||Ironman World Championship
||Saturday, October 15, 2005
||Triathlon - Ironman
||Male 35 - 39
||545 / 1743
|Age Group Place:
||118 / 256
IRONMAN TRIATHLON WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Kailua-Kona HI / October 15, 2005
It felt a little strange at first. Maybe I was still a little groggy. Certainly I’m not used to someone else being my navigator. After all, navigation was my first profession.
Of course, Eric Winter is more than just my “navigator” for the moment. He is a trusted friend. I know that to be true simply because he is here. Because he took time away from his office to be at the right place at the right time. Because he knew that he would be a sight for my tired eyes that would, at least for this hour, allow me to forget about my sore back, my sore neck, and my sunburnt skin.
As Eric started guiding me on our journey, he naturally started the conversation on the subject of the Ironman. After all, it was the Ironman that led me to this place and this rendezvous with Eric. Yet, it didn’t turn into the typical storytelling banter among fellow athletes. We only talked about a minute on the subject, if that, though I could certainly talk about it for days.
Eric did discuss the difficulty of the Ironman, and how he “couldn’t” do it because it was so difficult. Of course, that’s not true in a literal sense. I had again become witness to the fact that anyone who is properly trained, gifted and supported can cross the finish line of an Ironman. I could offer many examples of proof: Robert McKeague, Ironman at age 80; Johnny Blais, Ironman with Lou Gehrig’s disease; Madonna Buder, Ironman/woman at age 75; Sarah Reinertsen, Ironman/woman and above-the-knee amputee.
I mentioned none of that, though, to Eric. Nor did I try to persuade him with tales about how much “better” he would be if he challenged himself to attempt an Ironman. How the discipline, training, and joy of the experience are intertwined. How the journey takes to you places you never thought you would reach. How the Ironman is life-changing, not just in the moment of the event itself, but how you use the experience to shape the future direction of your life.
I knew Eric already knew all of that. I knew that from the first time we met, as fellow shipmates at the Naval Academy, 16 years ago. Eric’s journey had already taken him from Denver to Annapolis, in large measure due to a demonstrated talent for swimming. Before he graduated in the same class with David Glover, Eric had set school records in four different swimming events. His journey continued by sailing around the world in the Navy. He became a husband. Then he joined the Secret Service, and did all those things that you know Secret Service agents do. He also became a father. During this past summer, he left federal service and moved his family out of the Annapolis area, where three of his swimming records still stand.
So we didn’t talk much about Ironman. We didn’t talk much about swimming, either. But we did talk and talk and talk about the journeys our lives have taken, and where they can go beyond this moment…this hour-long trip that we are taking together. This trip where I’m trusting Eric with the navigation.
I’m single, have no children, have never driven a large ship, and when it comes to security, I couldn’t hit the side of a barn with a bullet. Yet, despite the apparent uncommonalities, I think my experiences in triathlons and higher-level athletics has helped me to both understand myself better and to communicate and understand friends like Eric better. I caution to say that I don’t seem to communicate better with Eric (or others) because I’ve now attained, or closely approached, parity in athletic achievement through Triathlon and/or Ironman. Rather, it’s because we both understand two concepts that I’ll summarize in two phrases. The first is the Ironman tagline, and the second is a phrase that’s embossed on this year’s Kona finisher’s t-shirts.
“Anything is Possible”
“I Know What It Takes”
I have plenty of memories from my experience this year in Hawaii. All of them are good, although they might not have felt that way at the time. Soon after the Ironman, I struggled significantly with some personal feelings of disappointment, rather than joy. I needed some time to find the best perspective to reflect upon this Ironman and express that perspective in this report. By the time I was to land in Baltimore on the Tuesday afternoon following the race, I had hoped to find and understand that perspective at least well enough to type it out for public consumption.
The search for that perspective was assisted by a trusted friend who, now working in executive security for an airline, knows to meet me for lunch on that Tuesday at Gate G3 of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, knows that my connection to Baltimore leaves an hour later from Gate C11, and knows the pathway between those gates. Never have I made a more pleasant connection in an airport. After an hour, I was on my way to Baltimore with a happy stomach, a refreshed spirit, and an assurance that I saw things from the God’s eye view a little better.
END OF PART ONE
Thankfully, the red lava was flowing this year from the volcano.
I say “thankfully” because the first event of the Ironman Triathlon World Championship, contrary to popular belief, has nothing to do with swimming. The prelude to the Ironman in Kona is a multisport event in and of itself. There’s a sports medicine conference, a parade, a large exposition, press conferences, registration, athlete meetings, seminars, banquets, receptions, and eventually there’s bike and bag check-in. And, those are just the officially organized events.
I’ve often said that the part of race day that I look forward to the most is not arriving at the finish, but departing from the start. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the achievement of finishing the race, but rather I appreciate a little more the achievement, if you can call it an achievement, of completing the journey to the starting line. That journey is another subject for another time, although I’ll often refer to bits of it herein for perspective. Yet certainly, a large part of that journey is the five or so days spent on the Big Island prior to the cannon going off.
This prelude to the Ironman World Championship gives the race much of its character. The aforementioned officially organized events are just a part of it. A race participant not only gets wrapped up in those things, but there are plenty of other unofficial events, “organized” or not, that occur. As a unique destination race, what you make of your trip to Kona is very much defined by how you manage and immerse yourself, or refrain from immersing yourself, in unofficial activities.
