Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Day and Night at Vinson Base Camp (7000 ft)

The team took 2 air flights to get from Union Glacier Camp to Vinson Base Camp, first a DC3 to get close by, then  the Twin Engine Otter that can land in a snowy, tight area.  Once there, the guides had a meeting and decided to set up their camp, remain at Base Camp for the rest of today, and head up tomorrow for Camp I.
Here's a picture of the Vinson Base Camp, not much here since it's basically a place to fly in, get organized, and start the climb.

Randy called twice from Base Camp today, strikingly different conditions from one call to the other.
The first time the sun was brilliantly shining, it was absolutely gorgeous, and he felt he could see for hundreds of miles.  They were surrounded by massive walls of snow and could see some slides and crevasses in the distance.  There was absolutely no wind and, with the intense sun, Randy was comfortable in only 2 layers of clothing, and his baseball hat, and buff.  Of course, they had been setting up camp for a few hours, so I'm sure that helped keep everyone warm.
The first order of business upon arriving at Base Camp today had been digging out a "posh tent" used for cooking and eating. This is basically a pyramid shaped tarp, with vents in front and back, which functions as a roof for a kitchen they literally carve out of the snow. The team members takes turns digging a huge 5 ft or so hole underneath this tarp, leaving the center elevated as a table, and creating snow "benches" they'll sit on with their foam cushions. You can see an orange posh tent in the picture below in the foreground with the sleeping tents behind.

The second time Randy called post cheeseburger and french fries dinner, the clouds had rolled in, the sun had dipped behind the mountain, and it was frigid.  In fact, he said it was probably the coldest he's ever experienced.  He had on 5 layers, including his big down summit pants and huge puffy jacket, and said he'd probably even sleep with that jacket on.  They were told to sleep in till 9 am because that's when the sun peaks around the mountains.  In a previous blog I said the difference between sun and shadow can be 20 degrees, but Randy said it's more like 60 degrees, meaning you can go from 20 above to feeling like it's 40 below just by the mountain blocking the sun.

Randy was in great spirits though, and he, Anders, and the team are ready for their move to Camp 1 tomorrow.  One of their guides, Mike Hammel, had already climbed Vinson twice this season so had stowed some fuel and food higher up on the mountains.  That's really good news because it means the team can carry everything they need up to Camp 1 without having to backtrack and make a second trip.  They will each have about 70 - 80 lbs, half on their backs and half on sleds they will haul with a body harness.  Anders has experience with hauling sleds from Denali, but this will be Randy's first time with this rather awkward burden.  I remember Anders said it took a little getting used to especially on steep terrain, so we'll see what Randy thinks of this after tomorrow.  They will climb about 2500 elevation to Camp 1 at 9500 feet.

Besides that, Randy said the team is getting along great, the two guides Greg and Mark are phenomenal, and everyone is pitching in to carry, set up, and move all their many pounds of personal, climbing, and survival "stuff" necessary for their endeavor.   So all good, and I'm sure by now he and Anders are already snuggled in -- trying to stay warm in their little sleeping bags, on their insulated mats, on a mile of ice, not far from the South Pole!

Made it to the "Big Ice"

Randy, Anders and their team made it safely to Antarctica around 1:30am, landing on the Union Glacier at Patriot Hill.  He said the take off and landing were "intense"; the aviation company had set up a Go Pro so they all could watch.  Randy also recorded it, so I could watch later. What did he mean by intense?  "Pretty wild, incredibly loud, windy, just really intense."  Yikes, I think he forgets that I sometimes have to hold his hand when it gets pretty bumpy on a flight!

Their other guide, Mike Hammel, who was meeting them in Antarctica, had already started setting up the 4 tents for the 8 of them.  Randy and Anders helped clear some snow and finish setting their tent, before crawling, fully clothed, into their sleeping bags.  Somehow they ended up with the smallest tent so were pretty cuddled together!  They slept about 3 or 4 hours and had to dig themselves out of the couple feet of snow that had drifted onto their tent during the night.  Then breakfast, and time to get packed up for very busy day.

The camp at Patriot Hill is pretty comfortable by mountaineering standards.  Antarctic Logistics Operations, which operates the Union Glacier Base camp, has set up and staffed some large heated, Quonset Huts for meals and team meetings, and the team was served bacon, eggs, and coffee for breakfast.  There were even toilets and a shower! This will be the last of these creature comforts for Anders and Randy for a while.

Here's a couple pictures of what the Union Glacier Base Camp looks like.  Note: these and all pictures I will post during the trip are from prior expedition posts.  The satellite radio works well for communication, but Randy can't beam me pictures from this southernmost glacial land. So you don't have to sit and try to figure out which of those little bundled up figures is Randy or Anders! These will give you a sense of what they are experiencing. When Randy and Anders return, we'll add in their pictures, which I'm sure will be amazing.

One cool thing is that it never gets dark in the Antarctica "summer".  The sun and the moon are out all day.  Depending on where they are on the climb, at times the sun will dip behind the mountain and create shadows, but they can basically climb during the day or night and take advantage of when the weather/wind/conditions are most favorable.  Direct sunlight vs shadow can mean almost 20 degrees difference, so they will time their treks accordingly.
It was quite gusty when we were talking,  about 25/30 mph.  Randy said the wind chill felt about 40 below, and he had to keep his back to the wind  so we could hear each other, not to mention that he was freezing! Since a storm was forecasted for their current location, they were not planning on sticking around.  They will take a ski-equipped Twin Otter (pictured below) specially configured to ferry equipment and climbers up above the glaciers to Vinson Base Camp, at the foot of Vinson Massif.  

