Race week was crazy, as advertised, but for me, in a slightly different way. I arrived to Kona on Saturday, October 1. I wanted to give myself plenty of time to adjust to time zone difference (5 hours) and the heat/humidity. I actually didn’t find the heat or humidity to be an issue at all. We (a few EMJ teammates and I) didn’t run the AC while in Kona and that may sound miserable, but it actually wasn’t bad at all. Yes, you sweat a lot, even just sitting there, but I never felt uncomfortable and sleeping at night was not hot or stuffy. I had a bit of a snafu with my bag (went to Honolulu with parents instead of Kona with me) but nothing major. More importantly, my bike traveled well and thanks to Lauren Barnett, I was able to get it set up quickly since I used her Scicon Triathlon bag.
Sunday we rode to Hawi. It was miserable. Jet lag and cross winds made it worse. I was questioning whether or not I’d be able to handle it on race day. I woke up Monday with a bit of a sore throat. Talked to my coach (Matt Dixon of Purplepatch Fitness) about it and he wasn’t worried, which helped ease my mind. He said it’s likely just a 2-day cold due to the VOG from the volcano. Also on Monday, Black & Veatch, the company I work for, released a really cool video on me. It was perfect timing on their part since it was Kona week and extremely relevant.
Tuesday I woke up sick, the whole shebang: sore throat, colored mucus, headache, and exhausted. I spent Tuesday watching TV. Who watches TV in Hawaii? Later in the afternoon, I actually felt better so I went down to the expo to get a few things done to hopefully make Wednesday less hectic. I had easy training on Wednesday (15 minute swim to coffee boat), packet pickup, Gatorade Sweat test, and several other things around the Expo. Team dinner was in the evening. It was fun to see everyone on EMJ that was racing. Thursday was easy again plus a visit to Greenwell Farms for a coffee tour with my family. Was nice to get out of the house and do something non-triathlon related and well worth the time. 100% Kona coffee is amazing. Friday was insanely easy. Saturday RACE!!!
2 goals for IM Kona:
- Have fun and smile.
The Ironman World Championships is like no other race I’ll ever participate in. This is the super bowl of our sport. Athletes, coaches, and especially sponsors care more about this race than any other. Qualifying for it is no easy task. Once you make it here, you know (for the most part) that this is the best of the best. So I knew it would be a very congested swim as many of the top AG triathletes can all swim within a 10-15 minute window of each other. Biking would be crazy. Getting the majority of AG athletes out on the bike course within said 10-15 minutes is going to cause a lot of packs on the bike.
The race started and it was insane. I lined up middle right (even though I had every intention of being on far left, for some reason I didn’t do it race morning), and it was chaos. The swim was extremely physical all the way to the turnaround boat. I got kicked once and hit in the face/goggle once as well. The washing machine effect was interesting too. I’ve never been in such a physical swim; should have lined up far left. I just remained calm and tried to find my stroke as best I could. Water filled my goggles (after being hit) so I had to flip over and adjust them. I couldn’t seem to get them right because it kept filling back up. After 3 attempts, I finally just pushed them against my face as hard as I could to get them to suction tight enough. After the turnaround boat, the swim seemed to settle down and space out a little more. I peaked at my Garmin 920 and saw 26:4X. I thought ‘no way’ and did a double take. Sure enough, 26:5X. I was amazed and excited and then got back to work. I kept my stroke smooth and easy as I’ve worked on many times because I know I can still swim fast by staying smooth and comfortable. The way back in was uneventful. I was just off the back of a bigger pack and just followed them. A downside to my goggles filling with salt water is they now were fogged. So I swam the last 2/3rd of the swim with fogged goggles besides a small area that was semi clear. I could still pick out bigger landmarks and see the buoys, but couldn’t see 100% clear. Exiting the water I saw 55:12 on my watch and was very excited. All the hard work in the pool is paying off.
