Ironman World Championship race report
As I wrote in my last blog, I now understand why this race is called “the big show”. It is so much more than just the race itself and the course is the real deal. It is hard, strategic, competitive and has a history that I really began to respect as much as the people who come here every year from around the globe. People take this race very seriously too and I felt lucky to be a part of the race and fun before and after race day. I tried to keep my expectations simple and remember what my perception of Kona was just one year ago. My dreams were crushed before I even got off the plane so I was pretty set to just take in the day and try to give out my best.
This also kept me very calm in the days before the race and race morning. I got to talk to a few friends in the early morning before we got into the water and kept calm most of the day. I was talking with Mimi in the warm shallow water after the pro’s went off and shivering like crazy. Not sure how much of it was the warm water or my nerves… I guess I was a little excited too. I should have taken her advice and waited to move up to the swim start but I didn’t. I wont make that mistake again. I usually start on the side and get clean water but at IMSG I found myself alone for most of the swim so I thought I would start in the pack to help get some early draft. I found myself trying to tread water for over 20 minutes between the “chainsaw” of paddle boards in the front of the line holding us back and 1800+ fit, tapered and nervous athletes. pushing from behind I have no problem treading water but limit my space to about six inches on all sides with people pulling me down and kicking and I start to wonder just what I was getting myself into…
When the cannon went off it was a surreal moment that felt like the longest part of the race. The chaos had already begun and the noise and smoke that filled the air was just confirmation about the sensory overload we were about to experience. Let the beat down begin.
I did not get clean water. In fact, it was hard to swim with all of the bubbles from the aqua wars and the only water I was getting was right down my throat. I swam as hard as I could for the first 500 meters fooling myself that I could get out of the mess. I got my goggles knocked off three times and realized I was better off swimming with water in one eye than trying to stop and get plowed down. This was the hardest swim I have ever without question. You can’t get away when everyone is faster than you.
It felt like forever until we got to the boat that would mark the turn around back to shore. Just as we completed the turn and I though it was not so bad I caught an elbow to the nose. It was enough to make me stop because I could not see and it felt like my face was turned inside out. I had swimmers climbing over my back but I had to get to the side until my eyes cleared while I was checking for blood. Geeezzz…. I quickly realized that I was not going to die and got back into the mess and tried to find some feet. I felt myself fading in the last half mile and had groups from behind were starting to swim by me. I tried to keep with them as best as I could until we got back to land and limit blowing up again so early in the race. I really just wanted the swim to be over. 59 minutes of beat down complete and time to get on my feet.
My transitions felt automatic and much smoother with the bags than my first time around. I have never taken in so much water during the swim (and this water was super salty) and swallowing the water with gobs of air left my stomach a little strange. I have only felt like this a few times after a hard Nova swim session and I was glad that I had experienced it before. I didn’t take in any calories and sipped just water for the first 20-30min on the bike and then I was good to go.
Despite how hard I felt that I had to drill the swim, I felt fresh on the bike right away. The first few miles of the bike course had an out and back climb in town and was lined with people going nuts. Naturally, this encouraged everyone riding to go a little nuts too and I was grateful that I decided to race with a power meter. Reality check! I held back on the climb up Palani after seeing mid 3XX watts and beyond flashing. Really? It felt so easy. It was way too early for these numbers and I still hit the max watts for the ride on this climb before I caught myself. Good thing it was just a short spike and it pulled me out of getting caught up with the guys around me who were sprinting past me out of the saddle. Yikes! I had no problem letting them go (they were out of sight pretty quick anyways) and I knew they would all come back to me soon enough anyways. I wanted to remember riding down the streets with my body still soaked in salt water, the feel of blood starting to flow to my legs as I got out of the saddle for the first time and the focus of the long day on my mind.
Once we got out of town I settled into a steady effort on the Queen K. Wow… I was racing in Kona! This got me smiling all day and I was stoked to just be a part of it. I remember rockin shaka’s to everyone parked out at the turns and enjoying the lava fields. This is like nowhere else on earth and I wanted to suffer with the best in the world. We had a slight head wind that got stronger until we made the turn to Hawi (and then it was strong with side gusts) and as much as people were legally working together it was too close and slow for my comfort. I started riding a little harder than I would have planned to move around the group onto the next. The unknowns I had in the final months of training without any long rides were far behind me now. At mile 80 the race had been going by so fast and I still felt strong riding. I felt just enough fatigue in the last few miles of the bike to let me know I could have pushed harder and make me question if I did too much to run a PB marathon on the course. I finished up the bike split in 5:04 / 22mph
Time to run a marathon. As I came back into town I tried to keep the power going and figure out the best place to get my feet out of my shoes. I don’t remember the bike catchers at all but I remember my first few steps off the bike. I was ready to run! I grabbed my bag and put on my fuel belt as I ran into the changing tent, slapped on my shoes and put on my visor and glasses on the way out. My watch did not turn on right away but again I was glad that I had the power and run pace as a reality check. I never race with a heart rate monitor and I really don’t pay attention to the paces once I get going but the first part of the bike and run are key to setting up a pace you can maintain.
