Thursday, October 18, 2012


Hawaii Ironman World Championships
October 13, 2012
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

Swim 2.4 miles
Bike 112 miles
Run 26.2 miles
Total 140.6 miles
Brag the rest of your life

It is very possible that if you are reading this, what I am about to write in the following paragraph is very old news, so to those of you who know me well, I apologize. 

Eight years ago this month,  Kim and I made our first trip to The Big Island to spectate at the Hawaii Ironman.  Back then I was strictly a runner with no swim background, and I had not been on a bike since I was fourteen years old.  After volunteering at Ironman Hawaii with Kim, the idea of doing a triathlon someday was planted firmly in my mind, along with the understanding I would never, ever, ever try an Ironman.  I did not even know the distances, I just knew it was sort of ridiculous. 

I was somehow caught up in the triathlon vortex, and knew I was destined to give a triathlon a "go".  A triathlon yes, an friggin way.
After all, I was a non-swimmer and non-biker, along with the fact that this type of feat was reserved for only for the most fit people in the world. 

This past week, I completed my eleventh Ironman, with three of them the World Championships in Kona.  I would have never fathomed, or even dared to dream of this back in 2004.  Qualifying for Hawaii has gotten progressively more difficult over the years with fewer Hawaii slots, and better competition showing up at every qualifying Ironman race.  This year I qualified for Hawaii at Ironman Canada, which was held at the end of August.  This meant I would have to turn around and race Hawaii in just six weeks; the shortest amount of time by far between Ironman races for me.

If you have never been to the Big Island, I can attest to its rugged and massive beauty.  Enormous lava flows have peppered the landscape with rock and terrain that seems other worldly.  Kialua-Kona is perched right on the amazing and pristine waters of the Pacific Ocean.  Sea Turtles, dolphins, manta rays, coral, and fish of all colors and sizes abound.  Kona is also hot, humid, and windy.  I mean real hot, real humid, and really windy. The Big Island was an acquired taste for me.  I must admit, I have fallen pretty hard for it.  Perfect conditions to stage one of the most brutal endurance events in the world.
We journeyed to Hawaii nine days before the big event.  For me, pre-race is a wonderful experience of spending time with friends, frolicking in the ocean, going out for runs on Ali'i Drive, bike rides on the Queen K, mingling with the professional triathletes, and can't forget the fabulous breakfasts at Lava Java.  If that was not enough, we enjoyed some great dinners at some of our favorite spots.  We rented a house that was situated right on Ali'i Drive (the run course), that was oceanfront.  We could feel the ocean spray from our deck.

Hawaii has been a happy place for me since our maiden trip over 26 years ago!  Kim and I always try to figure how many trips we have made here, but we simply can't remember them all.
O'hana is family. O'hana means the world to me.  I am not coming back to Hawaii without Tony, Sabra, Erik, and Jessica. With our busy schedules it was nearly impossible to make it happen this year.  Our O'hana became our California O'hana which was the Song clan, the Chriss's, the Callender's, the Rhode's, the Gilles/Kraus team. 

The Race

Race morning I had my alarm set for 4am.  I had not slept great the night before (2 nights before the race), but the night before the race, I was sleeping like a baby.  All good until my fine son Erik called me from the U.K.  at 3am.  He thought the race was the next day.  I ate some food and drank some coffee, then Kim, Scott, and Stacy took me down to race central.  The ritual of body marking and final bike checking was very festive.  Some fellow athletes looked pretty scared, while a few were jovial and sucking up the atmosphere. 

It is not hard to get amped up with helicopters flying overhead and thousands jammed like sardines all around Kialua Bay to witness the mass swim start for the 1800 athletes from around the world competing in this epic event.  There was not an empty rooftop within site; everyone was jammed into this fishbowl to catch a decent view of one of the most amazing things in endurance sport; the swim start for the Ironman.
For the triathlon world, Kona is THE defining event; the tri-Super Bowl. 
Money doesn't punch your ticket to Kona; talent does.

