Heidi Hutchinson completed the Kona Ironman World Championship triathlon in under 15 hours
Heidi Hutchinson of Bremerton was still wearing her Ironman wristband during a high school swim meet to watch her daughter swim.
The family physician who works for Kaiser Permanente’s clinic in Poulsbo fulfilled a dream when she crossed the finish line at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, Oct. 14.
“It was just such a great day,” Hutchinson said of the iconic event. “You know it’s going to be really hard and super challenging.”
Hutchinson never expected to be an Ironman World finisher when she began competing in 2008. She started with the sprint triathlon, the Tri Turtle Tri at Wildcat Lake, and moved on to Olympic distance, half-Ironman and finally full Ironman. Hutchinson completed Ironmans in Chattanooga in 2014 and Louisville in 2015. A bike crash in 2016 kept her out of competition as she recovered. 2017 was a rebuilding year.
Hutchinson had volunteered in the medical tent four times previously at the Kona Ironman and would watch the triathletes, trying to envision herself on the course.
“To actually do it was really fun,” she said. “I wouldn’t have missed it. It was definitely a dream of mine.”
It was also a surprise. Hutchinson qualified at the Coeur d’Alene Ironman this summer. She needed to finish in the top two in her age division.
“I certainly was focused on Coeur d’Alene, dreaming big and thinking to do my best to try and qualify for Kona,” she said. “It certainly wasn’t an expectation of mine. It was a surprise.”
It’s a three-loop marathon course, and Hutchinson learned from family and her coach, Jim Felty, she was moving up in her division. Hutchinson went from fifth to third, to second when she crossed the line.
“Unexpected and super cool,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson didn’t have much time to recover and start training for Kona.
Hutchinson finished the Kona course — 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile marathon — in 14 hours, 46 minutes and 5 seconds.
Hutchinson said she savored the day, beginning with the swim in Kailua Bay. Having grown up in Hawaii, Hutchinson is comfortable in the water and finished in 1:29.25.
“For me water is therapy,” she said. “I feel pretty lucky. I admire women who come to triathlons who may not know how to swim.”
Hutchinson’s transition from the swim to bike was smooth, and she was in and out and on the bike course.
“The bike was super hard and windy and hilly,” Hutchinson said, completing it in 5:40.21.
The marathon turned out to be the most challenging, both mentally and physically.
Hutchinson said the run started well. The course begins in town before winding it’s way to Ali’i Drive. The early part of the route was lined with spectators cheering on the athletes. It was also where she was able to see friends, family and get some advice from her coach, Jim Felty.
Dusk settles in around 6 p.m. Hutchinson said running on Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway was mentally draining. That’s when the doubts can settle in.
“The last part of the marathon was the hardest part for me,” she said. “You’re not feeling great; you’re alone, no people, that was challenging. There were moments that I thought ‘What if I get so dehydrated I can’t make the finish?’
Hutchinson said her nutrition wasn’t working for her that day. Her stomach wasn’t allowing her to take anything in, and she was vomiting on the side of the road. Many times she just walked.
“It’s not an easy place to end up. It’s a long way,” Hutchinson said.
But she knew she wasn’t alone.
“I kept thinking, ‘All these people are supporting me. Watching me online, and I want to get to the finish. That helps to always (have) people that are behind you.”
When she was nearing the end, she could hear the faint sounds of music and people cheering.
“It was just like, ‘Wow. I made it. I’m going to cross that finish line today. When you go into an Ironman, you never count on finishing.”
It’s why a support team is essential for triathletes.
Hutchinson had a large group of friends and family with her at Coeur d’Alene and in Kona, and she felt their support throughout the course. Her husband, Chad, and daughters Alyssa, Kim and Kylee, helped more at home and her coworkers picked up shifts at the clinic while she was gone.
Felty found Hutchinson on the Kona course with two miles to go and offered encouragement.
“I started running again and ran my best two miles,” she said.
Triathletes might be competing alone, but they wouldn’t be able to finish if not for family and friends, Hutchinson said.
“It takes a village,” she said. “It’s much bigger than me.”