November 10, 2011

Kona Race Report

It's been over a month since Ironman Hawaii and I feel like it's finally started to sink in that I've actually done it.  Truth be told, I kind of put off writing this because I feel that as soon as I write this race report, it's over.  I can't revel in my accomplishment anymore and it's over....and that makes me really sad. But moving on is part of life I suppose (triathlon teaches you SO many life lessons...)
Hawaii was such an amazing experience and I honestly felt blessed to have been part of it all. Quite a spectacle and what I want to convey to you all is how much I respected the distance, the course and the place.  It was all I ever dreamed of and so much more wrapped in itself.  Quite honestly, I had to choke back a few tears on the plane as we took off from the Kona airport en route home and I said a silent prayer to myself that I might be lucky enough again to come back some day. (Please Lord, let that come true!)
Hawaii is hallowed ground.  I know that.  I have had a healthy fear and fascination for the race for years.  When I started this sport, I quickly realized it was the pinnacle of Ironman and without getting too deep into this subject on this post (I'll post another entry in a little while....ooooh the suspense!) but just to give you all an understanding, a few years ago I started buying Kona coffee and drinking it regularly.  I don't really even enjoy the bitterness of Kona coffee, but I wanted to surround myself with everything that had to do with Kona and the race.  So needless to say, I was pretty stoked to be finally living out a dream that I had been chasing down for the past 7 years (did my first tri in 2004)
But I digress, that's another blog entry.  This one's supposed to be about the trip to Hawaii!! There's probably going to be a "vacation report" in a little bit as well with a lot of pictures and fun stories (we stayed HERE), but for now let's get right into the nitty gritty...
The plan was to hop a plane from ROC, head to ATL, transfer to LAX, then it was just a hop, skip and a jump across the Pacific Ocean to KOA.  Only problem was there were a few mechanical problems with our transfer plane to Kona and that caused a 5 hour delay in the LAX airport.  That was weird, because there was a lot of compression gear and M-dot merchandise in that terminal.  I met a guy from Michigan who was a lottery winner there as well and he was one of two I met this trip. 
Kim and I on the seawall on Ali'i Drive
I only had a certain amount of vacation saved up so the plan was arrive on Wednesday afternoon/evening and then leave Wednesday night of the following week and come back to Rochester on Thursday.  This left us 3 days of "business" to take care of before Kim and I had our "fun" after the race.  With the delay, we missed the famed Underpants run, but that's something that I'm looking forward to on the return journey.  There were cool things to do at the expo like get pics taken and see a lot of crazy new products while grabbing freebies.  People bend over backwards for you as soon as they see the orange wristband that says "athlete" on it.  I didn't bring a visor, but I stopped at the Timex tent and they gave me a free one that I raced in.
Kswiss tent at the expo
I wasn't sure if it was the time changes or travel or what, but I was feeling pretty sluggish on Thursday and Friday prior to the race and was hoping to pop a good one this time, we had a lot of running around with registration, picking up race wheels, mandatory lunch at Lava Java, so I didn't do any running or biking leading up to the race.  Honestly, I only rode my bike for about 3 minutes just to make sure that I put it together correctly from the bike box.  My body needed rest and I listened.
Friday swim with R.Barnett - cloud obscuring volcano in background
The one cool thing before the race was bike check in.  You've seen the #'s that every bike manufacturer or anyone else in the bike industry drools over each year, how many of the top age group athletes use your products.  It's a big deal and I was geeked to be in the middle of it all.  Kim got some good photos of Crowie and Chrissie at bike check in and she said it was like the paparazzi with long lensed cameras and people shouting "Chrissie, can you look over here for a quick picture with your bike?"  It was so cool...
How to transport a $5k bike when you have a convertible rental
I took my bike past the hoards of people with clipboards and pens tallying up all the equipment and I heard things like "vision bars, Zipp wheels, Cobb saddle, etc" and those were all the pieces of MY bike.  It was SO neat.  I even got a Cervelo shirt with a few hibiscus flowers on it that reads "kona 2011" just for riding a Cervelo. The guy that handed it to me from the boxes just simply said, "thank you for choosing Cervelo".  It was awesome. 
Bike check in
Race morning - Sweeeeeeet!
 There was a lot of other cool stuff that happened in the days leading up to the race, but race morning came and I was stoked to have it finally here.  Kim and I gathered the things we needed at the condo and I greased myself up with sunscreen and we hit up body marking.  One of my goals for triathlon was to compete in a race where they had to stamp on your race numbers.  I got a huge kick out of this and made the woman actually stop after applying the "1" in "1760" so it looked like I was the defending champion. Just my touch to ease the nerves on race morning.
You have to know how to have fun!
I checked my bike, things were all systems go and I climbed into my speedsuit.  Of course I stopped by the pro section on the pier and snapped a few blurry photos with my camera phone. I told Michael Lovato to "bring back the win for the Americans" and he gave me a fist bump before heading off to his start. 

