Certainty is the confidence in our belief…
It was a good year. I knew I was fit. I had created a great summer. I had the classic feelings of “it’s all been worth it, no matter how race day goes”…. I had kept the training exciting with different locations, done all the training I wanted to do. Trained primarily with friends. Never hit that point in the build of being exhausted, gotta get through it. I was actually surprised a few times how good I was feeling despite the volume. I was healthy – I was absorbing. It was a good year.
I had learned some things in CDA. I had a chance to race harder at Vineman. I had the season unfolding just the way I had planned it, envisioned it. I just needed to get to Hawaii and race. Just go do…Its always so much easier on paper – or when not in the race..Just go do..Duh! But I knew I was ready. I knew it was a good year. And, most importantly (to me), I knew that there was not more I could have possibly done this season to prepare for Kona.
I prepped my gear better, I dialed in my aero position better than past years, I adjusted my calories to a new amount, and I had trained it. Trained ALL of it. No more excuses for me. I wanted those 162 seconds back that I missed last year. I was not going to have gear, fuel, or free speed from a better aero position be a reason. I am going to control the things I CAN control on race day.
Woke up that morning, good breakfast and no real issues to eat all I needed to get down. Plenty of oatmeal with milk, banana, peanut butter and a bit of honey. Couple of sips of coffee, and of course, the PreLoad in prep for a hot, strenuous day. Couple of sips of water, and soon we were getting dropped off down at the start for body marking and bike prep.
Nothing was eventful this morning. The routine of 14 Kona’s was setting in, I knew where I want to be at all times, certain time checks and meeting points. Sure, this year was a bit earlier that usual, but the flow of the morning stayed the same. Get to the grass area out in front of the King Kam 30 min before race start – its been like that since 1999…
Brain is on. Things are clear. Not nervous at all, just clear – aware – present. Walk down to swim start, all smooth, even decided to wait on the side for a bit once going in: no getting cold and clobbered while waiting for swim start this year – its bad energy up there – too many agro swimmers fighting for a front row start.
Mantra for today is: Strong, Steady, Race. Swim strong, stay steady on the bike, allow yourself to race the run!
Swim: STRONG. Gun goes – I swim off – and immediately I feel connected to my stroke. Power, flow, rhythm and kick. Keep it together until things empty out, then hold my own line – feel good about my effort. Around the Body Glove boat – and off I go – stronger effort – nothing hard, but no way will I be lackadaisical like last year. Stay in it – stay with your day – my day. My push puts me further ahead of the group I am with, and then I bridge up to the remaining lead group.
Get out and despite swimming well, surprised how slow the time was…oh well. Just another slow year. I know that is was STRONG. Off onto bike.
Bike: STEADY. I’ve broken this course down so often in my head, I have splits, wattages and observations from every part. 7.5 miles through town and up to Queen K. Keep it under control, and just get my ass up to the Queen K – then settle in. Its supposed to be steady. Wattages are in check. No – its not ‘easy’ but its good. Steady. Eat, drink, observe. Time checks are ok. Uneventful to Kuaihai. All systems on. Food going well.
Up to Hawi things become work. I have been passed by a guy in my AG, but see him up ahead. Another guy comes through – he seems more efficient and powerful. That’s ok. I know what I am riding. Feel ok. Turn around in Hawi – its wet – we are really getting rained on. Time check, solid, still too early to project, but everything where I want to be. Special needs – top off, and keep it rolling. Ride down from Hawi doesn’t feel that great – it has in past years, but despite keeping the effort smart (not pushing watts on downhills, using this section to chill a bit in prep for Queen K) I am still moving well. Some years, backing off mentally here means feeling slow, and tired. Not yet. Calories are going down, everything is getting harder. Legs, energy level, brain. Stay in it – no emotions, your day, just do what you need to do, and it will be fine.
