As the saying goes- the third times a charm. The 2015 edition of the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii was my third straight year of racing on the Big Island. Jacqui and I had both qualified to compete after securing slots at Ironman Cozumel back in November of last year. Looking back- 2014 was a crazy year with both of us competing in three full Ironman events. All of race week this year, we kept saying how we wish we had done an Ironman race prior to the World Championships. For one, it gives a great refresher on dialing in nutrition/pacing. And two, its nice having all the training in the bank from doing one, which in return is a good aerobic base.
For me, the Ironman World Championships was more of a backup race. I had put all my eggs in one basket and really hoped to do some great things at the Half Ironman (70.3) World Championships in Austria earlier in August. I was really dialed in and had a laser focus on performing my best there as the distance suits me a touch better at this stage in my career. Unfortunately, the 70.3 World Championships didn’t go to plan. A series of unfortunate events not in my control left me unsatisfied- so I quickly turned my focus on Kona.
With a little less endurance training that I had hoped for due to my 70.3 focus as well as my injury that derailed much long training in July, I set myself up for a couple of big training weeks post Austria. Long runs, long rides, and frequent bricks were all lined up for me each week in September. Luckily, the weather in Chicagoland was favorable and held up enough to keep logging the miles outdoors. I also took an approach of a shortened taper in hopes of building a touch more endurance.
With the shortened taper, I actually didn’t feel that rested until pretty much two days before the race. Jacqui and I left Monday night and arrived in Kona Tuesday afternoon. Tuesday was more of a check out the expo, grab dinner, and put the bikes together before bed type day--more just getting organized. I was able to get a 6 mile run in just as the sun was setting. The legs felt better than normal after all of the long travel.
Thursday morning was the annual underpants run. That was the extent of my exercise for the day. We trotted out along Ali’i drive before I had to rush off to my TrainingPeaks class. I was able to learn all the ins and outs of the training software in order to help coach the athletes I’m currently working with a bit better (and more on this soon :) ). Overall, the first day of class wasn’t too exciting. It was a lot of information that I already knew- so it was a little stretched at times. But I did pick up a few new things that I can incorporate and should help. By the time I was done with class, it was just about getting dark outside (5:30pm). So definitely a long day- but in hindsight I was glad that it was a day spent off of my feet and out of the heat. Another quick dinner, this time at Kona Brewing Co. and back to the condo for bed.
Friday morning, Jacqui and I went straight on over to the water to get a quick swim in. It was an easy, controlled swim---and more of a “I wanna swim and grab coffee at the coffee boat swim.” Again, I had to rush back in order to get over to day two of the TrainingPeaks class. It was some newer information that was really neat including some running with power discussions as well as using online based software to help lay out race plans on the bike. Some good stuff and a lot shorter of a day as we finished up at 1pm. That was great because I had to get back and pack up all of my race bags! When I got back, Jacqui and I took the bikes out for one more spin down the road to make sure all was functioning and to shake out the legs.
Up at 3:30 to start loading calories. I stuck with a heated up milk/muesli combo, banana, and coffee...and maybe a little candy :-o . I took my time sitting out on our lanai (balcony) looking out into the ocean and going through my race plan a few times. For those wondering...this was my plan:
Swim comfortable. There is nothing worse than going hard in the swim and coming out exhausted. Dial it back, swim a few minutes slower. Then get onto dry land and do what I do best with lots of energy. I also wanted to start far left and try to avoid some congestion.
Bike IN CONTROL. The start of the bike is a NUT show. Guys riding 500+ watts, surging up hills...acting like they are doing a sprint tri. It so happens that I come out of the water with the masses so there are people EVERYWHERE. My goal was to keep things in control, ride steady watts, and surge when needed (past groups to clear space and not have them latch on). It is VERY difficult to ride even watts throughout the ride when going past groups of riders. So I planned to have a little higher push on the way out, then use the downhill around mile 60 to recover and push slightly lower watts all the way into the finish. Another goal was to do everything possible to stay away from penalties. After getting one in 70.3 worlds, I am now paranoid. To stay away, my plan was to use my brakes anytime anyone passed me. I would IMMEDIATELY drop back by using my brakes, no coasting or soft pedaling, but actually braking to slow myself down and let them go. I knew it could slow my overall time down a bit, but I’d be sure to not get penalized...and hopefully not too many guys would be passing me!
