Kevin Best came over at about 5:15 am to take me to the race. Now there’s a friend. He has done this a lot in the past. Like IM 2005 for Tomppa, IM 2006 for Jessi and me. I’m not too sure why he likes to do this, but he always comes over showered and ready to go with more spark in his eye than anyone else. We drove down to the race site looking for the best place to park. In some ways I would have been happy if we would have jut simply drove around. Race day morning I normally move at turtle pace. I drag my feet, wonder around, sit and stare… you name it. I have always done this. I even missed the start of a duathlon because I was fiddling with my shoes in the parking lot once. Mark was there for that one. It’s never been about not wanting to race. It’s just that I am never in a hurry. I am normally the last one out of he changing tents in the morning at IMs (Greg Gallagher can attest to this as well).
So this day was no different. I knew that I needed to go and get body marked, which I had no clue where to do. I’m sure they mentioned it somewhere at the pre race meeting that I did not attend. So I just casually wandered in the direction that most the other people were going and eventually found it. I knew they used some pretty slick numbers to body mark with in the past, and this year would be no different. They are like huge stamps. No permanent pens here, each station had their own set of giant stamps. Unfortunately I had a long number, 1258, so that would mean that my number would run the length of my upper arm. The people are always very nice when they do this and are pretty cautious in making sure they get it right… there is no second time. I then meandered back to the transition area where I checked my bike, filled my water bottles, and aired up my tires. I normally run about 115 psi when I race, but I decided to go with about 125 this time. Don’t know why, just to create a little more anxiety knowing that my chances of flatting just increased potentially.
Now it was time to start getting serious. I walked over to the changing area (i.e. bathroom) to get changed into my race gear. Faris Al-Sultan (professional male winner from last year) was right there too getting dialed in as well. I thought that I must be in the right place. I got my new Ironman Activewear suit on and then applied a ridiculous amount of sun screen (spf 30). This is pretty big for me. I am normally not one to apply sunscreen… especially spf 30. It was now time to head to the swim start. This was pretty easy to do since this was where the masses were. I eventually got down to the water and it was like being on the field of the Superbowl. I looked up and saw people all over looking down cheering and trying to get people’s attention. I took it in for a minute and even looked for some familiar faces, but realized that it would be pretty tough no matter how hard I squinted. The swim start line is about 100 meters out in the water so I swam in that direction. When I got there I was pretty congested with people treading water and speaking a lot of different languages. I did my best to get as close to the start line as I could, But I would have to settle for about 3 rows back. I figured this would not be too bad since these were some of the fastest Ironman swimmers in the world… wrong.
The cannon went off about 2-3 minutes early. I think they actually planned this to keep people on their toes. After that, it was whitewater chaos for a long time. I swam with my head above water to navigate where I was going. People were hitting, scratching, clawing, grabbing, punching… you name it. I think some of this comes instinctively when people are in water and trying to stay afloat and get air. But I also think some people are just jerks. I then realized that I should have lined up on the front line like I do in all races. It never really settled down until about the ¾ mile to 1 mile mark. People were all over the place and did not want to edge one way or the other. I kept passing people the whole way out. Which again told me that I should have lined up in the front. After we rounded the 2 sailboats that signify the end point of the far end of the rectangle, we started to head back. I was able to find a lot of open water and took advantage of it. I was still passing people and saw people start to fade that had gone out way too hard. The way back in was a bit more difficult. The swells seemed to be a little more challenging for some reason and sighting was more difficult as well. But I normally just follow the general direction of the splashing arms. When you can hear the announcer, you know that you are close and people typically speed it up a bit. I ended up coming in with a pretty big group of people in about 1:01. My slowest Ironman swim ever, but I hear that all times were about 4 minutes slower. I don’t know what the means other than I swam a 1:01.
