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.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Kona 2016

Pre-Race Pier
Every big race promises something new and the 2016 rendition of Kona was no exception. Going in with less than ideal fitness and also knowing that this would probably be my last Ironman I made two goals. Utilize my previous experiences for disciplined pacing and also to enjoy the day more than maybe I had in my previous times.

We arrived in Kona a week early to acclimate and hang out. My prep workouts went well. The heat seemed tolerable, as my at home long underwear wearing had paid off. Plus I had mentally prepared for the heat all summer. I knew how to handle it this time around. As usual it seemed my taper workouts were shorter and easier than many other athletes were doing. Apparently they were trying to get some Strava segments on the Queen K or something. Unfortunately some kind of head cold bug crept through our family and it found me Thursday morning. Not an ideal time, but not debilitating.

I was fortunate to have a highly skilled entourage with me to attend to my every want and need. This included my wife, immediate family, plus my Aunt and long time friends Jason and Ironman Dave. Our cat doesn’t like flying. I lounged around drinking fine Kona coffee and eating macadamia nuts all week.
The entourage was volunteering for body marking race day morning. We were staying out of town so I could either come in early with them or walk the six miles as a warm-up. I chose the ride. We were out the door around 3:40. Transition opened at 4:45 and my race started at 6:55. I attempted to sleep in the back of the van for an hour. Instead I snacked on a pop tart, perused facebook and Slowtwitch and used my deer camp skills to fill up a quart Gatorade bottle. Cross-disciplinary skill transfer.

Finally around 5am I opened the van door…and set off the car alarm. In my opinion car alarms are the most annoying invention next to those “not really self venting” mandated gas cans. As I swore and got my stuff together a guy came over and asked, “Are you going to turn that off?” I responded, “No. I don’t have the keys.” (Dad took them) Then I walked off toward transition. I had tried to call Dad on the walk, he didn’t answer and I stuck my phone in my morning clothes bag (important note for later).

The line for body marking tattoos was ridiculous! I waited for about a half an hour in the line. Sharpie would have worked just fine. Luckily I had one of the experienced professional body markers (Sister Reebnut). I had missed the special needs bag drop so doubled back took care of that. After that I had to get weighed and was finally free to do the real pre race prep. It is mind boggling how at the biggest triathlon stage in the world they can’t manage to have porta potties.

I finally got myself together and made my way through the herds to the swim start. I did a warm up and then swam up to the line about 20 yds off the pier. Previously I had raced from the far left and I figured with a split gender start there would be a few less bodies fighting. Plus I was hoping to tag a solid draft for a great swim. Mike Reilly was blabbing and the Hawaiian drums were beating in the background, then the cannon went off.

Swim Start
I don’t think this mass start was any less violent than others I had been in, but I was more prepared for it and controlled myself without going hypoxic. Once it got slightly spread out I worked my way to the inside of the buoys with less people and decent drafting opportunities. As I approached the turn I felt relaxed, but as it bunched up things got uglier. My return trip didn’t feel so great. It felt like the chop picked up and I was having trouble sighting. Walloon Lake doesn’t provide quite the same practice. I was less than successful finding a good draftee, but told myself to just swim relaxed and not waste energy. I exited and glanced at my watch. Seeing just under 62, I wasn’t pleased but got over it quickly. Today wasn’t a day to get bothered over a few minutes. My transition was uneventful and I took extra time to slather on some SPF 50 as not to fry like in 2013.

Leaving T1

For the bike the plan was to ride around 200W with 230W on the climbs. In 2013 I really fell off the last 15ish miles so I was determined to pace appropriately. People were “Gittin’ it like Dale Jr.” up Kuakini and especially for the first 30 miles. In 2013 we lucked out and had a tail wind on the way up. This year we had a brutal headwind. I knew this meant that we would be cursed for a headwind on the return trip. Thus I vowed to ride easy and save it for the ride back. I made extra effort to spray myself with cold water at every aid station and stay on top my cooling, fluids and calories.

I will note the usual presence of 20-30 people draft packs here and not one person in the first penalty tent. Noting new. Nothing worth dwelling on. Unfortunately the athlete tracker doesn’t show placing at the intermediate splits but it felt like 3-400 people passed me from the beginning of the bike to Kawaihae. At this point I had averaged 195W and it was time to begin working. I upped my effort and reeled people back in all the way up to Hawi. The crosswind was notable but not as gusty as 2013, nor on my training rides earlier this week.

The bike special needs bags were in Hawi. I pulled over to get my bag, which I had put another 1000cal bottle. As I grabbed my bag I saw the bottle and also saw my cell phone. Wow. So I had put my phone in the wrong bag before body marking. Go me. If I left my phone in the special needs bag it would most likely disappear forever. So I had to take it with me for the rest of the bike ride. My hip pockets on my suit were not conducive for such an object so I tucked it in the chest of my suit. Luckily it is a water resistant phone as it was doused for the rest of the ride and survived.

