cSquared Design :: Anthony Cece

A story of the unremarkable, the extraordinarily average and the genetically challenged. And also triathlon.

There are only two ways into the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii: either be very good or very lucky.  I'm one of the lucky, the 200 "common" athletes that race founder John Collins insisted always be allowed to compete. What follows will be my attempt to document my journey towards the Ironman World Championship ... and to see whether it truly is better to be lucky than good.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Part One: The Race

The Ironman World Championship, Kona, HI 2007

What follows below is my attempt to document my experiences surrounding the Hawaii Ironman. It probably makes the most sense if read straight through, but I've broken it up into several sections to make the reading easier (or easier to skim, whatever your preference). Yes, it's long but so was my race! Enjoy.

Part One: The Race
Part Two: Getting In (Fifth Time's the Charm)
Part Three: The Best Laid Plans
Part Four: The Taper
Part Five: Karma, Heat Waves and the Delaminated Wheel
Part Six: First Class in Coach
Part Seven: Check Out My Underpants, the Bachelor and My Speedsuit
Part Eight: Race Day, Endless Flow and the Snowplow
Part Nine: A Mystic Named Autumn
Part Ten: More Karma?
Part Eleven: Kupau
Part Twelve: Mahalo at a Player When You See One in the Street

The Race

It begins with a 2.4 mile swim as athletes power through the waters of Kailua Bay, normally crystal clear, on race day made a tumultuous sea of churning arms and legs (and the occasional stray knee, foot and elbow). It is a one-loop, floating-start course, and chaos from the cannon all the way to the crowd filled boats marking the turn around 1 mile out into the bay. Below, in amongst the coral--only noticed in those rare moments of space, where a swimmer's stroke grows long and smooth, fluid and relaxed--is a dazzling display of sea life, flitting about, oblivious to the frothy battle seldom more than 20 feet above. Between the coral beds lay sandy stretches often paired with cooler currents and swifter water pulling towards the shore. But almost constantly there are bubbles, and the feet ahead, and elbows to the left, and knees to the right. For those not strong enough to swim away from the crowd, there is little open water to be had, and every clean draft will eventually be fought for all the way back to the pier. For many this is a one hour rugby scrum, and most consider themselves fortunate to simply make it through this segment of the course without damage, major setbacks or injuries. To be sure, few, if any, have won the race in the swim, though many have lost it here.

Swin 2.4 miles

On exiting the swim, athletes must then navigate a 112 mile bike ride. It starts with a short loop through town--here athletes tear through the streets supercharged by the cheering spectators and the promise the day still holds--before heading north on the famous "Queen K" highway towards the turn-around at Hawi. From here on the course begins to grind, winding its way along the coast there is a steady barrage of quarter to mile long rollers before the final longer climb up to Hawi from Kawaihae. The wind is constant, head-on and interrupted only briefly by swerve-inducing side winds blasting in from the sea. There is about as much shade on this course as there are spectators now--none--and the sun begins to make its presence felt. The lava fields stretch out from the sea to the mountains in the horizon. They resonate with heat and cause the road ahead to shimmer. Aid stations appear to grow farther and farther apart, the winds provide no relief, they are a blast furnace of resistance. Then there is Hawi, the turn around and a moment's respite. Only a moment.

Strong cyclists blast out of Hawi, using the long descents to power along at speeds of 40 plus miles per hour, hoping against hope to outrun the inevitable shift in winds that will turn a tail wind into a head wind later in the day. These descents are no tuck-and-coast affairs though, as the gusting winds are most intense along this stretch and less sure cyclists hunker themselves down on their bikes, bracing against the unpredictable and unseen side winds buffeting the athletes from the coast. Only intermittent rock outcroppings lining the road provide enough shelter for athletes to take their hands off their bars and quickly cram in as much hydration and calories into their mouths as possible, but these respites are brief and can be measured only in seconds. This is far from pleasurable dining and demands absolute concentration and resolve for athletes to stay on top of their nutrition. As the road returns to rollers, the day begins to grow long and reality starts to creep in. Race plans are confirmed, or altered, the first of many deals made and the foundation of a dream begins to grow or fall apart. The run looms ever closer yet not close enough, and the clouds, the clouds seen daily leading up to the race have not come yet, do not look like they will come at all, and the wind, the wind has not let up, good God the wind... until finally, there is Makala and the right turn off of the now despised Queen K, then Kuakini, and then Palani, and once again the excitement of the crowd.

Bike 112 miles

And then there is the run. The run presents one final opportunity, one final chance to nail your goal or salvage a race going south, failure is not yet a possibility. What time is it? Do the math. You can still reach your goal. Go for it. You can walk if you need to, but only if you need to, and only much later, much, much later. But not now though, hopefully not at all. You get 17 hours to finish, how many do you have left? You'll crawl the rest of the way if you have to. You'll at least make it across the finish line. But walking is for later. Now it's time to start running, time to give it your all, one last shot. Only 26.2 miles to go.

And at first there are the crowds, Ali'i Drive and finally some shade. This alone can power athletes up and down the rollers to the turn around at St. Peter's Church some four miles up the road, and maybe even back again towards downtown. Because here there are the crowds, and hoses, the squirt guns, cowbells, excitement. Here there is energy to be found. But all too soon there is the turn up Hualalai to Kuakini before the final ascent of Palani. Too soon there is that left turn, the Queen K, and the sun, and the wind--that wind again--and the lava, and no one but the athletes shuffling between aid stations. The demons come hard and fast now, doubts begin to swirl. There is a lot of walking being done now and a lot of suffering. It is six miles to the Natural Energy Lab. Six miles until the pain really begins and age group athletes still on their way out can perhaps now just begin to see the overall contenders start to make their way back from what lies down the road.

And even the contenders look haggard, devastated, sweat caked on their bodies, saliva coating the edges of their sun-cracked lips as they tear themselves inside out racing towards the finish line. No normal person would willingly head towards what these poor souls appear to be running from, but the outbound athletes trek onwards in a steady parade of pain and suffering hoping to call themselves Hawaii Ironmen before the day's end. Then it's there, just in the distance, the turn into the Natural Energy Lab. Across the road, on the left, on the way back into town, the 20 mile marker lets the athletes just turning into the Energy Lab know: the pain you thought unbearable an hour ago will be a welcome respite from the pain you feel when you get here. If you get here. And if becomes more of question with each mile.

We signed up for, no, we PAID for this? Suffered and sacrificed to get here? What is this place, this scorched stretch of road leading towards the sea? Can it get any hotter? Who are all these people? These walking wounded? These stumbling zombies? Can a body simply combust in this heat or does it merely begin to melt on the side of the road, each step forward leaving behind a pool of flesh like candle wax dripping from a flame? Enough. It's time to quit. To throw in the towel. Return to sanity. Make the pain stop. Time to turn in your number, jump in the back of one of those pickups heading back towards town, towards rest, a bed, air conditioning, friends and family, loved ones and beer, ice cold beer. No, ice cream. Ice cold anything but gels and Gatorade or cola and water. But just ahead is the final turnaround and the beginning of the end in sight. Every step forward is now a step towards the finish line. Back up on the Queen K the 20 mile marker calls: twenty miles of hope, six miles of reality. But what's six miles after 134? Time to pick up the pace. Make a final push. For some the sun may begin to set here, or has already set--aid stations turning into glowing oases in the distance as the sound of shuffling footfalls and labored breath grows ever farther apart--for all, quitting now is no longer a thought. Not a possibility. Don't stop. Keep moving. I'll crawl from here if I have to. The miles may come slowly, but they come. And then suddenly there it is, Palani Drive, for the final time.

Run 26.2 miles

The crowd along the finish is audible now. Tired feet struggle to keep up with the pull of gravity down the last hill, the pull of the finish line. Left on Kuakini, it's so close. Right on Hualalai and then right on to Ali'i Drive. Historic Ali'i Drive. The finish stretch triathletes the world over dream of running down. There is the banyan tree, stretching out across the road and towards the sea, in all its other-worldly grandeur, just partially blocking the view of the finishing chute. It's so close now, maybe too close. The blue carpet begins, the crowd grows thick, and loud, the music pumps and the lights are bright. Savor the moment, tell tired legs speeding towards the finish line, driven by the cheering crowd, slow down, I want to remember this moment, make it last. Take it all in. I'm so glad to be done. How can I be done? How can I not want to be done? Is it over? It's over! Congratulations, Mike Reilly shouts, you are an Ironman!

