What it feels like to compete in the Ironman World Championships by Rachel Brenke

What it feels like to compete in the Ironman World Championships by Rachel Brenke
Ever wonder what it feels like to compete on the biggest triathlon stage?  
Take a journey into Rachel's days leading up to the Ironman World Championships 2018 and the emotional finish line. Click to be taken directly to each section:

Meet Rachel Brenke

Rachel Brenke is a mom of 5 human kids (2 fur kids), wife to Army Veteran, 11 year cancer survivor and entrepreneur.    With an impressive list of accomplishments such as Team USA ’17 & ’18, competed in ITU World Championships Aquathlon (ranked #10 in 2017 & #12 in 2018), Ironman World Championships ’18, Ironman Maryland Ambassador ’18. She is also host of the #6 Apple Podcast The Business Bites + owns multiple legal niche sites such as TheLawTog and FitLegally. All information can be found at RachelBrenke.com.  She is also the creator of the animal rights non-profit Archer's Advocates- seeking to make change in laws to protect our pets. On a personal note, she loves photo documenting her family time, geo-caching, puppies, and Chic-Fil-A. Follow Rachel on Social Media  

The Path to Kona

  Many friends, family and followers are cheering Rachel on from the sidelines.  As a matter of fact, her husband Nathan and their 5 children will have a front row seat to the excitement. If you know Rachel personally you know that she picks big goals, and she conquers them.  So it isn’t shocking that she added The Ironman World Championships to her bucket list.  You will often hear Rachel saying "I get to do this." And for good reason.  Her path didn’t come without hard work & obstacles. Ironman individually invited Rachel to be an ambassador for them..see video above!  

What her training looked like

Rachel trained an entire year to get her body & mind prepared for this extraordinary moment.  Training 6 days a week -- while running many businesses and family at the same time. Here is a glimpse of what the last two months looked link for her:  
Rachel's September Stats Swim - 16.1 miles Bike - 422.9 miles Run - 104.1 miles Rachel's August Stats Swim - 11.8 miles Bike - 501 miles Run - 106 miles
  Here are some training recap videos:    

Partners Rachel Is Working With

Rachel relied on these partners to get to the start line and through the finish line.  Thank you to each for your support!   

Equipment Rachel Uses


As Seen On

Rachel's athletic endeavors have been featured in a variety of places. During the course of the weeks leading up to and during the race, Rachel was accompanied by a crew recording interviews and documented the day for airing on NBC Sports November 24th, 2018.  

Ironman Tri Gala and NBC Sports Broadcast Premiere

View the full gallery here.  

The Night Before I Tri

Rachel has climbed many mountains to get here.  She’s had many setbacks such as cancer & most recently the very tragic murder of her best friend & running partner, Archer.  But I wonder if it’s despite these things or because of these things that she finds strength deep inside which gives her the courage and will to take this on. And if being a mother, wife, lawyer, entrepreneur and athlete wasn't a long enough list this year, she even wrote a book which is very fitting for this weekend.


Order your copy here


NBC Sports Feature Clips


Ironman World Championship Journal Entries

Rachel daily journaled her adventures leading up to, during and after the race. Come read + see great photo documentation of the trip!

  Journal Entry #1 (October 9, 2018)

As soon as I exited the plane door my skin and my heart tingled. Walking down the stairs to the open air airport allowed me to take in the heat & humidity - this is exactly what I’ve trained for. The Virginia summer was unforgiving with the 100% humidity and the steadily high temperatures. I feel slightly unsteady as my foot hits the last step. Is that training going to be enough?

As my heart quickens I push the thought out of my mind. I have work to do. Feed kids. Get to rental house. Then off to interviews.

Entering into the set with many of the production crew members I’ve met before, I felt at ease. Tired from a long day of travel with five kids (I mean- come on where was my finisher medal for that?!). The house is situated right in Kona on the water and a storm has kicked up by now. Small. Not too invasive. Enough to offer some cooler breezes and light rain as the producer asks me questions about how I’m feeling going into this week. As we wrapped he says “you’re beaming!”

I’d say I’m pretty ecstatic to be here. Even with the great challenge ahead. As I drove our rental car down the infamous Queen K - and a bulk of the bike course - I started to get a glimpse of why many refer to IMWC in Kona as a “test of wills” and “where dreams go to die”.

The lava fields stretch for miles. With the shoreline on one side and mountains on the other - the lava fields bridge the distance in between with the Queen K smack in the middle. This course is nothing like I’ve ever raced or trained. Not just because it’s the “super bowl” or “Olympics” of our sport...but because the terrain is vastly different. I pull over to the side of the road and step out onto the lava fields and just stare at the course. With the crumbly ground below, sun beaming high ahead and cars whipping by to offer a minimal breeze- I take a deep swallow and breath. You GET to be here. Respect the elements but know you’re trained for this. As the car door firmly shut behind me - that finalized my decision. No waiting for race day to choose if and when to push through. I’m choosing now. So I loaded back into the car and headed to spend time with family and finally sleep. After 23 hours of being awake-

Day 1 of Kona was done.  

Journal Entry #2 (October 10, 2018)

Today I definitely felt in my element(s). Swimming. Coffee. Interviews.

Kicking off the day by diving into the iconic waves and water at the pier was perfect. I swam out the coffee boat, snagged some fresh hot coffee and just floated as I watched the island and palms in the distance. Definitely not a bad way to start a Wednesday.

Any day I get to swim is a good day + feels fitting. But the rest of the day actually made me feel like I belong here.. because I didn’t really before.

As an entrepreneur whose career consists of speaking engagements and sponsor interviews - I felt completely like I belonged today. During various interviews, I inquisitively “interrogated” about balancing all that my life entails and the demands of Ironman training. From one booth to the next - I truly felt to be filling the Ambassador shoes.

Up until now I’ve felt like a “fraud”. My story is just my life. I am proud of what I’ve overcome but I don’t feel anymore special than others. I’ve struggled with that leading up to the race. However- this evening - while at the Aloha Reception- it dawned on me. Little cliche but maybe it was the wind in the palms, the slow setting sun or the rising of an incredible moon - but my heart felt and REALIZED what being an ambassador means. Maybe everyone else knew this and I’m a little behind on the uptake but I really have struggled with why and how I was chosen for this honor. It’s not that MY story is any better- it’s that I GET to represent for all everyday age groupers who are working to make their Ironman dreams come true.