Typically, they would then set up camp and have a rest day before heading to Camp 1.  However, taking advantage of a weather window, their plan is to fly up to Vinson Base Camp (7000 feet), quickly get organized, then climb with heavy backpacks plus other camp gear to Camp 1 at 10,000 feet.   This will be a very long day, and as Randy said, a real test of his leg injury.  He said Anders is doing well, ready to get going, and they are both looking forward to the incredible views in the mountains.  Stay tuned, and I hope to hear from them later tonight!

Monday, December 29, 2014

What "It's On" Really Means.....

Hi, Judy here. So, I am out for a nice late afternoon power walk with one of my best friends, and I get the call from Randy and Anders that I have been waiting for but also dreading, "It's on...We just got the call and have 20 minutes to get ready, and we are off.  Heading to the ice. We love you, and we'll call you when we can."   Oh boy, here we go again....

So what does "It's on" really mean?  Well, first of all "the ice", as they refer to Antarctica, is the fifth largest continent and is actually 98% ice.  In fact, it holds 90% of the world's ice, averaging over a mile deep. It is the coldest and windiest continent, and with a mean altitude of 7500 feet,  3 times the average elevation of any other land mass, with winds at times over 100 mph.  It is an intensely frigid, bad ass place. A few thousand people stay there from time to time doing various types of research, but there is no indigenous population.  There is scant vegetation and very few animals besides some very hardy penguins and seals.    I guess anyplace that has a "high" temperature still with a negative sign in front of it isn't exactly a desirable destination.  But, by about midnight tonight, Randy, Anders and the rest of their intrepid team will arrive on that ice, and, remarkably, be thrilled to be there!

They are currently flying across the Antarctic Ocean in a Russian cargo plane, about a 5 hour trip from Punta Arenas in very southernmost Chile, where they've been waiting for the winds to die down so the plane was cleared to go. They will land on a desolate, windswept icy landing strip called "Patriot Hills".  The team will be flying in all their intense cold weather mountain gear: thick down parkas and pants, triple boots, gloves that look like oven mitts, and many, many layers underneath it all.  Basically they will look like they are going for a walk on the moon.  Depending on the weather when they arrive in Patriot Hills, they will either set up camp and wait for clear weather, or fly on a ski-equipped Twin Otter to Vinson Base Camp, (about 7000 ft), about an hour away by air.

Here's a picture of the Russian cargo plane:

And here is a somewhat intimidating picture of the natural "landing strip" at Patriot Hills (from an earlier expedition):

Hopefully their satellite phone will work and they will call me with updates after they land.  I'll update the blog as I hear from them.  Send positive thoughts and feel free to leave comments for when they return!

It's On!!!!!

Just got the word--Judy has the blog--to the BIG ICE!!!!!!!

summit weather forecast

Here's the latest:

waiting update....

It's nearing 5pm down here in Chile.  We just got a "stand-by" notice.  They are going to call us back at 7pm (5 ET) and give us an either a go or wait until tomorrow.  This is better news than we expected as it indicates we have a chance to fly tonight.

We spent the day basically doing nothing--which we are getting pretty good at.  We toured a museum that we thought was all about Magellan but it turned out to be about a Puntas Arenas family named the Hamburguers, who were big in the early 1900s.  We scored some very good pizza, saw some cormorants and chilled back in our room again.  We practiced our knots and generally made sure we are ready to go should we get the green light in a couple of hours....

Confirmed a couple of things--the body of water in all of these pictures is indeed the Straights of magellan--pretty cool/  Also, confirmed that I am the oldest climber on our team.....

Still waiting

It's now a little after 8am on Monday morning, the 29th.  Today is the day we were originally scheduled to head south but I'm assuming that since we didn't get a 7:00 call this morning, we won't be heading to Antarctica this morning.  I'm doing some computer things here in our room and Anders is still snoozing.  We'll get up in a bit and join our team--if it looks like we're here for a while, we may venture out a ways from town and go check out some penguins...

In the meantime, here are some maps of the 7th continent to orient things:

The map below is of all of Antarctica.  The south Pole is where all the radiating lines converge, towards the center of the map.  You can see the majority of the continent lies to the "East" (actually, everything is north of the South Pole, but by convention, the continent is divided into the East And West parts).

We are currently to the "west" od the pole, if you extended further upward to the left on the long peninsula you see, you'd get eventually to South America.  Due west of the pole, towards the bottom of the ice sheet you can see at the base of the peninsula is where Vinson is.

Here is a close up.  The pole is on the far right and you can see Vinson in the middle of the Ellsworth Mountain range.  Vinson is at about 79.5 degrees latitude or about 10.5 degrees from the pole--this is about 650 miles.  BTW, this is about 2200 miles from where we are now.

