Years, 1 Month, 5 Days....
That's how long it had been since I last raced a full Ironman. Although I had only planned on taking off a full race season of Ironman racing in 2008 to foucus on 70.3, the change of date for IMAZ extended my absence by an additional 8 months. Almost long enough to forget the pain, but not quite. To say my 2007 rookie Ironman campaign was a success would be an under statement. I exceeded all my hopes and dreams and I considered myself very fortunate. But ever since KQ at my first IM and finishing that race in Kona on October 13th, 2007, I have had to ask myself the following questions: Could I do it again? Had I found the key to unlock that door? What if I couldn't replicate a perfect race and how would the potential failure make me feel? For some facing the fear of 140.6 is their challenge. For me, it was what it was just a fluke, beginners luck. Although I was anxious about the prospect, I knew there was only one way to find out. I knew I had to put myself on that line again.
Once I had signed on the dotted line..and wrote the check to WTC..the expectation game began. Friends talking about how much fun it would be to rent a place in Kona again to come and support me, my wife looking at condo's in Kona where we could stay. Despite the assurances that even if I had a bad day, it didn't matter, I felt the pressure to perform, but mostly from myself. I wanted to feel like maybe I had earned my place in the sport, maybe I belonged, maybe I wasn't a fluke.
There is only one thing you have any control over when it comes to an Ironman and that is preparation and it is likely my greatest strength. I hired my coach again and he set forth a plan which he knew I would complete to the letter. The plan was different from my other two IM preparations. IMAZ 2007 was about finishing and hopefully a Kona slot. Kona was all about finishing. but this plan was new. This plan was designed with one goal in mind. Not finishing, or KQ'ing, or even AG podium. It was to RACE an Ironman for the first time.
I woke up on Sunday morning about 4:00 am after a very good night of pre-race sleep. I had my Cliff Bar and coffee and by 5:15 were off to pick up my Mom and head on down. I was very fortunate to receive 2 VIP passes from my Janus Funds internal wholesaler that Jamie and Mom could use all day. The VIP program afforded us parking right next to Transition which eliminated any of that worry and I was able to show up to the race with only an hour or so before the start. Jamie and Mom would also get to watch the swim start from a boat, be wet suit strippers, have access to the hospitality tent all day, and special finishing line viewing are. They were so excited and it was so very cool.
So we arrive and park in our special lot. I went in and pumped up the tires and loaded my nutrition on the bike. The Janus rep. was right by Transition exit and Mom and Jamie stayed with her. When I came back from my bike, the two of them are standing there talking to Michael Lavato! He would be their Janus guide all day! I told Michael the race hadn't even started and my wife was trading up the triathlon ladder from me! I went to check on my bike and run gear bags but when I got back, they had left for the boat dock, so I changed into my wet suit and left my bag by our parked car. It was time and I felt a wonderful sense of calm. It felt less like my two previous IM's, it felt like the start of the many shorter races I have done since where my attitude is to go hard and race. I was going to RACE today.
Swim Race Goal Time- :59-1:00
I made the decision to line up in the front, towards the center of the lake. It's not as crowded as everyone tries to stay far right to cut the curve of the lake. I figured I could angle towards the curve and then head straight to the turn marker, keeping the crowds to my right. The gun went off and I swam hard to get away and was immediately in clear water. Drafting was terrific, there were just enough people to swim behind but not so many as to have a lot of contact. I felt great, great turnover, steady breathing, good body position. My plan became a bit confused as once I got to the curve, suddenly it seemed there were more people to my left closer to the buoy line. I made an adjustment and joined that group as we made for the red turn marker. It wasn't too crowded at the turn markers which gave me hope that I was toward the front. I made the turn for home and I think it's here I made my mistake. I should have swum into the middle the lake, no man's land, and stayed off the bouy line as it would curve and eventually meet up with me. But the group I was trailing was on the line and I stayed with them. I was concerned if I went off to the right, I would sight poorly and go over too far towards the north shore. I swam well all the way back, but the damage was done at that point. Despite feeling like I was really moving well, I hit the stairs and saw the 1:01. Not what I wanted but not the end of the world either and I put it behind me. An important part of racing and executing an Ironman is to keep moving forward, not to dwell on what has happened or might happen in the future, just on what IS happening right now. And that would be the super fast wet suit strip I was given by two great volunteers. :)
Swim Split: 1:01:42
The problem with getting into the change tent in anything over an hour swim is that the tent is packed. All the volunteers are busy and you need to deal with your gear alone. It was also very dark in the tent as the sun was still low on the horizon. I manged to get my socks on, decided to pass on the arm warmers and gloves, got my race belt on and helmet and sunglasses in hand. At this point a grabbed a volunteer who I asked to pack up my wet suit and swim gearm, which was great and I was off. A volunteer brought me my bike and I rounded the corner to the mount line.
