2016: Doin’ the Pro Thang

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My endurance sports background started at the age of 13 when I ran the St. Malachi 2mi road race (holla, my Cleveland peeps!) in 1997, which evolved into racing middle school and high school cross country and track. While I felt as though I had found my niche, I never managed to qualify for the state meet in CC or track, and saw myself as a mediocre talent for quite some time. However, I need to credit my high school coach, Barb, with planting the seed that I could be better than I thought.

The first time I thought racing as a pro might be a realistic possibility was after Ironman Arizona in 2011, my first Ironman. I placed 4th overall amateur in 9:04, one place outside of earning pro status. That race was truly a “did that really just happen?” kind of experience that completely changed the way I saw myself as an athlete. This is also when other people started asking me if I would race pro. At the time, it was very exciting to think about doing so, but it felt premature; I wanted to gain more experience as an athlete, especially at the IM distance. Sure enough, I experienced some adversity at my next two races, the Ironman World Championship 2012 and Ironman Texas 2013. I learned a lot, applied it, and had the race I was hoping for at my next Ironman World Championship.  I did exactly what I wanted to do and it was a very gratifying experience to take control of my race, resulting in one of the fastest overall amateur runs that year.

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Janée’s sign for me during the run at Kona 2013

After meeting my goals in Hawaii, the pull of Kona wasn’t nearly as great in 2014 (doesn’t mean I don’t want to ever go back though!).  I decided to focus on 70.3 distance to recharge and race more frequently. I won a HITS half iron (no pros) to start the year and then had my best placing ever at an IM 70.3 event with 2nd amateur and 9th including pros at Buffalo Springs. I was shocked to learn after the race that I had the fastest overall run of the race – this was a signal to me that racing pro was another step closer to becoming realistic. I won another half iron distance race in September (no pros) and closed out the year with 3rd overall amateur at Austin 70.3, solidifying some consistency at the front of the amateur field.

Prior to my 2015 season, a friend asked me what my next goals were – I said I wanted to be the first overall amateur at an Ironman and I wanted to go under 9 hours. I started the year with Puerto Rico 70.3 in March.  Since I was working during the trip to Puerto Rico, I spent a lot of time working on my feet in the sun in the days leading up to the race, but I had put in some solid training and was feeling fit. I finished as the 2nd amateur, again with the fastest overall run split, which qualified me for the pro card if I wanted it to take it. Next up, though, was Ironman Texas.

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I showed my greatest consistency and dedication to training for that race, and Janée remarked on a number of occasions that I seemed so much less zombie-like when getting through the toughest weeks of training. I was taking the training more seriously and I was handling it better.

At Texas, I met my goals – I finished first overall amateur in 8:55. Beyond the amateur win though, I had the unique and crazy experience of running with eventual winner, Matt Hanson, for all 8+ miles of the last lap of his record-setting race (my second of three laps). This eye-opening experience, coupled with finishing two places outside the money at the North American IM Championship, again indicated to me that perhaps I was ready to give pro racing a try.

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The improvement I’ve seen over the last several years,  the results and consistency I’ve had, my approach to and ability to better handle training, and some perspective gained along the way have all factored into the decision to race as a pro. We also moved to a great training environment at 5,000′, I have a flexible work schedule, and I see this as a timely opportunity to test myself while Janée pursues her PhD.

Considering the relatively small amount of money in triathlon, I don’t view this as a career change and I’m not quitting my job. However, I have considered myself an ambassador for the sport for some time for Racelab,  as a member of NAU’s tri club, as a coach, and as someone new athletes can come to with questions. I love the sport, I love the training, and I love helping people get into it. As a pro, I look forward to being able to race among the best in the sport; I’ll be lining up with many I have idolized. I’ll get to start in the first wave – no more starting 10+ waves back and having to get through hundreds of people before seeing a somewhat clear course. No more worrying about races selling out, and the cost of racing will be much less. I look forward to new challenges, new experiences, and getting out of my comfort zone!

