Saturday, October 17, 2009

Kona Report - The Run

Here's where it get's interesting!

T2 was just as hectic as T1. There were athletes everywhere in the tent, yet the volunteers kept the chaos somewhat organized. The volunteers at this race are amazing. First, there are a ton of them, and next, they are really into it. I sat down on a chair to get my race flats on (I wore a pair of Adidas racing flats designed for the marathon which I loved - typically I advise athletes to wear a light weight trainer in an IM for the extra cushioning for a beat up muscular and skeletal system, however these shoes worked great) and a volunteer slapped a cold towel over my back and neck which just felt great. They had another guy asking if I wanted sunblock while another one helped me bag up my bike gear.

I left the transition with my legs feeling good and settling right into a comfortable pace, yet my core temperature was quite high and I was feeling it. The first mile went by quick though and I soon hit the first aid station where I grabbed water, took a sip and poured the rest over my head, grabbed a sip of coke and some cold sponges and headed on towards the next aid station another mile up the road.

The first 10 miles of the run is an out and back along Alii Drive. There are a lot of spectators here cheering you on and as cool as that is, I really dislike this section of the course. The buildings along Alii block any wind from coming through and the air temperatures were now in the high 90's to low 100's. Because it's also so humid, the smells along Alii are really pungent. If you weren't nauseous enough already, this section will put you over the top. I actually prefer being back out on the desolation of the Queen K, but had to wait until mile 11 to get there.

I was only in mile two of the run and with each step, I could feel my body temperature rising more and more. My head felt like it was baking inside my hat. I knew I was in trouble and was doing everything possible to not think about the 24.5 miles I still had left to run. I laughed to myself at the thought that some athletes believe an open marathon is harder than an IM. I began counting, which again, works for me usually. I counted 100 strikes with my left foot, then 100 with my right, then 95 with my left, ... I rolled through aid station two and grabbed the same stuff as the first aid station and this time I also grabbed cups of ice, put some in my mouth and the rest down the front and back of my shorts and top. I was still running at a decent clip, but could already sense that this was going to be short lived as my temperature was now at a point where I felt like I was being boiled for soup in a huge cauldron.

Spectators were standing out on the street in front of thier homes with garden hoses and I was running through everyone offered, weaving back and forth across the road to hit them. I was now seeing the leaders coming back in the other direction and Chris Lieto still had his lead - good for him, although Macca, looking dazed, was closing in fast, and behind him, Alexander and Raelert were running together and looking comfortable.

I hit every aid station, still running, but grabbing everything in site liquid wise. I was losing my appetite which wasn't good and took in more saltstick tabs. I was mostly dumping stuff on me now - water, ice, sponges, more water. The relief from this was very short lived as I'd find myself somewhere in the next mile searching hard for a glimpse of the next aid station, all the while counting to distract my mind.

On the return trip on Alii drive, I was now stopping at the spectators with the hoses and having them fully douse me head to toe, front and back. I saw some of the other CT troops heading out towards the turn around on Alii and gave them some encouragement. First came Mitch West who I had met at the airport on the way out to Kona for the first time. Really nice guy and doing Kona for his first time and doing it well. Next came John Wilson who didn't even hear me, at least I don't think. He looked as bad as I felt but he was still running and moving forward. He's one tough hombre. Next I saw Oakes Ames who never looks as though he is running well but always is. Looks can be deceiving.

At mile eight I no longer knew that trouble was still ahead, it was now here. I was really having difficulty processing the heat and was beginning to get a headache which is a definite sign of dehydration. I hit the rise up Palani Hill at mile ten and began walking. My plan wasn't to walk Palani but I felt I had no other choice. The most spectators on the course are on Palani during the race and they were all yelling at me, positively cheering me on to run. It felt like payback for me doing this at LP as I spectate each year out on harassment hill.

I honestly had thoughts of quitting. I couldn't see myself running another step let alone running 16 more miles. I hate to dramatize things but when you reach this point in an IM, it is dramatic, at least to me. Sure I easily realize there are way more important things in life, yet when you are at such a low spot physically and mentally in an IM, your emotions are amped. I was in one of the lowest, darkest places I've been in before and everything I had, just about, was telling me to throw in the towel.

Then I saw Lisa near the top of Palani as I made the turn onto the Queen K. I looked at her and could see her serious concern and I said "Lis, I'm in bad shape." Yet I was still walking forward. She was really positive and encouraging as she relayed all the "maybes" at me. "Maybe you'll come around in a mile or so." "Maybe the clouds over the mountain will come down." "Maybe once you walk for a bit you'll feel better." Then she said "You can come around, there's still a lot left" to which I remember responding "that's the problem, there's still a lot left. I cant cool down Lis!" I began thinking about all the support I received going into this race. A small cloud covered the sun for maybe 30 seconds and during those seconds, I told Lisa I'm going to try to run, told her to be prepared to be waiting a long time, but I'd be ok. I then started to run again, and as much as I thought about all the support from friends, family, even strangers that I received emails from, the one thing that kept me in it and moving forward was my kids. I thought about what it would be like to tell them I didn't finish the race, and suddenly, quitting wasn't an option. Not finishing wasn't an option anymore. I didn't care how long it was going to take, I was going to finish.

