Aloha! Glad you are reading the blog from my final race of the season. This one was certainly a tough one -the race itself, the preparation and the performance that I had. Feel free to skip down to race day if you’re familiar with the sport and its traditions. I will start by explaining a bit about this race.
The Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii is the original, Ironman Triathlon. It is here that the top qualifying pros and amateurs have come to compete in their respective divisions for over 30 years. For pros, qualifying means scoring enough points at Ironman brand events over the course of a year, for amateurs it means placing well enough at one of these same events or getting one of the few lottery spots. I got to Kona by winning the 18-24 age group at Ironman Texas.
The course is debatably the hardest Ironman course out there, fitting for a world championship. The swim course consists of 2.4 miles of crystal clear waters out and back from Dig Me Beach. During some practice swims I was able to see, and be thoroughly distracted by, the plentiful marine life. The bike course is a 112 mile out and back starting in town before turning to the lava fields of the Queen K. This highway features harrowing head and cross winds, and a substantial climb to the turnaround in Hawi. To finish off the race, the marathon runs through the famous Ali’i (Ah-lee-hee) Drive around the town of Kailua-Kona before being sent once again to the hot asphalt of the Queen K. The last 15mi are an out and back on the Queen K, with the turnaround within the compounds of a solar energy plant (the “Energy Lab”). A total day of 140.6 miles.
I was able to get out on the course a few times during the week, and test out the bike I was borrowing from iRun Earphones. The winds were stronger than I had anticipated, and the hills were steeper, but I felt confident on my abilities to perform on race day. Wish I had spent time on the other part of the course…
Race week is a spectacle in itself. There are around 2000 athletes that come to this race, plus a slew of media, spectators, and expo vendors. Notable race week activities include the “Underpants Run”, Pre-race banquet, expo visiting, and warming up on the course. I mostly avoided these activities, not for lack of desire but due to the priority I place on being calm and stress free the days leading up to the race. As a side note, I actually turned 21 the Thursday before the race. Did not actually change anything for that day, but got nice wishes from friends.
Before I go into the race itself, I would like to make an honest statement about my preparation. I certainly felt that I was physically restricted due to a flare up of my old Achilles injury after my race in Chicago. Between Chicago and Kona I had only done one run over five miles long, and that was during my collegiate conference race. In an attempt to compensate, I was riding more and trying to allow it to heal. My rationale was: I had gone into the race in Texas with pain and I finished strong, deeper in my injury, but still strong. Therefore, if I could go into Kona without pain I would be great. I certainly felt my cycling was much stronger, and was hoping that just like in Texas I could overcome the implications of my physical state. However, this course did not allow for my childish games.
Going into race day I was more nervous than I have been all season. I am not sure if I was beginning to fear failure, or fear the pain that was between me and success. Either way, I should have known better than to put that much pressure on myself or let others affect my game plan. I had some minor hiccups (took four pairs of sunglasses to get me through the week by the time I had lost and broken them), but nothing unexpected and nothing that a flexible athlete cannot handle.
Fast forward to the cannon blast, it was a mess. I had been desperate for this race to start all week, as a way to escape from the stresses of real life, of engineering homework, of decision for the future. In wishing for this start line I did not picture that level of aggression. At Texas I simply coasted away from a mass start, where in short course races I am aware of the bumping and grinding that I have to battle through to get in front. This start was one hell of fight. Almost 800m in I was still burning matches to gain an advantageous position, before I finally settled on someone’s feet. The rest of the swim I spent attempting to calm myself, stroke smoothly, and keep my heart rate low. Of this, I was fairly unsuccessful simply because I did not want to sacrifice my position. I ended up out of the water in good position overall and ahead of my division.
I went swiftly through T1 and out onto the bike course. The first couple miles spinning around town is nice before heading to the Queen K. That is where it got real.
The tail winds going out on the Queen K felt great, but I started out conservative, I knew those would turn on me coming back in. I tried to stay close to some of the groups forming (note: drafting is illegal in Ironman races, but keeping 7m apart is not considered drafting even though at high speeds or high winds there is an advantage to riding behind someone), knowing that the high winds in the future would make it worth staying close. For the most part, I found myself falling back in each group, of which I was allowing to keep from going to aggressively. However, a bit after the lava fields ended, and the climb to Hawi started, I made an effort to stick with the stronger bikers… and paid for it.
