by BJ Christenson
It has now been a week since I have returned from the big island of Hawaii and I have had sufficient time to reflect on the race this year. Though the race may not have ended the way I had hoped there are many positives to take away and, better still, lessons to be learned for next time.
This was my 8th finish at the Ironman World Championships and my 15th Ironman, so needless to say I came into the race this year determined to do more than just finish, but to finish at the pointy end of my age group. I had set a goal before arriving that I wanted to finish 5th or higher and receive a coveted Umeke on the podium.
My preparation had gone well and I felt I had sufficiently improved my fitness enough to achieve the goal. Because I had a more elevated goal when compared to my previous races I felt a little extra nervous. It was a welcome surprise to have some of my friends and my son fly in for the race this year and it helped relieve some of that tension.
As race day grew closer I rode a roller coaster of nerves from being very nervous to being totally relaxed and my usual playful self. As much as I wished to put in a bit more training, my time had run out and race day was here. The Ironman has long been thought of as the ultimate one day endurance event. It has been said there are Ironman races all around the world but there is only one Kona. I can testify that this is true. The Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii is the pinnacle of the sport and the very best triathletes in the world assemble there each October to test themselves against the course and the rest of the world. With that being said I am no different in making this race my top priority.
Race day had finally come and this year you could tell the moment you got into the water that this year might not be the fastest swim. I got into the water and made my way out to the start line and found a nice position to hold before the cannon fired. When the cannon went off I found some nice water straight away and proceeded to make my way to the turn around. My nice position did not last, and I was soon being pushed and shoved as the crowd began to swarm my territory. Luckily I made it through the first 1000 meters without a kick to the face like I got in the practice swim. The swim however still had more people around me than I was comfortable with. It wasn’t until the turn around boat that I finally felt like I had separated myself from the pack. I was then free to swim on the feet of some the faster swimmers in front of me. We kept a nice rhythm and the crowd really started to thin out and I felt like I was in a good position for the rest of the swim. When we made it back to the beach the time clock confirmed my suspicion of a slower swim but only by a minute or so and I was still in the front of the main pack; so I liked where I was at. I went through the transition smooth and efficient and proceeded to my bike to begin the bike leg.
In years past I have lost a lot of time on the bike leg of this race. So this year I spent a little more time working on it. The extra time was paying off early in the race as we made our way out of town and towards the turning point in Hawi. About 20 miles into the ride you could feel the wind starting to build and by mile 30 we were dealing with a nice head/crosswind. One thing that is certain about Kona is that it will get windy and hot. The question is, how hot and how windy? This year it was a particularly windy day. We were facing some pretty strong winds climbing up to Hawi, but different from years past was the fact that I had not been passed by 100 or more people. I was still in a good position at the turn around and feeling pretty good about the race so far. The wind had kept many of the clouds away so it was starting to get pretty hot on the back half of the bike. I made my way back to town sitting on a pretty good bike split for the conditions. I was starting to really look forward to the run where I could really make a difference. The wind did a typical Kona shift and we fought a head wind the last 20 miles into transition. I was really feeling good about my bike split and knew that this was my best bike split to date under the tough conditions. I could tell that things were going well when I looked at the bike racks and they were nearly empty. As I got off my bike I saw that some clouds had moved in and I was feeling pretty good about my run.
I got out of transition and started the marathon and for the first time ever I was in a position to make my goal a reality. My run has always been my strength and all I needed was my normal run and I would be on the podium. I just started running my typical pace not over extending just cranking out the rhythmic miles. I was really finding my groove on the out and back on Alii drive. I had made my way to 7th and I had only run 9 miles. I was feeling very optimistic about my chances. As I started up the hill on Palani I passed two more and was now in 5th place. I was super excited and focused on my next target. As the next few miles went by I felt some changes occurring. My legs were starting to stiffen and my knees and hips felt very swollen. I found my stride shrinking and I couldn’t do anything to snap them back. By the time I got to mile 16 I was in system shutdown. I could at my best jog, and spent the rest of my race between jogging and walking. I was in severe pain and I couldn’t put my finger on the trigger. I tried refueling as much as I could at aid stations but nothing was pulling me out the hole. I even downed a Redbull and still couldn’t get back on top of things. It was hard to watch all of the people I had passed pass me back but I could do nothing to retaliate. I was heartbroken and defeated. I wanted to quit and walk it in. But I thought of all the people in my life who sacrificed for me to be there and I needed to give it my best even if it was a jog. I made it to the finish line and nearly collapsed. I was excited to see my high school track coach there to greet me and help me when I was feeling terrible. She carried me to the athlete holding area where my wife joined her in looking after me. I thought I would immediately go to the med tent but they wanted to watch me for a few minutes before I would be admitted.
I felt absolutely miserable. I was nauseous and dizzy and went to lie down on the ground. Chrystel was trying to comfort me and offer me some assistance and before I knew it I was throwing up what was left in my stomach. At this point Chrystel went and got me checked in to the medical tent. When I was checked in they put me on the scale and found that I had lost 11 pounds during the race. Needless to say I ended up with an IV and some better understanding as to why my run legs gave out. When a person loses 2% of their weight during an event they can expect about a 10% reduction in power. I had lost nearly 5% and my body was doing everything it could to just keep my temperature down, let alone run. I was relieved at the news because I could understand why but also upset at myself for not doing a better job of hydrating. Lesson learned, I suppose, certainly something to work on. The trouble started on the bike where because of the harsh wind I did not pay attention to my hydrating strategy and it complicated my run.
All in all, I would say it was a success. I may not have reached my goal but I did see that it was truly possible and not out of reach. I was so happy and lucky to have my friends there to cheer me on. I was especially grateful to my wife for putting up with the training and for being so passionate about the event with me. It was an incredible race and now that the pain is wearing off and I get the itch to train back. I can only hope to go back next year to give that podium another shot.