Things get hard the one mile from base of Kuaihai Harbor and Queen K. Feels awful and the wattages are way lower than past years (man I have pushed some watts in this race over the years!), but here is where my day changed: time check onto the Queen K…is way off – AHEAD! Too far ahead. Somethings not right. Compared to 14 yrs of data, this one was way off. Past year all splits are 51-58 minutes. Now? 43…! I check my Garmin, something must be wrong. Its working, time is being kept accurately. Holy sh*t. Think Chris. What does this mean? You rode quite easy/not good energy the last 10-12 miles, yet still record time. Its 32 miles home to Pier…That’s 90 min. Hmmm. Now I can project. It can be a solid bike split…4:45 range…steady…clear thoughts, stay in it. That split means tailwind, so as we turn on this island, there most likely is going to be something waiting for us down the road.
Sure enough, just before the Mauna Lani – headwind. Solid, and blowing…its gonna be a long ride back. I know where this is going. Time to let go of watts, ride on feel. This is disheartening. Watts on feel quickly look ugly – really low. Steady. I know what low watts can do – I’ve had great races where the last 20-30 miles have been way low = good runs! Keep on the plan, steady, eat, and drink. All seems to be good. Legs are a bit lethargic and achy, but cmon, its 85 miles into Kona. Shoulders are tight – shoulder blades a bit achy, lungs a bit tight. Nothing that is too unfamiliar.
The headwinds stay pretty solid all the way into Kona. Pass a few people I know, I’m in the womens pro field now. Off bike and splits look good: Shit – it might be a great day: 4:55 bike and a 55 swim? Out under the T2 banner onto the run in under 6 hrs…that is always a good number/marker and goal….
Immediately in T2 I notice my stomach is tight. VERY tight. All across my upper stomach. Not just one side, but a nice wide berth across upper tummy. Its also distended. Hopefully something that will loosen up? I’ve felt similar before and at this moment I don’t remember if it goes away or not. But I do know that if it were big problem, I’d have remembered it.
Dehydration related abdominal pain (DRAP).
Run: RACE. I start running the first 2-3 miles just on feel. Seeing how my stomach holds up – and what effect it has…I am able to eat, also sip water, so feel ok about prepping for when it loosens up. Pace is going ok, but again confident to have good legs once the stomach subsides. I also know I am in third place, so I am thinking to myself: you were 14th last year Chris, just run relaxed and allow the race to come to you. I also knew it was a fast year potentially with those bike times, but then quickly recognized the heat on Alii. Nobody was going to shatter records today. The day was on avg 15 min slower, even for the pros – so I was thinking that the run will be a mess: carnage up ahead.
My watch is showing me pace, and things start to get better. I set the watch to only show overall pace, so I just am patient. But once off Alii and up on the Queen K, its getting bad. Legs are flat, energy is quickly dipping, negative thoughts are creeping in. Competitors that I know are running behind me must be coming up soon. I am going backwards, I must be at this pace! Where are they? Mile 13, 14 things really get ugly. I know to push aside the negative thoughts, just keep running Chris. I feel off, way off. I dip my head in a big bucket of ice water. That feels good, but legs are giving me very little and stomach is still tight. I walk aid stations and work my way through coke and water. I know I have eaten enough, I will not fall into the “I must be low on energy, eat more” brain game! Keep moving Chris. Just keep moving. Where are the faster guys behind me??! I know I am in second now. I passed the guy a few miles back and my friend (Training buddy and overall support in Kona) is telling me I am second on the course. He knows I am not well, so he leaves it at that. He knows me – plenty of hours in CDA, Park City, Bend and Boulder together this summer.
Let’s do this Chris: get to Energy Lab, see how far the lead guy is ahead of you and gauge it from there. You are not going to quit: remember today was simple: stay in it. Race the Run (if I only could…) At mile 15 I hear Lindsey Corbin say to me: no matter what today brings, just no regrets. That was about as perfect of a comment I could have heard.
I enter Energy Lab and I begin scanning the athletes. I know the guy is going to be coming any moment. I had been walking 4 or 5 of the aid stations, so I assume he has stayed steady with his lead on me. Half mile in, 1 mile in, where IS this guy? 1.5 miles in! Are you kidding me? Is he literally right in front of me? Sure enough – I get almost to the turnaround and there he is. I smile at him. It’s time.
