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|Ironman World Championship Journey|
Ironman World Championship Journey
As I sit here a few days post Kona, I finally have the chance to take it all in and reflect on so many lessons learned over the past 12 months. The same 12 months that have seen 5 IM’s of varyingly different outcomes, thus I am calling this my “Ironman Journey” versus a Race Report. The only reason I’m writing this is so that someone of you can prevent some of my mistakes and share in the lessons learned to hopefully get yourself to where you want to go.
In the previous 12 months, I’ve attempted 4 separate IM’s. These IM’s included my first and only ever triathlon DNF, my IM PR time, and my best ever IM placing/Kona slot. IMWI in 2009 was the first of these races and, long story short, saw me begin walking at mile 2 of the run due to serious stomach issues and ended with me laying on the concrete next to an ambulance begging for mercy. Despite being the in the best shape of my life, sometimes racing when you’re sick just doesn’t make sense. Hated dropping out at mile 20, but chose health over another IM finish and learned what the term “defeat” really means. Picked up training very shortly thereafter due to the limited fatigue in the body and was able to go 9:27 at IMFL a few months later. Despite being a huge time PR, age group placing was still only 13th and with no roll-down slots available, I missed a Kona slot by about 15 minutes.
2010 had only two real races on the calendar, Placid and Louisville. The goal was for Placid to be the ”A” race and treat Louisville as a back-up race and/or just a participation event. Training up until June of 2010 was very brutal. I’m not one that every typically misses too many workouts, but early quad issues and knee pain caused many missed ones, bronchitis caused a missed few weeks, daughter being in the hospital caused quite a few more missed, wife being in the hospital caused a quite many more, and finally a torn calf caused a good 6 weeks more. I was finally healthy by mid June, and needless to say, was significantly behind in my fitness and foot speed.
Placid came and went pretty uneventfully, had the best swim of my life, a pretty solid bike, and a run that was less than exciting. Never really felt good at all during that run, and even though the first part of the race was downhill, legs just never felt good. Decided at about mile 5-6 that is just wasn’t happening and immediately began walk/running in an attempt to gain fitness but limit the fatigue as best I could. Walked up every single hill and jogged most of the rest of the course except the aid stations. Still managed to run a 3:47 despite all that walking, so very happy with that.
With Placid over and Louisville on the radar, I started working on my race-strategy. Since signing up for Louisville, I had an idea that the course could offer a benefit to those that are “mentally prepared” vs. those that are “physically gifted”. Being in August and a horrible weather day, I decided to do something I’ve never done before in my triathlon life, I began praying for bad weather. The hottest, windiest, most humid day possible was what I wanted and as each day to the race grew closer, each and every day it got a little hotter and more humid, I was one happy camper. Why? Well I convinced myself that I’ll still be able to do my normal swim and bike and get myself to around 12-15th age-group place coming out of T2, but also that the horrible weather would likely slow down all of the better runners in my age group that always seem to quite simple out-run me to the line. My goal for race day was to put out a steady consistent pace at just slower than my normal goal pace and with the assumption that everyone else will go out too hard and blow. More on that later.
Swim – very unique IM start in that it was a time trial. Started somewhere in the middle 1/3 of the field I think, and took me 20 minutes to get to the start line once the cannon blew. Goal was to out hard to the first turn (which was up-river) and then just settle in to a nice steady pace. Drafting was near impossible as the water was very dirty so pretty much swam solo the entire time. Knew the time would be slow due to the non-wetsuit and river currents, but when I came out of the water and saw 1:10, I was truly shocked (out of the water in 428th place overall). As I found out, my speed suit was unzipped at some point during the swim and very likely caused me a 7+ minute time loss. Not a good start, but oh well, “is what it is”. Good part was that there were now 428 people in which I could chase on the bike.
