I did it! I qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Kona in my
first Ironman attempt! It's Tuesday and I'm still sore. And elated. A
little play by play:
Loaded the stuff, the kids, and Lynn into the car on Friday for the drive
to Madison. I'd had a 24 hour stomach flu 3 days earlier, which passed
quickly--thank God--but now Ezra was just getting over it, and Lynn was
just getting into the middle of it. Not the happiest campers. I have to
say here, that the sacrifice my family has made in order for me to do this
were enormous, generous and at times straining. And I'm deeply grateful to
them for supporting me through it.
The excitement really began when I got to the athlete checkin at 3:58pm on
Friday--the last opportunity to check in-- and was told "you have two
minutes before you lose the chance to be in this race." Just made it in
under THAT wire, and no, I don't know what the heck I was, or wasn't
thinking that I wound up playing that so close, but I breathed a sigh of
relief, recognized that while I'm pretty good at the swim, bike and run
stuff, I pretty much SUCK at managing the details...more excitement on
this later. Race day was Sunday and the day was perfect. Sunny, 60 degrees
at race start time, 75 for a high, slight winds.
The 2.4 mile Swim: The last mass start I'd done was in Hudson Valley 10
years ago. That was about 400 people as I recall. This was 2500 folks, all
treading water, shoulder to shoulder, until the gun went off and the
thrashing and pummeling began in earnest. I was targeting a 1:15 time for
the swim, however given the circumstances, I quickly adjusted my goal to
fending off blows and going straight. After a while, slithering mass
thinned a bit and I could actually swim. I got into a rythm, focussed on
staying long, going for the glide, and breathing. Second lap was far
easier than the first, and I came out of the water in 50th place out of
157 in my age group with a time of 1:17:32. Short of my goal, but I was
happy. The swim is my weak event. Always has been. I've managed to improve
it with training, but not a whole lot.
The 112 mile Bike: The bike is my strength, which makes it dangerous for
me. As I've written earlier, my pattern in races, particularly long races,
is to have a killer bike split, and then give most of it back on the run.
I'm happy to say that I rode with my intelligence, and not my ego! I eased
into the hills--of which there were many--instead of hammering on them. I
hydrated and ate sufficiently. I did everything right, and had a decent
(not killer) bike split. I'd targeted 5:30, wound up with a 5:35:05, and a
20.1 MPH average speed. While not "killer" by my standards, my bike split
advanced me from 50th place to 10th place in my age group. Finished strong
and with plenty in reserves for the run.
The 26.2 mile Run: I started the run in a state of euphoria. I was on the
home stretch, and feeling great. I was hydrated, my legs still felt good,
and I was running through cheering throngs at the Ironman! It felt like a
dream. The experience was amplified by the fact that each athletes first
name was printed large and bold on their race number, so as you went by,
people were constantly shouting your name, it was so sweet and supportive.
Each mile had an aid station with water, gatorade and
fruit/powerbars/chicken broth, etc. I ran through the first 3 stations,
kept moving while drinking, but after mile 7 I began coming to a full stop
to drink, taking in two cups of water and a cup of gatorade at each stop.
Having the aid stations mark each mile was a huge boost, psychologically
and physically. Other than to drink, I didn't stop or walk. I also never
experienced "the wall" which supposedly most experience at mile 18-20. In
fact my pace picked up a bit for the last 8 miles, and I finished the run
strong. (Completely spent and exhausted, but strong) Lynn and the kids
greeted me with screams and joy at the finish line, and helped me walk to
the aid tent where I sat and recovered for a while, enjoying the moment
and the massive amount of endorphins pumping through my system. Here's the
part I/m most proud of: I advanced from 10th to 4th place in my age group
on the RUN. It's the first time I've advanced on a run in a triathlon. And
it got me to Kona.
The News: You don't know if you got a Kona spot right away. Spots are
distributed across all the age groups based on how many are in each age
group. So you don't know how many are allocated until the following day,
which was a little agonizing for me. My rough calculation told me that
there would either be 3 or 4 slots allocated to my age group based on it's
size. So I'd either get one, or could get a "roll down" if one of the
others didn't take their slot for any reason. I read on the schedule that
roll downs would be announced at 11:05 am on Monday. So being the
managerially challenged boob that I am, I figured I needed to show up at
11:05am to see if I got a roll down. What I failed to check was: What
happens if you qualify outright? Lynn and the kids and I are eating
breakfast at the Hilton next door to the event, and at 10:55 I say " I
think I better get over there..." I find the Kona Qualifier list, which
has a huge crowd around it, at about 10:58, walk up to it, and see that
the line for qualifiers in my age group is BELOW my name, meaning I
qualified! Then I see in bold print at the top: All athletes qualifying
for Kona must register for the race by 11am or forfeit their spot to the
roll down. No exceptions." Now it's 10:59. I sprint through the crowds,
dash into the registration area, which is empty except for the guy running
and his 5 staff, and say "I'm a qualifier and I need to register!" And the
manager says sternly, "you're too late. Registration was from 9am to 11am.
We're already working on the roll downs. You should have gotten here
earlier." At this point I start begging and pleading. He looks me in the
eye, looks down at his watch, and says "You have 30 seconds to get over
there and register... and next time read the instructions and come on
time." And THAT was the most exciting part of the whole race. I
registered, and ran back to the restaurant where Lynn and the kids were
just leaving and gave them the news.
And so ends this leg of a dream I've had for 25 years. A dream fulfilled.
To go to Kona and race with the best in the world. I'm grateful, happy,
and excited. I'll break from blogging now, and likely pick up again as the
preparation for Kona 2011 begins. Thanks and appreciation to anyone who's
had the patience to read my blog!
Rich Hill Kona Qualifier!!!!!!!