Swim 2.4 miles - 59:23 / 12th in M25-29AG
This was absolutely insane.  Honestly one of the coolest things was that I was floating in the ocean ready to begin a journey that I've dreamed about for the previous 7 years...I swam out to the start with about 15 minutes before the cannon fired and the plan was to start to the left to get a little more "clean" water and be out of the melee a bit more.  I got a chance to hang on the Ford Edge that was floating and then with like 5 minutes to the start, I swam over to the line and got behind all the surfboards.  They were doing a good job of reigning us back to the line, but you could just tell we were floating out and there was a current. 
Then without warning, the cannon fired and I had a pretty good jump off the line.  It was a non-wetsuit swim like it is every year in Hawaii, so I was wearing my Blue Seventy ZP3TX skin suit for some extra "go".  It worked wonderful, minus the chaffing that I got on the outside of my pecs from the suit rubbing with the salt water.  When I hit the turn around, it was burning so much that I almost stopped and re-adjusted. But I figured the damage was already done and if I had stopped, I would've been swam over.  It's the world championships, so almost everyone swims between that :55 to 1:05 range and it's pretty crowded.  I was right in the mix.

400m into the swim I noticed I was still with clean water and wondered why everyone was telling me prior to the race how crazy the swim was.  It was at that point that we blended in with the other people to the right and things got crazy.  The "stream" of people was only about 6 bodies across and I was on the left hand side of that stream and wanting to catch a good draft.  I had a goal of a sub 1 hour swim in Kona and I knew I was capable of that considering the 56 I swam without a wetsuit in Placid (as long as the currents were nice) 
The mele of the swim start
Basically you can't see where you're going and you just kind of get sucked along with everyone and there's flailing arms, legs, etc all over the place. The underwater shots are JUST like they are on TV and I got my own views of those while trying to breathe during the race.  (You'd look over and see someone swimming next to you and it'd be exactly the same type of shot as is on the NBC broadcast) But it was very physical as I was still getting punched in the face (that was a good shot once prior to the turn around) and swam on top of all the way out to turn around boat. 

The trip into the shore was uneventful, but since it's a world class race, if you let up for a split second...about 5 people pass you and I tried to keep the pressure on all the way back home to shore.  The crowds were intense as I climbed the stairs and I tried so hard not to slip on the astroturf. (didn't want to come this far only to be taken out by some green mats!) Regardless I made it out alive and was headed to T1 with the digital clock reading that coveted sub 60 time.

T1 - 3:10
It was cool to be on the pier and as soon as you get out of the water, you run thru some showers to rinse off the salt water from your suit.  I took some extra seconds making sure my suit was rinsed because with the way my arms/pecs felt from the chaffing in the water, I didn't want any more of that.
Running towards T1
I found my bag, ran to the tent and as I was exiting, saw none other than Ryan Barnett in front of me as we rounded the end of the pier.  I gave him some congrats on a great bike, landed a big old slap on the ass and went to grab my bike.  Later on I would find that we only swam 2 seconds apart  (I beat him out of the water...just sayin'!) and it was cool to be able to share that part of the race with a friend.

Bike 112 miles - 5:15:44 / 21.28mph avg spd - 50th M25-29AG
The bike was something that I've been working hard on this year and this split was like the culmination of hard work of the past year pouring out onto the lava fields.  Some reliable people told me that it's smart to bike a LITTLE bit above your pace in the first 10 miles or so (prior to heading up Palani and taking that left on the Queen Ka'ahumanu) just so you get out of the wind that little bit faster than everyone else behind you.  I was trying to do that, but also was cautious enough not to blow myself up in the opening miles and have to walk the marathon.  This is where the powermeter/HR monitor came in handy.  
White hibiscus sticker near seatpost and the phoenix was ready to roll
The ride down the Kuakini Highway was fun and fast and there is a little bit of a climb out to the turn around.  I opted to save my legs for the lava fields and sat up and small ringed it here.  I'm not proud and as I passed a guy (who was obviously small ringing it too - we were getting passed like CRAZY by people tearing thru this part of the course) that guy said to me, "don't worry, they'll all be walking the marathon" and that gave me a little hope.  We turned around, got some speed and then took a right hander up Palani Road. 
Climbing up Palani Road hill
Palani is a pretty solid hill (not too bad...but not flat) and I was able to see my parents, Kim and my sister on the sides of the road cheering their fool heads off for me.  It was great and I jus tsat up and spun up the hill and tried to soak it all in.  I crested Palani feeling good and we took a left on the Queen K.