This year, I had a profound sense that the excitement and hype surrounding this year’s Kona Ironman was a bit muted from the previous year. That’s not to say that there wasn’t a buzz in the air…for it is still an exciting atmosphere that envelopes the village for the week prior to the race. But I has a sense that the buzz machine was tuned down a bit. Less free schwag was flowing. Not as many TV cameras were about. People seemed a little bit more to themselves. Stores didn’t seem as crowded, with one notable exception. My mother noticed the same thing, and mothers know best…so I’m sure that it wasn’t just the fact that I had prior experience on this journey. Maybe the toned-down buzz was due to the tough economy, or last year’s winds that made the DNF rate go way up, or the Nina Kraft drug test. I don’t know. A couple of friends of mine who were in Kona last year, but not this year, would probably say that things were more ho-hum because they weren’t there…and indeed that would be correct! Yet still, it was a bit subdued this time around.
And that’s why I was thankful that the volcano was spewing red lava. Going to Kona with someone you know is a blessing, and I had the blessing of the presence (and financial benefaction) of my parents and brother again for this event. This trip was a bit extra special since it would be the last time I would see the family before I moved to Greece, so there was certainly an expectation of spending quality time with the family.
While the presence of friends and/or family is indeed a blessing, the final days before the race do mirror, to some extent, the journey it takes to get into the Ironman…that is, it’s often solitary. It’s the athlete who has to set aside the time to train and maintain equipment, and those needs still exist during race week…though certainly diminished to a degree. So, when a Kona athlete has to attend race meetings, train, sleep/rest, and prepare equipment for the race, it takes a large chunk of that quality time that the athlete’s entourage longs for.
So, I was eager to spend the balance of Monday, my first day on the Big Island, with the family to see lava flowing down the hillside and into the ocean. Tuesday would be even busier for me…I needed to get in at least 3 ½ hours of training to be race ready, which meant taking my tired body (from the previous day’s trip to the volcano) and my brother to the northern beaches, so that he could get sunshine and water while I rode the course, followed by more afternoon training, taking my mother to see the Parade of Nations, and then having family dinner. By the end of Tuesday, after only two days, I was just about petered out with entertaining the family.
I also had an urgent mechanical issue to resolve. Both tires on my wheels were trashed. I left for Hawaii with fresh rubber on my wheels, but only a few days of riding on Oahu made the rubber just melt down. I had locked up the brakes on my rear wheel the day before the ITU Age Group World Championship race, leaving a skid area that showed a little bit of the second layer of tread. The front wheel had a puncture less than five minutes after reassembling the bike on Monday upon reaching the Big Island.
Thus, Wednesday was a day primarily for rest, light training, the athlete’s meeting, bicycle maintenance, and dinner with military friends…in short, neglecting the family. Thursday was a bit of the same, and Friday was at least salvaged by having a family dinner. Personally, I was having a great week of preparation, having a smooth week with just about everything else in the lead-up. I was relaxed, well fed and rested, my gear was all here and ready, I had a race plan that I believed in, and had access to wireless internet so that I could check e-mails and weather forecasts. The new tires on the bike were excellent. If only there were enough hours in the day to keep in the presence of the family…
The one place in town where the “buzz” was higher than ever, the one notable exception that I alluded to earlier, was at Lava Java. L.J. is a coffee and food store on Alii Drive about a half-mile from the pier and near the expo. That place was packed every minute that it was open. Not a seat was open, and the line for food and coffee often stretched to the front door. Lava Java gained a reputation as a favorite place for some professional triathletes, and that reputation exploded like a wildfire this year. Lava Java became the place to be, to be seen and to see. To hang out, chat, and people-watch. It was insane there. My brother and I preferred a less congested atmosphere, which helped us gravitate to our new favorite joint for caffeine, the Hula Bean (www.hulabean.com).
By race day, I had seen a few familiar faces. I had bumped into Heath Thurston from Utah on my post-assembly bike ride (just prior to the front-wheel puncture). Scott Jones, racing on the Navy team this year, invited me to crash the military banquet on Wednesday. Matt Welch, recently graduated from Annapolis, was scoping out the pier when I had finished a swim. Alex Rochette from DC, who was on Oahu with me for Worlds, was often out and about. All of them were looking fit and feeling good through the week.
I was feeling the same, maybe even better. The week had gone super smooth, and when I woke up early on Saturday morning, a few hours before the start of the race, I was feeling very, very good, alert, and energized. And now, it was time to have fun, one more time.
END OF PART TWO
I was greeted by a setting moon early on race morning. Its light, unobstructed, reflected off of an ocean surface in motion.
Every year, the race organization tries to change a few things in its ongoing quest to improve the experience, or the product, depending on your point of view. The two major changes to this year’s race would be evident early. One was a more streamlined check-in and body marking process. Over 60 body marking stations were established, with a unique station assigned to each athlete based on a block of bib numbers, meaning that at most there would be 30 athletes assigned to any one station. This considerably shortened the lines into what usually is one of the longest waits for a athlete in the pre-race ritual.
The second major change was precipitated, depending on your point of view, by either a desire to improve the spectator’s viewing experience or a desire to accede to the needs of homeland security. This change was a modification to the swim and the transition so that the swim started and ended on the same side of the Kona pier. In past years, the swim has ended on the opposite side of the pier, either at a sandy beach or a boat ramp built into that side of the pier. This year, a temporary set of stairs was constructed and set against the pierside to allow athletes to walk onto and off of Dig Me Beach. By doing this, it allowed spectators on Alii Drive to see both the swim start and finish. It also allowed the race organizers to redesign the setup on the transition area on the pier so that none of the jersey barriers erected on the pier needed to be moved. As an active port-of-call for visiting cruise ships, the jersey barriers had been placed around the perimeter of the pier to accommodate the requirements of Homeland Security, and thus could not be easily relocated or removed by the Ironman folks.