Thanks a ton to all who have supported me along the way, especially Janée, my coach of over ten years, Bettina, my parents, and friends.  Let’s GET UGLY this year!

2013 Ironman World Championship Race Report

Last weekend, I had the privilege of racing Kona for a second time with the main goal of improving on last year. I left last year with a strong feeling that I could do a heck of a lot better and I set out at Ironman Texas this past May (report here) to attempt to re-qualify. I came in at 9:15 and 3rd in the 30-34 age group, securing one of the five slots: here we go, Kona 2.0!

A fantastic logo of my cranium, randomly created by Adam Sandoval from NAU - let me know if you'd like to hire this dude for some graphic design

A fantastic logo of my cranium, randomly created by Adam Sandoval from NAU – let me know if you’d like to hire this dude for some graphic design

Coming into Kona this year, I had a few advantages over last year: 1) I had been there and experienced it – you can read as much as you want about the course and conditions, but you never know exactly what it’ll be like until you’re there. I had a few surprises last year, including a flat tire, fueling issues, and probably most importantly – I underestimated the run course, partly for its hills and also for how you feel like you’re in no-mans land after 11 miles. 2) At least six months after Kona, I came to terms with the fact that I had an attitude problem at Kona during the run, and it may have stemmed from the mental energy I expended with my flat tire and the time leading up to it (the tire thumped for over 30 miles and I knew it was at great risk for blowing out that entire time – I burned some “mental matches” during this). My poor run split last year (relative to what I was capable of) was largely due to not having the mental attitude, “game,” or drive to keep pushing – I was not happy and I was in a very poor mental place to be in a race of such length. 3) I was heat/humidity acclimated. I had an altitude advantage last year since I came from Flagstaff’s 7,000ft elevation, but practically no heat training, as Flagstaff hits the low 80s for the high during the summer and the humidity is no more than 20%. This year, we moved to Austin, TX seven weeks before Kona and right away I was training in temps over 95 degrees with 50% humidity. As October rolled around, temps dropped to mid-to-high 80s with 50-60% humidity: practically perfect for Kona. Altitude training is known to have its advantages, but when it comes to Kona, I think the heat and humidity acclimation outweighs any kind of altitude advantage (By the way, if I were a top level pro with the means to do so, I’d train at elevation until three weeks before Kona, then train in Kona the last three weeks. The best of both worlds!). One disadvantage coming into this year: I had to move 1,000 miles during a pretty heavy period of training and missed out on at least a solid week of good training. Add to this the stress of moving and who knows how much of a toll it took.

Short training ride on the Queen K on Thursday before the race

Short training ride on the Queen K on Thursday before the race

Friday:
I spent the vast majority of the day before the race by myself at our condo. I spent the day very slowly and casually preparing my bike and race bags, mentally rehearsing the race, and sitting around/staying off my feet. My coach, Bettina, arrived with her husband, Gus, and my lovely wife who couldn’t make it out until now due to her intense grad school schedule at the University of Texas. After that, we only went to bike check-in and the grocery store and followed it with dinner at the condo. This is my kind of pre-race day – low key, very little distraction, lots of visualization and energy to save up. I was fully prepared for the next morning by 8pm and I went to bed around 10pm.

