Saturday, October 15, 2011

Kona 2011 race report

Last Saturday, October 8th 2011, I competed in and finished my third Ironman World Championships in as many years. This race has become the goal and focus of each year of my triathlon life, and I was feeling really good heading into this one and really gunning to keep shaving off time in my IM finish times. My first year out in 2009 I finished in a 10:28:19 and then followed that up with 55 minute improvement in 2010. Could I shave another 55 minutes off my time this year? HAHAHA, I would guess most likely not, but I knew that my improvement had continued from last year and despite some disappointing races earlier this year, I had learned some valuable lessons and had worked harder than ever. I was ready.

Race morning started at about 4am at the condo and Jocelyn and I were up and starting to bring in the nutrition (read: CARBS!). Over the course of the next couple hours, I drank 3 bottles of Ensure, ate a large banana, guzzled some organic apple sauce straight out of the jar (sorry honey!), and had one package of uncaffeinated GU Chomps and one uncaffeinated GU. This was all supplemented by some Gatorade, but who knows how much and I was feeling pretty fueled up and hydrated. Jocelyn and I had planned on catching the shuttle down Ali'i Drive but after being passed up once, we decided to thumb it and were thankfully picked up by a family in a Jeep from the same condo complex who were in from Arizona and Alaska to cheer on their family member Greg. After getting down to the King Kam and the pier, getting body marked and wandering around for a while in the wrong direction and wrong order of activities, I finally got my special needs dropped off and then we got into transition to set everything up.

Jocelyn and I left transition and I headed over towards Ali'i' and the seawall to try to meet up with my family, Ty and Ryan, and Chad, Beth, Chris, Eric, and Joe if possible. After successfully seeing almost everyone over at the seawall and the flurry of good luck wishes, it was time to head back over to transition again. It was getting close now!
A little bit before the pros went off at 6:30, Chad, Beth, and I walked over and back into transition to get ready to head into the water once the gates were opened up for the age groupers. I had not seen Jocelyn since we parted ways for a bathroom stop and then the meetup over by the seawall, and I was looking at every pink cap that was wearing a pz3tx swim skin to try to track her down before the swim start to wish her luck and score the pre-race kiss, but alas, I did not locate her. Thankfully she tracked down Joe and Kim before the start and went into the water with them. I got out towards the front with maybe 15 minutes to go to the start but a little bit left of where I was last year, within 10 or so yards of the edge of the pier. I was hoping to avoid being pummelled like I was for a little bit last year and especially like I was at Lake Placid this year.
After a little bit of treading, visualization, and a lot of fighting for position, the canon blasted at 7am and we were off!
The first 1000 meters were insane, and much more of a cluster-F than I remember from years past. I was literally out of the water at times, buoyed up by human bodies to my left, right, and underneath me, when you would have the inevitable people shift directions or drift into you, and you would get "pinched". Twice I got my favorite move, where a guy will put his hand on your shoulder and push off and in the process, push you back. Real cool man, for almost everyone out here it's going to be a race of 9+ hours, but I know you're in a terrible hurry. I just tried to stay as calm as possible and not let my heart rate (HR) skyrocket, burning up valuable fuel and setting off a negative cascade of stress hormones into my blood stream. For the most part I think I was successful and things spread out a little bit into the second kilometer of the swim and to the first turn at the boat. It got a little hectic again at the far turns, but nothing like the start. I tried my best to swim a straight line and keep on someone's feet and was largely successful with this for the last 3/4 of the swim. I was also trying to keep my turnover up and really focus on fast, powerful strokes, and not gliding too much, but I felt a little ineffective in the water and my bottom half was also completely disjointed from my top half with my hips and kick feeling very uncoordinated. As I approached the pier again, I expected a time north of an hour, but was pleasantly surprised to see the clock approaching 59 minutes as I ran up the steps and onto the pier. Based on how I felt in the water, and the more sizable ocean swell than what we had last year, I feel like I can almost 100% attribute my swim split to good drafting. This is probably a little dramatic, but I did not feel nearly half as good as I had in the water in the two weeks leading up to the race. In the end, my swim was a :59:12, 45 seconds faster than last year and a 1:31/100m (1:24 yards) average pace.
T1= 2:54, not too bad, although probably should have been 30-60 seconds faster. My helmet sucks and I should probably attach more of my nutrition to my bike, and stuff less into my singlet pockets!
Off and onto the bike, and heading up the first little part of Palani towards the "Hot Corner", looking strangely rigid and out of sorts. Who knows.

