The Story of My Final Ironman
Updated: Jan 15
by Chris Palmquist
This story begins in the summer of 2004 and concludes in 2018 (pictured above). I had been racing road cycling that year and was healing from the my most recent pack crash at the Downers Grove Criterium. Considering a different sport sounded enticing. My kids were 2 and 4 years old. At the time it seemed like parenting was beginning to become a little easier and more predictable after the infant years. With support from my husband, Jeff, I signed up for the 2005 Ironman Wisconsin and began tackling the training.
A week after Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, I treaded water at the starting line of IMWI with tears in my eyes. The day ended up very hot and humid but somehow, I got across that finish line with extreme gratefulness. I was an “Ironman.” Mission accomplished. No need to do that again!
In 2006, I volunteered all day at IMWI, a rainy, cold, windy day where my sag van brought many hypothermic athletes back to town from the course. Of course, I caught the IM bug again and signed up for IMWI 2007.
In 2007, my dad was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer and died on August 2nd. Then, an F1 tornado hit our house on August 23rd. It was a pretty horrible summer. I went to race a couple of weeks later at IMWI and had a miracle of a race, cutting 2 hours off my time and setting what was to become my best lifetime Ironman finish time of 12:07. This was motivating to me and qualifying for Kona suddenly seemed a possibility to me.
So, my quest for Kona began. The following spring of 2008, I raced IMAZ and finished one place out of a Kona roll-down slot. I was getting so close. IMWI 2008, IMWI 2009, IMSG 2010, IMWI 2010 and IMWI 2011 followed. During one of those, I got within one place of a Kona slot one more time, but not quite fast enough. Eight IM races done but I was still having fun!
Everything changed during the winter of 2012 when both of my knees suddenly quit. Four surgeries later and I entered the new world of 15:00 Ironman races with loads of walking. An autoimmune thyroid disease also affected me deeply. My Kona dreams were done, or so I thought. Coincidently, Ironman announced the Legacy Program at about the same time. There was still a chance. If my knees could hold up, I was going get to Kona. It would take patience and determination.
IMCD 2012, IMWI 2012 – walked most of those marathons but got finishes #9 and 10.
Two more knee surgeries in 2013 caused me to miss my IMWI start that year. I couldn’t walk without a limp and my doctor had plans for more drastic surgeries. He gave me the dreaded message, “Don’t run anymore.” I then found a new doctor who encouraged me to continue running “as tolerated.” I spent the year getting my walking gait back, walking my dog all over town every day. Then, I began to introduce small amounts of running, gradually increasing “as tolerated.”
IMCHOO 2014 was my first Legacy inspired Ironman race and I finished with great joy. IMFL 2015 followed where I achieved my 12th finish and entered the Legacy lottery. I did not get a Kona slot for 2016, so I headed to IMLOU instead and barely finished within the 16-hour required cutoff that year. In 2017, WTC notified me that if I finished one more IM in 17, I would get a Kona slot for 2018. I raced IMAZ, motivated only by that lure of Kona. 14 IM finishes realized, with any luck and a whole lot of work, Kona 2018 would be my 15th Ironman finish.
October 2018. My kids who were toddlers and preschoolers when I started this journey were now a freshman in college and a junior in high school. I flew to Kona to finish what I started so many years ago. I was more nervous about this race than any in my life. I had great respect for the course and the weather conditions – as well as for all the tremendous athletes that would be racing. I had to employ all my mental skills techniques to stay sane and to prepare for the race. I went to the master’s Women’s breakfast, the Legacy Athlete Reception and the Athlete banquet. I absorbed all the wisdom from the speakers, the experienced athletes and the Hawaiians who presented a beautiful and moving ceremony and blessing to the athletes during race week. I went to the lava fields and spoke to Madam Pele. I opened my eyes and my ears to the beauty of the island and its people and culture. I visualized. I rested I had gratitude and appreciation for this opportunity and I wanted to give it my very best in return.
I felt very calm and determined on race day. I smiled at all the volunteers and competitors. I got in the water and looked around at the incredible scene surrounding the swim start. Mike Reilly gave us his usual good advice and the cannon went off.
My swim felt smooth and strong. But as I started the bike, my legs felt weak. Due to the start time of the age group women being 7:20, 15 minutes behind the age group men, there were few people around me during all 112 miles of the bike course. My timing resulted in a strong head wind all the way out to the Hawi turnaround at 59.6 miles, plus a few thousand feet of ascending. It was hot and grueling and lonely, and it seemed as if I just never got any speed at all. I knew that if the winds turned around for my return trip (very common) and gave me a headwind on the way back, that my ability to finish was in jeopardy. I just kept focusing on doing what I could do “in the moment,” and “kept moving forward.” I had a few moments of discouragement and I was extremely hot and uncomfortable, but I kept going. There was no way that I was going to give up.
photo credit: Coach Laura Henry
When I got back to Kona and off the bike, I could barely stand up, I was over-heated, and my heart rate was high. My MPI friends were there and their encouragement was powerful for me. Coach Mark yelled, “Tough as Nails,” to me and that became my mantra for the marathon. I started a run-walk pattern that would allow my heart rate to stay under control and I began clicking off the miles. The sun set, and the rain moved in for an hour or two, and I clicked off the miles. It became so dark and the energy lab was humid and difficult, and I clicked off the miles. As I headed back towards Kona for the final time of the day, I finally let myself believe that I was going to cross that Kona finish line and it was very emotional. The miles seemed to speed up and the pain seemed to dissipate. As I ran down Palani Drive, I saw my friend Wes and then my friend Laura. I was so happy and wanted to enjoy and remember the finish line stretch so I walked a little extra just to clear my head.
That finish line stretch beats all finish line stretches anywhere and I will never forget it. It was worth the wait. I was ecstatic and appreciative and proud. I have absolutely no desire to do another Ironman race at this point. There is a whole world out there of adventures to tackle. I think I am ready for some new goals!