ONIPA’A: Finishing what I started in Kona


In Hawaiian Onipa’a means “be steadfast, resilient and resolute.”

Each year they pick a theme word for the Ironman World Championships.  The theme word of Kona this year was: ONIPA’A. Given the day I had on the big island, this could not have been more fitting for my race.

And now I’m going to finish my story.  

kona bike

After the swim, I had a long day ahead of me.

The sun got hot, really, really hot.  I expected a tough day out on the Queen K , like everyone tells you about, but holy shit that was hard. The good news is, it’s hard for everyone. Everyone is struggling, everyone is hot, everyone is battling the wind… you aren’t alone.

I navigated the Queen K as best I could, while staying in Aero for the majority of the race. My biggest fear was the crazy ass crosswinds, rightfully so… I’d heard stories of athletes literally getting blown off their bikes, so needless to say, I was a little nervous.

I heard Andy Potts (Male Pro, Coach & 4th place at Kona) say after the race, the hardest thing about the bike course is that it’s mind numbing.  You literally look at the same scenery the ENTIRE time.  It’s lava fields, grass, and pavement.. that’s it.  Everyone thinks: “ohhh Hawaii , that must be a beautiful bike ride.”  Well, yes, I guess it is beautiful, but it’s like the freaking desert.  I saw the ocean in the distance, but could not look at it because of the strong winds. I had to keep my head down as much as possible.  To pass the time, the focus was on my watts and fueling. I stuck to my watts, but it was hard to get up to speed at times because of the wind. It was a constant fight out there.


The course is an out and back and the turn around is at the top of the climb to Hawi, where it actually rained on me that day! For the majority of the ride, I had a GRUELING headwind. However, one positive to it being an out and back is, you get to see the pro men and women zipping by on the other side of the highway, helicopters watching up above, very cool!

The bike ride went by fast, despite how difficult it was.  I think I was so excited to be racing that course, I just tried to enjoy it.  I could tell I was getting a sunburn when I was a few hours in, and I knew it could be a bad situation later on. My quads were starting to get red, and I feared I did not  reapply enough sunscreen in transition.  Towards the end of the ride I was also getting very nauseous and I no longer wanted to eat or drink (bad news).  So, not only did I have a raging quad sunburn (that was now swollen), but I had a stomach ache… oh and 26.2 miles ahead of me..  The bad thing about the heat in Kona is, you actually can’t really tell you are sweating (well, at least for me personally).  I was really happy when the bike ride was over, but I knew that I had a long run ahead of me, and I wasn’t feeling well from the start. 


Bike time: 6:32:14

( I had hoped to break 6… but I was ok with it)

The run was the darkest athletic moment of my life. I reached my lowest of lows.

My facebook post, the day after the race read the following:

“Sometimes you have to reach your lowest of lows to find out what you’re made of. There are no words to explain how I was feeling at this moment at Kona. The sun was setting and it would soon be dark… Being mentally tough and finishing the race I started means more to me than any time goal.”


When I got to the run I knew things were going to get ugly. Usually this is my strongest event, but medical issues took a toll on me. My heart rate was high while going at a very slow pace. It was around 140 bpm while doing 10 minute miles (no bueno). Usually I can run 7:30’s at a 140 bpm heart rate. I knew this was a very bad sign. Soon my 10 minute miles turned into 11… 12… 13 minute miles.  I started to accept the fact that I was going to run a 5+ hour marathon, and I would be ok as long as I kept shuffling along. My asthma kicked in right away off the bike and my breathing was labored from the get-go. My inhaler was doing nothing to help me. The nausea persisted for the rest of the race, the worst it’s ever been. I saw friends and teammates on the other side of the road, on their way back to the finish line and I felt like a failure. I hung on until around mile 13 then it became a run-walk. Then just a walk. Brian was there for me at mile 13 and even had the announcer at one of the aid stations cheer for me, this was uplifting and was just what  I needed at that moment. I tried to run at every other telephone poll, trying to find a rhythm… which lasted only for as little while longer. Then it soon became just a walk.


kona run

I watched the sunset on the Queen K and the Energy Lab was pitch black when I got there. They were handing out glow-stick necklaces, and I didn’t want to put one on. I never thought I would have to be one of those people racing into the dark… sorry but I didn’t…

