My experience at the 2018 Ironman World Championships was full of challenges and lessons, some of which I knew were coming and had prepared for but perhaps more I had not even considered.
As with any other race day it was an early start, 4:00 am, but really I was already up, I had slept well from about 7:30 pm - 1:00 am but had more or less been napping since. I was glad the time had finally arrived, I enjoy the efforts and the racing, I could do without the sitting around waiting that goes on before hand. Pre-race nutrition consisted of 1 cliff kids bar, 3 x 24 oz bottle of 2 scoops carbo pro, 1 scoop scratch in water and one gel before the swim. Logistically, things were a new experience right from the start. Having never done this before I was still unsure about some of the details regarding where I, as well as my family could go on race morning. With that in mind, I got dropped off with all my stuff for the next two hours, which in the end was a good call because I didn’t run into my people again until 30 minutes after the race. After being swabbed with alcohol, numbered and weighed it was time to check out my bike which I had dropped off last night. Of course the heaviest rain we experienced the whole trip happened throughout the night when all the bikes were racked. My morning goals were to dry the bike as well as possible, re-lube the chain, make sure the psi was correct, try and dry my shoes a bit and get all the nutrition on by bike. Having quickly accomplished this, I realized I was there pretty early and had little to do for the next hour. This would have been a nice time to relax with my family but due to the congestion of the transition area I decided to just find a “quiet spot” near the hotel where the race was being based out of. I also managed to spend about 10 minutes gawking over the pros who were in a little pen right in the middle of the action, very cool atmosphere and makes me want to be there even more. Best of all, I know one of them, it was great to see Sarah for a moment pre race, all smiles as always.
For the swim start I wore a swim skin over my race kit with the top of my kit tucked into the small of my back. Age group men started as one big wave of 1600, 20 minutes after the male and female pro athletes had set off. I had been warned that I would need to tread water for awhile before race start, having quickly swam from the stairs to the race start line, we did indeed tread water for the next 20 minutes. We spend the first ten minutes being held back behind the start line by lifeguards on paddle boards. I did my best to stay at the front of the pack while not actively trying to push the line forward. About 10 minutes before race start I got stung by a jellyfish on my legs. The worst of it was on my right calf and around the cuff of my race kit on the left side. Initial emotions were more of less, well shit. No one else seemed to react, or speak english when I reacted to being stung so I more or less just accepted it and knew I had to get on with the race. The last 5 minutes before race start were miserable to be honest. My right leg was at this point useless but the larger problem was the jockeying for position at the front. We started the race at least 30 feet in front of the start line and I was promptly swamped to at least the third line of people and the white water just seemed to explode when the gun went off. I did however manage to start my watch, which was a first for the season. I spend the swim out to the halfway boat battling to get some clear water and moving up through the field. Luckily, even on a good day I do not kick much when I swim, so I was able to swim more or less normally, just doing my best to focus on anything other than the sting. By halfway I was in the midst of the second pack, from my vantage point is seemed a handful had gotten off the front, who where were at this point out of reach. I swam much better on the second 1.2 miles and was able to clear and then lead the second pack all the way back to the dock. I got out of the water a bit flustered about the first half of the swim, a bit pissed/worried about the sting but above all very happy to get on my bike.