Dealing with all of these race bags is always a bit overwhelming

Dealing with all of these race bags is always a bit overwhelming

At bike and gear bag check-in walking past the

At bike and gear bag check-in walking past the “Kona Bike Count” gauntlet

Race Morning:
I slept better than last year, only waking a couple of times and the sleep in between was deeper. Certainly no snooze button required though! I got up at 4am, had breakfast (race day nutrition) and was ready by 4:30. We got to the race site a little bit after 5am and I headed to body marking. This year they opted for temporary tattoo numbers rather than stamps and it certainly takes longer per person to apply them. I’m not sure why they wanted to go this route – the stamps were quick and I don’t recall them saying you couldn’t apply sunscreen until after the swim like they did this year (sunscreen apparently makes the temp tattoos come off). I got to have Ms Allie Nath apply my numbers – Allie is the NAU TriJacks president and an athlete I have coached before. It was awesome to have someone I know there when I was incredibly nervous! I then got weighed (157lbs) presumably for the purpose of post-race IV if required, hit up the bathroom (which was an ETERNITY of waiting) and finally walked to my spot. I quickly found a pump to borrow and quadruple checked my tires (since last year’s tire blowout situation would have been avoidable if I had done the same), loaded up my bottles, bento box, and saddle bag, and I was good to go. I then met up with Janee, Gus, and Bettina for some pre-race pics and so they could hopefully calm me the heck down. I don’t get very nervous for races anymore, but I was very nervous for this one, I think mainly due to last year’s experience.

Pre-race with my homegirl

Pre-race with my homegirl

With Gus, Bettina, and Janee

With Gus, Bettina, and Janee

The Swim:
I would estimate that I lined up about 1/3 of the way between the pier and the left-most end of the field. I started about three “rows” back and braced myself for the chaos, which was every bit as bad as last year. Any time you start a swim with 2,000 people, it’s bound to be violent for a bit, but this one is just awful. I had people all up in my business with elbows (a good one to the side of my head, for one), nails (got a great scratch shoulder-to-armpit), feet, and hands everywhere for a much longer duration of time than any other races I’ve done. You don’t choose where to go unless you were on the front line and can swim fast enough to stay there – you swim where the bodies around you force you to go. The remainder of the race calmed down but there was never long between contact. As the swim went on, I became increasingly nervous that I’d come out of the water in 1:1X, something I desperately wanted to avoid (I even told someone who asked back in May about my Kona goals, “I will quit the sport if I swim over 1:10,” about half-joking) because it sure felt like this swim was taking a long time. I finally popped out of the water at Dig Me Beach and my watch said 1:09:4X – Get this: my official race swim time was 1:09:59. Guess I have to stick with it!

The Bike:
Transition went smoothly, and I even had a familiar volunteer helping me, Paul, an Active Release Therapy guy who helped Kym Wilkens work out some kinks in my legs on Thursday. Out onto the bike, the first several miles on Kuakini Hwy are very congested and I looked forward to the Queen K where I could settle into a groove. When I got out there, I immediately realized how much of my surroundings I hadn’t taken in last year, probably due to my stress and paranoia about my front tire. This year, I looked around and I grinned. It’s THE Queen-freakin’-K, man! After not too long, a guy who I had just passed got my attention and it was my buddy “Tommy-Rivs” from Flagstaff! This guy qualified for Kona by winning his age group at the Hawaii 70.3 – his SECOND ever 70.3. Kona was his first Ironman and his fifth triathlon. Nuts. He has a few blog posts here. I couldn’t believe I already found my bearded self crossing paths with my bearded friend randomly, so early in the race. We briefly exchanged some words about how things were going and we each passed each other a few times throughout the race. It was really cool to have someone I knew there and it helped to lighten the mood of being at big scary Kona.

I recall there being some congestion and drafting going on occasionally last year, but this year seemed a heck of a lot worse. I don’t know if it has to do with swimming a few minutes faster or the relative lack of wind. As far as typical Kona goes, the gusting winds were not nearly as bad as they’ve been in the past, and I wonder if the crazy wind usually breaks up groups. Who knows, but I do know I was frustrated about not being able to find a rhythm because I kept coming upon groups of people (not always necessarily drafting) where either a few passes were being made at once, or they really were drafting, and I’d have to sit up, keep my space, and wait until it was clear to pass.

The average pace (which I’d been very conservative with) through half-way was 24mph, which was exciting and concerning at the same time – it indicated we may be facing a stiff headwind on the return trip. The climb to Hawi wasn’t bad at all and it was again exciting to see the pro race unfolding as we saw them descending on their way back to the Queen K. Upon my own return to the Queen K at roughly 80 miles, the groups and congestion had subsided enough that I was finally able to find a very good groove. This also happened to be when we were facing a constant head/crosswind, so maybe I was right about the wind breaking up the groups! I consistently passed person after person and I was enjoying myself way more than last year. I popped 100mg of caffeine around my 4hr mark and another 100mg at 4.5hrs and the added focus really seemed to help me bring it home strong. No thoughts like last year along the lines of, ‘holy crap, fifteen miles to go!? I just want to get off my friggin’ bike.’ My entire attitude was completely different and I was happy.

