God, what an experience Hawaii puts you through! Of the many times I've raced here, it feels as though I'm doing it for the first time once again - sort of. There are some memories that become ingrained like the fact that at some point, you are going to be in a really low place and this is when you will learn a ton about what you are made of. I have yet to do a Hawaii IM where I didn't struggle physically and mentally at some point. If someone says that they have raced here and everything went flawless and they felt super the whole time, I'm calling bullshit.
I slept well on the eve of the race. Lisa and I ordered room service, she was out by 7pm, I was out by around 8pm. I slept until 3:45am, waking up without my alarm, anxious to get the day started. Two bagels with peanut butter, a chocolate chip cliff bar, a banana, a glass of oj, and a cup of coffee, and breakfast was in me and I was on my way to the pier.
Check in, body marking and all the pre race protocol went smoothly, they really do an amazing job with the organization of this event. I met Lisa outside of the transition area, and applied about five layers of sunscreen. Seriously. You could feel and see the nervous energy around you. All the competitors had that look in their eyes that was half courageous and half timid. I'm sure I was one of them. It was humid already even though the sun was barely up. Humid to the point where sitting there doing nothing, you are still in a sweat. I thought it may have just been the pre-race nerves, but looking around at the perspiration on those not racing, it was evident that it was going to be a very sticky day.
I had re-evaluated my race day strategy and my new plan was to swim and bike easy, as though I were doing an easy training session. I had been in Kona for five days now trying to acclimate and it just wasn't enough time. i was mentally trying to convince myself all week that the heat wouldn't matter because I was more fit than ever, yet if your gut doesn't buy it... I was more fit than ever but I knew that I wasn't acclimating to the weather like I had in the past. i could just tell - it was similar to how I felt in St. Croix leading up to that race. Besides the exceptionally hot and humid weather and lack of winds that Kona was experiencing, the mild summer in CT certainly played a big part. All the pros and most of the top age groupers had been on the island for two weeks or more to adapt, and all the studies show that it takes a minimal of eight days to really begin to acclimatize to high heat and humidity. I couldn't get out here any earlier and so took a chance that I'd be fine. I wanted to start the run as fresh as possible, considering I had to swim and ride a bit beforehand. So the plan was to enjoy the swim and keep it easy, and set specific wattage ceilings for the bike course.
I downed a flask of ESF liquid shot for another instant 400 calories (I really like this stuff!), then gave Lisa a big hug and she began to well up as I made my way to the swim start. Funny, I hate to overdramatize things yet there is something about race morning of an IM that makes those around you very emotional.
I seeded myself in the front row, very far to the left, or outside line. The swim is a 1.15 mile straight out, swim .1 around some buoys, then 1.15 mile straight return trip. Ok, before describing the swim, first a brief synapses of my swim training for this event. I have often mentioned how I neglect my swimming and don't swim nearly enough. In the past, I'd cram for an IM swim and would try interjecting a lot of intervals into my sparse training. this would leave me flat because I never really established the seasonal base swim fitness to support this, and I'd work harder than I'd prefer to over the 2.4 miles on race day. So this time, I focused on longer, but easier distance. I did quite a few open water swims in LI Sound, and when in the pool, I focused mostly on form, efficiency, and feel for the water while aiming for 4000 yds. I swam twice per week for eight weeks leading into the race. I missed two weeks out because of this cold I contracted, but did swim four days during race week - four nice and easy swims. So now I'm treading water for 15 minutes waiting for the gun to fire as the competitors around me squeeze in closer and closer and inch further and further forward, kicking our legs as we try to stay afloat. I actually grabbed one European guy who was really crowding me and threw him as I scolded him. That bought me a bit more space from the others around me who witnessed this. We were all very anxious and our nerves were on edge making it easy to over react to small things.
Finally, the gun sounded and the mad frenzy of 1800 swimmers crammed into a small space and thrashing forward began. I swam straight forward and even though the plan was to swim easy, I thought I'd take the first 100 strokes fairly hard to see if I could get on some fast feet and maybe get some open water. I then settled in and focused on relaxing. I did swim easy effort wise, although I got the shit beat out of me through just about the whole swim. Everyone is so good at Hawaii and it never thins out. For 2.4 miles, you are constantly getting kicked, punched, swam over and pulled under. It's not that the competitors are doing this intentionally, everyone is kind of fighting for their own space. Yet everyone is also trying to follow someone elses feet and there is a constant fight for this. I do have to say though that the women are worse than the men in terms of fighting for space! They kick harder, scratch and seem to want to swim right on top of you. As much as I discussed my love of swimming at the pier during race week, it's as though you are swimming in a different place on race day and it's really not that enjoyable at all. You no longer are swimming smoothly looking at all the sea life underneath you but instead are thrashing and fighting, trying to keep some form. I do have to say though that effort wise, the swim felt smooth and easy and right on track with my race day plan. I'm a counter to pass the time and stay present, so I count 100 strokes on my right arm, 100 strokes on my left, ... Figuring the math in my head, i guessed it would take around 900 strokes to reach the turnaround and I was dead on track. Coming back was a bit more due to the reverse current. I never felt throughout the swim that I was tired and never thought much about what I still had left for the day - things I have done before in previous IM's and things that aren't productive. I exited the pacific in 1 hr and made my way through T1. There were a ton of athletes who came out between 59 minutes and 1 hr 1 minute making T1 frantic with energy. But, I had one leg down, and only two more to go and thus far, I was relaxed and actually enjoying the day! However, the swim is the easiest and shortest leg there was a lot of day left...