Run. Just do the run like I know how. Honestly, my run speed and endurance were in the best place they’ve ever been leading into Kona. I was able to do a 5k in 15:04 (4:50 pace) two weeks prior and a 20 mile training run at 5:45 avg pace. I also did multiple 100+ mile rides at goal wattage, threw on the shoes immediately off the bike and hit sub 6 minute mile pace no problem for 6 miles. I knew the heat would be a big factor, so was hoping that 6:45 pace would be manageable and keep the body in check.
Onto the race itself-
After pumping tires, filling bottles, and getting lathered in sun screen I took a plop on the ground next to a few friends while we waited for the start. I was anxious, nervous, and excited all in one. So many emotions going on. I also couldn’t stop thinking about Jacqui. For those that didn’t know, Jacqui was dealing with plantar pain for over a month and was unable to run during the entire month lead into Kona. There was a lot more unknown going into the race for her. I said multiple prayers hoping she would get through the race with no more problems than what she went in with.
As soon as the athletes were allowed into the water, I shuffled in and picked my spot. For some reason, there were multiple boats and kayaks lined up on the far left side where I normally like to start. They were preventing the athletes from going any further off to the side. This wasn’t good news as it made all the athletes a lot more bunched up. I had a feeling they did this as there were some large crashing waves coming in on that side. There was even a weather warning that water condition were going be rough:
Out of nowhere, the cannon blasts and its a free for all. Thrashing arms, legs, and complete chaos. Lucky for me, I was able to avoid a lot of contact and just followed those around me. It was a smooth sailing for a while, and I was excited that I was able to dial my effort back and just swim comfortable...just like I wanted. I ended up cutting over and swam on the inside of the swim buoys as there was less contact. During the swim, I wasn’t sure what to think. There were plenty of times I even thought, “what am I going to write about in my blog about my swim? Oh, theres a fish there and there. Or wow, that guy just missed kicking me in the face.” Back and forth, talking to myself and trying to not waste too much energy while making the time pass.
The water was a bit rough, but actually felt like it was pushing us out further into the ocean and forward. So I had a feeling my swim was going to be fast going out, and slow coming back. Sure enough, I checked my watch when I got to the one turn around and saw 28:30 on my watch. Doubling that would give me a 57:00 swim..which definitely wasn’t going to happen. On the way back, I could feel that the water was rough and pushing me back a bit more. There were times when I felt like I wasn’t even moving forward. A few spectators even commented that while watching the swim, they could see that many swimmers were pushed back and actually going a touch backwards before moving forwards. Regardless of how fast/slow I was going, I made sure to dial in my perceived effort and made sure I wasn’t overcooking the swim. It was the first time that I was near the end of the swim and felt good- not tired and felt like I could easily keep swimming.
1:05:41 (actually my slowest of the 3 years in Kona)
86th in Age Group
452nd for Males
532nd for Overall
Lots of work to be done there!
Through transition, I hopped onto my slick and fast Scott Plasma 5 decked out bike. HUGE thanks to Sammy’s Bikes for the hook up and getting me all set up on this sweet ride. Onto the road, I switched my garmin over to bike mode and checked my watts. They were non-existent. So I turned the garmin off, turned it back on, and there they were. Phew--I was looking to dial in my watts for this ride so I was glad they popped back on. Goal for the ride was to average around 220 watts on the outbound trip and 200 watts coming back in.
I hit a little low stretch around mile 45, but after taking in some nutrition and fluids, my legs came back to me. My watts increased just in time as we made the climb up to the turn around point. From mile 50-59, there is a stretch of slight incline (the climb up to the town of Hawi). We were greeted with some stronger winds and rain near the top of the climb which drastically slowed speeds down, but also cooled the body temp just a touch. To my surprise, I took note that there actually weren’t too many riders up the road before the turn around. I was much higher in the standings than I have been in the past. Being so far up, I made a decision to start conserving as much energy as I could starting at mile 60.
Nutrition wise- I had a bottle of 15 PowerBar Gels, 2 packs of PowerBar Gel Blasts, and LOTS of water. Its actually a bit too hard to gauge how much I drank, but I was refilling my bottle every 7 miles as well as spraying water over my back and head.
Off the bike, I felt that I was pretty far up in the race. At least a lot further up than I’ve been in the past.
Time: 4:51:46 (23.03mph avg)
21st in Age Group - passed 65 guys in my age group on the bike
109th overall for males
116th overall - passed a total of 416 on the bike!
213 watts normalized (3.3watts/kg)
202 watts avg
1.05 variability index
.74 Intensity factor
Transition 2 was much less crowded! There also weren’t too many bikes racked, which confirmed my thought that I was far up. One BIG problem in transition. I ran barefoot...and the ground was scorching hot. After a few steps, I got a pretty bad burn on the ball of my left foot and was worried it would turn into trouble during the run.