Before I knew it, I was hopping off my bike, handing it to a volunteer, and prancing…my way through transition after a bike split just a shade over 5hrs. Sweeet! 15 minutes faster than last year. There was some stiffness and awkwardness, but that’s to be expected after spending 5hrs in an aerodynamic position on a bicycle, I suppose! I was confident my running legs would come around quickly.

Bike time – 5:00:29 (22.4mph)

Overall place after bike – 585 of 2,134 = 27%

Number passed during bike – 525

The Run:
The run is where the magic happens and where I worked the most on my mental prep for this race. My outlook and key word for this race was “gratitude.” I am grateful to have the talent and the ability to train and race at a level that gets me to the World Championship. I am grateful for the people I’ve met through the sport (including my wife!) and the incredible amount of support I receive along the way. It is this feeling of gratitude and thankfulness that I wanted to especially bring to this run. I also really, really wanted to run under 3 hours and I was confident I could do it. I adopted a mindset that I’m going to have to earn it, “it’s not going to run itself” (as in, it’s not going to happen if I’m out there running mindlessly), and if I want it, I have to take it.

My main concern was the hill up Palani around 11 miles and the stretch between there and roughly 16 miles where we’d enter the Energy Lab. That is where things went downhill (far from literally) for me last year. The 10 early miles on Ali’i Drive blow by and feel easy. There are tons of spectators and it’s relatively flat terrain. I kept my heart rate under control (around 150 for the first 4mi or so) and let it creep into the mid 150s as I approached 10 miles. This resulted in an average pace in the mid-6:40s to that point. I got to see Janee, Bettina, Gus, Allie, and her mom, Susan, twice during this stretch and that’s always a boost. Janee had two surprise signs for me – man, she’s awesome:
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Briefly onto Kuakini Hwy we went, and then it was time for Palani hill. This hill felt like a mountain last year and I desperately wanted to walk. This is the part of my race where I realized things would be different. I was light and quick, and I felt good with no thoughts of walking. YES. I fixated on 6:51 pace because that’s the pace required to run exactly 3:00 for the marathon. My watch showed me overall average pace and the split for each mile. For awhile, I added up how many seconds total I was under goal pace. When I got tired of that, I reverted to my standard countdown from 300 when I was a quarter of the way through each mile (three steps for each second at 180 steps/min, 300 seconds for 3/4mi at 6:40 pace. Yes, I’m crazy). I went through half way in the 1:28s – so far, so good! I was becoming even more confident I’d come in under my 3hr mark. I focused on utilizing the very long gradual downhills (all of which had long gradual uphills to match, of course) by thinking “light,” “tall,” and simply knowing and acknowledging it was downhill. When I think like this, I feel my posture improve and I really do feel lighter and faster. My chest comes forward and I feel an upward pull on the front of my hips. This transfers into my legs and I feel as though it actually affects my form, but I can’t be certain it really does. I eventually caught up to Russ Brandt around 16mi, a triathlete in the 40-44 whom I know from Arizona. He was having a fantastic race and ended up setting a PR of 9:27. Again, nice to see a familiar face out there and exchange some encouraging words. Shortly after that was the turn into the Energy Lab, which is exciting because it means you get to turn around soon! The next mile (the 17th) is primarily gradual downhill toward the ocean and this ended up being the fastest mile of my race at 6:24. Holy moly! Another boost. After the turn-around, it’s flat for roughly a half mile and then uphill back to the Queen K (same stretch as 17th mile, but backwards). This mile was 7:03, putting my inbound + outbound Energy Lab miles at an average of 6:45 pace – still on goal! Back on the Queen K and headed the opposite direction really helped to confirm the feel that I was “headed for home.” With around 10k to go though, and being about 8.5 hours into the race, this is when things can really start to ache/nag/hurt/scream…only 5k to go sounds like a lot from that perspective. My crazy math antics turned into calculating what pace I’d need to average for the remaining X miles to come in under 3hrs. As each mile ticked by, it went from 7:15s, to 7:30s, and all the way up to 7:50s that I’d need to run by the time I got to the 24th mile. I had it, I knew it.

