10/13/12: RACE DAY – Ironman World Championship

For being the biggest race of my life, I think I slept well the night before, waking about once an hour. The alarm went off at 3:50am and I was immediately out of bed with no desire to sleep more.

Janee dropped me off near the start, I got body marked, weighed (I believe if they suspect you need an IV afterward they’ll weigh you again to see how much of a deficit you have), and prepped my bike. There really wasn’t very much to do except put my bottles on the bike and pump the tires – we dropped everything else off (any T1 and T2 related things) in gear bags the day before. It turns out I should have more closely inspected the tires before leaving transition before the start…

Then I met with my family, listened to the professionals’ introductions and starts, took some pics, got in the zone, and headed to the start!

The Swim:

Everyone funneled down the steps onto Dig Me Beach and we swam out to the starting area 60 meters out next to the pier. I lined up about 10 meters to the left of the pier and the field stretched another 100m at least. I floated there thinking about the day ahead and just looking around to try to take a mental picture of the whole situation. Looking up at the pier, I was surprised to see how small the starting cannon was. I always thought it was a serious cannon cannon. Mike Reilly, the announcer, kept having to tell the field to back up because the starting line was definitely drifting ahead…Right when the cannon was supposed to start the race, Mike yelled, “GO, GO, GO! The cannon didn’t work! GO!” Ha! I couldn’t believe it. Five to ten seconds after we started, the cannon finally worked, and it certainly sounded like a more legitimate cannon.

There was the usual thrashing for a bit, but not too bad until we got to the first buoy. The whole field was aiming for that first one and the violence certainly showed that. It was the roughest open water situation I’ve ever been in. Things settled down again and I just focused on swimming straight right along the buoy line and getting on feet if/when I could. This swim is awesome because you can see the bottom for the vast majority of it because the water is so clear. I even saw scuba divers below taking pictures. There was a boat at the turn around and it felt like it took forever to get there. The return trip felt a lot shorter, so perhaps the way out is when we were fighting the current. There were decent swells the whole time and there’s a pic below that shows the size of the waves they created when they got to shore. I felt strong on this swim and I definitely went harder than Ironman Arizona last year. It was, as usual, immediate disappointment when I got out of the water and saw 1:12:3x on the clock. Ugh, whatever, at least it’s over. Time to ride. I’m very confident I swam straight, and since I did push harder than IMAZ, I can only guess that the current had a big effect.

Swim – 1:13:02
92nd in AG, 1103/2000+ overall

Up the steps to T1, I hosed off the saltwater, grabbed my bag, took off the swimskin, grabbed my heart rate strap and sunglasses, and out of the tent to grab my bike. It wasn’t very hard to find when so many other bikes were already gone 😉

T1 – 2:49

The Bike:

Right out of T1, we had a short climb up Palani and then a left on Kuakini Highway. *Thump-thump-thump-thump* ‘Uh, what the heck is thumping on my bike!?’ Something was going on with the front tire. I brushed it with my hand while riding, hoping there was just something stuck to it, but that wasn’t it. Once I got out of the congestion, I pulled over to see what was going on. My tire wasn’t fully seated inside the rim and had a noticeable bulge – it was at a decent risk of blowing out. After about five seconds of decision-making time, I opted to continue riding just in case it would hold but fully prepared and assuming that it would eventually blow out. We rode a relatively short out and back section on Kuakini and returned to Palani (also known as the “hot corner”) where we took a right on Palani for another climb, this time up to the Queen K Highway. This is where the vast majority of the ride takes place and the highway where you see most Kona bike pictures from. This is where you have the lava fields, the wind, the heat. I was actually pretty excited to head out there because this is the QUEEN K and the IRONMAN WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP in KONA! But, I still had a fair amount of anxiety about when/if my tire would blow out. In my head I went through how I’d handle it and what I need to do. *Thump-thump-thump*. Non-stop. Other than that distraction, I just focused on following my HR/nutrition plan. I expected it to start feeling hot very early on (mainly because the Kona high and low temperatures really aren’t that far apart) but it wasn’t noticeably hot to me. We did seem to have a light tailwind for the first several miles. Finally, at 34 miles, *POP*, it happened. I didn’t even wonder if it was someone else and I immediately pulled over and stopped as fast as I could. I got right to work and I think I changed it relatively quickly and without too much trouble. I got back on the road thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m having more bad luck at such an important race, especially after the shenanigans at the other World Championship I raced last month.’ (I raced the 70.3 World Championship near Las Vegas in September and bumps at bridge crossings ejected my one and only nutrition bottle not once, but twice and I had to stop to go get it each time. I rode the rest of the way with it stuffed down my jersey in fear that it would happen again. That had never happened in any triathlon or training ride previously.)

