I love Hawaii. At the moment, I'm sitting out on my lanai (deck) listening to the surf wash up on the lava of Keahou Bay, waiting for both my family and the sun to rise. Today is the Monday, following the Ironman World Championships that were held in Kona on Saturday. My race was less successful than I’d hoped it would be. But, I still love this place, and will try as hard as I can to get back here next year.
Let me start at the end of the race, the very end. It's my favorite part of the day. As the timing clock ticks off the final minutes of the race, Mike Reilly whips the largest crowd of the day into a single dancing, singing beast primed to give the final finishers the most resounding cheers of the day. These triathletes have been out on the course for almost 17 hours. They started at 7:00 am in the mild waters of Kailua Bay, and have battled punishing crosswinds on the bike ride as they climbed up from Kawaihae to Hawi and then descended back down. For the last 6 hours, they have been all alone in the dark with their doubts and their dreams of hearing Mike Reilly yell their name and proclaim, "You are an Ironman."
For those like me, that may have been disappointed in the results of the day, the smiles, tears or even the grim looks of determination on the faces of the last finishers, give perspective to our own feelings. The cheers that mark the appreciation that the crowd feels for their accomplishment, and it truly is an accomplishment, leaves everyone, spectator and competitor alike with a lasting afterglow.
This year my goals were pretty simple: be faster than last year, control overheating, stay aware of my current situation, and address any small problems before they became big ones and never quit trying.
My preparation for Kona this year went as planned. Going into the race, I was in the best shape of my life. My running was going well, especially considering the calf issues I'd been experiencing through the first 70.3 of the year. Even my swimming was improving. I was careful not to do anything stupid during my acclimatization period the week before the race. I tapered with short specific workouts at race pace, and stayed away from the expos and craziness that surrounds The World Championships. I saw a lot of friends. At the swim one morning, I bumped into Larry Lanza who introduced me to Dave Orlowski, (one of the finishers from the original race in 1978). Brent Emery was also there with his wife. There were quite a few people from the greater Milwaukee area including Kris Siudak from Racine and Ted Peterman, a student at UWM.
On Thursday, I ran into the Ben Schloegel at the swim start and his cousin Bob ran into us as we headed back up Ali’i
I owe a great deal of my pre-race calm to John Post who arranged lodging, an early snorkeling trip, and many other parts of my week.
We stayed at Kona by the Sea with Adam Zucco, my coach, (who had a breakthrough performance, finishing in 9:16), his wife Lindsay, another client and friend of Adam, Yuri Polyak, Jim Vance, Adam's coach, and Trevor Gavin.
My excitement built on Friday when Polly, Oona, and Lily arrived, and I moved out to the Condo in Keahou Bay with them. My bike was checked in, every thing was set and organized for the next morning. We had an early dinner at Don Drysdale's restaurant, and went back to the condo to relax.
Everything on Saturday morning went perfectly until I handed my pump to Lily who told me that Chrissie Wellington had withdrawn from the race. I told her that wasn't funny, but she insisted it was no joke. She’s the best triathlete on the planet, and I was looking forward to seeing her fly down the hill from Hawi. I walked back to transition stunned. Oh well, that was her issue not mine.
I waited until 6:50am to enter the water for the 7:00am start. When the cannon went off, I found myself in the middle of the usual mixed martial arts festival which continued unabated for the first 1000 yards. In spite of this pounding, I felt very comfortable during the swim, perhaps too comfortable. I would follow faster swimmers, but relied on my own sighting to stay on course. Last year, I attributed my slow swim to blindly following a faster swimmer that I struggled to hold on to. He must have zigged and zagged all over the course. This year, I reached the finish and was helped up the stairs on to the pier by Larry Lanza! Once again I was surprised by a slow time, virtually the same as last year.
I entered the changing tent calmly, determined not to make the silly mistake of last year when I dashed out without my skull cap, and the sun burned 3 painful racing stripes on to my head. During the week, I wrote the script for both transitions, and packed the bags in the order that the items were to be used or put on. Everything went smoothly until I realized that I had dashed out without my sunglasses. I yelled for them to hold my bag. It was too late. Then, one of the volunteers said, "take mine." Amazing!
The early part of the bike went well, I concentrated on keeping my perceived effort low. I scanned my power meter frequently to keep myself in check. This proved to be a problem later, but was working well now. I passed people going down hill, and was occasionally passed while climbing. I went back and forth with one woman for the entire race.
