Monday, October 25, 2010

2010 Ironman World Championship Race Report

2010 Ironman World Championship
October 9th, 2010


The Big Dance—I’m finally here! It’s race number 100 of my triathlon career and number 14 of the 2010 campaign. It’s also my 8th Ironman. But really, it’s the most important triathlon I’ve ever competed in.

I arrived in Kailua-Kona on the big island of Hawaii a week in advance. Judy joined me on Tuesday and Anders and Jenny on Thursday of race week. My early arrival was to facilitate some acclimatization to the heat and humidity of Kona and to provide an opportunity for me to “soak it all in”. I certainly did the later! I visited the Volcanoes National Park and climbed Mauna Kea (13,796 feet) to see the sun set far below me. I hit Lava Java’s and watched the triathlon world stream by on Ali’i Drive. I swam down at the Pier and ventured out to the swim-up espresso bar. I ran at the Natural Energy Lab and rode on the Queen K. I tested the crosswinds on the climb to and from Hawi. Judy and I did the Underpants Run and the Parade of Nations. I really felt like I did it all but still had plenty of time to relax and get ready for the Ironman.

This is a race I first vowed I would do back in 1982 when I saw Julie Moss do her thing on that famous ABC broadcast. I started my triathlon career 10 years ago and in the interim I have finished 7 Ironman triathlons and another 92 triathlons of different flavors. Through the years, I repeatedly tried to qualify for Kona but always seemed to fall short. I came close a couple of times, but never quite made it. Finally, in my 11th attempt, in March of this year I broke through by winning the 50+ Executive Challenge (XC) Age Group at Ironman California70.3—a half-Ironman in Oceanside, California. My 2010 year has been focused on Kona ever since.

My objectives for the race were simply to enjoy the experience and to finish the race—everything else, including my time was secondary. My guiding values were: Perspective, Patience and Persistence. I wanted to remember to really look around and enjoy the race. I knew I needed to stay in the moment and deal with each challenge as it came. And above all, I needed to keep moving forward until I was rewarded with that climatic run down Ali’i Drive sometime on Saturday evening. What follows is a race report of my experiences competing in the 33rd annual Ironman World Championship.

Race Morning

We were staying in a nice two-bedroom suite about 15 miles from the race start. We awoke to a clear and moonless sky at 2:45 a.m. I did my usual pre-race breakfast stuff and the four of us were rolling at 3:30. We parked a little ways up Palani Hill and Judy and I went off towards transition while the kids went up to a room we had secured at the King Kam hotel, right at the race start area.

Judy and I parted and I wended my way through the body-marking area. I’d seen the TV version of this many times so it was a bit surreal to be part of the show myself! I had a nice and supportive Hawaiian body marker who was doing it for the 10th time and he rubbed alcohol on my arms and then stamped “1941” on each. There was some joking about whether or not this was my birth year (no, I’m not 69 yet!).

I exited the tent and went to chip check and as I beeped I quipped to the gentlemen: “Craig Alexander right?” They didn’t miss a beat and said: “Good to go Crowie”. The woman behind me said: “Excuse me” and then: “Oh you’re not Craig Alexander, I was going to ask for your autograph”. We both chuckled at what passes for humor at times like this.

I briefly reunited with Judy and told her I’d be back in 10-15 minutes after I made sure my bike was good to go. She happily stayed at the entrance to transition checking out the world’s greatest triathletes as they entered the bike holding area. It was still quite dark out but the lights were blazing and sparkling off about $15 million dollars of bicycles. For what would be well over a hundred times throughout the day I smiled and looked around—yes, I was here on the Pier in Kailua-Kona and I was indeed going to do the Hawaii Ironman.

I walked over to my bike and saw Troy from XC. He greeted me and helped me with my bike set up. I did this pretty quickly and as I was about to put my bike back in the rack I (in my usual anal way) checked once again the inflation of my tires and found that my front tire was low. I thought maybe we had messed up the first time so I re-inflated it and decided to wait a few minutes.

After about five minutes I checked again and sure enough it seemed noticeably soft to the touch. Troy volunteered to take my wheel off to get it changed (they have tremendous bike support at Kona so this was an easy thing to do). I sat down to wait and to watch the now very busy transition scene. I must say I felt totally calm. In fact leading up to this race I felt much more calm than I ever had before an Ironman. I slept well and really didn’t spend too much time thinking about the specifics of the race in the days that preceded it. This calmness seemed to carry over and the flat really didn’t bother me. (Of course it helped that I had planned for this contingency and was sporting carbon clincher 404s—very easy to change).

Soon Troy returned and as we pumped up the tire he noticed that something seemed “not quite right” so he took the wheel away again. As I was waiting we heard a loud “bang” of a tube exploding and there was a lot of nervous laughter and silent thanks that we weren’t “that guy”. I called Judy and told her to go on and get the kids with out me, as I would be tied up for a while—I told her I’d try to meet up with them somehow before the swim.