As if I wasn’t grateful before - now my heart and mind have exploded. But it also feels like everything has taken a turn now. It’s time to start focusing on the challenge ahead of me. Not just to haul my cancer-survived, lost 100+ pound body across boiling (okay so just hot) lava fields, but how to make the most of it and do everyone proud. It’s time to start tapering down on interviews and slide into pre-race mode. I respect this course and distance.

It’s time to begin the final hours of prep... p.s I didn’t even mention how my bike arrived without hydration system.  One of the very best things about being at a premier event is you need not worry. Every vendor and every item you can think of is here. Thanks to today’s partners for hosting me: Roka Sports, Profile Design, Solos Wearables  

Journal Entry #3 (October 11, 2018)

She smiled so big her face was beaming like the sun.  The light radiates out all crevices- her eyes glint, her cheeks have beams pouring forth and her lips give way to an unadulterated high of happiness.

Her energy is so high and so fierce it’s like a wild horse that can’t be tamed. Bucking and pawing at the island winds as though to stop them by mere touch. Her analytical processes and verbal outputs come like waves crashing on the shore line. Repeated and strong with no concern for the time, place or those in attendance.

This is everything my 8 year old is. This is everything I see of myself in her. As I stood up at the welcome banquet for a rookie athlete at this incredible “super bowl” of a race, I look down and those first three paragraphs are what I saw. I also saw a fire in her eyes reflecting back. My goal of make my family proud and prove to my girls that you can do absolutely anything is well on its way.  As I share the course with elite professionals, we all have the same standards. As men and women race in tandem towards the same finish line, we are all doing the same 140.6 with the same island challenges of high waves, strong winds, and blistering lava field heat. I’m pushing my body to an incredible feat alongside others - no other sport do you find this magic.

All because I’ve made a special choice.  No, one doesn’t need Ironman lifestyle to do this act for your children or others- but it’s the choice I’ve made.

An average everyday athlete making a special choice with many small special choices along the way.  Just as the other ambassador athletes nodded furiously yesterday at the press conference when I explained for others to not mistake us (the ones who have faced adversity) as one who wears rose-colored glasses all the time. Remember, we are still people. We still have moments of “why us? Why is this my story?”  But we are special not because of our adversity, but because of the way we’ve said “okay life, great. Now what can I do with this. I GET to do life like this. I GET to do this”.   

Ironman isn’t just a race. It’s an embodiment of facing down adversity -on and off the course- and finding a way to overcome. My challenge to everyone is to push for the right choice when it’s handed to you. And in Ironman - you get not only years of training to make choices- but on race day 140.6 miles of choices. To quit or push on. So as my daughters face beamed brighter than the fire dancers flames for me when I stood- that’s also how I felt looking around the ambassador conference. Proud of my fellow athletes and myself.

This pride is not truly a selfish one. So many athletes I talk to do this sport for a greater reason- whether it’s role model, self help to be a better person (that also makes the world a better place) or to raise money for those in need.  I'm so proud of not only being involved in an incredible sport but a unique and pivotal movement our society so needs these days.

This is further reinforced by the support of brands who seek to aid athletes across that finish line after years of training, thousands of miles swam, bikes or run. I’m thankful to have brands who take a chance on me- the everyday athlete.  Cause- industry- everyday age groupers are not only the most highly numbered - we are the most relatable to your consumers. In a sport where we share the same course and compete identical to the pros- we can speak to that from a real life perspective. While other sports look to professionals as their sole source of role modeling- Ironman triathlon has a plethora of choices. Choices that are relatable and make a connection with a consumer beyond the talk of a professional from their stage. Not to knock professionals but I truly hand it to us age groupers. Holding down careers, families and life in addition to seeking this finish line. Those are the stories that need to be front and center.

Those are the individuals who will change lives.  REST performance identified this within me and has been pivotal in assisting me to truly sleep and rest for my busy lifestyle. Further, I’m thankful for Ironman tri and NBC sports for truly listening when I explain to them how important family is into my Ironman journey. When they flew out to Virginia to record - the crew loved on and wanted my family front and center - just like I do. They further showed this when they drove up the Queen k yesterday when I chose to take the morning as family time at the beach.  They crossed the lava fields and dove into the ocean with us to capture our family togetherness. Our ohana making memories on this island.

As you can see, Ironman triathlons aren’t an individual sport. They are 100% a team sport when you have a ohana - be it family members, friends or other athletes. WE will cross that finish line Saturday. Our faces will be beam with the light of a thousand suns.  We GET to do this friends. As I close day 3 journal (Thursday night) as Mark Allen said at the welcome banquet- it is truly an honor to be here. I’m not going to waste it. Watch for my sun filled face in less than 48 hours at that finish on Ali’i drive - it’ll be tinted pink from hours in sun with kids on the beach. It’ll be pouring sweat from choices to push one. It’ll be shining with satisfaction and gratefulness for getting to do this.  

Journal Entry #4 (October 12, 2018) - Crossing lines.

Crossing lines. It’s something I’ve always done in my life. I’ve been one not to push boundaries but to either hurdle or break my way through them. Crossing and smashing the lines drawn by society and others to keep me in. Now I’m crossing new lines. And tomorrow is no exception - except it’s not just one line. There’s going to be many. The line of swimmers between the buoys in scenic Kamakahonu Bay- their bodies shivering in anticipation and light coolness of water tickling the skin. Goosebumps will pop, the noise along the waters edge will start to echo between the swim caps encasing ears. The invisible lines of wind sweeping in all directions onto cyclists heading out the Queen K highway across the Big Island of Hawaii.   The conditions the athletes will face will be a swirl of wind, heated lava fields, and the ever present changes in hill elevation. The dotted lines of the long, hot roads where feet will run, plop, walk and shuffle towards THE line. But even within those- each will be met with lines running through their heads.  Lines repeated and distinct speaking out  doubt. Athletes will mentally fight to combat the doubt and stay focused on the tasks. And, my favorite lines of all- no it’s not the finish line. It’s the lines around the mouths and eyes of a community smiling as they come together.

