I raced IM Loo last year and missed a Kona slot by 2.5 minutes and decided that this year's goal would be qualifying. At IM CdA this year, I nabbed the sixth slot (of six) in my age group with a 9:41:16. It was quite a feeling to know that I had put together the race that I needed to go to Kona. Then I realized that I would have to ramp up for another Ironman in a few months and felt a little dread. No matter.
I took a few weeks off (light training) after CdA and then began to put in the miles in serious. But it was pretty difficult to keep the motivation strong. I think that setting the goal as qualifying meant that mentally I didn't have a lot of reason to bust my butt for Kona. But I did want to show well out there on the Big Island, so I did keep at it. I had some pretty strong races in September (Nation's and Savageman) that were good mental prep (Savageman in particular). I went into taper feeling good, not great, but definitely ready to take on whatever the Queen K and the lava fields could throw at me. Little did I know that the intensity of what the course in Kona can throw at you far exceeds much else I've ever dealt with.
Training shout outs: I had a good year of training under my belt when I arrived in Hawaii. I put in a lot of great work with members of the DCTri elite team and some great camps up at the Lost River Barnlostriverbarn.com, including one with the Team Snapple folks snappletriteam.com. I also spent a lot of time riding out at Deep Creek Lake including one ride from DC to DCL that ended just a little short of the lake in Westernport (172 miles). I swam my butt off down at Hains Point with the masters program--which was invaluable. I did a lot of running on my own but had some great runs with DCT folks that kept it interesting. Through it all, Coach Kelzie kelziebeebe.blogspot.comkept the pressure on, with relentless schedules. Her medicine, while a little bitter-tasting, works when taken regularly.
Ok, back to Kona. I had a small but very effective cheering squad. Led by cowbell ringer extraordinaire, Laurel Brown, my sister Claire and DC friends Andrew and Melissa were there to support and they did not disappoint!
I shipped my bike via TriBikeTransport. (What a service! For about what you'd pay the airlines for the privelege of having them abuse your disassembled bike in its box, your bike is shipped from your local bike shop (Contes Arlington for me) to the race site intact and with great care.) I just packed up my tri gear, some flip flops and hauled myself across 6 time zones to Hawaii. We arrived on Wednesday morning, and a warm breeze greeted us as we disembarked at Kona's outdoor airport on the lava fields.
It's 6 miles on the Queen K highway from town, so on the cab ride in I got my first look at what I'd be up against on Saturday. It was pretty moderate rolling hills and no shade whatsoever. We got to town, and got settled in our condo, which was right on Ali'i Drive 3 blocks from the finish line. Over the next couple days, I did some practice swims (tropical fish!!), a practice ride (hot/windy!) and a practice run. I felt pretty good and was looking forward to the race.
The atmosphere in town is pretty unbelievable. There are very fit triathletes everywhere, the (outdoor) expo is bigger than any I've ever seen (with lots of free stuff), the top pros are visible and accessible (I spent a few minutes looking over Faris Al-Sultan's bike and then the mechanic let me lift it and check it out--then we went and watched Faris speak). In short, the place is buzzing with IM vibe of the highest level and filled with the best of the best. It lives up to its reputation as the home of elite triathlon. I was just honored to be there and a part it all. It makes all the training worth it.
Oh and one of the coolest things is when you check your bike in, you walk by a row of about 25 people who are all writing down what bike you have and what components and wheels. (Scott Plasma II/SRAM Red/Zipp 808s -- if you're wondering).
I woke up at 4:30 and started eating. A couple eggs, a banana and a bagel, along with water and I was set to go. I suited up and walked the couple blocks down Ali'i to body marking and everything. I dropped off my special needs bags, each of which had a bottle of infinit and a couple clif bars and gus. They use stamps for the numbers on your arms, which feels very professional. No leg marking, which was a little different. They also tell you not to use sunscreen before or after as it will smear the numbers. Uh, question: when are you supposed to use it then? This came back to haunt me later. I dumped my morning bag, pumped up my tires and went and said bye to Laurel and the support team.
After the pros went off at 6:30, we were allowed to get into the water. There was a little log jam at the steps, and as I stood there, I watched them tell people their speedsuits were illegal and pull them. I was real nervous mine wasn't legit, but I had looked it up 20 times and thought I was good to go. Still I was worried they'd pull me aside. Nothing happened and soon I was bobbing in the clear water near the start line. We were there for a good while and there was a lot of jockeying. At one point I told this guy next to me to quit throwing elbows. He said sorry, he had "played basketball and was used to boxing people out." I laughed but wasn't amused. This intense jockeying in the water was the sign of things to come.
Without warning or countdown, they shot the cannon and we were off. I'm a front-of-the-pack swimmer at most races and usually shoot off the front into clear water pretty quickly. As advertised, Kona is different. I was thrashed and kicked and squeezed and chopped for the first 1/3 of the swim. What a horrible experience!! Now I know why people hate the swim so much. I never deal with that, but man, now I can relate 100%. I felt panicky a couple times, but tried to just hang in there and get in my rhythm.
