As I sat in the Santa Barbara Airport Terminal waiting to board my plane to Kona I had the realization that this was the first time I could recall, in the better part of a year, that there was nothing I “had” to be doing. This moment of relaxation and peace allowed me to absorb the entire process and truly appreciate the opportunity that was being laid before me. While reflecting on my own personal journey I had the realization I wouldn’t be sitting where I was without the incredible support system I have. Anyone who has successfully completed an Ironman knows that no matter how talented, driven and hardworking you are it’s impossible to reach your true potential without the support of your family and friends. l felt grateful to have so many people behind me and extremely lucky to have the enduring support of my incredible and amazing wife, Shannon! I was ready for whatever the Big Island could throw at me.
I arrived in Kona on Tuesday before the race. The build up to race day in Kona is like no other race on the planet. Not only are you in one of the most beautiful places in the world but there is literally something fun to be doing at every moment of the week leading up to the big event (just ask Jerrett and Aldous and John). It’s a careful balance that each athlete must determine for himself. If you seclude yourself for the entire week you'll miss out on one of the greatest experiences of your life, but if you expend too much energy you may just leave your race at the expo! My approach was simple, wake up at a reasonable hour, complete my “easy” pre-race workouts and spend the morning soaking in the experience. By noon I was back at the house kicking my feet up and relaxing as much as possible! This allowed me to enjoy the unbelievable atmosphere and participate in the “must do” pre-race events (ridiculously big race expo, Underpants Run (pics/video), Floating Espresso Bar, Farmers Market, etc.) while not allowing the island to suck the precious energy I would need come race day!
I awoke at my typical IM race morning time of 3:00 AM and managed to choke down my 1,000 plus calorie meal of carbs that would ultimately help to propel me through the race. I laid back down and managed to doze off for a bit before my alarm sounded at 4:15 AM. Race morning is a bit unique for an Ironman because once you’ve eaten there isn't much to do. My bike and all my gear had been checked in the previous day, so I just kind of sat around while Shan and my family ran around the house frantically getting ready. The nerves were definitely there and I could practically feel my heart beating out of my chest, but from an outsider’s perspective you would not have guessed I was the one racing. We were in the car by 5:00 AM and off to pick up Adrienne. It was great to see her smiling and seemingly so relaxed! It helped to calm me down and we joked a bit as we made the 3 mile jaunt down Alii Drive. My Dad dropped us at the corner, I got one last big hug and kiss from Shan, and it was off into the transition zone to stock my bike with nutrition and make sure my tires were topped off with air!
The Swim: Data File
I entered the water earlier than most, almost 20 minutes prior to the gun going off. This allowed me to get a good 5 minute warm-up and get my body moving and still align myself in the front of the pack. One great thing about the swim start in Kona is that there is literally a wall of paddleboarders forming the start line. If you're in the front you can grab onto board and don’t have to spend precious energy treading water. I tried to relax but in all honesty those were probably the longest 15 minutes of my life. I was ready to race and it felt like torture as the minutes ticked down. I closed my eyes and repeated my mantra to myself that would serve as my guide throughout the day:
Approach the day with PATIENCE;
Remain FOCUSED at the task at hand;
Race with INTELLIGENCE first and EMOTION second;
Dig DEEPER than you are tall;
SUFFER more than you thought humanly possible;
And remember to SMILE and soak in the day!
They gave us a good countdown but apparently the iconic cannon that had set off the pros misfired because the last thing I remember hearing was Mike Riley (the voice of Ironman) say “GO! GO! GO!” And off we went. Due to the level of talent in Kona, about half the field (~900 athletes) typically swim within 10 minutes of one another, so as you can imagine there are people surrounding you for the entire swim. This makes the swim very unique and unlike every other IM race in the world. The first few minutes of the swim are extremely critical and being able to place yourself in a good position can literally save you minutes swimming at a given intensity. My race specific training paid off as I was able to output a near threshold effort for the first 5-7 minutes slotting me in an ideal location. The pace slowly settled down and I easily recovered. The remainder of the swim was uneventful as I relaxed, focused on the feet in front of me and held on for the ride. I exited the swim with a faster time then I put forth in 2010 on what turned out to be a relatively slow day in the water. Knowing I was right on target I sprinted straight through transitions and hopped on the bike.
The Bike: Data File
The bike course in Kona begins with a parade through town with a short out and back section on the Kuakini Hwy before you head north. Due to the immense crowds that line the course, this section tends to get athletes overly excited which creates quite a bit of “surging”. This makes the section critical as it is important to remain with your competition yet not exceed your threshold. I found myself in a good position, yet I knew that I would have to move up in the field to get off the bike in the position I wanted to be in. This is where PATIENCE came into play as I reminded myself that we still have over 100 miles to ride before the marathon. I stuck to the plan, kept my power numbers in check and tried not to lose too much ground. After the first 45 minutes, the ride became more steady. I was feeling very good and the pace seemed easy even though my power numbers were at the upper end of my target range. This is the point where I knew I must race with INTELLIGENCE. I stayed within my limits and focused on fueling and hydration as I made my way north. Once we started the climb to Hawi it became obvious who the contenders were as athletes began to drop off. Before I knew it we had rounded the turn and were whipping back down the descent, hitting speeds over 40 mph. I used this opportunity to recover a bit and made sure I was keeping up with my hydration and fueling. At that point it was very obvious that this was going to be a challenging ride back into town. As soon as we hit the bottom of the decent and rounded the corner we were met with a stiff 10-15 mph head wind. This would remain in our faces for the final 45 miles of the ride. I was still feeling very good and knew that the next couple of hours could have a huge effect on the outcome of my race. I remained mentally FOCUSED on the task at hand and stuck to a constant power output. I began to gain confidence as I steadily moved through the field, and was grateful that I had used restraint early in the race. The winds were relentless but I knew everyone was dealing with the same conditions, so ultimately this would play in my favor. As I made by way into T2, I knew my bike split would be slightly slower than it had been in 2010, however we were dealing with much tougher conditions and I sensed that I was in a much better position. I was excited to be off the bike and as I stormed through T2 the legs felt good and I knew I was ready to run!