Finally, after about 15 minutes, Troy came trotting back with my wheel in hand. He casually mentioned that there had been a problem—a pinch in the new tube and that bang was my tube exploding—I was “that guy”! We pumped it up and waited a few and finally it seemed good to go. I left my bike and silently prayed that these two flats would be all the bike problems that I would encounter on this day.

It was now quite light out and a bit after 6 a.m.—less than an hour to go. I found Judy, Jenny and Anders and said my goodbyes. I felt a need to go to the bathroom (yet again) and after a quick glance at the line; I headed to our room—thankful that we had it. I was back down to transition just as the pros went off at 6:30 (half-hour head start) and I waved to my family as they stood on the pier in prime viewing location. I checked my bike again and it looked like I was good to go.

I headed over to the swim start at about 6:45 with John O’Brien—one of my over 50 XC competitors (we had raced at NOLA where he easily beat me). The volunteers instructed me to pin the Velcro on my chip strap to avoid it getting ripped off my leg during the swim, apparently something that frequently happened—I didn’t like the sound of that!

I stood (a bit timidly) on the shore for a few minutes and watched the stream of AGers entering the water and swimming out to the swim start—some 50+ yards distant—to join the water-treading masses. Some one sang the national anthem and at 6:55 I entered the water. After determining that my goggles were indeed working I jettisoned my spare set and swam to the extreme left (away from the Pier and the buoy line) of the racecourse and positioned myself just a few feet from the start line. It was 6:59, my HR was up at 140 (where I wanted it) and I was locked and loaded. As I treaded water that last minute I gave thanks and asked the Big Guy for protection. I looked around and smiled and I said to myself: “OK, let’s do this!”

The Swim

At 7 a.m. the cannon fired and it was Game On. There was a surge of energy that was palpable. I went hard right from the bang and continued to push it for the first 200 yards or so. (I had originally planned to go slow for the first 400 yards but as I swam out to the start I changed my mind and decided to just go for it at the start). There was some modest contact but I was far enough left and doing a good job of keeping pace with those around me so it wasn’t that bad. My “new” plan was to go out hard and then settle into my pace and try to “latch on” to various groups as they passed--to benefit from their draft. By staying to the left I hoped to avoid a lot of the contact that this swim is notorious for and yet swim reasonably aggressively (for me). I had no illusions about where I stood relative to the group in a non-wetsuit swim (probably bottom 25%) but while I was focused on a “drama-free” swim I was also thinking it would be nice to swim somewhere around 80 minutes.

As we settled in I was struck by how competent this group of athletes was. I was constantly getting soft hits on my feet and legs up to my hips but no one seemed intent to just plow over me. Part of this may be due to how I dealt with the constant hits I felt. When I felt hands on my feet I kicked harder and when I felt hands on my sides I flared out and made more of a splash. Another thing that was probably working for me was something I noticed during the lead-up week practice swims. I am clearly a lot bigger than the typical IM-Hawaii participant…in fact I felt like I was the slug that ate Cleveland! In the early swim scrum this was to my advantage and I found (at least in the early going) that I was holding my own amidst the fray.

At nineteen minutes into my swim (although I did not know this at the time), Andy Potts was running into T1 leading the race. This was no surprise as Andy is a former National swim champion (800 meters) and a 6 time All-American swimmer from Michigan. It took Andy just 48:48 to complete the Kona swim. No other swimmer even broke 51 minutes on this morning. Macca and Andreas Raelert (who finished 1-2) were both in the mid 51s and about 4 minutes slower than they swam at IM Germany (which was also non-wetsuit and in a fresh-water lake). I knew Kona was a relatively slow swim. A female pro over in Germany had told me that the Kona swim was longer than 2.4 miles but I had never heard that before. The conditions on this morning seemed just fine to swim fast so maybe there is some truth to the swim being long. In any event, everyone’s times seemed slow compared to other IM races that they had completed.

After about 20-25 minutes of swimming it occurred to me that I was thriving in this swim. Yes, I was still overmatched talent wise but I was really swimming well for me. I reveled in the clear water. It was easy to follow the bubbles of the feet in front of me. I saw all the psychedelic fish and at one point I began to laugh and then sob (a little). I felt amazingly positive about where I was at and my prospects for the rest of the swim. I knew that I belonged here and that I was indeed getting it done.

Several times I was surrounded by a group of strong swimmers who overwhelmed me by swimming up on all sides of me. I tried to stay in the moment and deal with the arm hits to my legs, butt and back. Tactically I was occupied with fending off many (hundreds) of arm strikes so that they didn’t hit my head (at least too hard) and take my goggles off. I have to say it was fully absorbing but not overwhelming…I felt like I was holding my own.

Finally, I could clearly see the boat that marked the first turning point of the swim. I positioned myself to the left and swung wide as we made the right turn. I took the opportunity to glance at my watch and I was right on 37 minutes. I knew this time was short of the true halfway point and I estimate I hit the half right around 38:30. I was thrilled with this and figured with a bit of fatigue in the back half of the swim I was probably looking at right around 80 minutes. I felt very, very good at this point.