The last uphill before turning onto Palani seems to go on forever (I believe this is the “Iron War” mile) and was my slowest of the race at 7:20. Then there was the painful controlled fall down Palani followed by hundreds of spectators to bring me home strong.

I was so, so happy with how I had executed my race and especially at how I ran. This year, I was in control, rather than having the race control me. I was overjoyed to make the last turn onto Ali’i and have a successful redemption race on the Big Island behind me. I took in as much of that final stretch as I could and gave Janee a kiss when I saw her. That finish line experience is truly incredible and I will never forget it.

Run time – 2:58:33 (6:48/mi)

Overall place at finish – 117 of 2,134 = 5%

Number passed during run – 468

Number passed from swim to finish – 993

Age group place at finish – 24 of 177

Finish time – 9:15:40, 26:36 faster than 2012

71st overall amateur

19th American male

Konarunsplits

1:28:32 first half, 1:29:49 second half

This race is dedicated to my wife, Janee – she has been absolutely monumental in getting me to this race from any facet you can think of. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without her and I’m almost positive I wouldn’t be at the World Championship without her help.

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A huge thank you to all who have supported me, including friends, family, my coach, Bettina as well as the Racelab team, mom and dad, NAU TriJacks, Tim Fleisher, Allie and Susan Nath, Kym Wilkens, Reynolds Wheels, Jack and Adam’s Bicycles, RaceQuest Travel; and personal and team sponsors whose products I wouldn’t use if I didn’t believe in them, including First Endurance, Guayaki, Triple Sports, Rudy Project, Skins, Pactimo, Polar Bottle, and Doctor Hoy’s

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Reynolds 72 Aero Review

Reynolds offered a sweet deal to Kona qualifiers who responded quickly enough – to ride a set of their wheels in Kona from their relatively new line of wheels, all under the “AERO” name. The only catch was that you had to be among the first 40 to respond and I managed to squeeze in there. They come in 58, 72, and 90mm depths and I was given the option of 58 or 72mm. Last year, I rode an 88mm rear Chinese carbon clincher (Yishun) and Zipp 404 front clincher (52mm depth) and I was comfortable with that – The Reynolds Aero line has a lot of data (Competitive Cyclist has a good breakdown here, Reynolds aerodynamics “white paper“) showing that these wheels are incredibly aerodynamic and good in crosswinds, so I opted for the 72s.

Out of the box, they look fantastic. I don’t know if this is normal with other brands, but I was impressed they came with rim strips, brake pads, valve extenders, a cassette spacer, and even wheel bags. I also noticed the hole where the valve comes through has a rubber gasket to eliminate noise/vibration on the rim. On my own wheels, I have to use a piece of tape to secure the valve stem to the rim to stop that annoying rattling over bumps.

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I got the wheels over a week before the race so I was able to ride them a bit and get a feel for them. My first ride was 3hrs and I immediately noticed they don’t feel like race wheels. I would say they ride and handle like a much more “shallow” rim. With my own race wheels, I know I’m on them as soon as I take my first turn. Not so with these. Beside the sound and the fact that I was able to ride faster than normal for the effort, I wasn’t reminded that I was on deep wheels until an hour into the ride when a semi truck passed me at a high speed. The gust “grabbed” my front wheel pretty good, but it was manageable and I wouldn’t have given it a second thought if it were in a situation where I expected it, like Kona. My next ride involved 4×4:00 at tempo, which ended up being a full 1.5mph faster than any of my Austin tempo rides before that. There are factors that play into this, such as environmental and taper, but I’ve never seen an increase like that – the wheels were a big factor, but it’s hard to say just how much. I personally didn’t expect that much of a boost.