A brief history here. I have been racing Kona for so many years. This 8 miles, from Energy Lab turnaround back to Kona Pier is what I visualize most EVERY long run. Its either the best 8 miles in the sport, or the worst. Its where you can make the race, that last hour where positions change and holding goal pace can make your marathon a success. Its also a very long hour. You have now been exposed in the sun & heat for 8 hours. You feel the energy sucked out of you – not because its ‘Energy Lab’, but because you are now surely light on calories and hydration. You just want to get home. 1 hour. A season of training, many years of prep, for this last hour. How often have I been here: 8 miles to go – placing – time – all become crucial here. Can you still find a gear, can you push, can you have a PR? In 2006 I looked at my watch and realized I could break 9 hrs, so the afterburners went on. Last year exact opposite, I was convinced it was not my day, so I helped Caitlin Snow get some water and RedBull. I’ve thrown up here in 2003 from drinking defizzed Red Bull with 3 Advil (dumb!), I’ve run with friends, caught some big name pros just trying to get home. It’s a very strange, lonely, emotional place…yet when you prep for the race, 8 miles to go – last hour – is always something glorious…how often do we push our pace, pray to feel like that on race day! 8 miles home.
400 meters separate me from 1st place. After 17 years of triathlon, 35 IMs, 14 Kona’s…and here I need 400 meters…Luckily this is where the years of experience pay off. Auto pilot: catch him, run behind him and wait for a mile marker, then 1 mile fast, push through 2 aid stations, then settle into pace again. I catch 1st just outside of the Energy Lab, hold him in my sights for about a half mile, then at mile marker 19 I go…run harder until mile 21 – yes – 2 miles, just to be certain. Settle back into pace and think: you caught him on pace alone, so that 2 mile push has got to be enough. I look back, all good…Hold on Chris…Mile 22 comes and this is where the public is able to be on the course again. My buddy rolls up: “I’ve got some good news…you are in first…but 2nd is charging hard, he’s 1:20 behind you and tracking faster..” Darn. I have nothing. I used most everything in the 2 mile push. I’m already shot, energy is just gone, legs are just doing their thing, I’m disattached mentally from the legs. They are just plodding along. Darn. I didn’t get here to get passed. I would never live that down. Not from my athletes, not from myself. Whatever Chris – find something. Arms swing, push through the aid stations full stride – those are precious seconds…darn this hurts, not in pain, but in that I push and it feels slow. Effort seems to mean I am slowing down less…
Mile 24: “Ok Chris, you got it. I’ll see you at the finish. 1:40 up on 2nd, enjoy the last 2 miles. You are gonna win your AG. Let’s celebrate with a ‘few’ beers”…I put 20 sec on him in 2 miles. I will finish this right. Form, think form and footwork Chris… Mile 25, ouch. Its all slow, even the last 1.5 miles. I always run this faster – excited, happy to be done…enjoying the best mile in the sport…not today – I feel so flat, no energy.
Last mile – roll into finish chute, look back – all clear, cross the line – I am done. Done. No more – IM triathlon is not going to see me for a few years. I am done…
And then into volunteers arms, medical. I’m done. Feel SO done. They carry me to Medical…whens the last time you pee’d? Umm – in T2…actually – now that you ask, that was the ONLY time all day. I didn’t pee on the bike..?! Uh oh…Let’s get you weighed. 17 lbs.!…17 lbs lighter than the morning weigh in! Weight in at 176 in the am, now I was 159! Holy Sh*t…We recommend Hospital right away. Severe dehydration like this etc. etc. etc. liver, dialisys etc. Lets take a blood panel first. Phew. No hospital – blood panel. I am not talking, just hearing..so done. Blood checks out ok. Hematocrit – check, sodium – check, potassium – check, magnesium – check, blood pressure – check, pulse – check…its just severe dehydration…2 bags of IV…let’s see. 3rd bag and I am feeling better.
17 lbs dehydrated. Wow. 5-6 bottles on the bike, of which only 3 were water. I would say about 5-6 short! Throw in sips only while running…no wonder I felt like crap.