The calm, clear morning and the streamlined check-in process made my pre-race ritual go very smoothly. This left me with quite a bit of free time to try to find some friends among the throng of athletes on the pier. One by one, I managed to find all of my fellow RATS from Reston. Antonio was in his pre-race zone, and thus looked ready to go. Brady, the RAT making his first Kona start, was fairly relaxed though still trying to understand the entire system of bag drops and facilities, where the are, and how they all work together. Alex was also set to go, and quipped to me while looking at the sky that I should be going for a finish time under 10 hours because the weather was so nice. I chucked a bit out loud, and to myself, when he said that. I remember last year that the weather was just as nice in the moments before the start of the race, only to experience nothing but strong headwinds for nearly the entire length of the bike course.
At 6:15 AM, it was time to initiate the final countdown sequence. At Kona, this consists of only two items…a final visit to the portajohn, and entry into the water. I made a mistake last year of getting caught behind the mass of athletes trying to get into the water mere moments before the cannon, and I barely made it to the start line in time. This year was much smoother, and I completed all of the pre-race tasks and warm-ups, and was on the start line, with 10 minutes to spare.
In those 10 minutes, I had a brief chance to relax and enjoy the environment, a short opportunity to reflect back on the path that took me to this spot, and a quick moment to say a prayer of thanks and a prayer for safety. The rest of the 10 minutes were spent trying to avoid the Cheerio Effect. The swim start at Kona is as aggressive as it gets, and I chose to find a starting spot behind the six-deep pack of athletes crowding the starting line. Although I was going to get kicked, hit and scratched up no matter what, I’d like to at least stay out of danger for the first five seconds of the race. I had one eye scanning the people around me while the other eye looked at the race official waving the red flags. At some point within 2-3 minutes of the race start, that official is supposed to start waving yellow flags to let the athletes know that the cannon was imminent, and then start waving green flags to tell you that you can go. Not wearing my watch in the water, I’m still staring at this official lazily waving red flags when that indistinguishable sound of freedom rippled across the water’s surface. I guess it was 7:00 AM. Time for some fun.
Within two minutes, I thought that I was going to get knocked down and sunk straight to the bottom of the ocean. The already rippling ocean surface became even more choppier with fellow athletes rubbing me in all four directions. For a short moment, the primary goal, a goal of extreme urgency, became trying to find a place where I could breathe fresh air rather than salt water. Thankfully, I worked myself out of the box and got established in a great position in the main draft.
After about 10 minutes, I was “comfortably” established in the draft. The early beating was the price of admission onboard the first train to leave the station. The next challenge became one of trying to settle into good form while still holding my position in the formation. Getting into a good form in the first half of the swim makes staying in good form easier in the second half. Or rather, in my case, it’s more correct to say that once I start swimming ugly for a while, it becomes impossible to undo the ugly pattern and eventually I’ll get tired from trying to beat the water into submission.
The trip to the turnaround took a little while, but I had put myself into a much better position than the previous year, when I bounced off every orange buoy heading outbound. I had shuffled laterally across the formation to some degree, but stayed well outboard of the buoys while keeping blockers in front of me to provide a draft.
The turnaround allows the formation to reshuffle, and I chose to reshuffle to the inboard side. This allowed me to be able to see everyone since I’m a left-side breather. For a while, I was swimming alone, outside of the draft and tight to the buoys (and the lifeguards). It appeared to me that the main line of swimmers had swung well outboard, and that I was moving up in the field by taking the shortest path. I still had good form, thanks to my early discipline, and continued to make gradual progress in advancing through the field.
Navigation was a little bit of an issue coming back. The buoys were laid out more along the “old” course that would have taken you to a finish behind the pier. It took a little bit of effort to sight the buoys anyway, given the sea state, but there was also the added challenge of trying to identify the right path to the new exit, and I wasn’t willing to trust my companions to get me there. I was in and out of the draft a couple of times in search of the Yellow Brick Road, and I seemed to have found the right path a little sooner that others. Eventually, the draft broke up as swimmers fanned out in small groups seeking the path to the finish. It didn’t help that there were two large inflatable Gatorade bottles, one on the pier at the start line and another on Alii Drive…and that it was much better to swim towards the Gatorade bottle on the left.
The first transition went quickly. I swam in a Speedo Fastskin swimsuit that’s not designed for bike riding, so I needed an extra moment to strip out of it in the change tent and put on dry cycling clothes. With a little help from a volunteer, putting on the dry shirt over the wet body went fairly expeditious. Also aiding my expeditious transition was the fact that the athletes were allowed this year to preposition their shoes on their bike pedals and their helmets on their bicycles, instead of having to carry or wear them through the transition area. My cycling gloves and heart rate monitor were also prepositioned on the bike.
I hadn’t seen the clock at the swim exit, but my first glance at my heart rate monitor upon entering the bike course showed that it was exactly 8:00 AM, meaning that I had certainly swam a little faster than the 59-minute journey of last year, in spite of the slightly extra distance required to swim the entire length of the pier this year to the new exit. I was especially buoyed when I heard the announcer say that Tom Campbell was exiting the water behind me. I had met Tom through a mutual acquaintance at Ironman Wisconsin 2004, where Tom swam something like a 52-minute effort and later that day earned his slot to race here today. This first leg of the Ironman went just as I had hoped…a quick time that positioned me near the front of the race, but without having to waste energy in the anaerobic realm.