Anyway, when I consider my typical nature, I put the flat tire behind me pretty quickly and instead focused on getting back in the groove. There were some good sections of crosswind developing where it would hit you after emerging from rock-protected areas. Some tested my nerves, but it wasn’t crazy. If I had an 808 on the front, I probably would have been freaked out. Shortly after Waikoloa (which our condo owner informed us is commonly referred to as “why-ko-BLOW-uh” because of the wind…), there’s a left to continue along the coast. This was downhill with a tailwind, and then we made the right turn toward Hawi, where the bike turnaround is. From the low point to Hawi, it’s 600 feet of climbing over  approximately 18 miles, so not too steep. The wind was unpredictable though, and it was mostly headwind for the last several miles of uphill. I smiled big when we got to the turnaround simply because it was Hawi, which I’ve read about so many times, and because it meant going back downhill AND getting closer to T2. As was the trend for the bike up to this point, I continued passing folks on the fast descent, hitting a max speed of 45.5mph. At the very bottom, there was the very slow climb back to the Queen K into a headwind, but it was expected. For the remaining 40ish miles, it was relentless head/crosswind – again, when I consider my typical nature, I think I took this quite well. I expected it and I just took it as is. I was very much looking forward to getting off my bike for the final 20 miles or so though. I’m sure a lot of this has to do with riding with well-cushioned bib shorts for 100% of training and then BAM – 112 miles in nearly cushionless tri shorts on race day – Ha! A few miles from the end of the bike, I caught up to John Coffen, a fellow Arizona triathlete. We chatted briefly about our races up to that point, and it was nice to see a familiar face out there.

Before I knew it, I was dismounting and a volunteer grabbed my bike. It’s pretty convenient at this race; the volunteers take and rack your bike and you can continue on to grab your gear bag instead of worrying about where your rack spot is.

Bike – 5:15:56
Off the bike in 66th in AG (-26 places), 552 overall (-551 places)

The legs did not feel particularly good after getting off the bike, which I guess is to be expected, and I gingerly ran my way to the far end of transition, grabbed my bag, and headed into the tent. There was actually more to do in this transition than T1 – I put on socks, shoes, Garmin, heart rate monitor strap, hat, and number belt.

T2 – 3:00

The Run:

I was actually looking forward to the run and although my legs were initially very uncomfortable, 6:45 pace felt like a jog and I had to hold back to stay at that pace. We were on Kuakini Highway for a small stretch, and then along the ocean on Ali’i Drive for a nine mile (round trip) out and back. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, looks like a lot of sub three hour runners came out today…’ because I was barely passing anyone and I was running 6:45s! I was confident that they’d all start fading from their overzealous early effort and I was right, but I didn’t count on me fading because this felt so easy! This Ali’i Drive stretch was nice because there were so many people – athletes and spectators, but it was rather stuffy and the humid air felt thick. I saw my family for the last time before the end of the day at the 15k mark and I planned on telling them that I’m at 9.5 miles, I feel good, I’ve been running 6:45s, and the only thing that hurts is my left hamstring. The only thing that came out was, “I’m at 9.5 miles!” Haha. My left hamstring did feel like it was pulling for that entire run, but it never got any worse than that. Somewhere between 10 and 11 miles, we turned right on Palani to climb up to the Queen K. Good lord, that felt like a freakin’ mountain. I desperately wanted to walk it but I was feeling stubborn and the jerks around me were all running it too, so I gritted my teeth and got it done. The mountain crested and we took a left on the Queen K where I’d spend the next 5-6 miles before the Energy Lab.

Now is when things started to go downhill, and not literally (I swear the last 16 miles of the run were uphill ;)).  I was suddenly feeling very drained, just completely sapped of energy. It’s an Ironman, so of course you’re bound to get tired, but this was definitely different and alarming. Around this same time, I got very hungry and my stomach started grumbling – Ah crap, I’m somehow underfueled. This is not a good place to be when you have 15 or 16 miles to go in a 9+ hour race. I followed the same fueling plan as Ironman Arizona where I had zero issues, but in hindsight I realized I didn’t take into account the fact that the bike in Kona would most likely take longer than Arizona (it was 25 minutes longer) and that I’d probably burn through more calories with the harder swim effort.

So now it was time for damage control. My plan on the run was to take a gel and a SaltStick cap every half hour (in addition to water at every aid station) which I did up to that point, but now I started loading up on additional calories at aid stations. I started with liquid calories and this quickly turned into some hardcore stomach sloshing. We’re talking loud stomach sloshing. I could hear it and the people around me could probably hear it haha. So then I turned to solid things to try to minimize that – I tried just about everything out there! Bananas, Bonk Breaker bars, a piece of PB&J, and oranges. I was walking aid stations, and since I was apparently at a huge caloric deficit, the amount I was intaking seemed to be just enough to keep me going at a so-so pace. I took pride in not walking a single aid station at Ironman Arizona, so I wasn’t thrilled with myself and the current situation.

