Pro Triathlete Kennett Peterson Shares Struggles in Kona

In the days after Ironman Boulder, my 2nd place began to to get overshadowed by the fact that I’d qualified for Kona, which hadn’t been a goal or even something I’d been thinking about for 2019. Racing Kona wouldn’t be the most logical step to take in my triathlon career, since I still hadn’t won a race. Competing at Wisconsin or Chattanooga would have made a lot more sense in hindsight. Alas, the hurrah of Kona swept me away and I made the commitment to be there in October.

Unfortunately, my Hashimoto’s ended up getting in the way, as I’ve discussed in previous blog posts. This entire year I’ve struggled with low energy and low motivation, and have been off and on depressed since the beginning of January. I managed to get through one block of good training in April and May, but that was it. I went in for blood work in August and my thyroid numbers were bad. But instead of being hypo, I was now hyper. The dose of thyroid medication I was on was too high, causing me to suffer from hyperthyroidism, which has many of the same symptoms of hypothyroidism—low energy, muscle weakness, and insomnia to name a few.

When I was first diagnosed in 2015 I never saw an endocrinologist because back then I was on Medicaid and no endocrinologists accepted Medicaid in Boulder, so I just worked things out with my primary care doctor. Over a period of a year and a half (it takes six weeks for a medication increase or decrease to show up in your blood work) we came to a dose of Armour Thyroid that seemed optimal for me. It most likely wasn’t, and my TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) slowly began getting too low.

I decreased my thyroid medication early this September and things began slowly turning around. I had two good weeks of training in Tucson with Chris a month out from Kona, though a handful of days during that training camp I was completely spent and couldn’t put out any power on the bike or in the pool. With thyroid disorders, recovery is compromised and performance is unpredictable from day to day. On bad days, training feels like it does the before you get really sick with a head cold—you have no energy and you feel super off, but you don’t know why because you don’t have any cold symptoms yet.

Back in Boulder, I had a rest week followed by a fairly hard week of training, during which I finally put out some good numbers. In addition to two hard group runs, I did a five hour ride averaging 242, and a three hour ride with a 90 minute interval at 300 watts. Nothing groundbreaking, but this week was encouraging considering how my training had gone in the previous four months. I had a strong masters swim on Saturday and that sealed the deal for my confidence. I hadn’t felt good about Kona all summer, but now that my hormones finally began turning a corner, I became hopeful. It was a week out from the race, so I couldn’t have cut things any closer.

Some physical limitations cannot be made up for with positive thinking. While I’d had a few good days, October 12th wouldn’t be one of them.

The Race

Pretty quickly during the swim I felt off. I was unable to take powerful strokes, and felt myself drifting backwards in the chaotic froth of the first 400 meters. Instead of having the usual fight in me, I was content to let other pass by, and I dropped in with a small group of other stragglers and ended up just gluing myself to them for the remainder of the race. I realized how slow our dejected group of four was going by the halfway point because it no longer felt challenging, and I began daydreaming.

After coming out of the water and entering transition, I had to double back and search for my helmet visor, which had become detached in the bag. Losing those 30-40 seconds meant that I was no longer in contact with the three guys I’d swum with, two of whom were strong cyclists (Arnout and Weiss) and who ended up bridging to the main group.

It probably didn’t matter that I wasn’t with them, because once I got on the bike I found that I was struggling to average 23 miles per hour. My power meter wouldn’t turn on that morning before the race, which seemed like a big problem at the time, but having legs that don’t work is, of course, a bigger issue. By the first turn-around at mile six or seven I counted that I was seven minutes behind the tail end of the main group. I knew my race was over at that point.

Photo: Kenny Withrow (@itskennywithrow)

I continued onto the Queen K highway, still a few minutes behind the lead female, Lucy Charles, who’d passed me in the swim, and still losing ground to the one guy up the road I was able to see when I first got onto the bike. By mile 15 I got passed by the second to last place male. At this point I was just riding to put some distance between myself and town; I needed time to ride off my emotions and think about things before I spoke to anyone, had to suffer any type of cheering from spectators, or got back to my dark condo. I flipped it at mile 25 and soft pedaled home, almost in a state of disbelief that this was how my race went. After so many hours of training (well, not that many) and hours spent fantasizing and going over the race in my head, it was over before it really began.