As I began the climb up to Hawi, two major factors came into play. An unrelenting wind blew across the course that frightened many of the riders, and my power was dropping significantly. I handled the wind well, and it would work to my benefit on the way back down after the turnaround. The power drop was discouraging. I remembered what had happened last year when I struggled to keep it at the planned level. I crashed and burned about 20 miles outside of Kona. I bit the bullet and kept riding at my planned exertion level rather than trying to keep my power steady. Now, I was beginning to pass people going up hill. At the turn, I shifted into my highest gear and began the plunge down to Kawaihae. The wind was fierce, and riders were pushed across the road when sudden gusts swept off the land toward the sea. I held my speed, and was now passing riders that had flown by my me much earlier.
When I began the long push back to Kona at the end of this descent, I could not believe the low power level at which I was riding. I decided to re-calibrate the meter. The calibration number jumped about a hundred points. Sh*t. Could I trust this thing any more? It was reading at expected levels then, but was it stable? I decided to stick with perception over technology.
I crested the hill at the airport feeling strong and ready for the run. The normal headwinds on the way back had been there, but seemed less severe than last year. My only problem was the cramping and tightness I was experiencing in my adductors, a new issue that started in New Orleans this year. (I'll discuss this in a separate post later).
I made the last turn into transition, and immediately saw my family standing behind the barrier, ringing their bells and cheering. Does it get any better? My time, at 5 hours and 55 minutes, was 12 minutes faster than last year, and I was much less tired.
When I stopped and handed my bike to a volunteer, I stood frozen. I could not move. My inner thighs were completely cramped. After what seemed like minutes, but was probably 10 seconds, I began to hobble around the pier. I also was experiencing a double side stitch that would not entirely leave until mile 24 of the marathon. No mistakes in transition this time. I started running up the small stretch of Palani that led to Kuakini and the southern part of the course. I walked up the last little part repeating my mantra, "Walk for a bit to run more later."
I was greeted again my Polly, Oona and Lily as I headed out Kuakini. It was the first time that either Oona or Lily had ever let me hug them when I was covered in sweat. About a hundred yards later, I had to start walking again. The pain in both sides was just too much. It felt like gas. My stomach was not upset; it was the pain caused my bouncing while running that made me stop running. By mile 2, I was able to run without having the pain stop me. I was beginning to suffer from the heat, and began putting ice under my hat, and cold sponges behind my neck and on my chest at each aid station. My pace was slow but steady. I was confident that I could break 12 hours.
The first real setback, came around mile 8. I realized that my socks were soaked from sweat and the water I was pouring on my head. I was carrying extra socks to address the blister problem that had plagued me during last year's run. I sat down on a guard rail to change my socks. I immediately felt light headed. The heat was really getting to me. It took me over 5 minutes to change and get going again. But, I instantly resumed running. I was determined to run if I could. I was never going to make the decision to shut it down completely as I had last year. I ran steadily until I saw my family at the base of Palani. I walked up the hill as I had planned to do. This took much more time than I had anticipated.
Once out on the Queen K, I started running again, but it became apparent, that I did not have an answer to the heat. Several times on the way to the Natural Energy Lab, I had to give myself ice baths by taking handfuls of ice and rubbing my arms, legs and neck until the ice was completely melted. Tick tick tick.
I was looking forward to the 2 cans of Red Bull that I had stashed in my special needs bag which waited for me at the turnaround. As I was finishing the first one, I ran into Larry Rosa, one of the best photographers in the world covering triathlon. He told me to start running. I held up my other can of Red Bull and smiled. I expect to be in full color spread of the next issue of Lava.
From that point on, I ran steadily for the rest of the race, stopping only briefly to drink. The sun was down. I was wearing the dreaded glow stick, and it was eerily quiet. Last year I walked this entire stretch back to the finish with Steve Brown from Australia. This year, I was completely alone, and running my fastest miles of the day...well almost completely alone. At about mile 21, I heard the familiar voice of Joe Lotus say, "Is that Jim Dicker?" He and Keith Bowersox were standing astride their bikes under one of the very infrequent streetlights. They stuck with me for the next few miles, Keith wisely offering only occasional support and taking pictures, Joe attempting to keep up a steady stream of conversation. Did that blabber make me go faster?
There was not much drama to the finish. Like last year, all I was going to have to show for the long day was a good finishing photo. I blew that with the famous look down at my watch. This time, I kept my head up through the arch. I beat last years time by 34 minutes, but my run was very disappointing. I’m convinced I can do better. I tried to do the best I could the whole day. This was the promise I made myself and I kept it. Same time next year...if I qualify.
Now, it’s time to relax with my very patient family.