We made the 2nd right-hand turn and headed back towards the Pier. I couldn’t really see the Pier as there was a 3-4 foot swell but the Hawaii swim is very straightforward and I could easily see the radio tower that I had selected as a sighting guide during my practice swims.

While the crowds had thinned somewhat, I was surprised several times on the swim back when I was swallowed up by another group of swimmers and banged around a bit. I actually had a rougher time of it on the way back then the way out. I sensed a growing fatigue in my shoulders and that I was probably slowing just a bit. I was aware of my swim stroke beginning to shorten up as well. Still I continued to feel good and I was very optimistic throughout.

As we neared the Pier I began to cut across traffic to try to position myself close to the Pier. There was no tactical advantage in this but I wanted to see if I could see my family up there. I drew even with the Pier and began to lift my head up out of the water to see if I could see them. I spotted Anders with his backward turned hat and big lens on his camera. I yelled to him and I could see that he had heard me. I practically stopped and waved and then he saw me. Soon Judy and Jenny joined him and I continued to lift my head, wave and yell to them. Not really the best racing strategy and I clearly threw away a sub 80-minute swim leg but it didn’t matter—I wanted them to see me and share at least this little bit of my swim.

I put my head down and swam strong over the last 100 yards or so and soon folks were helping me stumble up the carpeted stairs on the side of the Pier. I looked at the clock and was mildly (and only briefly) disappointed to see a 80:21 and I passed over the timing mat a few seconds later with an official swim split of 80:27. This was the 5th fastest of my 8 IM swims. More importantly, it was almost 5 minutes faster than my only other non-wetsuit IM swim at IM Germany this year. Given what others did here and in Germany my swim was considerably stronger this morning at Kona. Further, I felt much, much better than I did in that race back in July. I averaged 155 bpm, which is high for a swim for me—especially for an IM swim—so despite how comfortable I felt during the swim, I definitely worked pretty hard out there.

I was 84th of the 129 in my AG (35.7 %-tile) as I finished some 21 minutes behind Larry Black—a perennial All American from Ft. Meyers and the leader after the swim in my AG. Overall, I was 1379th out of the 1849 that actually started (there were over 1950 entered)—this was at the 25.4 %-tile. I was in 2nd in XC 50+ group about 2 minutes off the lead (John O’Brien). As modest as these numbers sound, I am very pleased with this performance given that this is the Ironman World Championship.

Transition One

I’ve watched the videos of T1 at Kona so many times I pretty much knew the drill even though I was seeing it for the first time in person. I pulled my TYR Torque halfway off and ran in under the freshwater hoses and took a few seconds to wash much of the saltwater off me. I went to the far left and I ran almost to the end of the rack holding the hanging T1 bags and grabbed my 1941 bag—several volunteers were standing around—maybe a bit fatigued from what no doubt was a very crazy scene during the crush of a few minutes earlier.

I ran into the changing tent and was shocked to see it completely packed—I had expected it to be somewhat empty given the relative slowness of my swim. By experience I knew to run to the far end and sure enough I found an empty seat. A volunteer was there immediately to help me. I dumped my stuff out on the ground and did my T1 thing. I had my tri trunks underneath my swim skin so I just had to put the top on. One nifty innovation that Judy thought of was to preload my tri top with all my nutrition and salt tabs and duct tape the pockets shut. This worked great and my helper pulled the tape off. I lathered up the sunscreen but neglected to get my lats—a mistake I would regret later.

Out of the tent I saw my family and told them that I thought the swim was real fun. They told me I was doing great and I jogged as best as I could with my bike shoes on around to the backside of transition and then into the area where the bikes are kept. When I reached my bike the first thing I did was check my front tire and found it hard as a rock—sweet! (Anders later told me that while we were swimming volunteers go around and check everyone’s tires and even replaced a few tubes). I put my helmet on and found it too tight—they had cinched it up during the night to keep it on the bike—should have checked this morning!

I was good and go and I waved goodbye to my support group and jogged over to the bike mounting area. I was grinning like an idiot as I finally mounted my bike with a 7:17 (6:52 officially) T1—a little slow but well within expectations.

The Bike

I run up to the bike mount zone and hop on and begin my 112-mile journey. I ride through the chute that I hope to return to in the early afternoon and notice the huge crowds of people. The music is blaring and the sky is a crystal clear blue in that early morning way.

I ride up the bottom part of Palani and make a left turn onto Kuakini Highway and a short ways north towards the Old Airport. We make a quick right on Makala and head through the shopping area (where I had dinner one night) and up a small rise to the Queen Ku’ahumanu Highway where we turn right—back towards transition. The Queen K will be my “home” for much of the day but this first exposure is short as quickly I find myself at the top of Palani and make the steep descent back towards transition. This is a “no-pass” zone though it seems quite modest from a technical point of view. At the bottom of Palani I make the left onto Kuakini again, although now I am heading south.

