Saturday, October 20, 2012

Things Happen For A Reason

As we were standing out on Alii drive just before heading into medical, Lisa said to me "you look great, as though you didn't even swim and bike!"  This added to the frustration because I felt solid, ready to run a good marathon.  We had to wait around to get my bike from the transition area so we headed over to Huggo's On The Rocks to grab some fish tacos and a beer.  As imaginable, my emotions were bouncing back and forth between sadness and anger.  I said to the kids "Listen, we are going to still have a great vacation.  This is a minor hiccup, but we Hodska's keep our heads up and chins high."  Corny, but relevant.  At one point while eating I just started to laugh and said to Lisa "Can you believe I'm out of the IM because someone stepped on my toe?!!"  I view one of my main strengths my toughness.  I told Molson before the race that my key word was resilience.  And I was taken out by my toes getting stepped on.  It is kind of humorous.   

The hardest part was when we walked back to the transition area, down Alii drive towards the finish line, listening to Mike Reilly announcing to the joyously overwhelmed athletes finishing "You are an Ironman!".  Lisa and Kate were walking a few feet in front of us, and Kate turned around with tears in her eyes and ran up and gave me a huge hug.  My heart just sank.   

We've had an amazing family vacation in Hawaii.  The best one yet.  The day after the IM, we took the kids to swim with the dolphins and to Hapuna beach and they were having so much fun, forgetting quickly the drama of the previous day.  That's the beauty of being a kid; their ability to move forward and jump head first into the next day. 

I've had ample time now to reflect on my challenging day.  First off, had this been my very first Hawaii Ironman, I would have walked the marathon.  I thought that I didn't take the fact of how hard Hawaii is to get into for granted, but now I know to some degree I do.    I've crossed that amazing finish line many times before.  I know what it takes to prepare to qualify and do well in this race and I will do so again in the future if and when I'm ready.  In 1996, when I qualified for Hawaii for my very first time, I thought that that was going to be my one time to race the Hawaii Ironman.  I have returned to race there eight times since then.  Since 1996, every year that I've wanted to qualify and race Hawaii, I have.  I feel extremely fortunate that I have been blessed with a bit of genetics that, combined with hard work, will earn me a coveted slot for Hawaii.  I kept thinking about the fact that what if this was my one opportunity, like so many triathletes out there, to race here and this happened?  So how could I be that angry or sad for that matter?  If anything, it made me realize even more my fortune.  And the fact that I didn't go out there and hobble through the marathon shows that i do to some degree take these things I've mentioned above for granted.  But that's also not what I came to Hawaii to do.  (One quick side note on the race itself; It's been changing since 96'.  I notice it more and more each year, but they are letting more and more people in each year, and the depth of talent is becoming greater meaning the field doesn't thin out much throughout the race.  The swim used to be aggressive for the first third, then you'd find your space.  Then it was the first two thirds were extremely physical, and now it's the whole swim.  The bike portion is the same; The first third used to be very congested but the climb to Hawi would thin things out.  Now it's even more congested and it doesn't thin out much at all.  I used to think that drafting was avoidable no matter what but I am no longer this naive.  The race really wasn't enjoyable.  They need to begin thinking about wave starts and not letting the size of the field grow any larger.) 

Someone mentioned to me; "That's a shame, all that training and this happens!".  I don't look at it that way at all and that's why I also wrote up my report card for my build up prior to my race.  I like seeing what type of new level or condition I can put myself in.  I see many training for an Ironman and they begin to question why they are doing so.  the work they are putting in becomes so controlling and overwhelming and as physically exhausted as they are, they become even more mentally exhausted.  This, to me, signifies that this athlete is taking the wrong personal approach towards their race.  As I mention to all my athletes, I want them to enjoy the process.  I certainly did this time around. 

I view these set-backs as a learning opportunity as well.  This set back was mainly out of my control, but I learned not to line up inside on the buoy line in Hawaii unless I plan on swimming in the low 50's.  I also learned even more to appreciate all my Ironman finishes.  But the main thing I learned, and this lesson became clear in the days proceeding the race, was that triathlon in itself is just a part of who I am but it doesn't define me, so don't take it to seriously.  After all, there are far greater situations taking place daily that easily put things into perspective.  I can't worry about one dnf from just a race.   

