Wow, what a race. I gave it all I had and I’m happy with the result. It was awesome to share the experience with so much family present (Deb, the kids, Mom, Dad, Terry, Mariette, and Amy). Their cheers of support helped me get through a hard day. Ironman Hawaii is everything that they say it is. It was an incredible feeling to run down that final stretch of Ali’i Drive to the finish line.
Swim = 2.4 miles = 1:13:47
Transition 1 = 5:21
Bike = 112 miles = 5:32:11
Transition 2 = 4:14
Run = 26.2 miles = 3:31:58
Total = 10:27:31
The field was insanely competitive. Even in the Ironman XC division, three deserving athletes bested me, with Greg Penner taking the XC title. Overall, there were 1926 starters who braved the course. In many ways, this race was very different from Ironman Lake Placid and Ironman Brasil. My times weren’t as fast as in Brasil, but the Hawaii conditions were the hardest of any of the many endurance races (triathlons and other) that I have ever done. The searing sun, baking heat, and of course, the brutal wind, were all factors. Of course, the beauty of this sport is that on race day, every competitor has to deal with the same conditions, grueling or tame. Yesterday, they were grueling.
I got up at 4:15 A.M., had some dinner food (Thai) for breakfast that I had gotten to go the night before, dressed, and headed to body marking. After marking, I went to the transition area to make final adjustments to my Seven Kameha SLX. I hung around transition for a while, soaking up the vibe. It was an amazing scene, with the bright lights illuminating the pier. I stuck around until the other XC athletes prepped their bikes, superstitiously checked my tires one last time, and went to do a short warmup jog. Conveniently, with our room overlooking the pier, I returned to the hotel to change into my swim gear and then made my way to the water.
The swim was the most intense triathlon swim that I have done. With so many top athletes in one event, it made for an aggressive start. The professional men and women started 30 minutes earlier at 6:30 A.M. That left the more than 1800 age group athletes to battle it out when the canon went of. People describe the Kona start as “the blender.” Whatever you call it, it was chaos with arms and legs flailing. It took a while for me to find some open water and some room to focus on my stroke and not the body to body combat that characterized the early part of the race. No one was giving an inch. I would have liked to swim 1:10, but ended up just under 1:14, which was respectable for a no wetsuit swim in the biggest race of all. This was around 10 minutes slower than Brasil, where wetsuits were allowed.
My family got to view the start of the race from a boat in the bay, which was an awesome experience.
The bike was my rough leg yesterday. The wind, oh the wind. I suffered a great deal and struggled home with a 5:32, which was 16 minutes slower than Brasil. The course is more hilly, but it was the heat and the wind that played a major role in my pain. On the road up near Hawi, I had a lot of negative thoughts. I was really hurting and that was even before the wind started to blow. The first shot was fired when we broke through an opening where there was no lava on both sides of the road and a blast of wind shifted the rider in front of me three feet to the left in an instant. I bared down on my aero bars expecting the worst. I held on to my bike, but the next hour was a battle to the turnaround and back.
This is when the pro men began to pass me going in the other direction on their downhill return leg. I saw how they were forced to lean into the wind to keep from being blown over. I thought it was harder to ride uphill in the wind because the lack of momentum works against you, but it was bad in both directions. I don’t know what bad wind on the bike course is. I’ve heard horror stories of years when it literally blows people off of their bikes. I saw the aftermath of one crash, but it seemed that folks were prepared for the worst and rode cautiously. Looking out over the ocean was incredible. The sea was frothing and foaming with white caps as far as you could see.
The wind seemed to come from the hills up near Waimea and from the ocean side too. I don’t know what direction it was blowing, but it was blowing hard. This slowed my pace to a crawl and I was forced to ride in the cowhorns. The tradeoff is that when you are in the aero bars, you make your side profile smaller, but it is nerve-wracking to be extended like that when a big gust hits you. It was bad going up to Hawi with the road climbing several hundred feet and it was bad coming down too. I lost a lot of ground on this section of the course. Thankfully, my Seven Kameha is an awesome bike that fits me well. If I was on my twitchy Cannondale, I would have been far less confident.
Just like you are told, the 80mi to 112mi section of the bike leg is lonely. The gaps increase and you have to will yourself back to Kailua knowing that you have to run a marathon next.
Given the conditions and the painful bike leg, I was pleased with my run. At 3:31, it was a couple of minutes slower than Brasil, but the heat was oppressing. I had also been on course 5% longer than Brasil and every bit of time spent/wasted conspires to slow you down at the end of a race like this. The run course is also more hilly, though not as hilly as Lake Placid. The hills are rolling and not so steep, but they make a difference.
I struggled a bit in the middle of the run, but was able to pick it up at the Natural Energy Lab and then have a strong finish on the descent into town. I played leapfrog with some of the XC athletes on the ride and the run, though our final positions were secured half way through the marathon. About a quarter of the way into the run, I started doing mental math so I knew what it would take to break 10:30. I was confident that if I paced myself and didn’t blow up, that I could do it. I never walked and my plan worked well. I had a few moments of doubt, but ran a measured race, opting not to risk a big surge.
Throughout the entire event, my fueling (eating and hydration) strategy was good. I was still sick to my stomach afterwards (just discomfort), but that was the same at my other full distance races. Taking in so much water, electrolyte drink, and energy food over the course of a day when digestion is not a priority, is rough. Your stomach sort of shuts down. I had my salted potatoes and wished I had brought more. During the marathon, I dumped a cup of ice down my shirt at just about every one of the 25 aid stations. I don’t know how warm it was, but it was uncomfortably hot.
I had sunscreen on, but that didn’t prevent me from getting one of my worst sunburns of all time. It kept me up last night and will likely make for some uncomfortable days ahead. This isn’t the Hawaii tan that tourists dream about!
The pro race was won two Aussie’s. Chris McCormack took the men’s title for his second world championship. Mirinda Carfrae took her first title in impressive fashion. They both had great days.
All in all, Ironman Hawaii lived up to the hype. Again, having my family here was very special. I would have loved to share the experience in person with more of them. They had a great time too. The pain and sunburn need to subside before I consider a return to Kona. I know it won’t be next year. You have to give too much of your soul to this race, never mind the crazy impact on the time that it takes to prepare. A lot of sacrifices were made. Still, there is an allure to constantly improve upon your performance. The experience would help in a return to the Big Island. It will take a few days for this to soak in, but having this race in my palmares is an impressive achievement that I will cherish for a long time.
Photo slideshow credits, Stan Livingston, Debbie Livingston, and ASI.