This beginning two miles or so of the bike ride has a lot of maneuvering so I now finally settle in and ride up the slope on Kuakini towards the first turnaround. People are riding hard and aggressively and I’m very careful in this section as it seems most bike accidents occur in either this first 6-8 mile section or on the slopes leading to and leaving from Hawi. Just 3 miles in, a huge glop of suntan lotion drips off my forehead and completely obscures the right lens of my sunglasses. This is an issue I must deal with and I try spraying some Ironman Perform on it to remove the lotion. This helps a little but my view is quite blurred on the right side.

The climb up to the turnaround at Kuakini Estates is over 300 feet and I’m pleased when I hit the turnaround. I reach the 5.5-mile point of the ride in 17:39, which translates into 18.7 mph, which isn’t bad given the climb. My glasses are bothering me and I decide that since I’ll be heading mostly north and that the sun will mostly be behind me that I can take them off—at least until I reach Hawi.

I’m cruising at 25-35 mph back towards the start--pulling right around 200 watts (which is my power limit for the first portion of the bike) and everybody and their sister are blowing by me. I know people ride the first section too aggressively but I would have thought exiting the water where I did that it would be I that was doing the passing—one of many illusions to be smashed on this day.

I fly into the “Hot Corner” and climb up Palani—I see Bill Price who has come to cheer me on with Eva and his new daughter Alana—I high five him and make the turn onto the Queen K—this time in earnest. I settle in and attend to eating and drinking. On the latter I’m trying to be very aggressive with my front mounted water bottle. The sun is out and it’s about 80 degrees already (at 9 a.m.) but it feels very comfortable with the airflow on the bike.

In this early section heading out of town we are enjoying a bit of a tailwind and I note that I’m feeling awesome at this point. I also note that I’ll likely have a headwind over the last portion of the bike. This is all very familiar territory by now as I have driven back and forth on this section of the Queen K many times in the lead up to the race. Like pretty much the entirety of the ride, it’s seldom flat but is just a series of modest, rolling hills as we slice through the various lava flows that cover the flanks of Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and the Kohala volcanoes.

I soon pass the Energy Lab, the airport and the turn-off to our hotel and the reality of pushing 112 miles through the lava fields of Hawaii takes center stage in my consciousness. I’m surprised, as I come parallel to the “saddle” between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, that I am hit with a substantial side/headwind. The winds here are confounding because as I look left out over the Pacific I can clearly see that the wind is blowing out of the southwest—this is the tailwind that I should have. However, the easterly trade winds are blasting through the gap between the two volcanoes and overwhelming the southwest flow. Despite the 20-25 mph winds I still seem to comfortably crank out 18 mph with my modest wattage limit.

I hit the 28-mile checkpoint out by Waikoloa having ridden another 73:51 since the last checkpoint (22.5 miles) and this averages 18.3 mph for the second section. It’s still early but I’m aware that I am averaging less than 19 mph and this will translate into a very long bike ride. I know there is still the chance that coming back will be faster but the “I’ve seen this movie before” part of me is beginning to adjust to the idea of a 6+ hour bike ride. Still, I think I’m making the right tactical choice by going easy. Less and less people are passing me but I’m still dropping places—this is very different than my other Ironman experiences. At IMFL for example I gained over 900 places on the bike. Today, I am falling back on the bike.

The next section out to Kawaihae has some bigger hills and the wind seems to be intensifying. I make the turn onto 270 off of the Queen K and begin the 20-mile run into Hawi. This initially is a screaming decent that I sit up on to keep things safe in the swirling wind. I look up the road trying to see the helicopters that I know will be shadowing the lead riders. Soon enough I see them rising above a hill in front of me and in short order Chris Lieto comes streaming by with another rider in close pursuit. The next 10-15 minutes are very entertaining as one famous triathlete after another goes by (“There’s Macca, Andreas, Faris, Crowie, Norman, Tim, TJ….). This was quite fun to the triathlon groupie inside me.

As I continued up the coast I could see big white caps out in the bay being obviously pushed by very strong easterly winds. We were moving out of the wind shadow of Kohala and the winds were picking up dramatically. Soon the very strong side/headwinds were absorbing all of my attention. Since I had been up here on one of my pre-race training rides I knew that the final 10-12 miles leading up to Hawi were going to be very demanding. My pace began to slow dramatically and the wind gusts began moving my bike several feet at a time to the side. I was sitting up on the “hoods” of my pursuit bar and just focusing very intently on saying upright.

After a while, I saw the road sign that said that Hawi was 7 miles and I knew the real crux of my ride was now on. I’ve learned a great deal about bike handling over the last 10 years in this sport and I pride myself on the skills that I’ve developed. I know that it’s better for me to be down in the aero position (less body for the side winds to push) and really relax my arms and shoulders to better absorb the gusts. Despite this knowledge, I stay upright because it’s just too frightening to ride aero. My hands, arms, shoulders and neck are all very tense and beginning to fatigue as I hang on for dear life.