This is the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, and every year, 1700 of the world's fittest triathletes assemble on the big island of Hawaii to test their abilities, their strength and their conviction on a course like no other. It is a special place, a historic race, and for many the realization of a lifelong dream. Great stories are written here, inspirational stories, stories of epic battles and complete meltdowns, stories of courage, perseverance and overcoming adversity, stories of dreams realized and dreams dashed. Each year, 1700 athletes gather to compete and each year 1700 stories are written. This one is mine.

Labels: , , , ,

Part Two: Getting In (Fifth Time's the Charm)

Getting In (Fifth Time's the Charm)

The Hawaii Ironman. Even if only considering its history and sheer spectacle, this is the mother of all long distance triathlons—the Super-World-Series-Cup-Bowl-all-wrapped-into-one of long course racing—and as its title of World Championship would imply, there is a rather select group of athletes talented enough to qualify to compete on the big island. It goes without saying then, as an athlete of questionable pedigree and far more meager talents—not to mention a propensity towards bad decision making, worse habits and an insatiable hunger for ice cream—you would be hard pressed to mistake me for a member of this select group. Fortunately for "genetically challenged" athletes like myself, and owing to its roots as just a crazy challenge amongst a group of "normal" guys (what's a 140.6 mile swim-bike-run race amongst friends, right?), the race's founder deemed that the race should always have a way for other "normal" guys/gals to take part in the madness. This prompted the creation of a lottery system, and each year 200 lucky, everyday Janes and Joes from around the world are selected to compete. After four years of throwing my name into the hat (and coughing up the requisite $85), on April 15th, 2007, this everyday Joe's name finally got pulled. So in this case, I guess the fifth time's the charm. And so my story begins, sort of.

Start from the beginning, Part One: The Race

Labels: , , , ,

Part Three: The Best Laid Plans

The Best Laid Plans

To start this properly, there's a little backstory that needs to be set first. For many lottery winners their road towards becoming Ironmen begins the day they win the lottery. This, however, was not going to be my first attempt at Ironman. In fact, I had already completed two Ironman races: Wisconsin in 2003 and Florida in 2004. Turns out this was just enough experience to get me into trouble, just enough experience to get me thinking, planning, and hoping. After all, who dreams of making to the Superbowl and sitting the bench? Or the World Series and going 1 and 4 with an infield blooper to lead off the fourth? No, you dream of game seven, bottom of the ninth, two strike, three ball, bases loaded, walk off grand-slam homeruns to win it all. Of 99-yard, two minute drives. Of last second buzzer beaters. You dream of winning and heroic performances. At least I do. So when I found out I got into the Ironman World Championships, I was not going to be one of those lottery winners who, sliding in through the backdoor, was just happy to be going. No sir. Talent and physical gifts be damned, I was going to shoot for a grand-slam performance! Well, maybe a base clearing triple...

So what did this translate into in triathlon terms? Needless to say, two IMs were not enough to make me delusional, and my plans did not actually involve winning the race, or even my age-group, but I would set some relatively high expectations for myself. Considering my previous finish times and weighing in on my projected abilities and training history I felt my personal equivalent of a grand-slam, dream performance would be a sub-10 hour finish—typically three to four hundred athletes turn in sub-10s in Hawaii each year so certainly nothing earth-shattering, but still a respectable benchmark for the IM athlete.

Why sub-10? The first reason is, well I felt a little guilty about getting into a race I had dreamed of qualifying for through the lottery system. I figured that most of the athletes in my age-group, if not all, had turned in a sub-10 performance to get into the race and if I could do the same in Hawaii, I would sort of "earn" my spot retroactively. The second reason is that, as mentioned above, coupled with a solid competitive swimming and cycling background (albeit many years removed), my two previous IM races had given me not only some understanding of what the race was about, of what challenges went into training for and competing in the distance, but also what some reasonable expectations of my capabilities were.

My first IM, Wisconsin, I'd finished in just under 12 hours. The next year I knocked almost an hour and a half off that time, coming across the finish line in just under 10:40. In each of these races though, I had run times nearly matching my bike times and my transitions had totaled a sluggish 15-20 minutes. IM Wisconsin had been the first triathlon I'd ever signed up for and at that time I'd also only been running for a year or so, but in the 4 years since that first season of tri I'd worked diligently on my running and continued to gain experience and fitness in the sport of triathlon. I could regularly cover the IM swim distance with minimal training in close to an hour. I already owned a 5 hour even bike split. And had I not done everything short of napping in transition, and had I not walked miles 18-20 of the marathon, I was almost there in the last IM I'd raced. This time around I was already more fit. More experienced. Had a better understanding of the training necessary and enough of a carrot to do it. All I needed to add was a solid 3:40ish marathon and some cleaner transitions. True the course was an unknown, had a reputation for chewing up and spitting out the best athletes in the world, but that's what would make the sub-10 finish a "grand-slam" performance for me and a dream race.

Hind sight and common logic will tell you performance based goals are much better choices than times based ones for Ironman, but never the less this is how I projected a sub-10 performance to play out for me on race day and this was the focus of my training for the next 6 months:

Swim: 1 hour

Bike: 5-5:15

Run: 3:30-3:45

Transitions: 5-6 minutes

The bulk of my training is publicly available on motiobased.com so I won't bother to go into depth here on what I did, but I did train diligently to meet my goals. I consistently pushed the envelope of what I had previously thought was hard training and realized I was capable of much more. By mid-season a good week of training involved three swim workouts and several medium distance bike-run bricks with the key workouts being a long run on Wednesday, a long bike-run brick (3-4 hrs bike/1-2 hr run) on Saturday followed up with 100+ mile rides on Sunday. Hawaii was the sole focus of my training and I'd only race one 70.3 triathlon in August (Steelhead) to gauge whether my goals would be realistic or not. Even untapered my performance was strong enough to earn a slot at the 70.3 championship race in Clearwater. Everything appeared on track, my training speeds were up across the board and I was steadily dropping weight and body fat (147 lbs at 7.5% BF). Tanned, toned, and ready to race I entered my taper at the end of September.

Start from the beginning, Part One: The Race

Labels: , , , ,

Part Four: The Taper

The Taper

I'd slotted three weeks for my taper, which also came at a good time for me personally as I needed every extra hour I'd get from less time spent training. I was moving apartments, the school year was just beginning in earnest (I work for a University) and several key projects were nearing their deadlines. Even with the relaxed workout schedule, however, I found it harder to squeeze in my workouts with the increased demands of my personal and professional life, and less time spent training lead to less relief from the stress of daily life. Suddenly, with more time to think, doubt began to creep in. Tapers tend to be difficult for a number of athletes as the focus of working out becomes less consuming and the complications of everyday life begin to be more evident. The ability for good athletes to stay focused during this time is not celebrated enough. Seemingly out of nowhere I began to break down mentally. I'd met my performance goals in the Steelhead race in August, but the pain required to do so had been far greater than I had expected and I began to doubt that I'd have the ability to suffer through that pain for double the amount of time required by the full IM distance. My time margins were so tight that I knew I was in for a world of hurt and was unsure of my ability to remain focused long enough to stay strong the whole way. These seeds of doubt planted in August began to flower with the time away from a full on training schedule. I started to make bad decisions nutritionally, I started flubbing my workouts, and I started to feel like I was subconsciously attempting to sabotage my race plans before I even started just to avoid that pain, or worse, going through that pain and still falling short of my goals. I'd never had hard fast performance expectations heading into a race and this uncharted territory was proving a difficult burden. Still, race day drew ever closer and I'd hoped these feelings of doubt would clear by race day and that my training would see me through any bad decisions I might be making in the three weeks leading up to the race.

Start from the beginning, Part One: The Race

Labels: , , , ,

Part Five: Karma, Heat Waves and the Delaminated Wheel

Karma, Heat Waves and the Delaminated Wheel

I quite like the concept of karma, or at least my interpretation of it. Wrapped up somewhere in this interpretation is the idea of good and bad, negativity and positivity seeking out a sort of balance, that is, if you reap what you sow, plant enough good seeds and you'll grow a healthier crop of good luck when all is said and done. Now if you're out riding a bike often enough, you'll know that cyclists tend to look out for each other. If you're ever on the side of a road with a mechanical it shouldn't be long before another rider asks if you need any help. So with an eye towards my version of karma I took this etiquette very seriously over the summer. Key workout or not, serious cyclist or recreational rider on a beater bike, I stopped religiously if I ever saw a rider with a flat or mechanical, several times making the repairs myself and once even assisting a rider who'd crashed on his bike and was obviously suffering through a concussion on the side of the road. I didn't do these things directly because I expected anything in return, but I did feel the positivity helped my training and just maybe was helping to store some good karma credit. Silly superstition? Perhaps, but helping folks out never hurts and in the final weekend before I left for Hawaii, I think I collected on some markers.