Bike – after studying the profile, I realized that the course was very similar to IMWI in total elevation change, but nearly all of the climbing occurred between miles 10 and 85. After obsessively studying the weather every day leading up to the race, the wind was clearly expected to be favorable for the final 22 miles, so my strategy was to give the race a little extra effort up until 80 miles and then shut it down for a nice long 22 mile “recovery” spin back in to T2. Executed the plan to perfection and made the turn at around mile 80 to start heading back in to town and to my surprise found a slight headwind. Went from recovery to still working pretty good to keep on pace. This combined with limited aid stations on the final stretch and my being out of water created a very brutal final 90 minutes. Made it into T2 feeling very poor and thinking to myself “here we go again, another race in which I biked too hard”. Despite that, headed out on the run in good spirits knowing I still had a race to finish.
Run – It was obviously hot as even the spectators appeared to be dehydrated out on the course. My plan was to run steady and just not to stop outside of aid stations. Typically wear a visor to let the head breathe, but opted for the running hat and kept on the arm coolers on that I wore for the bike. By the first mile I had gotten passed 2 guys from other age groups and burned through the 2 ice packs that I brought with me out of T2. At mile 1, I took my first hit from my gel flask and about vomited as it was so incredibly hot and awful, so tossed it.
Zucco always tells me that he races often on solely cola for some longer races in the run, so that became my nutrition strategy. First 15 miles or so were pretty much the same mile over and over. Grab 3-4 sponges early in the aid station and soak my head, chest, and arms, then grab a glass of cola and water, chug them both, then grab as many cups of ice as I could to put in the hat. The obvious strategy was that the ice would keep the head cool and as it melted, it would drip down the body and cool everything else. Pretty much like clockwork, the ice would be melted by about the next aid station and I would be very close to having mostly dry arms and torso. Repeated this every single aid station. At about mile 15 (start of the 2nd loop) I knew that it was time to see if my race plan had begun working or not. I was getting into the segment where the mass of age-groupers were on the run and it would be tough to gauge if the people I was passing or those passing me were 1st or 2nd loopers. In the first 15 miles, I was passed by 3 age group males (none in my age group), 1 age group female, and 1 male pro, so knew I was doing ok. I also realized that due to the time trial start it didn’t mean anything, but at least I wasn’t getting passed. IM qualifying is made or lost in the final 10 miles of the run, so I would just keep things together and try to not get passed. At about mile 16 I started walking every aid station to make sure I kept up on the plan as there were so many people on the course I could no longer run and get the aid station to myself, but made sure I started running immediately after the aid station. I made it until mile 23 until someone finally passed me during that 2nd loop and despite trying to keep pace, there was no chance as was flying. Made it to the finish line what seemed like a 10 mile blur and a whole lot of pain, but made it! Final time was 10:16:14 and was good enough for 7th in age group and 52 overall (pro and age-group combined). Most importantly, I moved up from 17th in age group off the bike to 7th at the line, and from 10th to 7th with less than 4 miles to go in the run and I got my Kona ticket!!!
Lessons learned when trying to qualify?
1. Don’t just pick a race to race, rather pick a race that you feel works for you and find a way to separate yourself from your competition. Race your race, find a strategy that works for you and nail it. I can honestly say that I was so dialed in to my plan that I never once thought to myself that I was hot or what the temperature was. I had a plan and just followed it and didn’t let the mind drift. I even remember smiling for a picture, that’s never happened before in an IM run.
2. Things rarely ever go as planned, just need to adapt. Bike wind changed, gels were hot, just dealt with it.
3. COLA IS AWESOME!!!!! It can’t be any simpler than drinking a cup of cola every mile with some water.
4. SPF 100 sunblock is AWESOME stuff!!! Not one inch of sun burn despite 90+ degree temps.
Kona – I’ll be brief here. My goal was just to complete the race.
Swim – started out way to the left side and slight congestion, but nothing serious. It wasn’t until the turn until the turn until I found clear water, but didn’t get beat up at all. Swim time for me was very slow at 1:09 something, but I felt pretty good coming out of the water. Only real goal here was to not swallow water and don’t ruin my race in the water. Both were successful.
