What an awesome experience. This race is truly like no other. So much hype, history, crazy pre-race energy, events, etc., etc. I had a blast during the week leading in and tried to do it all — from the practice swim to the underpants run. (I did miss the TRS Beer Mile though. Had wanted to at least watch but timing wasn't ideal.) I also had a lot of fun on race day. Yes, at times it F*$&ING sucked, but I definitely soaked it all in, made sure to smile and dish out high-fives, and truly embraced every minute.
FINISH TIME 9:41:16 Swim 59:49 Bike 5:21:06* Run 3:13:34
*Received a 5-min penalty
My time — 9:41:16 — wasn’t my best, and I don’t think that I got everything out of my fitness, but I’m proud of the result. In some sense, it’s kind of nice having not smashed it out there since I think I’d be done with Kona for a long while if I had. I’m now feeling like I want to get back, maybe in two years, so that I can try going faster on the big stage again and against the best in the world.
9:41:16 put me in 51st in M 30-34 and 243 overall. A good bit off from my goals, but a decent finish. And my goals are always pretty damn hard to reach — that’s what makes chasing them fun! I’ve got a good feeling that I’ll race here again and I’ll definitely be looking to hit those goals when I do.
BACKGROUND & QUICK SEASON RECAP
I qualified for Kona in late November of last year at Ironman Cozumel. After just missing a Kona slot in August at Ironman Mont Tremblant, I put a TON into getting ready for Cozumel. I went there for one reason, and that was qualifying for Kona. I ultimately put together a solid race with a 9:26:02 finish and punched my Kona ticket. I took the win in M25-29, but it required 3:03:59 marathon in which I ran with the second place M25-29 finisher (Cyril Lecompt, from France) shoulder-to-shoulder for the last 8 miles. Cyril, who I’ve stayed in touch with and now consider a friend, also qualified for Kona since our age group had two slots.
I was totally spent physically, mentally and emotionally afterwards, and needed a long time off from training before I could even think about Kona. After two months of pretty much just chilling, I started to get back to training at the end of January. From then onward, I planned my season entirely around having a strong race in Hawaii.
Some Pics From IM Coz Below...
This year was a bit of a rocky one, with some ups and downs on the racing front. Coming off the strong finish in Cozumel, I had big expectations for 2016. Even with the time off in December and January, I figured I’d be back kicking ass for the first race of the season in April.
Admittedly cocky and really not that fit, I rocked up to Oceanside 70.3 at the start of April thinking I could claim a spot on the podium in M30-34. I was quickly humbled with a 15th place finish. Pissed with a poorly executed swim and bike, I signed up for St. George 70.3, where bike mechanical issues led to hypothermia (freakishly cold at this normally hot race) and my first ever DNF.
After St. George, I took a step back — with solid guidance as usual from my coach Justin Daerr — and started to focus just on training. I’d be doing Epic Camp France in a little over a month and needed to get my ass in gear for the absurd cycling we’d be taking on.
Epic Camp France lived up to its reputation and really put any ego I had left from the Cozumel race in check. Day after day, I was dropped by riders much stronger than myself up iconic and stupidly hard Tour de France climbs. (See the ‘Train’ section of this blog for details on the Epic ass-kicking I received courtesy of the Alps.)
I returned to the States after the camp a much improved cyclist, and though still fatigued from the training and travel, was able to put together a decent race — particularly on the bike — at the NYC Tri (more on that here).
After a big training block in Boulder during the month of August, my numbers were looking really strong across the board. I put that fitness to the test at the Malibu Triathlon and came up with the win in M30-34 and crossed the line as the first amateur finisher. (More on that here.) This was a big confidence boost before heading off to Hawaii. I didn’t feel like I had my best race, but the overall AG win made it my best finish to date. I’d be heading to Kona, my last race of the season, fit AF!
Pics From the Season... Oceanside, St. George, Epic Camp, Malibu
My goals were varied given the meaning of this race and how much I had put in just getting there.
First and foremost, I wanted to cross the finish line. Not sure of when I’d be back, if ever, this was hugely important to me. Not to mention the fact that I had my family and friends who had come all the way to Hawaii cheering me on. A DNF was not on the table.