By the time we got to the turnaround, things had spread out and on the way back I was pretty much on my own. The first third, however, seemed to really slow me down, and my time was slow (for me). I was hoping for around a 55, but got out of the water in 57 minutes.
Time: 57:12 -- 9th AG/95th overall
The transition area in Kona is very, very compact and well-organized. Bags are hanging on racks rather than spread on the ground. You run through water hoses (for rinsing), grab your bag from the rack and run into the change tent. Shoes are allowed to be on the bike and so you basically put on your helmet and glasses and go. I stopped for a second to get some sunscreen smeared on, but it wasn't much and it didn't get spread on very well, and as a result of this and the "no sunscreen" before the race rule, I was real sunburnt by the end of the day. Regardless, in a minute or two I was running my bike to the mount line and taking off.
The real fun of Kona begins about 50 miles into the bike when you hit Kawaihae and the winds that kick up right as you hit the 7 mile climb to the turnaround at Hawi. For the first while you ride an out and back in town and then go out the famous Queen K. During that first in-town section, everything is pretty tame (winds/sun/hills) and you can just focus on dialing your nutrition and pacing and conserving yourself for the beast that the ride becomes later on.
I was out of the swim pretty quickly compared to a lot of people and so shortly after the ride began I began to be passed by stronger cyclists. This would be a feature of the whole bike leg and truthfully it was fairly demoralizing. When you get passed by 300+ people, you wonder a lot about yourself and your biking (Am I going slow or are they just strong? Is my brake rubbing? What is wrong with me?) My bike leg is weaker than my other two and truthfully, there are just lots of people at Kona that can ride a lot faster than me. That was humbling, however, and a good indication of where I need to focus my energy next season.
Back to the course: At Kawaihae, you turn off the Queen K and begin a sustained climb to Hawi. The course has changed directions here and you can count on first crosswinds and then serious headwinds. We got blasted during this climb and I was often climbing under 12 mph. Very difficult stuff. It also screws with your splits because the turnaround is about halfway, but you spend a lot more time getting out there, so it's hard to know how you're doing.
After we turned around, however, it was hard to go under 30 mph for the next 20 minutes or so -- flying downhill back into Kawaihae. At Kawaihae, and back on the Queen K, the winds had picked up from earlier and were coming in huge gusts across the highway. I'm fairly stable on the bike, and yet I had a couple 4 foot swerves where I thought I'd end up off the road. It was hard to stay in the aerobars for any drinking or eating, as you became very unstable without both arms firmly planted.
At this point the heat was really going too, so the ride was becoming quite torturous. I tried to focus on eating--doing my rotation of infinit/gu/infinit/partial clif bar on the quarter hours (with water all the time and a salt pill every hour). Things were going ok in this department and despite everything, I was feeling so-so and moving along pretty well. I had a headache, which worried me in that heat (was I overheating??) but it seemed to be somewhat related to being in the aero position so long.
Then at mile 90 I coughed a couple times and all of a sudden was throwing up everything that I had in my stomach. It was not an insignificant amount. I guess I hadn't been processing the food/drink very well. Just after I finished throwing up--I didn't stop pedalling while this happend--a guy passed me and gave me a pat on the back. Man, he and I both knew that I was in for it. Emptying out everything right before running a marathon? Not a great plan. I tried to swallow down more infinit over the next 20 miles but it wasn't really working, so I just figured I'd have to see what happened when I started running. I was pretty fearful that I'd have a serious calorie-deficit-induced crack of epic proportions. I limped it into town and got mentally prepped for the run.
Time: 5:20:47 (77th AG/400th overall) 20.95 mph avg
I rushed through T2 shoving a gu into my pocket, throwing on the hat and shoes and getting out of there. I was out pretty quick and began to run through town.
The first 8-10 miles is an out and back along Ali'i Drive though town, and it has lots of spectators. I saw Laurel and the gang at mile 2 and then Laurel hitched a ride with clubmember Ted Nugent on his scooter and I saw them quite a few more times. I had a lot of trouble with sideaches during that section and told Laurel in probably the most pathetic whine that I'd thrown up and was real nervous. She told me that I was looking good and would be fine.
I wasn't so sure but I plugged on and tried to get a lot of gatorade and liquids down at each aid station. After 5 or 6 miles the sideaches let up and I was just running along trying to hold a decent pace.
As I turned the corner off Ali'i headed out, I saw Chris McCormack come flying in as he came in for his last 1/4 mile. He was ahead of Andreas Raelert by about 25 yards at this point and it was quite a thing to behold. They were flying and working very hard. I think he knew he'd won at this point, but he hadn't slowed to enjoy the win yet. What an inspiration.
Based on seeing that, I was pumped and I basically ran up the hill out onto the Queen K. At this point, I was still running through aid stations. A pro friend of mine had confided that he walked every aid station when he did Kona as an age grouper, so when I got onto the hot unshaded Queen K, I began to walk briefly during aid stations to make sure I drank a few cups of liquids, got as many sponges as I could and put ice in my hat. It's hot as heck and there's ZERO shade out on the road. With my already-burnt skin, it was very important that I stayed as cool as possible to keep the run pace somewhat decent.