- Saucony A6 racing flats
- Nathan handheld with secret nutrition (Rockstar Lemonade drink with salt)
- Saucony running visor
- Smith pivlock sunnies
- Nathan race belt with clipped on nutrition bottle (8 gels inside)
WOAH- it was hot out. Since I dialed the second half of the bike back, I felt better than I ever have starting a run during Ironman. Honestly, my goal was to go as slow as I could the first 9 miles. I paid no attention to my watch, but rather just ran comfortable. To my surprise, mile 1 was a 6:02. I was thrilled. A 6:02 opening mile felt easy especially since the start of the run was right up a hill. My heart rate was in control and I was blowing past others. Spectators kept screaming saying that my form looked flawless and that I was flying. It was in the opening mile that I heard the EGO tri team director, Alicia, yell out that I was in 24th. I wasn’t sure what to think of that. At first I was a little surprised I was still that far back..but then I remembered that the highest I’ve ever placed in my age group was 19th. And with a strong run I’d move through a bunch of them. My thoughts on what place I was in only lasted a few seconds before it was back to running steady and smooth. At this point in the race I had to pee- and from what I learned last year- the portable restrooms are VERY HOT inside. As gross as it may seems, I've learned to just pee as I'm running. Yup, still can run low 6's and let it flow. No wasting time stopping and no chances of passing out in the 150degree restroom sauna. In the first 8 miles I went a total of 3 times while running!
The first few miles are down the famous Ali’i drive. It is lined with screaming fans which is always welcome. I was also already feeling the heat and dumping any and all water/ice into my jersey and onto my head. One runner went past me during this initial stretch. I was honestly shocked. I was running 2:40 marathon pace and got passed. He seemed to slow just a touch, so I ran with him. I wanted to make sure he was a solid runner so asked what he typically runs for the marathon in Ironman, and he said usually just under 3 hours. Perfect. He was my guy. Well I went with him for a few miles running along in mid 6’s. Around mile 3.5, the ball of my left foot started to really bother me from transition. I could tell a blister was developing and all slight downhills were hurting quite a bit. I had to dial my pace back because of the pain and also had to stop and put a sock on to help alleviate some pain. After stopping, my friend was gone and up the road, so time to focus on my race. I had passed A LOT of runners in the first 8 miles.
What many don’t realize is how difficult the marathon course is in Kona. Not only is it HOT, but the course is not flat. There are rollers, some big and some small, pretty much all the way through. Once at mile 9, it was time to tackle Palani hill, which is a .5 mile steep climb to get up and onto the highway. This hill sucks any life that is left right out of you. I went as slow as I was able to run up the hill to limit any damage, yet I still struggled at the top.
From there, the race really starts- 16 miles of straight highway and extreme temps. While out on this stretch, the actual temperature was scorching at 95 degrees. Combine that with a high humidity and radiating heat off of the black top and black lava you are actually closer to a real feel of 120 degrees! BURNING HOT! There were reports of the pavement being 130 degrees!
I caught an athlete from my age group at the top of the hill, but I wasn’t feeling too great. We went back and forth for the next 1.5 miles until he started walking through the aide stations. Lucky for me, it seemed like everyone was in the same position as I was and had trouble staying steady during the run. The next stretch of 6 miles was a straight shot out. Mile by mile, my pace started to get slower and more labored. The only thing keeping me going was that nobody was passing me. My mantra turned into, “outlast everyone else and persevere.” As much as I was struggling, I was still really far up in the standings from what I could tell.
At mile 16, my race really started to unfold. I saw my first mile into the 8’s..running an 8:23 at mile 19. I also was passed by another runner that I had passed earlier in the race (luckily not in my age group), but I also could see a steady stream of athletes running behind me. Frustration set in. I was having the race of my life and it was unraveling....and unraveling FAST. Barely trudging through the Energy Lab (a stretch from mile 16-19), I thought my race was over.
But someone was definitely looking out for me. As soon as I made the turn out of the Energy Lab, there was a sign of relief. CLOUDS. Even though the temperature was still at 95 degrees, the clouds made my body turn around completely. From mile 20-22, my confidence was increasing with each step and energy was back! Another runner had caught me during this stretch and instead of letting him go, I went with him. He told me that if we kept running the pace nobody would catch us but we probably wouldn’t catch anyone else (there was nobody in sight ahead). After running with him for a mile, I could sense my body was coming back, so increased my pace again dropping down to 7:00 pace. Fueled by the salty Rockstar energy drink blend that I had in my handheld from special needs, I was cruising. The miles were ticking down and I was gaining on runners ahead! With 3 miles to go, I caught another runner in my age group (the winner from last year!) and shortly after saw Jacqui. Her smile and excitement sent goosebumps through my entire body. She was running, looked happy, and yelled that I was in 3rd place!!! I used the energy from seeing her all they way back up hill to make the turn to hit the final 1.5 miles.