Secondly, I wanted to be proud of my finish time. Not knowing when and if I'd be back, I didn't want to feel like the island got the best of me.
If able to do the above, I’d be content. Given how well my training had gone and my fitness going into the race, I really thought a top 25 in M30-34 was possible if I executed well.
Something I had been toying with all year was a top 10 finish in M30-34. It's hard to say this was a goal going into the race. If it had been a goal, I would have actively been pursuing it, and I wasn’t. It was more of a Ahh, that would be killer! feeling than a goal. I now know that to have a Top 10 in M30-34 goal, you have to be willing to fail out there. And I wasn’t. I put way to much into getting to Kona to risk an explosion. I raced really conservatively as a result, and I don’t think you can be top 10 in any category in the World Champs by racing conservatively. At least I can’t. That’s why you see so many pros walking the marathon and DNF’ing here. They’re gunning for a Top 10 finish and have to put it all the line to try to make it happen.
Anyway, if I raced to my potential, here’s what I thought I could do from a time standpoint…
SWIM GOAL - 1:02
- I knew the swim in Kona to be a tough one. The mass start would make for some serious wrestling for the first K and waves could add some additional time.
BIKE GOAL - 5:15
- Would depend a lot on the wind, but I was going in a lot stronger on the bike in compared to last year.
RUN GOAL - 2:59:59
- My run shape was off the chain. I had run a 3:03:59 in Cozumel and I was feeling way more fit.
FINISH TIME GOAL - 9:25
- If I really rocked all, I figured I could get under my Cozumel time of 9:26:02.
I arrived Kona Thursday night, 10 days prior to the race. This was definitely the right call given that it was my first time racing on the island. It allowed for me to do the Ironman organized practice swim (Saturday), a ride to Waikoloa (Monday), a ride from Waikoloa to Hawi (Wednesday), and several runs on Ali’i. It also gave me a chance to relax a little and have some fun on the island, while still getting a feel for the course and hitting some focused training.
I stayed just a mile and a half south of the pier in a great condo at the Wyndham with my buddy Walter. While getting to Kona a bit early has it’s advantages, it can be easy to lose focus with everything that’s going on. Staying with Walter, who’s also coached by Justin Daerr, really helped me remain focused. We were also doing all of our sessions together, which kept things interesting.
Pictures Along with a Vid from my GoPro during the Practice Swim
Let me first start by saying that I never get sick. Legit. I'm never sick. I pride myself on it. Yes, I've felt like shit after hard sessions and big training weeks. (Like waking up in the middle of the night to puke at Epic Camp...) But getting a cold? Never. Well, I wish I could still say that.
Going to sleep on Tuesday night I noticed that I was pretty congested. As someone who suffers with allergies (AND NEVER GETS SICK!!), I didn’t think much of it. I took a Zyrtec and went to sleep. At about 3am, I woke up totally unable to breathe out of my nose and had a bit of a sore throat. I made a makeshift nasal rinse out of a Gatorade sport bottle and table salt (I love a good nasal rise) and washed out my sinuses. After doing so, I could again breathe but it was pretty clear that I was coming down with something.
The next morning I felt like crap but still didn’t think too much of things. (That's right, because I never get sick!!) I figured I’d kick whatever I had by the end of the day. I also had a full day of stuff to do, so didn’t dwell on it. By 7pm, after several team activities, a two-hour ride, and a team dinner, I was totally wiped out. (I also bailed on a 20-minute post-ride run to nap.) I spoke to my girlfriend Marla on the phone and she could immediately tell that something was up. I told her I was fine and just needed to get some sleep. While I stayed pretty chill, I made an evening trip to Island Naturals (this place is the bomb) to load up on things like Wellness Formula, elderberry concentrate, oil of oregano and a real nasal rinse.
I woke up the next day (Thursday) feeling better, but still a bit banged up. I continued with my training as usually, just a chill swim today, and kept drilling the supplements while drinking hot water with honey to quiet my sore throat. By Friday, I felt a lot better. My 45-minute ride and two-mile run went well, but I was definitely more tired than normal. By the time I woke up for the race on Saturday, I think I was almost back to 100%.