This last map shows a close up of the Ellsworth Mountains.  Union Glacier is visible towards the bottom (click on the map to see an enlargement) and Vinson is in the middle of the upper group--the Sentinel Range:

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Hurry Up and Wait

We went to bed last night hoping to get up and learn that we would be leaving late tonight.  However, at breakfast Greg told us that we needed to have our gear all ready to go by 11:30 and then we would have a briefing at 5.  After breakfast, AC and I went out and looked at the monument that sits right outside our hotel:

After checking in our gear, we all headed out to have lunch (same place as yesterday--yuck) and then do some grocery shopping.   On the way we stopped by the big statue for Magellan in the middle of town:

We had some extra pesos at the grocery store and Anders tried (with no success) to win a talisman for our trip:

At 5 we went to our big briefing to learn the plan:

One of the charts they showed us is below--the top green line is wind speed at our landing area.  the max allowed is 25 mph and you can see that it is forecasted to exceed that all the way until Tuesday night.  The other issue is temperature--when it gets above -8 degrees C (red line) the blue ice runway gets too slippery.  The short of it is we may be able to leave Tuesday night....

Of course things may change.  We have a call at 7am tomorrow and we have to be ready to go in 45 minutes....although most likely, we'll be here at least another 40+ hours....

This evening we went out to a crappy restaurant that did have an interesting menu...check out the first item on the menu....

Last night and this morning

 We met up with our team and went out to dinner at a place called La Luna--Greg (our lead guide) raved about this baked crab thing, which we ordered and that turned out to be not so much....

Below is our team (minus Mike Hammel--who will meet us in Antarctica).  Counterclockwise from the right is:

Greg Vernovage (guide)
Richard (English guy who lives in Switzerland--works for UBS)
Von (lives near DC--don't know much about him but he might be older than I)
Steve (from Virginia--does cartography for the government)
Stefan (Swiss guy who lives in Atlanta and is a Chemistry teacher)
RC (mountaineer poser)

All of these folks have more extensive resumes than I (for example, all have climbed Denali) and all plan to climb Everest (with the exception of me).  We talked quite a bit about Everest and the events of the last two years (Greg was there).   Greg also spent some time telling me I should go for Everest.  I told him I was content at the moment to just get to Vinson base camp and go from there...

This morning, we got all of our stuff ready to go and we'll be delivering in to the plane service shortly:

Saturday, December 27, 2014

On the ground in Puntas Arenas

We made it safely here with all of our luggage!  We met up with Greg Vernovage, who is one of our guides here--we did indeed pass our gear check.  We walked over to town and bought some groceries for the climb and had lunch.  We each took about a 2-hour nap, which clearly was needed.

We've been cleaning up, packing our packs and gear bags for a possible move to the Big Ice tomorrow evening (which would be a day early and fantastic if it happens--it would mean all of our team got here OK and that the weather is good in Antarctica).

My calf continues to bother me but this is not new news--if it just causes pain throughout the climb I'm pretty sure I can deal with it--we're just hoping it holds up and doesn't degrade during the climb.  Our expectation is that it will hold up and I'm going to try to not mention it throughout the climb--I don't want our guides focusing on it (unless it becomes a major issue).

Here are some pics from the trip so far:

Almost into Panama:

Anders gearing up for the flight to Santiago:

On the ground in Punta Arenas:

Our hotel for tonight--maybe our last warm bed for a while....

Some friends across the street--they say hi Jen!

Downtown Puntas Arenas:


Getting ready:

Chillin' in Chile

Hey this is Judy here (Randy's wife/Anders' Mom) filling in for RC during this adventure.  You may hear from him once or twice more while they are in Chile, but then I hear the Internet connection isn't great in Antarctica, so you are mostly stuck with me!
I just talked to Randy, and the boys finished the third leg of their journey and are in their hotel in Punta Arenas.  Since most of us have NO idea where that is, here is a map of the very southernmost part of Chile.  They are all the way down near the Strait of Magellan and Cape Horn. You can't really get much further south unless you go to Antarctica...which as we know is where they'll be heading.

I took them to the LA airport yesterday and they headed off with 4 very carefully packed bags of gear.  As many of you know from previous journeys of theirs, they have spent the last few weeks and especially the last few days, discussing, debating, packing and repacking all the gear so they can survive on the ice for a couple weeks.  So I'm sure it was a relief for them to know they were finally packed and heading off.  Although as Randy admitted, thinking about going to Antarctica was one thing, but actually leaving to go there was a bit intimidating (for me too)!  Here's some pictures of them loading into the car and then heading into the airport to the world famous Copa Airlines. 

They had just met with their guide Greg for their gear check, which of course they passed.  And then they were waiting for the 4 other climbers to arrive and they will all have dinner tonight.  They may leave for Antarctica as early as tomorrow night, depending on the weather.  They said it's dreary and chilly in Punta Arenas, around 50 degrees. But I imagine once in the land of the South Pole, that dreary 50 might be sounding pretty good to them. So start sending some positive vibes for them on this challenging climb!  Feel free to leave comments for them since they love to get them when they come back.  I think because of spam this is set up that I have to approve them, but leave them and I will do so! 

Back in Santiago!

Anders and I had two uneventful flights.  The first from LAX to Panama City (the one with the canal) and then on to Santiago, where we are enjoying some muffins and yogurt.  This is the third straight year I have found myself in Santiago.  This time we head South as opposed to east to Mendoza and Aconcagua!  Time for something new!

Our luggage arrived safely and we rechecked for our final flight of this segment of the trip--down to Punta Arenas.  If all goes well, we'll meet up with our team later today, spend tomorrow in gear check and then head to the Ice on the 29th!

