Post by: Leanda Cave, Swiftwick athlete.
“Success is easier than failure. There is not much to say when you succeed. But in failure you sometimes learn more about yourself. I’m not the only pro who didn’t make it to the finish line on Saturday. We all have our unique stories to tell, and for those interested, here is mine.
Qualifying for Kona could have been easy for me, as all I have to do being a previous world champion, is to finish any Ironman to “validate.” But I chose to race, and I selected Ironman Texas, which was also the North America Ironman Championship event. Why this race? Because it would have the most competition, and that’s what I love to race.
My result in IM Texas was a good indicator of my early season form where I finished 2nd behind Angela Naeth. My coach, Cliff English, did a great job in getting me in top shape and all we had to do leading up to Kona was to stay injury-free and keep improving on those early season foundations.
Half the battle is getting to the start line in Kona without injury or illness. Only once in the past seven years have I not finished due to the flu. I’ve even finished with injury. My results range from being on top of the podium to somewhere quite a long ways from it.
This was the most ready I have ever felt coming into Kona. I was 100% prepared, and my body was 100% injury free. I was so physically and mentally on point, and I was enjoying the sport for the first time in a very long time.
My swim was right where it needed to be. I was in the lead group behind Jodie Swallow who was solo off the front. I came out 2nd. This was kind of lucky because we caught the tail end of some male pros right before the end, and this interrupted the order of our group. Until that point I was swimming 3 deep and not sure who was leading. In the end, there was about eight of us who came out the water at roughly the same time.
That group of eight had the likes of Daniela Ryf, Caroline Steffen, Meredith Kessler, Rachael Joyce, Liz Blatchford, Michelle Vesterby, Annabel Luxford and myself. Jodie was out one minute ahead, and the chase was on to catch her. By the turn up Kuakini Highway, the group had united, and we continued to jostle for positions as we climbed up Palani. I felt strong and I took to the lead as we headed out of town.
My game plan for the bike was to stay up the front and stick to Daniela Ryf like white on rice. The pace I was setting felt comfortable. Jodie Swallow, who must have also been feeling good, came around me, and I was feeling relaxed just sitting in 2nd wheel. At this point, we were probably 12 miles into the race and riding at about 26 miles per hour. I remember looking at my bike computer, and I was pushing around 215 watts.
I took in some nutrition and washed it down with a drink. Right at that moment, I hit a bump in the road. My hands were not firmly gripping my bars as I was just returning to my position after drinking from my water bottle straw. As my front wheel hit the bump, my arms launched forward. When my back wheel hit the bump, my elbows slipped off my pads, and I catapulted over my bike head-first onto the road. I slid on my right side for a few meters before coming to a stop.
As I was coming down, an overwhelming sense of grief hit me as I felt all that hard work and sacrifice that enabled me to be here in the shape of my life just vanished. But as I picked myself up off the pavement, I realized nothing was broken, not even my bike (it used me as its air bag!). My right shoulder and hip were hurting, but all I could see was road rash. I felt like I was still in with a chance. I jumped back on my bike, and I could see the group up the road.
I put my head down and biked. Gradually, I made my way back to the group. I sat on the back for a while as there was no opportunity to work my way up, as all the girls were sitting in the legal draft zone. When an aid station came around, this gave me a chance to move up and slot into a big enough gap. I did this a 2nd time and managed to slot in about 4th wheel. Daniela Ryf was leading, and she surged after the aid station. I saw a gap open up, and I chased her down. I was not sitting in 2nd behind Ryf, and this is where I remained until my body started to unravel from my crash.
As we turned towards Hawi, my right side began throbbing, and I was down to pushing 80% of my power through my left leg. I was still convinced this would pass and I’d get through the bike. Everyone in the group passed me. I’m not sure who saw me crash, but most of the girls asked if I was ok. I was not.
I made it up to Hawi, and I was in survival mode. Over half way. Surely I could make it back. I finally had to stop the medical vehicle at 90 miles into the bike. Not only was my back hurting, but my right side was crippling my ability to pedal any longer. The medics gave me Tylenol and let me sit in their van for 30 minutes as I wanted to see if the pain would subside. It actually became worse, and they had to drive me back to Kona.
Race over. No finish line. No reward for my dedication and months of preparation. Like every year, so many people and sponsors helped me get to Kona. In 2013, I was unable to defend my title due to injury. In 2014, I was unable to defend my title due to fatigue. But this year, I was ready and now I will never know.
There will be a next year and I will do everything in my power to be on the start line as for and ready as I was this year. I will not let my correct form go to waste. Once my body heals, I will finish off my season with IM 70.3 Miami, The Island House Invitational and finally Ironman Cozumel.”