Marker one came in the form of a heat wave. Long before I knew I'd be heading to Hawaii, my mom and I had signed up to do the Chicago marathon. As this race would take place only one week before the race in Hawaii, this was race would now be out for me, but would still be the focus of my mother's training over the summer. As we'd be travelling to Hawaii together, however, I couldn't head south until after Chicago. This meant I would not be able to leave for Hawaii until the Tuesday before the race and this had me worried about heat acclimation. Coming from a northern climate, the fall had already started to bring shorter days and cooler weather. I'd started to have to walk around in winter jackets, wear sweaters all day at work, and train in near winter gear just to stay hot enough that my body would not start to adjust to fall weather. But the last weekend before my race, when I would have liked to head down to begin getting used to the heat again, the Midwest did what it does best: the weather changed and in came a string of mid-summer like weather. I really felt bad for my mother, who'd trained all summer for the Chicago marathon and then was forced to leave the course at the 18 mile mark because of the heat, but the weather could not have been any better for my own preparations for Kona. I'd get off the plane and not feel any different than I had the day I'd leave Michigan.

Marker two was a bigger deal, though perhaps not coincidentally tied into equipment problems. After my last key workout prior to race day, I started to prep my bike for packing. First I washed and lubed everything. I then sat down to tune my race wheels one last time and found a strange leak. Not air, but moisture was escaping, leaking slowly from my freshly washed front wheel. It took a while to find the source, but there it was: a small crack working its way along the bond between the aluminum rim and its 60 mm carbon fairing. I felt sick. Unbelievable! Better of course to find this now than on the Queen K 60 miles into the race (or worse after crashing out), but this was Monday, a day before I would be leaving and less than a week from my race. I could scramble to find a new wheel in the next several hours, but adding to the time complications was the fact that this was a 650c tubular wheel. Renting would be out, and even if I could find a new wheel to buy on such short notice, I'd neither have the money to afford one nor the desire to buy into a technology that was quickly becoming dated if not obsolete (fewer and fewer bikes are made that accommodate 650c wheels). I would be maybe grasping at straws but I'd heard about the excellent customer service at HED, the maker of my wheels, so I thought I'd try calling and see if anything could be done. I called HED and luck would again be on my side. There were two options, though one less likely than the other. My wheel was too old to be eligible for replacement or repair, but a new one could be built (each HED wheel is hand built and the 650c size meant stock was not readily available and one would have to be built) at a discount and shipped out to me, but it was doubtful whether this could be done in enough time to be shipped out to Hawaii prior to bike check-in. Option two was a winner. After some searching through what used wheels they had on hand in 650c tubular, they had found an older Alps 50 mm tubular wheel in 650c they could ship out to Hawaii for me for a decent price. It would be a slightly lower quality wheel than the 60mm Jet wheel it would be replacing, and it would be tight whether it would make it to Hawaii in time, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances. I arranged for the wheel to be shipped to HP Bikeworks, a great shop in Kona kind enough to receive the wheel for me, and if all went really well I'd have the wheel in enough time to test it out prior to bike check in. I'd need to bring my training wheel just in case things went wrong, but, with big thanks to HED Cycling, it looked like I'd done just enough good to balance out my bad luck. I hoped that would be the last of it.

Start from the beginning, Part One: The Race

Labels: , , , ,

Part Six: First Class in Coach

First Class in Coach

Fortunately the rest of my packing up and shipping out went without issue. Though I was not looking forward to 14 hours of travel time, I was looking forward to finally getting out to the big island and starting my race countdown. My doubts and nervousness still lingered and I'd hoped a little island magic might cure that. Turns out the flight to Hawaii ended up being one of the better parts of my trip. We flew first from Detroit to Phoenix and then boarded a plane for Kona. The entire plane was full of athletes and their families headed to the island with one purpose in mind. This is where I first began to feel the excitement that surrounds the race. Never mind the lack of food, limited drink service, cramped seating, I was sitting amongst some of the best triathletes in the world and we all had something in common, we were heading out to compete in our dream race. Filling out my row was another athlete in my age group heading out to his first Hawaii IM with his wife and family. Behind me was another lottery winner who'd never even done an IM. Beside her was a long time Kona vet, and beside him, Karen Smyers, a former world champion and first class athlete. The entire flight conversations flowed about the race to come and races past. Those who had raced Kona before offered advice to those who hadn't, things to expect and things to watch out for. Karen Smyers was so humble and gracious with anyone who came up to talk to her, even giving me several key tips that I'd use on race day, that she definitely gained a fan in me on that flight. But she would not be alone in her demeanor, as that was one of the things that impressed me most about all the athletes competing in Hawaii. Fast athletes, age grouper and professional alike, know they are fast. They don't need to wear it on their sleeves, they let their races speak for them. In street clothes they are kind, helpful and often completely forthcoming with advice or kind words. Certainly any kind of pretension would be silly surrounded by so many other talented and capable athletes, but I got the impression that these athletes were genuine and humble no matter their location. When we finally landed in Kona and got off the plane, the excitement from the plane grew exponentially and the race suddenly became more of a reality.

Start from the beginning, Part One: The Race

Labels: , , , ,

Part Seven: Check Out My Underpants, the Bachelor and My Speedsuit
Check Out My Underpants, the Bachelor and My Speedsuit

The Hawaii IM was the first time I had entered an IM with any kind of defined expectations of how I was hoping to perform. Of course any pressure associated with these expectations was of my own creation, but I had trained hard and wanted to do my best in the race. That's not quite right. I wanted to have my perfect race, the race where everything came together and I finally performed to my maximum capability. At the same time I knew that this was more than a race and I needed to find some balance between focusing on my race and taking in all the events and excitement surrounding this perhaps once in a lifetime experience. Race week in Kona there's an excitement in the air that's infectious, an energy even. That energy can be a good thing, helping to get you amped for the race ahead, and it can be a bad thing, amplifying any anxiety or nervousness you might be feeling. Here there are the stars of the sport sitting across from you at lunch or at the expo. Speaking with the voice of experience and success they might talk about preparations and tactics, offer just enough sound advice to call your own race plans into doubt, just enough for you to start questioning, maybe even altering the race plan you'd practiced all summer. Here there is the latest and coolest gear on display, calling to you, a siren song whispering to you that your equipment is inferior, not worthy of this race. Here everyone wants you to be wearing or using their products and they've got all the reasons as to why you should be. And then there's all the clamor for IM gear: the jerseys and tech tees, the vests and visors, mugs and beach towels--everything you need to commemorate your achievement, to proclaim to the world that yes, I am an Ironman, a Hawaii Ironman. But most of all here there are all the other athletes--some of the best in the world--fit, trim and ready to rumble. For many the temptation to test a fitness reigned in by a pre-race taper is too strong and easy spins along the Queen K quickly turn into race-effort drag races or easy jogs into full on mile repeats along Ali'i Drive. The stage is packed, the lights are bright, and it's a heady mix best taken in small doses.

My race week plans were to keep things simple and easy with few commitments. I'd had enough self-doubt leading into race week that I especially needed to limit my exposure to anything that would exacerbate these feelings. Each morning I was up before the sun rose, something easy to do with the time change and pre-race excitement. I'd sit out on the lanai and watch the sun rise and begin to see swimmers heading out into the bay along the pier for their morning practice swims. Not long after, I'd make the short walk from my condo down to dig me beach and join them. I am comfortable with my swimming abilities, even have advanced open water certification in SCUBA diving, but there's still something about open water swimming in the ocean that just totally freaks me out, so I was especially happy to have so many other swimmers in the water each morning. That the water was so warm, so clear, so buoyant, I actually became excited to swim each morning. The sea life--from sea turtles to colorful tropical fish--was abundant, and because the water was seldom deeper than 20 feet it often felt more like I was out snorkeling than getting in a practice swim. Coffees of Hawaii had a boat moored 700 meters out in the bay where they were serving fresh brewed coffee (which I had given up prior to race day--which I will never do again) and sports drinks, so my goal would be to make it out to the boat before freaking out about sharks and such, grab a drink and then hightail it back to shore and wish I was less of a coward. All good fun, though through these daily swims one thing became abundantly clear: if I was going to be one of the cool kids I would simply have to get a speedsuit. I'd held out all summer: the technology was unproven, the time savings--if any--unclear, and the suits were perhaps even nothing more than marketing hype. Whatever it was, everyone here had apparently drunk the kool-aid. If there was anything to the hype, I'd be giving away time I couldn't afford to give. My margins were already so tight to begin with; could I afford to not take any advantage possible? In the end I caved when my mom purchased a suit for me. I was grateful for the gift, liked the suit in my one practice swim in it before race day, and feel that if the suit didn't help that it certainly had not hurt my performance (and if anything was one less thing to worry about), but this would be only the first among many choices I'd make shifting away from my race plan coming into Hawii (a rookie mistake to be sure) and was almost certainly fueled by my feelings of self-doubt.

