Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kona 2012 Race Report

Kona 2012. Where do I begin? This is going to be tough for me to write and get through, but I want to do it while the memories are still fresh, skin is still tan, sensory experiences from the island still prominent, and then so I can put this race behind me and stop beating myself up.

Race week was going well, landed in Kona a week prior as we have done the last 3 years, was getting used to the heat/humidity, getting some short but solid sessions in, and was generally resting, hydrating, sleeping well, and feeling like a million bucks. Even got an incredible massage on the island the Tuesday prior, brought the NormaTec MVP's- basically the legs and energy levels were topped off and I was ready to rip it. Race morning started as most do, nutrition was going down well, got an earlier start from the condo than usual, was very relaxed and had plenty of time to spare before the start.

Got down on Dig Me Beach fairly early, just waded about in ankle deep water until about 6:50, and then swam out to the start line to pick my spot. I grabbed a spot in my usual area, about 20-30 yards left of the pier and 2-3 rows back. I was ready to have a great swim, having hit a couple incredibly strong (for me) swim weeks in my final Kona overload. Things seemed calm and there was less jockeying for position here than in years past (enter: irony & m.f.in' foreshadowing). The drums were beating, helicopter swirling overhead, countdown on, and then we were off.
Things were getting real
Disaster! The first 2-3 minutes, I made next to ZERO forward progress, I was being walloped and brutalized like never before. Somewhere towards the end of this time period, I was buoyed up on all sides and from underneath, completely out of the water like a breached whale, and all I remember is a spray of whitewater around my face. Moments later I was back down underwater, submerged back in the chaos, and I actually thought "This is the sensation that one might have before drowning". Thank the stars I have a long swimming background, have been in my share of hairy swim environments before, and I am a stubborn, proud racer. Things finally calmed down, I eventually got some clear water, and I soldiered on. The swim was going ok in the final 3/4, I felt alright, and was sighting and navigating reasonably well with the sizable swell and chop that we had on the day. Out of the water to see a low 1:01 coming up the steps. I was prepared for this, having had distance and time notification beeps on my 910XT, and said "whatever, on to the next one." Not bad, considering my worthless and hair-raising first couple of minutes of the race. Transition 2:46. **Present day analysis, 44th position AG out of the water, compared to 35th last year - ok, not so good.

swim and bike splits
Off and onto the bike, and things were going smoothly. T1 was quick with the new Rudy Project helmet that went on easy over my ears, shoes in cleats, Profile Design bento box/e-pack thing holding all of my nutrition on-bike, and then I even managed to keep all of my bottles in their cages over the rough part of Kuakini Hwy! On to my top two early bike priorities, pounding the fluids, and settling into my goal race wattage and then to see how my HR/RPE was measuring up to that in the first 20 miles. Things were looking pretty good, avg watts were about 6 below what my plan called for, but it felt right so I rolled with it. I caught up to Chad somewhere around the 25 mile mark which was a good sign, and that I was riding well. While continuing to keep an eye on CH, I kept rolling along, keeping my watts up, and pushing the nutrition. Approaching the Waikoloa area and a little bit beyond, we got our first taste of the wind. This was much earlier than I have ever experienced in my four years racing Kona, about 20 miles earlier than usual to be honest, and they were ripping. The one new bike question mark for me going in, was how it would handle in the wind. I got in a solid number of miles before the race to know that the fit was dialed and that would not be an issue, but what remained was how would the bike handle, the geometry, the SHIFT technology, etc. Question answered, it was amazing, NO problems whatsoever. The Illicito swallowed up the wind and spit it out. Thank you QR. Made the turn to head down to Kawaihae, then turned right to head up to Hawi. The wind was rough heading up, but then again it always is, and the bike form on the day seemed solid. 
turnaround in Hawi
I made the turn in Hawi about 5 minutes quicker than last year, on arguably a much tougher day, and started hammering down the hill. Chad and I were keeping an eye on one another, and I don't know about him, but I enjoyed this as it was like we were back in Western PA on a training ride and helped make the pacing and keeping the effort up that much more natural. Got back down to Kawaihae and made the turn onto the Queen K for the final ~30 mile push back to town, and sure enough, the wind had shifted (or the trades were more dominant now) and the wind was now in our face.
fighting the wind on the Queen K, en route to T2
The final 30-ish miles were slower than the preceding 80 as per usual, but I managed to keep the avg speed for this segment above 20 mph, cadence up, and was keeping my effort steady and controlled with my lowest VI of the day as I kept my head down and fought the wind. The watts came down a little in this section, Chad went about a minute up the road, but I was on track for a Kona bike PR. I finished the bike leg with a 5:02:18, good for a 22.23 mph avg. I was hoping to crack 5 hours today, but the conditions were pretty brutal, and compared to last year (5:04:25), this was a much stronger ride. Last year, I slipped from 35th out of the water, to 55th at the end of the bike. Today I jumped from 44th out of the water to 26th at the end of the bike. Last year, my run was my ace in the sleeve, and if I could run like that again, I would reach my goals and improve dramatically from last year in my AG. T2 went ok at 2:39, and I was off and onto the run. Total combined transition time 30 seconds faster than last year, so marginally better here.