All systems go!

(Judy will be assuming blogging duties shortly!)

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Vinson Itinerary

Note: Day 1 is 12/26 and first summit day is January 5th....

IMG Vinson Massif Climb Itinerary
Day Itinerary
Day 01 Depart from the United States.

Day 02 Arrive in Santiago and connect with flights to Punta Arenas, Chile. Night spent at our hotel in Punta Arenas.

Day 03 Final equipment checks and preparations. Night spent in Punta Arenas.

Day 04 Flight to Patriot Hill, Antarctica. Approx. 6 hours. Transfer as soon as weather permits to Vinson Base Camp in a twin engine Otter. Camp at Vinson Base. (7,000 ft.)

Day 05 Carry to Camp 1. (9,500 ft.) We cache gear here and descend to Vinson Base for the night.

Day 06 Probable rest day.

Day 07 Move to Camp 1 and set up camp there.

Day 08 Carry to Camp 2 at the col between Vinson and Mt. Shinn. (12,500 ft.) This is the location of our high camp and we leave a cache here and then descend to Camp 1.

Day 09 Probable rest day.

Day 10 Move to Camp 2 and set up our high camp.

Day 11 Weather and health permitting, we will make a summit bid. We will return to Camp 2 for the night.

Day 12 Pack up all gear and descend to Vinson Base Camp. This takes the bulk of the day. We camp here at base camp for the night.

Day 13 Return flight to the Patriot Hills and connect with the transport plane for our return flight to Punta Arenas. Night spent at the hotel.

Day 14 Fly from Punta Arenas to Santiago and connect with flights to the United States.

Day 15 Arrive home.

Vinson climb profile

Relatively modest as compared to Aconcagua--issue is cold, remoteness and the amount of stuff we have to move to survive near the South Pole....

2014 Kona Race Report

At long last:

2014 Ironman World Championship
October 11th, 2014


Location: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Distance: 2.4-mile swim/112-mile bike/26.2-mile run
2014 Triathlon Race Number: 9
Career Triathlon Race Number: 146
Career Ironman Number: 13
Conditions: Mid-80s, Humid, Very Windy, Partly Sunny early, overcast late.  Water: 79 degrees with a noticeable swell.

It’s pretty hard for me to believe that I was privileged once again to race the Ironman World Championship.  This was to be my third time at Kona, as I had raced here in both 2010 and 2012.  My times for those two races were 13:49:17 and 13:42:59.

I qualified for all three of these races through the Ironman XC program.  I qualified at Oceanside70.3 in 2010, Ironman Arizona in 2011 (for 2012), and last year at Ironman Lake Tahoe.  That very challenging race was the only time I’ve covered the Ironman race slower than my above two Kona times.

As you can tell, by Kona standards I’m not a very fast Ironman triathlete.  While, I’ve gone sub 12 hours at the IM distance several times, the heat and humidity takes its toll on my relatively larger body.  Additionally, I’ve tended to view Kona as more of a “victory lap” to be savored and enjoyed as opposed to the more rigorous training I tend to invest in trying to qualify for this race.

2014 was no exception.  I spent the first part of 2014 down in Argentina summiting Aconcagua—the highest mountain in the Southern Hemisphere.  This three-week effort left me elated but depleted both physically and mentally when I returned to the U.S. in early February.  After a few weeks focused mostly on recovery, I began my Ironman build-up a couple months late.  Further, in the months prior to climbing Aconcagua, I had significantly shifted my training focus to prepare myself specifically for climbing that big mountain and the physical demands of moving at nearly 23,000 feet.  This meant little in the way of triathlon specific training.  For example, I had not been in the pool in three months when I first dipped my toes in the water in late February.

As the 2014 season unfolded I noted a distinct feeling of needing to hold back quite a bit and not get burnt out, neither physically nor mentally.  I was plagued with a series of nagging soft-tissue issues, most notably in my left calf.  I really needed 2014 to be a recovery year and at the same time, I had to get ready to race one of the most demanding single day endurance tests.  As the season unfolded I backed off both my training and racing from my original plans.  I had only raced 8 times prior to Kona (versus a plan of 12) and I got off the plane in Kailua with a lot fewer training miles (with the exception of my swim) and a body that weighed in at 178 pounds (I’m 6’ 1”).  In contrast, I’ve raced IM Florida back in 2007 at 163 pounds, which is about as light as I can go. 

I don’t want any of this to sound like an excuse, but I knew I was not in my normal Ironman shape when I arrived in Hawaii.  Still, I had worked hard by most measures and I was still hopeful I could have a solid race and perhaps lower my course personal best again.

Judy and I went at the end of September as we had once again rented the house we stayed in back in 2012 in the Kona Estates section of Kailua.  This is a wonderful four-bedroom house right on the water, less than a mile from race central.  We were blessed with my mother flying out to join us as well as all four of my adult children (this is the first time that all four have attended any of my Ironman races at the same time).  I was especially excited that Alex, my youngest, was joining us, as he had not been able to come when I raced here in 2010 and 2012.

We did a bunch of touristy things, although not as many in prior years as we were content to relax and enjoy the beautiful Island.  We entertained a number of our XC colleagues as well as Midge and Tim Kerr, our friends from the Jersey shore.  Midge had been my primary training partner throughout 2014 and she was pumped to be racing her first Kona, and indeed her first Ironman!