T1: Quick rinse of clean water over the body to get rid of salt water and then I grabbed my T1 bag that had my heart rate monitor in it. Off goes the Roka Viper X and a volunteer put my goggles, swim cap, and swim skin in the bag while I took off towards my bike. Quick pit stop in porta potty, on goes my helmet, grabbed my bike and headed out to bike.
After doing the short loop in town, which was quite crowded, I got out on the Queen K and tried to finally settle into a decent rhythm. Knowing that I was likely underprepared to tackle an aggressive 112 miles (especially in Kona), I opted to be more reserved than normal. The course itself isn’t overly challenging; it’s more of the heat/humidity and winds that make this bike course more difficult than it should be. I’m a less than confident rider in strong winds and knew it’d be a big mental battle for me when the winds started picking up at mile 26, which is earlier than most people say they will start hitting you. Prior to that, it was fast and congested. Getting a tailwind out of Kona was quite nice. I knew it would be a crazy ride, especially since I was going to be more conservative than everyone else. What I didn’t expect, even though everyone told me and I’ve experienced it at 70.3 Worlds before (although not this bad), was the massive packs that passed me with ease. There were the few 10-20 people packs, but a few 50+ people packs just rolling down the road like they’re in a group ride. It was insane. And to watch draft marshals roll up and not hand out penalties was discouraging. The funny part (to me at least) is I was holding more watts (power) than I was in either of my two IM’s last year and still getting passed like I was out for a recovery spin. Regardless of what was going on around me, I stuck to my plan. I constantly thought of my two goals. I knew that both would largely be impacted by nutrition, so I stuck to my “just winging it and go by feel” nutrition plan and it worked! Admittedly, not the most logical plan, but I have never executed a race nutrition plan as well as I did in Kona. Not in practice, not in prior races, never. Guess I got lucky.
For the most part the bike was semi boring. I got passed a lot. I battled the winds as best I could; I stayed on top of nutrition; I dropped my chain around mile 50 on the climb to Hawi. I had to pull over and fix it, maybe a 45-60 second stop, nothing major. I was surprised this didn’t fluster me because in prior races I’m sure it would have. By the time I reached Hawi (turnaround point on bike course), I was already ready to be done biking. Not a good sign considering I still had like 52 miles to go. I gave up time descending from Hawi. Truthfully, I still struggle with confidence issues on unfamiliar descents after my crashes the last few years. Toss in some cross winds and it’s not like my confidence is going to improve. I needed to make a quick pit stop at an aid station around mile 66 (which was a good sign my hydration plan was working). Around mile 80 there is a short, but steep climb at Kawaihae where you make a right turn back on the Queen K. Many coaches and athletes always talk about reassessing at this point in the race and making sure you’re not overheated and still feeling good. I was actually feeling really good. Power was still good and my mood was good too (meaning nutrition was going well). I started picking off some riders and found a really nice groove for about 10 miles. Almost instantly at mile 90 I hit the headwinds and things got much more difficult. Power dropped, pace dropped, and I struggled all the way back to transition.
While my time is not fast at all considering I had no penalty and just 2 minutes stopped for chain issue and bathroom break, I was quite surprised I did not bike faster (time wise). My watts were right in line (actually slightly higher) with what I did in both Texas and Chattanooga last year and both of those were 5-hour bike splits (Chattanooga was 5:12 but also 116 miles) but more importantly, my hydration was far superior than either of those two races.
T2: My legs felt really good coming off the bike running around the pier. I was amazed because the last 20 miles of the bike ride were brutal and I was really worried if I’d make it through the run. I made another quick pit stop and then headed to get my run gear back. The changing tent was very crowded. I found an open chair and started putting on my run gear: Sock guy socks, Saucony Kinvara 7’s, grabbed my race belt, a little nutrition and headed out to run. Oh, I stopped at the sunscreen station too and this lady must have thought I wanted to be coated in it because I left with white sunscreen literally all over me.