I knew that this would be a quick T1 since there was not a wetsuit to peel and carry. I grabbed my bag and headed to the tent. I rolled on my socks, put on my shoes, shoved my gels in my back pockets, grabbed my race belt, and headed out. It sounds like a lot to do, but it happens very fast. After being miss directed by a volunteer as to where to go to get my bike (I ignored her after I passed her) I was there at my steed. My helmet was on the bike so I threw it on and shoved my sunglasses somewhere in the direction of my eyes. Getting out of transition fast is something I like to do. I think a lot of people dilly dally and waste time.
I ran out with my bike and got to the mount line where people where getting on their bikes in a variety of ways. I like to run with my bike about as fast as I comfortably can, and jump on. I normally like to run past everyone that are trying to get on their bikes because that way I can mount in a clear area and not have to navigate around them as they swerve around trying to get their feet clipped in. I was on my bike, feet locked in, and off and riding. This is always a good feeling for me. I feel very comfortable on the bike… kind of like being in your own car. I don’t really feel like that on the swim or the run.
The first ½ mile is all uphill. This hill is totally lined with people. If they were yelling my name, I would never know it. But I did notice that the people were a little quiet, so I took my hands off the bar and waved my arms up and down to signal ‘let’s hear some noise here.’ And sure enough, they responded. The announcer at the corner announced my name and said something else too, I can’t remember. Now it was off for the 112 mile ride through the vicious lava fields in the Hawaiian desert. In the first couple miles I saw my support crew: Kathi, Kevin, Tim, Kris, Anna, John, Cindy, Mark, Lorie, Jessi, and of course Emma. It’s always a great uplifting feeling to see people out there that you know cheering you on. It brings this race that is so far from home a little closer to home.
The first 10 miles is a sort out and back in Kona. There were a lot of cyclists around me. I was passing some, and some were passing me. I watched my heart rate to monitor my effort. It is so easy for me to go too hard in the first 2 hours, and then I pay for it later. So my goal was to keep things in check and ride a controlled bike. I was now headed out to the lava fields. I knew a lot of this road, but in a race it looks a little different. The first aid station came quick. I discarded my one bottle and took on 2 new ones. I was staying settled in to my pace and started to notice ‘groups’ of cyclists passing me. Not one or two, but trains… yes trains of cyclists. I knew that I did no want to get caught up in the, ‘don’t let then pass me’ mentality, but these were groups… large groups. Now, I understand that there are times in a race that tings get congested, and people end up in ‘drafting’ situations. I knew this would happen in Hawaii because when you assemble so many people with similar abilities, people are going to be going the same pace some times. But what I saw was not a result of that. What I saw where people riding together, as a group, taking advantage of one another’s draft. Again, I am not talking about 2 or 3 people. I’m talking about 20-40 person groups. If you know anything about drafting, it’s about a 25%-30% advantage. For example, if I were to ride at 22 mph, and my heart rate would be about 135. Now, if I were to be tucked in a group of people going 22 mph, my heart rate would be about 115. Think about that… 135 effort or 115 effort. Which one would you like to finish a 112 mile bike with when you have a 26.2 mile run to follow? So it was pretty discouraging to see these great athletes cheating. I don’t know of any other way to put it. On the way back from Hawi, there was not as much drafting going on because the long 7 mile hill broke things up as well as the headwind. But there was a few people I saw that were literally right behind another rider. I mean literally right behind. It was so bad that when this other triathlete that was coming past me, he accelerated up to a guy that was drafting and started yelling at him. I started to laugh, but he did have a point. I think you either make it legal to draft (which I don’t think would be a good idea), or you get more officials out there and start making an example. I saw the same 2 officials the entire time. Presumably they were the same ones for the entire course. I’m sure that there would be a few pissed off people, and even people that might get a penalty that did not deserve it. But bottom line is that people would start to think twice before doing it. That was probably the most disappointing part of the entire race was seeing that.
