The Hawaiian Ironman – Heaven or Hell

The Hawaiian Ironman – Heaven or Hell

As I sit on the plane on a long flight back to New England I will try to recap the race.  I will touch on the high’s and the lows. Although the highs out numbered the lows by a lot. The low’s are part of the game, they make the high’s feel even higher as the day pushes forward. Emotions can come into play ……… I use them as fuel to keep me going stronger as the day gets harder.

What were my goals?

In the months leading up to the race, one of the goals that I would joke about was to finish before midnight back at home. Because of the 6 hour difference, this would mean a sub 11 hour Ironman (I figured that this was do able). My next goal was to finish by dark (I have completed the previous 4 Ironmans before it got dark out). To keep this streak alive I would need to do a sub 11:30. It get’s dark around 6:30PM in Kona. These were the goals I had leading up to the big race. My mindset quickly changed once I got to Kona, biked the Queen K and ran in the mid day heat on Ali drive. Now I started to get worried about the conditions of this race. This is a race that has put male and female Pro’s into a daze and they are spending the rest of their day under a tree (if you can find one). Prolonged heat during a race will make it difficult for me without having the luxury of getting there a month early to acclimate. Now my goal is to bike just fast enough to have enough energy to run as much of the marathon that I can before the heat wears me down (I am the ant – Kona is the magnifying glass). So……..for this race I will go into it with a plan of completing it in a respectable time. I know I can ride in the heat, I just don’t know how far I can run in the heat.

The day before:

Like all Ironmans you are required to rack your bike the day before. At Kona they do things slightly different. Your helmet stays with your bike and you have the option of having your shoes already clipped to your pedals. You are assigned a volunteer and they walk you to your bike area, then the walk you to the area where your bike and run bags are racked. Then they escort you out of transition. As my escort is helping me with my bags, I mention that I will leave them tied in a knot until the morning when I add my nutrition. Now I am told “you will not be allowed back to your bags” she then tells me “you can only go to your bike in the morning”. Back to the room I go. I get my nutrition and I go back to my volunteer, she escorts me to my bags and I am good to go. I did mention to her that I like to knot the bag the night before incase it rains. This way my shoes don’t get wet. She said “do not worry ……… this is the World Championship, we cover all the racks during the night”. “We are here to make this the best experience of your life”. Now Im feeling like a rockstar. Until I get back to the room and notice that I forgot to put my little baggie of Salt pills in my run bag (another rookie mistake). I will just tape the bag to my top tube in the morning and then I can stick the baggie in my back pocket while Im ridding.

Race day:

The alarm sounds at 3:30AM and I am ready to rock (my body knows that it is really 9:30AM back home and I am wide awake). I sit on the balcony and enjoy the early morning music and listening to Mike Riley as he try’s to keep everyone calm during the early hours. Staying at the host hotel was a home run, we had easy access to transition and body marking. My first goal is to find our new Cyclonaut Donna Kay-Ness, who’s bib number is 811. I am 757, so we are very close together. I have never met Donna, but I do know of here past World Championship accomplishments. I also know that she has a shot of winning her age group and setting a Kona world record for that division (W45-49). I meet here for the first time and she treats me like she has known me for my whole life. Her calmness helps me get my day going and then she let’s me use her pump which saved me some time trying to find a volunteer. I hug Kelly and it finally sinks in. I AM DOING THIS ………. IT IS NOT A DREAM …………….. I spend the final half hour tagging along with Donna like her puppy (I don’t even know where the swim entrance is). We get into the water early and I am able to swim a little and then just float. I floated and just took it all in. I had a 360 degree view of the start, the pier, the fans and the swimmers that were still entering the water. Wow ………. This is freakin cool.