About 7 miles out of town at mile 17 or so, you turn into the Natural Energy Lab--I used the portapotty there and descended down to a mile or two long out-and-back on the lab grounds (still hot/unshady). I picked up my special needs bag there and took the gus and bars to go. I felt so-so, but was starting to feel like the end was in sight, so mentally I was doing better.
I stuck to my walking in the aid stations (part of each--not the whole station) and pushed myself to try to keep a good pace between them. I can't say I kept the best pace, but I did run ok from station to station despite the heat and fatigue. The dreaded crack from lack of calories due to my puking never really came, and before long I was headed down the hill into town for the last few blocks.
I spent a lot of those last miles trying to figure out if I'd finish sub-10. I'd qualified with a 9:41, and though that was clearly out of reach I was still really hoping to stay sub-10. My heat addled brain wasn't capable of much math and so it was a lot of adding and estimating only to realize I'd done some calculation wrong and starting over. As I came into the last mile, I figured I was going to finish right around 10 hours on the nose.
The turn onto Ali'i and the last few blocks were both a blur and slow motion. Slow motion in that I was trying to soak it all in and there was great crowds and support -- this is the magic moment of all Ironman racing -- but a blur because I was too hot/tired/nervous about time to actually slow down and take it in. I came into the chute and saw a 9:5.. on the clock and realized I'd made it under ten hours. I remembered to celebrate as I came across the line (a couple fist pumps and such) and then it was all over.
Run time: 3:31:26 (8:04 mm)
Finish Time: 9:54:19 (83rd AG/379th overall)
I got teary-eyed right after the race. This had been the toughest Ironman by a long-shot and I was mentally and physically challenged from the get-go. It was not the "victory-lap" that I had sort of envisioned it would be and it took everything I had that day to keep moving at a decent pace.
Like the Boston Marathon, this course packs a serious wallop. No matter what you are told about it beforehand and no matter how much you are expecting what it throws at you, the pain and suffering are quite intense.
You come to realize that besides being the birthplace of the Ironman and triathlon in general, they continue to hold the World Championships here for a very good reason. The course doesn't favor hill climbers or flat out drag racers, it doesn't favor swimmers or great runners. It doesn't favor any particular athlete, but instead grinds away at everyone with relentless heat and wind and forces you to dig deep down to push through an agonizing run to see what you have.
On that day, I had a 9:54 in me. Chris McCormack had an 8:10. The last finisher had a 16:59:13. I was humbled and uplifted and shown what it really takes to finish an Ironman and what it really means to wrestle with the toughest distance in our sport. I hope every triathlete gets to feel that feeling of absolute relief that the race is over and you've done your best. I want to go back to Kona and race it smarter and faster, but I now know that when I do that, regardless of what happens, Kona will teach me a lesson and put me right in my place. And that's a good thing.
Thanks for reading and all your support. I couldn't have made it here with out you.
Great race report. Impressive performance. You should be proud.
I'm still trying to get my mind around how a 9:54 is 83rd place in an age group. Obviously, its a whole 'nother level out there.
As a DC Tri Club member since 2004, it's hard to recall someone who has had a season like you had in 2010. I suspect your results this year will be memorable for quite a long time.
And still you seek to improve. That's awesome. Very inspirational.
What an incredible accomplishment! Phil you truly inspire each one of to aim high and reach our goals. Rest and recover, and enjoy this memorable accomplishment!
All I can say is WOW! That is an inspirational race report for an amazing race! I hate to see what the Saturday mornings rides are going to look like next year if you are 'working on your weakness.'
I echo what AJ, Kevn and TJ have said...Wow! Awesome report! I'm inspired. Congratulations on a great season!
Mad props to you, sir. I had no idea from watching your times (which seemed consistent considering the course and elements) that you were going through all that. Wow. I can't wait to see where you'll be able to take your racing as a result of pushing through like that in Kona. I have a feeling many greater moments are coming.
Phil, thanks for sharing sure an inspirational story! Glad I was there in CDA to see you run by me on your way to Kona!
Great job Phil. How did you do all that AND update your facebook at the same time during the race? ;)
Awesome! Congrats. Hope you also got to take in some of the Aloha spirit and relax in Kona as well.
Tuan, at the G-town Prep X-C meet on Saturday, the timing was done by Pacers. Our runners were able to sign up for updates on their splits/times that went straight to their facebook page.
I updated Facebook through a new app that is embedded in my brain. I thought it, and up it went. Pretty slick, huh?
Big Congrats Phil. Awesome race report and a solid finish! You rocked! Cheers! A&M
Great race report! Just the inspiration we need for the winter ahead!
proof i was there:
3:25-26 in the background.
I think this is enough proof right here...
AW SHUCKS, THANKS TJ.
Ah, That was the big cheer at the viewing. Good to see you in a flash of blue. The music was the soundtrack to Inception by Hans Zimmer - also inspirational. Thanks Phil, it's been an honor watching you all these years and completing the dream.