The strategy for the bike ride was better defined for me this time, at least in words. The basic strategy was to settle down into an aerobic rhythm early, hold that through to about 75 miles, and then ride a little stronger to the end of the ride. One extra caveat was that if there were tailwinds early, say before reaching the airport, that I’d work a bit stronger early to take advantage of them. The caveat was another reflection of my lessons of last year, when I rode conservatively early, only to let the field ride away and out of sight by the time the strong headwinds kicked up. My goal this time was to keep a seat on the first train to leave the station.
The weather forecast left plenty of uncertainty in my mind as to what I should expect out on the bike course as far as winds. For every day that I had been in Hawaii, there was a well-established pattern of northeasterly Trade Winds that usually dominates Hawaiian weather at this time of year. The forecast was that the Trades would diminish over the weekend, and in fact the local forecast called for winds out of the west, coming straight off of the waters of the Kona Coast. Indeed, I sensed these westerly winds heading out to the airport, and started to ride the big wave, knowing that these same winds might be working against me coming to the finish.
Most of my ride north focused on two significant issues, my nutrition and my positioning relative to the packs of riders around me. Yea, there are packs of riders that form up on the Queen K. I was enveloped by one and spent much of the northbound trip in and out of it. It was tight enough that I had a couple of other riders tell me that I was coming perilously close to creating a collision with them, including one rider who may have been a notably famous participant. I said nothing in return, though I probably would have confessed that I was not as experienced in cheating as much as they were in riding so comfortably close together.
Nutrition was the other primary focus of attention. I came into the race with a pretty well charged up fuel tank, and had a good liquid breakfast of 1000 calories. In fact, after last year’s gastro-intestinal issues on the run, I was avoiding solid foods and Gatorade on race day, believing that they were the source of my problems. I carried three flasks of e-Gel and two bottles of e-Fuel at the start of the ride. The same items in the same quantities were in my special foods bag waiting for me in Hawi, along with a single bottle of chocolate Boost. My intent was to consume all of the carried food before reaching Hawi and the Pier, respectively, and only take water at the aid stations to wash the e-Gel down my gullet, hydrate, and shower. As best as I could tell from reading appropriate literature, this was sufficient to get fueled and electrolyte-balanced through the bike and much of the run, where I’d rely on mostly water and Coke, with a shot of e-Gel as needed.
I had a pretty good ride up to Hawi. My heart rate settled down early into the high 140s and low 150s. For those of you who are really wrapped up in HR numbers, this represents, at least for most of my season training, a level about 10 bpm below my anaerobic threshold and 10-15 bpm above my aerobic threshold. Yet, I was racing this ride more on perceived effort rather than a pre-defined HR zone. I felt that I had found the “right” level of intensity early in the ride, and used 150 bpm on my HR monitor as an objective gauge to see if my heart was working harder or easier as the ride progressed.
My family entourage prepositioned the rental car before the race so that it could be available for driving out of town. They spent the morning and early afternoon trying to follow me around. They say me leave Kona, then pass Waikoloa, and reach Hawi. I knew that this day was going very well when I was on final approach to Hawi 2hr40min after leaving the Pier, and feeling strong. It took me over three hours to reach Hawi on the bike last year, and I was being sapped of strength then by the winds.
Those riders who were probably thinking that I was going to crash out of the race almost had their beliefs realized at bike special needs. I slowed down on my bike to just a few miles per hour, while no volunteers approached the curb until the final pile of bags at the station. There, a kid volunteer comes to the edge of the pavement and tries to hand me a bag. Initially, I presume that it’s my bag that he’s handing me, but I take a quick look at it and only see the small print numbers “18” on the wrinkled bag. My bib number is 1218, so maybe it’s mine, or maybe it’s someone else’s bag, like competitor 1801, or 186, or 718, or…AAAAHHH!!! I exclaim as I look forward again to see a stopped cyclist about three feet in front of me. Even at my slow speed, a collision is inevitable having my right hand holding a bag. I manage to partially unclip and stay on my feet, the food bag rips open, and my fellow competitor gets very mad. I’m not sure why he was stopped on the roadway, but he was with a zebra-shirted race official. I was so tunnel-visioned at the moment that I didn’t realize that the person who volunteered to hold my bike while I cleaned up the mess on the ground was an official rather than a volunteer…until I had gathered everything and eventually made eye-to-eye contact. Also, I never did see the number printed on the food bag. I did identify the bag as mine by the spilled contents. Fortunately, both velo machines were unscathed, and no penalties were assessed. I chugged my bottle of Boost, and started the return journey.
The winds started picking up a little bit on the way back to the Queen K. Yet, I was heading almost due south and the winds were mostly from my right side, so there wasn’t much of a headwind component. I still was surrounded by a couple of familiar faces that I had seen on the ride north, but the Hawi climb essentially wipes out pack riding for the remainder of the bike leg.
Kawaihee, where the race course rejoins the Queen K, is where I was planning on riding a little stronger, if that was possible. Last year, I was already depleted on energy by Kawaihee, and I couldn’t get the HR any higher even with the winds kicking up stronger. I think for many people, the leg from Hawi to Kawaihee is one where the body wants to lull itself into rest. Your HR naturally goes down on the initial descent back towards the sea, and it never really wants to come back up. Kawaihee is the place to try to prod the body back to life. After spending much of the last 40 minutes in the 130s and 140s, the HR starts to creap back up on the climb back to the Queen K. There is an aid station just a few hundred yards down the Queen K from the intersection. At it, there’s a large Estonian flag. It’s waving fairly taught, but perpendicular to the road. What a beautiful sight!
