Let me start by saying I’m really not sure how to write this up. My goal since my first IM was to qualify for Hawaii. I didn’t think it would take this long. However, when I did accomplish it, last year at IM Wisconsin, it was one of the most amazing days of my life. In life, the things I work hardest for have the biggest reward in the end. I worked hard for the Kona spot and at times just thought it would be one thing in life that I gave my best and never achieved.
The whole year leading up to the Ironman World Championship was kind of weird. I focused more on the short distance racing early on and then shifted to long course training. I never felt like I had the same base that I did leading into WI and my coach heard that from me frequently…I just didn’t feel as prepared. However, with that being said I knew my swim and run were at lifetime bests and my bike had been my strength all year. I also put in one of the biggest training weeks of my life at altitude, training with a great group lead by Justin Daerr , Gordo, and Endurance Corner.
I also, had a pretty interesting speed bump this year. I was having one of my best races ever at Door County Half. I was around mile 9 on the run, racing for a top 10 finish overall and my heart rate shot up over 200bpm and wouldn’t come down. I’ve had my heart rate increase like this in the past but it would typically come right back down. I pulled out of that race even though it killed me to do so…I had no choice. Luckily a buddy of mine Dr. Larry Creswell, helped me out by providing a lot of comfort in a time when things were pretty scary. I was able to get a procedure performed at Northwestern Hospital about 6 wks out from Kona, which fixed my heart issue.
I was pretty excited for the big race, however as I mentioned before I think having a goal of getting to Kona was a much bigger accomplishment and with that I really didn’t have a goal at Kona. I would go back and forth between the idea of Kona as a victory lap vs. really racing Kona. I think in the end the day dictated my strategy.
I arrived in Kona with Lisa and we met my parents. I had an amazing support crew and it was wonderful to see so many friends on Kona that have been part of my triathlon family for so long. Leading up to the race there were lots of logistics to cover, but after the first day and seeing and feeling the race atmosphere, I decided that I would not go down to the expo and race areas unless I had a specific mission. I also did not attend the pre-race dinner or meeting…I wanted to enjoy the circus but not be part of it. Easier said than done.
Race morning finally came and I was very excited to finally get started. I lined up on the far left side in the second row and as I had been told many times, I expected a very physical start…beginning with full contact water treading. Without warning the cannon went off and so did we. I went out pretty hard the first few hundred yards, just trying to find space. I was getting bumped but was completely ready for it. I got dunked, bumped, hit over the head a few times, but it really didn’t matter, I knew it was coming and I was just excited to be racing Hawaii. The worst of the contact ended pretty quickly and I just kept finding feet for the swim. It was the first time in a race where feet would drop me though, and I just figured people could actually swim here. At the turnaround I got a bit aggressive and decided I should give a little surge to try and find a good pack and then ride it back to transition. This worked well and I had a steady pair of feet all the way back to the beach. I had no idea what I swam but based on some of the folks I saw in T1 I thought it probably went well.
I took my time through T1 onto the bike making sure I had everything I needed and most of all made sure to get my sunscreen. In hindsight, I probably needed more sunscreen. Onto the bike it was absolutely amazing how quick everyone was going. I tried to stay below my power cap, which I normally set pretty low for the first 25 miles or so in an IM. However, it was hard seeing everyone go by. It was also interesting to watch folks with a power meter sit up and spin the hills while other folks were hammering them. Once onto the Queen K, I got settled and sat in my zones. The race seemed to really calm down a bit on the Queen K but there were huge packs and I decided that sitting legally in a pack was the way to go. This took a bit more power to get into a group and stay legal but I think it was the correct decision on the day. I felt quite flat for most of the bike ride but really stayed on top of my nutrition plan that I practiced all year and tried to get ahead on my hydration. I ended up going to the bathroom 3 times on the bike and my goal was to go twice…great rule for IM racing…maybe a bit too much info?
I felt really good climbing up to Hawi and hit the turnaround ready to roll. On the downhill I really felt the wind and most of the downhill was spent holding onto the drops and trying to stay upright. I also started catching some folks and dropping folks at the end of the bike. My best power on the bike was in the last hour or so. By the time I was done with the bike I had nailed my nutrition and hydration and was ready to run. I ended up riding 5:15 which was a new bike PR by 7mins…then again it was a much easier course compared to Placid and Wisconsin.
I got off the bike and right away felt a bit weird. I jogged through transition, dropped off my bike and picked up my running gear. The goal was to run the race around a 140-145 heart rate and pick it up in the end. If I ran anything like WI this would have most likely resulted in a 3:15 or so. However, right from the start I was having some cramping issues in my legs and in the early miles went into the bushes and threw up all my nutrition. I was in a very bad place. I knew losing my nutrition was not good, as not only did I not have anything in my stomach anymore but also I probably wasn’t absorbing calories for a while and this was probably why I was feeling so weak. I didn’t have the desire to fight through it and wasn’t sure why. I didn’t know if I went too hard on the bike, didn’t take in enough nutrition, just was tired from training, drank too much salt water on the swim, or just didn’t want it like I did in WI. All of this was going through my head…however, I made a promise with myself that I would not give up and would make it to the finish line…I was pretty sure this would take 5 or 6hrs after I had run 3:20 in Madison the year before. Oh well. I put my head down and would just think about what I needed to do each step. I would count 100 steps at some points or count 10 cones, just to keep trying to run forward before I would walk. I was using every trick I have ever heard of to get to the finish line. I was also trying to figure out what my body needed and tried to stick to my nutrition plan…although I felt like I needed to get in a bit more cause I felt pretty weak. I saw my parents and Lisa at mile 10 or so and told them I was fine but this would take a little bit of time. I started to pull it together around mile 15, right before the energy lab and based on the time I figured I might be able to get in before 4hrs on the marathon. This is what I needed, a new goal. Into the energy lab I started feeling better and started pushing. The energy lab energized me. I was able to run a bunch of the run after the energy lab all the way up to mile 25 where my hamstrings completely seized. That sucked. After a few minutes (probably seconds) of stretching I was able to run again and finished the race that I had wanted to complete ever since getting into Ironman. I crossed the line with very mixed emotions but was happy it was done.
It has taken me awhile to write up this report because of these mixed emotions. I think next year I will not race Ironman. I feel like 4 years of chasing Hawaii has left me somewhat burnt out. However, when I think about trying to take it to the next level I get excited. I just don’t think I have what it takes to train right now to hit that next level. I don’t know if I really had it this year. I’m so happy and grateful to have completed the Ironman World Champs. It was everything everyone told me it would be and more. I have a feeling I will be back one day but right now I’m not ready. I love this sport and I love pushing myself to new levels but I think this next year I will focus on half Ironman and Olympic distance racing…I’m pretty excited about that decision. I’m also pretty excited about my next journey that will be with Lisa and for the rest of my life...the wedding is Dec. 3rd.
The journey to Kona has been an incredible one. I could have not done it without my Mom, Dad, and Lisa. Before IM WI last year my dad said he really wanted to go to Hawaii. I’m glad I was able to deliver. Finally, I’d like to thank my Coach Tim Waggoner (Lucho), as he was instrumental in this journey and helping me get to Kona…I don’t think I could have done it without him. He had more confidence in me than I ever had in myself and taught me things way beyond triathlon.