So, back to MY race. I was so fortunate to have a lot of friends and family out on the course cheering and giving my high fives. It sure breaks things up a bit. Some of my crew was actually able to get out on the course and drive by me with the van door wide open so they could cheer, take pictures, and even video tape. It was pretty cool. I have got to hand it to my crew, they get out there one way or another. When they are told that ‘It can’t be done,’ they get it done. My legs were feeling a little fatigued at about the 3 hour point on the bike. This is pretty common, but I now notice it earlier and I am able to make some adjustments. I was able to get a little recovered and as a result, I was able to pick it up quite a bit towards the last 25 miles. At about the 80 mile mark it started to rain. The rain wasn’t all that great, but it was nice that the sun’s vicious rays were blocked a bit. It made the road feel a little less draining. I came in to T2 feeling pretty good. I figured I did about a 5:15, which is what I did in Cda and close to what I did in IM Canada, so I thought I was where I needed to be. I felt good too.
T2 went fine. I had to pee, so I went into one of the Honey Buckets in the transition area. If I gotta go, I try and do it in the transitions that way it is not reflected in my marathon time. Most of you know the wonderful experience we all have when going into on of those plastic septic systems, but let me paint another picture for you. 95 degrees, and 90% humidity. Oh wait, these are used by triathletes that have pretty much a liquid diet 24 hours prior to races and very uneasy stomachs the day of the race. So to say that these bathrooms are a little ripe would be like saying the Kennedys might be a little afraid of guns… very understated. I managed to stomach the odor and not pass out from the Honey Bucket sauna as I got most of my pee in the general area of the toilet seat. One piece suits are very difficult to go to the bathroom in quickly.
I left T2 in pretty good shape. I felt like I had legs for the run. I waited a bit before I looked at my heart rate monitor so I could let tings settle in. So at about the 2 mile mark I started looking at it. First 2 miles were 14:40… a little fast considering there were some pretty big up hills. I knew that I needed to slow down a bit but my effort seemed to ‘feel’ okay. My heart rate was about 5 beats too high from what I wanted but I thought that might have something to do with the heat as well. So I just kept it going at the same intensity. Oops, big mistake. I was able to keep things going until about the 13 mile mark when you again return to the Queen K, or in other words, the lava fields. It was hot, hot, hot. The heat was not totally trashing me. I still felt okay, but I knew things were going kind of downward. I made it to mile 18 where you are in the ‘Energy Lab.’ It sounds like a good place to be… it’s not. It’s a slight downhill all the way to the ocean and then a short out and back. I would say about 2.5 miles total distance. The nice part is that once you hit the turn around you are now headed back to Kona, which means the finish. The downhill into the Energy Lab seems like a 1% grade going in and about an 8% coming out.
We had a slight tailwind and the sun was in full force. There is a place ½ way out of the Energy Lap that they have set up which is called the Motivation Zone. I can’t totally remember because the guy sounded like he had been in the sun a little too long as well. I was having a hard time focusing on what I was doing as I attempted to seek any little piece of shade I could. I started running closer to fatter people thinking that their shadow would be larger. I also ran close to cars as well hoping that the sun that was straight above us would somehow create and angle to create just the smallest piece of shade. It was like a grizzly bear jumped on my back. I started to walk for a bit just to try and get some perspective on what in the world was going on with my body. But it seemed hopeless. Like I was trying to wring out water from desert sand. It took me a few miles to regain a little composure. I felt like everyone had passed my by this point. It was hard mentally, but I knew that if I pushed myself too hard, I would end up being transported to the finish in an ambulance. And if that happened, no t-shirt, no medal, no way to spend more money on Ironman paraphernalia that would have saved me about $500.