Initially out on the run, I was still feeling good and fueled by all the positive energy and cheers from spectators. My Every Man Jack teammate, Rob Mohr, came by me around mile 2. We encouraged each other and he asked how I was feeling. I semi joked (but not really) that I was ready to be done. I knew it was going to be a long run but didn’t want to think about how much I still had left, just take it little by little. I hit a pretty rough patch around mile 3. My pace was still fine (I was nearly hitting 7:20 on all my miles), but my motivation was still not exactly all too positive.
Coming into the race, I had an even worse nutrition strategy than I planned for on the bike. At least on the bike I had a good idea of how much sodium, calories/carbs, and fluids I was ideally aiming to consume. However, on the run, I literally was going to wing it. I knew if I did well on the bike I’d be just fine, but if I messed up on the bike I’d have to play catch up on the run, which rarely ever works (especially in Kona) without having to walk or slow way down. The one thing I planned to focus on was salt because it has been my main issue on the run in both Texas and Chattanooga last year and why I had to walk in both of them. So right before every aid station, I was taking in some salt then getting water (first option at every aid station) to wash it down. After that, all ice and focus on cooling myself off. I’d take anywhere from 2-4 cups of ice (all depending how many were available) and dump it on my neck, down my jersey, sucking on it in my mouth, holding it in my hands, and I also wore a Boco gear headband and I’d put a few ice cubes either right on my forehead and on the lower part of my head where the neck/spine and head connect. I have no idea if the headband with ice cubes in it helped but it sure felt nice and like to think it did.
Around 3 miles I figured my lack of positivity was calorie related. I took some Clif blocks and ate 3 of them as I exited transition. Around the turn around point (mile 5-ish) I started to get my positivity back. Clearly calories were the issue and I’m glad I recognized it (have to give Matt Dixon of Purplepatch credit for that. He’s said many times lack of motivation or mood is almost always calorie related). I made a mental note that every 3 miles I needed to take in some calories. I was feeling great leg wise and wasn’t even focused on pace at all. The only time I knew my pace was when my Garmin 920 buzzed every mile: 6:55, 7:22, 7:10, 7:22, 7:19, 7:22, 7:21, 7:38, 7:20, 7:04. I just kept telling myself to get to mile 10 (Palani hill) and you can walk up it. Salt, water, ice, smooth form, smile, wave, have fun. That’s what I did until I got to mile 10. I get to the bottom of Palani and was still feeling good, passed a fellow KC guy racing, and an IM announcer was on the microphone and announced my name as I gave him a high five. Screw it; I’m going to run this bad boy. I shortened my stride and just plugged away at it. The beautiful thing about this hill is once you crest the top, you are out on the Queen K and the second half of the mile is all downhill. I quickly found my groove and got back at it. I finished mile 11 in 8:11. Miles 12 and 13 were right back to my 7:20’s that I was hitting like clockwork (officially 7:17 and 7:07). Right after 13, I hit my first rough patch pace wise. Hips were starting to get a little tight and the Queen K was tough. Very little spectators are allowed out there (or venture out there) and it was toasty. It’s also probably zero coincidence that my longest single run prior to Kona was 14 miles so to start suffering (non-pace related) right around there makes sense. Miles 14, 15, and 16 were not my best (8:26, 8:57, and 8:26 respectively), but I stayed as positive as possible and just kept plugging away. One step at a time and I’ll eventually make it. An 8-minute pace is better than 15-minute pace (aka walking). I also took a pit stop at the aid station at mile 15 (part of why that mile wasn’t also 8:26 pace). I was hoping a short stop would help my legs and get me back in my groove, but it didn’t work. After a slight climb at the end of the Queen K, we take a left to go down into the Natural Energy Lab. I have no idea why, but something instantly changed for me. All of a sudden I was energized, felt amazing again, and the 7:20’s were back (7:21 and 7:26 for mile 17 and 18). I mean come on! This was THE Energy Lab, the infamous make or break point for many people in the race. It’s iconic and one of the main talking points when people think of the marathon in Kona. I was impelled and loving it. I ran 7:43 climbing out of the Energy Lab, which is a long gradual climb (1 mile long). I was still feeling