Last Saturday, October 9th, I raced in my second Ironman World Championships, and while it and the preceding week retained every bit of emotion, fulfillment, and mystique that last year's race held, this one was every bit its own race and an evolution of last year's experience. The addition of my wonderful wife Jocelyn, racing by my side in Hawaii almost one year to the day that we were married in Hawaii, plus close friends and training partners Chad, Matt, and Beth, this experience was more complex, but for that reason additionally rewarding. While Ironman generally is a very individual pursuit, and this race would be no different when "down in the trenches", racing at The Big Show with those that are so close to me and so loved and respected, made this event very dynamic, communal, and just plain incredible.
Saturday morning started out early as detailed in my update post, getting down onto the beach by 6:35 or so due to the earlier pro start (6:30) than last year's cattle call at 6:55. I got into the water much earlier this year as a result, so had some time to swim back and forth to warmup, and also to visualize the day and soak up the atmosphere that was crescendoing with the drumbeat. I found myself a little closer to the front this year, and more to the right than last year. The cannon went off @7am and we were off! The first 500-600 meters I estimate were pretty hectic as usual, but only had one or two really close encounters with others. I went out pretty hard and was swimming a straight line for once(!), so I didn't seem to be playing bumper cars as much as I usually do. The swim is always tough to analyze and be objective about because you have no visual cues, reference points, or any type of feedback or metrics at all, so ultimately the objectivity is limited to swim time and the rest is all feeling and whether you found the rhythm or not. I didn't feel as though I had while I was swimming, and felt like I was very average in the middle third, but when I excited the water I was pleasantly surprised to see a sub hour in 59:57 as I raced up the astro-turfed steps to beat that landmark. The new BlueSeventy PZ3TX must be as fast as everyone says it is!
After navigating the zoo of transition, I was out and on the road after a reasonable 3:16.
The first 8 miles of the bike course loops you through town a couple times, going up and down both Kuakini Hwy and Palani Rd before you are deposited out on the Queen K where things really get underway. The first 25 miles of the bike course felt super fast and easy, and I didn't feel any of the elements of Kona...yet. At around the 25 mile mark, I remember first noticing the wind and the heat, although relative to what was to come, this was pretty insignificant. I kept cruising along, trying to keep the avg speed above 23 mph if possible, but most importantly keeping the HR steady and around 150 or above while taking in as much nutrition as I could stomach. I had had some questionably fueled rides in the last couple of months where I kinda fell asleep with my nutrition, so I wanted to avoid that today for sure. At around mile 40 I made the turn at Kawaihae and started to get a little bit more variety in the terrain and scenery. I started the long gradual climb up to Hawi and just tried to keep the pressure on, and the cadence high. The crosswinds really started in earnest maybe somewhere between miles 45 and 50, and the cycling at an angle (leaning into the wind!) began. It was up and over the top of the hill in Hawi and then grabbed the special needs bag for the extra Infinit bottles. They actually had my bag ready for me so I grabbed it on the fly and emptied the contents with it hanging from my teeth for the first time, so I was proud that I still had the coordination to pull this off! Then it was time to bomb back down the hill to Kawaihae and accept some of that free speed, while always keeping alert because now the crosswinds had a little but more speed to play with and your surprise gusts would take you just that much further across the road. I was continuing to take in the nutrition, but around this time my stomach started to get a little gassy and upset and I think this was the beginning of some trouble. As the Infinit and GUs were not sitting that well, I instinctively backed off a little bit on frequency of ingestion, but of course this would bring other problems. Somewhere around mile 90-95 (Waikoloa to Puako) I started noticing declining power and focus, and watching my HR and speed start to drop off. I started drinking Coke at all of the aid stations and trying to take in more salt in an attempt to settle my stomach and simultaneously get in the necessary calories. Once I got up over the hill by the airport and began seeing signs of civilization again, my mood rebounded and I started mentally preparing for the run. I came into town, got out of my shoes and sat up about a mile out in one final attempt to let the stomach settle and to prepare for the marathon. I came in for the bike leg at 5:13:01 for a 21.47 mph average, with a 147 average HR that had declined steadily throughout the bike. Would I have anything for the run I wondered?