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My last ride on them pre-race was just 35 minutes in Kona on the Queen K the Thursday before Saturday’s race. It was point to point, consistent head/crosswind, and no issues or complaints to add to what I’ve already said.
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One thing of note is that these wheels are quite wide (26mm, I believe). When I arranged to have them delivered, I asked what width tires are best suited with these wheels, and 23mm was the reply. I opted for Continental GP4000S tires with a Vittoria latex tube in the rear and standard butyl tube up front (I simply didn’t think of ordering another latex tube in time – flatted the front one in Kona last year). Anyway, upon bike check-in, I found that the wheel was even too wide to fit into the wood wheel slots in transition and a volunteer had to use a crow bar to widen the space so the wheel would fit. Crazy!
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As many know, Kona this year was a low-wind day as far as typical conditions go. I was looking forward to seeing how these wheels would perform in the notorious crosswinds on the climb up and down from Hawi, but it really wasn’t bad this year. I recall some bad gusts on the Queen K last year as well, but not this year. We certainly had the typical head/crosswind the last 30 or so miles on the Queen K and there wasn’t a single moment that the wind made me feel concerned about being in the aero bars with these wheels. Either way, I was confident on these wheels and being able to ride in the aero bars without concern for getting blown off the road just adds to energy saved for the run – mentally and physically. I rode at a conservative effort, came in at 5:00 (15min faster than last year, including last year’s flat), and backed it up with a 2:58 run.

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The bottom line is, I’m impressed with how these wheels handle for being 72mm deep, they look great, and they are noticeably faster.

Kona 2012 by the Numbers

Number of finishers1,883

Number of countries represented 57

Number of States Represented50

Top female age grouper – Hilary Wicks, 9:50:03

Top male age grouper – Christian Muller, 8:54:17

Youngest Female Finisher – 19, Andi Cribari, 11:44:26

Youngest Male Finisher – 19, Dane Ballou, 15:23:58

Oldest Female Finisher – 77, Harriet Anderson, 16:59:19

Oldest Male Finisher – 82, Lew Hollander, 16:45:52

Age Group Winning Times, Females:

  • 18-24  10:16:31
  • 25-299:51:07
  • 30-349:53:50
  • 35-399:50:03
  • 40-4410:13:42
  • 45-4910:37:36
  • 50-5410:58:40
  • 55-5911:09:30
  • 60-6412:27:51
  • 65-6913:35:14
  • 70-7415:28:11
  • 75-7916:59:19

Age Group Winning Times, Males:

  • 18-24 – 9:01:27
  • 25-29 – 9:08:43
  • 30-34 – 9:09:02
  • 35-39 – 9:06:09
  • 40-44 – 8:54:17
  • 45-49 – 9:17:22
  • 50-54 – 9:31:50
  • 55-59 – 10:05:48
  • 60-64 – 10:55:16
  • 65-69 –  12:01:09
  • 70-74 – 12:15:41
  • 75-79 – 14:30:56
  • 80-84 – 15:38:25

*From 2012 Ironman Finishers Yearbook

10/16/12: Kona – Day 7

Our last full day in Kona :(. My parents had some food they needed help finishing – no problem! We went to their place for breakfast. After that, we just hung out at the condo and relaxed for the morning.

In the afternoon we drove to Hapuna Beach, relatively far north on the Queen K Highway. This was the largest beach we visited while in Kona and again, Janee and I did more snorkeling haha. We couldn’t get enough of it!

Dinner was at LuLu’s right on Ali’i Drive. It was your typical bar menu but would have a good view during the day. After that we just spent the evening hanging out at my parents’ place.

