Race day turned out to be very different than expected—relatively cool with light winds and temperatures that only reached the low 90s. I was dropped early by the lead pack in the swim and reached the shore in 31 minutes, more than three minutes slower than my usual 1.2-mile swim, making me realize the downside of cutting back on my swimming workouts. But I kept to my plan, riding conservatively on the hills and staying hydrated. The first part of my run was hampered by GI problems and three visits to Porta-Pottys in the first loop. But by the second and third loop, I was feeling great and running seven-minute miles. I ran hard and finished seventh in 5:08, the first American finisher in my age group. I figured my strong finish was a good indicator of my fitness for my “A” race—Kona.
I recovered for a week, then ramped it up again three weeks before Kona with my longest ride of the summer, a 162-mile, nine-plus-hour bike with one of my regular riding buddies. I knew that mega-workout—plus another weekend hammerfest two weeks prior when I rode five hours on Saturday, ran a half-marathon race on Sunday morning, then got back on the bike for another five-hour ride—would be not only a good physical test, but prepare me mentally for the tortuous conditions I’d be facing in Kona.
My taper for the two weeks leading up to Kona were focused on getting back some of my swim fitness, so I backed off sharply on my running and cycling, and swam nearly every day to regain the feel of the water. When the cannon finally exploded over Kailua Bay for the start of Ironman Hawaii, my swim felt like it was back to normal and I exited the water in 1:02, about where I expected given the slower swim times from the day’s ocean currents. The first part of the bike felt easy, and by the 30-mile checkpoint I had ridden my way into first place in my age group. But stomach problems from the saltwater on my way to Hawi led to GI distress on the return trip, requiring a pit stop before Kawaihae. I rode back into Kona in 5:33, insixth place with my fastest bike time ever in Hawaii. As soon as I got off the bike, the GI problems returned with a vengeance, reducing the first 20 miles of my run to a series of sprints, jogs and walks from one Porta-Potty to another.
I kept positive mentally, remembering how I felt the previous year when I strained my lower back two nights before the race and then somehow made it to the finish line. I started by telling myself I’m on pace for a 10:30 and a podium finish if my legs come back like they did in Vegas. When they didn’t, I kept going with hopes of a 10:40 finish, then 10:50 and finally, as I ran the last 6 miles as hard as I could with the hope of breaking 11 hours, finished in 11:04, 11th in my age group. Not my best performance on the Big Island, but overall I’m pretty pleased with how things turned out. My bike split in Kona proved my new approach made a difference and, I believe, will allow me to one day be competitive in this race. And I’m already getting a head start on my cycling this season. With enough work, I’m hoping I can eventually turn my weakness into a weapon.