But things can always get worse. Much, much worse.

I spent the rest of the day watching the race on my computer from bed since seeing it in person was too difficult to stomach. Adelaide and I packed up the next day and moved into an Airbnb with both sets of our parents. Throughout that day and the next I felt like I’d wasted a once in a lifetime opportunity, and wasted the time of so many people, including the time of Adelaide and our families, in addition to my sponsors. By day three, I was doing better. We’d been snorkeling, did a night dive with manta rays, drove to Volcano National Park, and Adelaide and I had been running on Alii Drive each morning.

On Thursday, the last day of our trip, roughly three hours before we needed to be at the airport, I was body surfing on Magic Sands beach. A wave built up and I went for it even though I knew I was too far in and that I would go over the falls and get pounded. I’ve surfed and body surfed for my entire life, and feel very comfortable in the water. I’ve wiped out a thousand times on much larger waves without incident. This was just a little three footer, so I didn’t think there’d be much of a consequence of being pummeled by it. As it flipped me, I tucked my chin and covered my head like normal. It was a steep beach, and the water between me and the shore had been sucked back into the wave as it approached, making it just a few feet deep when I went head-first into the sandy bottom. As the top of my head impacted the sand, I felt and heard two distinct pops in my upper back, followed instantaneously by pain. I instinctively wiggled my toes and fingers a quarter second later, fearing the worst, when I was still underwater. I popped up in the wash with the wind slightly knocked out of me, and as I made my way to shore, a secondary tiny wave knocked me off my feet in my weakened state. I regained my balance and staggered to my beach blanket and layed down in a good deal of pain. A few minutes later Adelaide appeared, wondering why I’d gotten out so early. We’d only been in the water a few minutes when I’d wiped out.

She rushed over to the lifeguard stand when I told her what happened, and a lifeguard appeared above me. He suggested I go to the ER. “Someone gets a spinal injury here every day,” he commented. We opted for urgent care instead.

As the urgent doctor manipulated my head up and down and side to side, he told me that my neck and back were fine. “I wouldn’t be able to do this if there was something broken. He’d be in a lot more pain,” the doctor told my mom. Exactly what I thought, I thought to myself. Just a back strain. After all, the pain had let up a bit at this point.

My mom and Adelaide insisted that I get an X-ray anyways. After Kathleen (Adelaide’s mom) drove us to the radiology building, we went back to the Airbnb and packed. Or, I should say, Adelaide packed for me as I laid in bed with my eyes closed. An hour later we got a call from the radiologist, who said the X-ray showed a small bone chip on my cervical spine. It could also be an anomaly, or just part of my bone structure. The x-ray wasn’t detailed enough to confirm anything. To be safe, we decided to go back to the urgent care for a neck brace on our way to the airport. The doctor—the same one as before—said the neck brace probably wasn’t even necessary, and that I only needed to wear it in the airport where I might be run into and knocked over by another person. He adjusted it to the loosest setting and sent us on our way.

It was a miserable day of travel home because in addition to the neck and back pain, I ended up getting super sick with a really bad head cold that had started as a sore throat earlier that morning.

Fast forward a week and a CT scan and MRI showed that I didn’t just have a minor bone chip. I’d broken my neck. I suffered a stable burst fracture of C7 without damage to any soft tissue. The other day, while my neurosurgeon pointed out the damage to my vertebrae on his computer, he said “This is the type of injury that paralyzes people. You got lucky.” My throat had gone dry so I nodded. Paralyzation has been my biggest fear since adulthood. I have no fear of spiders, flying, confined spaces, or most things people are normally afraid of. Yet, even the thought of my own death doesn’t bother me that much. Paralyzation, or losing a limb due to amputation, would be the worst possible thing to happen to me, and I don’t think I’d ever be able to cope with it. Most fears seem to be based on activities, animals, or other tangible things: being at the top of a cliff or walking by a barking dog, for instance. Conversely, my main fear—a very specific injury—is the result or consequence of another person’s phobia. I’m not sure if this makes me more, or less, rational than others people.