I swear the road sign had the arrow up not east for the climb to Hawi. Maybe it was simply because of the additional force of the head winds. By the time I had turned around, I had burned another couple of matches. However, I felt the time to be conservative had passed and I needed to prevent people in my division from catching me, of which I had been successful thus far.
The trip back to the lava fields from Hawi was less than easy. I managed to hit my fastest downhill speed ever (just under 50mph) while simultaneous fighting the crosswinds that fatigued my arms to near failure. Confidence greatly shaken, I was back on the lava “flats” and began to feel that I would be ok for the run, so long as I could stay loose and begin to fight a new foe: the heat.
It was never cold out there, but it was coming back that the heat started to get to me. It did not help that I botched a string of aid stations and ended up with no fluids. I knew I was in trouble when I began to feel dizzy. To fix this, I doubled down at the final two aid stations on the bike (located every ~7 miles) and slammed almost four full bottles of Ironman Perform in those last 14 miles. Desperate times. Coming into T2 I felt pretty good, all things considered. I had finished battling the invisible enemy that the wind and had lowered my core temperature out of the red zone. My Achilles felt a little painful, but I had a plan to fix it.
My second transition was much slower than my first. I used my Trigger Point Ankle Roller, a desperate but necessary bit of time I put into aiding in stretching my Achilles. After some weird looks from the volunteers it was time to hit Ali’i and see what happens on my first hard run since August.
It started out well. I was up there in my division and had hopes to hold on. The heat was brutal, but I was controlling the fire well by playing “where can I dump the ice” at the aid stations (I’ll give you a clue, the answer rhymes with everywhere). I was honestly out there enjoying the feeling of running again, pushing it harder than I had let myself for months. Unfortunately, this did not last. At about mile 10, the wheels came off.
There is a blurred line in this sport where bravery and stupidity lie. However, there is that same line where intelligence and cowardice collide. This race takes its toll on the human body. It’s a joke to say otherwise. There are times when it’s time to give into your body to avoid injury, and times when you have to push through to get what you came for.
At mile 8 I began to run up a hill on Ali’i Drive and developed sharp pain in my right foot. As I ran it felt worse and I made some adjustments to my shoes, to no avail. I walked through a water station and found the pain still increasing. Finally, I took off my shoe and found a hard lump on the side of my foot. This is when I made my fatal decision: I walked until I got to a place to call for an examination.
Was this smart? Debatable. Fear told me it was a stress fracture, coming off so little running and not knowing what that felt like. By the time the doctors got to me I had rubbed it enough to know it was just some plantar fascia swelling. I had sat there watching my competition pass: and was out of the running. Hope for me was gone, and that killed my motivation to push through the pain. I am not proud to say that is where I gave in to the course. I walked, I jogged, I could have skipped for all that mattered for the longest 16 miles of my life. No excuses, no tiny violins. I cracked when things got rough and that is a bitter pill to swallow.
Even though it is hard to admit I know I will grow more as an athlete from this race than I did from the rest of this season. It takes a bad race to really examine the details. Without too much digging I know I did not respect this course like I should have, and my aggression in Hawi made me pay. I will be back in Kona someday, when it will be I am not sure, but when I do I will be ready.
After swimming with dolphins, cruising a volcano, nursing some nasty sunburn, and a long flight home it’s time to get back to the real world. Over the next few weeks I will be taking time off, assessing this season, planning for the next season and being more active with Purdue Triathlon’s development (excited to see all the new athletes that joined this year!). Once I get a plan for 2013 I will post up loose details, so keep an eye out for that.
Thanks to everyone that helped me get to this race. This includes my father, family, and friends that were there in person or in spirit cheering for me, and my training partners that pushed me through the hard workouts. I also want to thank my sponsors; they went above and beyond to help me get to this race.
Stay active, stay fit and thanks for reading.