Starting the bike, I was certain to get into my shoes quickly and also make sure that I didn't loose any valuable nutrition when heading north onto the rough part of Kuakini like I did in '09. I tried to take it easy through town and not get too excited; you would pay for it later in the day if your HR remained jacked for too long at the start of the bike. Chad caught me on the out and back section of Kuakini and while I thought for a moment about going with him and working together, he was clearly on a mission and knew I had to ride my own race. I planned on seeing him again. Up and out of town and onto the Queen K, I tried to settled into a somewhat hard, but relaxed rhythm. My plan was to ride the first 40k or so pretty steady to try to get some separation on some of my competitors and also get out of town quickly, before the trade winds picked up along the coast. Then the plan was to take it "easy" for the middle 90k up to and back down from Hawi, and then really build into it and ride hard the last 40-50k back into town to finish strong. The last two years I have faded badly on this last stretch when facing the headwinds, and I was determined to ride this section better as my training has been more intense and strength oriented this year, but I also wanted to make the right decisions on the race course (i.e. pacing and fueling) to make this easier to accomplish. The first 45k I rode at an average power (AP) of 222 watts, normalized power (NP) of 236 watts, with an average HR of 153 bpm, cadence of 95 rpm, and an average speed of 23.7 mph. I was moving along pretty good, but it felt very controlled and sustainable. Between the airport and the Mauna Lani Resort area, there were TONS of guys coming through, riding what I would expect to be WAY too hard, and a couple times it almost looked like packs were starting to form or the rotating pass lines were getting too complex and risky, so I took the opportunity every so often to sit up, ride clean, get in some more calories, and not burn myself digging too deep to pass a line of 10 guys. For the first two hours or so I was getting in about 3 bottle of Infinit per hour plus GUs, salt tablets, and water, so I definitely felt like I was banking some good calories and hydrating myself well. I didn't dramatically slow once I made the turn in Kawaihae, but just kept things comfortable and kept rolling along. The winds got pretty bad in the final 5-10 miles prior to the turnaround in Hawi, but I don't know, they just didn't feel as bad to me this year, maybe due to increased strength/fitness, but possibly also due to experience and better race management decisions. 2nd quarter, 218 AP/231 NP/148 HR/89 RPM/21.7 MPH. I went through the turnaround in Hawi and had to stop at special needs as they did not have my bag ready for me with the hand off, but I took the opportunity to inhale a Powerbar and take a couple deep breaths to marshal my strength for the ride back into town.

Heading back down the hill from Hawi is always a ripping good time, and I was definitely enjoying myself and didn't feel like a bonk or heat stroke was imminent, like it had been in years past. I keep trying to really force the fluids as best that I could, but it was in this section that my stomach started feeling a little unsettled so I backed off a little with the Infinit, as I had been doing a very god job up until this point. For a couple miles, I just did water, caffeinated GUs, and salt, and this seemed to heal my stomach somewhat and pep me up even more. 3rd quarter (net downhill), 204 AP/220 NP/149 HR/88 RPM/22.3 MPH. Making the turn from Kawaihae back onto the Queen K, now it was time to work! This is where I had faded terribly in past years and where the notorious winds would always beat me into submission! Not this year my friends! While it was still tough and my avg speed was still the lowest that it had been for any other section, it was not nearly as bad as years past (sub 20 mph), but even better than this, when usually this was the section where I was getting passed by an endless stream of my competitors, this year I was doing the passing! And maybe even better than that, although surely a function of my relative race position, was that my attitude was also much more positive. I wasn't muttering expletives and incoherency's under my breath, and I was feeling strong! Final quarter, 214 AP/221 NP/151 HR/89 RPM/21.0 MPH. Over the course of the 5+ hours I took in about 2300 calories and probably drank about 180 ounces of fluids.

Final bike time = 5:04:25, a 8:36 min improvement from last year in very comparable conditions, and an IM bike PR. Total bike stats = 214 AP (3.19 watts per kilo)/227 NP (3.39 watts per kilo/150 HR/90 RPM/22.1 MPH. I felt very good on the bike today - I felt in control and was able to push to the level I felt appropriate for my fitness - really this was the first time this happened for me racing all year. Let's get ready to run.