Athletes will approach the day ready to break lines, combat doubt lines but share smile lines.  The finish line isn’t the only line one needs to cross. But the Ironman finish line is a sacred one that you’d have to cross to understand.  I can’t wait to “understand” THE Ironman World Championship finish line tomorrow. The ultimate line in this sport. It’s no secret that I love finding the edge, the line - and making it my own. Whether it’s beating cancer, raising five kids, holding down the home fort while my husband was deployed, to my dog being brutally murdered in front of us - adversity has created lines that I’m thankful I GET to overcome. ✨ Of course - none of this happens without preparation - but that itself can have issues. As a control freak for a race this large I’ve had a few equipment issues (ie losses) that would send me into a spiral of doubt before. But if there’s anything this Ironman journey has taught me (besides how amazing the community is) - it’s this: you can only control what you can control - so the things you do - make them your own. Between a lost hydration system (potentially catastrophic as it’s my primarily - if not sole source- of nutrition on the 6ish hour bike ride) + misplaced tire repair adapter - there’s been a few hiccups but nothing that couldn’t be remedied.  Today, the last day before the race, is also a mixture of jitters and prep.  This morning began with separating out equipment into bags based on the “leg” of the race. We have to forfeit our bikes, run bag and bike bags today. This is nerve wracking because if you don’t have your gear in it. That’s it. However- lets go back to that control thing. At this point I know I have the minimal basics needed to get across that coveted finish line. Everything else not available may lead to discomfort but I’ll do it anyway.

As an Ironman ambassador, I’ve been afforded amazing opportunities including placement of my bike and bags in the transition area - where you go from one sport to next. (swim to bike. Then bike to run). I would say I’m looking forward to seeing the professionals get their stuff the same time as me-  but let’s be real- they’ll be long gone, finished and showered before I cross the finish line.   And honestly- that’s fine by me. Ironman knows hospitality and “concierge” type services - meaning.... they know how to treat their athletes. From the “all you can eat buffets” (ie aid stations) to the  ambiance and procession of a mundane task as checking your bike in.  As we walked down the black and red Ironman carpet for checkin- announcers were commentating and sharing bios. Volunteers then helped to carry your gear to specific areas and gave each of us a tour of transition area.  It’s the Ironman experience - and I haven’t even begun the race.  (Ps keeping in the lines theme- there were a lot of lines to check bags ha!) Besides a few close stress moments- the day was spent helping my kids live their best life. Skipping school (no shame) and spending it in an ocean side pool then an afternoon full of card playing and snuggling. Overall this experience has been incredible and I haven’t even raced yet.  Between news interviews to training and getting here- I’ve been stretched out of comfort zones. Out of that comfort line. And tomorrow is no different.  Admittedly, as I get older I prefer my comforts. And this course contains major aspects I typically avoid in racing. Salt water, hill elevation and hot run. But... kona! :shrug: I anticipate a lot of mental lines to cross tomorrow. While y’all will only see the finish line- I’m gonna be tackling lines all day. I’m excited to see the person I, and all other athletes out there, will be after we cross the final line. Best of luck everyone - see you out there. I’ll be the one with the goofy grin yelling “I GET to do this!”  

Journal Entry #5 (October 14, 2018)

Finish lines mean nothing ... This sounds so strange coming from a gal who has seemed to chase goals and achieve them on my own terms, right? I went into this race with a mission: complete 140.6 miles on the Ironman World Championship Course with a smile on my face.  Never did I expect to be faced with tests of what challenges me as a human being. As a soul. Last journal entry was about crossing lines and was written from this perspective of “I’ll have to make a choice and choose”. But it was from a SELFISH perspective. Yesterday’s race knocked me sideways emotionally and taught me to be humble, giving and above all - kind. I don’t think I’m unkind person, or arrogant or selfish. But my entire perspective of the Iron distance and what is being accomplished will never ever ever be the same. Here’s the thing - when I’m at a regular qualifying race- I’m middle to upper of the pack.  Not first, not last. Greet everyone with smiles and encouraging words. At this race- where you have all first and second place finishers as qualifiers - someone like me quickly becomes a little fish in a huge pond. I felt the loneliness of being “back of pack”. But mind you- this is a max 17 hour race. I was on target to finish around the 12 hour mark - but I was suddenly thrown into loneliness. The course seemed to become scarce and I was all alone. Aid stations were slim on pickings, no spectators were around and definitely very few racers. This began my feelings of loneliness- and the huge REWARD of learning the true spirit of Ironman. You see, at other races you are surrounded by all sizes, shapes and speeds.  Here. Everyone is face and I was left behind. Or so it felt.   The climbs up into Hawi on the bike were more than I’ve ever done in a race but I felt great until I turned back and was smacked in the face with this sense of loneliness. This carried on into the run- as the sun was quickly setting and many were finishing. I’m use to finishing in the dark but never on such vast lengths of desolate roads in pitch black - alone. It destroys ones mind and body in ways that the daylight finishers may not appreciate.  But this is where the challenge to what type of human being I am and the reason I was brought here had a huge spotlight put on it. Out in the barren and dark energy lab I came upon someone who was struggling. Not just in the race- but from a crippling disease in life.  At this point aid stations were packing up - and reminder there were still 5+ hours until the midnight cut off- spectators were no where to be seen and it was lonely.  Then it began pouring. I had carried a headlamp- but not so many- including this individual didn’t have one.  I had a choice to make - keep pressing forward on my own selfish race. Or be the human I’m called to be. Well, my missing my goal window tells you what I chose. And I 100% don’t regret it at all. Why? Because I’ve learned the challenge of miles is fine, the finish line is something to achieve but THIS, the spirit of Ironman, was alive and well on the course. After everyone had made their way back to their hotels and we were still trudging forward. The spirit. Oh the spirit of Ironman. The very essence that pulled me to the race 3 years ago. In the darkness I realized - it was never about the distance. It was some about community and inclusiveness but more so- it was the camaraderie created. The same camaraderie when my running club impromptu signed up to run a marathon with me the week after our dog was murdered. The same camaraderie that you see of folks share fun uplifting stories on social media. The same camaraderie that gets the average person- who made a special choice to toe the line but then is met with circumstances - it gets them to the ultimate finish line. You see, I’ve known the spirit was there the whole journey- I’ve commented on it before. But it was shadowed by “Kona” and the idea of the world championship.  Kona showed me the true spirit of Ironman- and I tell you what- it’s not podiums. It’s not even being called to the finish line. It’s being there for your fellow Ironman in the desolate vast darkness of the Energy lab, slugging through pouring rain and helping to keep one another standing up - one foot in front of the other. This course is damn hard. The elements are relentless but the loneliness for the average person is overwhelming. A feeling I never wish upon anyone. Because, we aren’t alone when we have the spirit within us to help lift someone else up- even when we are exhausted ourselves. I should’ve known when I walked into body marking and this little old lady volunteer walks up, grabs me, hugs me. I told her she reminded me of my grandma I lost to cancer.  We both started crying. My grandma used to hug me the same way and call me “girl”. Just like Pat had just done. She told me she was going to be at the finish line and that I was going to do awesome. She was there. I don’t say all this to say I’m not appreciative. Immensely so for this experience.  I was racked by Gordon Haller and Kathleen McCarteny- two major names in the tri history. The finish line was awesome - my family ended up in the finisher chute and I got to hug my kids- my husband leiid me.  This moment, my Energy lab time and seeing the kiddos cheer on the course showed me I accomplished everything I never truly knew I wanted MORE than the selfish achievement of the Ironman challenge. Apparently I was working towards the real ironman challenge and spirit- but never knew it.      