The swim start is tougher than Placid because there is a current that is dragging you one way but you need to keep your position without drifting past the start line. There are officials and lifeguards on surfboards who are keeping us from crossing their path. As the swim crowd gets bigger I am slowly getting surrounded and the quarters are getting tight. People are forcing their way to the front and I am trying to keep my position. My instructions from Cait were to start closer to the Pier/buoys and be in the 5th row. She knows that my swim is not fast, and I would take a bigger beating if I was on the front line. With about 10 seconds to go, the surfboards go from blocking us to sitting in the direction of the swim. At this point I am being crowded in because of the lack of real estate and I am being forced back to row 8 – 10. The Cannon explodes and we are off. For the first minute or so It is hard to swim because we are funneling past the surfboards and we are not moving that fast. Once we are up to speed the 2.4 mile fist fight begins. I got my goggles whacked a few times and I was able to fix them while I continued to swim. I was terrified to stop because these are 1800 of the strongest swimmers in the water at the same time. The swim was a one loop rectangle. We were not allowed to swim inside the buoys, but the current was so strong that half the swimmers were inside and there was nothing anyone could do about it. You still had to go around the large buoys at the 1.2 mile turnaround, so nobody was cheating or getting an unfair advantage. 1.2 miles out …….. in the ocean …….. while getting kicked, punched and swam over ………. and this is just the halfway point. The current on the way back was forcing me way wide and I had to continue to fight to stay close to the buoys without adding additional mileage. I never felt great in the water and I just continued to plug along on the non wetsuit swim. The current will slow me down worse than the powerful swimmers. As I entered the final couple of hundred yards I felt a cool sensation on my head. Wow …….. the water feels cold by the Pier. It feels cold on my head ……. but it still feels warm on my body. I put my hand on my head and I realize that my cap has just fallen off. This is my baby blue World Championship cap !!!!!  At this point I am not gonna stop, there are to many people around me. I get out of the water in about 1:14 (105th in my division – 1118th overall). Im glad that I do not know these stats at the time.

Now I am in my happy place…………. Im on my bike and life is good. The bike starts off with a easy 5 mile gradual uphill and people are crushing it. I have strict orders to keep my HR at an average of 136 and I can not exceed 143 beats even on the uphills. I usually race on watts, but the heat at Kona is so difficult that it elevates your HR without even doing any physical exercise.So HR will be the best way to race in these conditions. I know I can push harder on the bike, but today I am going to listen to a tee. I am afraid of the marathon and I will be forced to walk it if I push a little to hard. For the first 10 miles I am being passed by everybody and their grandmothers. Are they going to fast, or am I going to slow? Let’s not worry about anyone else and lets just ride. At about mile 25 people are starting to calm down because of the heat on the Queen K and now I don’t feel that I am losing anymore ground. At approx. mile 45 the race starts to get interesting. We are know heading in a new direction and the winds coming off the mountain are nailing us from the side. Now I know what DeLuca meant by the winds being “BIG”. I have NEVER witnessed cross winds that were as powerful as this in my 17 years of cycling. Man I am glad I went with 404’s. I stayed calm and cruised in the aerobars and I was now picking em off one by one (years of cycling pays off during times like these). The last 5 miles were uphill with a stiff headwind. Mile 60 is the turnaround in Hawi (pronounced Ha-vee). Now it is a 5 mile downhill with nice tailwind (perfect time to do a flying nature break). Don’t worry ……. it is so hot that it had evaporated into thin air and it is probably just dust anyways. Reports on the course were saying that the heat index got up to 126 degrees on the blacktop. I have been moving at a good clip and it didn’t feel that hot (just go with that). Ya, it was like riding in a frying pan at times. The ride home on the Queen K was awesome, I was just keeping within my zone and I never once felt fatigued. It also helped that I was passing all the ones who had tried to race those first 25 miles. The carnage was insane. I would go by them at a pace like they were just out on a recovery ride.

Before I finish the bike I have to peel those salt pills off the bike for the run. I peel the tape off the baggie and the baggie rips open. Now the pills will get wet. Maybe if I roll the bag the pills won’t get wet every time I throw water on my head during the run. I finished the bike in 5:20 which was about 21 miles per hour average (my HR average was 137). I nailed it and I felt like I had some gas left in the tank for the run. This put me in 800th overall and I was now 78th in my division (passed over 300 on the bike). I am now heading out for the scariest part of the race – THE MARATHON.