The last seven miles up to Hawi involve a fair bit of climbing and as I curve around the NW flank of Kohala the exposure to the Easterlies increases and the buffeting of the wind intensifies. My speed drops down very close to 10 mph at points. Normally, when a ride demands my attention like this one, time seems to pass quickly as I become totally absorbed in the effort. This time however, time seems to expand as I am continually subjected to sudden gusts. The minutes drag on. Some gusts draw a verbal response from me: “What?”; “Come On!”; “Jeez”; or a few times an unintelligible guttural sound.

Parts of the way up the final climb an XC competitor rode smartly by me and he called out. I barely registered that he was in my AG (given his number). In fact it was Ray Brown, having a strong bike on his brand new $18,000 Pinarello, pushing it in a race he had trained especially hard for over the last eleven months. Ray unfortunately was rapidly approaching an unpleasant destiny not too far up the road. In fact the two 50+XCers in front of me (John and Ray) would not finish the race today.

The wind was very unpredictable. The road in many places slices through 200-400 feet long cutout sections of lava—the lava having been removed to smooth out the grade. The wind would blow down these chutes and bounce in different directions. As I would near the exit of the chute I would frequently get a strong (20 mph) gust going east as it deflected off the wall of the chute. Then as I exited the shoot I’d be hit by a 40+ mph gust out of the east heading west. I soon learned to lean east (right) into the wind to help counteract the gusts, but to then change and get more upright as I approached each cutout section. This required enormous concentration.

I kept stealing glances at the faces and bodies of people on the other side of the road in their descents. Almost of them looked very focused and quite concerned. Many were sitting up and I saw several get buffeted by the wind and go into mini-wobbles, as the riders would struggle to regain control.

Finally, the climb began of ameliorate and the wind was deflected a bit by rows of tall trees planted on the sides of the road. I was entering Hawi and I knew I had survived what I judged to be the toughest segment on the course. I see a “melee” in front of me towards the center of the road--lots of people crowding around something. Suddenly, a triathlete stands up and flings his helmet across the road and into a ditch. I ride by and notice a bike crumpled on the ground. It turns out to be Ray who a minute or less in front of me smashed into a motorcycle at 25mph as the motorcycle suddenly veered in front of him. His bike was broken in four places, he suffered contusions and scrapes, and his Kona dream was over. All of this barely hit my consciousness as I was in a bit of shock from the climb and winds.

For this 21-mile segment I was only able to average 16.3 mph. As slow as that is I can say that this 21-mile segment was hands-down the hardest riding I have ever experienced.

I made the turn in the tiny, somewhat run-down, village of Hawi. I pulled to the side and attended to my glasses. I chatted with a volunteer there. The topic was the wind and how strong it was today when yesterday it was virtually calm. Oh well—I latter reflected—I’d rather do Kona when conditions were more “Kona-like”.

After just a couple of minutes or so I was on my way and focusing intensely on the descent that I was facing. The first 7 miles are the main attraction but there are significant descending sections almost all the way back to the Queen K at Kawaihae. I soon was moving at 30-35 mph sitting-up. I feathered my breaks to keep things sane and then the wind gusts came again. For some reason (I discovered this on my earlier training ride) the gusts are more challenging on the climb than the descent—probably something to do with all the momentum I have created as I turn potential into kinetic energy.

I’m screaming down the hill and I have to admit part of me likes this experience. However, every 10-15 seconds another gust hits me and reminds me that I’m balancing on a razor thin like. I’m riding much more conservatively than most of the field. This 7-mile section goes by very quickly (probably less than 16-17 minutes) given my speed. As I begin to get some blocking benefit from the volcano the wind speeds die and I know the worst of the dangerous part is over. I get a few more gusts but the rest of the ride down is relatively uneventful. I’m even able to get some food and drink in me. I average 19 mph for this section (includes my wait at the top and the slower sections near Kawaihae).

I turn right on the Queen K and I have covered 88 miles in just under 5 hours. With another 24 miles to go I knew I was going to be significantly over 6 hours. I was also aware that I was way behind in my drinking and eating (due to the winds) and that it now was quite warm (later, Triathlete Magazine would report that the ambient air temperatures out on the Queen K hit a measured 127 degrees). I really focused on trying to play catch-up on hydration all the rest of the way in.

As Mauna Kea came into view I was hit by very strong (20-25 mph) head winds. I had expected a tailwind here but the strong SW wind has blown out the trade winds that had been sweeping across the saddle. Soon the reality of riding 20+ miles, at the end of an Ironman, into a huge headwind begins to sit in. I sigh and resign myself to it. I know I’m going to be slow and very tired at the end of the ride but I’m here at Kona and I feel more than prepared, both physically and mentally, to deal with it.

