Racing with the best

This post has taken a while to come to fruition for two reasons:

1. I see a certain value in letting things marinate in the ol’ brain a bit before writing down my thoughts, especially when the subject is a race like the Ironman World Championships.

2. More importantly, my tablet made the unfortunate decision to bite the dust right after the race, and since I was in Hawaii for nine days after the race, that left my phone as my only device with internet access. I wasn’t about to sit there and type all this on there. Now I am home with my trusty desktop computer and everything is comfortable and great.

So first, the background story:

After around a decade of competing in Sprint, Olympic, and occasionally half-iron distance triathlons, I was given the sudden opportunity four months ago to race my first Ironman at Coeur d’Alene, thanks to Orbea Bicycles. With three weeks notice, I jumped in the race and pulled together what I perceive to be a pretty darn respectable 9:41 finish, for 23rd place overall and a qualifying slot to the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

Fourteen short weeks after that race, I boarded a plane, along with my wife, Kailee, on my way to Kona for the biggest race of my life.

When we got on our flight from LA to the Big Island, we could hear trouble immediately. There were probably eight people in a 3-seat radius of where I was sitting who couldn’t stop coughing. [Insert random ebola joke here]. Wonderful. I tried to shelter myself as much as possible and not contract anything. The flight was on Monday, and the race was Saturday. That would be really bad timing. I pounded vitamin C and fresh fruit smoothies every day in the hopes of holding off anything that might come my way.

We met my dad and his girlfriend once we were on the island, and our accommodations for the first few days (up until the night before race day) were at the house of some old friends of my parents from Alaska. They had moved down to Hawaii 30 years ago and had the type of place you might find in Alaska. It was a beautiful place, and was a good way to get away from the hubbub of downtown Kona on race week.

This coffee shack was our living quarters. It was pretty great.
This coffee shack was our living quarters. It was pretty great.

Sure enough, on Wednesday evening, a bit of a sore throat started creeping up. Thursday it turned into a little bit of a headache, and that night it developed into a cough. Fortunately, by Friday morning, things seemed to be getting better. I still had a little bit of a cough, but it was pretty minor. I crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t affect me on race day. I got out for a ride on Friday, and it was the first time all week that I had felt like I was ready to go. I got my bike set in transition and convinced myself that everything was going to fall into place.

 

All set!
All set!

On Friday night I managed to finagle a place to sleep that was right next to the race start, which was hugely helpful. I slept until 4:45 on race morning, and got up feeling ready to go. Breakfast was an avocado, a slice of bread with almond butter, and some granola. I also planned to eat a lot on the bike and the run, which worked well for me in Coeur d’Alene. I made my way down to the water feeling confident. While standing in the huge crowd of people waiting to enter the water, I realized I had forgotten to put sunscreen on. A little more time I would have to take in T1, but better than getting burnt to a crisp in the Hawaiian sun.

SWIM – 1:07:17, 74th M25-29

For the first time this year, the age group start at Kona featured separate starts for men and women. As a result, the swim was thinned out substantially. I was still able to find feet to swim on most of the time, but the start was decidedly not chaotic, as I was warned it might be by several people. This was the first time I raced in a swimskin, a brand new Orca RS1, which I had done three swims in leading up to the race. I was impressed with the comfort and general feel, and I felt like I was going fast during the swim. There were a few small swells, but overall the water was pretty calm. I got out of the water feeling like I had put out the effort to swim just over an hour, which made for a bit of a surprise when I saw 1:07 on the watch. Little did I know, that would be a bit of a theme for the whole day.

A lot of fast dudes getting ready for a long, tough day of racing.
A lot of fast dudes lining up for a long, tough day of racing.

TRANSITION 1 – 3:56

My first transition was one big long lesson in what not to do. First, I rinsed off the salt water, took off my goggles and swim cap, put on my socks, and forgot to take my swimskin off. I then almost ran off without remembering to grab some sunscreen. When I went back to get sunscreen, I realized I still had my swimskin on, so I applied sunscreen as quickly as I could, and ran back to find my transition bag, which was in a pile where the volunteers had thrown it with the others. I dug through and fortunately found it somewhat quickly, but being stressed out at that point in the race was not a good thing. Somehow, this all happened, along with the long run to my bike and out of transition, in under four minutes, making it the only part of the race that was faster than it felt.