T2= 3:01, again, a little slow but I've had worse. For some reason I was having a little trouble with my lace locks, maybe it was my brain's last ditch attempt to keep me in the chair a little longer and out of the heat!
Starting out on the run, my plan was similar to last year - start the run at a pace that almost seems  ridiculously easy, keep the HR below 150, and let the body settle down a little bit and adapt to the heat and humidity along Ali'i' Drive. Your cardiovascular system is so warmed up right now and this is also where your running economy can really carry you for a little while if you have built it well, so you can get by for a little bit by running "easy" - if you took off running by HR or at some speeds you hit back home in cooler, less humid climates, you could easily cook yourself in Kona. This worked out well, as my stomach was a little upset anyway from pounding the calories and sugar on the bike, so I was just taking in some Perform and water at the early aid stations, but not every one as I apparently was having some issues with gastric emptying. What served to keep my energy levels up on the bike, was now kind of creating problems for me in the early stages of the run. Quite the double edged sword. One thing however that I was surely getting at every aid station was cold water, ice, and wet sponges. Core temperature regulation is essential at this stage of the race, and even if these practices only have minimal effect, at least you can fool your brain into thinking that you are cool for a quarter mile at a time! I ran the opening 5 miles in only about 7:25 pace, but kept my avg HR at 149. My stomach was starting to settle down a little bit by this point and I started in with the gels, perform and coke. I was starting to feel more comfortable now and I ran the next 5 miles or 6:50 pace with an avg HR of 152 as I came back through town, saw Ty out on Ali'i Drive cheering on the Ballou Skies squad, and got ready to tackle the kicker that is Palani Drive and head out onto the never ending stretch of highway on the Queen K.

Heading up onto the Queen K, this became the roughest patch of the run for me, as the 35 minutes of minimal to non-existent fueling started to catch up with me. This is also where the previous gut discomfort evolved into intestinal discomfort. As I was running along, the building pressure was becoming too much to ignore. After stopping briefly at one porta-pottie and discovering accidentally that it was in use (whoops, but door was not locked and red!), I made the decision to head into the bushes (tall grass) on the side of the road before things got ugly. As fearful as I was that this would continue for the rest of the run if I continued to take in the gels, perform, and coke, I knew I needed these calories to make it through the final half marathon. The quick pit-stop wasn't too time consuming and was probably my fastest "transition" of the day. This bought me some temporary relief as I pushed along and headed down into the Energy Lab for the turnaround. I was only feeling so-so at this point and the fatigue (or hypoglycemia) was really starting to build, but historically whenever I make the turn in the Energy Lab, a switch flips in my head and I always get an immediate boost in energy as I know that I am heading into the home stretch. The last 7 miles out to the far turn was my slowest stretch of the marathon, with the two slowdowns/stops I ran 8:01 pace with a HR of 150. Coming back out, I was slightly energized and the stretch on the Queen K usually goes a little faster, maybe because you know the landmarks better by now and also partly because you are that much more delusional as you dig deeper into the pain cave? I required one more stop in the bushes around the 21 mile mark, but once again I was pretty quick and I was really starting to pick up the pace now as I knew I was pushing towards an IM PR and my third finish in Kona. I ran the final 9 mile stretch back into town and the finish in my fastest segment of all even with the stop, at 6:48 pace with an avg HR of 149. The final mile to half mile I ramped it up as much as I could and got the speed up to about HIM pace, but my worked heart/brain/CNS could only manage 161 bpm at this point! The marathon would end up taking me 3:10:07 for an IM marathon PR, at 7:15 pace and an avg HR of 150bpm. All in all I would say an ok run - I never really felt like I had that extra gear or the turnover like I did at IMHI'10 or IMLP'11, but I guess you really can't argue with a PR.
Running down Hualalai again to Ali'i' Drive, I began to reflect again on another long year of hard work and hard racing, and how fortunate I was to be healthy enough to compete at this level and also to be part of such a wonderful triathlon team and community of triathletes in Pittsburgh. I thought of how great and meaningful it was that Ty and Ryan were in Kona to watch the 6 members of our Ballou Skies Tri Team crush it, and to see what it is that drives us so much as we strive to better ourselves and the charity through our efforts. Coming across the line in 9:19:39 was a dream come true and a new Ironman PR - what better place to get it than in Kona!
Many thanks to go out to my wonderful wife of two years, Jocelyn, who keeps me working hard throughout the whole year and shows me such unwavering love, my parents for once again joining us in Kona with their wonderful presence and support, Ty and Ryan and the Ballou Skies Charity and Tri Team, and all others who support what I (we) do on the path to excellence. I will be sure to Ko Aloha La Ea (Keep your Love, 2011 race motto) for next season and keep this year's race in my heart always. Thanks for reading and everyone have a great offseason!


Beth said...

So happy for you Jeremy!! I love to see hard work rewarded so it was awesome to see you PR in such a grand way! Your bike sounds so much like mine. Didn't it feel awesome to be the one passing instead of getting passed in those final miles?! :-) And what a marathon despite the GI woes. Congrats!!! So happy I got the chance to race with you in Kona once again. Let's have another go in Idaho shall we? :-)

Kurt @ Becoming An Ironman said...

I have to agree with Beth. That's quite the way to end the season, PRing in Kona! I've had my own run ins with GI issues, but you still pulled off a very respectable marathon!

Enjoy the victory!!