I catch up to Mark Moses, an XC guy from one of the younger age groups. We talk for a while (generally lamenting the wind) and then a woman rides up besides us and (upon seeing our identical tri tops) asks: “Which one of you is the guide?” This catches us off-guard for a moment but then Mark realizing that she thinks one of us is a blind athlete and barely missing a beat says: “No, this is a case of the blind leading the blind.” Best line of the day! I bid adieu to Mark knowing that he’ll catch me on the run and begin to drive harder towards T2.

I pass the airport and then the turnoff to the Energy Lab and I pass these last few miles on the Queen K by looking at the leading male runners. I wanted to see who was winning but as I made the turn onto Makala Street, Maaca and Raelert (with the benefit of their 30-minute head-start) were dueling in the final mile of the race.

I made the final sweeping right down the hill, under the pedestrian bridge and down the finishing corral. Finally I coasted up to the dismount line and a kindly volunteer took my bicycle from me. I had averaged 17.6 mph over the last 24 miles, most of it into a very tough headwind. I had my total bike spit at 6:20:20 (6:21:01 officially), which averages 17.7 mph. This was by over 12 minutes, my slowest IM bike split. My HR was a modest 138 (well below the 150-152 I expect in an IM bike leg). My average cadence was only 73, which reflects the grinding on the climbs and the coasting on the descents. I averaged 170 watts, which is not surprising given the significant coasting, and the overall conservative nature of my ride.

I had only the 102nd fastest bike in my AG as I dropped to 100th place. I’m not sure how my bike stacks up against the whole field but it clearly was weaker than my swim as I dropped to 1462nd place during the bike. I was satisfied with my effort and happy to be getting off the bike—even though I still had that marathon in front of me.

Transition Two

I moved to the side and took my bike shoes off. I decided to walk through most of transition to stretch out my legs. I was very stiff—especially in my left hip and lower back but I sensed this stiffness would likely abate as I moved through transition. I noticed it was very hot and I could feel that my shoulders were burned to a crisp.

I heard a “RC” and a “Randy” and I looked over, somewhat surprised, to see my family waiting besides transition out on the Pier. I had told them if I came in close to the male winners (which I did) that they should not watch me slug through transition but rather go and see the finish. They had ignored this and at this moment I was glad that they did. I waved and smiled—happy to see familiar faces. I walked all the way around and told them a thing or two about my ride. They were encouraging me and then told me I had better put sun block on my back. I grabbed my T2 bag and headed into the changing tent intent to do so (among other things).

Once inside I was greeted with a wide array of seats to choose from. Much less crowded now than in T1. Two volunteers immediately descended on me. I could tell by the way they were looking at me that part of the drill was an appraisal on their part of whether or not I was fit enough to go do a marathon. I smiled and asked them how they were doing and told them that I thought it was a fine day for a marathon. They turned their attention to getting all my T2 tasks done as quickly as possible (they were more motivated in this regard than I).

One of the helpers grabbed a huge jug of suntan lotion and began to slather it all over my body including my bright red shoulders and lats. I put new socks on and slipped into my bright Red K-Ona shoes. I ate some shot blocks and went into the restroom where I was thankful that I could pee—it was quite dark but at least I wasn’t so dehydrated that I couldn’t pee. I said thanks, and feeling much better than when I entered the tent, I jogged on outside.

My family cheered and called out. I smiled and waved and ran at what felt like a reasonable clip towards the start of the marathon. I had my T2 at 9:03 but it was officially recorded as 8:28. I think the official time is probably the accurate one as I hit the lap button a little past the true start of the run.

The Run

I run out of transition with my family’s good cheer ringing in my ears. I must say that I feel confident at this point that I will get done what I need to get done. Please don’t mistake this for arrogance or false confidence because nothing could be further from the truth. Truth is, I am very concerned about my run. My injuries leading up to this race left me less than ideally prepared. I know that the bike has crushed me. I know I have significant challenges in front of me. Still I am elated. I’m smiling and waving—this is my time and while I know I am going to be very slow today I am supremely confident in my ability to persevere.

I run up Palani to the first turn. I feel pretty good but I have an uneasy feeling in my gut. I could run faster but it’s already evident that I’ll have some significant challenges in my not so distant future. I try to drink some water at the first aid station but nothing says down. I don’t know it yet but my stomach has shut down, most likely due to over ingestion, relative to fluid, of salt tablets on the bike. I’m running well but I can only sip a little bit at the aid stations just past miles 2 and 3. Mike Esposito passes me in this phase of the run on the way to winning my XC age group. It’s very clear to me, even at this point that my run is going to prove problematic. Still, it makes sense for me to keep pushing on. My first six miles of the run look like this:

Mile 1:…..9:39/mile…..145 bpm
Mile 2:…..10:33……146
Mile 3:…..10:11…..148
Mile 4:…..11:02…..148
Mile 5:…..11:05…..149
Mile 6:…..11:38…..149

I’m increasingly feeling overwhelmed by what will be the most significant barrier to achieving my goal of finishing Kona. My legs feel great but I’m having trouble ingesting fluids and I’m beginning to feel light headed. In the 6th mile I have a couple of incidents where my HR spikes up to 160 bpm and I feel sick and light-headed.

