That first iron-distance experience – the good, the bad and the ugly – will no doubt be embedded in an athlete’s memory forever. Professionals and age groupers alike can learn so much about themselves while racing over 226kms (140.6 miles), which is why we caught up with recent Ironman Rookie, Alicia Kaye, as she takes us through her first iron-distance experience.

Text by Alicia Kaye | Images by Specialized


Since this is my first time writing for Witsup, I had better introduce myself. I’ve been a professional triathlete for the majority of my life. I completed my first triathlon at age 11 and pretty quickly set goals for going long, but it’s taken me a long time to get here. I think doing an Ironman had been my destiny long before I could even swim, bike and run. In fact, when I was a young girl I made the goal that I wanted to be the youngest female to complete an Ironman.

Pretty quickly my long course goals were cast aside though. When I was 13 I was discovered at a kids triathlon by a national team coach and from there became completely focused on draft legal racing. For many years while I was racing short course I thought Ironman was unhealthy and that everyone who did one was crazy! While I only stepped up to long course racing (over the half distance) last year I decided to go to Kona and check out what the fuss was all about. What made me fall in love with Kona was the whole production of the event – it’s a big day and it felt like it. I decided that I wanted to be a part of it and that inspiration led to me register for Ironman Texas, the North American Championship. Here’s a quick and dirty summary of how Texas went down.


3 things I learned about myself

  1. I am as disciplined as I thought I was. I had a very specific plan going into the race and my mentality for race day was to treat it like a key session. I am known for my discipline in training and I really wanted to carry that mentality into race day. This is a huge change for me coming from short course racing where I’m known for all out, gutsy racing.
  2. I can run a decent marathon one day. Actually, some day I’d love to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
  3. I actually like iron-distance racing! I thought I would need to win the race or really nail it to love it, but even with my mistakes, I still loved it.


3 things I learned about my competition

  1. There are some really fast marathoners out there! I am so impressed with the level of running in iron-distance racing that pro women are throwing down.
  2. Even in a long race people get excited and take big risks.
  3. Many of them have other jobs besides being a pro triathlete. Iron-distance racing is probably the most difficult discipline of triathlon to make a living in because you can only race this distance a few times a year.


3 things I thought about during the race

  1. Nutrition and hydration – I probably obsessed a little too much over this on the bike considering the volume of calories I ate. I will definitely be making a schedule for my eating at races in the future so this doesn’t happen again.
  2. Pacing – I did not want to fall apart and run a four hour marathon. I definitely could have ridden better, but I don’t have the confidence yet at this distance to know when to push and when to back off, so I’m excited to build off what I was able to do in Texas.
  3. Body sensations – It’s about finding a balance between associating and dissociating with what you’re feeling. I don’t like to lean too much into the pain, but I don’t want to not listen to my body – It’s a balance!


“Even in a long race people get excited and take big risks.”

– Alicia Kaye


3 things I would change for my next iron distance race

  1. Cut fiber out of my diet leading into race day.
  2. I will use more chamois cream next time.
  3. My nutrition plan will definitely be tweaked. I ate far too much on the bike. This was a consequence of being afraid of bonking, but it ended up giving me similar sensations as bonking!


Alicia Kaye IMTexas (c) Specialized

“Simply put, I am the heart and he is the brain.”

– Alicia Kaye


3 most important people on my team

  1. Lisa Bentley – Super agent and mentor. Lisa was with me every step of the way. She lives just a few houses down from in Florida so I could harass her with rookie Ironman questions any time I liked! To have her there with me in Texas was invaluable as she made me confident in all the decisions I was making for the first time.
  2. Emily Tornatore – Best friend and massage therapist. Emily was my nurturer. She made sure I was eating, drinking, sleeping, relaxing, and staying positive. Plus there were a few awesome massages in there as well to make sure I was ready to go for race day!
  3. Joel Filliol – Coach. Joel and I have known each other for over 15 years and this is our fourth year working together. He really understands what makes me tick and I trust him implicitly – which is so important in a coach/athlete relationship. I am an athlete who needs to be inspired and passionate about what I’m racing; I have to love it. Joel helps balance that with logic so I don’t end up racing 15 times a year. Simply put, I am the heart and he is the brain.


3 athletes I learned from

  1. Lisa Bentley – Lisa has mentored me a great deal throughout the process of deciding to do an Ironman right up to getting to the start line.
  2. Meredith Kessler – Meredith was kind of enough to send me a long email in the weeks prior to Texas detailing everything she’s learned about racing iron-distance racing. From pacing to nutrition, she covered everything. I was so surprised and grateful that she did this as it was totally unsolicited
  3. Mirinda Carfrae – Rinny unapologetically races her own race. She reminds me to let go of my ego and expectations for where I think I should be for swim/bike splits and really focus on the fact it’s an Ironman. A lot of time can be made up in the marathon.


3 mistakes I made

  1. Not cutting fiber out of my diet leading into race day.
  2. Eating too much on the bike and eating too much salt.
  3. I went too fast through bike aid stations.


3 things I nailed

  1. Pacing – I was super disciplined. It gave me a benchmark that I can build on.
  2. My mental game pre race and during. I was happy and unafraid, I felt ready on the start line.
  3. Equipment choices – I was happy with everything I chose: helmet, sunglasses, shoes, laces, race belt, race suit, bra, etc.


Alicia Kaye IMTexas (c) Specialized


“Just because you are in pain does not mean that you must suffer.”

– Alicia Kaye


3 goals for iron-distance racing

  1. Qualify for Kona.
  2. Win an ironman.
  3. Not poop on the run.


3 tips for anyone wanting to do an iron-distance

  1. Prepare meticulously.
  2. Stay relaxed – You’ve done the training, don’t be afraid.
  3. Bring at least one person who can completely support you.


On race morning Julia Gajer said to me, “You know, I really loved my first Ironman.” It was a simple statement, and here was the race favorite taking the time to tell me I was going to be okay. Julia is not only a class act, but she was also right – I loved it. It was so hard and I made mistakes, but it was so rewarding.  I liked it so much I’ve decided to sign up for another – Ironman Lake Placid.


The advice I would give to someone racing his or her first iron-distance, is just because you are in pain does not mean that you must suffer. It’s a long day, there will be highs and lows, but nothing will compare to the feeling of crossing the finish line. You can overcome anything!


Keep up with Alicia Kaye by checking out her website

About The Author

Stef Hanson. Chief.

Chief and founder of WITSUP

Serious about what I do, but don’t take myself too seriously

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