I also had a couple short bike-run workouts on the schedule to keep things loose. On Wednesday I was psyched to hear that my wheel from HED had arrived at HP Bikeworks so that afternoon, on my way out to do a recon drive of the course, I picked it up. I had planned to drive out to Hawi and then ride up and down 270 from Hawi to get a feel for both the gradient and the winds I had heard so much about coming into the race, so I was very happy to have the opportunity to test my choice of a deep section front wheel along this portion of the course. The winds certainly did not disappoint as the side winds, blasting in from the sea, were like nothing I'd experienced before. These were worrisome on the descent from Hawi, especially riding with full traffic prior to race day and limited to the shoulder of the road (only half of which was ridable due to the rumble strips along the white line). But using one of the tips I got from Karen Smyers--resist the urge to coast and continue to pedal through for stability--the winds were still manageable and I knew on race day we'd have the whole roads to ourselves and not have to worry about swerving out into 50 mph traffic. I was also able to confirm the other tip I'd got from Karen Smyers: that with each rock outcropping along the road the wind would be momentarily blocked and this would be a good time to eat/drink, so this helped build some confidence and remove some of the fear I'd felt about the bike coming into the race. Still, the climb up to Hawi, whose gradient seemed steepened by a constant head wind, was an area I knew that would prove difficult on race day. I would need to keep my effort in check here on race day to ensure that I didn't go so hard that I blew my legs up, but didn't go so easy that I wouldn't be able to balance out any time loss on the descent. This would be a key area for me to nail if I was going to achieve my goals on race day.Gear Check

After returning home from that ride, I got my first opportunity to fully inspect the wheel I'd received from HED. The wheel itself was solid and true enough, but the used tubular tire that was on it was a little more nicked up than I was comfortable with. One of my pre-race rituals is to always put fresh rubber on my wheels, so I was really torn looking at this wheel. I had a newer tubular to put on it, but would only have a little over 36 hours to get it mounted before needing to check my bike. It would be a risk removing the tire already securely mounted not knowing what the glue would look like underneath. I wouldn't have enough time to strip the old glue, remount the tire, and have the new glue set properly if the glue on the rim wasn't in good shape after pulling off the tire. In the end my worries about the current tire overrode my worries about getting the new tube mounted properly and so I decided to go for it. This turned out to be a huge mistake. I ran out to pick up some tubular glue from the expo, but could only find a brand of glue I was unfamiliar with. This was not the glue I typically use and trust and didn't know about mixing glues (the tubular I'd be putting on had already been prepped with another brand of glue and I had no idea what was currently on the wheel). Pulling off the old tire presented another problem, the glue underneath was pretty hardened, old, and probably would have been best stripped. Unfortunately I knew there wasn't time for this so I hoped putting on a fresh layer of glue on top would bond with the old and allow a sufficient bond. I put on the glue, let it set for as long as I could, then commenced to putting my tubular on. The tubular slid on way too easy and was very easy to move around on the rim with limited force. This was never the case with my old glue, so I was worried but hoped that that was just the nature of this new glue and that the bond would set overnight.

The next morning was a busy one. At 9 AM was perhaps the race week event I had been looking most forward to: the Underpants Run. What had started out as a joke nearly 10 years prior in reaction to all the euro athletes making their way around town wearing nothing more than speedos had now basically become a pre-race tradition. Only now, instead of a handful of runners making their way down Ali'i sporting tighty-whities, the event had grown into an all-out parade of athletes--even some family members and locals joining in. And not only had the numbers of participants grown, so had the variety of dress. Sure there were still a fair share of the traditional tighty-whities present (strong believer in tradition this was my choice of race attire), but now there was a whole range of undergarments represented--from the almost risqué and lacey to the outlandish and comic. The event basically starts as athletes gather in the morning in front of Pacific Vibrations, and after general gawking by participants and spectators alike, an oath against the wearing of speedos or any other sport specific clothing outside of training or racing is pledged by all.

Underpants Run Oath

I, state your name, solemnly swear that I will resist the temptation to wear the evil garment known commonly as: togs, scungies, bun huggers, plum smugglers, banana hammocks, crack splitters, butt floss, Speedos, etc., etc., etc., out side of swimming or racing.

I further promise to uphold the sanctity of the local's home of which I am a guest by frequenting public places in proper attire, obeying traffic laws, and being curteous at all times.This is a pledge as an Ironman: Veteran, 1st Timer or Wannabe.

--Oathe by Roch Fry and Paul Huddle

At this point I had picked out what I had thought to be a location sufficiently in the back and to the outside of the crowd so as not to draw too much attention to myself, but couldn't figure out why there were still so many people snapping pictures. Turned out (as I later learned) that the strategic spot I had picked out not only happened to also be the one chosen by the former Bachelor of reality TV fame, but was also the initial direction athletes took off from heading out from the shop. So before I knew it there was me, the Bachelor guy, the event organizers, Roch Fry and Paul Huddle, and a ton of cameras heading up the entourage of underwear clad athletes in a mock race towards the parking lot of the King Kam hotel, where athletes would engage in some group calisthenics and body-builder poses led by Fry and Huddle. After the "warm-up", the group rolled out of the parking lot and onto Ali'i Drive (where I finally managed to slip away from the front of the pack) before finally looping through some neighborhoods back to Pacific Vibrations. The whole route was lined with spectators and locals, good fun was had by participants and non-participants alike, and in the end there was even some money raised for charity.

That afternoon, however, there were more serious matters to attend to. I needed to check on the progress of my wheel. As I went to inspect the wheel, the tire seemed better secured than the night before, however, it was still not yet totally set. I needed to do a short ride anyway so I thought this would be a good chance to see if this was just my pre-race anxiety talking and if my worry was legitimate or not. Out on my ride the tubular held, but I could hear a constant, almost crackling sound as the glue on the rim caught and pulled slightly away from the tire as it was compressed and released with each revolution. Crap. Not only did I risk the tubular coming off the rim without a solid bond, hysteresis could result in significant impact on the power I'd need to put out to maintain race effort speeds. Race wheels were meant to make you faster, not slower. Could I use this wheel? I'd have less than 24 hours before I'd need to make up my mind, but there was still time to ride one last time before bike check-in, and I'd hold off on making that decision until then.

The next day, before bike check in I'd decided to ride the out and back portion of the run course down Ali'i drive. Again, there was that sound. Decision time, use the training wheel I'd come out there with or risk an unknown variable, the new front wheel? In looking back it's easy to see what I should have done, and even when making the decision if I'd had less self-doubt leading into race day--the strength of conviction to truly follow through on the "nothing new on race day" mantra--I would not have made yet another rookie mistake and gone with an unknown variable, hoping that the glue would set more securely after one more day. This would prove to be a very costly error I believe on race day, but at the time, I had made a decision and hoped for the best. I reported to bike check-in and moved on.

The rest of the afternoon was spent making last minute preparations and trying to stay off my feet and relaxed as much as possible. My sister arrived on the island to join us later in the evening. It was great to see her, but rather than join her and my mother for one last meal together before the race, I figured it already too late for a meal and decided against eating out. Typically, I avoid all fibrous foods 18 hours before my race and that can sometimes be tough to do at a restaurant. So I stayed in as they went out and made do with what we had at the condo. Instead of eating any real food, however, I decided I was going to try a combination of meal replacement/recovery drinks and a couple power bars. Not having once tried this in my training leading up to the race, here I was once again making a spur of the moment decision fueled by anxiety rather than reason and experimenting with something new. After finishing my "meal" I was in bed by 10 PM.