Soon my family had all arrived and we jumped in and participated in all of the pre-race events such as the Ho’ala Swim, the Path 5K, the Parade of Nations, and the Underpants Run.  I did all of the pre-race preparation as well and soon enough it was Friday evening, October 10th.  My bike and transition bags were safely stowed on the pier and I went to bed calm and collected and genuinely looking forward to the great adventure that Ironman racing provides!

Race Morning

I slept a solid 5-6 hours and awoke feeling very calm.  I had my PB&J sandwiches and some of Kona’s finest Java.  Soon the rest of the gang was up and we all made our way the short distance over to the race start.  I did all of my pre-race activities (body-marking, filling my bottles, pumping tires, etc.) smoothly and efficiently and spent a very relaxing time before the start with my fellow XC competitors and with my friends and family.

The morning dawned with the promise of a beautiful day.  Sunny and not yet too warm.  The wind was non-existent but there was a noticeable swell pushing some modest size long-period swell into the bay.  This swell was not as great as I remember it in 2012.  However, I was aware that there was considerable wave energy coming from the 320-degree compass point.  Since this direction caused Maui to shield us somewhat on the west coast of the Big Island the swell was not as pronounced as it might have been.  I was curious if all that energy would translate into as strong a current sweeping south as we had endured in 2012.  Time would tell.

The Swim

Despite my general underinvestment in training noted above, one area where I felt I was noticeably stronger was the swim.  I had actually worked pretty hard on my swim and had done in excess of 10 swims greater than 2.4 miles leading up to the race.  My long swim was 3.3 miles during which I went through the Ironman distance in 67 minutes.  Indeed all summer, my swim splits in my long swims were very good for me and I entered the race feeling that I was in the best IM swim shape of my life.

I swam the Ho’ala swim the week before Kona on effectively the same course and clocked a 76-minute swim.  This compared favorably to the 80:27 (2010) and 81:20 (2012) I had previously swam here.  I felt that I was in at least sub 66-minute wetsuit swim shape (that being my IM swim PR) and I knew that was roughly equivalent to 75-76 minutes here in Kona (I’m not a particularly efficient swimmer without a wetsuit due to my non-existent kick).  In any event, I felt very good on race morning and was confident I would go sub 80 minutes, and hopeful of going sub 75 on race morning.

The male pros left at 6:30, with the female pros five minutes behind them.  For the first time in Kona history, the Age Group triathletes were also split with the men going at 6:50 and the women at the traditional 7 a.m. start time.  As I did in both in 2010 and 2012, I lined up way to the left of the starting line—just about as far away from the pier as you can get.  I was on the other side of the big red TYR floaty thing.  This approach led to enjoyable, stress free swims in both my prior times here and I didn’t see any reason to tempt fate and try something different in 2014.

I was about 2-3 athletes back from the start-line and at the start I swam at about 90-95% effort and concentrated on trying to stay out to the left of the bulk of the field.  I didn’t feel really good at the start but I thought my body felt just fine—certainly good enough to have a good swim.  Soon, I backed my effort down just a bit and began to try to jump on the feet of faster swimmers as they came by from time to time.

Soon enough I felt my 910 vibrating and I glanced over at my watch to see how quickly the first quarter-mile had transpired.  I saw 6:37, which translates into a 63:31 2.4-mile swim pace!  Wow!  I sure didn’t expect that.  I wasn’t working all that hard and it sure didn’t feel that fast.  I mean 6:37 is a time that isn’t that disappointing to me for a quarter-mile Sprint swim.

Frankly, I was a little skeptical and I decided I’d wait for another split or two before I concluded too much.  Too be on the safe side I did back down my effort just a bit.  Soon enough the half-mile point came up and my 2nd quarter was logged in 7:14.  This was a little more believable but it still seemed too easy.  I upped my pace a bit more to what felt right (I have a very good sense of the “right” pace on my long swims).  I began to consider the possibility that I was being pushed along by a pretty good current and that while my early splits were great and I appeared to be well on my way to a swim PR, I shouldn’t expect these splits to be a true measure of what was actually happening.

The next two quarters were swam well below (effort wise) what I can push an IM swim and they came in at 7:08 and 7:01.  My first mile had passed in exactly 28 minutes (67:12 pace) and I was increasing coming to believe I was going to be swimming into a pretty strong current on the back half of the out and back swim.

The other item that was causing me some mild concern was that the distance to turnaround boat seemed to be quite a bit further than the additional 0.2 miles it should have been.  I’ve often heard that the Kona swim course is longer than 2.4 miles.  My two prior times that I swam here I either didn’t have a GPS or in the case of 2012 I messed up using it so prior to this year I did not have a personal GPS measure on the course length.  At the Ho’ala swim the week prior I measured the course at 2.5 miles.

Not much to be done about it and just about when I hit the first turn buoy my watch vibrated and my 5th quarter mile split came in at 7:07—I knew then I was swimming longer than 2.4-miles.  I made the first and 2nd right turn with little drama and I was soon heading back towards the pier.  Out by the turn buoys the water was too deep to see the bottom and since I breathe predominately on my left side, I didn’t have any physical way of gauging my pace.  I knew if the 6th split came in the low 7s like my recent splits then I was going to swim in the low to mid-70s.