Photo: Carolyn Peterson

If my vertebrae had been dislodged just a bit more and pushed inwards towards my spinal cord, I wouldn’t be able to walk, control my bowel movements, or have full strength in my arms. That my disc didn’t rupture and none of my ligaments were harmed is also incredibly fortunate. Already, just a week out, I don’t have very much pain, so it’s a good thing that I got checked out, otherwise I might be out riding today.

Because the fracture is stable, I don’t need surgery or to wear the halo that has been made famous in the triathlon world by Tim Don. However, during the next six to eight weeks I can’t be in a car due to the possibility of being in a crash, must keep my neck brace on at all times, and I obviously can’t train or do anything that would jeopardize my neck. I assume this includes using a pogo stick, jumping on the trampoline, or doing box jumps and back squats, though I think dancing should be fine since it doesn’t involve the neck at all:

Boulder IRONMAN 70.3 Packed Pro Field

By Bill Plock

Professional triathlete and second place finisher of the Boulder IRONMAN in June, Kennett Peterson isn’t sure exactly why he has so many competitors tomorrow, but no doubt the start list is impressive. It includes some notable international names and local pros who have won here before—Ben Hoffman, Andy Potts, Tyler Butterfield, Josh Amberger, Justin Daerr, Chris Leiferman, Sam Long, Meredith Kessler, Danielle Mack, Linsey Corbin, Maggie Rusch, Lesley Smith to name a few.

All in all, 44 men and 24 women pros signed up. The actual start line will probably be smaller as often pros sign up far in advance and then adjust their schedules for many reasons.

Kennett suggested a couple of things are probably adding to the large field. One it’s local and many pro’s live and and train in Boulder. Traveling to race is expensive and the prize purses aren’t deep enough to make it cost effective to always travel. Also, the IRONMAN race calendar is not that full right now after a packed June and early July schedule. A 70.3 right now is a great time to start a final push for those racing in Kona in a couple of months.

If you want to see some great racing this weekend, come to the Boulder Reservoir tomorrow!

Kennett Peterson, Insight on Recovery from IMB, Life of a Pro Triathlete

By Kennett Peterson

My post Ironman Boulder recovery got off to a bad start when I didn’t take my own advice and celebrate the night away with alcoholic beverages. Instead, I went home, showered, and laid down until it was time to go back to the finish line to hand out medals and watch an athlete I coach cross the line. Adelaide and I brought a pizza home from Papa John’s after sitting in a parking lot for 10 minutes trying to decide what to do for dinner. I ate my whole pizza but felt slightly ill and nauseous the rest of the night, and went to bed at 8:30. I got poor sleep, and would get poor sleep for the next night as well.

The sick feeling I had that night worsened over the next few days and turned into a full blown cold; the forced rest that it required meant that I got great recovery—I barely moved for about four days. I wasn’t too worried about missing workouts for Coeur d’Alene though, which was three weeks after Boulder and is this coming weekend, since the sickness never fully moved into my lungs. I began training again seven days after Ironman Boulder, starting out with a fairly hard run on Switzerland trail at 8,500 feet elevation. Probably not the best idea, but I figured it would either make me much, much worse, or better. It made me better, miraculously.

By mid week last week, 10 days out from Boulder, I was feeling decent enough to do a few hard sessions back to back over a two-day period, including a hard masters, a moderately long (3.5 hour) ride with some low cadence intervals, a tempo run off the bike, a group ride with some intense climbing efforts, and an easy open water swim. I felt better than expected for all of the workouts, and thought I was on track for a good race at CDA, which was 10 days away at that point. Then, disaster struck the day after pushing too hard and I relapsed with the sickness.

I rested for three days straight hoping that it would go away, then planned to do a few test workouts to confirm that racing CDA still made sense. The first of those test workouts, which involved 3×10 minutes upper threshold intervals on the bike, was planned for today. And I failed. Not wanting to allow time to change my mind or continue see-sawing back and forth about whether I should race or not, I cancelled all my travel arrangements the moment I got home from that ride this morning.

