Jenny and I were the only ones in the transition tent and we left together. We got going and I was right behind her. She was nails and she was storming the castle. I tucked in behind her, put my warm shirt on, and started getting in my groove. My whimpers had calmed down and it actually felt really good to be out running on a relatively quiet portion of the course. Then it started raining, and then a 5 minute downpour let loose that drenched me to the bone. We crossed our first (of 12) bridges for the day and suddenly this huge rainbow popped out. I remember thinking “Ok, now that’s cool”.

Jenny and I were running fast. Like “wowah” fast. Looking back I would say “too fast” but it’s a pace I know I have it in me to run for a whole marathon off the bike and I thought to myself “is this the day?” It felt effortless, easy and my stride was so smooth and strong. I passed Jenny eventually and then I came up on someone in my age group with the name Vanessa on her bib. As I passed her I could tell she went with me. Seriously? I have almost never had anyone go with me during a pass in a triathlon. If they did it was short lived.

As you can see I spent most of the marathon looking like a train wreck. Check out how I've got one eyebrow under my hat strap, and the other is not. Dork! Oh, and meet Vanessa, you'll see a lot of her.

And she STUCK. Like glue, like white on rice, like Velcro, like white dog hair on a black coat, I could go on and on here. She STUCK, for miles. I was still running fast and it still felt easy, but Vanessa was kinda freaking me out. If I ran fast she was there, if I slowed, she was there, no matter what I did she matched it. I also found out from Troy that I was 3rd in my age group. I thought that our age group would get 2 slots for sure, and 3 if we were lucky. So really, my main concern was not passing more ladies ahead, but shaking the one that was sitting on my shoulder. We were racing for most likely the final Kona slot, and we both knew it.

As we passed Chuckie at the end of the first lap I asked him rather loudly “How do I get her off me”. I admit, it was pretty rude of me to put it like that, but the girl was getting to me (great tactics on her part). She had been on me for 6 miles at that point. Chuckie said “Don’t worry, but run this next lap really hard”. All I could think was “crap”. I was doing OK still, but the thought of upping my game was a scary one. I had also picked up more than just my shaddow. I had several baby ducks hanging onto the goSonja mama duck.

goSonja train...toot toot

First Lap splits: 7:34, 7:28, 7:32, 7:23, 7:37, 8:03 (big hill), 7:27, 7:52,7:57 (carnage to come)

On the second lap I started to hurt. My entourage and my shadow stuck with me. When I slowed, they did too. Nobody passed. Half way through lap two I passed the cheer crew again. I knew I was still in third. Chuckie was about 100 yards later and at that point Meredith Kessler (PRO, took 4th overall) was lapping me. She was running pretty fast and Chuckie said “Sonja, this is Meredith Kessler and I want you to go with her for as long as you can”. I immediately went with her and thought “Oh wow, I’m going to blow up” but I went with her and I know now that he was trying to help me shake Vanessa, my shadow. It didn’t work, she matched the move step for step and hung on.

Meredith is on the left, number 58. The goSonja train is on the right.

Things really started to hurt during the second half of lap two. My little entourage and I ran slowly up the big hill and fast down the backside. My pace slowed, my legs were heavy, I was against the ropes. At the end of lap two Troy said that 2nd was 2 minutes up and 1st was 4 minutes up. I knew I needed to speed up, but it wasn’t happening. Chuckie said “Let her do some work” referring to Vanessa. Sounded like a great plan to me and not long after that she came up on my side and said “I don’t want a Kona slot, let’s work together”. My first thought was “Thank God”, my second thought was “Is she playing me?”. But regardless she took the lead during a VERY windy section and I was grateful to cruise behind her and regain my composure.

Second Lap Splits (carnage): 8:08, 7:48, 8:10, 8:10, 8:28, 8:49, 8:40, 8:45, 8:44 (OUCH!)

Turns out Vanessa wanted a Kona slot very badly and was playing me hard core. We have chatted back and forth after the race and she said that she just said that to try to calm me down to see if we could work together towards a 1-2 finish. The girl has GUTS. She's probably the most tactical triathlete I've ever raced.

I was essentially bonking at this point and while cruising behind Vanessa I took in some coke, a sour apple gel (divine), some Gu chomps, some water, some energy drink, and a chunk of banana. Then I ran behind her and focused on her ponytail holder (and only her ponytail holder) for about 1.5 miles. It was just what the doctor ordered.

At mile 19.5 I just knew. I just knew. I was back. I was ready, and I was off. I pulled back ahead of Vanessa and I just told myself that if I wanted to catch anybody, I was going to need some 8 minute miles. And so I went about getting it done. So, 17.5 miles after Vanessa hopped on the goSonja bus, she got off and on I went.

The tweeting machine - so many of you enjoyed the live twitter cast sponsored by Goal0, this was the set up for much of it! The Goal0 Nomad 7 worked great! More news on the winners tomorrow!

Suddenly it was ON like donkey kong. I came over my 10th bridge and Chuckie told me to go get the girl in the teal shorts, he said she looked like she was in my age group and off I went. I was on attack. I busted the downhill off the bridge and I caught her within a mile but she had 29 written on her calf. Turns out that maybe she was confused, or she lost a battle with the Sharpie, or do I dare say it... she's a purposefully deceiving athlete...because she was indeed in the 30-34 age group. I was nervous she would go with me, but she did not.

I go by Troy and he says 1st is 2 minutes up and your number 2. I was totally confused but I assumed I passed #2 in the port-a-pottie, or at an aid station and I didn’t see her, I didn’t think it was Ms.29. My crew knew though, they were on the ball. I also saw Michelle going the other direction in here. I was soo soo thankful. She was running, and I just caught a glance of her, but it looked like she was doing well and that gave me a boost.