The moment of truth arrived and I looked at my watch and it read 8:48.  Rut-roh!  It now seemed pretty clear there was a current and I did a quick calculation.  I made the 1.25-mile turning point in 35.  Multiply by 2 for the return swim at the same pace and get 70.  Add another two minutes for the length between the two turn buoys to get to 72 and then add 5 X 1:40 for the extra time per quarter and let’s see we are in the 80-81 minute range.  And another couple of minutes to swim the length of the pier and exit the water and ugh, I’m looking at an 82-83 minute swim.  Darn!

About this time the fastest AG women started plowing through us middle of the pack Male swimmers.  This new wave format was definitely a bummer for them.  We were obviously slowing them down and they didn’t have the benefit of drafting the faster AG men.  I drifted to the right to give them space and avoid getting knocked around too much as they went by.

Indeed there was a quite strong current flowing away from the pier on this morning.  When I began to see the bottom again I could see how relatively little progress each forward pull brought me.  I upped my effort as I felt I had a lot left in the tank but this seemed to be of only modest benefit.  I soon drew even with the pier and waved to my family, who were busily waving to someone else behind me.  I yelled a couple of times and then they recognized they were waving to the wrong guy—I have a lot of pictures of some other guy!  I gave them the thumbs up and headed towards the swim finish.  Here are the rest of my quarter mile splits:

Split 7:    8:58
Split 8:    8:49
Split 9:    8:36
Split 10:  8:10
Split 11:  4:02        (0.11 miles)

As the above indicates I swam a total of 2.61 miles.  I don’t know if this confirms the course is long or not.  My Garmin could be inaccurate.  I could have swam a longer than necessary course.  But there you go.

My total swim time was a disappointing 82:30.   My official time was recorded as 82:43.  I was 65th out of 115 in my AG, which translates into the 44.3 %-tile.  This compares to 42.9 %-tile in 2012 and 35.7%-tile in 2010, so despite being slower I was relatively faster than my peers.

Transition One

I reoriented to the vertical plane and glanced at my watch as I climbed up the temporary steps into T1.  I registered my vaguely disappointing time but that emotion was quite temporary.  I knew I was in good swim shape and I gave it a really solid effort.  It’s hard to feel bad about my swim on this morning.

I unzipped my swim skin, sprayed my face with the fresh water hoses and found my T1 bag on the rack.  I ran into the tent, which was quite crowded despite my pedestrian swim time.  I went all the way towards the back of the tent and found an empty seat.  A kind volunteer (they are phenomenal here at Kona) helped me do my stuff and soon I was heading out of the changing tent.

I waved to my family and relished their enthusiastic verbal support.  I ran around to where my bike was racked and chatted a bit while I put my helmet on and the GPS device I planned to wear so that they could track me during the bike and run.  Soon enough I said my final good-bye and was on my way.

My total T1 was 6:28, which compares favorably with the 7:24 I recorded in 2012 and the 6:52 in 2010.

The Bike

I mount up and head out near the junction of Palani and Ali’i with the crowd noise and blasting music registering in my ears.  I maneuver past the Old Airport and up Makala and then after a short stretch on the Queen Ku’ahumanu Highway I plunge down Palani onto Kuakini.  This first part of the bike always seems a bit frenetic here at Kona as there are a lot of slow swimmers/fast bikers intent on “catching the bus”—more on that later.  Also, everyone is pumped up and bursting with energy from their pre-race tapers.  I try to ignore this early madness as most of the Kona folks are better than me and I have no intention of getting involved in the drafting that does seem to plague this race.  I also want to pay special attention to avoiding any accidents—I surely do not want my day to end before 9 a.m.!

I feel pretty good early on but of course it’s way too early to draw any meaningful conclusions about the ride.  My trip up to Kuakini Estates is uneventful and soon I’m heading back down to the hot corner.  I hit the corner and begin the short but steep climb up Palini.  I hope to see my family but I learn later that they are caught up in the crowds and will arrive at this spot a few minutes after I go by.  I’m on my own now!

The early part of the Queen K is unremarkable and I note that there is very little wind.  I’m busy with my hydration and nutrition, as I wanted to do a better job of both than I had done in my prior two efforts here.  I was surprised, however, out around the Four Seasons when all of a sudden the wind picked-up dramatically, seemingly out of nowhere (although from the Northeast).  In short order I was facing a gusty, 25+ mph head- and side-winds.

This climatic development was completely unexpected and I went from cruising calmly well below my threshold to straining to stay upright and maintain 15 mph.  Also, it was clear that my power output, which I had every reason to believe should have been comfortable around 180 watts, was falling well short of that.  The wind was so challenging that it was increasingly a problem to even get my nutrition and hydration down in enough quantity.  I knew I was potentially in a spot of trouble.  The first 40 miles, data-wise, looked like this:

0-5:  15.5 mph/80 rpm/184 watts NP/181 watts avg
6-10:  21.0/80/182/175
11-15: 18.4/83/156/154
16-20: 18.1/80/153/151
21-25: 17.3/75/157/156
26-30: 20.1/80/155/151
31-35: 11.2/73/154/152
36-40: 14.3/71/162/158

A couple of comments.  As you can probably tell, I had problems with my HR monitor so I have no good data there.  Second, you can clearly see that I was not producing the kind of watts I would expect to produce given my training/racing this year.  Why that is, I’m not sure.  Third, the section between 30 and 40 miles is not that difficult.  In a “normal” wind field, I would expect to average 18 mph during this stretch.  In fact in 2012, I did the stretch between 30 and 35 miles with an average speed of 20.1 mph vs. the 11.2 mph today!  Comparing 2014 to 2012, I lost 12 minutes over that five-mile stretch alone!  This is pretty remarkable.

