Maria Gramelspacher – 2016 Ironman World Championship Kona finisher
It is very exciting to have a Kona finisher as one of our athlete profiles. I know Maria through my association with the Southern Indiana Triathlon Team. I’ve participated in some of her swim workouts for the team and had the privilege of racing (not alongside obviously, as she is lightning fast) in some of the same events she has. Most notably the 2015 Louisville Ironman where she qualified for Kona.
I asked Maria to give us some background on her racing and some details of the Kona race. I think you will enjoy reading a firsthand account of the race and how she got there. Enjoy!
“I will never do a full Ironman.” I firmly stated this to my dad after I completed the Muncie 70.3 8 years ago. What I learned that day was a very valuable lesson… Never say never!
I signed up for my first sprint triathlon when I was a senior in high school (no idea why) and I can vividly remember standing by the Ohio River having second thoughts. “Do I really have to swim in THAT? There are fish in there. This is disgusting. Why am I doing this again?”
I conquered my fear of swimming with the fish and ducks amongst the other goodies in the Ohio river, rode around the streets of Louisville on my hybrid bike, and ended with a short 5k. I had no idea this would lead to many more races.
I ran and swam at Jasper High School and continued my swimming career for 4 years at Ball State University in Muncie Indiana. After my swimming career ended and I took a teaching/coaching job in Frankfort, Indiana, home of the hot dogs. One day, my assistant coach wrote this quote on the white board at practice “What have you done today to get closer to your dreams?” That quote led us to accomplishing my dream of completing a 140.6 (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) on September 8th, 2013 in Sandusky Ohio. What a crazy awesome journey it was, filled with many ups and downs (literally downs…fell off my bike going over railroad tracks and broke my arm 3 months before the race). It was a life changing journey!
Fast forward a few years, I moved to Evansville Indiana in 2014 and began a new teaching job and master’s swimming coach position. In 2015, I focused my training on running the Boston marathon. In the back of my head I quietly expressed my dream of one day competing in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. To make a long story short, I got signed up for Ironman Louisville in 2015. I competed on October 11th and improved my personal best by 50 minutes! In doing so, I received an invitation to KONA! I have had an unbelievable amount of support and encouragement from family and friends to help me reach this goal. I truly believe in order to accomplish great things, we can’t just do it all on our own.
Week before race:
I arrived a week before the race in order to adjust to the 5 hour time difference, get used to the weather, and learn the race course. A few highlight workouts:
- I swam out to the “coffee boat” in the ocean and had espresso with a bunch of athletes while treading water! I had lots of energy as I swam back to shore. J
- I was doing an easy morning ride and I came across Tim O’Donnell (pro triathlete…timothyodonnell.com) doing the same thing. I ended up riding behind him for about 20 minutes which was pretty neat.
- My dad drove me to the epic 3 mile hill at the turn-a-round point on the bike ride and dropped me off to practice. It was terrifying, as the wind was strong (crosswind and headwind). I only got down to aero once or twice because I was scared the wind would blow me in front of the cars zooming by. It took me awhile to rebuild my confidence after that ride.
- Running alongside the ocean in the morning was awesome!
- Swimming with waves, fish, coral reef, and salt water was a tad bit uncomfortable at first, but quickly came to enjoy it.
- My parents and I scoped out the whole course and I spent the week mentally getting ready while enjoying the beautiful scenery.
- Registration, race check in, and pre-race meeting all went smoothly. It was neat how this one race brought so many individuals together from all over the world.
Swim: I arrived 2 hours before the race start to prep my bike and prepare for the big day (I must say the sun rise this day was BEAUTIFUL). After watching the pro’s start and the males, it was our turn (790 females). We all swam out to the mass start line out in the ocean in our bright pink caps. We had to tread water for about 20 minutes before the actual start- legs all around kicking each other and trying to stay afloat. Once the canon shot, we were off. The start was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Everyone was kicking each other and accidently running into each other as we took off. For me personally, the first 20 minutes was intense. I got kicked in the mouth, my cap started sliding off my head which lead to some salt water in my goggles, and hit a few times, but it was fun! I obviously love the swimming leg so this challenge was enjoyable. I had to float on my back about 5 times to fix my cap to keep my goggles on my head (I think this happened because of the people swimming on top of me and my pony tail was too low for the sake of my helmet). Lesson learned to solve this problem in the future! I thought the crowd of swimmers would fade, but it never did. I was around people the whole time which allowed me to sight off people’s bubbles from their kicks instead of lifting my head too much. I focused on keeping a fast tempo with my arms and a steady kick the whole way. If I sighted a pink cap, I would go try to catch them. On the way back to shore we ran into some of the males so it was even more crowded, but kept it exciting. I did take a minute in my swim to look out at the palm trees and mountains as I took my breaths- amazing view! When I was coming into transition, I did my tradition of a few butterfly strokes and held on to my swim cap as it completely fell off the last 200 yards.