Journal Entry #6 (October 15, 2018)

Race day [uncensored] So my last journal entry was the more polished and a feel good version of what I learned. But now it’s time to really share the play-by-play nitty gritty. Pre-Race  We stayed about 30 minutes outside of Kona so that we could have a more relaxed experience than being with the hype of the race all week. With having press conferences, sponsor appearances and networking I knew it would be electrifying and emotionally taxing enough.  Staying in Waikoloa definitely gave us a more relaxed vacation - even if I’m pretty sick of seeing the Queen K highway (the main way in and out of Kona + most of the bike and run courses). Waking up early was easy- my dad had coffee ready and Nathan helped me to prep my special needs bags (picked up halfway through bike and run) and swim stuff.  I wasn’t feeling jittery. I had slept fine. I think I was already mentally tired even though I didn’t feel it yet.   I was well hydrated - marked by making Nathan pull the car over in pitch black on the side of the highway.  I continued forcing myself to choke down my pre-race oatmeal with almond milk. When it hit about five miles from the race start point- I begged Nathan to pull the car over again. But there was no where to pull over. So I commenced throwing up into my oatmeal bowl. Welp, there goes my breakfast. We arrived to transition and I headed in for body marking (getting numbers on your arms ), dropping off the special needs bags, slathering on sunscreen and loaded my bike with my liquid hydration - thanks to Infinit custom blend- to keep my body fueled during the race. Upon arriving at my bike a few things happened that was really freaky. First, my shifter knobs were completely unscrewed and hanging off the end of my aero bars. I learned later this is the “Kona welcome” where people screw with your stuff. Huh? And apparently I was a target by having my bike positioned in the “VIP” (as I’ll explain in a minute) area. I had to rush to find a bike mechanic to secure them down and all seemed okay from there.  However, in my few moments of panic this older gentleman kept talking to me. He was kind and had a charming smile. I wasn’t sure why he was interested in making me feel better and showing great concern. Him = Gordon Haller - the first Ironman winner EVER. His bike was 2 bikes down. Finished getting my bike together, chatted and took selfies with Kathleen McCartney- yes, that one (google: her name + Julie Moss and you’ll see). Here’s where I stop to explain the bike racking and my purple cap versus pink caps. As an Ironman Ambassador- they positioned me to be near the professional bikes for ease of filming access by the film crews. This was part of my feature- to be released when the official Kona airing occurs.  The whole day was filled with the same two gentleman on motorcycle following me up and down the Queen K and Ali’i drive. It was actually kind of fun - even when I was in misery. Which you’ll see on the bike! Nutrition: banana before start  Swim  The swim was very eventful- a great departure from my normal swim review. As I’m used to being one of the fastest- I don’t typically have many swim mates. Well... at Kona everyone is also a good swimmer = lots of swim mates. The whole 2.4 miles was full of body contact - to the point of being almost frustrating.  Time was okay- nothing for me to write home about. The beautiful blue water was amazing after the turnaround but quickly my focus was back on trying to stay with the buoys and out of contact. As I exited the water, my first ocean swim ever, I was sad I didn’t get to throughly enjoy the swim as I had expected. Even with the fun running into a fish who splashed around on my shoulder before shooting away. T1  Seamless and easy. Run through showers. Grab bag. Get into tent. Off came the skin suit, cap and goggles. I grabbed my shoes and off to the bike. There is a fairly decent run around the end of the pier to get to my bike location but allowed for a super short distance from rack to the bike mount line.   The run around the edge also allowed me to see my family in 3 different points. First my husband and oldest son.  Then my dad and next two kids. Then finally my mom and my youngest who was shouting “ I love you mommy”.  And yes, I stopped for kisses with all. Trying to get my foot into my bike shoe I was confused. Something hard was in it. It was the blasted co2 adapter I had been looking for since we arrived on the island. My organization worked against me!  On went the helmet, off I went to climb the hill up Pulani drive. Bike  The first few miles of the bike were through town. It was congested and difficult to navigate, which I should’ve been more appreciative of as I became very alone out on the Queen K later. Once getting out of town and onto the straight highway of lava fields things were much easier to cycle out.  This bike course was the largest elevation gain in an Ironman I’ve done.  By like 6x. Yes let’s say that louder for those in the back - the most I’ve done in a race was approx 1416 feet. The most I’ve trained on in large mileage blocks was 3,000. However, I do feel my training in Colorado at the Olympic Training Center under Olympian Andy Potts this summer really helped my understanding of elevation climbing - cause the Queen K and the climb into Hawi had nothing on Pikes Peak! All that being said, I stuck with nutrition and while my bike time was over an hour slower than normal, I fairly enjoyed my time.  As a side note: from the beginning my chain felt like it was grinding in the middle three back cogs. I still don’t have a diagnosis but didn’t really have time to check it out. At the 35 mile marker the media motorcycles started coming by. Some news outlets wanted me to give verbal quotes, the other was my duo who accompanied me throughout the day.  This allowed for me to take some of my mind off during the 112 mile bike.  The climb into Hawi (the turn around) was slower than I anticipated - but it enjoyed as I watched the professionals scream by and felt the bustle of the course.  I have a tendency in really hot situations to get a “lack of caffeine head” so I stuck with my Infinit hydration and alternated it with a few sips of coke every other aid station.   However, be warned with the pop top bottles. If the volunteers have been carrying it around it’ll pop open, and spray you right into the face. Plus it can cause a little burps and/or throw up. Staring at my hydration system with a little throw up was gross until the next aid station but I couldn’t waste water. I needed all I had to keep dousing myself and drinking. Once I made the turn at Hawi I needed to stop to change out my bottles. This gave me a little reprieve as I felt a cramp coming. A few licks of BASE salt and I was good to go. Coming out of Hawi was amazing- flying down.  I felt so great I was cheering everyone coming up the incline (which paid off when I accidentally ran in front of a gal on the Queen K in the dark and she said “no worries. Your cheering on the bike was great!” See! It pays to be supportive!). All was great until I ended up 10 miles from the turn back onto the Queen K. I hit a wall. It was hot. I was tired. And I realized - I was completely alone. This was one of those “lines” I referred to in a previous journal. Had I not been at IMWC I think I would’ve stopped and called an Uber. It was awful city. The news duo pulled up next to me and I just looked at them. The videographer said “No worries. We will meet you at the next aid station” and they took off. I am so appreciative of how they treated me, not like a story but as a person.  