I've had set backs before in my racing career and I've always followed them up with bigger and better experiences.  Always.  So I'm excited and driven to see where 2013 takes me.  My IM pr comes off of a set back from the previous IM.  Thinking about this, maybe this is part of the plan?  Think what you want - that we create our own luck and destiny, which to some degree is true, but I also believe that, if you are a hard worker, a doer, and stay positive and progressive, that things can happen for a reason.   

One of my friends mentioned to me that it's important for kids to see their parents struggle at times or fail certain tasks, and to see that a) they're human, and b) how they handle themselves in the face of adversities.  Another friend sent me a great Teddy Roosevelt speech titled "The Man In The Arena" which was extremely poignant.  It made me realize how important it is for my kids to see the value in putting yourself out there, going for some goals or things that most can't imagine, and that yes, you may fail at times, but the importance is in that you took the chance and put yourself out there to begin with.  I was very moved by the outpouring of support from friends.  Thank you!! 

The days following the race, we explored the Hawaii coastline in a sea raft, seeing manta rays and pods of dolphins and learning about the history of the amazing big island.  We explored coast line trails, swam at beautiful beaches where the sand was so soft and the water so clear.  We ate at some amazing restaurants, we went down water slides, we did stand up paddle boarding, and we laughed a bunch.  Life is not bad at all, and I will continue to put myself out there.   

I can't wait to come back in March for my Kona Camp.  And my kids cannot wait to return since they claimed they get a redo. 



Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Kona - race day

Sometimes things don't turn out anything like you planned.  Maybe there's a bigger picture?

I felt solid race morning.  Nervous, yes, which is always good, but ready.  I lined up inside and up front for the swim, and waited for the gun.  All mass start swims are aggressive, but Hawaii's is much more than any other race given the fact that everyone is so fast.  I expected a lot of contact for not just the start but the whole swim and sure enough, this was the case.  I'm okay with that.  What I didn't expect was for some ass hole to stomp his heal into my head at around the two minute mark.  Usually you get kicked from people just exaggerating their normal swim kick, but this was more aggressive.  This stomp stopped me cold and dazed for a few seconds.  I floated onto my back absorbing the sting while more swimmers pummeled me trying to get by.   I then put my head back down and continued on.  Besides a headache and some dizziness, I felt comfortable in the water and swam fairly easy, saving my energy for the bike and run.  The swim went by actually quickly and I was anxious to get on the bike.  One discipline done, two more to go.

I ran through transition and grabbed my bike bag and headed into the changing tent.  Volunteers were telling us to make our way to the far end where there was more room.  The tent was chaotic with frantic triathletes changing into their bike gear.  I sat down in a chair and began to dig through my bike bag, when the unfortunate happened; an athlete to my left leapt out of his chair and began to run towards the exit in his bike shoes.  With all his weight, he landed with one of his strides on my left foot, and in particular my big toe and the one next to it.  The pain was severe but I tried to not think about it and shoved my feet into my own shoes and hobbled to my bike.  The first few peddle strokes, I knew there was trouble in the foot, but again, just did my best to block it out.