I met up with my friend Jeff Rhodes in the transition area who I have trained with for many years.  Jeff was about to attempt his 21st Ironman, and his very first Hawaii race.  We have done other Ironman races together.  Jeff was loose and cool as a cucumber.  20 prior Ironman races is a pretty amazing experience.  It was nearing 7am, and the announcers were aggressively telling athletes to get into the water. Jeff and I swam out to the start line, began treading water, and in no time, the cannon exploded and so did 1800 triathletes, all headed to the same spot.


Hawaii is the only Ironman race I have done where I have not worn a wetsuit.  Swimming in a wetsuit is a big advantage as it improves buoyancy, but in the warm Pacific waters, they are not allowed.

I had my best swim this year in Hawaii finishing in 1h17' on what everyone said was a slower year due to the ocean swells.  There was the normal colliding with fellow triathletes, and the normal amount of body contact you might expect , but I am declaring this one of the easiest swims I have done in an Ironman.  I did a great job finding feet to draft off of.  It was cool to see the scuba divers with cameras beneath us.  As I was exiting the swim ramp, guess who should appear at the exact moment?  If you guessed Jeff, you were right.

I entered the change tent feeling fantastic.  2.4 miles of swimming done, and only 112 miles of biking and a marathon to go!  I beat Jeff out of the change room, but could not  get my zipper on my top to zip; CRAP.  A volunteer helped me and Jeff and we jumped on our bikes and took off.  This is all "just happening" with no plan in play.


The crowd and the race is intense beyond what I can describe with words.  This Ironman has all the "bad asses" from around the globe who have been at the top of their divisions.  I was competing in the 55-59 year old group, while Jeff is in the 45-49 year old age group.  Everyone here is really fit, and most have been on the podium at prior races.  As I got to about mile 7 on the bike, Jeff was "soft pedaling", basically waiting for me to catch up.  This was amazing and took me by surprise. 

Having done Hawaii twice before, and training here, I am very intimate with the course layout and how the conditions can vary greatly from year to year.

For 5h55' and 112 miles, Jeff and I rode together.  There is no comparing Jeff and I on the bike; he is  a UBER cyclist.  In many of his previous races he is best in his class on the bike.  Basically, Jeff spent the day waiting up for me, and sacrificing untold time on his bike split.  Jeff normally has better bike times than most the women professionals.

The conditions on the bike this year, versus last year were markedly different.  Remember the HEAT, HUMIDITY, WIND?  They were out in full force on race day.  At about mile 72, one still has 40 more miles to bike.  That is about where the turn from Kawaihae takes you back to town. 
This is where block headwinds greeted us, and made the final leg of the bike a veritable suffert-fest.  Jeff (no man left behind)  kept waiting for me. He made it look like cake.

I kept grinding, and soon we had finished 112 miles of biking together on the famed Queen K, where dreams have and were crushed today.  This ride was 12 minutes slower than last year for me, and largely due to the much tougher conditions on the bike.  I adopted a more ambitious hydration strategy, and it paid off for me big later in the race.  OK, let's go run a marathon!


We entered T2 together, and Jeff was all shits and giggles.  My legs felt pretty cooked. This was surreal.  I was racing with a good friend.  What's up with that? 
It is fairly daunting to think about a marathon, but with Jeff and I running together, it might not be so bad.  In the spirit of full disclosure, Jeff had just done Ironman Wisconsin 4 weeks ago, and his calf muscle on his right leg was an utter mess.

We took it out easy breezy, with the idea that we would go faster later on.  The race starts with a 10 mile out/back on Ali'i Drive, and happens to go right by the house we rented.  At mile 3,  Kyle was there to root us on and run along with us for a few minutes,  shouting words of encouragement.  I tossed him my heart rate monitor, as the pace was easy and my heart rate was very low.  As we got to mile 4.5, Kim, Scott, Stacy had set up a private aid station for our benefit.  It was fantastic.  What a support crew; we stopped, hugged, laughed, and took advantage of the illegal aid station they set up. 