These conditions continue over the next 10 miles as the pros start to scream by in the other direction and as we exit the Queen K at Kawaihae for the run up to Hawi.  These 10 miles look like this:

41-45: 15.9/75/165/158
46-50: 18.1/80/148/145

You can see from my power numbers that I was not doing well as I started the climb—I was running a good 30 watts lower than I did back in 2012.  I kept grinding along however and soon found myself making the turn at Hawi.  I continued to run a couple of mph slower than back in 2012 with a power shortage of a good 25 watts:

51-55: 13.2/75/159/155
56-60: 10.3/73/162/160

I stop and grab my special needs bag and sit for a couple of minutes eating my boiled potatoes and trying to catch up on hydration.  Mark Johnson rides up and we talk for a bit.  It’s great to see him but the fact that he’s with me tells me that it’s not just the weather that is making me slow today—I’m definitely having a bit of an off-day for sure.

We say good-bye and soon I’m hurtling down the descent out of Hawi.  I see Midge and can see she’s not very far behind me—I’m sure we’ll meet again on the run!  With the gusty crosswinds I play it super conservative.  Indeed, I see three people down on the pavement—one lady looks pretty bad with a broken helmet and a fair amount of blood on her face—yikes! (EMS types were attending her to).

As I got to the bottom at Kawaihae and made the turn out onto the Queen K, I found that the strong wind that plagued us on the way our had now reversed directions and indeed, I was looking at another 30+ miles of headwind—I wasn’t surprised and in fact had a good laugh at the absurdity of the challenges the bike was presenting on this day.

61-65: 28.1/78/126/124
66-70: 16.3/76/156/156
70-75: 18.1/74/156/155
75-80: 15.3/71/162/161
80-85: 16.5/71/143/142
86-90: 14.8/72/138/138
90-95: 11.6/69/143/142
95-100: 12.2/70/135/133

At this point, I’m pretty much a basket case.  I’ve covered the last 10 miles at barely an average of 12 mph.  I’m “spinning” at 70 rpm and my power is barely that of a normal recovery ride.  I feel dehydrated and while not demoralized, I’m definitely ready to get off of my bike.  I try to stay in the moment as much as possible and appreciate the privilege that it is for me to be here racing—even if I’m having a pretty rough time of it.

I suck it up and push through the final 12+ miles:

100-105: 15.4/70/133/132
105-110: 16.8/71/136/136
110-112: 19.1/70/133/133

I finish the bike with an elapsed time of 7:13:49.  This is by far the slowest bike split of my IM career.  I was 6:22 and 6:21 in 2012 and 2010 respectively—over 50 minutes slower this year.  Some of this was the wind for sure, but a lot of it was me—it just wasn’t my day today.  In 2010 I averaged 170 watts and in 2012 174 watts.  Today I averaged just 151 watts.  My normalized power was 158 watts.  My cadence was just 74 rpm vs. 80 in 2012 and 73 in 2010.  My average speed was a pedestrian 15.6 mph vs. 17.6 in 2012.

I was 89th on the bike in my AG—just 23.5 %-tile.  I was 41.8 %-tile last year.  Still, I did persevere and get it done and I was happy to give my bike to the volunteer and head into transition!

Transition Two

I walk into T2 and it occurs to me that I am fried—hard to believe that I need to do a marathon, though I’m confident I will.  I see Kara and hi-five her and control my stroll through T2.  I say high to the family and chat with them a bit and head on into the changing tent.

A nice volunteer comes up and puts a soaking, ice-cold towel over my head, which I just sit under for a minute or two—I think it helps.  I make my change and he lathers me up with suntan lotion.  I hit the head and soon I’m on my way.  My total T2 is 9:26, which is, not surprisingly, slower than 2012 and 2010 (7:44/8:28).  I don’t even notice this because my time is not of much of a concern anymore—it’s all about getting to the finish line and enjoying the process of doing so.

The Run

As I jog up the hill towards the hot corner I wave to my family and they shout words of encouragement.  I put on a brave smile and start putting one foot in front of the other.  I know straight away that this is going to be a real “suffer fest”.  I’m pretty much a basket case after the bike today.

I planned to follow the path I followed last year where I would run from aid station to aid station, do my aid station thing and then walk for 1 minute more.  I do this for the first mile and I can already tell that is going to be a struggle.  I make the decision right away that I’m just going to run-walk the whole thing.  I’ve got plenty of time before the cut-off and I already know this is going to be (by far) the slowest IM of my 13.

As I head out Ali’i, I see Tim Kerr around the 5k mark and he tells me I look great.  I tell him that he’s a lair and that Midge won’t be too far behind me.  My first five miles out towards the turn around looked like this:

1: 10:44/129bpm
2: 13:34/114
3: 14:08/114
4: 13:57/100
5. 14:33/111

This is about the pace that my wife typically “powerwalks” but it was all I had at this juncture of the race.  After the turn-around I decide I need to walk even more as I’m feeling a bit light-headed.  I’ve relaxed into a place where I just accept I’m having one of those days.  I see Midge and figure she’ll catch me by mile 7 or so—I look forward to chatting with her and when she does catch me, we talk about how hard the bike was and then I urge her on her way.  She looks great and like she’s enjoying her first Ironman. I also see Mark and he tells me he’s going to try to catch up to me but I caution him to be careful—catching me is no prize today and there still is a long way to go!