Start from the beginning, Part One: The Race

Labels: , , , ,

Part Eight: Race Day, Endless Flow and the Snowplow

Race Day, Endless Flow and the Snowplow


Thanks to the time change I had been able to fall asleep fairly soon after going to bed, and, for the first time prior to an IM, woke at 3:30 AM with a decent amount of sleep and feeling well rested. Race day was finally here and I felt great. I had a powerbar, some yogurt, a couple Ensures, and a couple salt tablets for breakfast. Having a condo only a few blocks from the pier afforded me some time to be leisurely in the morning and make sure there would be no need for the porti-john lines at the pier. After putting on my gear for the race and making sure my mom and sister were ready, at 6 I gathered all the gear I'd be taking with me for the race and we made our way down to the pier for body marking and last minute bike checks. I made sure to have a bottle of water on hand as well as a couple gels to keep my nutrition topped off as I waited for the start. The crowd at the pier was crazy, so I prepared to say my goodbyes to my mom and sister and head off to the start. Navy SealsIt was then I realized I'd forgotten my watch and my sister was kind enough to run back to the condo to grab it. As we waited for her return we watched the 5 navy seals parachuting into the bay to kick off the day. Minor disaster averted, but now slightly pressed for time, on her return goodbyes were said quickly and I was off trying to make my way through the crowds towards the beach. It took a long time to make my way to the water as it was so crowded with athletes waiting until the last possible moment to get into the water. I saw none of the pros start, but wasn't too put out as I'd had my own race to be concerned with.

After finally making it into the water I'd realized I didn't have my timing chip strap on tight enough as it flapped about as I kicked. Having secured the strap with a safety pin as instructed by the race staff (a necessary precaution as we would not be wearing full wetsuits to protect our straps in the swim and there was a good possibility of the strap coming undone in the wrestling match the swim can become), once out in the water it was quite the task trying to tread water, unpin the strap, retighten the strap, and resecure the pin, all while more and more athletes swam their way in to the start line. It was tough to pick, and then keep, a good spot with all the later athletes still swimming in towards the floating start and I became a little disoriented. The practice swims had us swimming along the shore but the actual course went straight out into the bay and I was little anxious about my sight lines being thrown off. Should have realized this earlier, but before I could worry myself about this the cannon went off and we were on our way.

Swim StartThe mass swim starts of any IM are a spectacle like no other, and can be a violent mess at the beginning. This was no different in terms of banging around, but as all the swimmers here were relatively strong, there was little stretching out of the field and swim lanes remained congested throughout most of the race for me. I had taken to wearing my Forerunner305 under my swim cap to record my open water swims, and in practice I'd realized I could set the alarms of the watch to give me an idea of my pace and progress in the swim. I was shooting for a 1 hour even swim, so had a distance alert sound every 100 meters and a time alert sound every 3:06. As long as I heard two distance alerts before each time alert I knew I was right on track. On the way out, my pace was great and despite having to constantly fight for a good draft with other swimmers I was making good time. Suddenly, right at the boats marking the turn around, both legs seized up with cramps. You've got to be kidding me! I tried as best I could to make my way out from the throng of swimmers and get to an area where I could work the cramps out. A little backstroke and I was able to get my legs settled down, but I seriously needed to reign in my swim on the way back in to keep my legs from locking up again, and each time another swimmer caught my legs and put pressure on them, having to fight the downwards pressure was enough to trigger the cramps again. As my 305 signaled that I was falling further and further off pace, I did what I could to make it back in to shore as quickly as I was able under the circumstances. Although I'd managed to only be off my pace by about 3-4 minutes at this point, I became extremely nervous about the cramps and was already a little disappointed about my performance.Swim

I struggled up the steps, and after missing my transition bag my first time through the racks (and having to fight against the flow of other athletes to go back and retrieve it), I made it into the change tent, pulled off my speedsuit, sat down to pull on some socks… and both legs immediately seized up with cramps again. This was not looking good and I started to panic just a little. I worked the cramps out again with some simple stretches but knew that my margins were so tight (I was already several minutes off pace) that the 4 minutes I'd spent in transition felt way too long as it was. I grabbed my bike and hoped starting out easy on the bike would allow me to work out my leg issues. After heading out to do the short loop through town before hitting the highway, another major error on my part became apparent: I had not previewed this part of the bike course at all prior to race day. What I would have known if I'd studied the course map better and actually taken the tiny amount of time needed to preview this section was that there was a nice steady climb in the first part of the course and there would be no easy spinning to get my cramps worked out along this section. Still, progress was progress and even though I was being passed by tons of riders through this section, I knew if I could get my legs straight I'd be able to reel them back later, and besides, I was racing time and not these other athletes.

I set about to trying to resolve my cramping issues thinking somehow I'd merely gotten my electrolytes thrown off (as I couldn't have been fatigued so early in the day), so I started popping salt tablets like candy and drinking water. After finally making it out to the turn around, back in and through town, then struggling up Palani before finally making it to the Queen K, I finally realized there was another problem, the glue on my wheel had not set as I'd hoped. Now at race speeds, not only could I hear the crackling of the glue, the tire felt sluggish, like I was riding a mountain bike tire, and coupled with an increasing headwind I began picturing it as a snowplow I was struggling to power through foot deep snow. As my day progressed, that snow grew deeper. Even worse was the fact that on any hill that called for an out of the saddle effort, as I'd rise out of the saddle and pull on the handlebars for leverage, the tire would roll to the side just enough to rub the brakes. Still it was not full on panic mode yet, but the wheels were definitely coming off. Things go wrong in Ironman all the time, while you can't predict what they will be, you can expect at least some issues and simply do the best you can to overcome those issues on the fly. How an athlete adapts to the situation often determines how that athlete ultimately does in the race. While I knew this well, between cramping legs and my bum front wheel, I had not expected to face such issues so soon. Rather than racing my plan as best I could, I started over-reacting to the race.

Bike LegThe cramps were limiting what effort I could put into the bike and my wheel made all my efforts to maintain speed more intense than they should be. I needed to get the situation resolved, at least the cramping, as soon as possible and hopefully before the climb up to Hawi started. It was terribly frustrating having to hold back on what is typically my strongest discipline, and I felt helpless as countless riders rolled past me and time slipped away, but I knew that the only way to solve these kinds of problems was to slow down and let the body recover. I kept trying to convince myself, it's a long race, and there was still time to pull it out. I was popping an excessive amount of salt tablets now and grabbing for bottles of water at each aid station. I'd lost track of my hydration and my nutrition and before I knew it I'd created a new problem: I had to pee. Pardon this more graphic detail of this report, but it's an important one. Having to pee itself is not a problem, it's actually a good thing in such a long event and means you are well hydrated, but I didn't just have to pee once. I was needing to slow down and pee often. At least five times on the bike I had to slow to heed nature's call, and many more times even on the run. It was a day long issue made stranger by the fact that the temps were so high that I should have been getting more dehydrated as the day went on rather than the super-hydrated it seemed I had become. In thinking back on this later, I suspect that the nearly pure liquid diet I'd consumed for dinner the night before and for my race-day breakfast may have amped the hydration levels in my body well beyond what they were used to. This may have even lead to the early cramping issue. I was using an aerobar bottle on the bike to store my hydration which required refilling along the way, and this made it difficult to track how much liquid I had been consuming. I'd been grabbing a water bottle at every aid station, using part to douse my body to cool it off and then dumping the rest in the bottle up front. I have no idea how much water I would consume in total that day, but figuring a half bottle at every aid station, plus the two 24 oz. bottles I'd started out with (and considering I may have even started out the day over hydrated), it had obviously been way too much. The solution probably would have been to actually stop drinking for a bit. It's likely even that had I stopped on the side of the road for just 5 minutes to let my legs recover from the cramps and settle that I could have possibly saved 20 minutes on the bike, maybe even my day, but as it was I had been convinced that somehow I needed to keep going, keep drinking even more and keep popping salt tablets if I was going to solve my cramping issue. But that's jumping a little too far ahead.

At this point in the race, on the bike the wheels were really coming off. As the wind was constantly against us and increasing in strength, I could not let my legs spin along easy for any solid amount of time. I also couldn't seem to get in enough electrolytes (or so I thought) as I was still cramping, and it was really getting hot out now so I was still downing water bottle after water bottle, but in so doing I'd created a seemingly endless flow of urine that continually demanded to get out. Nothing was going right, and then there was the climb to Hawi.Bike Leg

I hadn't yet been able to resolve my issues, and now faced an ascent where I could not get out of the saddle to climb. I was absolutely dragging myself up the climb, but knew I'd still had an average speed of over 20 mph and with a strong descent (and finally a chance to really let my legs recover) I could still turn it on in the second half. With a tailwind and a little luck, I could finish the second half averaging 22 mph and still pull out a bike time strong enough that a solid run would get me across the finish line under 10 hours. I held on to that glimmer of hope until finally the turn around came and I did something I never do: I stopped for special needs.