The first 5 or 6 miles on the bike are a quick out and back through the roads just south of Kona. It was hard to keep my heart rate down and everyone, myself included, was being punchy. I felt good though and I was pleased to realize that the sting, although painful was not limiting the usability of my leg. On the first “hill” of the day it immediately became apparent how the front group was going to ride this race, smash the hills, coast a lot of the downhill and draft when no one is looking (well this part took another ten miles or so to realize). Just by keeping a consistent power up the first hill I went from the front of the main pack to at least 25 places lower, a pattern that would repeat itself countless times throughout the day. Of course these same athletes immediately backed off the power once we crested the hill and I passed everyone right back, dumb, dumb, dumb. Once out on the Queen K I got a better sense of where I was at race wise and how things were going to develop. I could see a few single riders up the road but it quickly became obviously that I was in the front group, which I was pleasantly surprised with considering everything that had already happened. Then, my bike computer died... Not sure how this happened, but that was now the reality and all I could do was deal with it. Power was nothing special (230np) for the first section of the race where I could see what I was doing but I would not have wanted to go any harder considering my heart rate was already edging out of the desired zone. I had spent a lot of time pre-race debating what gears to run and as it turns out I got this part just right. I ended up using a 55-42 up front and a 11-30 cassette in the back. I was never out of gears in either direction and I also had zero mechanical issues from a drive train perspective(which might be a first). From mile 40 - 56 I was able to settle into how the group was riding as opposed to trying to fight it and waste energy. I was able to get my heart rate under control and finished the first half of my nutrition heading up the rise towards Hawi. Special needs was located just after the turnaround. When we came back around I was the only one who stopped and then when I said my number they couldn’t find my bag. It was over the fence, they thought I had already gone by. I managed to stay calm and be respectful to the volunteers, but inside I was pissed, first off, why did no one else stop, where is all of their food!?!, number two, another unnecessary obstacle, seemed par for the course at this point. Once I finally got going I could just see the last rider in the group heading over the horizon. Now it was my turn to start making mistakes, as opposed to accepting the time loss and sticking to my effort, I chased to get back in touch with the front group. It took about 20 minutes and my heart rate was well above my desire zone essentially the entire time. It still feels stupid as I am writing this, but at the time it was very hard to convince myself to back off. Once I bridged back up I made the decision to just stay with back of the group and recover. At this point I still felt pretty strong but it was also obvious that the bike had not been the conservative ride I probably should have gone with on my first shot at this race. I managed to get through almost all of my nutrition, I still had one gel and about ⅓ bottle of carbo pro left but I was happy with amount of fresh-water I had been able to drink along the way. For the last hour of the bike I was able to ride mostly solo and really focus on controlling my effort. Although I was only looking at heart rate due to the computer failure, this was the most controlled and enjoyable section of the ride for me. I finished with a 4:35 bike split and although I knew this wasn’t going to be my best race, I felt like I could run a consistent marathon based on how I was feeling.
I would love to sugar coat this marathon, but to be honest it was one of the least enjoyable things I have ever done in my life. There are few feeling less enjoyable than the loneliness of bonking for an entire marathon at the biggest triathlon of the year. I knew I was in trouble from the second I got off my bike. Until this point in the day, I had somehow gotten away with everything that had happened and managed to be in more or less the exact position I would have wanted to be in getting off the bike. The first section of the run is a 7 mile out and back on Ali’i which is more or less flat, sort of shaded at times and packed with spectators. Even if it wasn’t going to be a strong run I still needed to do it and pace the effort wisely. I set my heart rate cap at 150 and although I was running slowly I was able to keep the effort in check during this first section. Stomach pain started almost immediately, despite my best efforts on the bike to get my nutrition right, it would later become obvious that my digestion was not working and perhaps hadn’t been for awhile at that point already. The only real climb on the course felt like a mountain, it was not, pretty sure I only got up it because Nyssa’s parents were running faster than I was on the side, practically pulling me up. Once on the Queen Q I did everything I could to just keep moving, 150 heart rate seemed to yield a little less pace and a bit more stomach pain each mile. Mentally, this marathon was right up there with toughest thing I have done. Knowing that you aren’t going to stop, but that this is going to take an additional hour of “running” than anticipated was very tough. It was hard to hold back floods of emotions at times because I knew my goals would not be achieved at this race, but also that I had clearly made mistakes in the last 7 hours that put me in this position. Sort of makes you want to just crawl in a hole. I managed to keep running until mile 17 which is when the walking started. The last 10 miles were much more about I may be in trouble here, certainly hope I can make it back, than they were about racing. The low point was mile 23 when I finally got sick and immediately realized why my stomach had been hurting so much for the last three hours. I don’t think I processed a single thing on the run. I felt so much better. But that was quickly replaced with just feeling trashed. I must have split those last 10 miles into 20 little waypoints, I have never played so many stupid mind games with myself during a session or race. It felt like I was doing a threshold set on the trainer just trying to eek those last 10 seconds out. Only this was miles and miles. I finished with what I thought was dignity, pretty much only walked the aid stations and finally dragged myself across the line, 9:45 later.
First 20 minutes post race were rough. There was no energy to even by mad, I was spent. At first being rather aggressively grabbed my a volunteer felt like too much, pretty quickly changed my mind and I am very appreciative of the very nice volunteer who poured water on me for the next 5 minutes. At least the worst of it passed after about 10 minutes and I was able to get off the ground, collect myself, my belongings and get out of there to see my family.
I know I am better than this race and I know I had a great season, still sucks though. All you can do it learn from it and apply the lessons moving forward. I look forward to learning everything I can from this race, but I also look forward to forgetting large sections of it. Back to work. Indian Wells 70.3, December 9th, is next.