Bike – Per the plan, went out brutally easy. Managed the watts as best I could while in Kona and then made the turn to head out of town and towards Hawi and saw Buchta about 90 seconds behind me. Goal was to ride the entire ride at about the same effort, knowing that I’d get passed by a ton of athletes on the way out to Hawi and then would catch many of them back on the way in. Somewhere just past Waikaloa Beach (perhaps mile 30ish of the ride), AB caught me and we ended up riding together for the remainder of the day. We weren’t drafting, but did make it easier to ride with someone you know. The strong cross winds in the 20-25 miles before the turn in Hawi were pretty rough, but also fun watching all of the riders riding with a serious lean. Made the turn and flew back down the mountain passing tons of people, just as planned. Rode with AB the entire way which was awesome, he really kept me going. Somewhere at the bottom of Hawi, I saw one of those professional ASI photo guys and I tried my best to “photo bomb” Buchta, hopefully it turns out well as the spectators were laughing pretty hard. He sent some unpleasant comments my way as he usually does, I sent some back as I usually do, and off we went. We kept our pace all the way back to town and passed a ton of riders. At about mile 110, we caught up to Delgado and rode the final couple of miles 3-wide with smiles on our faces. In hindsite, I’m glad there were no race officials there to see that, because we would’ve been in the penalty box together as well.
T2 – uneventful except for being there with AB and Danny, that was fun too. Don’t remember what we were talking about, probably calling each other names as usually, be we all left smiling and running together.
Run – The three of us ran about 1.5 miles together until we saw all of our families. At this point I knew my body was toast and the season was taking its full toll, so I decided to stop for a few seconds to hug the family and try to gather myself for a long lonely run to come. AB and Danny were at this point gone. First out and back of approx. 10 miles on Ali’i were extremely difficult for me. This section has a bunch of rollers and to me seemed to be the hottest and hardest part of the course, far worse than I anticipated. Managed to make it back into town and at Palani started what seemed to be more walking than running and was trying to break the thought of having to walk the final 16 miles. The body was completely gone, legs were numb, mind was back in my condo and was praying for a miracle to get me through. The Palani hill came and left and got to the aid station at the top and I decided to try to see if I could do the “run two cones, walk one” game. Throughout first run aid station on top of Palani I felt my sun screen wearing off and began asking the volunteers for more. Not one of them had any and my previous issues were compounded with the feeling of my skin completely frying from the sun. I continued with my walk/run plan and about a ½ mile past the aid station when I hear the gentleman in a volunteer shirt yelling towards me from behind. I couldn’t at first hear what he was saying, so I stopped and started backwards toward him. He had found a spectator or volunteer that had some of their personal sunscreen and chased for nearly ½ mile me to give me some. “Wow” is about all I could say and could not thank him enough!!! I was truly moved by this gentleman, I wish I had his name and phone number to thank him again as I think he saved my day. After he headed back to the aid station I was “mentally” back in the game. Although the body was still toast, the mind was once again where it needed to be. I changed from “running 2 cones only” to running “at least 2 cones”. Run pace didn’t really improve that much, but I was still making progress and wasn’t getting slower. Saw AB when I was at mile 15 and he was at 20 and he looked really solid, very happy for him. The long stretch from the turn off of Palani onto the Queen K up to the run into the Energy lab seemed to be a very hard section, long climbs, winds, no spectators, etc. Ran most of the way down into the energy lab and saw Danny at that bottom of the hill about ¾ of a mile ahead of me. Seeing Danny was good for me and gave me someone to “chase”. The energy lab was no where even close to as hot as I was expecting and much shorter than I guessed as well. I heard it was 120 on the pavement, but it didn’t feel that hot to me, perhaps because I wasn’t going that hard. I was able to pick up the pace for the final 7+ miles with the final 2 miles likely being my fastest two miles. Haven’t checked any of the splits yet, but would guess that I had a negative split, minor victory I suppose.
As everyone who has raced there recommended, I did enjoy the last mile of the race and did cross with finish line smiling and in the daylight. 2 of the 3 goals completed. The third goal of avoiding the medical tent, well I’ll spare the details of that one, let’s just say it was unpleasant and as I lost over 10 pounds on the day.
Happy to have completed my third IM in 11 weeks and a few miles short of in 12 months, but there is certainly some “unfinished business” that needs to be addressed. I’ll be back, but not yet.
Special thanks to my training buds out there (you know who you are) and my very supportive family. This is in no way something anyone can do this on their own.