Once on the highway, I’m feeling pretty good to keep the press on. HR is holding in the 140s, and I’m starting to pick off riders again gradually. The riders that I’m picking off are new ones that I hadn’t seen before. Actually, I’m surging through a loose concentration of professionals who started the race 15 minutes before me. I recognize the familiar bib #74 of Heather Gollnick, winner of Ironman Wisconsin, whom I met and prayed with at the Ironprayer gathering on Thursday afternoon. I think I had so much energy that Heather got a surprise jolt as I zoomed past.
I also recognize Doug Clark on the bike course here. Doug is a Mid-Atlantic local who won my age group at the Eagleman, the race where I received my Kona qualification slot. The slot rolled down to me, in part, because Doug passed it up at the Eagleman. I suspect that he wasn’t sure back in June if he could come to Kona this year, so instead he picked up a race slot to Ironman USA at Lake Placid NY. Doug has just been on fire this year…he blasted past me about six miles into the Eagleman bike ride and had a dominant day. He did race in Lake Placid, finished in fifth place OVERALL, and took a Kona slot from that race.
Doug has caught me on the bike ride again, as usual. Except now, we’re already 90 miles into the ride…not six. Also different is that Doug doesn’t power away into the distance, but remains in view. Yet another sign to me that I’m doing really well.
The road curves to the southwest, and speeds start to drop as I ride uphill and into a minimal headwind component. Although I had been on pace all day to finish the bike ride in under five hours, I was still not in the mood to chase numbers, so to speak. I’ll settle for a fresh body that goes a few minutes over five hours on the bike, rather than making an anaerobic push to post a pretty number on the split sheet. Besides, I’m now passing Doug on this hill and putting some distance on him.
I’ve got two other issues to consider here in the end game. One is nutrition. For some reason, I’m thinking that I’ve got to start eating more because I’m running out of bike miles. I brought enough calories to last for a six-hour ride, but now it’s clear that I’m going to be finishing an hour earlier and am running out of time to finish all of the e-Gel that I brought. The other issue is the heat. The race has turned into a track meet, but I’m looking to the left, up into the hills, and see none of the clouds that usually descend down the mountainside to bring cool cover and rain in the afternoons. That means to me that the run is going to be blazing hot in the sun, and the track meet may just as quickly turn into a war of attrition.
In that vein, I’m content to maintain my speed and level of effort to get the rest of the food down and keep the legs fresh for the run. In the last five miles, I’m caught by a fair number of riders, including Doug, scrambling to surge and get to T2. Everyone around me seems to have figured out the same thing that I did…getting to the front early put us in favorable wind conditions that worsened, though gradually, over time, allowing those near the front to build up quite a bit of time on the slower swimmers and cyclists. Kona had indeed turned into a track meet on the bicycle leg, with many people going under five hours for their bike splits, and there was an urgency to start running before the heat became intolerable.
My goal to finish the Hawaii Ironman for a second time was going to be realized. It was just after 1:00 PM. I had eleven hours to complete the marathon to be an official finisher. I had five hours to finish the marathon to achieve my bigger goal for the day, a daylight finish on Alii Drive. Then, there was that insane thought of going under 10 hours for the entire race. All I needed was to run the marathon is 3h54m, which just so happened to match my personal best Ironman run time…and I was beginning to think that I had a great chance of doing that.
END OF PART THREE
I was about to make my first obvious mistake. Well, obvious to me. Something that I knew was going to burn me in the end.
Finishing the bike ride at the tail end of the rush of athletes, I was directed to the nearest open bench space in the change tent, at least halfway down the length of the tent. The change started going well, and I did have a thoughtful volunteer right there to assist me as required.
One of the questions that he asked me was whether I wanted some sunscreen. I emphatically replied in the positive. Last year, I couldn’t find the sunscreen babes leaving T2, and as a result, got a nasty sunburn that lasted for months. Getting sunscreen was one of the things that I knew I needed to get before I left to run.
But, I was feeling good, really good. I went on with the rest of my transition chores…putting on the shoes, grabbing hat, grabbing e-Fuel bottle. I was definitely in the zone. Having done all that I could do, my mind told me that I was ready to leave…so let’s not put this off any longer!
The first mile went pretty smoothly. That was the intention. Just get into a rhythm. Get “comfortable”. I was rewarded with a sub-eight-minute mile for starters. This was despite two things that had entered my mind. First, I “forgot” about the sunscreen. For some reason, I thought my volunteer was putting it on to me while I put on my shoes and hat. Now, I wasn’t certain that he did. In fact, I assumed that he didn’t. Nothing I could do there, but just to note that I was going to get another temporary tattoo of the number “1218” on both of my upper arms until January. It wasn’t going to feel pleasant over the next few hours, either, but I just had to suck it up.
The second thought was that I needed to take a pit stop. My original plan was to do this at mile 90 on the bike, but the ride had went so well that I decided to put it off until T2. Well, I passed the portajohns that were located at the entrance to the changing tent when I was directed towards the back end. So, I got to the first portajohn on the run and did my thing…without difficulty.
I was off and running again. Still feeling O.K. Briefly.
Within a mile, I started to feel an unwelcome but familiar feeling. That of my gastro-intestinal system not functioning properly. To summarize this in general, layman’s terms, the flow in the GI tract was being restricted at the departure vent. My lower abdominal muscles were feeling tight, either as a result or as the cause of my GI system problem. I had episode of this phenomenon previously, most notably, during last year’s Kona race. So, I knew what it was, what it would do to me, and what I needed to do to resolve the problem.