Having a goal to finish before it got dark, this was very heartbreaking. My mind went to very dark places. I wanted to stop. I have never been so close to quitting a race in my life, never. I got dizzy, my body was cold and shaking from my extreme sunburn on my quads. The sun drops FAST in Kona and there are not really any street lights.  The wind was  howling and it made it even colder. I should add that the air temp was still 80+ and with heat radiating up from the road after baking in the sun all day it was even hotter than 80… and despite that I was still cold. I kept having conversations with myself , asking what would happen if I gave up? It’s wouldn’t be so bad right?  At least I tried? I watched the medical vans drive by and kept wanting to flag one down, desperately. I wanted to fall asleep on a lava rock in the Energy Lab and didn’t care if I ever woke up again. At the turnaround at the energy lab, I tried to eat pretzels and couldn’t.  I kept sipping on coke, barely, for miles and miles.I’m actually pretty sure all I took in for 26.2 miles was coke.  When I reach mile the mile 20 (I think) aid station, I stopped and asked for help, I was so weak and delirious at that point. A volunteer gave me chicken broth and I sipped it for about 10 minutes while trying to get warm. At that point Brian was able to find me and see that I was ok, telling me I couldn’t quit He asked how I would feel if I didn’t get that medal at the finish…. this is what helped get me off my butt and back to walking. Since I was still freezing cold (and not getting any warmer) I made a make-shift jacket with a trash bag and walked with the trash bag around me for miles at miles  With 4 miles to go, I made a friend, who was also walking. We made a decision to finish together, he was having a shitty day too and I can’t even explain what it meant to walk with someone during the end like that. We walked and chatted from miles 22-25, then made the decision that we would run the last mile to the finish!

With the dark moments also came positive ones. The volunteers were nothing shy of amazing. Telling me not to give up, cheering me on, asking what I needed. At several of the aid stations I told them I wanted to stop and they refused to let me, telling me I was SO close, you CAN’T give up they said.



Once I hit mile 25, I ran down Ali’i drive with my head held high and I smiled like I always do. I may not have smiled much during the marathon but I made sure to enjoy that last mile and finish line, best finish line in the world. It was during that mile that I felt no pain, it was like I was floating.  I had felt so sick for so many hours, my body was emotionally and physically broken, but I somehow managed to run that last mile and told myself I would not walk across the finish line.  The mental toughness it took to do this, is what will get me through the difficult moments of my life yet to come, I just know it. Because let’s face it, life is HARD. Racing Kona is tough, but life is tougher. And if I could run down that finish line and finish what I started … bring it on world.

And I don’t know quite how I did it, but I managed to make a big jump at the finish line.By the look of my face, there was no pain at all during that moment, only joy. Pure joy.

Run time: 6:32:20 OUCH.

Final time: 14:32:05

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After crossing the finish line I ended up in the medical tent, was given an IV, breathing treatments, nausea meds. I was in rough shape. My body weight was a pound higher than when I started which was concerning (too much fluid). I’m forever grateful to the amazing medical team of nurses and doctors in that tent.

After I got out of the medical tent, I was finally able to get a finish line huge from Brian and get to the finish line to support others coming into the chute! The energy was absolutely INSANE!!!!  Everyone was demonstrating their brand of Onipa’a, being steadfast and not giving up.  As I walked away that night, there were people finishing who would not get to the clock in time for it to be offical… my heart broke for those people, as I honestly felt during the day that I might not be one of them. I cheered them on 🙂

I’m the type of person who is very hard on herself, so I’m quite disappointed with such a slow finish time. However, I raced in the freaking Ironman World Championship and I earned my spot at this race. I am lucky just to be able to do the race. It was the hottest Kona in 10 years, many professionals didn’t even finish. But I did. I didn’t give up. Thank you to my Coeur teammates for your cheers on the course, you helped get me through. To coach Jorge Martinez for believing in me. And special thank you Brian for being there for me through the training, the race, all of it, I love you.

Kona, you are a beast and I’ll be back for redemption one day… soon.




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  • Reply Tami April 5, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    Having been at th finish line for one IM and a few miles out on the run course for another it’s heartbreaking to see people stop. I “ran” a few people in at IMMT and it was so rewarding

    And if we aren’t tough in ourselves who will be

  • Reply Kelly April 12, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    Hi Kristin! Just found your blog recently & loved reading through. What an amazing journey you’ve had over the past few years – it’s really inspiring! I’m sorry Kona didn’t work out how you wanted – but I’m sure you’ll have another chance there & you’ll be so much stronger having had this experience.
    I hope you keep blogging – I’d love to continue to hear about your training/racing/etc!

    • Reply Kristin April 14, 2016 at 1:32 pm

      Hi Kelly, thank you so much!!! I am going to continue to blog, hopefully more often now! Appreciate the kind words and I’m glad I can inspire! 🙂

  • Reply Lee@Tri*Inspired*Life April 17, 2016 at 11:51 am

    Thanks for sharing the details of your day. You really pulled out the mental strength and powered through. Amazing!! You did earn your spot at the World Championship and that is something few can say. I am certain that day has built even more confidence for you and when you have tough training days, you can think that to your experience at Kona and say without question….”I got this “…!!! You will have another chance to race the Queen K!

  • Reply Megan April 19, 2016 at 10:20 pm

    Lil’ Kris,
    I’m not a triathlete…never will be but I still find this story so inspiring. Finishing what you’ve started and giving it all you’ve got (plus some.) If I’ve learned anything from challenges life has presented to me it’s that being able to draw mental strength from past experiences can produce tremendous resilience. And this experience you have written about here my friend, is one for the books:) Well done!

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