T1: Exiting the water, hearing the crowd was awesome! The volunteers were very helpful in directing us to our bags and helping us in the changing tent. I took off my speed suit and picked up my sunglasses and ran to my bike. Put on my helmet, directed my bike out of transition, and mounted right into the bike leg.
Bike: The first few miles were in town making a square which was neat to see the fans and settle in for a long ride. I drank a lot of water and chewed gum to get the salt water taste out of my mouth. Bikes were everywhere packing the roads. We spread out once we go onto Queen K Highway, but I was never alone out there on the 112 miles as I passed people and got passed by people the whole way. There were aid stations with Gatorade, water, and snacks every 10 miles. Each station I grabbed a water bottle to pour over me (as it was getting hot already at 9am) and a Gatorade to sip on. Overall, the ride went well for me as I did not have any mechanical issues, stayed hydrated, and did not fall off my bike in the wind! There were only a few times where the crosswinds/gusts of wind blew me side to side, but I was more comfortable when this happened because the roads were completely closed to cars (I swear everyone’s prayers helped me combat the wind). I learned how important it is to keep pedaling in the strong winds and to stay focused. I did not get discouraged even though during the headwinds I would be going 12MPH, but on other parts so I had to have faith it would all balance out. I kept an eye on my power and cadence throughout the ride. The ride went by mentally for me quick because of the beautiful scenery, constant athletes all around, eating/drinking constantly, and the need to focus on bike handling during the course. It was a breath of fresh air when I say my family and friends ALL around the course (they found back roads and saw me as many times as they could). The course seemed to be filled with gradual inclines (over 5,000 feet of climbing) and declines the whole way. It was neat to see the pros heading back to as we were heading to Hawi. The turn-a-round at Hawi was tough going up the 3 mile hill, but I knew I was half way. On the way back at about mile 80 I experienced a little abdominal pain, but if you have done an Ironman you know you will endure all sorts of pains and you just have to be patient. I just took some tums and ate a banana and I felt better as I headed back in to Kona. The officials were everywhere on motorcycles handing out penalties (showed you a blue card) for drafting and if you got one you had to wait 5 minutes in the next tent. The aid stations were great and provided inspiration during the ride. I was SO glad when I saw the airport as I knew I was close to Transition. The last couple miles were again surrounded by tons of fans yelling and screaming!
T2: I dismounted and handed my bike to the volunteers, grabbed my bag, went in the tent, put on my running shoes, and took off on the marathon.
Run: I always love this part of the Ironman so I was smiling as I started my run! The first mile I tried to get my wobbly biking legs moving while focusing on my cadence. The cheers and encouragement were helpful. We stayed in town the first 11 miles running by the beach, palm trees, and cheering fans. I felt okay the first part of the marathon, focusing on drinking at each aid station (every mile), pouring water on my head, and putting ice down my uniform to stay cool. It was a hot humid day which was to be expected. It was a highlight getting a high-five from my niece, Addy! J I rarely looked at my mile splits because I truly believe you just have to give all that you can on that given day. Once we got out onto Queen K highway the heat picked up and crowds faded (people weren’t allowed to go in certain areas on the run course). I had a doubt or two during mile 18-19, but I had to change my mindset and keep pushing through. I experienced a little Achilles tightness, digestive issues, and tow pain, but nothing that I could not tolerate. The course was like the bike ride, long steady inclines and declines. The Energy Lab helped lift my spirits as the first mile was downhill towards the ocean and at the turn-a-round we headed back downtown (of course going uphill now). The last 5-6 miles I did not feel like eating or drinking anything besides water. I ate some salt tablets throughout and had a couple gels to keep me going and kept my mind occupied by praying for people. Once we got down to the last two miles, I had an extra burst of energy (most likely because of all the awesome fans). I kept my head up taking in the whole experience. Running down a hill and turning on Alli Drive was epic. The music, the fans, the ocean, my family, and my friends made it amazing (there were two girls in front of me which is probably why my finish line run ended in a sprint). Oddly enough, my first and last mile were my fastest ones on the marathon. Running down that red carpet, finishing the race of a lifetime will be a moment I never forget.
There were times throughout the race that were not perfect, and times that were filled with an immense sense of gratitude and joy. I decided on October 8th, 2016 I would EMBRACE the race and I accomplished that goal. I raced with a smile on my face enjoying what the day brought. I made memories that will stay with me for a lifetime. The journey to Kona has been unbelievable and it would not have been possible with all the friends and family behind me every step of the way!
Swim: 58:29 T1: 3:13
Bike: 5:45:39 T2: 3:10
Overall: 10:32:11 11/61 Females 25-29 age group.
It is so cool having a race perspective from a peer and being able to relate to some of the thoughts Maria had during her week leading up to and during the race. It is also an amazing testimony of setting goals, working hard and being consistent in preparation to achieve these goals.
Thank you so much Maria for taking the time to share all of this with us and I hope that all the age groupers and middle/back of the packers take to heart that with some dedication and perseverance all of us can achieve awesome things.
Train hard everyone!
Previously Fat Guy