The Quest for Kona

The Quest for Kona


Grace holds award

I still consider myself a newbie Triathlete, but I think at this stage I should perhaps step away from that idea and start accepting I might be a bit more experienced than I give myself credit for. I started triathlon in my last year at uni (2013/14) because I was bored of conventional team sports and needed a distraction from my dissertation. Friends knew I loved swimming, and I could run around a hockey pitch, and I knew how to ride a bike – so why not.

I did my first sprint tri under BUCS closely followed by Blenheim Triathlon and the tri bug caught me, hook, line and sinker. I completed 5 sprint distance Tri’s in my first season. My swim was pretty strong, my bike was terrible and my run was even worse, but I just LOVED it! The camaraderie on the course, the encouragement from supporters on the side lines and that finish line feeling.

Desperate to get better, being the competitive person I am, I decided I needed to ride my bike more, and what better way than to task myself with riding John O’Groats to Lands End?!

The following summer, myself and a mate set off from the northern point in Scotland complete unsupported, having never ridden further than 60 miles before to complete 1,200 miles in 12 days to get to Lands End. My first taste of endurance sport and testing myself against something I had no idea whether I’d be able to complete it. 12 days later, champagne in hand and 5kg lighter I was holding my bike above my head with the other hand celebrating a mega achievement.

This was the moment I decided I wanted to test myself more, and the start of a very slippery slope. I signed up to my first 70.3 for the following year, completed Weymouth half ironman and the same day, on the drive home, signed up to do Nice full ironman the following July.

Grace out of the water

Unfortunately two tibial stress fractures got the better of me (going too big too soon some might say) and it delayed my entry into Ironman until 2018 when I headed to Port Elizabeth in South Africa to race my first full distance. I genuinely didn’t know if I’d make the run cut off and considered this race would be my “one and done” for Ironman. I finished in a reasonable 14 hours with the marathon nearly destroying me (5hrs 40!) and absolutely ecstatic I’d made it.

However, the same day, back at home, the London Marathon had taken place. The day after my ironman, I started looking through the London Marathon results and completely beat myself up about how absolutely rubbish my run time was. I needed to do better. I HAD to do better. We hadn’t even landed back in the UK following this trip and another race was booked 3 months later in Vichy.

Grace Running

…. Well before I give you a play by play of every race, I’ll skip to the short version. 5 full distance races later, a mega TT bike purchased, hours of training and Id managed to snag a podium in Barcelona 2021 coming second with 10hrs 4 mins.

Certain there were 2 slots of Kona available I skipped through the finish tent to my husband singing “Kona Baby!”… he then reminded me, actually there were only 10 female slots available and it was dependent on whether 1st place accepted her slot or not… she did. No Kona for me.

This well and truly put a rocket up my backside, with the only possible outcome for 2022 to be a KQ. I committed myself 110% to this and looked at every decision I’d made throughout the 2021 season and scrutinised it on whether I could have done something differently to have pinched that top step on the podium and whether it would have given me the edge to get the KQ slot. 

2 weeks after Barcelona I’d recruited myself a coach and out a plan together. By the start of 2022 I had a second strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist. I was making “better” decision with sleep routine, drinking, recovery and training smart. All in a bid to get those marginal gains and work within my strengths in order to out-weight my weaknesses and get me where I wanted to go.


Grace on bike

It isn’t easy making these decision and ultimately they are comprises. Comprising on family time to train, cycling to meet friends to get the session in, leaving birthday parties and dinners at a reasonable time to get to bed early and get up to train the following day (hangover free no less!), asking my husband to drive me places for training and “b-races”, driving to Bolton 4 times to recce the route (in both rain, wine, cold and sunshine), planning to see friends 3 weeks next Thursday between 4.45 and 6.10pm before I have to eat and then swim. Training on bad days when all you want to do is sleep. I knew if I wanted to KQ I couldn’t leave any stone unturned, and I had to show up, day in, day out, train consistently, be patient and trust the process. There were tears, there was stress, there were days when I just wanted to curl up with the dog, eat a McDonalds and watch Netflix… but every day, and every choice I made was worth it.

I knew when I toed the line in Bolton (where I was hoping to qualify) that I had done absolutely everything within my power to get to there in the best shape possible to give it everything I had. And if I didn’t get the result I wanted, I could walk away knowing I’d left my heart and soul on the course but with my head held high. 

Bolton run

Bolton was an emotion roller coaster of a race (checkout my race review on Instgram for full details @justtryingtotri), leading female on the bike until the last 4 miles, starting the run in second for the first lap, moving to third for the second and third lap with a bike following me, and ultimately finishing 8th overall and 3rd in my AG. It shows how strong the female 30-34 category is. I had the race of my life; a strong swim, an even stronger confident bike leg and a marathon pb (by 20 minutes!) but still only 3rd AG. I crossed the finish line knowing there were again only 10 female slots available and it would mean both 1st and 2nd in my AG would have to decline for me to win a roll down.. I went back to the hotel deflated that I wasn’t enough, I hadn’t done enough, Kona just wasn’t going to happen. IT wasn’t until the end of the awards ceremony where I found out 1st declined her slot and our AG was awarded a second KQ. I properly cried – I mean weeping, ugly crying! I couldn’t believe my luck…

For me, there was no decision, if I got a slot, I was going.