The course can be described as rolling up to about mile 53, then it starts a nice 7 mile climb up to Hawi (pronounced Hah-vee - Hawaiians pronounce W's as V's in their language). They say if you can see whitecaps on the ocean to your left at the little town of Kawaihae, you're gonna be in for a windy and sketchy descent.  Long story short, it was windy. CRAZY windy.  Like the most extreme wind I have ever felt while on a bicycle.  I can only correlate it to the wind that is produced when an 18 wheeler tears by you on your bike and you are only feet's kind of like a semi going by you on your right side and then going by you on your left within seconds of eachother.  It's nuts.
On the climb up to Hawi, I chatted with a few people who were passing me and I was pretty chatty on the bike.  There were sometimes when I would come up on someone and because it's the WORLD championships, you don't know if they speak English or not, so they just give you a blank stare and smile.  I realized during this section that the only reason that bike companies do wind tunnel testing is for this part of the race.  The wind...was....intense!  Crazy amount of headwind on the climb up and once we turned around it got a little gusty for a tail wind as well.  People said that the winds were light this year and that made the bike fast, but since this was the first time on the island. I didn't know any different.

Coming down from Hawi was a little dicey, but I survived, caught a little wobble on the downhill section due to some serious wind, but was able to keep it straight and on the road this time.  The scene was crazy, you saw a string of cyclists in front of you and one would wobble from the wind, then the next and the next until you thought to yourself, "brace for it comes" and it would hit you like a Mack truck.
Regardless of the wind, I feel like I paced this ride about the BEST I've EVER done an Ironman bike.  Generally, despite the variety of courses, I spit out a 5:4X bike split and this time around it was a 5:15.  My Garmin file can be found HERE for the bike for those wondering about pacing, etc.  I drank a ton on the bike, every hour I would consume 2 bottles of Ironman Perform, a gel and 2 Suceed salt tablets.  In hindsight it MIGHT have been a little too much sodium, but my shorts were covered in salt lines, so I was rinsing off with 2 bottles of water at every aid station.  Despite the asphalt temperatures reading 130F that day, I was still keeping cool (or at least I thought)

The last 40 miles I felt strong and was passing SO many folks who were sitting up on their brake pads obviously having blown up from going out too hard.  I know my HR climbed and pace dropped a little bit (I believe the scientific term is "decoupling") in the last segment, but all in all it was a fun ride and so much fun to be powering thru the lava fields and picking people off in the last few miles of the bike.  I cruised into T2 and I was feeling like this might be a good race.

T2 - 2:52
Nothing really special to report here, just in and out and I made sure to get a fresh coating of extra sunscreen.
Run - 26.2miles - 3:47:43 - 57th in M25-29 AG
The run in Hawaii is fantastic.  I mean it's the part of the NBC coverage that is totally glorified and it is ALL that it is cracked up to be.  You take a right out of transition and run down and back on Ali'i Drive right by the ocean.  You pass all the little shops, there are tons of people out and there are even a few shady sections that you can get a little respite from the intense sun.  The weird thing is that you are cooled so much on the bike by the winds that when you stop and get to the run, it gets a lot hotter. 

I came blazing out of T2 and I checked my watch and realized that I just had to run a sub 3:40 marathon and I had broken the elusive 10 hour barrier! My mind started racing and I was getting excited at that thought because I popped a 3:27 in Placid and that was MUCH hillier. Thoughts of besting a time set by LEGENDS in the Rochester area (Dennis Moriarty and Erik Grimm) bounced thru my head and I was flying high.  But the odd thing was that I couldn't get my HR to come under 138bpm during the first 5 miles of the run.  I don't know if it was nerves, adrenaline, heat or excitement thinking about that sub10 time, but I couldn't make it drop.  So it stayed about 140-141bpm for the first few miles. 
Then at about mile 6 or so, Hawaii threw the first of many challenges at me and I was forced to make a quick stop in the hottest place on the entire planet.  Those of you that have used them, know that porta-potties on the Big Island in the heat of the day are about the worst things in the world.  That little brown plastic box is like an oven.  I was in an out as fast as possible, but I was hoping that was it.  One and done, right?....wrong.

Mile 10 was a repeat offense and I was fearing I was going to be running from porta potty to porta potty from then on.  I was still popping salt pills and I stopped after this stop.  But I did realize that the sponges work really well inside the porta potties and they are easily disposed of inside as well.  Now my pace was slowing to mid 8's on the run (including those stops) and I was about to take a right and climb up Palani to the Queen K. 
Running up Palani Road after porta potty stops
I saw my parents, sister and Kim on Palani cheering wildly and that made me smile, but the situation happening in my belly was causing some serious discomfort and pain on my face.  I told them of the GI issues and soldiered on.  I turned onto the Queen K and Pat was right, "shit got real".  It was a string of runners and a variable death march thru the lava fields.  I was headed to the Energy Lab and fought thru what I thought was going to be another porta potty stop at around mile 13, but fought off that urge.  It was hot and I was watching my pace slide northward. 
Been waiting YEARS to see this sign
Drawing on past experiences, I knew I just needed to keep on putting one foot in front of the other and "Keep Moving Forward".  I did that and grabbed whatever sponges, gels, water I could from the aid stations.  When running along, you saw the heat lines in the road which were a little disconcerting as you were heading into them, but the miles past along and I saw the solar panels of the Energy Lab up ahead and knew that was going to be a tough section. 

