Friday, October 23, 2009

Kona Report

I've waited a few days since racing Kona to post, letting the race absorb and quiet in my mind before rehashing it here. Just like the ebb and flow of people on the streets of Kailua pre and post-race, the opposing thoughts of total disappointment and satisfaction with completing the most difficult race I have done take turns inside my head. Never have I dedicated as much time and energy to one event in my career, but that is the risk with Ironman. Months of preparation for one day, and then long recovery on the flip side. I have no regrets or questions about my lead-up or decision to come early to acclimate, but I do feel an emptiness since I didn't reach my potential during the event. Fortunately I have a plan for that...

In 5 weeks of time in Kona we didn't have a single day that reached the heat on race day. Madame Pele was up early with the hundreds of triathletes, and looking east to the mountains on race morning while setting up my transition, it was clear and cloudless; a sure sign that a warm day was brewing. I got to the pier with plenty of time to get my body marked, set up nutrition, pump tires, check everything over, and practice the swim exit and subsequent run to my bike in my mind. Transition was a zoo, and with very little space on the racks, I tried to get in and out quickly. I was the lucky chap who got number 100 (right next to Chrissie Wellington and her paparazzi).

I got the new Blue Seventy PZ3 on around 6:15, jumped in the water for a warm-up, and let my thoughts settle. It's always nice to warm up in the water, beneath all the loud music, announcing, and crowd noise. It allows me to visualize my race start, and calm the nerves before the gun goes off. I think it was David Millar who said something like, "I used to get nervous. But then I realized that doesn't change anything." Physiologically, placing extra stress on the body before the race even starts isn't much help. Better to let it heighten your awareness, but not pull you over the edge.

Lining up with the pro field, everyone was executing the usual drift forward, ignore the announcer's pleas to back up ritual. Before I knew it, the cannon had fired, and we all fought for position. It's no secret that swimming fast is a big help in Hawaii, so nobody plays nice for the first 500m or so. I swam with Marino Vanhoenacker for the first sections, and managed to settle in with some good feet through the first half of the swim. At the second turn buoy just over halfway, I lost contact with the group I had been swimming with. I was definitely disappointed, and after swimming on my own for a long way on the return, I was pretty sure that it wouldn't be a good time when I exited. Turns out I managed a decent swim, in 54:27, so I stuck to the plan and rode hard through the first miles with a small group.

The first miles of the bike went by pretty effortlessly, and by the airport I had settled in with a group that had Matt Lieto, Michael Lovato, and about 3 others. We kept the pace solid, but at Kawaihae I rode my watts up the first hills and noticed that I had dropped my group. Not feeling like I was riding out of my comfort zone, I kept on riding solo to Hawi and back down to Kawaihae before finding another group of guys to latch on with. In retrospect, it may have been too long to ride alone, but it felt within reason at the time. Ultimately my undoing was that I didn't get the nutrition I needed during the ride, missing calories and especially salt during the 112 miles.

Rolling back into a significant headwind, I had some rough patches but came good near the end of the ride, and felt ready for the run. I headed out Alii maintaining something close to my goal pace, but the heat was simply too much for a fast marathon. Had I realized that it was that kind of day out there, I may have gone out more conservatively, but I didn't. By the time I climbed Palani around mile 10, my pace slowed considerably and I was feeling completely overheated. Arriving at the aid station at mile 11, I stopped, sat, and proceeded to spend over 20 minutes trying to cool myself with ice, sponges, and water. I really wanted to be done with the suffering at that point, but out of respect for the race, my family, friends, and volunteers, I got up and began the 15 mile trek to complete the race. There isn't much to tell after that, as it was simply survival mode, walking, jogging, running, and spending plenty of time at aid stations to cool down and refuel.

Looking back now, I'm glad I was able to finish the event, and raced like I wanted to for a good portion. Of course it doesn't matter unless you do it all the way through like you plan, but I learned a great deal in my second Ironman outing, and I am ready for the next one in 2010. First up though is ITU Long Course Worlds here in Perth, Australia, and then Ironman Arizona on November 22nd. Thanks to all my followers and support, it wouldn't be possible without your help. Check back for more posts soon from my adventures down under and race reports from my last two events.