Pfc. Kayla Brinkerhoff
Pfc. Kayla Brinkerhoff from K-16 Air Base placed second in her division (women 18-24) during the Aug. 24 Ironman Japan competition in Hokkaido, Japan. The international race consisted of a 42.2 km run, 180.2 km bike course and a 3.8 km swim. Here’s her view on what it takes to be an Ironman athlete.
Name: Pfc. Kayla Brinkerhoff
Title/MOS: UH-60 Black Hawk crew chief
UNIT: Company B, 2nd Battalion (Assault), 2nd Aviation Regiment
Base: K-16 Air Base
Hometown: Logan, UT
Q: Congratulations! How was the race and what were the highlights?
Kayla: The race was fantastic. It was really well organized and all of the thousands of volunteers did an excellent job. I have been preparing and training for over a year for this opportunity, so it was really great to see hard work and training come to fruition. It’s a day to see all of your experiments, training and work played out for real and tested.
One of the most memorable things for me was the run. The course trails along the shores of Lake Toya, and at night one of the hotels did a fireworks show. So once darkness fell, and you’re just trying to finish, you could look out over the water and watch the fireworks. That and just seeing everyone who comes out to either volunteer or just simply cheer you on. It’s a very empowering feeling.
Coming in second in my age group was a very exciting feeling. Being an Army soldier in 2ID has taught me a lot about being prepared mentally. We work a lot to make sure we are always ready by doing drills and training … Our motto is Fight Tonight - so a constant readiness for whatever the world throws at us is an ever prevalent feeling within the unit. That translated over to my training for Ironman, and helped me on those early mornings where I didn’t feel like I could even move out of bed. I was also very fortunate that my unit saw how important this race was for me, and instilled a large sense of competitive awareness that I didn’t naturally have. I learned a lot about what I needed to work on for my next race. However, this being my first full Ironman - the main goal was to finish. And I’m very happy with how I performed.
Q: Tell us about your career as an athlete, and why you chose to compete Hokkaido, Japan.
Kayla: I was actually never predetermined to be an athlete. I played violin in high school, and still do. I was very involved in journalism and music, and never seemed to display a natural talent for athleticism. After high school, I started running more as a means of meditation as well as to lose the weight I gained while living off of Taco Bell and Subway during cosmetology school.
When I first began to run, I couldn’t even run a full mile without having to stop and walk! My dad is a runner, and helped to get me on the right path as far as training goes. A few years, several half marathons and long distance trail runs after that first day, I decided I wanted to cross train a bit and ended up reading about triathlon and wanted to try it. I did my first sprint distance triathlon in 2012, and after that, my next race was the Ironman 70.3 Pro Championships in St. George, UT - which is on record as one of the most difficult races on the Ironman circuit. This was a couple of weeks before I entered basic training in 2013, so I put off finding a full length Ironman until I knew where I would be sent.
After finding out I was going to Korea, I found Ironman Japan. I signed up and began really honing in on my endurance training. Having a good Army PT program every morning helped break up the monotony of long distance training, and it was those mornings I would get my daily dose of encouragement from my Army brothers after already being up for two hours. It really helped mentally. Now that I have completed my first full Ironman, I have more information to help me train for the 2015 season. Next up for me will be Ironman 70.3 St. George again, as well as Ironman Coeur D’lane Idaho 140.6, which will be a very special race because I will be completing it alongside my dad. Then I’ll hopefully be back to Japan to claim a first place spot and earn a slot to the 2016 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
Q: How did you train for the Ironman competition?
Kayla: I practiced quite a bit for the race. Because of my job (I am a crew chief on UH-60 Blackhawks, so my schedule is ever-changing), I had to get creative with my training, and ended up adopting a High Intensity Interval training regimen. I would do shorter training sessions, but they were oftentimes harder and very structured. I would normally get up around 4 a.m. and cycle indoors with my race bike on a trainer, then I would head out the door to run before going to PT.
My friends got very used to me having to leave early on the weekends - they adapted and I earned the affectionate nickname of “Grandma.” I would head to bed around 9 p.m. on the weekends and wake up on Saturdays and Sundays to either do a long run (1.5 - 2.5 hours) or a long bike ride (3-4 hours). Added to this was a rigorous nutrition plan, which took a lot of self-experimentation to get it right and figure out what my body would work with the best.
The hardest part about training is probably trying to help everyone understand what it is exactly that you’re doing, and why you do all the weird things like refraining from drinking and getting up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning. Because of my Army training, I am very self-motivated and have always made sure I have goals. But helping others understand why I do what I do has been a pretty interesting challenge.
Q: What do you like about being in the Ironman competition? What do you learn from it?
Kayla: The Ironman and endurance racing is very much a mental game. It’s the challenge of the entire event - swimming, biking, running, eating correctly and finishing - that draws me to the competition. I like to see just how far I can push my body and what kind of difference what I’m eating and how I have chosen to train makes in finish times and overall wellbeing. I have learned so much about myself through training for ultra-endurance events. You have to be present mentally for your training, and train with a purpose. There are also many times where going fast is just not conducive to the desired end result. I have also learned that I am able to push myself and it translates back to being able to be ever-ready for whatever the Army needs me for. Ironman and training has given me a renewed sense of purpose, as well as the ability to push harder and think more critically at work. I absolutely love it! I mean, I’m sure there’s worse things to be addicted to than ultra-endurance training.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
Kayla: I am very goal-oriented and as such, I usually have several goals that I am working toward at once. Short term goals would be to place higher and start gaining a lot more experience with my races next year. As for long term, I am looking toward getting an athletic training degree as well as moving on to a doctorate in physical therapy and rehab. I am hoping to be able to use that in my Army career and help refine and make the physical training program even better, helping our soldiers to train smarter, recover faster, and be able to perform and protect our country whenever we are needed. We are Second to None and train like it. I hope to improve upon that mantra even more.