Riding with the wind. When I'm sad, she comes to me.
With the thousand smiles, she gives to me...

Fly on my little wing.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Kona Race Report

Pre-race Rundown

I arrived on the Big Island last Saturday and spent the week acclimating. I’m pretty sure my workout activity level this week was lower than 98% of the other competitors. But I take the term “taper” pretty seriously. Leading up to the race it didn’t seem as hot as I remember it being in 2010, but maybe that’s because I was more acclimated in my preparation before leaving Michigan. This included running in long underwear, a winter hat and a rain jacket, as well as humid and 85 degree trainer sessions at the secret Groom Lake training facility. It was nice to have the whole immediate family in town and my buddy Jason even found an excuse to bail on work and come to Hawaii.

I was significantly less anxious (i.e. grumpy) leading up to this race, which I think is just a function of experience and knowing pretty much exactly what kind of shenanigans I was getting myself into. I still don’t like to get caught up in the “Ironman Testosterone Show” hubbub, but it was cool getting some free swag at the expo, getting my picture with Chrissie Wellington and spotting other pros out on the Queen K and around town. I checked my bike in on Friday and was escorted by Reebnut who, along with the rest of the family, was volunteering for the afternoon. During this time I learned that my sarcastic quips frequently did not register with other athletes. This was due to the language barrier for I know no smart remarks in German or Spanish. But I wasn’t going to let these limitations keep me from trying.

We retreated back to the condo and had homemade pizza for dinner. I was then surprised by an amazing Reebnut production which incorporated videos submitted by friends and family, all wishing me good luck in various degrees of humor and seriousness. I’m not going to lie; I felt slightly overwhelmed inside at the support I was receiving. After that I was off to bed.

October 12th-Race Day   

The family was volunteering for body marking so they were up at 3am, which meant that I was mostly awake at this time. I officially got out of bed around 4:15 and began my standard morning routine. My stomach was not feeling very receptive of food, which for me is about as rare an occurrence as a solar eclipse. I choked down a bottle of Ensure Plus and about three quarters of one pop tart. Jason drove me into town.

Security was a little tighter in light of Boston, which was comforting as well as annoying. I was body marked by my siblings while the parents photographed and hugs/good lucks were distributed. For being an elite group of Ironman racers it dumbfounds me how slow some of them walk and/or how oblivious some are to their surroundings. I finally made it through the cattle chute and to my bike, got set up and got out of there.

Pre-race my friend Russ Brandt had organized a group of guys to start together that all wanted to swim around an hour. This was fantastic. I don’t enjoy swimming anyway, which is compounded by the washing machine, smacked and clawed in the face swim start. We all met up and chilled out for a while, before pushing our way through the heard of slow moving people to get in the water. After a short warm up out to the start line, we lined up to the far left in the front row.

The crowd noise, drum beats and Mike Reilly’s demanding voice grew in intensity. We had to tread water for 10-ish minutes. My feelings were in stark contrast to the nervousness and tension I felt in 2010. Now my impatience was growing by the minute as I just wanted to get this show on the road. Finally the cannon went boom and we were on our way.

The swim was uneventful as far as Ironman swims go. I think I swam mostly straight, got some okay drafts, didn’t go into oxygen debt nor lose my goggles. I got knocked around more on the return leg than I was expecting. I exited the water in 64 minutes, a bit slower than I had hoped, but a 3 minute improvement from 2010. The T1 tent was THE place to be, that is if you enjoy a soaking wet mess of mostly naked dudes. I calmly got my jersey and shoes on and quickly exited the tent, while looking for some bottles of sunscreen on a table. Alas there were none, only a lady with gloves on smearing it on athletes. Now I’m not really a germaphobe, but I did know about 600 people ran by before me. After all I HAD applied “water resistant” SPF 30 prior to the swim. These factors, compounded with the hurried nature of this being a race, I decided to skip the sunscreen station. T1 was three minutes and I was on to the “more fun” stuff.

I was experienced enough to know not to get caught up in the hype/adrenaline/testosterone for the early part of the bike. Going through town is a mess as there are about 800 people all getting on their bikes within 10 minutes of each other. My goal wattage was around 215 so I tried to stay right there as many people blasted by me in the early miles.