They knew I was hurting since I had been smiley up to this point. After I got to that next aid station everything felt physically great, I told Arrow (my bike) “let’s go home".  And we did.   Even though I was really lonely (see my previous journal entry.) Going from Team USA to back of pack at Ironman World champs is humbling.  And by back of pack, I mean I was still on target at this point to finish at 12-13 hours of the 17. In fact, since I was so “last back of pack” the aid stations were packing up and running out of things, even with hundreds of racers behind me still.  This added to the loneliness of the long stretch of road ahead. I got to where I started counting the “heat glimmer” spots on the highway. As we passed Waikoloa, where we were staying, I saw these little people with signs. MY little people. My kids and parents were all out there. That made my heart burst into a million pieces.   I felt great seeing them. That’s always me favorite parts of the race even if for only 30 seconds!!! Still had about 30 miles to get to town but I kept telling myself “stay within your power and protect the marathon”. However, it seemed like it took forever. Especially when you can see how far the runners come out the Queen K to the energy lab. It made the forthcoming 26.2 seem even longer. Coming into town I saw my sweet hubby standing under a tree in the shade. Of course, it was 91 degrees out and poor man was waiting on me for an extra hour than I typically am! Into the dismount line I came! Nutrition: Infinit custom blend + Coca Cola T2 Whew T2 was here. I decided to take my time as I knew at this point my time goals were a little off and I wanted to enjoy the marathon + finish line. The changing tent volunteers were all hands on deck, probably because I was one of the only ones haha. Most of my age group had finished by the time I even got to running. Yes, humble pie was being eaten up. One volunteer was putting sun screen on me, another was putting an ice cold towel on my head and a third was helping to get the contents out of my bag. I slipped on socks, shoes, visor with headlamp clipped, grabbed my BASE salt and race belt. Off I went. Run Leaving T2 I saw my friend Cynthia, who filmed a ridiculous video of me leaving T2 but it’s so great to see compared to my despairing attitude I had on the bike. Followed up by a shout of encouragement from my friend Vanessa and then of course my husband was on Pulani drive to wish me the best! Off I went! Weaving through town the leg cramps started, of course they waited until right after the motorcycle video guys showed up. They were nice, let me do my salt and off I went again. I also ran into a gal who knows me from my “real life” career and high-fiveing her was fun.  I stuck with my plan of running and only walking aid stations. But the cramps came again. More salt. Then back to the walk aid stations and run the rest. It wasn’t until the huge hill to get back to the Queen K did I start to question my life choices.  Thankfully the first 6 miles of the run were mostly in shade - and the sun was dipping low enough that I didn’t have too much heat issues on the Queen K. But this almost meant that darkness was coming fast. Sun sets here around 6. And then it’s pitch black. The next twenty-so miles are fairly a blur. I ended up becoming run buddies with a guy who was striving to be the first man with Parkinson’s disease to finish Kona. Well, this information came about in the desolate and dark vastness of the Queen K and the energy lab. Pitch black. Eerily quiet with no spectators and sparse volunteers.  An airplane was landing directly overhead and that’s when we began talking. And then it began raining. No. Pouring.  The kinda pouring where your shoes are waterlogged in less than a minute.  You couldn’t see in front of your face. I knew what my mission needed to be. And I let my marathon plans go.  Now, this isn’t my story to tell so I’m not going to tell much more than this. He finished. He made history. And that is even better than a finisher medal for me to hang on my wall. Coming out of the vast wasteland of the Energy lab, the Pease brothers were going in. My heart soared knowing they were going to make it to the finish!!! The last few miles I got to where the slower pace was getting to me. I didn’t want food or drink. I just wanted to be done. In fact, and huge TMI, I was so well hydrated I needed to pee but couldn’t. It got so bad my stomach felt like it was going to burst.  I tried and tried, but finally I gave up and just wanted to get done.  I mean- the darkness lent to some privacy when all modesty has gone out the window- you just want to pee and there’s no portapotties for miles.  So I forwent any hydration or food for the last 4 miles. In fact, let me share with you how incredibly discouraging and horrible it can be to be at the “back of the pack”. You see people slogging in darkness. Some just coming onto the Queen K and you know they have no hope of finishing.  I distinctly remember the groans of pain, the signs of discouragement and the gacking of someone vomiting in the dark (not me this time). Here is where I tell you that the real Ironmen aren’t the ones who finish on podium. They are the ones who are by themselves for hours in darkness. Where your mind plays tricks. Your eyes go narrow. Your body begins to slump. You doubt yourself. Your body. Your life choice. You just keep moving forward towards an imaginary line. Then when you get there. You move it again. These are the moments I think of when I think of Ironman. The challenge and willingness to pick it up in the worst and painful moments show character. The ability to throw your own race to help a stumbling athlete. The handing off of your last salt tube in the dark to a stranger because you know from their hobbling body position barely outlined by a glow stick necklace - that they need it more than you do. Now that I look back, perhaps those few hours in darkness were the brightest and best of the day. I got to witness, feel and see things the light of day didn’t show. In fact, as you read above. The light of day highlighted the loneliness of not being at the top of age group. However, the darkness illuminated the humanity and fervor to reach a goal in spite of the odds. Turning down into town wasn’t the relief I expected it to be. Hitting the chute wasn’t. My body was done. I knew I just wanted to pee, sit down and change my shoes. But y’all. Hitting the red carpet and the bright lights. Ohhhhh buddy. Spirits soared. There I was.  I made sure to wipe any remnants of throw up, or whatever else was on my face. Unclipped my visor light. Mike Reilly called me an Ironman. My family was there, all five kids and hubby.  Pat, the lady from body marking, was there and she had tears. My parents were in the stands. The producer for the NBC Sports feature even swept me into a hug. And like that, after too many hours but a lot of lessons and giving of Self, I had completed the Ironman World Championships.  And promptly kicked off my water logged Newton’s. Would I do it again?  The first day after I said “heck no!” And my husband didn’t believe me.  But these races are like childbirth and drugs. Childbirth is painful and you forget the pain + love the outcome. Drugs because...well... the challenge and the finish line are addicting. I’m not rushing to come back to a course with ocean swim, high elevation bike gain and a hot run course, all my dislikes. But I’m down to be challenged and meet this elite finish line again.    