At this point all semblance of a plan was out the window (and apparently so was much of my rational decision making skills), and I stopped simply to grab an extra packet of salt tablets (which I never used). Fortunately, the stop had not cost me too much time and before long I was back on the bike and absolutely howling down the descent. Sidewinds be damned today, I had some serious time to make up. I clamped down on my areobars, slipped my drivetrain into the biggest gear possible, dropped the hammer and screamed down the descent. I covered the next five mile in about eight minutes when, once again, my legs locked up. The cramps were not going to go away today. Seriously disappointed now, I pulled back the throttle. It was like my body had a speed governor that day and it was simply not going to allow anything beyond 20 mph. Even worse, the slight cloud cover that had happened everyday leading up to the race had not come and it was definitely beginning to get hot. I had been out of water since starting the descent and was dying for a bottle (partly to drink and partly to spray on my body) and when I arrived at the next aid station they had none ready to give out. I had to decide to continue on without water until the next aid station or stop now and wait for water. Once again, I stopped. Though back on the road rather quickly, I'd already started to throw in the towel mentally at this point and I really felt my race goals slipping away.

By now, the winds had begun to shift and we once again faced a headwind. I was using every downhill as a chance to recover (and still very often, to pee) with the hopes that if I somehow limped in I might still save my race with a stellar run. With each mile and tick of the clock though, the effort I'd need to put out in the run moved slowly beyond the realistic realm of my abilities, and hobbled with leg cramps I had doubts a stellar run was in the cards. When the turn off the Queen K finally came and I entered T2 I was all but crushed mentally. I'd averaged just over 20 mph on the bike, which in and of itself wasn't bad, it just didn't tell the whole story. Shooting for a 5-5:15 bike time coming into the race, but having finished with a 5:30+ bike time, I would have expected to feel fresh coming off the bike, but it took all my effort just to turn in a time that slow and my legs were trashed. I'd now need to turn around and run a 3:20 to go sub-10, 10 minutes faster than I'd projected as my fastest possible time, on dead legs. Still, I'd had some long brick days where I'd pulled this pace off on dead legs, so I'd do what I could.

Run LegHeading out of T2 I set about to trying to save my race. It wasn't long before I saw my mom and sister on the side of the road. They'd actually organized a whole group of spectators all the way from Kuakini down Hualalai leading to Ali'i Drive to cheer for me, and I had a little laugh and boost in spirit. My legs were tight, but for the first mile I was so happy to be off the bike that I held the pace I needed to, but this didn't last. By the second aid station I was walking, so I started to make bargains with myself: if you hold it together by running between the aid stations, walking through them you can take a break. This kind of compromise never works for long though and I quickly gave up on it. At mile 4 I latched onto two runners in my age group keeping a decent pace but couldn't hold it together to stay with them. By mile 6 I dropped out of the race. Technically, I'd go on to finish, but I just didn't have the heart to go on at any kind of speed. My goal of a sub-10 was lost, and even though I could have still gone on to finish with a personal best (a near four hour marathon alone would have done it) I did not have the motivation to suffer through the pain that would have been necessary to do so. The rest of the marathon would be a shuffle more walk than jog, and I would be forced to reflect on my disappointment the entire way. By the time I made it out onto the Queen K I was actually grateful for the chance to suffer through the rest of my day less publicly.Support Crew

What I learned on the Queen K though, as I watched to top competitors making their way back into town, was that I had quit too early. Everyone was suffering out here and I had never been that far out of the race. And therein lies the danger of having too narrow a goal entering an IM. I thought it important to only have one goal to shoot for and I pictured an all or nothing effort to make it—either I'd meet my goal or blow up spectacularly trying—but I never expected setbacks so early in the day, for my goal to be blown so early that an all or nothing effort would not even be in the mix. I never expected my legs to cramp so badly—in the swim no less—that I'd never even be able to build into an all or nothing effort. I'd never thought of the possibility that I would just plain have a bad day and that a different goal might be more appropriate on race day. If I'd come into the race with a wider set of goals like I typically do, I might have still summoned up the tenacity to gut it out on the run. As it was, my goal had been a perfect race, it was what I had trained for all summer and I would not have been satisfied with anything less than a sub-10. Not 10:05, not 10:15, not 10:30 would have done it.

Run LegSo I watched the top competitors roll by, and when they were gone I watched the top age-groupers roll by, and finally, when they too were gone, I watched the sun set. I took the time to thank the volunteers as they still enthusiastically handed out aid, tried to get me to run. I cheered on the other athletes still making their way out onto the Queen K, their days most assuredly looking to be longer than mine. And I tried to conjure up some emotion other than disappointment about my race, conjure up something to feel that made all the training I did to get here worth it, tried to latch onto some greater sense of what made this race, this place, so special. I struggled with that effort the remainder of the distance back into town, struggled with that effort across the finish line, and in the end, there was…nothing. Nothing to take away the disappointment. If this was the Superbowl of triathlons then I finally had some sense of what it was like to lose the big game. To work a whole season, even several seasons, with one goal in mind only to fall short at the very end, maybe even choke. It was crushing. Except the Superbowl ends in a couple hours, I got to feel this way for almost 12 hours. There was a smile across the finish line, because I was proud to have finished another Ironman, to have gone through the training and sacrifices necessary to cross the finish line, but it was a bittersweet moment for me to be sure.


Hawaii IM Swim at MB

Hawaii IM Bike at MB

Hawaii IM Run at MB

Start from the beginning, Part One: The Race

Labels: , , , ,

Part Nine: A Mystic Named Autumn

A Mystic Named Autumn

After the race I tried to find my mom and sister but couldn't. They'd actually signed up to be volunteers at the finish when I was meant to cross much earlier in the day (we'd all actually been picturing a better scripted ending), but that time had passed a couple hours ago, and in the craziness of the finish area it would be quite an effort to find them. I decided to grab my bike and hopefully meet them back at the condo. After grabbing my bike and gear, by chance I ran into them near the exit. I didn't need to explain my disappointment to them as they'd known my goals heading into the race, but they said, as you'd expect family to say, that they were proud of me and I was grateful. I was even more grateful, however, when they agreed to take my bike and gear back to the condo for me so I could go and get a badly needed massage. So I made my way to the massage area with hopes to finally rid my legs of their cramps. That's where I met Autumn.

As I lied down to get my massage, I got to talking with the therapist at the next table. Her name was Autumn, a Kona local, and aside from being a masseuse, she was also a triathlete herself. Now I'll apologize in advance if I misinterpreted anything said that evening, as I was tired, and though the particulars may be way off or right on, this is what I remember. As she worked on another athlete she began to talk about the race, the island and all the elements necessary to have a good race in Hawaii. She spoke of Madame Pele, the sometimes volatile goddess of the island. She spoke of the athletes and all the energy they stirred up on the island, how the intensity of all the athletes brought about the intensity of conditions on race day. She spoke of the power of the wind, and breath, how this wind was present in breath and the prominence of this breath in the Hawaiian language. She spoke of how fighting the winds was less useful than learning to stay relaxed and in balance with them, how the same was true for breath. She spoke about the balance of all elements and how an athlete must be in balance--mentally, physically and spiritually--before they can succeed on the island. She spoke of how even the greats had to learn this, to master all these elements, before they could break through and win on this island. She asked about my race, and when I told her how poorly I felt it went she told me to find the reason. To not think about a reason, or quantify it, or jumble it up with other ideas, but to right then and there look within and come up with the reason, to find what element was out of balance, how I'd know exactly what it was. Whatever that failing element was, its effects would resonate, be felt in all areas of my life, not just in sport.

And I knew immediately what it was. I had been plagued by self-doubt since August. It permeated my taper, and it caused me to continually make decisions from the position of doubt rather than confidence, weakness rather than strength--starting race week and all the way through to the end of the race. I changed race plans, equipment and nutrition. I grasped at straws throughout the race and eventually threw in the towel too early mentally in the run rather than give myself the opportunity to fail physically. And this was true not only for this race, but in a number of other areas in my life both personal and professional. This was a pattern of behavior for me when things mattered the most to me. If I was to ever succeed in the things that were really important to me, in life and sports, I'd need to find a way to resolve these issues of self-doubt, to not seek out ways, consciously or subconsciously, to set up for failure before I've even given myself the full chance to succeed. What was supposed to be a simple post-race massage to work out some kinks ended up being a pretty significant therapy session that left me some kinks to work out on my own.

I thanked Autumn for the talk and went off to find my family. They'd put in a long day too, but we always head back to the finish area for the final finishers so we got cleaned up at the condo and found a place to eat above Ali'i Drive. Race over, I splurged with some margaritas and the ice cream I'd been eyeing all week. As we cheered from the restaurant above, I knew how little it mattered when I crossed the finish line today, the important thing would always be the experience and that my mom and sister had been there to share in it. As the final countdown approached we went down to ground level to better show our support for the real Ironmen of the day, the final hour finishers. Always an inspiration.

