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Reflecting on Kona: Writer Nell Stephenson Reflects on Her Top Five Performance at the Ironman World Championships

By Nell Stephenson, B.S.
November 4, 2016
Reflecting on Kona: Writer Nell Stephenson Reflects on Her Top Five Performance at the Ironman World Championships image

For those of you who follow our Facebook feed, you’ve been reading about our own Nell Stephenson’s journey to the Ironman World Championships – her challenges, her tough hours training, and how the Paleo diet helped her along the way! Nell wanted to thank all of you for reading and share with you her thoughts now that the race is done. Enjoy!

Reflecting on the Race…

The day after any race is always an emotional one for me, and the day after Kona tends to be that and then some, taking those feelings to the nth degree, given its significance and magnitude.

On paper, my race went exactly as I wanted it, just as I’d planned it.

I had a swim PR on this course by 4’, my bike watts were dead on at 80% FTP and my run pace was just a tad off – 10 seconds slower that my goal pace. Not a PR for me time wise, and I missed the podium by two spots this time, but honestly, I gave it everything I had.

The conditions were awesome! Not too hot, not too windy… really, there’s not a single thing I can report that I wish had gone differently.

I felt present, filled with gratitude and focused all day long; balanced but not disengaged…. happy but not lackadaisical by a long shot.

Hydration was spot on, energy level solid and steady and seeing my husband at multiple spots throughout the day, as well as the inherent energy from the crowd, all served to create an idyllic setting for an outstanding day.

So that’s why I was a bit surprised to wake up the morning after still feeling a little bit out of sorts.

I know myself and I know my body and I knew without a doubt that I raced with all my heart on Saturday, yet I still found myself mulling over whether I could have found that extra few minutes somewhere during the day to push through and have a faster bike split, as I’d done in years past or to possibly have come closer to my goal run pace.

Why had I suddenly gone down the what if or could’ve / should’ve route?

I chalked it up to part of the personal growth work I’ve been so highly focused on this year, and rather than either allowing myself to detour into a foul mood, I just sat with the emotions for a little while, had a little bit of a temper tantrum in my mind, meditated and took an invaluable day off from everything.

Now What? Addressing Recovery Time and My Next Race

Downtime is always in order immediately following any big evert, in order to let the body rest, recover and rejuvenate.

But how about the mind?

One of the main reasons I ever got into Ironman in the first place was because I found it to be the perfect outlet for stress, worry, anxiety… Of course, there was also a huge component which was the sheer love I have of running (and cycling and swimming, but running has always stood out by a long shot!), how I feel during and afterward and the incredible amount of creativity that comes forth after the simple joy of moving.

But if I were to disregard the role that sport has played for me in terms of keeping me emotionally healthy, it would be akin to chalking up someone’s weight loss success solely to exercise and not factoring in what they’re eating.

The reason I bring this up is that while it’s easy to see why a recovery phase from activity makes sense from a rational perspective, it’s not always easy to implement said recovery phase from an emotional one.

If your only outlet when you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed or anxious is to go for a run, what do you do if you can’t? Perhaps you’re injured, or you’re on a plane or you’re stuck in terrible traffic… then what?

This is precisely where and when three other factors can come into play.

  1. Actual rest, as in sound sleep.
  2. Diet, not as in how you’re going to keep from getting fat during the holidays, but how what you’re eating could be predisposing you to feeling even more stressed, overwhelmed and anxious.
  3. Emotional health / balance. Exercising your brain as a muscle, meditating or simply taking time to focus on your breath… whatever suits your fancy and allows for even a short period of inward reflection plays a considerable role not just in how one might deal with feelings immediately after a race but during any potentially challenging situation.


We all know we should be getting an average of 8 hours, right? But how many of us are?

Studies1 show the average American gets only 40% of recommended hours per night. Making your bedroom ideal for sleeping by removing TV, creating complete darkness and silence is the first step. What may prove trickier but is no less important is tailoring your schedule to allow ample time between eating dinner and bed, not having too much alcohol to drink prior to hitting the hay and eliminating or at least reducing other distractions, like getting the kids off to bed on time and trying to figure out how to keep the large dogs off the bed (the latter of which, I have zero experience in… as in, being successful at it!)


Say it’s the day after the race, or two days after, or the day after any important milestone in life you’ve been preparing for, for a while. Whether it goes exactly as you’d envisioned it or it tanks, the following period of time inevitably can feel like a letdown. I often find myself with a ‘now what’ feeling during this period. I know I’ll be racing again, of course, but in particular, when the last race of the year has come and gone, there’s a definite feeling of missing that structure I get with a training plan and having to readjust the schedule to open up more time for other things, (ahem- such as work) as well as to shift to more off-season modalities of exercise (as opposed to training). Yoga, pilates, strength training and trail running are four of my personal off-season faves. I’ll keep cycling and swimming in the mix, but with less frequency and more focus on technique.

Now’s when making sure you’re sticking to your eating plan highlighting an emphasis of local, in season veggies, ample fat – it’s even more important now to raise the volume on the Omega 3 rich foods like wild salmon or black cod in order to decrease post-race inflammation and support brain health2 - and properly sourced proteins to allow the body the building blocks it needs to further support the restorative process.

Steering clear of sugars (including too much fruit) during this time is key as skewing the balanced blood sugar you’d have when following an authentic Paleo approach (that’s what this is, after all) with a little bit of the LCHF protocol mixed in will further support an overall recovery, as well as keep you from starting this stretch of time into the holidays on the wrong foot!