This time, though, what I knew that I needed to do wasn’t resolving the problems. My eight-minute miles were already inferior to the peers around me, and I needed to slow down further to reduce the stress on the GI system. I made a few quick stops at portajohns to try to open up the system, but there was little success. I was this way through most of the run to the first turnaround and back up Alii Drive and back to town.
I saw a couple of familiar faces before entering the town proper. One was my brother, who, like most casual fans and supporters, doesn’t quite know what to say to someone who’s having difficulties like mine. Words and cheers weren’t going to vent my bowel pressure, and words like “Alright, it’s time to push it Dan!” just seemed so inappropriate that I quickly mashed my mental mute button and shut out almost everything. I went to another portajohn right there, had some success, and managed to make my way through Kailua Town with some dignified speed.
Just before the halfway point of the run outside of town, I was blessed to see an aid station with TWO portajohns. Up to now, I had only made brief stops at portajohns because others were waiting for them. Now that there was (essentially) only one-way traffic heading up to the Energy Lab, I had no qualms about going into one of the two honey buckets and staying there for however long it takes to vent the GI system. By my estimation, it took about four minutes to achieve the desired release of gas. After a couple of more miles of recalibration, I had achieved gastro-intestinal equilibrium enough to run normally again. I was at mile 15.
Miles 15 to 20 went well. These are the Energy Lab miles. I was still giving up an occasional place here and there, but for the most part, I was keeping pace with most people around me. I made it to the Point Of Must Return with the possibility of still eaking out something around 10 hours, and definitely in daylight. I saw Brady Dehoust heading towards the turnaround, looking fairly well. He was about 14 minutes back of me, and that fact gave me instant recall of a similar situation last year, where a friend of mine was 14 minutes in front of me at this point, and I ended up closing almost all of the gap…all but about a minute of it. Brady’s a strong runner, and with my GI system still on the edge, I could see Brady making a strong run at wiping out all of my advantage. Alex Rochette was also getting closer when I saw him at the top of the Queen K.
My good running eventually gave way to the GI system again. After the big release at Mile 15, I had slowly been putting water and sugar and caffeine back into the system. Here at Mile 20, the stomach was again getting tight. Obviously, I had learned to “live” with this for most of the run, but it was still a frustrating thing for me. After everything that had happened up to here…the great races that I had in the early season, the fantastic bike rides that I had in Utah, the wild day on Maryland’s Eastern Shore where I received the honor of coming back here to race, all the friendly and valuable support from friends, the awesome race that I had six days earlier in Honolulu, and the blazing-fast race that I had earlier today on the swim and bike…to have it all wrap up in a painful death march that was well below my capabilities was, well, it wasn’t fun. Simple as that…it wasn’t fun now, and didn’t seem that it would be fun again or anymore.
Eventually, I endured to make it to the final mile. I capped off last year’s race with a sub-seven minute mile, something I knew was physically possible at the time. This year, I was only physically possible of an eight-minute mile. I had released the mental mute button, and the energy of the crowd started to trickle back into my mind. Slowly, though not completely, it started to fill the void that had been full of fun and joy for most of the day. There wasn’t going to be any kind of exuberant, celebratory emotional release from me on the carpet in front of the finish line…because the LOW FUN warning light had been on for a long time.
Yet, I did consciously take off my hat and my sunglasses at the top of the street. That’s because I wanted to take in the sunshine. To absorb the warmth of a daylight finish on Alii Drive. To be blinded by light at the finish line. I must have been a strange sight to the spectators. Don’t you think that most athletes, when they approach the finish line, are trying to release and expend as much energy as possible? I was just the opposite…I had reached the finish of the day’s journey, but I was soaking up energy. Trying to recharge, perhaps, for the next adventure.
END OF PART FOUR
I’ll let Alex (10:27), Antonio (13:11, but not on the podium this year), and Brady (10:22) share their own stories, but here are some other notable stories that you won’t see on NBC this year (In alphabetical order):
(Geoff Cleveland, Spence Cocanour)
Geoff is a longtime member of the Air Force team who raced in Kona last year. He also came out from Arizona to race the Eagleman back in June and, had he been identified as a military officer, would have won the Pat Tillman Spirit Award for being the fastest military finisher at that race. (He let the award pass to me instead. Thanks!) Spence has been on the Air Force team even longer. He returned to Kona after not racing last year, but watching his wife Amy compete for the newly formed Coast Guard team. Amy was, or course, racing again for the Coast Guard, although at the Armed Forces Triathlon Championship in California, she races on the Navy team, since the Coasties don’t have a team of their own there. Confused???
Geoff had a typically awesome (sub-55 minute) swim, but the great momentum didn’t carry over to the bike leg, and his 10:37 practically matched the 10:39 he had last year. Spence had a solid swim and run as well, but struggled in the run to finish in 11:18. Amy finished in 11:53, an improvement of over 30 minutes from 2004. Her swim and run splits were consistent with her times from last year, both +/- a couple of minutes from 2004, so her improved time came straight from the bike ride.
The Air Force team finished in second place in the military team competition.
(Heidi Grimm, Mike Hagan, Art Mathisen)
The Army won last year’s team competition, and returned the core of their team to repeat. Despite public reports of impending retirement, Mike came back to Hawaii wearing bib number 59 in honor of his 65th place overall finish in 2004. I never saw Mike on the race course, usually I swim a little faster than him, so I think that his low bib number allowed him to start with the pros. Mike again led all military finishers with a 9:23, so when he does retire, he’ll do so as the U.S. military’s most decorated triathlete, by far.
