2014 marked a return to Kona for me. It’s been since 2011 that I raced, and quite honestly – I missed it. I like racing IM – and I surely liked racing Kona. While I can get my endurance giggles out at IMs around the world, Kona has the appeal of being the World Champs, and I have discovered I like competing – racing. The last few years have been somewhat of a transformative time for me, and without going into too much mushy detail, one of the things I discovered about myself: I like racing – I like competition. I am goal oriented and so having a goal of winning my AG in Kona works for me. Not because of the prize, but because of the sacrifice being worth the result: why do this? To be the best I can be. And to me (that mirror I look at) that means I compete WITH the best in the world in my AG and around that AG. I am not shy to compete – and get beat if it was a fair, honest, clean competition…
My training for 2014 has been great. Running Rocky Raccoon 100 miler in Feb set up a great endurance platform not only for running – but the time out there doing something endurance based for 16-20 hrs. I carried a lot of fitness into IM Texas, which surprised me with an 8:59. It gave me confidence that fitness gains were there – NOW the goal became two-fold: 1) not get injured into Kona – 2) not burn out mentally until Kona.
The summer unfolded well. Training was great – body was holding up – kids were not compromised with this selfish sport. Mind and body were dancing the Kona two-step build well. As many of you can relate – balancing life’s priorities with the training and the sense of urgency in each, becomes quite a challenge. Yet it remained harmonious this summer.
October came and I was healthy, motivated and grateful for all that 2014 had brought so far. I knew Kona was going to go well, since there were no questions. I had mentioned to some folks that there was a sense of calm going to the Big Island knowing I did everything I possibly could for this race. I trained all I needed/wanted/could, I executed, stayed present throughout. I saw the times in training knowing the pace and strength was there.
Race week was incredible. Not because it was race week, but instead I managed to stay as far away from the race as logistically possible. Bringing my daughter Ruby made this great. Snorkeling, surfing, beach days, swimming with turtles, dolphins and whatever else came around on our daily trips around the Big Island. Body still felt great and come race morning all was primed for a memorable Kona.
Swim: I made one strategic mistake in my planning for the race. I got so beat up and annoyed by past Kona starts that this day I committed to starting back a few people and not swimming hard off the start. BIG mistake – I was way too comfortable early on and was able to just roll into my inside the buoy line track with relaxed freestyle. Never settled into a good speed and rhythm – and while inside that buoy line I came across WAY more surfboards and paddlers than past years – and when I say inside buoy line, I mean I am basically swimming ON the line but passing each buoy on the right – besides the turn buoys. BAM – I get smacked hard in the head – an SUP guy was backing up from others swimmers ahead and brought the paddle directly on the top of my head. Dazed and surprised I swam a few breaststrokes and gradually put myself back into race mode. It wasn’t long until I started feeling a bit nauseous – I attribute that to swallowing some seawater when getting bonked or while getting myself going from awkward breaststroke to freestyle again. The swim then just happens – I don’t feel much – remember much – I just swim. I do notice I am swimming somewhat solo – no groups around me, and know that its not because I am that far ahead…. Out of the water in an underwhelming 56 minutes.
Bike: Once out on the bike I settle in ok. The 7.5 miles in town go well, very relaxed with watts dead on where they need to be. But out on the Queen K I quickly notice that things are off: headache and some more nausea. I don’t think it has anything to do with the paddle bonk, more that I might have swallowed too much salt water. I hold off on eating and drinking to allow the nausea pass. I am confident it will. In this window though I notice huge groups of draft packs riding by…like 20-30 guys riding in big groups, sitting up. I pass penalty tents with 25-30 cyclists backed up. Yet only 5 stopwatches to hold, so people are just signing in and off they go – no 4 minutes. Riders ride past me laughing about how ridiculous it is – having conversations! I am disheartened – I am distracted – I lose focus and confidence. Not in my ability but instead where I am in the race (placing) and question my desire to push back to the front. I am feeling better now – have started eating, hydrating but am distracted by the single column of riders up to Hawi – most, practically all – riding too close, constantly looking over their shoulder to see if the motorcycle is coming. It’s a joke.
I get to Hawi and I start snapping out of it. I will make the best of this day. I will make it respectable. I let go of any visions of placing well, but I will enjoy Kona, I will honor all the training I have done leading up to this. I will get back and run a solid marathon – see Ruby – and enjoy having her here in Kona with me on the course.