I'm not totally sure what impact all of this had on my race, if any. As I describe more below, I really felt great during the swim and the bike. While I felt pretty rough on the run, I think that's more a testament to the difficulty of this course than any issues I had leading up to the race. I've included this 'Getting Sick' really as a reminder that no matter how healthy you think you are, the taper does weird things and it's pretty easy to come down with something right before a big race. Going forward I'll definitely exercise more humility (I can get sick!) and take some supplements (in addition to my normal routine of eating tons of fruits and veggies) to minimize this risk.
I slept alright. Asleep by ~9pm, and then up at about 3:15am. While I'd normally want at least 8 hours before a big training day, anything over 6 hours the night prior to a big race is a win. My alarm was set for 4am, but I got moving soon after waking up.
I got to the transition entry at about 5:30am with Walter and another friend. While we had well over an hour to get things situated, we had to first clear a minor security checkpoint and then get through body marking. The security piece was no biggie, but the body marking was probably one of the more ridiculous things I've encountered in the sport. (They had volunteers applying the temporary tattoos with our numbers — are you f&*%ing kidding me?! Just put them in the pre-race bag like every other race. At least the volunteers were super nice...) This took a half hour. Seriously. Half an hour.
Now with maybe 20 minutes to get my shit together and get in the water, I raced over to my bike and filled my bottles and pumped up my tires. After a handling a few other final prep to-dos, it was 6:40am and both the male and female pros had gone off. I had seen neither start (definitely in the port-o-john for the Men's start), but was happy to finally be making my way into the water after some scrambling.
This swim was going to be a rowdy one. 1,000+ aggro dudes starting at once for that first buoy. While I knew front/center would be the epicenter of the madness, I wanted to make sure that I was not being held up by any slow swimmers. I was willing to get smacked around and have people swim over me if it meant that I wouldn’t be stuck in the back.
At 6:45, 10 minutes before the start, I had made my way to the front row, dead center (right next to the big ROKA sign). With 5 minutes until the start, the area had filled out and I was shoulder to shoulder with other athletes, many of whom were already jostling for position. I stayed relaxed, rotating between treading water and floating on my back.
When the gun went off, I set out at a pace just slightly faster than race pace. No joke, every stroke for the first fifty strokes was hitting someone either to the left or right of me. Most strokes were cut off abruptly since someone was either on top of me or pushing my arms down. I honestly couldn’t help but smile at how ridiculous it was. I felt like I was in a washing machine or an underwater fist-fight. I kept cool and kept swimming to the extent possible. After 15 minutes, things got more civilized and I was able to get on feet to draft. That said, even 45 minutes into the swim, more than 15 minutes after hitting the turn buoy (+ the big boat full of spectators at the turnaround) the swim was still super crowded — like being three wide in a swim lane. Typically, I’ll distance myself from most of the others in the water, but at the World Champs, a 1hr swim is middle-of-the-pack.
With about 500m to the finish, I snuck a quick glance at my watch. Unfortunately it had been stopped during the initial melee. (Sorry geeks, no swim file.) I did see that the time was 7:45am though and it dawned on me Holy shit, I could do this in under an hour. I buckled down, giving a final push, and came out of the water with a big group just under the one hour mark with a 59:49 swim. I was pretty stoked.
[Power file + other data can be found in my "Kona: For the Geeks" post.]
After a quick rinse off, I grabbed my bike, helmet, etc. and headed out of transition. Lots of peeps were coming out at the same time and hitting the climbs out of transition and on Kuakini Hwy hard. I kept it pretty mellow and focused on taking on some food/fluid to recover a bit from the swim. I also was really soaking in the crowds. For the 5 miles before getting on the Queen K, you get some serious love from the fans. I heard tons of GO EMJ!! and even had friends and family yelling at me. Bike courses in Ironman are usually empty, so this was awesome. I was grinning the whole time, freaking loving it. I even dished out a high-five to a friend from Tower 26 while climbing up Palani.
Once on the Queen K, I settled into a bit of a rhythm. There were still a lot of riders bunched together, but it wasn't super crowded. I was able to really push the pace and pass a good number in the first stretch on the Queen K heading towards the airport since it's mostly downhill at this point.