I have to admit that my urge to finish strong in last year’s Ironman was due in part to seeing Art Mathisen trailing me on the run course. Normally, Art is at least a light year in front of me, but when he was in difficulty on the run last year, I thought that I, and the Navy team, had a chance to pass the Army in the team competition. Last year, Army was strong enough to win in spite of Art’s uncharacteristic 12:14. Art started the run a minute behind me and had a “normal” day, finishing as the military runner-up in 9:31.
Heidi repeated as the women’s military champion by finishing in 10:42, winning that division by almost one hour.
Before I moved to Washington DC, Steve was my triathlon nemesis in the Northwest. I did a bunch of races in 2003, and finished behind Steve in just about all of them. We also ended up doing Ironman Coeur d’Alene the following year. He usually passes me on the bike because he’s that talented as a cyclist…if he passes me on the run, I figure that I’m having a good day. Last year, he passed me at CDA about 80 miles into the bike, and earned his first entry to Kona on that day.
His 2004 Kona experience wasn’t up to his standards. On a small personal website where he documents his triathlon adventures, he wrote about his race and how it went wrong for him, and hoped that others would learn from his mistakes. Essentially, his GI system started giving him fits on the run, and he finished about half of an hour behind me after having passed me on the bike. I had hoped after reading his account from 2004 that he would have a much better race in 2005.
Even though Cervelo bikes were a dime a dozen, I easily recognized Steve’s P3 a few spaces away from mine in the transition area on race morning. And the day wasn’t complete until I saw the familiar bib number of 1229 move in front of me about three miles from the finish of the run. Steve finished in front of me, as he should, by about three minutes. It probably would have been more if he didn’t let me outsplit him on the bike.
I think that I have learned from Steve’s mistakes of 2004, in part, because I made them too this year.
The story of Tom Campbell is more the story about our mutual friend, Jeremy Gerking. Jeremy and I used to compete against each other years ago in the Northwest, and after not seeing each other for about four years, we hooked up in, of all places, Madison, Wisconsin for the Ironman there in 2004.
In those four years, Jeremy moved down from Bellingham, where he had gone to college to study English, to the Seattle area. He was now the copy writer for Costco.com, married, and father of a very special daughter. If you Google Jeremy, you’ll learn the story about how special his daughter is. You might even find a composition on-line about one of his experiences at Ironman Canada that is 10-times better than any kind of trash that I’m writing (and that you’re reading) now.
Jeremy had a tough day in Wisconsin, as did most of us, due to the heat that day. Tom, who had came to Wisconsin with the Gerkings, was one exception. He swam a blazing fast time, and then parlayed that into a time worthy of a Kona slot.
While Tom finished right behind me in the swim in Kona, he zoomed past many people, including myself, on the run with a sub-3:30 marathon, and finished in 9:57.
(Doug Clark, Vinnie Monseau, Steve Riddle, Steve Tappan)
This is what I call the Eagleman Class of 2005…the five athletes (including myself) from the 35-39 age group who earned Kona slots this year at the Eagleman, or raced at Eagleman.
Doug, who won the 35-39 age group at Eagleman, finished the bike just in front of me, then unleashed a 3:10 marathon to finish in 90th place in 9:16. For those of you who like Sting music, he’s literally an Englishman in New York.
Vinnie was fourth in the age group at the Eagleman, and had previously earned a spot to Kona at a race earlier in the season. Exactly the same thing happened last year, but Vinnie had a tough day in Kona and I ended up crossing the finish line in front of him. This year, the doctor from West Virginia was one of the hoard who passed me on the run and finished in 10:14.
Steve Riddle, from Atlanta, was third at the Eagleman, only because he was behind Stv Smth and Doug. He was 20 seconds behind me leaving the changing tent at T2. He finished in 9:28.
Steve Tappan is the other “local” from the DC area in my “class”. I don’t know much about him, but I do think that he’s been to Kona in the past. He lists his occupation in the race program as “unemployed”, but actually, I think he must be a starving artist or something like that. He did a respectable 10:35 on this day in Hawaii, and I believe was one of the people who didn’t jump on the chance to enjoy the lighter wind at the head of the race.
Heather is probably famous to most of you as a successful professional triathlete who is an Ironman champion. I also know her as a prayer partner.
There is a growing opportunity at Ironman races to have an non-denominational "Ironprayer" worship service. Usually, this is supported by a local church and held just before the carbo dinner. In Kona, the service is held at the famous Mokuaikaua Church, the first Christian church in Hawaii. It is the church just a block from the finish line on Alii Drive, and is always seen in the background of the finish line photos.
Heather, in addition to being an Ironman champion, is an outspoken Christian witness. As part of the Ironprayer gathering, Heather and I were in the same small prayer group, praying for safety, strength, comfort, and a calm GI system!
I caught, and probably shocked, Heather around mile 95 on the bike. Though I never saw her again, she repassed me on the run and finished in the middle of the women's professional field, five seconds prior to the 10-hour mark.
(Blake Benke, Billy Edwards)
Both Annapolis grads, Blake was returning to Hawaii while Billy, who’s stationed in Norfolk, was coming for the first time. I had met Billy at the Breezy Point Triathlon…actually, he flew by me on the run there. Both are very talented marathon runners and have also run on the Marines’ marathon team. Consequently, neither are exceptionally talented swimmers. I guess the two just don’t mix very well.
Blake really got off the blazing pace set by the swimmer-bikers, but his great feet brought him home in 10:11. Billy made up for his slow swim with a sub-5-hour bike ride and went on to finish in 9:36.