Journal Entry #7 (October 16, 2018) - Finishing in the darkness creates the brightest joy   Finishing in the dark is brighter than any daylight finish. These are the words I want to say to the negative post on my finish line pic. He asked snarkily “does she always finish in the dark?”

Yes, sir. I do. I’m not a pro. I’m an everyday athlete striving to do the best with my family, career and carve out some time just for me.  

I’m also trying to set an example for my kids. This is a heavy burden to bear, one that doesn’t need the extra weight of your snarky criticism. But you know what, your question on my joyous finish line pic says more about you than me. You don’t know my story behind the picture you commented on. But let me share with you. Who knew? Who knew that the lessons on a 140.6 mile course and years long journey could culminate into a single photograph that would shake the core of women for inspiration to tri? Who knew that the 55,300 steps I took on Saturday would boil down to an ecstatic and joyful photograph that would be shared across groups, social media and news sites when I just merely was happy to see my daughter? Who knew that the lines I crossed (see previous journal entries) striving for this personal challenge would transcend myself and my family? I am blown away by the positive response to the finish line photograph with my daughter. In that moment of pure joy and happiness to set an example for her a fire has been lit. And I’m humbled even more. My week’s theme has been humble pie and humanity triumph. Triathlon is more than a sport. More than a lifestyle.  It’s a soul altering journey, yours and those around you. My inbox has exploded of women thanking me for showing this way. That one can be an Ironman and have a family too.  These two things aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s all about finding the right support, placing an emphasis on self care and staying focused on what your ultimate goals are. Goals that are beyond a finish line. Goals to show our daughters that we can be strong and fierce. Goals to show our sons that strong and fierce women are to be admired and respected. Ladies, don’t thank me. Thank yourselves. For we all contribute to the journey. Triathlon is not an individual sport. It’s a team sport. Even when you feel lonely (see:  Race Day [uncensored] to hear all about mine) on the long, hot highway ahead. You’re not alone.  In fact, in these messages and comments you’re showing the fire within each of us as a minority gender in this sport. Now, perhaps more than ever, we are in a critical stage of society where women and girls can and should be elevated and celebrated.  Supported and encouraged. I am calling not just for “feel goods” on a photograph but hands-and-feet action in communities to assist women in their path to whatever finish line their hearts desire. Sprint, or iron distance. Triathlon or running. While we may be strong and fierce, we are still people in need of support. I’m calling for more spectator-friendly courses, assistance in child care for women to train + race and fundamentally, just the authentic and passionate encouragement to tri. After having cancer at 20, I told myself if I survived I wouldn’t waste a day. So join me, let’s not waste any days. You don’t have to be a cancer survivor to celebrate life. You don’t have to be a mother to set an example. You don’t have to be a partner to be a whole. It is okay to be selfish in your goals. I want to help you in yours. Community, let’s surround these women. Let’s help them. Let’s do more.

So, yes sir, I do always finish in the dark. Because that’s when the light, for me, shines the brightest.

For more community & encouragement you can join this group    

Journal Entry #8 (November 12, 2018) - Naked in front of the world

Undertaking a challenge like Kona is something that most triathletes dream of..most don’t have the added pleasure (and stress) of having cameras trained on you leading up to, during and after the biggest race of your life!

As someone who is used to cameras, interviews and scrutiny I thrived under this but I wanted to share a peek into what really goes into the clips you see. Hopefully this is a reminder of the blood, sweat, tears, pee and lack of sleep that goes into production to bring stories of inspiration to your smart phone.  I'm heading up to New York City to see the results of the media that surrounded me during race day.  Ironman is having a huge gala for the NBC Sports premiere and we are included as special guests.  I'm getting these feelings about the media following my day before I see the end result - as I want them as pure as possible.  In fact, I had started this journal entry prior to leaving Hawaii but wanted the "almost full" experience before sharing. So here we go!

In June, I was heading to Raleigh 70.3 - of which I had a horrible performance (race report video on my Youtube) and Ironman reached out to do an interview about balancing training and life.  This was not out of the norm at all. So I didn't think anything of it. What I didn't realize was, this would be the first of many media captures and online scrutiny that I'd be facing throughout the biggest athletic challenge of my life.