Coral “writing” on the lava rocks out on the Queen K highway

Cool trees at Hapuna Beach

Trees at Hapuna Beach

At LuLu’s on our last night

10/15/12: Kona – Day 6

I certainly slept better last night, thank goodness. And you know that leftover pizza I mentioned yesterday? That was for breakfast….and lunch…along with some of Janee’s birthday cake…

Early in the day we visited Mountain Thunder coffee plantation, only about 15-20min away, but much higher in elevation (I think 3200′). It’s pretty neat, you gain just a little elevation (at least by my standards coming from hilly Flagstaff) and there’s suddenly no more visible lava rock and A LOT more foliage. It’s like the rainforest. We got a tour and were educated on the harvesting, sorting, and roasting process. There were free samples too!

After lunch, we wanted to see what a black sand beach was like, so we went to Kahalu’u Beach, just four or five miles south on Ali’i Drive. It wasn’t a very big beach, but it had some good snorkeling and we saw at least four sea turtles.

We had supplies left over, so Janee made Hawaiian haystacks for dinner again (let me know if I should post the recipe – it’s delicious!) and then we met my parents at Huggo’s On The Rocks. It’s a really awesome spot – the seating is under huge umbrellas in the sand right next to the ocean. The frequently have live entertainment, and there were a lot of hula dancers on this night.

View from our backyard in the morning

As soon as you gain some elevation, it’s like you’re in the jungle. This is on the way to Mountain Thunder coffee plantation

Chickens at Mountain Thunder coffee plantation

The bean sorter

Roasting beans

Black sand beach right on Ali’i Drive

The triathlete’s tramp stamp

Sunset from Kona Mansions, where my parents stayed

10/14/12: Kona – Day 5

We had dinner last night on the front patio at the Kona Hula Girl where we’re staying – dinner being Domino’s pizza after we discovered we couldn’t get to Kona Brewing Co due to the race. It was just great to bask in the accomplishment of the day, be outside, and be entirely at peace now that it was all over. My parents were astounded at how long I stayed up, but that seems to be how it goes after such big efforts – you’re kind of wired for awhile, buzzing from the excitement of it all.

As expected, I didn’t sleep well last night – I woke up frequently because any movement was painful. Seriously, everything hurt – neck, traps, shoulders, triceps, lats, my entire back, abs, hamstrings, quads, calves, feet. I didn’t mind though because it reminds me of how hard I worked! 😀

Anywho, Janee and my dad were rad enough to retrieve my bike for me last night and I brought it down to Tribike Transport in the morning to ship back to the mainland. When I got there, I realized I had forgotten to get a pic with the bike on the lava/beach in front of the ocean! I asked a dude who was sitting on the sea wall if he could get a pic of me and he obliged.

After that, we checked out the Kona Farmers’ Market, which had all kinds of good stuff. I wish we could have stayed long enough to try all of the local fruit they had there! Then we headed to the Ironman merch tent where I got a few World Championship branded things (like a *finisher* decal and a pint glass) that I didn’t feel worthy enough to get pre-race. Heck, I’ll admit it – I thought I’d jinx myself if I got any finisher things before finishing…Nothing is a guarantee in Ironman!

The majority of the afternoon was then spent at the beach! We went to Kua Bay Beach State Park and it was beautiful. My parents brought snorkels/goggles from their condo and Janee and I had a blast checking out the sea life among the coral and lava rock. Gosh, it’s so much better swimming around when you have things to look at.

For dinner, we went to Kona Brewing Company. Janee and I ordered a veggie-loaded large pizza, and we can easily split a large no prob at home, but this thing proved to be too much. We took a ton home, but no prob as it gave us less to worry about meal-wise for tomorrow.

When we got back to “our” place, we surprised Janee with a birthday cake – much deserved, as her birthday was the day before the Ironman and there was a lot distracting from it, unfortunately :(. I’m really glad she was legitimately surprised and it’s the very least we could do for her – I look forward to being as selfless as she was over the coming months as she was pre-Ironman!

Our room at Kona Hula Girl condo

Obligatory lava/ocean/bike pic!

