I felt great heading into the race. My swim intermediate interval splits were a little slower compared to where I was last year, but I was not far off. My endurance biking strength was right on. My threshold power was higher last year heading into Clearwater, but my long rides were the strongest ever. My run was close to the best it's ever been. All in all I felt very good coming into the race. On a bit of a negative side, I was having some issues sleeping and I had to make multiple trips to the bathroom during the night.
I was up and out of bed by 3:30am. I made my breakfast of 6 eggs with mushrooms and peppers. In addition I had 2 pieces of Ezekiel bread with Almond butter and a banana. I had one cup of black coffee. My stomach felt good and I was anxious to get down to transition. I had planned on taking two salt tabs before the swim start, but in the excitement of race morning, I forgot to take them. Fortunately, this did not hurt me as I only had a very slight calf cramp during the swim that faded away pretty quickly.
My game plan was to position myself right up front and let it roll. If you want to swim fast in Kona, you have to give yourself a chance to do so. However, you need to be willing to get pummeled in the process. I'm not sure I fully respected the amount of pummeling that would come. I got in the water at 6:45am and swam out to the start line. When I first got out to the line, the amount of bodies treading water was still thin, but as we got closer to 7am it started to pack in.
The paddlers were trying to keep pushing the masses back. By the time the cannon was ready to go off, we were packed in like sardines. The start of the race was a very interesting learning experience. I had settled into the 2nd row right before the cannon went off. Then everyone attempted to move forward while dunking each other under the water.
After about 20 meters of extremely scary swimming, we were finally under way. I managed to move my way to the inside of the buoys, which enabled open water swimming all the way out to the turnaround boat. I was swimming next to one athlete the entire way out to the boat. We would occasionally bump against each other as the swells would push us one way or the other. Once we got around the turnaround, things bunched up quite a bit.
The only real issue I had while swimming was due to a classic last second decision. My teammate, Cindy Bannink, offered some nice anti-fog drops for my goggles right before the start. This anti-fog solution worked fantastic; however on the way back into transition I realized that I had not cleared the solution from my goggles. My eyes were burning like crazy every time I turned to breathe. This was a minor irritation and I finished up the swim in: 59:49. One of my top three goals for the race was to come out of the water in sub 1 hour. The majority of athletes come out of the water 4-5 minutes over an hour and I wanted to try to have cleaner roads for the bike.
I hit the split on my Timex Global Trainer coming out of the water and made my way into the changing tent. I attempted to self administer the sun block (this was quite comical!). I was out of T1 quickly and I had my first minor error of the day. My chain had come off while I was running with my bike to the mount line. The front cassette must have rolled backwards and the chain popped off. It was not a big deal at all, but it was a little embarrassing. Picture this: I jumped on my nice Orbea Ordu, started to pedal, and did not make any forward progress. I think my face was as red as my uniform. I quickly hopped off the bike, put the chain back on, and I was on my journey.
The beginning of the bike was very mentally challenging for me. I felt great. I really wanted to let it rip. However, I knew it was going to be a long day. Paul, my coach, and I had laid out the game plan during the week leading into the race. I needed to try to keep my effort in Zone 2 heart rate and perceived effort around 6 (scale of 1-10) for the entire bike portion. My power output (third factor) would be used to keep things in check throughout the day. I would also use my cadence monitor to insure that I was not mashing a big gear. I’ve found that my optimal cadence for power and performance is around 87 rpm’s on flat roads. My Timex Global Trainer came in very handy as I used it to track my heart rate, power, speed, cadence, and distance: all on one screen.
