In her third trip to the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, triathlete Marla Zucht felt a little more comfortable than in previous years.
Zucht, who also competed in 2015 and 2017, finished the 226-kilometre course on Oct. 13 in a time of 11 hours, 45 minutes and 34 seconds (11:45:34), over 30 minutes shorter than her debut but about 6:32 behind her 2017 time.
Even so, Zucht felt more at ease on the course, which can provide its own unique challenges.
"Each year it gets a little bit easier just from familiarity. It's definitely tough, primarily because of the elements out there," she said. "It's different swimming in the ocean in saltwater with no wetsuit. It always chafes the body.
"On the bike, the head- and cross-winds are really strong and you have to battle with your bike through most of the bike course. On the marathon, it's just the heat coming off the asphalt, because we run primarily on the highway."
Zucht added she was also able to make some practical adjustments that she wasn't quite able to figure out in other years in order to help her reach the finish line.
"The first year when I went there, the wind really unnerved me. I had a hard time getting down into my aero bars because the wind was so strong. I was fighting it almost the entire time," she recalled. "This year, you're expecting that now and you're more comfortable and familiar."
Zucht stressed that it's important to maintain a positive attitude while out on course, especially in the face of numerous uncontrollable factors like weather and course conditions that athletes face over the course of the day.
"Despite the pain and exhaustion that comes with doing the course and being out there over 11-and-a-half hours, I just keep reminding myself when I'm out there that it's an honour to be out there racing alongside some of the best long-distance triathletes in the world," she said. "I just try to keep a positive attitude out there and remember to smile because it's really an amazing opportunity."
While she's explored the beauty of Hawaii's Big Island before, this year she opted for a couple days of R&R before returning to Whistler late last week.
"I have explored the whole island and it's absolutely beautiful. It's just nice to be off the gas and not have that pressure," she said. "I go about a week ahead of time to get on the course, to acclimatize, to train and I'm very focused on the race coming up. Beforehand, it's really not a vacation per se."
Heading into 2019, Zucht said she plans to race Subaru Ironman Canada in July—"It's always very fun to do it on home turf"—and will potentially compete in Ironman Santa Rosa in May in order to give herself multiple chances to qualify for worlds once again.
Full results are online at www.ironman.com.