fast, but it definitely added more of a video game element to the ride- dodging obstacles on the 112 mile mission is fun! I rolled back into Kuah town just behind Michelle and heard Pete Murray (he's like the Australian Mike Reilly) announce my name of course along with "just had a baby" and "wife to Luke McKenzie" (hah- maybe one day?)... but it gave me big smiles all around.

heading to T2
T2: There were not many red run bags left on the pro female racks (only one besides Michelle's and mine) so I knew there was work to do. (Okay, I already knew that, but the lack of bags confirmed that there was work to do). I threw on my Zoot Ultra Tempo 6.0s, visor, Smith Pivlocks and ran out.

The Run- 26.2mi/42k (3:30- 4:59/k)
I know a certain heart rate where I can successfully run a marathon off-the-bike. On my best day, this gives me around a 3:00 marathon. With the Malaysian heat (someone said that the temperature at 9PM was still 100.4 degrees F! Thorsten, from analyzes the results and said IM Malaysia 2014 was the overall slowest Ironman run of all time), I decided to run at my designated heart rate, regardless of the pace, in order to successfully make it to the finish line without blowing up. Unfortunately, on Ironman Malaysia day, this heart rate didn't give me 3:00 marathon pace... It gave me 3:30 marathon pace! Some of that was due to the crazy conditions, but some was due to pure lack of that deep race fitness. BUT, I felt strong and controlled throughout (while still fading a bit at the end). I was able to pass a couple of pro women and ran into 5th place by the finish. I logged my slowest ever Ironman marathon (out of 12 Ironmans) but truly feel that I gave it what I had on the day. I think the Ironman run is where race fitness truly reveals itself and I just wasn't bike OR run fit enough to run a fast marathon. That will take another couple of months of work to get that depth. The good thing is, I've been there before and I know what I need to do to get back there. Nothing in this sport comes for free and it would be criminally unfair if I could just pop out a 3:00 marathon right after a baby, right? I've been careful in my run training to build slowly to avoid injury, and sometimes there just are no shortcuts.

My first finish over 10 hours in the past 3 years, but the time on the clock can never tell the whole story. Happy as can be. 
At the finish I headed to the ice bath, post-race massage (best post race massage i've EVER gotten) and then straight into a changing tent to take the edge of my gigantic (okay, maybe B cup instead of A) boobs that had filled up throughout the day. After catching up and telling stories, I headed back to my hotel, packed up and left early the next morning. I'm never one to miss a post-race extravaganza, but I had a baby (& Dad-in-Ironman-training) on the other side of the world to get back to....

And what a welcome home it was....

my people

Mom and Dad are out training again and I need an Acai bowl.. Can someone get the kickstand for me?
[Speaking of my people... If you ever wonder why my Instagram doesn't feature the little miss very often, it's because much of the baby love, adventures, and funny (well, we think so) captions are poured into the @wynnemckenzie account to save those of you who actually just want a race report]
Thank you to my sponsors for sticking by me through my pregnancy hiatus, to our families (espcialy Jacque!) for making my training possible, to Wynne for being the most angelic & flexible baby who has slept through the night since 5 weeks old, and most of all to Luke for coaching me, loving me, and believing in me.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Ironman Malaysia: Langkawi Travelogue

It's not every day a girl from Pennsylvania finds herself on the other side of the world in Langkawi, Malaysia so I wanted to do a travel post on the trip unrelated to my race. When I started racing Ironman, I did it for the race experience and accomplishment. Now, after racing 12 Ironmans, for me it is also about the amazing places in the world that Ironman takes me that I likely never would have otherwise visited.

Some of the Langkawi islands (Photo:
When I signed up for Ironman Malaysia, I googled and googled, trying to find anything on racers that had been there before and soaked it all up. Most helpful was pro triathlete Patrick Evoe's blog from 2009, but that made me realize there wasn't a lot more out there on visiting Langkawi for Ironman so I'll add my two cents of "Do-s" and "Don'ts" for traveling to the tropical island of Langkawi, Malaysia. An informed traveler is a happy traveler and Langkawi is an amazing locale for the informed Ironman.
Run turn-around at Eagle Square (photo:

DO bring travel snacks on the plane. 
I traveled a loooong way from Kona, Hawaii ( & I are in Kona for his race prep for Ironman Hawaii) to the tropical island of Langkawi, Malaysia. By the 2nd (of 5!) flights I had run out of snacks! I'm usually not suuuuper picky on airplane food and can eat at least half of what's on any tray, but this trip was different. I flew China Airlines from Honolulu to Taipei, Tawain. And from there to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. From KL, I flew Malaysia Airlines (yeah, I know!) to Langkawi. If you think the food is bad on the airlines from the U.S., try China! Wow. The food provided was not edible to me, so I went hungry until I found a Burger King in Kuala Lumpur (yes- really, Burger King! But- stick with what you know and I know they have to comply with company health standards).