I knew it was a long day and just settled in, but there was an unexpected tail wind and everyone was flying. I took on some calories and my stomach still felt kinda crappy. But I knew I needed calories so I just had to push through it. I came up on Russ a ways out on the Queen K and he reminded me to save it for the return trip, which was a good ego check reminder. We ended up riding in the same vicinity and pacing each other for the rest of the bike ride.

There were a noticeable number of packs on the bike. It is just the nature of having that many people on the course capable of swimming an hour and biking around five. I would highly doubt any AGer who said they were legal the whole time. Not that it was blatant “hey I’m cheating” drafting, but keeping 7m spacing with that many people is practically impossible, without wasting massive amounts of energy. This is exacerbated from trying to ride at a steady power effort when other athletes are surging and slowing down. I did my best to avoid the packs and targeted my pace.

I just ground it out on the climb up to Hawi, keeping a steady 215 watts. Despite my less than receptive stomach I had knocked down my first 900 calorie bottle and picked up my second bottle at the turn around. The descent was completely tame wind wise, compared to what I remembered in 2010, when I felt there were times I was hanging on for my dear life. I noticed things starting to heat up on the climbs back toward Kawaihae and especially on the gradual climb back up to the Queen K. My Joule GPS read 88 degrees, the sun was out in full force and the head wind was starting to pick up. I didn’t need to pee yet and figured I needed to up my water intake. 

I wasn’t feeling super strong at this point and realized Russ was a bit up the road. I made a conscience decision to push back up to him for the mental boost. At this point it was pretty hot and pretty windy, but my steady effort was paying off as I was passing a fair number of athletes at this point. At mile 80ish I was doing the math, invigorated after calculating a low 4:50s bike if this pace held. Then I would look down and be going 16mph, uphill, into the wind and wishing the bike ride was over.  My stomach was still unhappy but this is what the Iron Stomach training was for. I switched to some on course Gu and kept pushing down the calories, which seemed to help.

I finished off the bike course strong, coming into town feeling ready for a solid run performance. I topped off the calorie tank while putting down a bottle of water in the final miles. I dismounted having biked a 4:54. I calmly put on my calf sleeves, socks and shoes and exited the tent while asking and looking for sunscreen. But again none was to be found in my hurried nature. I was destined to fry.

Exiting T2 the race clock was at 6:05.  I saw my family cheering and my dad yelled I was something in the neighborhood of 16 minutes down to 5th and 20+ some guys back. Any small chance at my goal required a sub 3 hour dream, but considering what I pulled out at Placid I was going for it. I set off with 6:45 pace in my sights, while staying relaxed. I was diligent to take an extra few seconds at the aid stations to keep cool. By some miracle the clouds came in for the run, so it was hot but, “Not Africa hot, just warm.” Around mile 3 for the first time ever I shamefully peed my pants while running. Don’t worry I rinsed off at the next aid station.

I consistently moved up the field along Ali’i drive, keeping close to my goal pace and staying relaxed. I was methodically steady up Palani hill, knowing the most mentally taxing part of the run was coming up. I came up on another guy in my age group, Scott from Canada. We paced each other and BS’ed for a bit. The pro guys were coming back which I’m thinking (well the word “thinking” indicates logical brain function but…), “Wow that’s X he’s like a famous triathletes guy I’ve seen in magazines and stuff.” Those thoughts followed by, “Wait those guys are way faster than me, and they started a half hour before me... So I have a long way to go… (♪ And a short time to get there…♪)” But I just kept that diesel chugging along. 

Up ahead I saw an athlete struggling to get his one piece suit off his shoulders as he ran off the road toward some large boulders. I’m thinking, “Oh. No. NO! Yep. Oh… He’s going to poop right by the side of the road.” He leaned back right up against a rock and that’s what happened. I made an offhanded comment, to which he had a miserable reply. I tried to lift his spirits and remind him, “Ya but you’re now a Queen K Legend!” Like he was the first person to do that…

At some point there was a sign that said “No Spectators Beyond This Point.” Not sure who decided this rule but it was a bit disheartening, because now there were no pick me ups in the loneliest part of the course. Just shuffling along, trying to turn all but the most necessary parts of my brain off. My 13 mile split was 1:31 and change; close to goal pace.