It probably doesn’t make sense for me to go to races with the mindset of “at least make your money back” anymore. That may have been a primary goal in the past, but I feel like I’ve reached a level in this past year or two where the goal should be to do a race fully prepared, and toe the line with the mindset of winning or performing at my own personal best ability. I need to go to races fully prepared and committed to doing everything possible to have my best performance—something that I struggled with in bike racing because there was always another big race a week or two away, and training through a race or racing with a lingering illness was normal.

My next two races will be Boulder 70.3 and Santa Cruz 70.3 before heading to Kona, where I’m truly starting to believe that a top 10 is within possibility.

Hanson, Brandon win IM Boulder, but 4 Coloradans fill rest of Podium.

By Bill Plock

The last edition of IRONMAN Boulder featured two athletes in Matt Hanson (7:57) and Lauren Brandon (9:09) setting two course records on their way to victory. The other four podium spots were filled with Tim O’Donnell and first-time pro Kennett Peterson for the men and Lesley Smith and Danielle Mack for the women. All will be competing in Kona at the IRONMAN World Championships this fall. For Kennett and Danielle, this will be their first trip to the big island as professionals. Danielle won IRONMAN Boulder in 2014. Says Danielle, “I’ve been a professional for 7 years, won 3 Ironman’s and have never competed in Kona….thank God!”

Kennett Peterson and wife Adelaide Perr

The story of the day might be Kennett Peterson who until yesterday hadn’t competed in a full-distance IRONMAN or even ran a marathon! He settled in on the bike early in the race in second place and never relinquished that position. Tim O’Donnell lead through the bike segment with Kennett, Sam Sam Long jostling for second and third and Matt Hanson right behind. The race took shape on the run with Hanson running everyone down with a 2:48 marathon, O’Donnell dropping back with a 3:05 and Peterson held tight with a 2:54. Colorado’s Tripp Hipple crossed in forth place with Boulder native Sam Long rounding out the top five.

The women’s race featured and course breaking swim time of 48:43 and course breaking overall time of 9:09 by Texas’s Lauren Brandon. It was her first IRONMAN 104.6 victory. Says Brandon, “got my Kona spot, and I’m ecstatic!” Off the bike she was 37 minutes ahead of the field, but “with the likes of Lesley Smith running, I knew I had to have a big lead.” Boulder’s Smith indeed had a fast run of 3:11 narrowing the gap by nearly 25 minutes. Smith chased down the field passing seven others on her way to second.

The “Flatiron wars” are complete and was a great battle fought during the last IRONMAN to be held in Boulder. A bittersweet day and much more to come on that!

IRONMAN Boulder “Flatiron War” on Sunday, what a possible farewell!

By Bill Plock

The infamous “Iron War” in 1989 between Dave Scott and Mark Allen at the IRONMAN World championship in Kona is considered one of the greatest endurance races of all time. But this years IRONMAN Boulder is shaping up to have it’s own legendary finish in the pro’s race and what better way to possibly celebrate the last six years of this race? The “Flat Iron War” is about to begin, buckle up!

Tim O’Donnell

There are any number of pros with a good shot to win, but tomorrow, six pro men and two pro women who live and train in Boulder will battle it out. Three of them, Tim O’Donnell , Justin Daerr and Danielle Mack have won IRONMAN Boulder.

Also competing is two time Olympian, top five finisher in Kona, Tyler Butterfield. Now add in a rising star, Boulder native, Sam Long who has won two 70.3’s this year (Victoria just a week ago) with the other Boulder native and “speedo man” Colin Laughery (303 video) and his contagious love of triathlon with Kennett Peterson (303 video) making his pro debut tomorrow and we have the unofficial “Flat Iron War”.

In the women’s race, local pro and Boulder native, 2014 Ironman Boulder Champion Danielle Mack will battle it out with Boulder’s Lesley Smith (303video) in what will surely be a great competition on this final stage.

This will be a fun race to watch. Click on their names to go to their websites and learn more about these amazing athletes!