After a pair of major breakthroughs at Kona and IMAZ last year, I set some admittedly lofty goals for myself this year at Kona. One of those goals was to finish in the top 5 in my Age Group; I figured a performance along the lines of IMAZ would put me in strong contention for this.
We arrived on the Big Island on Saturday, with my plan to do my last “long” workout on Sunday. Aside from a slight worry about my left calf, which was pretty tender due to a bad cramp during a swim session on Friday prior to leaving Milwaukee, race week unfolded great. My Monday 1,000 timed effort was a massive PR, and my other workouts felt great.
Wednesday I woke up with a slight sore throat, but I didn’t notice it once the day got rolling, Thursday it was pretty noticeable all day, but I otherwise felt fine. On Friday I woke up and just didn’t feel right, my pre-race S/B/R workout just didn’t have the magic I’d been feeling all week, my legs felt heavy and lethargic, and my throat was really sore.
I cut the session a little short, and picked up some Emergen-C at Target. I spent the rest of the day relaxing as much as I could, and only left the condo again for the short trip to the pier to drop my gear off.
I figured I was suffering the curse of “You have a two year old living in your house”, but rather than freak out about being sick/off/etc for the race, I simply told myself – you’ve had solid key workouts feeling worse than this. Stay calm and focus on controlling what you can control.
I woke up race morning not noticing the sore throat, but still feeling heavy like I had the previous day.
I lined up in roughly the middle of the starting line, in the first/second row. I was fortunate enough to overhear someone talking that he was going to swim a 51, so I figured I was likely in a good spot, and just camped out the next 10 minutes or so waiting for the cannon.
As the clock turned over to 7 am, instead of the cannon, we were sent on our way by Mike Reilly yelling “GO, GO, GO, GO”
During the scrum that is the first few hundred meters of the swim, I focused on keeping under the red-line and staying relaxed. The crowd thinned out sooner than I expected it to and I settled in on a pair of feet. I was able to pretty comfortably follow the train of swimmers around the course, but my legs felt like logs dragging me down. A few times during the swim the thought of DNF’ing popped into my mind – I simply wasn’t enjoying it, and felt off.
A few times I tested dropping out of the draft to see how quickly we were moving, and each time it took a noticeable increase in RPE to keep with the group.
I exited the water with my watch reading 54, which left me quite a bit happier than the 56 I saw last year.
I moved through T1 quickly, only needed to strip my speedsuit and grab my number belt before heading to my bike.
Immediately on the bike, my hip flexors and legs were screaming. They literally hurt every pedal stroke. It felt like someone was stabbing me over and over and over. As I struggled to ride the opening miles of the course at my planned target wattage, I relaxed a bit and focused on just doing what I could. I was encouraged by the fact that riding at the same power as last year felt reasonable, but my hips still screamed.
I debated for a bit about calling it a day, or just ticking the Finisher box, but I decided that I was going to kick that devil in the nuts and make something happen.
Things progressed pretty much unchanged, until the turn at Kawihae, shortly after the turn I was swallowed up by what seemed like hundreds of folks (depressing). While some of the folks didn’t seem to be riding entirely honestly, there were marshals all over the place and the penalty tents were full.
Heading up to Hawi I was dreading the pleasant tailwind and downhill – with how my legs felt and my (continued) lack of desire for the effort I was fearful that I would have a difficult time keeping the power going, which the incline and the winds were forcing me to do.
When I turned back on to the Queen K, it seemed a Godsend to see mile marker 80, only 32 miles to go. Like the swim, quitting was never far from my mind: I wasn’t comfortable on the bike, I was sore, I wasn’t having fun. The only thing keeping me from stopping was that I wasn’t able to reconcile quitting simply because it sucked against all the effort I put into preparing for this day, the cost of the trip, and everything that my family put up with for me to be here.
Around the 85 mile mark an interesting thing started happening: my legs stopped complaining, my power output started to increase again and I started passing people – a lot of people.
I rolled into T2 feeling better about things: my bike split was essentially the same as last year, even a bad run would give me a finish time close to last year, and I was feeling motivated. The run through T2 was just like at IMCDA – stiff and awkward (I have to run a marathon? Really?)
I exited T2 and focused on running an easy relaxed race, at this point my GPS wasn’t reading, and I figured I was totally out of contention for awards – so all that mattered was having fun. After a couple miles of running I settled in with Kyle (who went on to be 2nd in M25-29). We were ticking off mile after mile at ~6:50. I liberally applied sponges, ice, and water to all the important places, along with some coke and Perform at each aid station.
At mile ~8 I passed by Mary and Ethan in front of our condo, and she told me I was 5th in my AG. I was shocked, while I knew I was running fast, I couldn’t believe that I was there – and I felt great. In retrospect, I believe this knowledge unleashed a bit of competitiveness as I started to be less diligent with cooling at aid stations, which may have hurt me later in the run.
Kyle and I exchanged a few war stories, and other idle chit-chat to pass the time. It was great to run with someone, it made the miles pass by much quicker.
As the minutes passed, we worked our way back into town and up on the Queen K, where by my estimation I had moved up to 3rd place and still on pace for a very fast run. Unfortunately, around mile 12 I suddenly had the very strong need to use the rest room, at this point I was half-way between aid stations. I debated the merits of holding off until the aid station or letting it go, ultimately I decided to hit the aid station as running 14 miles with a warm ice cream cone in my tri-suit wasn’t appealing.
I was in and out pretty quickly, wishing I had just kept running as it was mostly a blowout with a couple easy to deal with rabbit turds and not a full blown disaster.
I could see Kyle approximately 45ish seconds up the road, and just settled back in my pace and things continued fine for another 2 miles. Around mile 15 I just started to inexplicably slowdown and started to feel funny. My vision was narrowing; I was seeing fireworks/flashes in my vision – after a few minutes of this, I took a 1 minute walking break, hoping I could just “reset” things. I got back on the horse for 2 minutes after that – and it took a monumental effort to tick off 8:30s, and things definitely weren’t improving.
At this point it seemed like the entire field passed me. Fortunately, I was only a handful of yards from the aid station at the Energy Lab entrance. Somehow I ended up with an ice cold quart bottle of water in my hands, which I proceeded to dump on my head. After about 5 minutes of walking down into the Energy Lab, I needed to fish or cut bait, so I set out to see how things felt. Surprisingly, 9 min/mi came pretty easy, and then I found 8 min/mi wasn’t so bad, and pretty soon I was ticking off some strong 7:30 miles and found myself doing the math game: X miles times current Pace + a little = Y minutes left, means Z finishing time.
The rest of the race went by pretty quickly, I took my time in the aid stations getting plenty of fluids and searching out cold bottles to drench myself with.
I finished up the day in 9:25:08 – a 10 minute improvement over 2011 on a day that saw many people go slower than last year. I also managed to finish 14th in my AG, and 81st overall – not a bad day.
To top it off, I managed to claw myself into 3rd place in my AG for a time on a day that saw me not in it mentally or physically for much of the day.
Definitely not the result I had in mind, but I have never before dug this deep for a performance, and am very happy with the result because sometimes you simply can’t beat a refreshing glass of homemade lemonade.