This is strange because it really does not feel that hot and my legs are definitely ready to go but I decide that if I keep running I’m going to run into serious trouble, and pretty soon at that. So I decide to walk for a while. I checked my ego at the door when I started this race and there is no way, if I can help it, that I’m not going to finish. I try to run a few times in the next couple of miles but my HR soars and it’s real clear to me that I’m on the edge of having to take a seat. My next three mile splits are:

Mile 7…..14:14…..136
Mile 8…..14:30…..130
Mile 9…..14:45…..129

Despite walking I go from bad to worse. I’m very concerned about my ability to stay upright. Mentally, I feel extremely positive and “on it” from a race management perspective but my body is in a bit of a crisis now. I try jogging up to the hot corner and almost pass out—the heck with my ego—I need to walk for a while, especially with Palani hill in front of me. My 10th mile passes in 15:34 (124 bpm) and I start the climb up Palani.

Climbing Palani I am amazed to find that even walking is a challenge. Wow—I’m in trouble here. I see my family about half way up and I bust out my best smile. Jen and Anders walk with me and I tell them to grab some beers because this going to take a while. I don’t want them to worry about me but at the same time, they need to know that I’m getting hyper conservative in an attempt to salvage my race.

Anders walks on with me and I finally crest Palani—my 11th mile is 18:37 (125 bpm). Anders and I somehow just decide to walk together for a while. We talk about lots of things related to the race. He wants to know how I feel and what my plans are. “Really bad and I’ll walk as long as I have to until I can run again.” He walks with me through my next two miles, which look like this:

Mile 12:…..16:52…..(114 bpm)
Mile 13:…..18:12…..(108)

At mile 13 I tell him he should head back—he has a bad knee and if I can ever start running again he won’t be able to and he’ll be in for a long walk back. Also, I need to really focus and see if I can’t fix things—I certainly don’t want to walk all the way to the finish.

At the aid station just past 13 I drink a little chicken broth and it goes down easy. I stop and drink another two cups and I’m also able to get some coke and water down. This is encouraging. I try running a little bit in miles 14 and 15 as the sun sets to my left and it gets dramatically darker in a hurry. Miles 14 and 15:

Mile 14:…..17:44…..(109)
Mile 15:…..15:31…..(113)

I continue to put down chicken broth and other fluids and as I approach the turnoff from the Queen K into the Energy Lab it occurs to me that I feel pretty darn good (all things considered). As I enter the Energy Lab I begin to run in earnest again (the downhill to the turnaround helps). During miles 16 and 17 my pace quickens and my spirits begin to soar:

Mile 16:…..13:40…..(128)
Mile 17:…..13:09…..(130)
I hit the turnaround at the bottom of the Energy Lab and I decide that I’m good to go. I pump my fist and start passing runners for the first time in a long time. I decide that I feel good enough to run all the way back and I basically do this for most of the last 9 miles. (I do walk through the aid stations and up a couple of the steeper hills).

I officially move past John O’Brien, the original leader in my XC AG as he basically collapsed with dry heaves at 17. Another XC’er in my AG passes me and I drop to 3rd. Also in this last stretch I pass Larry Black (on his way to a 14+ hour finish), the fellow that led my 50-54 AG out of the water and who has been in the mid 10:20s/top 15 in my AG the last few years—this race is tough—even for those with true talent.

The last 9+ miles are magical. First off, I average 11:35/mile—even walking the aid stations and staying very conservative. When I’m running I’m probably averaging 9-10 minute miles. It’s pitch black and the sky is alive with stars. The Milky Way is like a white swath through the sky. The only noise is the soft patter of my feet and my rhythmic and controlled breathing. Occasionally I see other runners coming the other way, usually with heads bent—they’ll have a very difficult time getting home before the 17 hour cut-off. I say a few words of encouragement to them but they are mostly silent—a cloud of grimness seems to envelop them. However, it doesn’t bring me down.

Mentally, I am absolutely on cloud nine. I’m building in strength and I know I’m going to finish this thing. I feel good about everything that has happened and I know I did a good job in dealing with the issues that I’ve faced today. A couple of times I let a “yes” and a little sob—I’m doing this!!!!

About mile 23 I come through an aid station and the music is absolutely blasting. We runners are fewer and farther between now and they seem genuinely glad to see me. The DJ calls out for me to bust a move and since they are playing “Twist and Shout” I comply and I dance my way through the aid station to raging applause and many high fives and back slaps. I head off into the dark again with a big smile, an elevated heart rate and a determination to focus on driving to the finish line—I’ll save my dancing for later.

While it took a while, and I was aware of the passage of time, the last couple of miles up to the top of Palani were very easy for me. My body seemed to just float along (albeit, at a leisurely pace). I kept looking around and trying to absorb it all in. It was impossible to keep a smile off of my face.

