I had always dreamed of qualifying for the IM World Championships. But I never really thought past the qualifying part. That's what I was thinking about as I lay on the ground after hitting a large hole in the road during on a long training ride. I didn’t know what I hit or what was wrong, but I knew that this was bad. Really bad.
Surgery was a week later and almost exactly three months before the race. It required a large metal plate, eight screws and a bunch of wire. While many were asking if I'd race or if I could possibly postpone my race for next year (you can't) my coach, Dianna Ineman, was quietly putting a plan together that would get me to Kona.
It involved walking at ridiculous inclines on the treadmill and hitting the old school stairmaster while my arm was still in a sling. The next step was getting back on the spin bike, my old friend from IM Arizona. The next step after that was running, which came five weeks post-surgery. Swimming and cycling outdoors came at seven weeks. My doctor, Dr. Stephen Silver from ISK/Lennox Hill also had some plans. In addition to the surgery, he prescribed something called a bone growth stimulator to help my clavicle heal faster.
Three months went by in a flash. Well, most of it except the time spent on the Compu Trainer at Cadence (aka Dianna's Dungeon) pushing crazy wattage. The long runs in the the park, along the Hudson and at Rockefeller State Park. The crazy hours on the spin bike. And Labor Day weekend, which included a long run, followed by a 140 mile ride, followed by a 100 mile ride and 10 mile brick. Well, maybe it wasn't a flash, but here I was about to do the race that I'd been dreaming about for years.
The race organizers make this race different than any other Ironman. It's wrapped around Hawaiian culture. Plus, in every way, they really make the athletes feel special. Which is why they were stamping my race number on my arm race morning, as opposed to writing it like any other IM. Oh, and as I was making my way into the water, Navy Seals were parachuting into the ocean right before the Pros went off. No, this is not just another race or just another Ironman.
My plan was to stay a bit left and behind the masses to stay away from the mayhem. But as I entered the water (this is a water start), I figured that I've come this far why not go for it and start near the front in the middle. I won't say I regret that decision. But I certainly obtained my share of kicks, elbows and gridlock. I’ve never been in a race with so much congestion. Still, I got out in 1:05. Not bad for a non-wetsuit legal race and collarbone held together by screws and chicken wire.
The bike is a big part of makes Kona "special." If you don't play your cards right you end up getting a head wind going out and coming back from Hawaii (the town where you turn around). Thankfully my coach had some plans to help me avoid this. This was one of the points where you have to trust your coach. It amazes me how people will spend so much money and not listen to their coach. If I've learned anything it’s that you find a good coach and then you let them coach.
Another great thing about this race. A rather large peloton flew by me in the first hour of the bike. Not cool at all, but at the next sin bin I saw them all. I wanted to kiss the next race official that went by me, I was so happy. The rest of bike was ugly, windy, and hot as hell. In my ear, I could hear my coach telling me to watch your nutrition. I also had some friendly reminders on the race course: namely athletes who got off their bikes and were lying on the ground because they were so out of it from the heat, humidity and dehydration. Usually that sort of thing only happens during the run. Uh oh!
There are headwinds and rolling hills as you make your way back into Kona. Hill after hill after hill. I almost cried when I finally got back to Kona. Later I discovered that those weren’t tears, that was just sweat. My plan was to keep my transition times as short as possible. So when I got off my bike, I limped as fast as possible through transition, threw my sneakers on, grabbed my nutrition and took off.
And by took off, I mean I watched my pace so I didn't blow up in the first 10k. The crowd is going nuts and it's so easy to run too fast early on. Athletes were blowing by me at this point. Pacing (and nutrition) are everything in an IM, even a Kona virgin knows that. As fit as these athletes were, I had a funny feeling I’d be seeing them later in the race.
Everyone talks about the Energy Lab. How tough that section of the run is. My coach had me run it during the week so I'd be prepared for it. But it's one of those things that you just have to experience. It's hot. There are very few spectators out there. And it's that dark part of the marathon where people traditionally fall apart. It was at the energy lab that I saw an athlete that I've trained with before. I knew that if I kept my pace I'd reel him in. He must have heard me coming. (At every aid station I'd been pouring water over my head on my body to try to cool off, so you could hear me coming a long way away.) About a mile later I did just that. He mentioned that if I kept my pace I'd break 10:30.
This really helped cause at this point of the race I needed something to shoot for. Around me there were some interesting sights and sounds. There were pro's walking. Athletes vomiting. And the ever-present sound of my water-logged sneakers. It's these dark times in a race that I personally look back at my training. I've felt worse before. How about those speedwork sessions on the track and treadmill? Or the long intervals with my HR between 88-92% of my max? As bad as I was feeling, I'd felt worse and this was Kona. Thankfully being in Kona also means the marathon is really only about 25 miles. Just get yourself near Alii Drive and let the crowd do the rest. Thankfully, my sister and my girlfriend Brooke were on the outskirts of town so really all I had to do was get to mile 24 and I'd be OK. They had commandeered a bullhorn and were cheering me on. I didn't really hear what they were saying, but it was so nice to see them.
A few minutes later I hit Ali'i Drive. This is the moment that I'd been training for, for years. Literally. And when you build something up in your head for so long, it's so easy for the actual experience to be a bit of a letdown. Who am I kidding, as I approached the finish line there were thousands of screaming fans, my parents, sister, girlfriend and Mike Rielly, the voice of IM, screaming the four words every triathlete wants to hear…Brian Maiolo, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!