My next 5 miles go by like this:

6: 15:42/
7: 16:03/
8: 16:32/
9: 16:39/
10: 16:48/109

My HR monitor dropped out there for a while.  Normally, when I walk this much I expect to recover a bit and then I usually can mount a bit of a rally.  I feel today however, that I’m slowly deteriorating, even at this modest effort.

I hit Palani Hill, which I’m excited to do.  Not because of the climb but because I get to see my family.  They are waiting for me there and it’s a real boost to my morale!  They give me an update on Midge (nasty blister) and then the four kids walk with me for quite a while.  This is a real nice time as we cruise along.  It’s not lost on me how special a moment this truly is.  At one point I hand my sunglasses to Anders and tell him “I won’t be needing these anymore” (it will be dark soon).  After about a beat: “or if I do, I’ll have even worse problems than bright light in my eyes”.  We all chuckle at this and soon I say goodbye and that I’ll see them all at the finish line.  My next five splits:

11: 17:27/112
12: 16:55/108
13: 15:37/119
14: 16:09/112
15: 16:24/109

It’s very dark now and pretty lonely out there on the Queen K.  An official on a motor scooter drives by every now and then and encourages us to walk together for safety but I can find no-one who’s pace approximates mine—I’m either materially slower or faster (yes there are some people out here that I’m passing!).  In my 3 races here it always seems to take forever to get to the Energy lab cut-off, but I finally do.

I’m enjoying the night sky and all the stars.  Every now and then someone passes the other way with their glow sticks and an occasional light.  I’m making steady progress and rather enjoying myself as it cools.  I keep reminding myself I’m doing Kona for the 3rd time and for a low-talent like myself, that is pretty remarkable.  Around 18 there is a giant video screen and my four kids pop up and yell out taped words of encouragement.  I hadn’t expected that—really nice to see friendly faces out there.  I also see Mark and we stop and chat.  He’s struggling and worried about making the cut-off but we do the math and I urge him to stay conservative and he’ll make it (which he does on both accounts).  My next 5 miles (my HR monitor stops functioning here):

16: 16:56
17: 15:22
18: 15:06
19: 17:21
20: 16:50

Back on the Queen K I soldier on and soon familiar milestones present themselves.  I dance at one of the aid stations and am increasingly looking forward to my imminent trip back down Ali’i.  Nearing 25, Andrew Mesick, the CEO of Ironman, rides up and accompanies me for a half-mile or so.  We have a nice chat (pretty cool that he’s out there) and he tells me there were 231 drafting penalties handed out today (over 10% of the field—this never ceases to amaze me here at Kona.  I may be slow, but I do follow the rules!)  My next five miles leading up to the top of Palani Hill:

21: 16:54
22: 17:19
23: 17:52
24: 17:48
25: 17:05

I turn right onto Palani and head down the hill.  I can hear the party up ahead.  I make the left at the hot corner and I’m hearing tons of words of encouragement.  Us back of the packers seem to be crowd favorites here at Kona—I think people relate to our struggles.

Soon enough I’m on Ali’i—perhaps for the last time in this race—and I’m hi-fiving and having a great time.  A bit of a tear or two slides down my face and finally I run down the final chute.  I weave from side to side slapping as many hands as I can.  I can see myself up on the big screen and it truly is amazing to see everyone and all the sights and sounds!

I stop before the final chute and pull an imaginary arrow from my imaginary quiver and fire it at the clock.  I run up the ramp and I can see Alex ahead of me with a big smile.  At the finish line I hold my hands up pretending to be a “tree” and say, “I am Groot”, which is the family joke of this trip. 

Alex gives me a lei and a big hug and soon all of my kids, my wife and my mother are around me giving lots of love.  Yep—it’s a great moment!  I see Troy and Frankie and thank them and then am delighted to see Midge and Tim as well.  I get my medal and finisher’s t-shirt and we all get our pictures taken in various groups.

My run ends up taking 6:56:25.  The slowest marathon of my life.  I end up with a total time of 15:48:57—my slowest IM by over two hours.  I finish 1907 out of the 2187 finishers (12.8 %-tile).  I’m 108th on the run in my AG and I finish 100th in my AG for the race (13.9%-tile).  I do manage to beat the great Laurent Cali, the famous cyclist.  Most older competitors today have trouble finishing and indeed none of the 80+ competitors can make it today.

We retreat to the King Kam where I grab a shower and then Jen, Anders and I head down to watch the 17-hour party.  It was a real blast and great to see the pros out there supporting the back end of the field.  One poor guy stumbles in after the 17-hour cut-off and collapsed in front of the finish line—what heartbreak!

And so another Kona draws to its end.  I didn’t have the race I wanted nor expected to have but it really doesn’t matter.  It’s my favorite race in the world and now I’ve managed to finish it three times—hard to believe.  The best part though was having my whole family there—it doesn’t get any better than that!

Thanks for reading!