Age grouper Kathleen Calkins broke the overall female age group record in Kona, Hawaii with her 9:46:27 finish at the 2009 Ford Ironman World Championships. With that great time she also managed to be the 12th overall female.
Slowtwitch: How are you recovered from the effort in Kona?
Kathleen: I feel great. I haven’t done much more than a few easy rides and some walking to make my legs feel better. Maybe the high from the race is masking how I really feel!
ST: What have you been up to since the race?
Kathleen: We spent a few days relaxing in Kona after the race playing at the beach and the pool before we returned home to reality, right back into work. I have been doing a little bit of easy exercise. Just enough to keep me happy.
ST: Your performance in Kona was quite impressive, with an almost 20 minute lead on the next person in your age group, and a 12th placing overall female placing. You must be pleased.
Kathleen: I’m very happy with my race. I feel so fortunate to be able to participate in this event with the best athletes in the world. Truly an amazing experience. People were asking me if I felt extra pressure to defend the title. I read in the program something Tim Deboom said about his race the year after he won. He said something like I’ve already won this race. No one can ever take that away from me. The pressure’s on everybody else. And that’s how I approached it. No pressure, just icing on the cake.
ST: Can you tell us more about your race?
Kathleen: Let me begin by saying when I crossed the finish line I remember thinking that was a rough day! The swim start was crazy. It wasn’t until the turnaround buoys that I felt it clear out a bit. I felt strong the whole swim especially the last 1/3. That gave me confidence getting on my bike that I had a lot left. This year I had no mechanical issues on the bike. It was a very smooth day. It was windy in the normal spots but it seemed a little extra strong all the way back from Kawaihae. I tried to be conservative the first half of the bike so I would have some legs coming home. After the turnaround at Hawi I rode a steady pace trying to hydrate and fuel up for the run. I came off the bike in 2nd by less than a minute. My legs were very heavy starting the run but I was able to take the lead less than a mile in. It was very HOT and it seemed extra humid on Ali’i. I just tried to concentrate on staying hydrated and cool and keeping a nice tempo going. After the turnaround on Ali’i I started to feel better and before I knew it I was at mile 13. I tried to run a steady pace up to and through the energy lab trying to get some extra fuel for the last 10K. With about 5 miles left I knew I had a chance at the amateur record but I had to pick up the pace. Fortunately my legs had something left. I hit the top of Palani knowing it was going to be close. I ran as hard as I could down the hills to Ali’i. There is no better feeling than running down Ali’i with the crowd cheering like crazy and knowing your family and friends are anxiously awaiting your arrival. I saw my family just before the finishing chute and blew them kisses and started to tear up. When I rounded the corner I could see the clock at 9:46. I knew I had made it in time. I heard Mike say my name and I got goose bumps and started crying. They were definitely tears of joy. It is amazing how emotional this day is. It’s a surreal feeling-something I wish everyone could experience once in their lifetime. I did it 9:46.28!
ST: You indeed broke the age-group record in your age-group by almost 5 minutes, but you also took away the overall female age-group record from Bree Wee by over a minute. That could mean that your name might be in the official Ironman Hawaii race program for a while.
Kathleen: How did I get so lucky? It's a real honor to have these records and be mentioned in the same breath as these other amazing triathletes. There are so many talented athletes racing in Hawaii I can't imagine these records will stay for too long.
ST: This year you also were top age grouper at 70.3 California and Vineman. Do you have any aspirations of moving to the Pro ranks?
Kathleen: Actually I wasn’t top amateur at Vineman this year. I had a rough day. The thought of turning Pro has crossed my mind but I just turned 34 (getting a little old) and have a young family. I only race a few times a year (three 70.3 distance races and Kona in 2009) because of time commitments. My family is my priority.
ST: Sorry about the Vineman error, but you did win the Napa Valley Tri (another Half) this year and I believe you won Vineman in 07 and 08?
Kathleen: This was the first time I had raced the half in Napa. I loved it. Such nice people, very relaxed atmosphere and a great course. I would definitely recommend this race to anyone. Yes, Vineman has been a great race for me in years past. For my training schedule and the convenience factor being so close to where I live it's worked out perfect. Another race I would definitely recommend.
ST: Of all your results to date, which one means the most to you?
Kathleen: That’s a tough one. I have raced 3 Ironman Events (Kona 2005, 2008,2009) and they all have a special meaning to me. In 2005 it was my first Ironman and finishing was amazing. Last year I won the W30-34 and that was incredible. I was so honored to be in the company of the girls I raced with and to be on stage at the awards ceremony was phenomenal. This year was unreal. It seemed as though everything came together and I had no regrets. It was one of those days! I will never forget the feeling of crossing the finish line this year.
ST: How did you get involved with triathlon?
Kathleen: When I was 12 I remember hearing about this race in Hawaii where people swim bike and run all day. I knew it was something I had to try. Then my husband was asked to be the swimmer for a triathlon relay and I went to watch. We bought bikes the next day and we were hooked. We started out doing short distances and moved up to Ironman distance 4 ½ years later.
ST: That I guess means you started in triathlon around 2002?
Kathleen: I think my first race was in April of 2001. A local sprint event.
ST: How much does your husband still race?
Kathleen: He raced Ironman Coeur D'Alene this year. This was his only triathlon this year. He has been bit by the bike racing bug. He is hoping to do Ironman Florida next November. This will depend on a shoulder issue he has right now. He finds out later this week if he will have to have surgery.
ST: Do you work with a coach?
Kathleen: Yes. Jan Elsbach. He has been awesome. He has taught me everything I know about triathlon and more. The biggest thing he has instilled in me is to enjoy the journey and the rest will follow.
ST: You train and race with a power meter. How long have you been dong that?
Kathleen: I started training with a power meter about 1 ½ years ago. It has made me train a lot smarter. I love it.
ST: Can you talk to us about your training pre Kona?
Kathleen: I started the season in early April at California 70.3 and then raced again in early May. I took a few weeks in June to relax and regroup before ramping up for Kona. I raced at Vineman 70.3 in mid July and then started into my Ironman training. I swam 3 days, rode 4-5 days and ran 4-5 days a week. We worked on speed but also kept up the yardage in the pool. Every bike workout had a specific meaning behind it not just garbage miles. I really concentrated on the run this year especially off the bike. When I decided to race again this year I told myself I wanted to have no regrets. I truly enjoyed every workout training for Hawaii this year and I still have no regrets. Just great memories.
ST: How much time are you taking off before you start training again seriously?
Kathleen: I don’t know the answer to that question. I have not made any plans for next year. I’m just enjoying this time.
ST: Do you follow any other sports?
Kathleen: Yes. I love sports in general. My favorites are college football and basketball and pro football. I don’t have time these days to watch too much but my husband keeps me in the loop.
ST: Can you share with us some of your food likes and dislikes?
Kathleen: Let’s put it this way. There is not much I don’t like. Chocolate milk was my favorite treat post workout this year.
ST: What music do you like?
Kathleen: Anything that’s upbeat. Music makes me happy!
ST: What was the last book you read?
Kathleen: Richard Scary’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go to my 3-year old son. I highly recommend it.
ST: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Kathleen: Hopefully as happy and healthy as I am today. One thing I do know is that exercise is part of my life. I need it to keep me going.
ST: Is there anything else we should know about you?
Kathleen: I have a wonderful husband and 3-year old son. They are my inspiration and I could not do this without them. Ironman is a huge commitment not only for the athlete but more so for the family. More recognition needs to go to the families of the athletes as they are the true champs. My son is my running partner. We sing songs and play games while I push him in the BOB stroller. We have a blast.