I also passed my old high school boyfriend somewhere on lap two as well. He was at IMCDA this year but I didn't know he was signed up for IMAZ too, so that was a surprise. He gave me a big high five and told me to go get 'em. I only see the guy during Ironmans, that cracks me up. I love that when he ran by my parents he said "Hi Mr.Willis". That's just funny! Oh and he ran by Michelle and asked if she knew me (since we were both in Trakkers green). She asked if he reads my blog (she didn't know who he was) and he said "yes", then she said "I'm PIC"! He said "I'm her X-boyfriend". Oh, this story just cracks me up. Funny what goes on out there!

Here's PIC busting a move!

2 minutes down on 1st, 4 miles to go, and I’m feeling my mo-jo. I’m definitely against the ropes but for some reason I am eating up the challenge, and using it as motivation. I was on the hunt. I would pick a girl ahead and run as hard as I could to pass her, only to see she was in another age group. I ran up the big hill harder than I had the previous two laps. I book down it and at the bottom Jane and Chris are cheering at the 24 mile mark and she says “Number 1 is 45 seconds up”. Then I know. I am going to do this or die trying.

I look ahead and I see an orange Tribe uniform. I know it’s her. I just do. I run as hard as I can to get there and I am 10 seconds back 1/2 mile later. Now I don’t know what to do. I ran 17+ miles with a shadow and the last thing I want is another one. How do I make the pass? What do I do? Do I try to be sneaky? Decisive? Sly? Friendly? I decide to just go, and run like I stole something. I make the pass and I run so hard down and around this loop-de-doo in the course. I’m telling myself “run hard, dying is ok, dying is ok, run till you die”. I’m not kidding, that’s what I’m screaming at myself in my head. I come booking out of the underpass and I’m scared shitless. I see Chuckie and Ang and Chuckie said “run as hard as you can all the way in”. And I am. I’m running as hard as I know how.

I pass Troy and Chris, Tyler and Anne and Troy is holding up one finger screaming “Number one, number one” and they all go booking across the grass running towards the finish line via the direct route. Now I’m chanting in my head “You're winning your age group, you're going to Kona, you're winning your age group, you're going to Kona”. I look behind me, she’s not on my heels. I run faster. I look again, still not there, I run faster. I never let up, not one ounce. I make all the turns to the finish, check over my shoulder about 10 times and finally, in the chute, I realize I’m good, I can celebrate. Celebrate I did, lots of high 5’s and smiles.

I look up to see 10:22 on the clock and am pretty impressed with that time, for this day. Shocked really. I get very very weepy and wobbly at the finish. It wasn’t the physical exhaustion, it was the mental, emotional, and sensory exhaustion. I look to the fence and my mom is crying and saying “Your so awesome Son” and my dad is shouting “We are so proud of you”. I get really weepy.

Third Lap Splits: 8:48, 8:24, 8:03, 8:06, 8:40 (big hill), 7:48, 7:58, 7:49, last 0.2 (6:50 pace) The Run: 3:32:39 Total Time: 10:22:09

Ron, AKA PunkRockRunner is there in the stands, cheering up a storm. I LOVE this picture.

My finish line catcher is concerned and heading me toward the medical tent. Of all the finish lines, this one resulted in the biggest emotional release. I kept telling my finish line catcher, "I'm just really emotional". I can understand being concerned but when you've been racing in the hurt locker for so long, and then running like your life depended on it for several miles, and finally you get to STOP, whew...the emotions just pour out. Relief is the main one, your fears of being eaten by a tiger (or losing the lead) are suddenly gone. I have major props for those that can keep their composure in these situations.

I hug my mom over the fencing and a volunteer lady says to my finish line catcher, “you can’t accompany her to the medical tent” and I said “Oh, I’m not going to medical” and I started to shape up. The threat of the medical tent always brings me back to reality. I pop out of the enclosure and EVERYONE is there. Troy, Chris, Mom, Dad, Jane, Tyler, Anne, Ron, Niko, Chuck, and Angela. It was awesome to see everyone's faces. They were as shocked as I was. It was emotional, we were all so surprised at how well it all came together in the last few miles. There is really no better feeling than having all my friends and family there to smile and celebrate a great finish.

After lots of hugs all around, and good jobs I grabbed Annie and we went back into the finisher area for some grub. Annie and I shared a basket of french fries, a slice of pizza, a sprite, some chips and a cup full of grapes. During this time Troy ran to transition, collected my bike, transition bags and morning clothes bag, then ran to the car in the garage and loaded everything up. I have the most awesome husband, he does this stuff just because, and he always thinks of me first. I handed Annie back over the fence to Troy and hopped on the massage table. I started getting really cold, so Troy got me warm clothes and I headed towards the finish line just in time to see Michelle come running down the chute! She looked great, and a little emotional too...just how we like it.

She was an Ironman!!! It was fun to be in the back area with her, helping her eat fries, and getting her signed up for a massage. I got her and Michael reunited and we all agreed to meet in the hot tub at the hotel in about 45 minutes. The rest of the evening is soooo not bloggable...margs margs margs and then some midnight finish line cheering.

Fine can have a hug

Twitter friends are now REAL friends, Nicole (@neo_endurance) and Nina (@ncjack). We had a lot of fun at the finish line.

And that was it. I went to bed at 1:40am that night, still in total disbelief that I won my age group. What started out as a rough day ended as a rough day too. It was really challenging, but really rewarding. One thing I learned on Sunday is that with bigger risk can come bigger rewards...or a bigger fall. The difference between the two comes down to your fire within, and a bit of luck. I went through A LOT of pain out there, but it was all worth it. And really, it usually is.

Goal0 Nomad7 winners will be revealed tomorrow!