The Pre-Race Production I received a peek into production side of this feature when the production crew flew out to Virginia, came to our house, my office and followed me on training days.   Y'all, let me tell you. It's hard being a fitness model - and I say that with a laugh. I'm not a model, nor am I an elite athlete - but the motions of the day was fun and hard.  You have to run, then re-run, then re-run again until it's perfect. And it was THE hottest day of the year - maybe not by record but by MY record and the sweat that was pouring down me.  But it was fun.  Christopher and Reid made the entire day fun, encouraging and not-scary. In fact, they were just as hot and sweaty as I was!  The interview portion of the feature was easy - I'm used to those. Sit in a chair, get asked a lot of questions, leave with some mental fatigue - but overall relatively straightforward. However, the portion where they had me swim, bike and run was tiring! You want to look perfect, you want to be easy to work with- but as an amateur - I didn't know what the hell I was doing.  I just KNEW that after they watched...everyone would know that I didn't belong in Kona. All my fellow triathletes would ridicule and not want to be friends with me.  I just knew that I was baring it all in front of the world, including those whose opinions I valued - and even those I don't know- and I was afraid of their opinion.

But I did it anyways.  

From the beginning, I knew that I was meant to do this feature to be an example for other mothers.   Then it all dawned on me. They’d be filming me in a swimsuit. Photographing me in spandex. In the moment I realized this, it didn’t matter I had lost 100+ lbs. that I had survived 11 years cancer free. That I had birthed five and lost one baby. That I had stood in gymnasiums waiting for my husband to return from war. My entire story didn’t matter. My triumphs didn’t matter. All that mattered was my self esteem and years of self negative talk. I’d like to say this post is a “rah rah” I overcame it. But I didn’t. I still have it.  As I train up to NYC right now I'm NERVOUS.  Every one in the world will see my imperfections, my stretch marks, my poor form, my acne at age thirty-something.

This is real, insecure, naked truth of being in front of the world on camera. No, one television spot won’t undo years of media messages and degrading comments by others. One race finish won’t rise me above the self doubts and shame. And they don’t have to. Because with every time I commit to being transparent and “go for it” I’m running further away from the old me and to the new me.  I’m nervous about sitting in an auditorium when my swim suit clad body comes in the screen. But it’s another step towards self acceptance and championing the things that truly matter. By slowly putting aside MY insecurities I’m putting forth an example of strength and courage for my daughter and others. I may not be fixed but I’m continuing the journey - even as scary as it may be - to even help but one person.

And that is why I committed to the media feature and all of the insecurities, social media shaming and fear that went with it.

The Island Landing upon the Big Island led me right into interviews with the awesome team contracted to produce the NBC Sports/Ironman Tri feature.  This was followed up with interviews in the expo, notably ROKA Sports including me with their professional athletes for day-of coverage as a competitor.  We also did some fun underwater, open water swim shots in the ocean off the coast of Waikoloa, Hawaii. Despite my great experience with the crew -  tainted with my own insecurities -  I was nervous about race day. I'm used to cameras but not when I'm on the hardest- most-elite-course-and-biggest-race of my life.  I didn't know what was to come.  From competing in Ironmans previously, I know how dirty, nasty and downright miserable that Ironman 140.6 races can be.  Don't let the finish line pics and post-race-euphoria pics fool you - not just mine - but everyones. You truly learn what you're made of out there - and it's kinda disconcerting knowing that you'll have the world watching you on camera with it happening. If you don't want to read through everything - I have to share.  The production crews were top notch - these guys and gals were flown in with resumes of Olympic and other elite athletic event coverages. They were so incredibly professional, skilled and downright FUN to work with- more on that later.

But most of all, they didn't treat me like a "story".  I had plenty of opportunities on course where they could've filmed with Morgan Freeman's somber voice laid over the footage stating how I was being met with a great challenge of life.....but they didn't. 

Keep reading to see how.  

The Race  

From the beginning of the race - I was bike racked with some of the biggest names - Gordon Haller (first Ironman winner ever) and Kathleen McCartney, the cameras were a-buzz.  Our bikes were positioned right next to the professional athletes bike racks so the cameramen has ease in flipping form one to the other - this also allowed for easier access for me to get out of Transition1 with my bike and onto the course!  The ever-famous Kathleen and I were chitchatting as the National Anthem started and boom! Camera in our faces to watch our reactions. Of course, in my emotional fashion, I started crying. And the whole internet saw.  Which is fine by me - was actually a fitting start to the media storm for the day! Throughout the swim I watched for the media boat  - but let us be real - they were most concerned with the professionals at this point.  They had put me into a purple cap versus the pink caps that the rest of the age group women were wearing so that I could easily be seen in the crowd.   I was kinda sad I didn't see a camera during swim as that's my best part of the day - everything else is downhill from there ha!

Coming out of the water, there was the production crew.

Followed me through transition, to the bike rack and onto the course.  I'm fairly certain I stopped to wave - which I'm sure the producers/editors rolled eyes at LOL but I couldn't help but enjoy my entire - and unusual - Ironman World Championships experience!   I do know that I stopped to kiss my littlest one - and I truly do hope that I can find footage of that somehow!  The theme of the day truly was FUN and FAMILY.

Going out onto course, I had a few different news and production crews come up to me. I knew that some of the race would be LIVE telecast and I wasn't given a heads up of which camera was LIVE or was being used for the NBC feature.  So everytime I heard a motorcycle come puttering up, with two guys (1 driver and 1 camera man), I always made sure to be in good form, big smile and praying I had no snot pouring down my face. Yes, even in the heat of the lava fields bodily fluids were spewing all over.  It kinda became a joke for me over the miles - whenever I heard the motorcycle I immediately "got ready" no matter if it was for me or not.  Remember, I'm not an elite or professional athlete. I'm merely a soundbite feature that Ironman wanted to share - so I wasn't the focus...and that was fine by me! But the out-and-back of the bike meant for a lot of motorcycles going past.  This was actually good as it kept me entertained for the way out.  The way back - that is another story. About 25 miles into the bike course one of the motorcycles came up, I did my thing, and they were interviewing me as I riding along at (one of the few times) I was hitting 20+ MPH down a hill.  I kinda chuckled thinking man they're impeding my aeroness but later when I was interviewed going UP a hill I wished for the downhill. Can't win with me haha - but logic on race day is illogical. Now here is where I take a second to share how hard it actually is to have a camera on you. I don't envy the professionals for this.  Even if you are aiming to ignoring them - you can't - for safety reasons.   As you're hauling down the Queen K on your bike, you still have to be vigilant of their location to you because you never know what will happen.  In fact, I have a new found appreciation for professionals during races. The video guys came and went - I smiled, I waved, I pretended to not see them, I brushed off snide comments of other races who asked why I was 'so special to have my own camera crew'. I was still having fun.  By the time I made the big turn at Hawi (approximately halfway of the bike) and was headed back into town - I was pretty much done with cycling. I was fatiguing and I was just ready to be done. In fact, the downhill from Hawi is great - then you hit another long, slow, painful death. It was the heat of the day, I was tiring. And to be honest, I didn't really care if the cameras "got the footage" they needed.   The same two guys that had been hunting me all day (approximately 5 hours into the race at this point) rolled up, saw my face.  I totally expected the cameraman to keep the camera trained on my face. You can cue Morgan Freeman's voice here.  I was envisioning this all as I was DYING in the heat, sweat, loneliness (the course was quiet at this point) of the lava fields.  The cameraman simply rested his camera down his knee, facing away from me and nicely asked "are you going to get water up ahead?" I said "yes".  He simply smiled and said "see you there" and they rode off. Y'all.  The struggle-bus I was riding would've been PERFECT for them. But they honored me instead. I got up to the water-stationed, snagged that water bottle like a pro (despite the vomit sitting on my hydration system below me), and kept going. As I biked into Waikoloa (85ish miles into the bike) - I saw my family and was immediately rejuvenated.  My kids were cheering with signs and I didn't even notice the media motorcycles circling around. Remember: FUN AND FAMILY - and apparently film!