Emotional Health

We’ve all got our demons and we all can choose to work through them… or not. For me, having implemented a regular mediation program earlier this year has proven to be invaluable, to say the least. While it started because I wanted another tool to have in my pocket to work with day-to-day stress or challenges we all face, I have found it to have overflown beautifully into all other areas of my life to enable more balance, calm, creativity and focus.

So what’s next, you might ask?

Well, my coach threw me a curve ball by suggesting I hop into another Ironman while I’m still at peak fitness!

That’s completely counter to everything I’ve written above, but from his job as my coach, it made total sense.

Will I go?

Doubtful…. I was all set for off-season / holiday mode, ready to hit the trails even more than I do in-season, but I’d be fibbing if I claimed it didn’t pique my interest just a little!

Although, marathoning is also tempting me…I told you I loved running! I was invited to run NYC last year but deferred… thinking I’m going to defer again and likely stick to my original R+R plan.

But then, you never know!

I truly believe that this three-pronged approach to wellness, off-season or not, is what allowed me to have come off Kona feeling fit and strong enough to even consider another IM in the first place.

Highlights of Nell’s Facebook Posts

If you missed the Facebook posts in August and September as Nell got ready for the race, here’s a few of the more popular ones:

“It’s easy to get confused about Paleo not having any carbohydrates. In actuality, it does - in fact, a true Paleo diet, when implemented properly, gets roughly 22 – 40% of its calories from carbs, primarily in the form of fresh vegetables.” While training for the Ironman Triathlon, Nell talks about strategically introducing starch into her endurance athlete’s diet. There’s a bonus Duck Fat Potatoes recipe included.


#Paleo #AthleticDiet #Starch #Carbs #IsItPaleo

A Paleo lifestyle is all about nutrition, health, and well-being. As we follow Nell on her Ironman Triathlon journey, she takes time to restore and rejuvenate her body with the old fashioned remedy of rest!


#ThePaleoDiet #Rest #Nutrition #Reflect #Rejuvenate

Whether you are an athlete preparing for a long training session, or seeking to improve yours and your family’s health and well-being, our favorite Paleoista Nell Stephenson (now into her final, hardest weeks of training for the 2016 Ironman World Championship!) points out one simple, basic truth: the best diet is one primarily composed of real, naturally-sourced foods. Traditional advice about the nutritional value of highly refined carbohydrates--pastas, breads, etc--has, sadly, done a disservice to the health of athletes and non-athletes alike. Learn more about how Nell feeds her body the night before a long workout, and how, and why, a rich, well-balanced diet of real food can fuel you towards your goals!


#RealFood #Paleoista #NellStephenson #IronmanWorldChampionship #Kona #RealFoodisRealFuel #RoastTrussedChicken

In today's world of jam-packed schedules and convenience foods, we sometimes forget just how simple it is to cook a healthy, delicious meal composed of just a few simple, natural ingredients. Check out Paleoista Nell Stephenson's recipe for roast, trussed chicken, prepared with only two ingredients! When paired with a side of veggies and/or a delicious green salad, naturally-sourced chicken is ideal for athletes, like Nell, seeking to fuel a long workout. It also offers a wholesome, healthy meal for the entire family.


#RoastTrussedChicken #RealFoodforEnduranceAthletes #Paleoista #NellStephenson #IronmanWorldChampionship

Living a Paleo Lifestyle is all about keeping your body happy with nutritionally conscious foods and regular activity. Nell Stephenson is a loyal ‘Paleoista’ and has given her take on how things like stretching, icing, saunas, and meditation have been helpful in keeping her body fit and balanced.


#Health #Paleo #Meditation #Stretching #KeepingActive #Sauna

It's Championship time in Kona, Hawaii! As Paleoista Nell Stephenson begins her final preparations for the 2016 Ironman World Championship, now is not the time to let months of training get derailed especially by having to eat on the road. While maintaining a specialized diet like The Paleo Diet away from home can be challenging, Nell has a few tricks up her sleeve. For instance, adding fat to her tea instead of sugar, in the form of coconut butter or meat, is an easy, tasty treatment that enables Nell to keep her energy high and her mind focused as race day approaches.

Do you have a special alternative that you turn to, in order to avoid reaching for the sugar bowl?

#Kona #IronmanWorldChampionship #Paleoista #FatNotSugar #PowerofCoconut #FlavorYourTea #NellStephenson

Congratulations to Paleoista Nell Stephenson for her amazing 7th place age-group finish at the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii on October 8th! Her countless hours of hard work paid off with a total overall time of 10 hours, 36 minutes, and 52 seconds! Like so many athletes who push themselves to the limit of what they can accomplish, Nell will undoubtedly concentrate on the ups and downs of this race in order to set new goals for her next race, but we hope that she will take at least a little time over the next few weeks to rest, recover, and recuperate. In the meantime, we are honored that Nell has given us--and you--a first-hand glimpse into her training routines and diet during the final weeks of training for this huge event and we hope that you, like us, have learned a few things along the way about how your diet can help you achieve your goals, no matter how big or small! Stay tuned to catch Nell’s take on her experience. //

#IronmanWorldChampionship #Hawaii #LivingPaleo #Diet #Health #Nutrition #Exercise #Endurance


[1] // Gallup, Inc. “In U.S., 40% Get Less Than Recommended Amount of Sleep.” N.p., 19 Dec. 2013. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.

[2] “The Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Brain Health.” Smart Nutrition, Superior Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.

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