One other Marine that I know, Tim Hawkins, didn’t show in Hawaii. He raced there last year, and I met him in Kansas City with a bunch of other Marine triathletes for the U.S. Nationals. Tim is in flight school in Pensacola, and I suspect that his flight school requirements kept him from traveling to Hawaii.
Since Tim was on the official Marines team roster, his absence meant that the Marines did not have an official team finish in the interservice competition.
(Andy Baldwin, Mitch Hall, Scott Jones, Eric Rehberg)
Doctor Andy was making his third Kona start, having previously gained notoriety as being a Triathlete Magazine swimsuit model in 2004. He went under 10 hours in his first Kona race, and was in the 10:40s last year.
Mitch might be the Navy person gaining the most notoriety this year. He’s been on the all-Navy triathlon team for a few years and was using this, his first trip to Kona, as a public way to encourage more people to become SEAL recruits.
Scott is in the Navy reserves who lives in the Northwest as an airline pilot and moonlights occasionally in the P-3 realm at Whidbey Island, my old base. We finished a couple of minutes apart at the 2003 Pacific Crest Half-Ironman, our first race together, and it basically was a toss-up the following year between him and me to receive the third and last slot on the Navy team going to Kona. I got the slot last year, and Scott got on the roster this year. Scott raced last year in Kona “on his own” after qualifying at Ironman Canada, and he ended up with a time faster than everyone on the Navy roster.
When I qualified “on my own” this year, I told the Navy that I’d be happy to represent them again, but also to offer a roster spot, and race slot, to someone who otherwise hadn’t qualified for the race. The Navy obliged and Eric took over the role that I had last year.
I saw both Andy, then Scott, on the run when I was heading north after the first turnaround. They passed me soon after during my time of intermittent progress and occasional bathroom breaks. Scott later passed Andy and they finished in 9:46 and 10:04, respectively.
I can claim that for once, I outswam a SEAL. That’s the only thing I can claim, though, against Mitch. He passed me in the late scramble on the bike before T2, and ran to a 9:39 finish.
Eric, more so than Blake Benke, was left at the station after missing the express train. He did run a strong 4-hour marathon to finish in 11:11. That finish might not be that noteworthy except that Eric did beat, by one second, Christian Sadowski. Christian was the featured athlete in last year’s Ironman who completed the race after a vehicular collision forced him to walk a twisted bicycle from the Energy Lab to T2.
Last year, I had a number of friends, associated with my coach, come to the race from Connecticut. This year, the Connecticut connection was virtually dry…which was maybe why things were not so festive this year. The one person from CT who did come was Chris, who races on the elite Timex-sponsored Ironman triathlon team and has a triathlon coaching business of his own.
Chris was part of the hoard passing me on Alii Drive early in the run, and had his best ever Kona time with a 9:46.
Heath encapsulates everything good about the journey to get to Kona.
I met Heath in Utah, four weeks before Kona. My first full day there, I raced in a triathlon and finished in 20th place. Heath finished second, barely. He was already Kona qualified and invited me to join him two days hence for a bike ride. He wanted to ride for, get this, seven (7) hours. I agreed to go, but in my mind, I was full of trepidation about it. I thought there was no way I was going to hang for seven hours, at altitude, with a superior athlete. In the end, we rode a little under seven hours, only because we were riding so fast and doing so well that we ran out of roads to ride on. I still look back at that day as one of the most epic training sessions that I ever had…one that gave me, and I think him, tons of confidence for Kona.
Heath is not just hypertalented on the bike, he’s a super swimmer and is on Mark Allen’s elite on-line coached team. He’s probably going to get an elite license and turn “professional” someday soon.
Kona was Heath’s first Ironman-distance race. He qualified at the Buffalo Springs Half. If anything, his inexperience at the Ironman distance was his only discernable weakness. Unfortunately, that weakness turned out to be fatal to his attempt to finish. In a race with perhaps the highest percentage of starters finishing the Ironman, Heath was one of the small group who didn’t make it to Alii Drive. He had a typically outstanding (54 minute) swim, followed by a 4:58 bike. Plus, he was looking pretty good to me when I saw him northbound, in front of me, in the early miles of the run. The heat did him in eventually, and he collapsed from the warm conditions at an aid station on the Queen K.
I guess that I’ve got my first, and last, every finish in front of Heath. In any case, Heath made it a lot farther than Norman Stadler, the defending champion of the Ironman, who dropped out of the race on the bike ride.
Matt is the smartest person that I know. Someday, he might figure out just how smart he is.
This was Matt’s third IM-distance race, having raced twice at IM Florida. It was his first Florida race where I had met him, in 2003, and had it not been for a flat tire, he would have finished under 10-hours on that day. The next time, his tires kept their air, he got that sub-10 time, and earned the Kona slot that brought him here.
Oh, he’s in the Navy, too. Actually, he’s just graduated from Annapolis. Somehow, he found the time to train for Ironmans while living the life of a Midshipman. He graduated so recently that he was able to defer the start of his flight school until after his return from Hawaii.
I never saw Matt on the course that day. I was probably in a portajohn when he went by on Alii Drive, or blinded by haze and glare on the Energy Lab road. He had a good swim, but missed the express train and was slowed up on the bike when the winds picked up. Judging by the video, Matt’s celebratory finish at 10:24 was one of the best witnessed by the crowd.
END OF PART FIVE
[PART SIX TO FOLLOW]
THE BOTTOM LINE
SWIM 57:54 (13th in AG, 147th overall)
BIKE 5:02:39 (40th in AG, 240th overall, 153rd place in race)
RUN 4:15:26 (195th in AG, 1118th overall)
TOTAL 10:21:27 (118th of 256 in AG, 545th of 1743 overall)