No spectators are allowed in the Energy Lab and the only people there are the other volunteers and runners. You basically enter and take a downhill to the ocean and run right along the coast before hitting a turn around and climbing back out.  It wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be, but by the time I was climbing out, I was ready to be done with the race. I was hurting and I knew that my sub10 dreams had evaporated and turned into the salt stains that were all over my clothing at this point. 
Not as burned as I thought I was going to be...
Once back up on the Queen Ka'ahumanu highway and headed back to town, I was just focused on what I could get at the next aide station.  I stopped and peed in a bush like thing on the way back into town shortly after the E lab, but other than that it was all business.  There were some English speaking folks around me at this time that I chatted with and they made the suffering a little easier.  The sentiments of our group was basically "lets finish this thing up" and people would scatter at each aide station, but we had a little pack here.

At mile 24, there was a pretty long and slow climb about a half mile long.  There's a grassy median and some spectators out there too which was great, but a young male coach with a clipboard was yelling at a female competitor behind me saying, "she's only 45 seconds ahead and this is the last uphill, NOW is the time to go AFTER HER!" and somehow that gave me some motivation to realize that as soon as I got up this last incline, it would be flat or downhill to the finsh...I couldn't wait for that.  My garmin file can he found HERE for those people who want to geek out with HR and paces.
Run analysis graph - HR + Pace per mile
I started to pick up the pace a tad and when you come down Palani hill, you can see and hear the finish line to your right and ALL you want to do is just take a right in there, but the course takes you left AWAY from the finish, down another street and then you take that most famous right hander in all of triathlon and the pain magically goes away.  (The hair is literally standing up on the back of my neck as I type this, it's that magical) But backing up a tad - as I took the left turn after Palani away from the finish line, I saw my sister and she was running alongside for a few paces and gave me a completely missed fist bump and yelled, "I am so goddamn proud of you!".  It chokes me up to think about it now, but at the time I could only think to say, "go to the finish, just go to the finish..." Sorry for yelling at you Jenna!

TOTAL TIME - 10:08.52 - 537th overall and 57th in M25-29 AG
Taking that right hander onto Ali'i is something I've envisioned in training runs for YEARS.  It was nothing like what I thought it would be like, but you head down a finishing chute with flags from all over the world lining the way.  There are TONS of people and the street is as packed as the Tour de France is on those mountain top sections.  It's absolutely wild and I tried to soak it all in.  I was screaming a primal scream at the top of my lungs and was exhausted thoroughly when I finished, but it was all totally worth it. I had made it to the line and my name could be added to that exclusive club.
They say that those people who accomplish monumental feats never do so alone, and I had an exceptional support crew in my parents and sister that flew out to watch me race in person, Kim for being there as well and putting up with the long training hours and the general triathlon ridiculousness (including forgetfulness and freakouts) and to Kim's family for giving me nothing but wholehearted support on this journey.  Along with so many others who I will not list all here...
Kim and I - finally done!
So glad mom and dad could be there!
Post race with an uber excited Jenna!
I will think about this finish line for years to come and the reason that this report is so long is that I don't want the memories to fade.  I want to try and recall every slight detail for as long as I can.  Mahalo to everyone for your support and I got a chance to see my parents under the huge banyan tree after the finish.  I didn't even get a massage, but I didn't care.  I wasn't planning on any more physical activity for a while.  That evening Kim and I went to Quinns - almost by the sea with none other than Ryan Barnett and had some Kona brews and we wore our lei's.  We were too pooped to stick around for the midnight hour, but I'll catch that on TV next month :o)
I'm going to put a vacation report with tons of pics in a future entry, but don't hold your breath (it took me long enough to put this up!) Thank you to everyone for reading and I'll see you on the roads and trails again real soonish.  Cheers.


Tim said...

Holy write-up Batman. Where's my medal now? Not sure I even managed to finish that under your IM time.

Ricky Figueroa said...

Awesome write up bro!... Congratulations again!! It was It was exciting to read it, especially as you were finishing up!! ha ha!

Ron Lillis said...

Wow, what an experience. Nice job Travis!

Matt Curbeau said...

:) you did us all proud! But let's keep the good times rolling...winter is where the champions are made ehh?

Phil said...

Great work Trav, only wish I could have been there with you!

Mike said...

Amazing accomplishment Travis. Really enjoyed reading this post. Congratulations!