It has been over 24 hours since the race and now that I am well hydrated again and have restored my blood sugar to acceptable levels I can finally report on the race. But before I do I want to thank everyone for all of their kind words of encouragement either by phone, text message, facebook post or just in your thoughts and prayers. It is a long lonely stretch of lava rock on the big island and I had to dig many times into the well for your strength that you were giving me. Most of all I want to thank my wife Chrystel for being such an amazing support and for the sacrifices she has made so that yesterday could happen.
I woke up on race morning at 4:00 AM just as planned and made my traditional pre-race meal of old fashioned oatmeal and a cup of coffee. I like to wake up about 3 hours before key races in order to get the appropriate amount of time in for digestion. The rest of the morning I spend hydrating with a sports drink and trying to stay relaxed. This morning was like any other and I took my time getting to body marking and of course I am one of the last one there to get marked. To my good fortune, my friends, Tracy and Mike Mamales, and Mike Conti were there volunteering at body marking and I got to be marked by friends. After getting my numbers painted on, I made my way to the pier to fill my bottles and inspect my bike. Everything looked in order so I went back out to the family and proceeded to apply a generous amount of sunscreen and lube to my tri shorts and swim skin. In the final moments before leaving my wife and child I tend to get a little choked up because of the atmosphere and because I am fully aware of the sacrifice they have made and I am very grateful to them for it.
The walk into the ocean is really one of the most amazing feelings of the day. As you take your steps into the ocean you see the entire seawall as far as you can see and every balcony nearby covered by spectators. Not to mention the giant finish structure and Jumbo-tron all with the sound of Hawaiian drums and the drum of the NBC Helicopters flying overhead. Needless to say the nerves get kicked into overdrive at this point. I swim out to the start line and that is where the real fun begins. The starting line is very brutal with kicking and shoving for about 10 minutes while everyone waits for the cannon treading water. When the cannon fired it was an absolute free for all no holds bar wrestling match in the water. I took my share of blows and delivered as many in an effort to find some open water and swim horizontal. The hard part about Hawaii is that it never thins out like a normal Ironman because the level of talent here is so high. On the plus side you never have to look far to find someone’s feet to swim behind. My goal going into the swim was to swim under 58 minutes. I exited the water under 59 minutes but very pleased with my effort and ready to transition to the bike.
After the madness of transition I passed on the chance to use the bathroom figuring I would be able to go on the bike. Just like the swim you have to really settle down in the opening miles of the ride because the amount of spectators just cheering you on. I had set my heart rate limit for the bike around 145-150 bpm let’s just say I was well above 150 for the first few miles so I broke that rule of staying in control early on. I was able to see Chrystel and friends before leaving town and then it is one long rolling stretch of asphalt to the the north end of the island. I let my heart rate settle again but it was a little on the high side on the first half of the bike but we did have a slight headwind. Now one thing Kona is famous for is Heat and Wind and let’s just say she delivered on the back half of the bike. The crosswinds were scary as hell but I just smiled and thought about how awesome it was. I had a moment where it felt like I was riding the side of my saddle and my bike handling was ready due to the preparatory rides I had done in the wind. The turnaround is on the north end of the island at a little town called Hawi and the wind is always blowing in your face climbing up to this turn so it makes for a nice rest section and ride the wind to the deadly crosswinds on your return trip. As I made this turn I realized that my bike split was quite a few minutes faster than I had seen it in years past and I was excited to see the hard work over the past couple of months pay off.
After 70 miles of riding I was finally able to pee which is a skill you have to learn to truly enjoy the experience. Needless to say you need an extra water bottle for some rinsing and the courteous rider will veer to the right so as not to splash the rider behind that is unless of course they are drafting off your wheel. The hardest part of the ride was the final 34 miles back to town that gradually climbs but also is accompanied with headwinds. My nutrition strategy for the bike was 1 gel every half hour and 2 bottles of perform every hour that I would sip gradually but made sure to finish nearly 2 every hour. This seemed to work very well but I was starting to get a little worried that I only needed to urinate once on the bike but I chalked it up to the heat. I came into town all smiles because I knew I had rode clean and had my fastest bike split ever in any ironman particularly Kona. Naturally I was ready to hit the streets and show these people that this big boy can run.
Just like the bike the opening miles of the run the crowd can really get your momentum going but you have to hold back if you want to finish strong. I began my quest of running under 3 hours and everything was going as planned. My opening miles were a little fast but my heart rate was well below my planned limit. I felt good and I was able to hydrate well and cool off at each aid station. I really felt in control and I was working my way to my goal time. The course was really starting to heat up at this point because the clouds that usually make their way to that side of the island had not made it there yet. I was making pretty good time through the first 10 miles and felt like my hydration and nutrition was on par. Because I was wearing a bright red tri outfit I became known as Big Red. I made my way up the steep climb on Palani and headed out into the lonely lava fields. This is where I went through several rough patches that are infamous for the event. You go from being at this emotional and physical high and a mile later you are in the pit of despair and you just want to walk the rest of the way. Usually if you are patient you will feel better again, you just have to asses the situation and make sure it is not a hydration or nutrition issue. In my particular case it is the heat. My heart rate actually dropped to a very comfortable level but my legs and core temperature were beginning to suffer.
I had to dig deep at this point and start focusing on form and controlling my negative thoughts. I began to focus on my turnover and telling myself that it was just my legs that hurt and not my lungs. It would work for some time but there were a few aid stations I had to really motivate myself to get running. As I ran up the last mile one of the spectators in a deep Aussie accent says the last 2K of this Ironman are free. I smiled inside myself because it is the exact thing I tell my clients during hard workouts and for their races. The last mile is free however it is still a mile and it is that much longer before you get to finally stop.
The last 2K are free but the Last 1K down Alii Drive is absolutely special. All of the pain temporarily leaves and adrenaline and love carry you home. It was very memorable this year not just because I was coming in with my best Kona performance to date but my wife and child were there cheering me on. I saw many familiar faces and let the crowd take me all the way up to hear Mike Riley call me an Ironman for the 4th time in Kona. I had a good day and I felt satisfied with my result and my body could finally stop.
It is hard to put into words the emotion and the environment of the race and I guess in some ways it is like they say. You just had to be there. I was not alone this year and was happy to see friendly faces from Utah out on the course. Utah had quite a few competitors and they all had great performances. Watch out Kona we are on our way. Now that the race is over it is time to rest and recover and maybe add a few pounds. And then I can start to make plans for next year and hopefully earn another spot into this coveted race.