Bike Race Goal Time- 4:50-4:55
I was chilly for the first few miles of the bike, but I was quickly warming up as the sun rose higher. When I started heading east, I heard the familiar sound of a headwind rattling through my helmet. Despite a weather forecast which called for light winds of 5-10 out of the east/southeast, I hit a steady 10-15 coming due east all the way up the BeeLine. I would need to adjust my pacing and gearing accordingly. I focused on the immediate and continued to move forward.
I managed to overtake the majority of the fish by the time I hit the BeeLine and found myself in a small group of men. there were about 6 of us within a few hundred feet of each other. There was the usual back and forth passing and some very questionable close riding in this group. The headwind was trying to compress us and I made sure to either stay off the back, or put on a big surge and overatke properly. Unfortunately, three of them were really trying to hard to stay in front and were way too close. Fortunately, that's right about the time the marshal rode into town. :) He went by me and then immediatly started writing down numbers. Bang! Bang! Bang! and three riders got their well deserved red cards. Once I hit the turn, it was an express ride back to Tempe. My HR target for the bike was 142, which considering the temps would be a solid pacing effort. I was more in the 144-145 range for the first loop and kept trying to stay in check. Nutrition was 2 Cliff Bars cut into 4 pieces as well as 6 gels. Hydration was Gatorade and water. I knew hydration would be easy to stay on top of as the temps were cool. I had a gel within the first few miles and then every 3/4 of a lap would eat some of the bars and alternate with the gels. I really nailed my nutrition on the ride, I never felt bloated or uncomfortable, sipped water and Gatorade when I felt like it and really stayed down on my aero bars for 99% of the ride.
About halfway through the bike, the wind began to shift to a more southerly cross wind which still made going up the BeeLine a chore but provided less of a boost on the way back. I even went into my small ring on the way up to save my legs and try and spin a bit more. I was able to completely avoid any drafting issues. I was far enough in front of the big packs of AG'ers so that I always had very clear road. That's not to say that there weren't big packs. They were out there and I did see a lot of penalties. I also picked up my own little drafter. I passed an AG'er on the last loop who had likely been in front of me until now and he stayed behind. Sometimes too close behind me especially when I passed people. At one point I sat up, looked at him and motioned for him to come on through. He did and lasted about 1 min before I passed him back and dropped him. I spiked my HR but it was well worth it. It was impossible to tell where I was in the overall AG race as the crowds were so heavy and my race plan really wasn't going to start until I got to the run. As I came into town on the last loop, I overtook Lindsey Corbin about a half mile from transition. She was fussing with something and I called "On your left, Lindsey". That was fun. :) I rode down the chute, feet on top of my shoes, stretching my back and legs, and feeling like I just had the best ride of my racing career.
Bike Split- 4:51:30
I did my flying dismount and headed toward the run gear bag rows. I called out my number and ran down my row. I thought I was on the correct side, but I wasn't so I jumped over into the next row...and was immediatly smaked in the shoulder by a flying Lindsey Corbin! She knockd me out of the way and shot off to the change tent! It was AWESOME! Now the benefit of hitting T2 quickly? The changing tent was EMPTY. It was me and about 20 volunteers standing around wanting to help you! I was in and out in 61 seconds! As I hit the exit, Lindsey and Gina Kehr were right in front of me.
Run Race Goal Time 3:15-3:20
As I left the change tent, my coach Nick yelled out that I was in 13th place in the overall AG race. I wasn't sure where I stood in relation to the AG, but figured I was in the top 5. Now it was time to begin my race.This run would be very different from my previous IM runs. This run would be based soley on pace, no HR. This would be a run where I would look to move forward, not just hold my own. This would be a run where I would not let myself get passed. This was THE RACE.