great (relatively speaking for being 19 miles into the run) and energized. Once back out on the Queen K, I just tried to keep it steady and was excited to be getting closer and closer to the finish line. 7:49, 7:56, and 7:46 for 20-22 miles. Around 21.5 miles, the hips got tight again, the pace dropped and things got a lot harder. To be perfectly honest, I’m surprised I ever found my form again after it happened the first time around mile 13. All throughout the Energy Lab, I had no pain like this; that or I subconsciously blocked it out because I was thoroughly enjoying and soaking in everything the Energy Lab has to offer. I’m also surprised I made it as far as I did before the pain set in because my lack of Ironman specific run training was evident. My longest single run was just 14; however, I did do a 20-mile day, but at 21.5 miles, my hip flexors were quite shot. For the first time all day (unless you count the bathroom break at 15), I walked through the aid station at mile 23. Same flow of salt, water, ice, etc, but I also tried to loosen up the hips hoping that they would respond and I’d be able to get back closer to my normal stride I was holding almost all day. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Next hope was that the runners high would kick in sometime soon. I just kept telling myself, you really only have to make it to 24 or 25 because the last mile is all downhill and the runners high will kick in. At 24.5 miles (and the base of Mark Allen Dave Scott Hill) I had to walk again. This time it was more than just a handful of steps like the aid station was. I power walked for 10 seconds, convinced myself to run, would run for 5-10 seconds, then back to power walking, all while telling myself that this is the last hard stretch, literally all downhill once I get to mile 25 at the top of the hill. I gave some high fives to some fans, stayed positive, and kept plugging away. Finally, I reached the top and a huge sense of relief came over me. My hip flexors were still obliterated, but I had made it to the top. The steep downhill of Palani was extremely painful on the quads. After a few turns I had finally reached Ali’i drive to turn right and head towards the finish line. I was a quarter of a mile away from finishing the Ironman World Championships!! Running down the carpet on Ali’i drive was incredible; spectators lining the barriers, music playing, and Mike Reiliy on the mic announcing my name as I crossed the finish line calling me an Ironman. The moment was incredible and what I had dreamed and hoped for. After 9:50:55 of racing, I raised my arms in triumph and couldn’t have been more relieved or proud of my performance.
Overall, I’m beyond thrilled and proud of my performance. It’s not the fastest time I’ve ever done but time and place were not important to me. I had zero expectations coming into this race. Kona was not my focus this year and I knew it’d likely be my last IM for a few years. I just wanted to finish, have fun and smile; all of which I accomplished.
First and foremost, I have to thank my family for all the support throughout the race and season. They had a wild day themselves (an entirely different story there) and I cannot thank them enough for supporting me. My Every Man Jack teammates were incredible all week. Being a first timer in Kona tends to lead to many questions and concerns. The knowledge many of them have is priceless and I’m very grateful they were willing to share. The family and friends of my teammates also helped keep me positive and supported throughout the race, EMJ was everywhere!! Thank you to Ritch for not only leading Every Man Jack but also encouraging me to stick with IM after a bad IM TX last year which led to qualifying for Kona and racing in Kona. To Matt Dixon and the rest of the Purplepatch Fitness team, thank you so much for guiding me this year on my journey and helping me progress as an athlete. Already looking forward to next season and what is in store for me. All the Every Man Jack sponsors, thank you so much! The top of the line products and support allows me, and my teammates, to focus on training because we know our gear is top notch. Thank you: Every Man Jack, Purplepatch Fitness, Felt Bicycles, Roka, Garmin, Rudy Project, Louis Garneau, Enve, GU Energy, Boco Gear, Sock Guy, NormaTec. I also have to thank Elite Cycling for getting my bike race ready prior to leaving for Kona. Knowing my bike would be mechanically sound was a huge relief heading into race day. To all the volunteers, thank you so much! Your support was tremendous on race day. And finally, anyone that sent a message and/or followed along race day. Thank you so much for the support and messages, it means the world to me.