by Kerrianne Sanicola
I am a planner, which is ironic if you know me, because my day to day is generally chaotic. But I have always had big dreams to do it all: vacation, train, work too much, and race. Things like Ironman need to be planned because the training that I believe I need to do to get to the starting line is mentally and physically time consuming. So, when I finished Ironman Louisville in 2016, the plan was set and I knew I'd be back in 2019 if all went well. And the goal was sub-11.
All went mostly well. 2017 and 2018 were great athletic years for me. I stayed healthy and happy got a new coach, Andy Ruiz, and all seemed to go according to plan.
But when I finally signed up for Louisville, I was barely running and struggling with lots of ankle and knee pain. I kept the riding mileage up and the goal of sub-11 quickly turned into "I just want to finish." In June my longest run was 6 miles, not such a great starting point, but I was riding better than I ever had. Mount Tamalpais, just over the Golden Gate Bridge in California, had served as the most frustrating playground over the winter. I would be forced to ride primarily in the granny gear at maybe 12 mph, but it did really translate to some strong fast riding. I was riding the higher wattage and I was the most comfortable I have ever been on my bike. I had a successful Olympic distance Tri, and therefore signed up for Louisville. THEN I crashed my bike, resulting in multiple fractures of my right hand. Great, just another setback. Holding the handlebars was impossible, and I was advised sternly not to swim for a while. My boyfriend Pat’s solution was to immediately get back on the road. So, Pat took me to Lake Tahoe to ride for 5 hours, where I faced my new fear of riding downhill, and the show just kept going on. My hand ached a lot the following month, especially when going over potholes and unpaved roads. The vibration was awful. I got cleared to swim on a Friday afternoon, and good thing because Ironman Santa Rosa 70.3 was on Saturday. Somehow, I squeaked out a great half Ironman. The swims were painful and my fingers were taped together, but I had a solid bike and a run PR (Holy smokes!) and just like that, the quest for a sub-11 was on.
Pat and Kerrianne
My coach had to tweak a lot to get me the endurance I needed while protecting my painful body in July and August, but over time I got stronger and things just generally got better. Fast forward to Louisville.
The swim portion of the race got cancelled on Thursday morning. What a bummer. It turns out it was a blessing in disguise, because getting on a bike wet at 39 degrees would not have been so enjoyable. I was so ready to race fast. I couldn't have been more prepared.
Race morning felt funny. What a different routine! We just lined up with our bikes and started riding. Ironman did a great job getting us on the course safely, with a buzzer to start riders every 15 seconds. So, I was finally here. It was time. The bike was so hard. I was riding over the prescribed wattage, but the speed wasn't there. Maybe it was the wind, maybe me being just generally tired, who knows? But I was stubborn and decided I would refuse to give up time. At only 56 miles, I remember looking down and just shaking my head. I was ONLY halfway done. I decided to just hold on the next loop at the exact same wattage and not let my speed drop below 19.0 mph. In the final 20 miles we had a pretty large headwind, which continued to beat up my already tired body. I talked to myself the entire last hour: stay down in aero position, stop moving around, eat more food. Riding sub-6 hours was the goal, and 5 hours and 47 minutes later, I was done, but incredibly tired. Check.
Great, now I have to run a marathon. I started out right under 9 minute per mile pace, and my heart rate was too high. I was uncomfortable and couldn't control it. I saw my boyfriend (and world’s best Sherpa) at 1 mile and he told me I looked like crap and to slow down. I ran 9:10-9:30 pace the next 13 miles. Miles 11-15 were torture. I just wanted to stop moving. I knew if I did, it would be a long walk to the finish. Then with 10 miles to go, my HR dropped and I was just running normally again, around 9:00-9:10 pace per mile. My breathing was finally under control, stride length was back, and I thought perhaps I could pull this off. At some point I realized I could have a marathon PR if I could just hold it together. And then with 3 miles to go, I realized if I could just run 3 more miles under 9 minutes per mile, if I could run the fastest 3 miles of the day right now. I could run a sub-4 hour marathon. So, I did.
I finished out the day with a 37 minute bike PR, 7 minute marathon PR (and my first marathon in under 4 hours). I will never know if I could have gone under 11 for the triathlon, but I can assume it would have been close.
Ever since I started doing triathlons, I've always had a special place in my heart for my tri-family. I could never thank them enough, starting from them letting me borrow race wheels, to the endless miles spent together and the constant support as I continue to freak out about the "what ifs." Pat, has always let me put my training first, even at times when it is very inconvenient. And my coach Andy has given me the tools to succeed, and more importantly he believes in me.
So that's my story, or rather my journey. But to tell you the truth, it's not that unique at all. It is the reason that I love the sport of triathlon. There are always moments of doubt, and moments of resilience and perseverance. There are always members of your tri-family, race Sherpas, great workouts and completely sabotaged ones, and a coach who believes in you. Ironman (especially the full distance) always brings that sense of community. Doing something you love and pushing yourself to the ultimate end surrounded by people you love is always the real story. Because as Ironman demonstrates, anything is possible.