“How long do I keep hurting myself? How far into that pain cave am I willing to venture?” I’ve been in pretty deep before, but today I wasn’t prepared to go any deeper. Rarely is there a single factor contributing to race performance but today was a factor I hadn’t experienced before. I’ve bonked before. I’ve been too hot, cramped up, GI issues, trashed quads/calves and mentally checked out all before. Today the overwhelming factor was that my feet, ankles and hips just hurt! Not like the muscles were tired hurt, but down to the bones, tired of pounding on the pavement hurt. Today the incentive wasn’t close enough to go any deeper and the last thing I wanted was to injure myself.  

Still running with Scott our pace slowly slipped to 7:30s. He took a pit stop heading into the Energy Lab. An age group girl passed me on the downhill, which stung my pride a bit, but only a little as I had already conceded that the “racing” was over. I soldiered on and dropped to 8 (and change) minute miles, now distracting myself by making amusing/sarcastic comments, but also offering words of encouragement to fellow racers. I asked the aid station workers if they had any beer or shots, but none were to be procured. Spectators were of no help in that department but assured me there were both at the finish line. Mark and Dave Hill was actually a relief for the painful feet, and running down Palani meant that I was almost done.

As I turned onto Ali’i drive I was content on soaking in the finishing chute, something that I hadn’t really taken the time to do in previous races. Kids wanted high fives, which made me feel like a really cool guy and I obliged. I saw my family cheering and acknowledged them as I walked up to the finishing arch, pausing long to get a good B-Nuts promo finish picture; official finish time 9:21:03. 

Post Finish

I collected myself and hobbled over to try and put down some food. After about 15 minutes of nibbling I had managed to eat a half slice of pizza and 1/3 of a chocolate milk. Most atypical for Ben’s stomach except after an Ironman. They had free (or $800 depending on your perspective) massages, so I figured I should get my moneys worth. I showered off with a hose and went to stand in line. As I was waiting and despite it being 85 degrees out, I started shivering and asked a volunteer for a blanket. She brought a mylar blanket and I was back to my Lake Placid-esque Hot Pocket. At the front of the line a concerned volunteer asked me, “As a medical doctor would you like me to take a look at you?” I responded, “No thanks. I just took a cold shower over there and I have no body fat. I’ll be fine.” She then directed me to the massage table. The next 10 minutes of lying down were the best I felt all day.

I located my family and we made a mad rush (I mean hobble) to get out of there and back to our condo. I managed to shower, saw I had the most amazing tan lines ever and then promptly felt like I was going to throw up. So for the next hour or so I sat on the bed with a cooking pot, nibbled on a plate of various breads and sipped on water. I finally managed to put down a bacon cheeseburger before crawling into bed like a beat up old man.

We stayed in Kona for a few more days, mostly just sitting on my butt.  We flew back to Detroit on Wednesday; a typical Michigan October day, cloudy and 50. I promptly put on my winter hat.


Quality Post Race Burn/Tan Lines
Ironman races are not like your cross country or track race from college. The time frame for preparation is so long and exaggerated. So much more effort and emotion gets placed on a one day performance and more time is given to reflect and analyze that performance. It’s not like there is another race to look forward to next week; quickly another opportunity at continued improvement or redemption from falling short. This is one factor that I find makes this form of racing so rewarding, challenging and yet frustrating at the same time.

I suspect there are few under 30 that feel like a truly “seasoned” Ironman racer. Part of overcoming the adversities in racing is having seen and experienced those many factors before and adjusting training and racing strategies appropriately as to be able to execute them on race day. The extra environmental factors of Kona make this even more challenging. I applaud the athletes that excelled in those conditions and had amazing performances. I’m sure this factor has a small play into the fact that those who win Kona, pros or AGers, have usually been there multiple times.

Looking at myself, it is amazing the changes I’ve made since my first Ironman race in the physical side and equally so on the mental side, even when comparing Kona of 2010 to 2013. This includes race day factors like patience and pacing, focus and diligence on nutrition and cooling as well as simply having a better handle on the way I train. So even though I felt I had the above factors accounted for, there was that unexpected factor that came up out on the run. But that’s Ironman racing for you. That experience now gets filed away to be considered for future tweaks to training and racing. For now I’m going to spend a month to completely recover and de-tune and decide what path to venture down for next season. I think I need a break from the Ironman distance and time to have a different focus.  

Finish Time: 9:21:03 (148th OA, 18th AG)
Bike: 4:54:22 (AP-206, NP-216, IF-.72)

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