Back down Palani I was now cruising. I grabbed my GoPro that I had turned in before the race and was able to video the final mile of my race. Unfortunately, another athlete ran right in front of me for pretty much the entire finish. Our pace was very similar, so I slowed a bit to really soak it in (he was not in my age group). The final stretch was unlike any other. I was taking selfies with my GoPro, high fiving the crowd, and soaking in each step. I was 99% sure I was onto the podium and couldn’t believe I had done it. I let out a small scream of excitement as I went through the finish line, pumped my fists, and had a smile that didn’t leave my face for hours post race.
3:04:00 (7:01 avg pace)
3rd in Age Group
Every ache and pain set in immediately after crossing the line. I was barely able to walk and needed help to make my way to the finishers area. My good friend Jenny was working a post race booth and made sure to take care of me as I got a chair and finally sat down. I asked if she could go get my print out of the results so that I would see where I finished. She brought back the card and it said: Division Place- 3. Immediate tears. I sat there in disbelief. Had I really done it? Where did that come from? I of course wanted a top 5 finish in my age group but never thought it would come this soon. I called my dad immediately and barely could talk. I was crying from joy and he thought something was wrong. Apparently, the tracking system didn’t say that I had finished yet, so he thought I was in the hospital and checked out. Nope, just calling because I had just finished 3RD PLACE IN THE WORLD!!!!
From there, I borrowed a volunteer’s phone to track Jacqui. I couldn’t believe it. She was making it through the marathon. After not running for an entire month before the race and dealing with extreme pain just walking for days leading into the race, she was a few miles from finishing. I walked over and got as close as I could to the finish line. A security official said I couldn’t go any further, so I waited. We ended up talking and I told him the story about Jacqui and how I couldn’t believe she was doing it. He asked a head official if he could get me a special all access pass to go into the finish chute, but was denied. I said that it was fine and I was ok waiting. After tracking Jacqui once more, she was within one mile of finishing. I told the official in excitement that she was about to be done. He then said, “as soon as you see her coming down the finish chute, you can go all the way in and be there for her.” WOW! I saw her running down, told him she was coming in, and I went all the way up to the finish line and was able to put the lei around her neck. She was in tears and hobbling. It really was an incredible moment and one that I’ll never forget. Congrats to my wife, the strongest person I know, for being gutsy and determined to finish the way she did!
Post race, it was limping back to the condo, eating lots of salty chips and salsa/guacamole, and passing out in bed shortly after.
The next day was the awards ceremony. Top 5 finishers in each age group were called up on stage and presented with their umeke bowl awards. Before being called up on stage, I soaked it all in. The lights, the stage, and being called up as one of the best Ironman triathletes in the world were all highlights. I had finally reached one of my big goals- getting that umeke bowl.
After all was said and done, I’ve thought a lot about my race and what is going to happen next. Of course there is the option of racing as a professional..but that is going to have to wait. I’m not ready yet and still have some work to do and goals to hit...especially with there still being a few steps on the podium above me in Kona :)
A special thanks to a few key supporters:
-EGO p/b Sammy’s Bikes: a true class act of a team and sponsor. EGO for providing us with support to get to races and keep performing at the level we do. Sammy at Sammy’s Bikes for the unbelievable help in making sure we are always showing up on race day with the best possible equipment. This team really has made a huge impact on my racing career and couldn’t be happier having these guys backing me in everything I do
-Coach Bill at Bishop racing: starting with Bill three years ago was one of the best decisions I have made. Not only am I getting faster and better year to year, but I am also having more fun doing it than I ever have. The workouts and sessions keep me on my toes and push me to new limits each day. Thanks for all the help and getting me where I am today!
-Saucony: Supporting me for over three years now. Their shoes and running gear keep me healthy, strong, and running fast!
-PowerBar: nutrition that doesn’t upset my stomach and fuels me to get through these crazy endurance events!
-Jacqui: my wife that pushes me day in and day out. I’ve never met someone so dedicated and tough. How she manages her job, training, and me are incredible. When I see all of the commitment, hard work, and sacrifices...I become inspired. Jac, you are incredible and I’m honored that I get to call someone as amazing as you are my wife.