Finally I hit the right turn at the top of Palani and I pumped my fist—I just knew that this next part was going to be great! I cruised down the hill slapping fives and hearing people tell me that I was an Ironman (yes I know, but thank-you!). Towards the bottom I looked over and saw Anders squinting up the hill (he had been following me on the GPS and was patiently waiting for my arrival). I called out to him and he came over and ran down the rest of the hill with me, carrying his big camera and lens. Near the bottom, Judy called out and cheered me on and told me Jenny was waiting at the finish line.

I waved and tried (somewhat unsuccessfully) to control my excitement. I was running pretty “hard” at this point. Up Kuakini I just try to compose myself. I make the right turn at Hualalai and run down the hill to Ali’i and then I make that awesome right turn.

I’m not sure how far that last bit on Ali’i is but I can tell you it is amazing. The street is packed and the 2nd floors of the bars lining the street are crowded with folks cheering and calling out. I slap five with everyone and dodge some folks who are wandering (very happily) across the street (it’s late and IM traffic is not so dense now). I’ve seen all of this before and I recognize it at one level but tonight everything is fresh and new and so alive!

I hit the little bend pass the Palace and I look out over the harbor at the Pier. All of a sudden, my friend Bill jumps out and slaps me five and we run together for a few yards. I want to tell him so much but all I can manage is a smile. The chute opens up and I can see the finish line. Yes. It is brilliantly lit. I look around and say thanks to the strangers in attendance and the friends and family not. I touch my heart and look skyward and thank the Big Guy for watching over me.

I accelerate to the line and I hear Mile Reilly announce my name, call me an Ironman and proceed to tell every one that I am the only person in this race from the State of Delaware—that’s pretty cool I think to myself. And then I run up the little ramp and let the joy of the moment take control. I see Jenny and we embrace and kiss and she puts the lei around me. I hear Anders and Judy call and I turn and wave to them. Then I almost pass out as my blood pressure drops. My “catchers” grab me and start asking me all sorts of things to see if I’m going to be making a detour to the med tent. I assure them I’m OK and I’m pretty confident that I’m right.

I see Troy from XC and I thank him for this extraordinary opportunity and I go down a narrow chute where some crazed, tattooed guy screams at me: “That just effin’ happened dude!” Yes it did—I know, I was there; I was truly all here.

The catchers tell Jen to hold my arm and keep an eye on me. I grab some ice and am reunited with Judy and Anders. LIFE IS SO AMAZINGLY GOOD RIGHT NOW!!!! We laugh and Anders cracks some jokes. I get my finisher T-shirt (which is very cool) and my medal (which weighs about 20 pounds) and then we all get our pics taken together over by the finisher banner.

We are all so up and sharing with each other everything that has happened. We head up to our hotel room at the King Kam and I discover that Anders has already retrieved my bike and everything else (Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you!). I shower and we head out of the King Kam for the trip back up to our resort. We trudge back up Palani as others head down to their joy on Ali’i. This is a slow trudge as I am whipped.

Anders drives and I am co-pilot and we work around the racecourse and find our way back to the hotel. Bill comes over and we break out the beer and order room service. I have two sips of my beer and one or two bites of my burger and that’s that. I’m content to just lay back and put my feet up. I’ve had all that I can have from life today!

Post Race

So, the stat man will tell you the obvious, this was my slowest Ironman. There were quite a few others slower (over 250 and 20+ in my AG) so not so bad given this is the Ironman World Championship. Officially I finish 1584th and 106th in my AG. My marathon is 5:52:24 and my finish time is 13:49:17--my slowest IM to date. Overall 79 athletes do not finish (about 4.3%). The triathlete in me wants to come back and do better—and I know I could. Maybe even get into the middle of the pack!

What the stat man can’t tell you is how incredibly fantastic this experience was. Hands down one of the best of my life. I am so thrilled with what happened and that my family and some friends were there to experience it with me.

I am filled with a positive energy and my body feels fantastic as I write this some 15 days after the race. I’m hungry and looking forward to the 2011 season. I’d sure like to get back to Kona but if I never do again I am so thankful for what happened here on October 9th and the days leading up to it. I feel, from a triathlon perspective, like I’ve been reborn, and I’m excited about what my triathlon experiences in the future will bring.

Of-course, I am so thankful for all the support that I have received from Judy, my family and my friends—I know I would not have made it to Kona without them and it certainly wouldn’t have mattered nearly as much if I had.

Let’s do it again!

1 comment:

Tom Hogan said...

Congratulations on racing and finishing Kona! I started reading your blog a couple of years ago (when I was just starting in triathlons), and have been checking in now and then ever since. Your blog was one of the things that put the "Ironman" bug in me, and I just did my first IM at Lake Placid this year.

I'm from the same area as you, and I saw you at the Stone Harbor tri this year, but never got the chance to say hello. Hopefully, I'll be able to do that this summer. Again, congratulations. Great work and a great blog, and thanks for the inspiration. --Tom Hogan, Moorestown, NJ