My plan on the run was to average 7:50’s for as long as possible (hopefully I can hold it for at least 10 miles). I start out on the run and I am running sub 8’s and I am not passing anyone. Everybody is running sub 8’s. I keep forgetting that this is the World Championship and everybody is fast. At about 3 miles I start to settle in and I am now starting to pass people one by one. Between mile 3 and 4, I catch a girl in a Timex uniform and she latches on to me. We didn’t talk much, but it was nice to have someone keeping the pace motoring along. By mile 10 Im feeling good averaging just under 7:50’s and the fun begins. We have to climb out of the city and head out to the energy labs via the Queen K. On the top of the hill her husband is giving her a pep talk and is telling her to work with me. She tells me that from this point of the course on last year she had walked a lot and promised herself that she would run further this year. I told her that I will do the same and we can suffer together. The only breaks we were getting was the time it took to down the sports drink and grab water and sponges (we would power walk to get the fluids into the system – per order of Cait). The philosophy is to run faster and stay hydrated instead of getting dehydrated and end up walking. It is wicked HOT on the Queen K. You can see for miles, there is no shade and tons of black lava on both sides of the road. This goes on for 5-6 miles on the way to the energy lab. Because we are running and blowing by people ……. those miles flew by, plus we caught another timex girl and now there are 3 of us. We make the turn around at mile 16 and we are now heading home. within the next mile there is another timex girl and these 2 put the gas pedal down. They bury their teammate and I am not able to keep the sub 7:30 pace that they are laying down. I can feel a slight muscle spasm start, so I reach for the salt pills. I grab the bag and the pills have dissolved from my sweat and the dousing’s of water that I have been doing to keep my core temp down. Looks like that didn’t go as planned. I also need to take a pee break, but Im not stopping. I get er done while Im walking and drinking sports drink. I grab a water to rinse and that took all of 15 seconds. Mile 16 on became the time that I had to go dark. I needed to reach deep and just continue to run. It would be so easy to just start walking right now (most others are by now). But I knew that I had all my friends and family tracking me and if they saw my pace drop to 15 minutes per mile, then they would have known that it was game over. I worked to hard to get here and I wasn’t going to let myself down. By mile 20 my pace was slightly slower than Placid, so I figured I had a shot at a 3:45 marathon if I could keep the sweater from unraveling. I somehow started to get energy from the thought that I was being tracked and I told myself that I may never get another shot at this race and I do not want to regret the way I completed it. I continued to chug along and the miles were clicking by. I continued to eat even though my brain was telling my mouth to spit it out (just the thought of food was making me sick). But, this was one of my errors at Placid ……… I stopped eating at mile 16 and my pace towards the end suffered (and could have costed me enough time to not qualify for Kona). At mile 25 I downed a Gel, zipped my shirt up (for the finisher pic) and started to dream about the finish line on Ali’i Drive. Yes, that magical stretch that I have seen on TV and now Im going to get my shot. As I make the corner onto Ali there are thousands of spectators lining the street. There are TV cameras, a beautiful Hawaiian finish chute with flowers, a finisher ramp and a huge TV screen just in front of you as you float through the finish line……….. I don’t remember it all (I was high from all the Gels). If something was hurting, I would have never felt it. I never shut my watch off, so I had no clue how I ran. I ended up running a 3:33 marathon at Kona. That was the stat that is still amazing me to this day in those conditions. My finish time was 10:18. This brought me down to 651st place and 52nd in my division. I passed about 150 people on the run.

Wow …………. I still can’t believe that I did it.

It wasn’t a dream
It was harder than I imagined
finished before midnight in Massachusetts
finished before dark in Kona
Only 1 more Ironman to go

I hope I get a shot of doing Kona again some day ………….. Good Stuff