This was a tough Ironman for me to prepare for. I have my Kona slot. Why exactly am I racing? Oh yea, to see how Dirks training shows up in my body. I’ve had a rough go the last few weeks and I came to the race site less than confident. But if I know something about myself, it’s that I give my best every single time, AND, I can execute a plan. So, we have all read Chrissie’s book by now. Remember how she always writes something on her wrist band for when she races. I thought I would give that a go. As I did my pre race mental work sitting on a nice rock on Tubbs hill, I realized there was a lot of things I was scared of. I’m not usually a scared person, but I was scared of being slow, and I was scared of getting beat. That really was the bottom line, whether warranted or not, I was scared about these things. As I was reading my little quote book I came across:

“Be fearless in the face of your fears”

So I wrote fearless on my wristband. And that was a good thing for me. Having fears happens, but I can choose to be fearless, I can choose to face them head on. So I did.


It seems that every year at CDA they compact the starting swimmers more and more. There are a few things that confuse me about the swim here. Why contain us in such a narrow start corral? And why 2 loops? The lake is really big, and the beach is quite large as well. I’m not sure if it’s for dramatic effect, but if so, they are successful in that. I lined up way left so that I could escape towards the inside buoy line if needed. They don’t like you to do this but survival is survival.

Pre Race Snuggles

All week long I had been talking to people about the cold swim and how to handle the mass start. I had two athletes racing their first Ironman, Katie and Emily. Both are strong swimmers, but the Ironman swim can squash strong swimmers like a bug, so I was especially attentive to them before race day, making sure they were “ready.” My advice (like Dori) was to “Just Keep Swimming” even though you want to stop and freak out a little, just keep swimming hard and things will settle with time. We also had to deal with the cold water and it’s easy to want to stop swimming when your face is freezing, but you just gotta keep going, keep swimming. The first 5 minutes of Ironman are the worst part of the day in my opinion.

Katie, Me, Emily (or EmyK as I call her)

I saw Katy B on the start line. We held hands through the national anthem, and I saw my friend Guy as well and my nerves were less than usual. I was standing next to the clock so I knew when we were going off. Boom went the cannon.


I ran in and started swimming. I was good for about 30 strokes, swimming, fighting, battling for some space. Then I started getting whaled on, so I went to my super wide “get the hell off me” stroke, still getting pummeled. Then a sharp kick to the chest and I got a little wind knocked out of me, just keep swimming Sonja, be fearless. Then I breathed left, no breath, right, no breath, a few strokes, no breath, a few strokes, no breath. I started to get scared, couldn’t breathe, and forgot completely about being fearless. Then a swift kick to the face and askew went the goggles. I breast stroked and put them back on, kick to the face, swam over several times. Back swimming freestyle, goggles are are full of water. I cleared the water, kick to the boobs, and go back swimming, still no breath, no breath, getting pummeled. And all I can think is “Just keep swimming, you told Katie and Emily to just keep swimming, be fearless.” Panic, and then, I find myself flipping over on my back. It felt like a total surrender, I got swam over what felt like 10 times, but I just backstroked and gasped for air. After somewhere between 6-100 strokes I flipped back on my belly and I breathed every 2 strokes all the way until the first turn buoy. I never breath 2 strokes, always 3 or 4. I also thought about Katie and Emily and I was scared for the both of them, hoping they were doing okay and were safe. They were fine...dealt with it all better than me. Good girls.

It was the worst start I had ever had to an Ironman. About 10 times I thought to myself “I should get a PRO card so I don’t have to put up with this shit.” Around the second turn buoy heading back in for the first loop, I looked up and saw the hundreds of people in front of me and thought “Maybe nix the PRO card idea.” Hahaha!

I hit the beach finishing up the first loop in 32:45. I waded out for more carnage. The second loop was particularly fun due to the chop. It was crazy out there. Luckily I knew better than to think it was due to boats. 2 years ago I cussed at the imaginary boats that were creating all the wake, but this year I knew better, I told myself to be fearless a good 5 times on that second loop and that seemed to give me strength. CDA really is one of the toughest IM swims out there with the cold water, congestion, too close together turn buoys, and 2nd lap chop-land. It’s a tough one. The last 25% of the swim I repeated over and over and over “Get me the F&#% out of here.” I was more than ready to be done with that swim.

I don't know what's going on with my cap here, I have a shark fin. Honestly, any Ironman swim that you make it through alive is a good day.

I exited, and looked at my watch, 1:08:40. Ouch. But honestly, I didn’t even judge it, or put an emotion on it (good progress for me). I just moved on. I was happy to have survived and fared okay. I was cold, but knew that if I was cold, then others would be freezing.

I grabbed my T1 bag and ran to the tent. I got a chair...always nice, and even had a volunteer to help me (super rad). This was the first time I was surprised by my mood. I was super chatty with the volunteer, usually I just nod. I methodically put on my favorite green vest, and my shoes, helmet, and sunglasses. She put on my race number, and helped me put on my little arm warmer bracelets that I rolled up after I got on the bike. I said thank you like 5 times, gave her a big smile and trucked on out of there.

I picked up my bike at the rack and headed out of transition. My mount was easy, methodical, and I was HAPPY! Like brimming with joy happy, smile from ear to ear.