As I headed west on the rec path, there was one person in front of me. It took a moment to realize that it was Gina Kehr! Lindsey Corbin was just up the road from us. I was about 2 yards behind Gina for the first two miles. It's so wierd being at the front of the race at the run start. We were just all alone. I knew Gina would likely be running in the 3:10-3:15 pace and that wasn't where I should be and she gradually dropped me and I settled into my pace, a pace honed by running as many of my long runs as close to a 7 flat pace as I could. Nick and I figured that would translate into a 7:30-7:40 pace for the race itself on tired legs, but the PE would feel similar. I went through the first 3.5 miles @ 7:14 pace and then dialed it back to a more manageable 7:26 pace for the next 8.6 miles. That's exactly what it felt like, too. I had learned to race using pacing and PE. I never, not once, took note of my HR. Sitting here this morning, I couldn't tell you what it was at any given time. It didn't matter. Manageing my HR was about finishing, but this was about racing. I trained to run a pace and I was going to try and hold on.
I had a gel flask in my jersey pocket and for the first half of the run, i made sure to take a hit before each aid station and then grab some water to wash it down. I was able to finish more than 3/4 of that flask before I got too sick of it, which was great. I had to be at least 12 miles into the run and was still using my basic nutrition. My stomach felt very settled and despite thinking I had to pee while I was ont he bike, my bladder as usual just quited down and once again, I finished an Ironman without peeing once. I have an iron stomach and I retain fluids like a camel. It helps so much to not have the common GI problems and not stopping to pee is a tidy time saver. :) The only initial issue I had was some very severe tightness in my lower back but that calmed down with the first few miles.
But I still knew what was coming. The first lap was great. I was cruising, I felt terrific, my form was perfect, I was alone and running the Ironman. The second loop was more workman like. It's that grey middle area of maintenance. The course is more crowded, aid stations need to be negotiated more carefully, and the fatigue begins to set in. Coming around at the end of the second lap, my condition was deteriorating. It was time to dig deep and it was time to start hitting the cola like crazy. I knew I was slowing into the high 7's and no one knew where I was in relation to the field. As it turns out, 2nd in the AG was a few min ahead and running much slower. This would have been my opportunity to actually see if I could close out this event truly as a RACE. If I had known that holding that 7:30 pace would put me in striking distance...who knows. Maybe I could have done it. Maybe I would have blown up. I do know I would have tried. I had managed to move up into the top 10 in the AG race. I had raced myself into that spot, but now I just wanted to be done.
This is a moment all Ironman athletes share, regardless of their ability. That point in the race where you are so tired, you hurt so very bad, and the thought of running another 10K seems almost impossible. At mile 20, I did the math. I was 8:30 and change into this race. if I could get my pace back down closer to my target I could make that 9:20. I stared down at the concrete and like every other competitor out there, I just kept running, but I found my form again and got myself back into the race. I knew that no one word care if I finished in 9:20 or 9:25...but I would. I crossed over the lake for the final time and was on the soft gravel of the south rec path heading towards Mill Ave. I knew the bridge was close enough to the finish, that the crowds and cheering would be there, that my firends and family who loved me were waiting, and that they were proud of me. And so I ran a little faster. I knew I was going back to Hawaii and had really raced my first Ironman and so I ran even faster still. I knew I had earned it, I did deserve to be there, that God had given me a gift and I was so blessed to have found it, that I wasn't a fluke. Now I was flying.
The crowds were huge around Transition. So many people out supporting their loved ones. I saw that little sign on the sidewalk, the one with a little arrow pointing off to the left, the one that said To The Finish. I ran through the parking lot we had parked in early that morning and afforded myself the very first and only look back over my shoulder to make sure no one was behind me. Ironman is all about moving forward and this was the only time I would look to see where I had come from. Just one small hill to climb, a few folks sitting along the sidewalk saying great job. I smiled and thanked them. The Ironman inflatable arch and a left turn to see the clock. 9:19:52. I measured the distance to the line and laughed. I wouldn't make it under 9:20, so it was time to enjoy the chute. I slapped hands the whole way down, weaving from left to right. Mike Reilly was doing his thing and I crossed the line...and I felt like I belonged there.
Run Split- 3:21:23
Final Time- 9:20:14, 35th OA, 10th AG'er, 3rd in M40-44
I just want to thank Jake and all the awesome people at ZOOT whose support has helped me so much this season. Also our incredible sponsors Orbea, GU, Fuel Belt, and SUUNTO. I feel so privileged to represent your products and I am humbled to be associated with my fellow team members who are such amazing athletes. See you in Kona, 2010.