I feel like I have improved my running way more than anything else in the last year and I was excited to run the marathon knowing that I could go the distance now. During my longer training runs I have been averaging about 7min/mi pace and I was set on staying comfortably 5-10sec min/mi slower than that to start things off. I wanted to be able to make up time in the second half of the run. I was warned about the first 10 or so miles along Ali’I drive. The energy from the people picks you up gives you a boost that at mile 3 could prove a bit too much too soon. With my pace controlled I tried to take it all in…
The day had been flying by and before I knew it I was 10 miles into the marathon and feeling good. Once I got back to Palani and needed to go UP it I was put into a humbling pace. Thank goodness this is a short climb. I started walking (probably faster than I was running at that point) to keep my effort in check and then walked again through the aid station. I thought this would be the last climb or slow section but I was just getting started with the hard part.
I knew that the energy lab turn around was at mile 18 and I remember seeing the road down to the turn around the day before the race. What I don’t remember is the hills along the way! Hills? Did these just appear? I didn’t notice these on the bike. At this point, I started watching…and counting the miles at 15 and 16 and figured this is where I should start turning it up a bit. I walked a couple more aid stations to make sure I was taking in fluids, downed the rest of my Vitargo and tried to lift my effort from mile 16. Its time. Once I hit mile 18 at the end of the Energy Lab I was stoked to get back home. No flats, no broken chain, no broken nose, no blisters and I still felt hydrated and ready to run. . . but what would a race be without mistakes?
I made plenty of mistakes in the days leading up to the race and during the race…all promising signs of future improvement and I believe some that needed to be made on this specific course itself. However, as much as I focused on the good that was around me, I started to have my mistakes try to close me in. For some dumb reason, I decided to put red bull in my special needs bag at mile 18. I have never used it while running in training and it was a spur of the moment “something new on race day” mistake. I grabbed my special needs, downed my red bull and started the run out of the energy lab. My good feeling was now far behind, my stomach felt shrunk and my legs shaky. Oh crap! It did not even dawn on me what a mistake I had made until this moment and it was too late. I usually have an iron stomach and can just toss anything back but I felt like if I put anything else in my mouth I was going to have bigger issues. My pace began to get really slow and I skipped the next two aid stations before I realized I needed to get something to wash this out. My legs started twitching and before I knew it my left hamstring cramped up. Agghh… This is the only time I came to a stop and this is where I am suppose to be running fast! I reached into my fuel belt to get some electrolyte pills but the handful that I added to the pocket has shaken apart and turned to a mushy paste that washed away from all of the water I was dumping on my head at the aid stations. I had to laugh at this point and just try to get to the next aid station.
All of my training runs have been f_l_a_t and although the hills on the course are only a couple hundred feet I found myself weak when I wanted to turn it up on the down hills or keep my pace on the climbs. Kona is a hard race. The hills are more like rollers but I felt better running on the Ironman St George course. I was feeling it... I was entering the gnar, war and fighting an enemy I could not see. The wind, heat, humidity and the fatigue of an Ironman day had started to take a toll. I was not aerobically tired but I was not moving fast either. There was a sort of excitement when I was finishing IMSG and not knowing how I would feel after mile 20 and what it would feel like to finish. I was confident that I would finish but I wanted my body to get moving along before my mind started to question it. And then I started having questions …I retreated to my training, my mental pace, my team and why I was here. I love this…Bring it! I have been waiting for you!
I turned my questions into statements. Its not the first time I have heard either side of the conversation. I was going to kick start the good back into my race and not let a few mistakes slow me down. I started remembering phrases that inspire me because of the people who repeat them. I told myself early in the run not to think about the Ultraman at all but at this point I reminded myself that I only need to run one marathon today so I better make it quick. That got me some giggles and I was feeling pretty good after all. I started looking around and noticed a few guys totally thrashed, puking and doing what resembled running with what they had left. This is awesome! I am racing in Kona and it is the real deal!
I got some soup (and a little of everything they were handing out) at the next aid station and just resolved to not walk for the rest of the race no matter how slow I was running. The next two hills to get back to Palani felt like I was crawling but once I made it over the race took care of the rest just like I knew it would.
I had no time goals or expectations for this race except to take it all in and do my best on race day. As I wrote in my last post, if I had a performance goal it was to run a PR marathon and I did (3:17) even if I didn’t finish the last 10K with a negative split. I learned the most about what motivates me and who I am when I am stripped with fatigue and the conditions that only a day like this can bring. I was glad that the swim ended up being a much harder effort than I ever wanted, that I pushed more than I should have out of my power zones on the bike and that I had to suffer through the conditions and mistakes on the run. I have no doubt that I left it all out there. When I crossed the finish line, I was stopped by a volunteer and when my legs gave out I was escorted (read: carried) by two dudes into the med tent. From the weigh-in it looks like I lost about 6lbs out on the course and it must have been because I felt like I was floating! I still cannot wipe the smile off of my face.