I've been thinking about this blog post for a while now. I knew it was important to write this report before I forgot the finer details of the race, but at the same time I did not want to put my experience into words this year as it was a pretty painful race.
This was my 9th time racing in Kona. I came into this year's race knowing that it would be my last time here for a while. The thing about this race is that it takes a piece of your soul. I've said this before and most athletes that have raced at the IM World Championships will tell you the same thing. It's just a different race. The heat, humidity, wind, competition, and the fact that it's the world championship all combine to make it the most challenging race I have ever done.
Here's the blow by blow of the race:
I lined up out in the front row, to the left, as I had from 2012-2014. It's still really dense with athletes out there, but the super aggressive guys tend to line up closer to the pier looking for faster feet to follow. This race has gotten so deep in talent that now there are many athletes that can swim sub 1:02 (Kona swim is usually about 5 minutes slower than most other Ironmans). Fortunately I had a relatively uneventful swim this year. I felt pretty comfortable throughout, except for the occasional swell that would push several of us on top of each other. I came out of the water with my fastest swim time at this venue, but this still ranked me as the 405th athlete out of the water.
I was determined to settle into the race on the bike. I did not want to get caught up in the early adrenaline rush of the first 20 kilometers. It can be comical watching athletes ride this section close to their Olympic distance efforts. My goal was to be smooth and patient until I got out on the Queen K. Then I wanted to settle into my proper heart rate and power zones for the remainder of the day. The first thing that struck me was how much more crowded the course felt this year. The number of athletes allowed to race in Kona has been steadily climbing since 2011. I did this race back in 2005 and there were 1,743 finishers. In 2011 there were 1,773 finishers, so not much of a change. Then from 2012-2014 there were a little less than 2,000 finishers. In 2016, there were 2,207 finishers. It's not just the number of athletes that causes the congestion problems, though. It's the fact that the level of talent has become very similar. So, these facts led to a swarm of athletes starting the bike section together. In 2014 I received 2 penalties within the first 20 kilometers of the bike, one for blocking and one for drafting. I felt that both were not fair calls and I was determined to stay out of the sin bin in 2016. Once I got out onto the Queen K, I got down into my aerobars and tried to get to work. Every time that a pack would roll up on me, I would sit up and drop back.
As I was riding along, I noticed that my power was about 15% lower than it normally would be at this point in the race. My perceived effort and heart rate were in line, but my power was much lower. I tried to stay positive as it's always possible to get a false read output and it's a long day. As the miles clipped by I continued to get passed on a regular basis. The realization was setting in that the power numbers were probably correct. I did not let this bring me down. However, I was getting frustrated by the number of riders drafting in large packs. I was getting passed on the left and right side. It was a really dangerous situation.
I made my way up to the turnaround at Hawi and I saw my teammate Craig Lanza. I paused for a second as I was passing him to ask how he was feeling. An official rolled up next to me right at that moment and gave me a blue card (5 minute penalty) for not passing within the 45 second required time. I was pretty upset but it's the rules. Ultimately, the penalty did not impact my race at all as I just had a really off day.
Once I spent my 5 minutes in the sin bin, I headed back down towards Kona. I actually felt pretty good the remainder of the bike section, but my power never came back. I knew it was not going to be one of my better races, but I was looking forward to the marathon. I have been able to run three sub 3:10 marathons in Kona and I thought I might be able to try for sub 3 hour mark this year.
Well sometimes the best laid plans go up in smoke. I hit the run feeling pretty good. I tried to ease into things for the first two miles. It usually takes me two to three miles to loosen up after the bike so I did not want to push things to soon. As I ran through the 3 mile marker I knew something was really wrong. I had just hit the split button on my Timex watch and I saw 7:15 flash across the screen. I was overheating and just felt terrible. It had taken way to much effort to run that mile and I was really starting to struggle. I shuffled along until mile 6 when I made my first visit to the wonderful porta-potties. I actually came out of the deluxe bathroom feeling much better. Unfortunately that only lasted for about .5 mile. Then I was back to survival mode. Once I got to the aid station, I did my routine of walking the entire length. I took as much water, cola, and ice as I could. I walked every single aid station this year. I've done this in the past and still ran good times. The strategy just was not working this year. I was willing to try anything that I thought would not make me more nauseous. I even had Red Bull for the first time in a race. It gave me a pick up for about 30 seconds, then I was right back to feeling absolutely horrible. I saw my family at mile 9 and I knew I had to finish the race no matter what. They were so excited even though I must have looked horrendous. I made a promise to myself that I was going to do whatever I had to do to finish the race. I could not quit in front of my three boys. It took everything I had to make it the last 17 miles. At mile 13, I had to make another porta stop. This abode had clearly seen some athletes that did not care about sanitary conditions. It was absolutely disgusting and had been sitting out in the hot sun all day, which made an even more potent odor than normal. I stumbled out of the box as quickly as I could and continued my journey. My goal for the remainder of the race was to run as much as I could. It wasn't pretty at all, but I was able to cross the finish line for my 9th Ironman World Championship finish in 9 tries.
Clearly, this was not my day, but I was very proud to get across that finish line!
Career Highlights: 2009 USA Triathlon Amateur Athlete of the Year, 2012,2013, 2014 USA Triathlon Masters Athlete of the Year, 2014 USA Triathlon Olympic National Championship Masters Champion, 4 X Ironman 70.3 World Championship Age Group Winner (2008, 2009, 2012, 2013), 18 X 70.3 Overall Amateur Champion, 9 X Ironman World Champion Finisher (4 X Top 10 in Age Group), 2015 American Zofingen LC Champion, 2nd OA IM Maryland
I started competing in triathlon in the summer of 2000. I had always been intrigued by the sport since the early ‘80s when I would watch the Hawaii Ironman on TV. I got into running at a young age (6yrs old) as my father was a big marathon runner back in the late 70’s, early 80’s running boom. I did my first 10-mile road race when I was 10 years old. I also played ice hockey throughout my childhood and I stopped running my sophomore year in high school in order to completely focus on ice hockey. I did not run again until the fall of 1999. During that race, a friend of mine mentioned that he competed in sprint triathlons, short duration races lasting around one hour. I was immediately interested and I signed up for my first triathlon in July of 2000 up in Falmouth, Ma. I was immediately hooked. I loved the competition. I especially liked the aspect of the three sports and how one could continue to practice and improve in each sport. I believe all three sports compliment each other. I also really enjoyed the idea of challenging myself to see where I could get. So, while triathlon is a competition, I see it more as a race against yourself then others. It is a very addictive sport, but I think it’s probably one of the healthiest addictions that I know of. The training is also a great stress relief. I worked in New York City for the past 5 years and down on Wall Street for 2 years. The commute and the lifestyle can get pretty stressful at times. The training really helped me de-stress and stay focused. I have three little boys and I really enjoy sharing the sport with all three of them. I don’t care if they ever compete in a race, but I do believe it’s important to expose them to healthy opportunities in life. I would say that the hardest endurance scenario I’ve faced was actually the first half ironman I competed in up in Laconia, NH, which was the Timberman race. I’ve completed four full Ironman events, but that half ironman was my first attempt at the distance. I feel, in hindsight, that I just was not properly trained for the event. It was an incredible eye opening experience. I don’t think I’ve been more tired then the moment I crossed that finish line. However, the human mind is fascinating, as I was looking forward to the next race less then 24 hours after.