By the time I hit the airport, I was riding single file with other cyclists for about as far as I could see. We were really close, but still not in the draft zone. At this point the cross winds were strong, so trying to pass someone would require a big effort, and you'd likely need to pass 2-3 people in one go to be able to slot back into the line-up. I hung tight and focused on my power. This stretch from the airport to Waikoala was way winder than it had been on any day in training. I felt really comfortable though and clicked through the first 30 miles at a normalize power of 195 watts - right in the 190-210 zone I wanted to be in. It was also getting noticeably hotter.
From mile 30 until the start of the climb to Hawi (just over 20 miles), the ride became totally different for me. HUGE packs of cyclists were coming by and engulfing the everyone around them. I sat up to to let the first of these come by, since I really wanted to ride my own race and definitely didn't want a drafting penalty. A few minutes later, another, even bigger pack came engulfed those I was around. Legit, Tour size peloton.
I sat up and slowed my pace, hoping to break up the group a bit, but then saw just how huge this pack was. Not wanting to hit the breaks or flat out stop pedaling trying to let 50 people go by (yes, easily 50 people in this pack!!), I just started riding on the shoulder of the road (most ride in the middle since the road is closed to traffic). My coach Justin had mentioned the draft packs being nutty here, and said he had done this as an age grouper as a way to focus on his own race and ignore the madness.
After a few minutes of this, more people latched onto the back of this enormous group and many had gotten in directly behind me on the shoulder. I was pretty worried about a crash, and soon we were approaching crowds on the right, forcing me to slow significantly and try to get back on the road and not the shoulder. It was crazy.
At one point I saw a draft marshal pull up alongside one of the bigger packs and sit there for a full 5 minutes. She then gave NO drafting penalties. Insanity. I guess there were just too many people to try to penalize. After seeing that, I definitely considered jumping into that draft pack. I'm almost certain that I would have if it weren't for my EMJ kit. The last thing I wanted was a bunch of people badmouthing Team EMJ for me being a dumbass and hanging out in a draft pack.
With that in mind, for the next 45 minutes or so, I slowed to let 3-4 big packs of people come by. All the slowing down made this 22 mile stretch the slowest 20+ miles segment I rode during the race. (Average speed was 20.8; NP just 184.) Thankfully, by the time we hit the climb to Hawi, things got less ridiculous, though blatant drafting was still more common than any race I've been in.
Heading up to Hawi didn't seem as windy as it had been during the practice ride Walter and I did earlier in the week. (It did feel hot though, with temps in the high 80s. My Garmin had it at 95 at the top of Hawi, but it's typically a bit dramatic.) I stayed down in the aero position for the bulk of the ~6 mile, ~600' climb and rode by feel. I didn't push, but instead kept things steady with watts at 195 and HR fully in check at ~150bmp.
The turnaround at the top of Hawi served as a good mental checkpoint. Alright, more than half the ride is in the bag. From there I focused on staying over gear and taking advantage of the descent down from Hawi. I had practiced it earlier in the week during some pretty strong crosswinds, and felt very comfortable hitting descent at a high speed down in the aerobars. Today, the crosswinds really weren't that bad. I had to lean into them at times, but nothing too crazy. The descent took just 11 minutes. I was able to hold a NP of 160 watts and my top speed was 40.7 mph (actually not that fast; figured it'd have been closer to 45!). From there, I kept cruising, still feeling good.
At mile 80 or so, while hitting another descent, a cyclist came up along side me and then started to pass once he had a gap. We were both going fast, 37-38 mph, and he slowly extended the gap between us from maybe 5 meters to 10-15. I made no attempt to slow down to allow this gap to increase more quickly given that we were still carrying out our descent and I wasn't about to hit the breaks. This all happened in about 20 seconds. A second or two later, while I was still descending, a motorcycle pulled up alongside me. Fuck. You've got to be kidding me. Yes, I was drafting. This was probably the smallest drafting infraction on the entire day, but what can you do. My guess is that the marshals became Nazis once things got more spread out from mile 75 onward since their hands were somewhat tied early on.