The descent was not as windy as it could have been and I continued to focus on staying ahead of cooling and fluids. Things warmed up once I was back on the Queen K and a headwind built the closer I got back to Kona. I upped my effort just a bit and continued to pick off a majority of those that had passed me earlier. I finished the bike feeling positive. My split was 5:15 on 203W AP. 20 minutes slower than 2013, but feeling much fresher for the marathon.
Brittany performed her bike catching duties perfectly as I dismounted. I headed to the changing tent and took my sweet time getting my gear on, lubing and lathering up the SPF 50 for the run. On the run course I made an extra conscious effort to run very easy for all of Ali’i drive. I told myself to get to mile 16 without feeling terrible. I walked/slow jogged every aid station, taking extra time for ice and cooling, a great bit of advice from seasoned Ironman Master Russ Brandt. I picked off a fair number of people and also had some pass me, but I knew from experience the real challenge was to come. Besides a few lower 7 miles early on I maintained around 7:45/50 effort. I paced it nice and easy up Palani and out onto the Queen K. At mile 12 my hip gave me a twinge and I got a bit worried. I worked it out and continued, feeling the lack of run miles in my legs. It was hot, but not that hot. My legs were tired, but not that tired.

#1 Cheering Section
I turned the corner to the energy lab, felt the ocean wind in my face and took in the view for a few seconds. As I continued down the hill I looked forward to my special needs bag, where I had stashed some tart cherry juice and a Kona Brewing Big Wave beer. Having now exceeded my longest run in 14 months, my legs were tired and my hip muscles were fatigued, but not giving me problems, so I was thankful.

I grabbed my special needs bag at mile 18 and walked for a bit while I chugged down the warm cherry juice. It was a nice change of flavors. Originally I intended to consume both the juice and the beer, but decided to stash the beer in my suit and wait a bit. The beer was warm and there was ice at the aid station just up the hill. Maybe I could cool it down. (delusional thinking?) With the beer tucked in the love handle area of my suit I could dump ice in, cooling both my body and (maybe) the beer. I told myself I could drink it at mile 20.

mmm...warm beer never tasted so good.
I continued with my ice routine at every aid station, imaging that icy cold beer. I passed mile 20 and re-negotiated I could have it with four miles to go. Then I changed to three miles to go. I envisioned trotting up Mark and Dave hill drinking my warm beer and thinking about the Ironman history that had happened on that section of road. As crested the hill and turned down Palani I gave in and cracked it open. The foamy warm brew was not the most refreshing beer I have ever had. But I will forever be able to say that I drank a beer over the last mile of the Ironman World Championship. I can’t say this for a fact, but I’m going to guess that is a fairly exclusive group of individuals.

Near the bottom of Palani I saw my family. My sisters made some great motivational signs that made me smile. I high fived some kids spectating and cruised toward Ali’i. I turned the corner and took some time to look around and take in the scene. I trotted up the chute with my now empty beer can in the air and smiled big. 9:55 and change.

finish chute
For the first time after any Ironman I was hungry for real food. Over then next half hour or so I consumed six pieces of lukewarm pizza, three pork sliders and a plate of French Fries. My stomach was completely receptive. I would have drank another beer if they had any. I took advantage of the massage tent. I gathered my stinky equipment and bike and reminisced on the pier for a minute before finding my family and heading back to our house.

I have never gone back out for the late night finisher gathering and I wanted to go. At 10pm, everyone was asleep except Brittany, Jason and I. We drove back down and cheered in some finishers. Plus we got second dinner. We made it about an hour before the exhaustion took over and we decided to call it a night.

All said and done I can say that my performance was what I had on that day. Was it the performance I wanted to have if you’d asked me six or eight months ago? No. But such is life and I’m okay with that. This was the most disciplined race I’ve executed and I’m very proud of that. I never felt like I was “blowing up” or needed to walk. I could have risked more and pushed harder, but I didn’t see a point in that this time. I think now we’ll focus on enjoying the rest of the vacation.

94th 30-35 AG, 414 OA, 388 Male
Swim: 1:01:53
Bike:5:15:10 203W AP
Run: 3:30:51
Run Splits: 7:03, 7:40, 7:14, 7:26, 7:13, 7:54, 7:45, 7:55, 7:49, 16:17(2 miles), 8:10, 7:45, 8:08, 8:34, 8:17, 7:43, 8:07, 9:27, 9:14, 8:31, 8:17, 8:13, 8:18


  1. Congrats Ben. Solid report and you followed your plan to the "T". Enjoy your vacation and more importantly, your life. I honor your commitment to your wife, family, business, and yourself and your awareness of the impact events like this have on you and others. Kudos to you.

  2. Thanks so much for your report! You are inspiring everyone facing big challenges to work the system and your abilities so you can finish! Enjoy the time with family and friends. This is the payback!