I ride home with higher watts than the 60 miles prior – rising wattage ride as many of you know from my coaching. I know I can run off that – I have done it plenty in training. The course has emptied out a bit, but still see bigger single file groups riding way too close. But now I don’t care – I have resigned to this being Kona. I actually ride past two guys – big guys – look at them and say “really? – you are just going to keep cheating like this?” – and ride on. Well, Head referee Jimmy Riccitello rolls up and gives them both penalties – good.
5:12 bike – my slowest split in 8 years. Darn. But roll into T2 feeling present – good – relaxed and enjoying the race!
Run: I have one goal – run well. Not hard, instead well. Well means steady – relaxed – present – soaking it all in. Not easy, instead I want to see how it all shakes out. I actually have a tiny voice in my head that thinks I can run a PR in Kona. That would be 3:06 or better. The first few miles feel great and relaxed – as they should, I only really rode 2.5 hrs at race watts of the 5 I was supposed to! Quickly the miles start ticking off and before I know it I have run the out and back on Alii (9miles). At no point do I think of placing. I don’t ask anybody – I am really not concerned as I am committed to running well, and having a respectable finish.
NOTE: we ALWAYS regret missing time on the run. I would be lying to say I did not look at my bike time/race time and shake my head in frustration. Even the 5-7 minutes I could have pushed up to Hawi from Kuahai would have made for a better time (not result since I am not thinking result at this point). In past years I have ridden up to Hawi in 52-57 minutes, this year a solid 1:07…ugh….My thinking here is “if I run 3:06-3:10 my time is XX, but had I gotten my head out of my a$$ earlier, it would now be 9:15-9:19 which sounds nicer than 9:20+”….
I hit 10 miles in 1:09, hit 13 miles in 1:30 something…Of course I know the hard part of the course remains ahead – but I feel good about the pace & effort balance. Queen K on the way to Energy Lab becomes a steady run – with a few other guys we are just in a zombie run: emotionless, in synch, running along this desolate stretch. In the corner of my eye I notice the sign at mile 13 “no bikes, scooters, motor vehicles or spectators past this point” – they shut down the road at this point, as in past years it would become this huge entourage next to the race leaders. I think to myself: well, this is it – from here on out it is whatever result you are in – nobody is out there to tell you, help you know any different…and I am, again, fine with that. I have no idea anyways who is where or what that means anyways!
I hit energy lab, and sure enough – there is my first difficult stretch – hit a bit of a side stitch – which seems to be something common at mile 16-18. I stop and stretch it –to no avail – I get to the RedBull tent and stop to exhale a bit, grab some Red Bull and give myself 60 sec to get it sorted. Well, Caitlin Snow comes by, I grab Red Bull and a big bottle of water and off we go to run. I know the water is too much for me – so I pour half the bottle on her – get my act together again and carefully run again. As you all know with sidestitch, if you carefully, gradually allow yourself to exhale, run, relax, and shorten your stride, it slowly works itself out. By mile 19 I am back in stride. The stop and RedBull tent cost me about 2 min.
Now, usually, this is where in past Konas I have been able to push another gear. Not because of fitness, or smelling the barn. No, its usually because I am chasing someone – I have seen them on the turn and know what I am trying to catch. This year I try to push a bit, but soon I run out of ‘push’. Not desire because I keep running solid, but just not the pushing, snot blowing, grunting, driving hard effort running. I just stay steady. I even get to the top of Palani, with the last 1.2 miles downhill and flat, yet don’t crush myself on the down. I say “don’t ruin your legs, you wanna have fun tomorrow with Ruby”. I roll onto Alii Drive, Nick with Ruby are there – we take pictures, even a selfie – and I run in it into finish. I feel fine – I walk through finish area – grab my water, Tshirt, medal and head out to see Ruby…
SO – what did I learn? Where does this leave me 2 weeks out of Kona? As many of you always hear from me, I like to wait 2 weeks after IM to allow emotions to settle down, in order to take a more pragmatic approach to this all-consuming sport. I have concluded I had a variety of issues on race day:
Positioning – I usually do not see the race from this perspective. I swim off the front and can count the people in my age group (or all age groups for that matter) that pass me. I see if there is anybody out of the swim ahead of me. This was not possible in Kona this year. I lost touch with the groups ahead of me on the swim, and then the draft packs did not allow me to count the race number range of my age group. I was racing blind. Or, for that matter, I was reliant on outside information in order to know where I stand in the AG race.
Distraction – I let the race distract me. With the draft packs rolling up, and their nonchalant attitude towards cheating I was annoyed, disgusted, demoralized by the sport. I allowed my emotions of the moment to dictate my racing. Because of this I paced my day instead of raced my day.
