Aloha. One final sunset here in Kona before hopping the red-eye home to Santa Rosa. And I’m ready to go. I will miss the geckos for sure. Before I head over to the airport I’ll leave you with some of the highlights from Saturday’s race.
Morning/Pre-Swim. I came into this event really relaxed, which did concern me, somewhat. After two IMs this year, I knew I had enough fitness to have a fairly strong showing, at least that’s what I was praying to the Hawaiian gods! Good travel, great sleep, and no stress in the final stretch leading to race day. Up at 4am race morning. I downed a plate of brown rice and we were soon in the car making the dark and ominous pilgrimage to the swimstart. I’ve been more nervous for races to be sure. I guess we tend to be less nervous when we have little to lose. Having no performance expectations, I was here only to work hard and have a solid race. So, body marking, bottles on, tires pumped, and a visit to the port-o-john and it was soon 6am. I found a relatively clear area away from the start and laid down and listened to Coldplay for 20min. Butterflies kept me company. Deep breaths. Relax. Another gel and another sip of water. It’s almost go-time. We watched a SEAL team parachute down toward us. Cool. Goggles and cap on and swallowed a double-espresso Clif Shot. Oh yeah. I eat SEALs for breakfast. Time to get wet.
Swim. You know, it’s honestly come to the point where I don’t really mind the swim anymore. It really used to terrify me. I’ve got it figured out though, all except the part about how to do it under an hour. Regardless, the key to the IM swim is to give your competitors none of your energy. Inevitably, you will be bumped, punched, elbowed, kicked, cut-off, or even screamed at by fellow competitors. Well, let ’em waste their precious energy. The trick is to just let it just roll right off your back. No worries mate. So, I started towards the front, just inside the far left of the field. The cannon boomed and reverberated through us. The water’s so clear and there’s so many people that there really isn’t much need to sight while swimming; just lift the head a little and look for the bubbles in front of you if you think you’re swimming off course. The whole way though, I was occasionally touching feet as my own feet were being grazed by athletes in my draft. My mantra on the way out was “smooth and relaxed.” I hit the turn-around boat in 33min. My mantra on the way back was “Pull,” as in “pull” as much water as possible (arms don’t serve much purpose after the swim. Might as well wear ’em out in the water). The return trip to the pier was somehow more congested than the trip out. I kept getting cut-off and squeezed. My patience was tested quite a few times. “Pull.” It was so nice to stand up and run up the ramp into Transition 1. Swim time 1:11. I wanted sub-1:10 and this was good–I felt like I swam smart and had wasted little energy. Transition was smooooth and I was out of T1 before I knew it. The volunteers are tremendous!
Bike. The first hour was mellow, mellow, mellow. Kona out-and-back stretch and then out to the Queen-K Highway to find out what my legs were going to let me do today. Focus was on taking care of myself as much as possible. Translation: hydrate, get the calories in, and stay cool. After an hour I threw down a bag of Marguarita Clif Bloks. Salty and yummy. My nutrition was simple for the bike: One 24oz bottle of super-concentrated Perpetuem with 3 Strawberry Shots mixed in. Every 15min I would take a little sip of that and chase it with a few gulps of water. After coming into T2 at the August Full Vineman dehydrated I was sure to get plenty of fluids down. The aero-bottle works like a charm and–since the straw jabs you in the face–continually reminds you to take a drink. There is an old adage at the Hawaii Ironman regarding hydration and that is “pee before Hawi.” Hawi is the little town up north where the bike turn-around is located. I peed well before Hawi and was therefore confident I was properly hydrated. I did not have the power on the bike that I normally have though I was pacing very well and having quite a good time just being in the mix, dicing it up with the athletes around me. I disregarded my inability to push my heart-rate into the low 150s and was content to ride it out in the 140s. Winds weren’t too bad until coming down from Hawi where there were quite a few gusty crosswinds making navigating at 40mph with athletes, vans, and motorcyles all over the road, quite a chore. I had to keep reminding myself to refrain from white-knuckling my aero-bars (waste no energy!). Once back on the Queen K things were good again–though still a bit windy. Return trip back to Kona. I wasn’t passing as many people any more and couldn’t find any more power to get back to town any quicker. I ran out of my Perpetuem cocktail and grabbed some Gatorade as well as a couple gels from the course to see me through to the end of the bike. It was nice drinking only water on the bike up until that point; other than some back pain when I pushed it, I felt pretty darn good comin’ in to the marathon. I rode 5:09. My best ever in Kona. I feel now, naturally, like I could have gone faster, worked harder, and suffered more. But if that is so, I suppose I would have gone faster on the bike. I came here this year to race smart and have a perfect race. So far so good. Besides, way too many triathletes simply leave too much out there on the bike course. What you save early will be there for you later. Dave Scott told me that…in an article I read in Triathlete Magazine. Dave Scott did actually tell me once, on the run in Coeur d’Alene, that I had good run form. And he has the second fastest marathon split in Kona history at 2:41. Six minute miles for 26.2 miles off the bike? Sure thing.