I served my 5-minute penalty in a tent just before mile 90 and tried to stay positive. I got out of there and focused on what I could control. By the end of the ride I wasn't too upset. It could have worse, like a flat or some mechanical. Final ride time with the 5 minute penalty was 5:21:06.
Cruising into T2, I knew I had ridden very conservatively. I wasn't sure what my final watts were or average HR, but I knew that I hadn't gone as hard as I could have and I didn't think I had burned any matches. This ride honestly felt like the easiest 85+ mile ride I had done all year. (NP was 189 watts — IF of just .71 — and my HR average was 146bpm.) I fully expected to feel awesome coming off the bike.
[Run file + other data can be found my "Kona: For the Geeks" post.]
When I popped off the bike and started the ~500m run around the perimeter of transition, I could immediately tell that my run wasn't 100% there. I stayed confident though. I grabbed my run bag and ducked into the change tent to put on my socks, shoes, bib number, hat and sunnies.
I set out of transition, at a decent clip. Not pressing too hard on the first climb up Palani, but still pushing and trying to get in a groove. My goal would be to run largely by feel, but to also do my best to keep the sub-3-hour marathon in play.
The first mile came easily. I high-fived friends and family, and soaked in the cheers. The crowds for this first mile — really the first 10 miles — were incredible. By the time I looked down at my watch, I had run the first mile in 6:32. Alright, settle down. Ali'i, I tried to relax and get into a 6:50/mile pace, still going by feel but glancing at my watch every half mile or so. While I clicked through the next 4-5 miles holding 6:50/mile, it was not coming easily. My two Ironman marathons last year felt pretty easy for the first 13, even 15, miles. Not today. Zero ease. No sweet spot where adrenaline and fitness make it feel like you're gliding. I was trudging.
Thankfully the crowds were pushing me along. And at about mile 10, I saw my fam and friends again. This was awesome. Definitely provided a much needed boost. Then, right before heading up Palani to the hot and lonely Queen K, I could hear the helicopters closing in. Jan Frodeno was coming down the other side leading the men's race with just a mile or so left.
My mom, my sister and Marla. My mom was looking for a hug :)
After climbing Palani slowly, it's almost a half mile at a 6% grade, I tried to get back in a rhythm on the Queen K. Two of my buddies were at the top of Palani and provided some serious entertainment as I turned onto the Queen K. This was pretty hilarious and gave me positive vibes before running on the surface of the moon.
Once out on the Queen K, my mile times started to slip. I tried to push, but my pace wasn't getting any better. It was waaayyy hillier than I had realized. With the sub-3 goal now a distant thought, I focused on the ground in front of me and just tried to keep my feet moving. Male pros were coming in the opposite direction, looking destroyed. I remember seeing really strong runners like Lionel Sanders suffering, then a bit later Jordan Rapp walking. All I could think was, Fuck. This is brutal.
For the next 13 miles or so I really struggled. I'd push for a quarter mile, then slow, then push again. I don't really remember all that much. Going down and then back up from the Energy Lab was a bit of a blur. I think I was just looking at the ground, hitting aid stations, and doing all I could to stick to a 7:30-45/mile pace. Occasionally, I'd catch a glimpse of an EMJ teammate either ahead or behind and we'd give one another some encouragement with either a shout or a nod.
By the time I had reached the end of the Queen K and turned onto Palani, I started to rebound and my speed picked up. I knew the finish line was just a mile away. Coming onto Ali'i, my brain kicked back on — running down this final stretch was a moment I had dreamt about and I wanted to really experience it. Crowds lined the streets and I started slapping as many hands as I could. I heard my family yelling my name but I could see them in the crowd, there were too many people and I was starting to pick up my pace.
Coming down the finishing shoot was a bit of a blur. As I crossed the line I was relieved to be done, but a little shocked to now have this huge day that I'd long waited for now over. I felt like I had given it my best, all things considering, and was proud of my race. My run time was 3:13:34, which breaks down to a 7:23/mile pace.
If you made it all the way here, thanks for reading :) I'll be putting up more about my training for the race and some final thoughts in the next few weeks...