View this post on Instagram

If you don’t show them, who will? ✨

A post shared by Rachel Brenke (@fitlegally) on

Coming into Transition 2 was pretty desolate - this was a weak bike for me. Biggest elevation gain I've ever done by 5x. Yes 5x over the Ironman distance. Dumb? Probably. Completed? Yup.  I was pretty dazed as this point so I don't recall if there were any cameras - maybe, I'll find out tonight! Headed out onto the run I saw Cynthia Steele - live recording for Active.com and ended up making an @$$ of myself showing the world how excited I was to run a marathon. The run course ended up having the same sounds as the bike course - except this time more with cheers of spectators with beers in hand and kids with cowbells.  RIGHT as I heard the motorcycle come puttering up, my entire right leg fell into a cramp. Out came the BASE salt, the camera man waited for me, and let me do my thing - off I went again. As he went past he goes "I promise I won't record you walking". Win again! Give this man a cookie! Or a beer! This cramp/run went on for a bit - they came and went.  The run was fairly a blur at this point.  In fact, once the sun went down I didn't really see the crews again - which was probably for the best. Go read Journal Entry #7 to see why. I got through the 26.2 in the darkness and came onto Ali'i drive. I battled a choice of self or others.  Physical impulses with lack of facilities.  Need for food but inability to consume.  I met my wall, not athletically but mentally and physically. I could've done more - I could've given the cameras more - but I gave them who I am. And really, at the end of the day - finishing in the dark was fine by me. I knew my family was waiting but I didn't really imagine what I'd do, what they'd do or what the finish line would feel like. Mike Reilly called me in, and even announced about my five kiddos + husband being at the finish.  These kiddos basically bum-rushed me and it was so incredible ESPECIALLY when I realized the cameras were recording. I can still see, feel, smell the entire moment - but I'm so excited to see it on the big screen. The weeks of insecurities, the feelings of "why me" and wondering "HOW did I get here" culminated into a perfect moment. And to top it off? Check out this screen grab of the finish.   See the blue shirt to the right? Thats the producer. He was committed to me as a person, just like his team. So much so that after I got all my hugs out to family he scooped me into a huge hug.   I seriously felt like one of the media family and not a "job" to them. Having this highly-unusual media-laden experience for Ironman World Championships may have had it's own insecurities, trials and fear - but overall it was definitely something for the books..er..blog.  I am so incredibly humbled for Ironman's choice in me as an ambassador, grateful for the media team's care, and appreciative of you guys (those reading and following) providing such support. 

I guess being "naked" in front of the media ain't so bad....    

Journal Entry #9 (November 14, 2018) - Cheese and cheese!

Sitting in the chair - I rocked back and forth.  It wasn’t nerves. I don’t know what it was. I felt out of place yet comfortable in front of the camera. My female co-interviewee fiddled with the cuff of her sport jacket. My male co-interviewee sat in silence but stealing glances at his wife off to the side.  I could see the Ironman reps standing off to the side acting as our handlers - you know, in case these totally rambunctious triathletes got out of line! But even their steadfast presence didn’t help.

“Why the hell am I here? How do I hold a candle to these two?  Why did Ironman pick me? I’m not special.

Will the tv host realize that too and skip over me? Do I just sit here? Do I smile? Do I look at them? Oh dammit- I’ve done this so many times before solo but here I sit. Un-special. Undeserving.”

The hosts voice crackled in my headset.

Here, we go.

As she talked I listened. But as they spoke the already blinding video lights seemed to get flash. They didn’t for others. But did for me.

Today’s interview finally made me wake up. Made realize why I was chosen. I mean. I know I said it in a previous entry as to why I think I was chosen to be on the Kona course (to help someone) but I still didn’t understand how *i*, an average every day athlete. mom. wife. could be worthy of being an ambassador complete with media interviews.

As the host was asking me questions I realized it.

I’m NOT special.

I looked over at Marcus and thought- okay I lost weight but I wasn’t on the brink of demise. He was. He is incredible.

I glanced at Sarah and sunk inward thinking - seriously she’s overcome so much with one leg that I don’t hold a candle.

I’m not special.

And that, my friends, was the entire point.

I’m you. I’m the average person making a special choice.

I wasn’t a stellar athlete growing up. I wasn’t morbidly obese. I had cancer but I walked away with my physical body.  So how the hell did I end up on a VIP stage amongst professional elites, challenged athletes and those facing ultimate adversities?

I ended up there because I’m not special. Not in the way that news media looks for. Not in the way that people share social media-feel good videos.

I’m average.

If *I* can compete on the same course as elites, the toughest course in triathlon and come out with a smile- you can do anything.

You may feel average and so do I. That’s why my head spins when people ask about my “story”. To me- it’s not a story. It’s my life.

I’m average.

And that was the entire point.

To connect with each of you “average”, everyday athletes to show you can that you do more, be more and GET to do this life.

This entry is titled cheesin for the cheese - we were on CheddarTV!
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