I was in and out of transition pretty quick, although my time of 3:55 was inflated by a stop in the porta potty before heading out to Ali'i Dr.
I started out the run thankfully feeling pretty great and fresh, despite a still partially upset stomach and presumed calorie deficit. Aside from a good deal of burping and farting in the first three miles, I felt amazingly comfortable and energized, but I wasn't going to make the mistake that I did last year by running opening 6:30 miles. I was going to ease into this a little, and hold back until I knew my systems had stabilized a little bit. I was running along at about 7 minute pace or a touch under, and my HR was only about 150, so I was confident that I could keep this up for the length of the marathon, anf hopefully build on it as well. Seeing my parents out on Ali'i, as well as Jen, Kristen, Carrie, Chad, Matt, and Beth gave me a nice boost and a welcome distraction from the enormity of the task at hand. The out and back on Ali'i came and went, and I was feeling great and starting to pick it up starting to run 6:45s to 6:50s pretty consistently.
Looping back through town and up Palani Dr, I was reminded of how my family surprised me with a quick spectating shift last year and busted me walking up Palani hill, and also how my friend Joe told me that I better HTFU and not walk it this year, so I laughed and just shuffled up, keeping my HR under 160 bpm. Then it was up onto the Queen K again, but it was much more mentally challenging this time around, with an additional 114 miles in the legs. Now this stretch of the Queen K just DRAGS on. When Jocelyn was asking me for pointers on how to break down the course, I told her this segment was only about 4 miles, but it turns out that its nearly 6, and so isolated. The throngs of cheering fans and supporters from Ali'i, Kuakini, and Palani are gone, and its just you, your competitors, your thoughts, and the HEAT. I was still running strong along this stretch and doing pretty well, but suddenly after an unexpected burp and subsequent acid reflux taste around mile 16, my stomach turned and I had to stop, double over, and projectile vomit 5 consecutive times. I felt like such a chump, doing this right after I passed Ironman legend Ken Glah. Who knows though, maybe he was impressed to see me Puke n Rally, standing back up and resuming running right away. But probably not! So I quickly resumed my pace and got down to business doing the out and back in the Energy Lab section of the course, easily the hottest place I have ever been on Earth. I took three aid stations off from any drinking or eating, and once back up on the Queen K, took two full cups of Coke and even some pretzels washed down with more Coke. This seemed to do the trick, and not a minute too soon as I was starting to get a little dizzy. The rest of the way down the Queen K the mental strategy was to remind myself that every step brought me closer to the finish, and that the quicker I could go would give me an even greater PR once I did the math. Turning right onto Palani I felt an instant surge of power, and remembered the ecstatic final mile from last year and my energy was easily doubled. Three turns later, I was coming onto Ali'i Dr for the finishing stretch of another dream come true on this storied road. I kicked it up a notch in the finishing stretch, but not quite as fast as last year as I wanted to take in the moment and drink it in a bit more, as last year I remember being a little too cooked and not as present in the moment. Coming across the line, I put my hands up in the Helping Hearts sign, showing my love for Ballou Skies and the team, and then pumped my arms and fists for the gift of such a wonderful day. I ran the marathon in 3:13:05 to finish the race in a PR of 9:33:14.
As the night wore on, I regrouped with Jocelyn, Chad, Matt, and family, and recounted the great days everyone had and the powerful experiences that were now etched into our legs, arms, hearts, memories and consciousness. Jocelyn overcame a terrible set of circumstances after being hit by a truck on the preceding Wednesday that ruined her bike and ballooned her knee and elbow. Chad realized his dream to return to the Big Island after tireless work and commitment to his goal and passion for the sport. Matt raced here in Kona for the first time as bad luck had conspired against him on too many occasions, finally fulfilling his dream. Beth did her first Ironman after not quite being sure that she wanted to, but ended up loving it, I think it is safe to say, as we all do. Ironman starts out as this external accomplishment, but becomes a part of who you are, I think in large part due to the goals you set, dreams you pursue, and the people you meet along the way. It is not the destination, it is the journey. Although Kona is certainly a worthy destination! Many thanks go out to Jocelyn, my family, friends, Ryan and Ty, our great team, great charity, coworkers, and to all who cheered, supported, tracked, or showed interest or gave energy in any way - you are the best, and I am incredibly grateful.