Run. I remember having a grand ol’ time in the second transition. Way better than my first time here in 2002. I recall sitting in T2 back then and being encouraged by volunteers to get up and get my marathon started. I remember thinking how daunting the Hawaii Ironman marathon was to me back then. Emerson wrote, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.” I find that quote fits ironman racing like a wetsuit. Pacing and nutrition/hydration. Pacing and nutrition/hydration. That’s what makes or breaks you out here. Having no expectations for my run, I just cruised the first mile in about 7min. Not quite Dave Scott territory but I was happy. I began hittin’ those beautiful M-Dot aid stations grabbing every cold sponge, cup-o-water, and gatorade I could get my hands on. My run legs came on fairly quickly, and I started hitting 6:50 and 6:45 miles on the out-and-back stretch of Alii Drive. I enjoyed that part of the marathon the most. So so good. I always have breaking 3hours in the back of my mind so I just kept playing the game: see if I can run another mile at 6:50 pace. And so it went for about 10 miles. I saw a few friends in town before heading back out on the Queen K, including Santa Rosa buddy Dave Latourette and his sister Amy. I was jazzed to see them while I hobbled up the only significant hill on the course. Oooh…ouch…ugh. What happened to that strong wind in my sails? Once out on the Queen K, my splits slowed a bit but I didn’t really care to tell you the truth. I was just racing myself today and I knew if I just kept on pushing I was going to have a sweet run split, not to mention a nice finish time. But the marathon is about 20 miles of hope and about 6 miles of reality, so says Hawaii veteran Cam Brown of New Zealand. The turn down to the Natural Energy lab just seemed like it was a 100 miles away. But it eventually came and with it a break from the heat of the Queen K. A nice ocean breeze was blowing while I made my way down the the run turn-around. As I ran out of the Natural Energy lab I watched an official timing clock roll over 9 hours total race time. Now, I just had to run back to town. Time to enter the pain cave. Get psyched. The last 10k of any marathon is a “powerful martial strain, one of those tunes of glory” says the late running sage, Dr. George Sheehan. George discovered triathlon at the end of his life while battling prostate cancer. He wrote about it with great enthusiam. He would have flipped for Ironman. Amongst a billion other things when I out there, I think about pushing hard for George’s sake. He certainly loved the marathon. Anyway, at that point, I didn’t think about George, or how far it was to the next mile marker, or much at all really in those final miles back to town, except just trying to catch the guy in front of me, and stay in front of him. “Push to the finish. Surge. It will be over for ever in only a few minutes. Push now,” I remember thinking. Amazed at the caliber of runners that were near me at this point in the race inspired me to no end. At some point in the blur I yelled at my friend Becky Flaherty who was at war with her own body and mind on her way out to the Natural Energy Lab. With complete tunnel vision I absorbed the cheers from friends Dave Latourette, and Greg (Becky’s boyfriend who works for Shimano–cool) before making that turn down Palani and back into town. I flew down Palani (which may have been more painful than going up) and high-fived Amy again with a big smile on my face. I turned it on for those last 2 miles or so, pickin’ off a few more people before making that final epic right-hand turn on to Alli drive to the finish. I savored those final yards, high-fivin’ all the outstretched hands in the finishing chute. Run time: 3:08. My best in Kona.
Post-race. Never felt better after one of these crazy things, due mostly to my pacing, nutrition/hydration, and the possibility I didn’t work hard enough on the bike, but let’s not go there. I’m staying outta my head on the shoulda/coulda/woulda head games and might I be so bold as to suggest you do the same. Remember what Yoda said, “Do or do not; there is no try.” Good advice my friends and coming from a jedi master no less. It’s been a long year and it’s taken me 3 years to get back to the big dance and may be my last time ever to participate. I was strong and happy for just about the whole day, established kona personal bests in all 3 legs of the race, lowered my total race time from 9:54 in ’04 to 9:36. Not too shabby. 133rd overall. 18th out of 175 men 30-34 years-old on planet Earth. Pretty good. I haven’t poured over the results yet but am most interested to know if I was the fastest teacher. I need to tell my students something cool, like, “Hey, listen, I know I lost and was 133rd, but listen, I’m the fastest teacher in the world.” Yeah, guess I’ll figure that one out tomorrow. Now, I gotta get my tired and sore behind to the airport. Getting back home is going to be an endurance event in and of itself. Aloha and mahalo.