The Run: Data File
The first 10 miles of the run take you out and back on Ali'i Drive, which is completely packed with spectators. This is also the fastest section of the course so it’s very easy to get over excited and go out too fast. I felt like I was floating along and my goal pace seemed easy so the early miles seemed to fly by. One thing that was apparent is that the sun was blazing hot on our backs and we were not lucky enough to get the cloud cover we had in 2010. It didn’t feel terribly hot at that point, but I knew once I headed up Palani Drive and out to the Queen K, it would feel as if the temperature increased exponentially as the miles ticked by. I made sure to keep my pace in check and focused on the aid stations; sponges, ice, water, cola, electrolyte drink, more water. Keep the core temperature as cool as possible stay hydrated and fueled! As I made my way back through town and up Palani, I started to see the first major casualties of the race. I passed a few people who were walking and seemed to struggle. I still felt good, although the pace that had seemed easy only a few miles back now took FOCUS and effort to maintain. When I hit the halfway point of the marathon I could feel the fatigue of the day begin to set in. The crowds had dissipated and the exposure of the lava fields seemed to have no mercy. This is the point in the race where the mental component outweighs the physical. With just over an hour and a half left in the race, this is the point where you must dig DEEP. No matter how many hours you spend training or how perfect your preparation is you will not be able to put forth the performance you are capable of if you are not willing to dig! As I headed into the Energy Lab I got a bit of a downhill which let me relax and regroup. I gathered my thoughts and reminded myself had it had taken a year of planning, preparation, sacrifice, and over 650 hours of training to get to that position. I knew at that point that I was about an hour from the finish line and if I kept pushing I was capable of putting together the race I had worked so hard for. As I made the turn in Energy Lab, the light breeze in my face suddenly became still as I headed uphill to the most exposed section of the course. I knew I was in a fairly good position in the amateur race, but in all honesty I didn’t have the energy to count the number of people in front of me. As I exited the Energy Lab, I had a moment where I felt as if I was the only one who was struggling. As I looked at the steady stream of athletes who were still heading out on the Queen K and glanced at their faces I realized that everybody was suffering. With about 10 k to go I knew I was going to make it to the finish line, but made the decision that I would SUFFER more than anybody else out on that course! This allowed me to accept the pain and get through the most difficult portion of the race. Once I began to approach Palani drive, about a mile and a half from the finish line, the crowds began to carry me! As I headed downhill I did everything I could to keep my quads from seizing up on me. I rounded the last corner onto the famed Ali’i drive and took a quick glance behind me. I was pleased there was nobody in sight. Running down Ali’i and crossing the finish line is like no other experience in the world. The crowds are deafening and the emotions run high as you travel the same path as so many great legends of the sport and ultimately end your journey. I SMILED ear to ear and slowed down to make sure and soak in every last second. As I crossed the finish line I couldn’t have been happier to see Shannon screaming her lungs out. I walked over and gave her the biggest hug imaginable. As I turned around I must have gotten a bit lightheaded because the next thing I knew I had a few race volunteers picking me up off the ground. I got escorted back to athlete area where a bit of water and electrolytes helped me get my legs back under me. They snapped a few post race photos and then I set out to reunite with my family.
Post Race / Awards Ceremony
I didn’t take me long to find Shan and my family. They had made their way into the pool/bar area of the King Kam hotel and were hanging over the fence. I still was a bit unsure as to where I finished, so that was the first thing I asked them. The answer was, “We’re pretty sure you got second in your Age Group.” The live tracking had been very intermittent and so they hadn't been able to give me live updates on the course. We all partook in a post-race celebratory drink (like you didn’t know that was coming) and I slowly made my way down to the timing tent to get my official results. I did in fact place 2nd in the 25-29 Age Group, was the 10th amateur to cross the line and placed 39th overall, including the professional field. I posted an official time of 9:13:18 on what turned out to be a relatively slow day in the most difficult conditions since 2004.
Overall I was extremely thrilled with my race and the effort for the day. My goal had been to improve on my 2010 performance and I was able to finish in a better position relative to the field in each leg of the race and ultimately grab a spot on the podium. I had dreamed of standing up on the stage but actually being up there in front of thousands of people and getting to hoist the Koa Bowl over my head was everything I imagined it could be.
I want to say thank you to all my family, friends, the SB Tri Club, my coach Melissa and my sponsors (Tri Running, Scott Footwear, 2XU, Garmin and Killer Tri). The amount of support I have received in the past year is truly overwhelming. Competing in Kona would not have been as meaningful if I was not able to share the experience with so many amazing people. Thank you all!