Start from the beginning, Part One: The Race

Labels: , , , ,

Part Ten: More Karma?

More Karma?

The morning after the race, I examined the front wheel that had given me so much difficulty during the race. I was curious as to how well it had actually been secured to the rim, and wondered whether I had just simply been having a bad day or was the tire truly an issue. I let the air out and went to try to pull the tire off. It came off with one hand. I realized that it hadn't been bad luck at how miserably the wheel had performed, it had been good luck I hadn't rolled the tire and crashed out of the race.

Start from the beginning, Part One: The Race

Labels: , , , ,

Part Eleven: Kupau


As my cramps had been so debilitating on race day, I hadn't been able to give my full effort. While this was what particularly bummed me out about the race, it at least meant that I was able to ride without issue in the days following the race, to actually take the time to enjoy the views, and to confirm, if even only to myself, that I had speed on the bike coming into the race and, whatever the reasons, had just had one of the worst days I've ever had in an Ironman. Whether it was simply a change in wheels, a change in weather, or simply a change in pressure, I could roll up my speed at will on these rides and wished I had another shot at race day. I was hungry for a shot at redemption and, as she'd also had a disappointing race in Chicago, it just so happens that so was my mother. We had already been thinking about leaving Hawaii a day early to take part in the Detroit half-marathon (it had become something of a tradition for us to take part in either the full or half since the first year I ran it some five years ago), and now we both had even more reason to want to take part this year. We worked it out with the airlines, and even though I was sad to be leaving the island early and had had a great time in the days following the race both exploring the island and lounging on its beaches, ultimately, Detroit had a stronger draw for us both.

On our return, the weather could not have been better for a running race, a classic sunny but crisp fall day, the city was amped up for the race and the Lion's game later in the afternoon. We were both excited to race and happy we'd made the decision to return early. My mother would have one of her best races ever, and only one week after my poor showing in the Hawaii IM, I'd also turn in my fastest time ever for a half-marathon and nearly crack the top 50 overall on the day. And there it was. Kupau.

Kupau is a Hawaiian word. It means "completion" and was used at the banquet to draw the Hawaii Ironman to a close. From my time on the island, in hearing this word used by the locals, I got the sense, however, that this word didn't mean so much an end though, as it was fuzzier than that. The completion in kupau was more like a book where one chapter ends so another can begin. Not one to typically quote rock songs when making a point, especially not songs from such a marginal band as Semisonic, I'll take some liberty here by offering the following line from the song Closing Time: "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." Like Aloha is used both to welcome and say goodbye, kupau seemed to both contain an end and a beginning. As each day training for the Ironman was built on the days that came before it, so too did they make possible the ones that came after. Eventually these days would become part of a larger training cycle that would culminate in the race, which too would end, opening the door for the next training cycle, and the next race, and so on, until the races and training became part of a season, and one season too would close ushering in the next. Yesterday there was the Hawaii Ironman, today there was the Detroit half-marathon, in a few weeks time there would be the Clearwater 70.3 Championships. Ultimately, in sports, like life in general, if you play the game right there is no actual finish line, only kupau. Tomorrow brings another day, another opportunity. What's important is not whether you succeed or fail, win or lose, but that you keep learning, keep pushing, keep challenging yourself, and most of all, keep trying.

IMC 70.3 Bike
IMC 70.3 Run
IMC 70.3 Run2IMC 70.3 FinIMC Finish

Start from the beginning, Part One: The Race

Labels: , , , ,

Part Twelve: Mahalo at a Player When You See One in the Street

Mahalo at a Player When You See One in the Street

There are quite a few people I owe a deep sense of gratitude towards in my attempt at the Hawaii Ironman. All the friends and family who were never short on encouraging words or understanding about my near social disappearance. HED Cycling and HP Bikeworks for helping scramble to find a near-solution for my bum front wheel heading into the race. The folks at GU Promotions for sending out a huge box of nutrition (in my favorite flavors no less) heading into the race, it went to good use. Garmin and all the folks associated with Motionbased.com, not only for providing the tools necessary to track my training and record this race for posterity, but also for notes of encouragement. The crew at Bikesport Michigan for taking care of my bike needs heading into Hawaii, and especially Tom Demerly for his awesome pep-talk prior to my leaving for the race. WTC and Ben Fertic for making my participation in this race possible. Autumn for her sage wisdom and conversation. But in the end, the one person without whom this whole adventure would not have even been possible or nearly as enjoyable (and not coincidentally probably one of the few who will even end up reading this), my mom--maybe next time it's you we'll be cheering across the finish line. Many thanks. Mahalo one and all.


Start from the beginning, Part One: The Race

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Week 16 Summary - Steelhead 70.3 RR short
Totals for this week: 10 hours 32 minutes
Swimming: 3:08 (6.14 miles)
Cycling: 4:50 (101 miles)
Running: 2:33 (19.7 miles)

Map of Steelhead Triathlon Bike LegMap of Steelhead Triathlon Bike Leg
Highlighted Activity:

Location: Benton Harbor, Michigan
Activity: Whirlpool Steelhead Ironman 70.3 Triathlon, Bike Segment
Distance: 56.5 (mi)
First race of the season and sticking with the idea that this entry will also contain a race report, selecting one of the legs of this race was an obvious choice.
Click on map/chart to view details.
For each individual leg, follow the link below:
Swim | Bike | Run

The week leading up to this race was a mini taper with limited time put into biking/running to insure that the weekend's racing would provide a decent gauge of fitness. Work commitments and details surrounding my upcoming apartment move have proven to be more of a distraction than I'd like and have also contributed to lack of training hours this week. Will need to get this back on track and regain focus over the coming weeks.

Whirlpoool Steelhead Ironman 70.3 Triathlon Race Report

Now that's a mouthful, and it's not even the full official title! I don't typically write race reports as I usually find them pretty boring or self-serving, so I'll try and spare anyone reading this the typical "I was totally on pace to go sub-something terribly impressive until...." Whatever. Just because I can run a sub-4 minute mile pace for thirty seconds doesn't mean I can run a sub-4 minute mile. And as much as you might like to weight one part of a race heavier than others, I haven't been to a race yet where they let you pick and choose the parts that get counted. The time you get when you cross the finish line is what you were on pace to do and if this doesn't represent the pace you wanted, it's either a failure in execution or a failure in planning. No more, no less.

The Short(ish) Story:

2006 results:

Swim: 32:24
T1: 3:53
Bike: 2:26:51
T2: 3:37
Run: 1:58:46
Total: 5:05:28
Place: Overall - 277 Div (M30-34) - 54/179
Clearwater Ironman 70.3 World Championship qualification via roll down.

Last year I did this race with a lot less cycling fitness and had a shoulder injury that severely limited my ability to train in the pool. This lack of cycling fitness translated to terrible leg cramps on the run, and my transitions were also very slow. This was all very good news in planning for this year's race as there were lots of areas to improve very easily. My goal was to run a a 4:45 or less. I figured with more consistent swim training a 30-31 should not be a problem. With much improved fitness on the bike I figured at least a 2:30 would be doable and with far less effort than last year. With a 1:40 run and cutting out a couple minutes off my transition times, this would get me there. No problem... right.

Couple minor wrenches in the plan: beach start instead of pier would change the swim venue and add an unknown variable; the transition area had been moved to a sand/grass mix area instead of the parking lot could mean possibly slow(er) transition times; my age group was one of the last waves to start which meant a crowded course and lots of congestion in all three legs; the growth of the this race had an announced 2300 + participants, another unknown.

These variables ended up having minimal effect on my plans, and I was able to meet my overall pre-race goals of 1). a 4:45 70.3, and 2). a possible re-qualification for Clearwater, and 3). probably the most important goal, establishing a baseline fitness level to help formulate some goals for Kona.

2007 results:
Swim: 32:55
T1: 3:36
Bike: 2:23:36
T2: 2:47
Run: 1:40:49
Total: 4:43:40
Place: Overall - 95 (near top %5 for finishes) Div (M30-34) - 23/191
Clearwater Ironman 70.3 World Championship qualification via roll down.

The (too?) full report to follow.

My training digest:

Have not been very good about keeping up with my daily nutrition journal, but it is what it is.

