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Conquering Kona One Mile at a Time

By Shannon Scovel | Oct. 23, 2018, 11:45 a.m. (ET)

Shannon Scovel competes at IRONMAN World Championships in Kona

In the days leading up to the 2018 IRONMAN World Championships, triathletes took over Ali’i Drive. Toned, tanned and shaved, these elite athletes walked by me at registration on the Wednesday before race day, and insecurity washed over me.

What was I doing here? How did this happen? Could I really make it through this race?

As these doubts gripped me, I tried to remind myself that yes, I was here, and yes, I was going to do this. I made it to Kona, I was here to race for Lori, and I was going to buy myself an IRONMAN T-shirt. I started to smile.

The triathlon community came out in full force in the days leading up to the race, and this positivity, this spirit and this love for the sport lasted until well after midnight on Oct. 13. I arrived hours early on race morning and roamed around, stretched, and anxiously chatted with the other athletes waiting for the opportunity to participate in this iconic event. The cannons were fired for the pro start, and us age-groupers looked at each other before preparing to take on the toughest single day endurance event in the world.

It was time.

The swim started aggressively, and we fought with one another as we battled to the first buoy. Two days before, I had been amazed at the beauty of the water and stunned by its clarity. Race morning, however, I powered through it, oblivious to its wonder and ignoring its significance. I sprinted along the course, back in my competitive zone and fighting to be in that front pack. Less than an hour later, the pier came into view, and I knew I was headed toward the swim finish. I pushed harder.

With the volunteers’ assistance, I moved quickly up the stairs and toward transition, where I changed into my bike gear and headed out on the Queen K. The never-ending Queen K.

This is when the race really begins, I thought. Here we go.

The few 30 or miles of the bike were rough as I warmed up and found my rhythm. Though I have since heard that the weather was as nice as we could have hoped for, the sun was still bright, and the road was still hilly.

I pedaled forward, trying not to think about the distance I still had to cover and instead focusing on the beauty of the place where I was riding. This was an incredible island.

The bike portion of the race went by, mile by mile, and I found my mind wandering to the run that lay ahead. I forced myself to re-focus on the present moment. One mile at a time, one mile at a time.

I felt enormous relief as I hit the 100-mile marker on the bike and started to make my way back into town. Just a marathon stood between me and that finish line, and I was determined to make it.

The start of the run was difficult, but, just like the bike, I found my form and plodded along, soaking up the experience of racing on the Big Island for a just little longer. The group running with me was a mix of people feeling fresh, and those feeling not so fresh, already crippled by the heat. Seven miles passed and my own physical state started to deteriorate.

I watched as the sun set on the island, lighting up the sky with colors and bringing a brief wave of positivity to the others that I ran with along the highway. We smiled at each other, then carried on, waiting for the darkness and the coolness that the night would bring. I hoped the sunset would also bring speed and energy to my legs, but instead, the opposite occurred. My body felt heavy and weak.

I lifted my legs up off the ground with such effort and used all of my strength to move them forward. Around mile 13, nausea hit me, and I bent over, sick, but I had nothing in my system to throw up. I walked to the aid station where I picked up some coca-cola and water. One aid station at a time, I told myself, one aid station at a time.

At this point, the island had been swallowed up by darkness and clouds, and rain poured down on me and the other racers. One volunteer held a flashlight up to a sign that read “8.47 miles to go.” I almost cried. 8.47 miles?!

I knew that was the distance I had to travel, but there was something about reading it on a sign and knowing I had over 90 minutes of running left that nearly killed me. I didn’t know if I could make it to the next aid station never mind the finish. But still, I carried on.

In the darkness and the downpour, I knew every step brought me closer. There was a finish line somewhere way up in the distance, and though it didn’t seem possible in the moment, I knew I needed to reach it. The reality of the 140.6-mile journey hit me in that moment, and I started to realize just how crazy this whole thing was. I wanted to stop so badly, but I didn’t have a choice. The only option was the finish line.

With one mile to go, I turned into town with a group of now-enthusiastic hobbling triathletes, and we readied ourselves for Ali’i Drive. I looked out at the crowd and was overwhelmed with emotions. I tried to high-five as many people as possible, and I tried to make the moment last as long as possible.

I was crossing the finish line in Kona ... in "THE" KONA!

Then, it was over. I ran under the finish line, Mike Reilly called me an IRONMAN, and it was done.

The day I never thought would end, ended.

Now it’s time to sign up for another one. 

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