The amazing thing about this race was what went wrong and how it underlines the point I always make to my athletes. Things WILL go wrong on race day. But with outstanding fitness, you can stay within the margins of a good day. With that I mean the following:
Had I not been dehydrated, I might have run 10-12 minutes faster. I believe that in those conditions a great day for me might have been a 9:10. If you look at this in percentage deviation, we are looking at less than 3% difference from 9:10 to 9:24. 3% was my bad day. It did not feel like I was close to being within 3% while I was out there running. But by moving forward, by just sticking with it, by just staying mentally in it, the day can still be good. Do I care about the time that much? Sorta. Only because I had been so ridiculously absent last year, that I was very committed to doing it right this year. Yes – I won my AG and that was the primary goal, but also racing correctly, feeling good about the effort throughout the 9 hrs, was important to me.
I left the race last year (2014 Kina) with a few goals/observations:
- Positioning – this year I was committed to swimming better – staying ahead of the field, and remaining present to know my place and flow in the AG placing. I had some eyes on the course for me, but I was also aware all day where I was in the race.
- Distraction – the mantra this year was Stay in it. No matter what the day brings, stay in the race. No drafters, no sensations, no conditions, no splits will distract me from staying in the race.
- Strategy – stick to the plan. Resist the temptation to deviate from the optimal race strategy. I remained observant to the splits and race day conditions to adjust the race strategy accordingly. While it did not necessarily make a huge difference, I think my body would have responded differently had I not backed off on the bike.
- Poor planning – this year I planned everything out. People one the course, people at home. I felt good about knowing I could trust my people.
- Trust – This year I trusted my fitness. I knew, with absolute certainty, that I was the fittest guy in my AG. I forgot this last year, and let the day get to me. This year, it was a deep belief that I did more, and my body had absorbed more than years past. Maybe not my best fitness ever for Kona, but for sure in the 45-49AG. I learned this year that certainty is ‘the confidence in our belief’. With the summer of training I had had, the numbers I had seen, the health I had kept, the continuous weekly work on sleep and recovery…I had 100% belief that I had done all I could to be ready for this race. Last year I was the fittest too, but I let my head get in the way. This year I was not going to let that happen.
My son Jasper took part in a basketball camp early in the summer. And since he just turned 7, some of the concepts they were teaching were a bit advanced, yet he came home every day with a card or note regarding the mental game of training and competing. We would read them and usually before I finished talking, he had already walked off to do something else….! Working on your mental game is not a high priority when you are a month into being 7. And hearing what your Dad has to say about it – even MORE boring…but one card stuck with me. It asked: “What have you done TODAY to accomplish this goal?” – on the other side you were to have written a goal for the 2 week session. I took that card and hung it in my kitchen: what have I done TODAY to accomplish my goals? Getting on a plane to Kona I felt I had adhered to that card every day of the summer besides 2. And those two I had chosen to do something with my kids, which I will argue might have allowed me to feel better about the other remaining days this past summer.
Its been 16 years of racing in Kona – its been many 2nd and 3rd places, its been plenty of 4-6th places. Its been incredibly fast years (sub 9) and a DNF. There has been racing Pro, and racing as a rookie. I’ve had every experience in Kona – besides this one. And although it felt so nice to close this chapter successfully, to have written the best story of this past year that I can imagine to write, I also can honestly say it feels no different. Of course the cliché of ‘life goes on’ fits here, but I think that Kona this year taught me something a lot deeper….That truly doing your best, sharing that approach daily with my friends, and those around me, is a lot more rewarding. Of course I wanted to win this year. And it was hard. And its WAY easier to write this observation after winning, but I also felt great about the race before it even started. I came into the race at peace. I was more verbal with my goals. I felt good about what I was doing, why I was doing it, and I felt connected to all the elements of ideal performance – physically I was fit, mentally I felt prepared and confident, emotionally I was happy with my training, myself and how the season unfolded without sacrificing too much regarding family and loved ones…and spiritually: I felt connected to deeper values and a sense of purpose to do this race.
So now I will stay off the Ironman circuit for a while. Its time to enjoy races and activities I have not been able to do in past years. Not because of Kona, but because of life. Now I want to use this fitness for some fun events. The Boston Marathon is one of those. That’s what’s next. Running Boston in a Yankees hat. That is plenty challenging….