Where is the freaking turn for the freaking Energy Lab!? That’s all that was going through my head for miles 13-16. It felt like an absolute eternity that we were going away from the finish line. I finally got there and it was a left turn toward the ocean, about a mile of gradual downhill, a right turn, and then a half mile or so to the turnaround at 17.5 miles. The sweet, sweet turnaround. Shortly before that I saw Bryan Dunn, another Arizona triathlete, on his way back and I was hoping I’d be seeing him again before the finish. Something solid and positive to focus on. I ran the entire uphill out of the Energy Lab but continued walking every aid station to the finish except for the last one around 25 miles. I did catch Bryan along the way and he said something to the effect of, “This is a tough freakin’ race, isn’t it?” and I informed him that I’m questioning why the heck I do this…

I finally started seeing more spectators (not very many at all out on the Queen K and Energy Lab except for the aid station volunteers) signaling that the finish was getting closer. Knowing that the pain and suffering will all be over soon sure helped a lot. The steep downhill on Palani was painful but fast, then we turned left on Kuakini with less than a mile to go and tons of cheering spectators. Next was a right on Hualalai and at long last, the right on the incredible final stretch of Ali’i Drive to the finish. There were thousands of spectators on both sides and it’s really not that wide so it’s pretty intense. I smiled big and enjoyed every single foot of that road. I slapped hands and even blew kisses haha. After going that far and suffering for that long, going down the final stretch of  road at one of the biggest, toughest endurance events in the world is truly magical. It was everything I thought it could be and I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

Run – 3:07:29 (7:09/mi)
25th in AG (-41 places), 195th/2000+ overall (-357 places)
Number passed from swim to finish: 908
Total time: 9:42:16

Run splits:
1 – 6:34
2 – 6:48
3 – 6:41
4 – 6:45
5 – 6:46
6 – 6:51
7 – 6:37
8 – 6:45
9 – 6:51
10 – 6:58
11 – 7:43
12 – 6:52
13 – 6:52
14 – 7:11
15 – 7:11
16 – 7:20
17 – 7:13
18 – 7:39
19 – 7:54
20 – 7:41
21 – 7:36
22 – 7:32
23 – 7:50
24 – 7:50
25 – 7:41
26 – 6:49

Final Thoughts:

When I stop and realize that this was my first time racing Kona and my second full Ironman, I am happy with my performance. I will say though, that I know I can do better. I was in the shape of my life and I had some bad luck (bike tire) and some poor planning (caloric needs) that I simply need to address/plan for. I also need to work on the focus it takes to push for that long. The good things:

  • I had zero GI issues, despite all of the things I ate during the run
  • It didn’t feel very hot to me
  • I stayed positive after flatting on the bike
  • I had what felt like a painfully slow run, which still turned out to be 3:07

It was inspiring just being there and after racing it, I’m more motivated than ever. I would like to get back to Kona to give it another go, but we all know that it’s not easy to qualify and there are many factors involved. My coach and I are just starting to put together a plan for 2013 and we’ll see what the future holds!

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to race the Ironman World Championships and a huge thank you to everyone that offered kind words, encouragement, and well wishes. Thank you to everyone that supported and helped me get there and/or prepare, namely Janee, mom and dad, Bettina/racelab, Cory and Judy Hove, David Bednar, Paul Brinkmann, David Rakestraw, Kevin Taddonio, Kym Wilkens, NAU TriJacks, Kaylee and SACF, Frank Smith. Also to help from our Racelab Racing Team sponsors: Pactimo, First Endurance, Nathan, Rudy Project, Skins, Doctor Hoy’s, and Polar Bottle.

Pre-race with my love

During the swim

Waves crashing during the swim

Early in the run on Ali’i Drive

Chalk on Ali’i Drive

Leanda Cave en route to victory with Mary Beth Ellis on her heels. I got the opportunity to know and train with Leanda during the summer of 2009 when she was training in Flagstaff – so freaking awesome to see her take the win!

Shortly before the finish checking to see if I could celebrate or if anyone was coming for me!

Seeing my family, feeling the energy, about to finish. Just amazing.

Crossing the most amazing finish line in the world

4 thoughts on “10/13/12: RACE DAY – Ironman World Championship

  1. Wow Josh! I love your re-cap. Felt like I was right there with you. And I laughed out loud several times through your capers. I’m so proud to know you, you are an Ironman! I hope Aspen is by your side as you continue training and I can’t wait to hear about your future endeavors! Congratulations!!

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