It still seems so vivid, as though I remember almost every step during the rest of the race. Although sitting here relaxed now while writing this, it's easy to forget just how much I was suffering over the last two hrs of this race. My headache throbbed more with each step and the only thing I wanted was to stop and lay down in a tub of ice water. I ran until mile 13.5 and thought "I'm over 1/2 way done with the run! and at the same time I thought "I still have 1/2 the run left!". I began walking again. shortly thereafter, I felt a friendly tap on my back and turned to see Scott Jones, a good friend from Boulder, run past. He said "Come on Eric, you walk the aid stations, not in between. You know better than that." He was right, I did know better and I needed this friendly kick. I began to run again and bridged the gap up to Scott. We ran from aid station to aid station and walked the stations getting in and on as much coolness as possible. It's much better off to try and cool from the inside out, yet my appetite wasn't there and I didn't want to take much in at all. Scott talked a little bit during these miles, I said nothing. It took every bit of energy I had to just run. We ran down into the energy lab where the temperature was near 113 degrees F! We weren't running fast by any means, but we were still passing quite a few people. I was now out of saltstick tabs since I used more than I thought I would and was now relying on gatorade for electrolytes, a situation I don't really prefer. Scott was clearly feeling better than me and saw a marine coming back the other way at the bottom of the energy lab - this guy was leading the military division. I told Scott (a navy guy) to go after him in which he did. I want to thank Scott if he happens to read this. He saved my race for the most part. Until he came along at mile 13.5, I could have easily been content with walking the remainder of the marathon.

Coming out of the energy lab, I passed pro Mike Lovato who was having a tough day. I said "way to stick it out Mike" and he was very gracious in responding. Here's a guy whose aspirations were to win the race overall. Things went south and instead of bailing like Norman Stadler did (I saw him walking on Alii drive), he respects this race to much and walked on to the finish.

The 10k back to town after coming out of the energy lab was unbelievably painful for me. It took everything I had to run aid station to aid station. You have almost every part of you yelling at you, sweet talking you, saying "just stop running and start walking". I did everything I could to just focus on that one small voice that said "keep running you wuss". It was awfully quite out there. There were a lot of athletes, but everyone was silent. The only thing I heard besides these voices from within was the squishing from my soaked running shoes hitting the pavement. I dug as deep as I have ever dug through this 10K section.

Then, as I hit the 24 mile mark, the pain began to switch to elation. I, at that exact moment, was never so proud of a race effort, and I was overcome at the thought that I managed to get through this race and still do so under 10 hours. I began running faster. Corny as it may sound, but I felt goosebumps - which could have also been the dehydration, but no, I know it was from my sense of achievement. I saw Lisa walking up on the Queen K just at the top of Palani and she looked shocked. She said "oh my god, you are back here already?" My MyAthlete device shorted out in the energy lab for some strange reason and she and Brennan thought I was walking the remaining 8 miles. I just pointed at her and said "get to the finish line, it's time to finish this bitch!". I was flying down Palani as though i was sandbagging the first 24 miles but believe me, it was just from the endorphins off of getting through this amazing event. I saw a guy up the road running with an orange bracelet meaning he was in my age group and took off after him. I sprinted past two more young guys on Alii in the last .5 mile and as much as I savor this part of the race, on this day, I just wanted to finish. I crossed the line in 9:51 and all the endorphins tapped out as I all of sudden felt awful. Lisa and the holders walked me through the finish area chaos where I ran into Trephina Galloway, an Aussie doctor who was working the Med tent earlier in the day and also a friend who has attended a bunch of my camps. She was so kind in that a few days before, I told her I was going to try and find her at the finish to have her give me an IV. She waited at the finish line, maybe not for me, but she was there and brought me into the med tent for an IV and I'm extremely appreciative. Thanks Trephina, and thank god they didn't need my temperature. (the mouth thermometer wasn't working and another doctor wanted my temp and was insistent at first on doing it anally, no joke! I told her I was all of a sudden feeling fine, she caved and just gave me the IV.)

Based on my training, I was aiming for a low 9 hr race. I felt fit enough to knock of a 3:10 marathon. Based on the conditions, I was over 30 minutes slower than what I wanted and did one of my slower IM times, running the marathon in 3:35. Based on the race experience I had, it was my best IM to date. I really realized that an IM is about testing your will, about peeling back the layers so there is nothing for you to hide behind and you are left faced with the raw honesty of finding out who you are and what you are made of. Doing a fast time or a pr is just a bonus. You don't get this experience in shorter races.

I know I've been very lengthy and again, if anyone is still hanging in there reading this, thank you. I intend on writing a post race wrap up mainly because this blog has become my own personal journal. But again, thanks for reading and I hope it wasn't to boring thus far.




Vincent said...

good stuff,

113, shit, In canada I complain when races hit 80

carlgrus said...

A great read...not boring at all, thanks for sharing

rUntoNamAste said...

This post is anything but boring! if anything, it is inspiring and I'll read it again before my upcoming marathon. Way to gut it out. I have no idea how you triathletes do it. You make the impossible, possible!

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric,

Congratulations on a great race. Finishing for your children provides them with a wonderful lesson. When things get tough in whatever they are doing, hopefully they will think about Dad finishing a brutally difficult event and gain strength from your example. I bet they do!

Ed S

Anonymous said...


Congrats in the greatest sense of the word! You noted in your report that although your time was slower than the other IM's in your resume, it was the best experience thus far. I love it!

Pure, raw emotion. That's why many of us do this. Thanks for opening yourself up to us.

Jay McAbier

Melissa said...

I am in awe... 3:35 is an amazing time! I'm in awe that you can run that fast in that heat. I really feel that no matter what race you're doing, it's always about finishing and pushing yourself to the fullest. You are such an inspiration!

Eric said...

thanks everyone for the great comments and for reading!