Like Jeff on the bike, I could have pushed the pace faster as running is my specialty.  Jeff, nursing injury was running great, but could not push his pace given his calf issue.  We toughed it out on the 10 mile out/back, then had to climb Pay N Save hill to head to  the last 16 miles of the marathon , mostly on the Queen K.  Not to forget the legendary "pit of dispare" in the Energy Lab!  It was somewhat miserable, but I thought manageable.

As we ran the Queen, Jeff was starting to suffer.  Suffering can be good for your soul people.  It is a phenomenon that is difficult to explain, but it is cleansing, and something that greatness is born and created from. .  The miles were clicking off, as we doused ourselves with ice, with water, and drank lots of coke, and pretty much anything we could grab at each of the aid stations that were positioned 1 mile apart. 

As easy as the bike was for Jeff, the run was for me.  I had to dig a bit, but not go DEEP and to the place where I hate life, I hate everyone around me, and where I just want to say screw it and go fetal!

Jeff had giving me pep talks the entire 112 miles on the bike, so I tried to return the favor on the run.  He probably should have waived off this race, but who knows if there will be a second chance.  Shouldn't we embrace life with that kind of killer instinct? 
Who knows if we will get a second chance?  Jeff is one determined and strong Marine. I know he went deep to get this race done, when there were many who dropped out and did not finish.  I think most in Jeff's camp would have bailed and not finished.

With a few miles left I could taste the finish. I think Jeff could too.  We got very chatty and the crowds were incredibly encouraging. We really were unconcerned with the time as we were going to finish our marathon in 4h 20'.  There are no podiums for us at Kona....ever!  We know it, and we are all good with that.  Our friend Sara gave us a victory jog next to us, my wife Kim who is having surgery on her left knee, and a full knee replacement on her right knee, ran next to us as we entered the finish chute.  That is amazing.

High fives greeting us as we danced to the finish.  Ten yards before the finish, we began to walk, we locked arms, and crossed the line with some pretty big fat smiles on our faces.  Once I crossed, I was caught by friends Scott and Stacy.  A finisher medal, a lei, reunited with Kim, and me barely able to walk.  I was a cooked goose and happy to be done baby.  This race was amazing.  It was an epic journey I won't ever forget.  Spending the day running, talking, and suffering with Jeff was awesome.  Finish time be "damned", it was all about the journey...

Ironman Hawaii #3 completed.
Ironman #11 completed.
Being extraordinarily humbled and thankful for what I have been able to do.
Competing and completing the entire day for 11h51' with my friend Jeff;

Jeff asked me before the race if I knew what Semper Fi meant.  Look it up if you don't know what it means...



Thursday, October 11, 2012

OK....the wait is almost over!

Less than 2 days till I enter the lovely blue and warm 
waters of Kialua Bay 
in beautiful Kona, Hawaii 
for the Ironman World Championship.  

It has been a fun week hustling around, 
swimming most days, 
biking and running other days.  
Today was a swim with my friends Scott/Mark/Jeff/Kyle.  

We swam out to the Coffee's of Hawaii 
catamaran to enjoy a nice shot of espresso 
about 1/4 mile out in the ocean.  
Fun to hang on the boat 
while sipping coffee!

 It is simply a blast being able to train and be with friends
 on this legendary course.  

I have experienced mild (by Kona standards) weather, 
and I have had some brutally hot runs, with
 one very memorable one in the famed 
Hawaii Natural Energy Lab.  
This is a piece of the run course
where most are suffering mightily.

 This will be Ironman number 11 for me, and my 3rd go at Hawaii.  
My two prior races have been clocked at 11h33' and 11h36'.

We will see if I can improve a little bit on that.  Most important was 
getting her to Kona and being able to race with the pros, 
and some of the fittest if not THE fittest
people on the planet, is a humbling, wonderful, 
and thankful experience for me.