BIKE – 5:33:08, 81st M25-29

Upon hopping on my bike, I felt a little sluggish. Mentally, I told myself that there was plenty of time for things to turn around, and concentrated on keeping things consistent. I am definitely not used to racing in such a big crowd, and it was a little frustrating trying to follow the drafting rules with people everywhere. I tried to concentrate on just riding my pace, and quite a few people blew by me in the opening miles. Once we got out on the Queen K highway, though, there was a lot more room, and I began to regain some ground. The crosswinds were very frustrating, as they often are at this race, and I found myself holding on for dear life much more often than I would have preferred. There were numerous crashes due to the wind, but fortunately none of them were anywhere near me. I conserved some energy throughout the first half, and opened it up a little more when I could headed back towards Kona. Overall, I didn’t feel like I had the legs I hoped for on the bike, but I was happy with the fact that I held it together in the wind and felt like I had something left coming into T2.

TRANSITION 2 – 2:48

The second transition went smoothly. A volunteer grabbed my bike as soon as I entered transition and racked it for me, and most of the time involved running a lap around the giant expanse of transition. After that was done, I got my shoes, race belt, and hat on, and proceeded without incident onto the run course.

RUN: 3:41:04, 69th M25-29

My plan on the first half of the run was to keep my strides short, quick, and efficient, and take in as much fuel as possible. I felt decent, but the miles didn’t tick by as quickly as I hoped. Instead of the 7 to 7:30 miles I had effortlessly been able to put down in Coeur d’Alene, and hoped for in Kona, I was running around 8 to 8:15 per mile. The legs just didn’t have it. Much like on the bike, I hoped for a second wind, but it didn’t come. I held my pace as well as I could, slowing a bit in the middle miles of the marathon, but trying to keep positive. One of my strategies is always to try and smile when I get to aid stations, and remember to have fun, laugh at things I find amusing, and generally maintain a good attitude, no matter how things are going. I believe this attitude is the reason I didn’t completely implode and go two hours slower than I did. In the last two miles, my second wind finally came, a little later than I was hoping for, but I’ll take what I can get. I began to move up through the field, and came into the finish feeling and looking strong and confident. Hey, it’s all about looking good in those finish line pictures, right?

Finish
Sweet finish chute picture. Thanks Kailee!

After crossing the line, I made my way through the post-race compound and found my way to Kailee and my dad, who were waiting nearby. Then it was time for the real vacation.

We tried to do as much snorkeling as we could for the next nine days we spent on the island (that’s the highlight, I think, anytime you’re in Hawaii). We also went to the east side of the island for a couple days, where we did some camping and hiking. Some places to visit if you ever find yourself looking for things to do on the Big Island:

Green Sand Beach – Near South Point. It’s a bit of a hike in, but definitely worth it. A really cool beach in a cove. The sand is green because of deposits of olivine.

Waipi’o Valley – We didn’t have as much time to check this out as would have been truly necessary. It’s on the east side of the island, north of Hilo. There are some really cool waterfalls, which we just saw from a distance, but we did make it to the beach, which is a huge expanse with river in the middle that flows into the ocean.

Two Step – Great snorkeling near the town of Captain Cook, about 25 miles south of Kona. We saw several sea turtles, eels, and a huge assortment of really cool fish. We kept going back early in the morning because we heard a rumor of a pod of dolphins hanging around, but had no luck finding them.

Lotus Thai Restaurant – Of the crazy assortment of Thai restaurants on the island, we tried five of them during our visit. All four of us agreed this was clearly the best in every respect. Hidden away in the corner of an industrial district just north of Kona, it’s hard to find, but definitely worth going to.

By the way, if anyone ever manages to make it to Metal Mike’s pretzel stand when he is actually there, let me know how it is. We tried about five times and never succeeded. I hear it’s good.

At the end of the day, I have decided I would like to give Kona another shot someday. Possibly next year, if everything works out. For now, though, I am glad to be back home and look forward to a little relaxation before getting into the nitty gritty of planning next year’s race season. I want to throw out a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me in this journey. I have the best friends and family anyone could ask for, and am very fortunate to live in a community that provides a tremendous amount of support for silly things like this. Thanks everyone!

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