My nutrition digest:

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Friday, June 8, 2007
Training to Train
There's nothing like the first 6 plus hour, 112 mile ride of the season to gain a healthy respect for the Ironman triathlon. Last week, thanks to the Memorial Day holiday I've done two. To think, at this point in the season, that on race day rides like these will be preceded by an hour or so swim with 1700 of your closest buddies--the kind of buddies who don't feel the slightest bit of remorse about kicking you, elbowing you, pulling on a leg or simply swimming right over you--and followed by a leisurely 26.2 mile run, jog, speed-shuffle, crawl to the finish line is enough to make anyone question the sanity of such a pursuit. Had I not in fact already completed two previous Ironman races, I would hardly think such a feat possible. But there's the rub: Having done two I know that through time and consistency, these rides will become common if not approaching easy. The training volume will continue to grow on a weekly basis, and baring injury, I will start to reach the pointy end of fitness. Chubby and pale-skinned will fall away to toned and tanned, and race day will begin to shape itself more as a plan of execution than simple vision of crossing the finish line.

And so these are the difficult days. The days where one must be patient, fight the urge to do too much too soon. The first part of any season where the ultimate goal is an Ironman is simply spent training to train, to laying the necessary foundation upon which the real training begins. Patience does not come easily for me, and this year has been especially frustrating because I actually started the season still working through some injuries from last year. But I'm finally starting to feel it, the sense of base fitness right around the corner. Fuller pool has opened and I've gotten some really nice long swim workouts done in the 50 meter pool. I'm approaching some semblance of base in my cycle training and am no longer merely struggling just to stay seated on the saddle in 3 plus hour rides but rather, I am finally able to start concentrating on staying aero for sizable stretches of time. I'm working through the last of my running issues and, though still slow, am really looking forward to being able to start building my endurance back up. My diet has been rather poor of late as my increase in training has lead to the justification of far too many pints of Ben & Jerry's (otherwise known as "proof that God loves us"), but I've started tracking my diet on fitday.com again (links to this digest will now also appear in weekly reports) and hope to bring my body composition around by the end of this month.

So things are beginning to look good: my training is tightening up, approaching the necessary consistency and beginning in July I should really be able to start putting in some really good-quality training days. Ideally I'll find 1 or 2 half-Iron distance races to gauge my fitness level in early August, and then really be able to focus on some key areas of fitness in the remaining couple months leading up to Kona. This will also help guide my goal making/planning for what I'm actually going to be aiming for on race day.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, May 24, 2007
Almost Famous
While I'd like to believe charm, good looks or wit have anything to do with the recent interviews I've done regarding my participation in the upcoming Hawaii Ironman (as it most certainly isn't my athletic prowess), realist that I am, I think it's clear a more likely explanation exists. Still, while strange to read a story about yourself, it is flattering to have been selected at all. The first interview was with Ironman.com and the second was with the Ann Arbor News. My most recent appearance is on the blog for MotionBased, MBlog. I had also originally taped an interview with a local NBC news affiliate, but between Stephen Grant confessing to killing his wife and the Red Wings starting their bid for the Stanley Cup, my story somehow managed to get passed over. So do articles count against one's alloted fifteen minutes of fame? And if so, how much time is subtracted?

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, May 8, 2007
Oh boy! Oh no...
I remember reading this was one athlete's first thought after winning a lottery slot into the Hawaii Ironman. Now I'm not an "oh boy" kind of guy, at least haven't been since the third grade, but I do understand the sentiment, especially as it concerns a trip to Kona. When I found out I was one of the lucky ones headed to Hawaii, it was in front of a local news camera a few days before the announcement of the official results of the lottery.

I had been contacted to be interviewed for what I had been told would be a piece on the everyday athlete training and competing in Ironman races, and I agreed, surprised but thinking, "Why not, I'm an everyday athlete?" We arranged to film a short run/bike workout at my local gym and then do the interview afterwards. Day of the interview I meet up with the guy who will conduct my interview as well as film it (obviously this piece merits special attention), and we set up shop in one of the cardio rooms of my gym. Doing my best (though no doubt failing) to look impressive on a spin bike and then a treadmill, the camera man begins filming me from a variety of angles while fellow gym rats momentarily cease their workouts, their faces revealing signs of bewilderment as they try to figure out just why someone might be interested in filming such feats of mediocrity. After some time the camera man decides that I'm sufficiently sweaty and out of breath that a proper interview can be conducted.

He attaches a microphone to my shirt, has me sit back on the spin bike, and begins firing away questions about the Ironman as I do my best to answer in soundbites suitable for the 30 seconds of airtime I may get--all the while fighting back the urge, as the camera lights cause my face to flush and sweat to roll off my forehead, to spit out every athletic cliche I've ever heard: "You gotta give a hundred and ten percent, you know, leave everything out there on race day, just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, there's no 'I' in 'team,' win or go home, baby...." His questions shift to the topic of racing in Hawaii and now all efforts at avoiding cliche fail. Like I was reading from a thesaurus, out spills, "It's the superbowl of long distance triathlon, it's the big dance, the big show, the big island, it's the grand-daddy, the jewel, the beginning and the be-all-end-all of Ironman racing."

His final question is punctuated with a prop: "How would you like to race in Hawaii?" he asks, pulling out a large certificate with my name and an invite to the race in the Ironman World Championship on it. And there it is, "Oh boy! Oh no.... That's awesome. How long have you dreamed about this? How hard have you worked for the past four years? How many times have you pictured what it would be gathering in the pre-dawn light along the Kona pier before the swim start? Swimming out to the turnaround ferry in Kailua Bay? Biking through the lava fields? Running down Alii Drive? Crossing the finish line in Hawaii? But this isn't the right year. You almost didn't enter the lottery this year, waited until the last day, the last minutes. You haven't swam since injuring your shoulder before the Clearwater 70.3. You haven't been able to run either since injuring your leg last month--faking it through this last workout was bad enough. How can you train for an Ironman starting from such a sorry state of fitness? Wasn't this the year you focussed on your career? Your personal life? Your friends and family? Reacquainting yourself with the joys of an ice cold beer on a Saturday afternoon spent drifting down a river in an old truck tube? Weren't you supposed to qualify on your own merits? How can you possibly go? How can you possibly not go?"

The one lesson I've at least learned in a lifetime of repeating some of the same mistakes over and over again is that you don't pass up opportunities when they come along. You are guaranteed no second chances in life, and this is especially true in sports. There always lurks the unforeseen: injuries, accidents, ill-health. You do what you can today because tomorrow you may not be able to. Besides--ready or not, right time or not--it's always easier to reconcile the things you've done in your past, good or bad, than it is the things you could have and didn't.

"How would you like to race in Hawaii?" he asks, pulling out a large certificate with my name and an invite to the race in the Ironman World Championship on it. "Awesome," I answer, "where do I sign?"

A few points regarding my selection:
  1. This was my fifth time entering the lottery.
  2. On all my attempts, this one included, I joined the passport club to increase my odds at winning a slot.
  3. American's have 150 slots available through the lottery, the rest of the world only 50. So while there perhaps isn't some form of universal health care, an average of only 13 vacation days a year, and well, Bush as our leader, at least in this case, it's good to be an American.
  4. Aside from being so exceptionally un-exceptional as to approach no longer being exceptional, I have no really compelling story to tell--no life threatening disease, no physical disability and no starring role in a reality television show (not that I'm not open to offers). I haven't raised millions of dollars for cancer research nor awareness regarding the plight of Eubalaena glacialis. I'm not a CEO, CFO or a COO. Fact is, I'm just a pretty regular guy and said so on my lottery application. So despite what the doubters might believe--and I myself was one of them--the lottery selections would appear to be the result, for better or worse, of what they should be: pure, dumb luck.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Better Lucky Than Good?
2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and 26.2 miles of running: this is what makes up the Ironman triathlon, and what started out as a dare of bravado amongst a group of Navy Seals nearly 29 years ago has now grown into the premiere stage for long-course triathletes to display their talent and courage. While Ironman has grown through the years in both its number of races and the athletes competing, there remains one race that stands alone in its reverence, its mysticism, its history and its competitiveness: the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. It is the big dance, and there are only two ways an athlete can score an invite—either be very good and win a slot at one of the qualifying races throughout the year, or be very lucky and win a slot through the lottery. I'm one of those lottery winners: the 200 "common" athletes that race founder John Collins insisted always be allowed to compete. What follows will be my attempt to document my journey towards the Ironman World Championship ... and to see whether it truly is better to be lucky than good.

For those that may be interested, by the end of each week leading up to the race, I will include weekly training totals, and each workout will also be tracked via a Garmin Forerunner 305 and uploaded to MotionBased.

My training digest:

Labels: , , ,