I started the run off and my pace/HR was reasonable at less than 7:00/mile pace and HR below 155 bpm, but I knew straightaway that something was off and I did not feel quite right. One thing I was conscious of from the very start of the run though was that I had a strange sensation of chest tightness. My nutrition was spot-on from the bike, I knew I had hydrated and fueled well so I wasn't sure what could be causing this blah-feeling, but my energy levels were VERY low. I tried to focus on cranking up my turnover and staying smooth, of not fighting my stride in anyway, to try to ease into the run. Often the first few miles of the IM marathon feel terrible, but eventually you come around. There were bad signs though, as my HR was holding steady, pace slowly slipping, but RPE starting to climb dramatically. Within the first 3-4 miles of the run, the chest tightness progressed into a small cough almost as if I had a chest cold and I continued to feel less and less like myself. Between miles 6-8 there was a shift and things started to get much tougher. I had started power walking the aid stations, and did so as I came off of Kuakini and worked my way up Palani Road between miles 10 & 11. As I started the long slog out the Queen K to the Natural Energy Lab turnaround, I really started to suffer. The feeling in my chest was growing more and more "congested", and I started to really work the cough and try to clear shit out. Around mile 14 for the first time, I stopped midway between aid stations and, hands on knees, violently coughed up some of the "congestion" and spit it out on the pavement. Uh-oh. Orange-ish-red, frothy nastiness, and quite a bit of it. With that bit of nastiness out however, I felt a little better and my breathing more natural, so off I started running again (though pretty slow at this point) for another couple of miles. Repeat this process all over again at about miles 17, 20, and 23. Cough up some blood, clear out some space, continue running.
One foot in front of the other
As I was making my way through the back half of the marathon and this horror show was unfolding, my mind was racing and questioning me and the effort more than ever before. I had a pretty good idea what was going on with my growing knowledge of physiology, but the athlete in me plead to remain somewhat ignorant. I thought quite a bit about whether I should continue on or drop out, about what sort of physical damage I may have been doing and risk I was taking, but I rationalized staying in and finishing the race. In the end, the reasons to finish far outweighed the reason to quit.
  • the opportunity cost of training for the last 10 months, 
  • the distance traveled and time taken to race, 
  • the financial investment, 
  • my competitive spirit, 
  • my pride, 
  • respect for the history of this race, those that have raced here and aspire to race here, and the power and spirit of the Big Island,
  • the belief in my abilities of my sponsors/coach/teammates/friends/family, 
  • and the ability to still run, despite this temporary ailment when Ryan and others cannot and will not walk   
  • being a quitter. Feeling sorry for myself. Taking the easy way out and using this as an excuse. And then perhaps always wondering if I could have finished, and perhaps a lifetime of regret.
Needless to say, I kept going, and honestly the symptoms didn't get much worse from the first hacking of a lung at mile 14, and then during the interminable amount of time before I finished. During this rough stretch however, the motivation to finish grew, with the welcome sight of another downhill run on Palani, a couple more turns, and then another beautiful, grateful, and cherished run down Ali'i Drive to the best finish line on Earth.
hurdling a Blais-man roller at the finish. No disrespect, but I needed some medical attention!
I ended the day with a 3:36:34 marathon at an 8:15 avg pace, dropping from my promising 26th place off the bike to 50th place in my AG at the finish line. Had I run the same marathon time as last year, I would have run my way up to 6th or 7th place in my AG. Based on how I had been running prior to the race, equaling my 2011 run time was a real, and even conservative possibility.  But that's all just a distant, blood-stained dream at this point! Total time 9:45:45. This was my 2nd slowest finish in Kona of my four, wonderful years racing here, but surprisingly, I ran faster this year than I did in 2009. This was one pleasant surprise taken from the day when doing analysis for the writing of this race report. While I was upset and disappointed to see my finish time coming across the line, I would be lying if I said I wasn't aware of the overall time as I was walking/coughing my way through the Energy lab, and I thought that while this wasn't going to be the outcome that I wanted for the day, I could still go sub-10 if I sucked it up and ran some more!
HR trailing off dramatically throughout the run. lung capacity matters - who knew?!
heading to the med-tent. no need to grovel for an IV this year!
So I got to the medical tent and coughed up some more "rusty colored sputum" for the med tent staff. Commence with much running around of the docs and nurses, their gathering of medical apparatus, and whispering amongst themselves about "pulmonary edema" and "wet, very wet" lung sounds. Next came an ambulance ride to Kona Community Hospital, and then a couple hours starving post-race as I was poked, prodded, measured, tested, x-rayed, etc. This was to be the beginning of a two day stay in Kona Hospital where I could stew and think about my race and what went wrong. That, perhaps, is the worst part about all of this. I was at my lifetime best fitness, was psyched to race and the day started off very well, only to crash and burn. I did nothing wrong, with the exception of perhaps choosing (once again) an overly aggressive and risky swim-start position. After speaking with numerous doctors while confined to the hospital, the number one theory of how I contracted pulmonary edema during the race was:
I probably aspirated sea water during that particularly rough part of the swim, and then this created a hypertonic environment in my lungs that started an osmotic chain reaction that would run out of control during the day and fill up and damage my lungs as I raced. There are some other factors that may have contributed, no one knows for sure, least of all me, but the scientist in me is curious and I continue to research the condition and try to apply it to my symptoms on the day.
"My-after" - KCH cafeteria food!
So that's the story. My tale of woe, and I think probably the strangest race report I have ever written. Maybe it will hold that title for sometime into the future, maybe not. I cannot begin to express how disappointed I am that this happened, and that my day ended in this way and with this less than desirable result, but I am also gaining a growing appreciation that I stuck it out and finished. I am not particularly proud of my finish time, but I am extremely proud of the effort and my toughness/perseverance. I am still coming to terms with everything, but writing about it was a good, cathartic start, and in time I am sure that I will gain additional perspective and peace with the race. Most of all, I am thankful to have had the opportunity to race in and finish Kona once again, and to have my health and to be on the road to recovery. Many, many thanks especially to my wife Jocelyn, my family (Mom, Dad, and sister) who were all there in Kona and terribly worried and supportive of me, and friends, family, teammates, and online well-wishers who contacted me during my convalescence. Thanks as well to my sponsors, fans, and supporters - I promise, I'll be back and better than ever!

Mahalo -