Strategy – While drafters are always in the race, usually I am ahead of them and although they approach, catch up, even pass me – their back half is usually slower (which it was here in Kona too as I rode the fastest back half in the AG) and it puts me right back to, or at least close to, where I need to be for the run. Can you say to always just race hard? Yes, but Kona is a different animal and the depth of the field usually does not allow blind racing in order to have a top result. This applies to the pro field too – those that race hard and blind get strategically outmaneuvered by the strong runners either way.
Poor planning – while this is not something I beat myself up for, I should have had the conversation on an update with Nick, or Jordan, or Dougy T – or even Ruby. Or Taylor, Ryanne or or or. Plenty of people I knew on the course, I just never – in all my 32 IMs – have ever not known my general place and where I need to be/get to in order to have my result. And although Ironmanlive was down for a bit, and even though there are stretches where the updates are not allowed, HAD I known at mile 9, 10, 11 or 12 where I stand, the 3-4-5 minutes could have easily been found. The argument here is why not just run your hardest/best? Because there is always another gear for me when ‘racing’ vs. in your own world, head, place…
Trust – I did not trust in my strength, fitness, knowledge, and experience. I was going to Kona with the goal of winning my AG. If that is the case, I should have believed that despite things going wrong, despite falling back and the day unwinding differently, that I would not be THAT far off. I swam comfortably; I rode Z2 HR/watts the first 3 hrs. I should have trusted that despite those bike numbers and swim time I would still be near the top of the AG. I did not think with logic – I thought with emotion.
Do I regret my day in Kona? No way. I got 3rd on a comfortable day, I know that HAD I lined up against the top 2 in my AG that day – head to head or the top 10, I would have beaten them in an open competition without drafting. I had a wonderful week with Ruby, I had friends there that reinforced our friendship. I was healthy, I enjoyed the race, I smiled, I helped others, I was relaxed and did not take myself too seriously (which has happened in the past). I actually enjoyed a race day in Kona, soaking in the people and the environment. The only thing I look back upon and wonder is HAD I had the opportunity to race, to dig deep, to really push, to chase or even run scared (if I were up front) – what would that day have felt like?
In training I go through a lot of visualization, I save parts of my mind for race day in order to envision where I will be and how to be in the moment. I like to run that course in Kona with stretches of allowing my mind to go to other places (home, long training day, places I have had hard yet effective training days, etc.) in order to really push. I enjoy that process: to close my eyes in Kona and go to the Silverado trail, to go to the Pacific Crest in Tahoe, to go to my 100 miler in February. Because of my issues mentioned above – I never got into the moment of that fun process. That is part of racing. Competition. I regret not having the opportunity to dig in, to go ‘there’, to go to that dark place where you can only get to when r-a-c-i-n-g… In the moment of that day 2 weeks ago, I was ok with not being there because I was certain my placing was not significant, and therefore I should only focus on the opportunity of the day, the privilege and the fun of Kona – a perspective and view I rarely get to take in when racing the day hard instead…Don’t worry; there is a big enough voice in my head saying “excuses, excuses dude…”
With the paddle incident, and my first 2 hours recovering, it would be easy to look for the 144 seconds to 1st place there. But, there were plenty of minutes on the bike and run to have been found with the issues listed above. No excuses. 2 weeks after the race, I actually look at the paddle incident as something that could have worked to my advantage, as a blessing in disguise. Yet I did not take advantage of my day, the real estate remaining. Its hard to recognize this in the moment, but it was there – the opportunity was presented to run myself to the front, a storybook ending to win an AG. This will remain with me – that rare chance to do something special like that. If ever again, I will script it differently.
As this email went out last year after Tahoe and what I need to focus on, here too, I see the lessons learned from this day. I know what needs to be done, where the blind spots are (as always – we never stop learning). But now I need to decide whether I go back or accept that Ironman is in the business of selling emotions, not really about racing world championships like other true sporting events. This might read that I am bitter, but I am actually relieved to have gained this perspective on our sport: that it is fiction, an event created as a challenge/dare, that now has moved on to being a business. While some may argue the Olympics are a business too, the underlying sports are structured differently. You have federations, validated distances, officials that are professionals in monitoring the performances of the sport. They have been officials at national and international competitions for years, and then a rare few are chosen to be at the World Champs or Olympics. You don’t have volunteers and part time racers deciding the outcome of the world championships on the back of a motorcycle. You have an opportunity to race in your sport – to compete – not just see how the day ‘shakes out’.
Understanding all this, and having this years’ perspective, I know how to approach the race next year. Or not. But as a close friend told me the other day: “maybe Ironman isn’t done with you yet. Maybe it wants you to come back – to continue to be a part of it as a racer vs. just a coach”.