I tried to settle into the early miles. However, I was getting passed by quite a few athletes. This was my early challenge on the bike. The little voice in my head was saying: “just go with them”, but I knew it was not the time to “burn one of my matches” (as Lance Watson likes to say). I focused on my own effort and let the other athletes pedal by. Once I got up on the Queen K highway, my new focus was to dial into my nutrition and electrolyte game plan for the day. I saw a lot of those same athletes that were leading the charge at the start of the bike drop back once we got into the rolling hills on the Queen K. I had planned to try to take 250-300 calories on the bike, while consuming 800-1,000 mg of sodium per hour. My journey out to Hawi (the turnaround on the bike) was very methodical. I stayed right in my heart rate zone, averaging 143bpm, and my power output was 231 normalized watts. My perceived effort felt very comfortable. When I reached Hawi, I felt the best I had ever felt in my 4 attempts at this race. I dumped my calorie bottle and picked up my special needs bag which contained my 2nd bottle of carbo pro 1200. The next leg descending down to the Queen K felt great. I was reminded why it was so important to have a good swim. The other side of the road was very bunched up with athletes climbing up to Hawi. The winds were blowing pretty hard at this time, so I tried to stay as aero as I could. In hindsight, I got a little behind on my hydration and calories during the descent. However, while I was in the moment, I did not realize it. As I reached the Queen K, I started to feel the heat of the day. It was reported that temperatures climbed to 104 degrees Fahrenheit and the white line on the road reached 127 degrees. I was definitely feeling the heat. I continued to really focus on my electrolyte intake. I was starting to have some minor stomach issues with my carbo pro 1200. I had decided to use my road helmet instead of my aero helmet for this race. This decision turned out to be a very good decision as I was able to cool down much easier by dumping water right into my helmet as I went through the aid stations. As I passed the 85 mile marker I did a check on my three factors. My heart rate was still in low zone 2 at 141bpm. My normalized power was standing at 228 watts and my perceived effort was still comfortable. Over the next 5 miles things started to come unglued. My stomach really started to bother me. I even had a little internal vomit episode. I tried to take some more carbo pro 1200, but my stomach was not taking anymore. I tried to adjust on the fly and I grabbed a banana at the next aid station. This worked for a little bit, but then I noticed my heart rate slipping down into the low 130s, which is low Zone 1 for me. I wish I had something good to write about the remainder of my ride, but it was a struggle home. The last quarter of my ride was spent in low Zone 1 heart rate with a normalized power for that section of only 199 watts. I was in shut down mode.
I also started cramping pretty severely as well. I finally grabbed a cola at the last aid station on the bike with hopes that the simple sugars would pick me back up into transition 2. The cola did help, but my cramping was pretty severe as I finally rolled into T2. I was pretty happy to hand off my bike to the volunteers. I ended up biking 5:04:35.
My lower back was very stiff (no kidding) running through transition. My running form was even more peculiar than normal. I hit the tent and attempted to get into my running shoes. My calves and hamstrings were cramping and I was having a very hard time getting my shoes on. Finally, I was able to move out of the door of the tent and I grabbed 2 sports drinks.
My goal was to make it to the first aid station and walk the entire 100 yards. I saw my coach, Paul, at the half mile marker. He encouraged me to try to have a decent run and try to bring things back together a bit. I was really struggling at this point. Once I hit the first aid station, I walked the entire stretch and I took everything they were offering: water, PowerAde, cola, ice, banana, and more water. I started to run again to the next aid station where I repeated the process of walking and grabbing everything on the menu. Finally at the 2.5 mile mark, I started to feel better.
I was able to put together some decent miles until I started to approach Palani hill. As I covered the ½ mile leading up to Palani, I was starting to suffer again. My body temperature was really rising. I realized that I had made another tactical error. I had worn a visor instead of a hat. Therefore, I was not able to keep ice on top of my head. However, I did pour the ice everywhere else. I repeated my aid station strategy again on the hill. In fact, over the following several miles, I continued to walk the aid stations. I was still running a decent pace from aid station to aid station as I averaged 7:04 mile pace over the first 16 miles of the run. At mile 16, I started to feel very deep muscle soreness in my quads. It was a little early in the run to feel this and I was a little worried about how I would get through the remaining 10 miles. I tried every motivational trick I could think of: segmenting the run, thinking of my kids, counting my cadence, and attempting to pace off of other athletes around me. Every race is unique. This time the ability to pace off of the athletes around me proved to be the most useful strategy to keep me moving forward. As I approached the 22 mile mark, I saw my coach Paul again. He encouraged me to finish up the race strong. I made a decision at that point that I was going to run the remainder of the race. I shuffled my way along all the way to the finish. I crossed the line with a marathon time of 3:12:32 and total time of 9:23:30.
I was really hurting. If I wasn’t so scared of needles, I would have gone right into the med tent for an IV.
Ironman distance racing is so much different than 70.3 racing. I had been away from the distance and this race for 5 years. My impression of the race was not quite as fresh and realistic as it should have been. I re-learned a lot about the race and myself on the day. It was not exactly my best day, but I gave everything I had. After crossing the finish line, if anyone had asked me if I would return to do another IM in Kona, I would have emphatically said no. The funny thing is that it only took me 2 hours before I told my wife that I have to go back to Kona again. So the recovery is under way and the 2011 campaign will begin soon.
Thanks for reading. Sorry it was so long.
10 months ago