Kona Race Report (3am-Midnight):
Location: October 13th, 1:40 pm-mile 5 of the marathon in Kona.
I've melted down. I'm starting to hallucinate. My core temperature is off the charts, it's 96 degrees, and there isn't a cloud in the sky. I have 21 more miles to run on legs that have already swum 2.4 miles and biked 112. I know this day had a beginning, and I know it will have an end, I just don't know when. But at this moment, I feel as though it will never end. It all began at 3am, when I awoke at the King Kamehameha Hotel, 4 hours before the start of the Ford Ironman World Championship.
There's a moment the day before the Ironman, when a peaceful easy feeling settles in and I finally feel relaxed. There are no more training rides, no more long runs, no more mind-numbing swims. No more special needs bags to be packed, no more tinkering with the bike, no more left to do, other than race. The hay is in the barn. It's because of this that I wake up after one of the most peaceful nights sleep I've had in a while. It’s at this moment I experience the first of many hurdles I'll have to overcome-moldy bagels! I laugh it off and start pounding the cereal. 90 minutes later, my pre-race bag is on my shoulders and I’m off to get body-marked. #1568 is stamped on my arms, and it's real. I walk to the pier, ready my bike, say goodbye to my family, and slowly work my way into the water.
7am-Swim 2.4 miles
The beauty of the Ironman is that there is no easing into the day. No matter how nervous or afraid you are, when that cannon goes off, it's on. Your nervousness and fear are gone instantly, and you're confronted with the first of a series of moments—survive! It doesn't matter how fast you are-if you can't swim away from 1700 of the best amateur athletes on earth, the swim is going to be chaos. I will get out of the water in 54 minutes, but I will still get my ass kicked by the over-zealous swimmers to my left and right while the swimmer behind me is harassing my feet trying to find the draft. And I am doing the exact same thing to the swimmer in front of me.
8am-Bike 112 miles
Well, thank God that's over. Yes, even when you're a faster swimmer, you're happy to get on your bike. I catch many of the athletes who come out of T1 ahead of me, bike through town and before I know it--I'm on the legendary "Queen-K" highway. And I'm alone! I’ve placed myself in the top 10 of the amateurs and that's when it hits me—I'm doing Ironman Hawaii, I'm on the Queen-K, I've dreamt about this moment! Coming from my first race 4 years ago where I "raced" a half-ironman in over 6 hours, to the following year where I did the same race in 4 and a half, to being diagnosed and treated for Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and preparing for Ironman Lake Placid only to find out I had a tumor in my chest that needed to be removed but racing Ironman Florida 9 weeks later, then qualifying at Coeur d'Alene by winning my age group—it's all led to this moment. When this wave of euphoria passes, I realize that I've only got about 95 miles to go on my bike. Oh boy. Reading about biking 112 miles is probably as boring as doing it, but I will just say that it was a long ride. The winds to Hawi had me going 12 mph downhill, and the long return home to Kona is brutal. The course is an out-and-back, and the return is always into a headwind. I got off my bike in just under 5hrs (4:57) and as I hand it off to the volunteer I ask her to throw it in the ocean for me. Which means it’s time for the marathon.
1pm-Run 26.2 miles
And what happens? I get tackled by another racer! I run out of T2, see my friends and family, and as I run over to high-five them, I'm clobbered by a Pro Male trying to pass on the right. My legs cramp, I've got road rash, and I think "that’s it, it’s over." I stand up and my hip is throbbing, my legs are cramping, and I've got 26.19 miles to go. I start running and get into a rhythm, but it becomes too much. My pace for those first 5 miles is about 7:22, but as the heat and pain of the day start to build, I'm overwhelmed by fatigue, and I start walking. You must prepare for these moments, and as I sit at the aid-station trying to cool down and drink, I hope that this moment passes. I "run" the next 11 miles at about a 9:00 pace, and I'm in tears. I see my good friend and coach, Brian Walton who would tell my friends that I was "unraveling" and at the bottom of Palani Rd. I see my mom, sister, and girlfriend. I stop to kiss them, and I run to the top and turn left onto the Queen-K and start running to the Energy Lab. 10 miles after hitting the wall, I've maintained a decent pace and I've recovered with a chance to salvage my day. I run to each aid-station, walk through and run to the next. 10 little races that take me only 80 minutes! This was my defining moment, I've negative split the marathon of an Ironman. My pace is 8:08 for the final 10 miles, and I run down Ali'i Drive and see the clock-9:35! I can’t believe it, I did it. I'm so proud at this moment, so I put my arms up and start high-fiving everyone in sight.
There's nothing quite like the finishing line of an Ironman. The emotion there is something you can bottle up and take with you, it's absolutely palpable. You feel like a champion because you’ve overcome so much to get there, and you feel a strong connection to your competitors because only they know what it took to get to that same finish line. It's at the finish line that this bond is sealed for everyone. I go back at 9pm and stay until midnight. I watch Brian Breen finish 2 years after getting hit by a truck and dying 8 TIMES! on the operating table. I watch Scott Rigsby become the first double-leg amputee finish and it feels as good as it did for me at that moment as it did when I finished. The midnight ceremony quiets the crowd and I look around. I love this sport, and I love the Ironman. 1700 athletes, 1700 amazing stories. Everyone is a hero in their own world, it doesn’t matter what their story is, it's inspiring. Cancer survivors, double amputees, 75 year-olds, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, it is so hard-the work required to get to that start line and then get to that finish line.
Sitting there nursing the aches and pains of the day, I'm thankful for those who helped get me to the finish line. My training partners from Cadence (Joey, Brian, Todd, Scott, Tom, and Holden) who pushed me, Matt and Melissa Heitmann for supporting me, my girlfriend Alex who is the one pushing me out the door and always taking care of me when it gets tough, my coach Brian Walton, my sister Kelly and her husband Daniel, and my Mom & Dad--who inspire me to never give up on my dreams. We did it. And now I start thinking of ways to improve, where I can get faster, and I go to sleep knowing that my first Ironman Hawaii was as much a learning experience as it was a "race," and I am more motivated than ever to make an impact next year. I will make an impact, and Brian tells me "next year starts next week." I hope to see all of you out there.
Thanks for reading.