Kona Farmers’ Market

The only day we could see all of Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea

Beach at Kua Bay State Park

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

10/12/12: Kona – Day 3

First off, HAPPY BIRTHDAY JANEE! My beautiful wife is my everything and has been completely selfless during my preparation for this race. I owe her big time for putting up with some of my high-strung antics…We’ll also be properly celebrating her birthday on Sunday here in Hawaii!

Posted on fb on Friday:

Well, it’s almost go time. The outpouring of support that I’ve gotten from so many people the last few days and months, even from folks I don’t know very well, is incredible to me. I thank all of you, and one of my main goals tomorrow is to honor your well wishes with the absolute best that I can give. We race individually, but all of you will be in my thoughts throughout tomorrow helping to bring me to the line. I completed the toughest training I’ve ever done leading up to this race, at times thinking Bettina (my coach) might be trying to kill me ;). When the training started tapering off, the focus turned to the mental aspect needed for such a tough race and I am confident that I am prepared to suffer with the best of them. But if I suffer, I’m doing it with a smile on my face because I am grateful just to be here. I will take it all in, even if it hurts, and I will enjoy it. Thanks again to each and every one of you for your well wishes and support! Repping RACELAB, NAU, ARIZONA, and OHIO!!!

The foothills of Mauna Kea

It was CRAZY windy the higher up we went, and you can see the blowing dust in this pic

Over 9000′ up on Mauna Kea hiking to a good spot to reflect, make peace, and think about tomorrow

This dude (partially obstructed by the mirror) was riding up from who-knows-where and I’ve gotta hand it to him! It was STEEP and WINDY.

Lava, lava everywhere. Note that we’re above the clouds.

Well, I could see the telescopes at the top when I took this, but you can’t seem to see them in the pic

The bike count gauntlet at bike check-in

Mr. Rasmus Henning, a day before his retirement race

These lizards were everywhere

Millipede

It’s for real now!

10/11/12: Kona – Day 2

Cool date today haha – 10-11-12. That reminds me, I think Kevin Taddonio’s wedding was today! Congratulations! Kevin’s a really good guy, nice enough to let me borrow his Tyr Torque swimskin for this race. Him and I also had identical finishing places in our first Ironman races, which were both IMAZ, his was just two years earlier (I think).

Well, another day down on The Big Island! Loving the energy, not loving the energy I’ve expended to get around. BUT, I’m about to get a lot of great sleep, trust me, and tomorrow will primarily be spent off my feet.

I had a pretty easy time getting up at 7 today since that’s 10am AZ time. I like the time change when it’s in this direction! I ate and got into my skivvies for Kona’s famed underpants run. This is one of those Kona Ironman must-dos from what I hear, especially for a first-timer. I ended up doing an easy jog down to the start location (which took about 10 minutes, max) and found a sea of undie-clad hard-bodies, right next to the actual sea, on Ali’i Drive. The energy was fantastic and fun, we took an underpants run oath (left hand on “junk”, right hand raised) and then we “ran” the 1.2 mile course with a short session of calisthenics thrown in.

After that, we grabbed some 100% Kona coffee, my first time having the stuff, and it was tasty! Not mind-blowing, but tasty haha. We sipped that while checking out the lava beach behind the expo area. Then we headed over to the swim start area and I went on an easy swim where I passed over a massive school of fish – It was mildly scary but cool. It was awesome to be able to see the bottom/coral/fish the whole way, and funny to see some advertisements pinned to the ocean floor with rocks.

After that, I got some necessities at the race shop and went to see Kym Wilkens of Wilkens Chiropractic in Flagstaff. Her and many other ART (Active Release Therapy) practitioners journey all the way to Kona to volunteer to work on the athletes, which is incredibly awesome. She did a fantastic job of working the kinks out and then we went to eat! We then finally went back to our place where I got a much needed hour-long nap, followed by a short bike-run brick. I finally got to ride on the Queen K! The road is super smooth and I loved it out there while taking it all in. I followed the ride with a short run, ending at my parents’ place, and we had a great dinner.

More pics below – 1, (one), O-N-E more day…

Grinning about physically being on THE famed Queen K!