DON'T always trust google when picking your hotel
I arrived in Langkawi after over 24 hrs of travel and eagerly took a taxi to my hotel. From google maps comparison to the race transition, I knew I had gotten a killer deal on a cheap (but nice looking!) hotel literally ON transition.....Or so I thought. I got to the hotel and asked another athlete-looking person- "where's transition?"  "Oh.... a few kilometers down the road.." HUH? google maps had lied to me? I pulled out my map and confirmed that google had in fact told me the hotel was located elsewhere. Now I was faced with a run-down neighborhood, taxi rides to everything involving the race (check in, expo, race morning, etc etc) and a need to redo my race plan (I was supposed to pump (i'm breastfeeding) riiiiiight before going down to get in the water. Ahhhh... I rolled with the punches, but then when the hotel's Wifi was basically non-existant (NOT as advertised) I nearly cracked. So, please read travel reviews and hotel reviews. My hotel was fine & cheap (you get what you pay for!), but would have preferred it if I was not traveling alone and had a rented scooter to get around town since nothing was easy walking distance.

If you can swing it, I HIGHLY reccomend the Westin Langkawi. I had friends staying there and enjoyed a couple meals and afternoons (and poached wifi) by the pool and it was UNREAL. Everything you'd hope your tropical Ironman vacation would include (including shuttles to the race expo, transition, etc!) Their breakfast buffet is to die for and I recommend going to load up for race day- they even had a gluten free selection which is unheard of in Malaysia!

The good life at The Westin Langkawi pool. I enjoyed fresh young coconuts & hotel wifi for Skype sessions recovering here in the afternoons

DO find a way to experience the culture and respect the culture. 
I was only in Malaysia for 5 days, but was lucky to participate in a visit with one of the local families along with the Ironman organization. A couple other pros and I were invited to the Malik's home and we were treated to a Malaysian feast. We were able to try probably every local delicacy and dish there is and could have rolled ourselves out of there. Most importantly, we got to meet some wonderful people who call Langkawi home and experience a little bit of their life for a day.

Children from the Malik family...Love watching them take care of each other
Malaysia is a largely Islamic culture and many people on Langkawi seem to be very traditional. Many women wear head coverings (hijab) and flowing veils to cover their limbs. In following with local customs, be sure to remove your shoes when entering a home and also be cognisant of your own dress. In sticky

hot conditions like Malaysia, usually I will run in only a sports bra, but on training runs, I kept my midriff covered.

DO ride or drive the bike course. 
One cool and unusual thing about Ironman Malaysia is that it has had a different course every year it has been held! This means, you may experienced different roads and parts of the island than previous competitors, so please go take yourself on a tour! Remember, drive (& ride!) on the left in Malaysia. Our bike course (2014) was very hilly and went to parts of the island (Datai Mountain) that the course hadn't gone to before. We also had a "monkey zone" where wild monkeys make it inadvisable to eat gels or bars for certain sections of the course.
watch for monkeys!
Another reason to drive or ride the bike course it to experience the island. It. Is. Amazing! Langkawi is a truly tropical island, less than 500 miles from the equator and there is a rich, hilly, jungle to experience around the island and if you are careful, it's great to see from two wheels!

DO some heat training
When I came back to Kona, Hawaii, it felt like the temperature had dropped 20 degrees from Langkawi. Langkawi was hot. Very very hot. And humid.Those athletes that were under-prepared (or raced above their means) dropped like flies, but those that were prepared & raced conservatively trucked on. Langkawi will never (ok maybe not never, but not usually) be a PR race (unless it's your first one!) but that is one of the reasons to do it! It is one of those super tough races that truly defines the word "Ironman" and that's why I loved it. No easy street for this road. Every medal (& daquiri afterwards) is truly earned.

DO save the culinary exploration for post-race
The food in Langkawi can be a bit of an unknown. Most of it looks amazing, but its hard to tell how it will digest if you are not used to it and I encountered several forms of mystery meat. I suggest sticking to your hotel food or known restaurants until the day after the race. Then- explore away!

watermelon & french fries- a "safe" (&delicious!) pre-race lunch

DO take lots of pictures. 
I didn't take enough and I'm regretting it already!

OK- those are my thoughts on traveling to Langkawi for Ironman Malaysia... It is so far out of the comfort zone for many of us from the US, but so well worth it and an incredible experience.
Next up, my race report! Post-baby Ironman #1 in the books!