The downside, Bolton is July, Kona is October.. only 3 months to recover and prepare. Plus with Covid and 2 years of delayed racing, there were 2 years of deferred athletes already booked into the Big Island. The biggest challenge was 1; finding accommodation and 2; trying to afford to pay for it. Needless to say, a fair few comprises and financial shifts later, I was booked and ready to head across the World for the biggest race of my life. 

IM Red carpet

Kona was the epitome of not just triathlon but Ironman racing. When I attended one of my firs track session with tri at Uni, there was a very serious professional looking guy doing his own programme. When I asked my friend what he was doing, she replied “Oh, he’s going to Kona.” Confused, as if I should know what this was, I asked only to find out the scale of what this meant. WOW! That race sounds insane. Naturally, deep down, even during my first exposure to there was a part of me what wanted to do it… that dreamed of this coveted race. Over the 7 years from this point to qualifying I’d read lots of books about it, Chrissie Wellington’s to the Finish Line,  Iron Wars about Dave Scott and Mark Allen, I’m here to Win by Chris McCormack the list goes on… reading about the fight, the fortitude, the mental resilience just to finish Kona was something that really resonated with me. I knew no matter what, if I got my KQ I was going and ultimately I was going to cross that finish line no matter what.

Preparing for Kona is much like any Ironman, the only main different is adding heat into the mix. Obviously trotting off to Utah, Boulder or Hawai’i for 2 week pre race to acclimate wasn’t financial viable for me, nor feasible with work, so in came some creative thinking and picking the brains of every Oxford Tri club member who’d ever been to Kona before to ask advice.


Name board

The result: turning the home gym into a very very hot training chamber. 2 radiators, a fan heater and a wall paper stripper (to generate steam and humidity). Coupled with plastic sheeting over the window and door to trap the heat in. Starting slow, with just s&c or core sessions for 20-20 minutes in the heat for a few days and slowly building up to 2 hours worth of intense turbo training on Zwift in this environment. I think I maxed out at 33.3*C and 92% humidity (before the wall paper stripper needed topping up, or the session came to a close). I did this for 2 weeks leading up to my travel date, I then had 3 days in Los Angeles running in the heat there before heading to Kona 5 days pre race (where the normal pre race recce’s on the bike along Queen K, or running in the Energy Lab take place…). Thankfully our energy bills had been capped by our provider until November so I managed to benefit from using all the heat gear to create my own heat chamber without running up some mega bills!

Emotionally, the three months (and especially the last two weeks) of training were tough. The constant pressure not to get ill, catch any bugs, or over train was quite intense. Along with the fact, I had to fully recover from Bolton, build a bit and then peak again in quite a tight window. Which for an amateur with a full time job is quite challenging. I will also admit, the stress of knowing the biggest race of your life is just around the corner, left my patience (and sense of humour) very thin… so for this, I apologise, I think my parents, husband and close friends might have taken the brunt of this, and for me Kona was also a way of showing them how thankful I am for all of their unwavering support. I just needed to get to the start line fit and healthy and the rest would take care of itself.

Kona Run

The island, the experience and the race itself most certainly lived up to expectations and the hype is real. The atmosphere is electric, all week. Its absolutely incredible. I loved every second of being there, tried to soak in everything and make the most of my time there. It is hard to describe… its hot, humid and busy – very busy. But equally its beautiful, there are pro’s everywhere, there are insane bikes everywhere you look, often Dolphins just off Dig Me Beach (where the swim takes place), stunning sunsets, familiar faces from the tri circuit, and of course great coffee!

The race was unbelievable in every sense – and one that is a blog post in itself and deserves it own piece all to itself! (So watch this space).

Whats next?

So for me… Im a big believer in challenging yourself, setting your bar as high as you can imagine. Dream big, set targets and goals that seem a little out of reach, and achieve them! This is where I started with almost all my adventures and achievements to date. The idea of Kona was a proper “stretch target” and at first I didn’t even say it out loud (except to my husband) because I was worried people would laugh at me for thinking it was possible. As time went on, I started vocalising it, believe it, then low and behold I was toeing the start line on Dig Me Beach in Kona!

2023 is shaping up a little differently for me… slightly less swim bike run planned but plenty of adventure.

In terms of the conventional I am running the Brighton Marathon at the start of April to do my first ever stand alone marathon (and yes, I’m nervous!). In June I am heading to Elsinor for the 70.3 and am aiming to qualify for the Worlds in Finland in August – I’m hoping to do the double.

Kona celebrate

The less conventional, I am heading back to the Sahara desert at the end of April to take part in Marathon des Sables…. And in December, I am taking on the Atlantic! I have joined a crew to make up the 4th member of “become ATLANTIC” to embark on the race run by Atlantic Campaigns. Considering I have never rowed or sailed in my life and my swim preference is a clear chlorinated pool with swim club… this is massively outside my comfort zone and in part terrifies me! But its going to be one epic challenge and adventure.


Huge thanks to Grace for her guest blog. We wish her the very best in her coming adventures! Grace can be followed on Instagram @justtryingtotri


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