The last 1.5 miles is mostly downhill. Down one section, that I was looking forward to, it’s about an 8% grade. Unfortunately it was harder to run down this ¼ mile section because it did no feel like my legs were going to hold me up. I felt like the brakes were totally on. But I knew that I would make it even if I had to roll the whole way. But I have to say that one image in my mind kept me going more than almost anything else in that last 5 miles, and that was the thought of bringing Emma down the finishing stretch. I was so excited to share this moment with her. I knew that it would mean so much to her and she would remember it for ever. So as I made the turn on to Alii Drive, I started looking for her. I slowed down my pace because as most people know, I don’t have the best eyesight. In doing so, a few people passed me, but I really did not care. Then all of a sudden, I saw Jessi and at her side was Emma reaching one hand out in my direction with her fist pumping. I was so excited to see her. Before I arrived, Jessi told her that she may not be able to run with me in her flip flops (or ‘Flick Flocks’ as Emma calls them). So Emma took them off and was prepared for the challenge. But I wanted her to see what was going on and enjoy the ride. So I picked her up and carried her for the last 200 meters. She was reaching out giving people high 5s and taking it all in. I don’t know where I got the strength, but bizarre things happen in that last 400 meters. I think it’s when everyone runs their fastest splits, have the biggest smiles, muscles pump just a little harder… it’s the finish of an Ironman. And in this case, the World Championships. I think the athletes absorb some of the energy of the people lining the street in the last 400 meters. It’s truly something that you have to experience. The more Ironmans that I do, the more that I try and take in that last 400 meters. It’s something that you cannot go back and re-do. You have earned that last 400 meters. I think you have two choices: you can absorb it and feel like you are the only one out there, or run straight on through and your overall time will be about 5 seconds faster. I would encourage everyone to run it slower, and try and connect with every set of eyes that are there to celebrate your accomplishment. Because after that, you are a name with 2000 other names in black and white in a result book. And in all honesty, the only thing people look at in those is their own names. My name is in it this year, and yes, I’ll look for it. But I also hope that it will be in that book again and I will be able to talk about that final 400 meters again.
I have to say that this event was a lot of fun and was probably the least stressful race I have done at this distance. Though it was a tough day, it was a good day. I had fun. But I also need to let people know that it’s more than just me that is out on those streets. I have a lot of family and friends that have been cheering me along the way in Hawaii and even at home stuck to a computer for the entire time. I thought of all of you often and wanted to get to all those time checks so that you knew that I was still going and doing well. When I would cross the mats, I knew that there were many people at home getting the data and some of you calling Jessi to let her know where I was. I thank you all for that. I know there were a lot of you who wanted to be there, but couldn’t. Know that there will be another time hopefully and also know that I felt your energy Sunday. I also want to thank my coach, John Phillips, who has been along in this journey since November 2003. It’s been quite a road full of twists and turns for me as an athlete, so thanks for being patient and giving me the feedback I need, and don’t necessarily want. I also want to thank my coach, John Phillips, who has been along in this journey since November 2003. It’s been quite a road full of twists and turns for me as an athlete, so thanks for being patient and giving me the feedback I need, and don’t necessarily want.
As most of you know I had a large contingency there to cheer, encourage, cater, and assist all week. I know they all had fun because of where they were, but they also made a time and financial sacrifice to be there as well. I thank you all for that and I often feel a bit guilty of the sacrifices you made this last week. It will be a trip that I hope will never be forgotten. From the welcoming earthquake, to the fine dining service at Rios… it was all sandwiched in to an amazing trip.
I hope that though you all have been there for me along the way that through this journey you have learned something as well. Whether it’s about your own goals, challenges, dreams, hopes, ambitions… whatever it may be, I hope that you too make things happen in your life. We tend to remember things that we have to work hard for. It’s through those challenges that we see deep within ourselves of what we are made and realize later it’s not what we originally thought. So reach, reach way up high for those dreams. And once you have them in your grasps you will soon realize that there is another one out there just a little further away that you will soon be going for. It reminds me of Emma at the pool this week in Kona. She would push the air mattress out in front of her and jump on to it. She was pretty nervous at first but once she jumped and got it, she went for it again and wanted me to push it a little further away. Granted, not really a dream, but a little goal. Even Emma isn’t content with what is, she is after what can be.
I have to say a huge THANK YOU and I LOVE YOU to my number one support crew/team/manager/cook/sponsor and that is Jessi. This year has been an amazing year for both of us and it’s through our commitment to one another and our respect for what each other does, and dreams of doing, that we can make this all happen. She has been there for me during some tough times…and not only triathlon. We have had to weather some good storms, but one thing is for certain, we will always have our family.