My legs felt good and I was moving along at a nice smooth clip.  Again, it was very congested out there.  The fact that everyone is so fast and that they now let 2000 athletes in as opposed to 1500 when I first raced here made things more crowded out on the bike course than my eight other times here.  Around 15 miles in, I moved to the left to pass a line of 20 or more athletes.  As I'm passing, I come up on another athlete who is passing on the left and sit there for not even three seconds as I caught a quick breather before moving past him, when a motorcycle pulls up to my left and flashes me the red drafting card.  20 years in the sport and I get my first drafting penalty!  At maybe the 30 mile mark, there is the penalty tent where I have to stop and dismantle for four minutes to serve my penalty.  there were a bunch of athletes in the tent including former big time pro Ken Glah who is known for his strength on the bike.  It's good they were giving penalties, the problem is that there was no way for the field to thin out.  Simple math of too many athletes in too small a space on the course. I remounted and continued on, and wasn't thinking much about my throbbing foot because my head was throbbing!  The winds began to kick in and they were gusting hard from the side.  As we climbed towards Hawi, I was zoned out for a bit, not really paying attention to anything.  An athlete passed me on the left then immediately cut in front of me.  I came to attention and began to drift back giving him his legal space when I get the card again from another motorcycle!  I yelled "Are you f'n kidding me?!" at the official but he just drove onwards.  Just past the turnaround, I served my second four minute penalty.  As I stood down, I didn't feel right.  Not my legs or stomach, but my head and foot.  I did my best again to block it out and continue on.  My legs felt good and I was riding at a conservative pace.

The rest of the ride was a conscious effort to stay focused on keeping my space on the crowded course and disconnecting from the pain.  The bike was interesting this year in that the wind came in sections.  One moment, you are flying along at 24+ mph, then the next minute, you are pedaling in your small chainring, out of the saddle, going down a hill.  The heat began to kick in, so I doused myself at every aid station with a bottle of water and rehydrated with electrolyte drink, water, and saltstick capsules.  As you ride an IM, especially in the heat, your feet will swell.  My left foot was throbbing and the pain from my toes jamming into the front of my shoe made things much worse.  With 15 miles left to go, I really wanted off the bike, but not because of beat up legs or tiredness like previous Ironmans I had done in the past.  I needed out of my shoes and I wanted some advil for the migraine-like headache.

As you re-enter Kona, the crowds become very dense.  Out on the Queen K highway through the lava fields, the rods are closed to traffic, so besides the aid stations every 10 miles and the kawaihai corner, there are no spectators.  I was searching for Lisa and the kids - I had a feeling running was going to be a challenge and I wanted to prepare them for a longer marathon.  I found them in the massive crowd and yelled not to move as I rode by and slipped my feet out of my shoes, preparing to dismount.  Typically, I dismount by slipping both feet out while riding, standing on my shoes, then swinging my right leg over the bike and hopping off running.  This time though, I knew that wasnt an option.  I came to a complete stop, climbed off the bike and gingerly walked through the transition area.  I couldn't put any pressure on my toes on my left foot, and I couldn't bend them.  I walked out of transition to the crowd yelling "hang in there!  you can do this!  Come on 860!!" - this killed me as my legs felt ready to run.  I came up on Lisa and the kids and explained what happened.  Kate was crying.  I told them I was going to try and run a bit and to meet me up ahead, which I did - I tried to run, but couldn't.  We walked back to the med tent where they had an X-ray machine.  The orthopedic diagnosed me with severe swelling of the tissue sack around my toes and a crushed sesmoid bone.  He said that if we stabilized it, i could probably walk the marathon, although it might not be the smartest move.  I was out of the race.  I was devastated.  My kids were even more devastated.

More to come.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Big Island

Wednesday began as did Monday and Tuesday here; 4:45am wake up, drink a muscle milk, stop at Starbucks then make the 30 minute drive to Kona, swim at 6:45am.

I met some of the CT group to swim - the plan was to swim out to the half way buoy then swim from there over to the floating island stationed well off shore. They had great Kona coffee, fresh muffins, lounge chairs and even palm trees on this little barge. After a quick caffeine fix, we swam back in to the pier. Each day it get's more and more busy. Many of the tri manufacturers are out there hawking their products. TYR was giving away goggles although the way the nutty triathletes were grabbing and fighting for the swag, you would have thought they were giving out Rolex's.

Travis and I grabbed some breakfast at Lava Java, compliments of Megan Seerfoss, then we hit the expo. The expo in Hawaii is impressive. Every manufacturer is there and the bigger one's all try to outdo each other. Most have all their new latest and greatest gear to show.

I headed back to my condo late morning to go out for an easy 30 minute run along the coast. There is a beach path that starts as sand then turns to lava rock, then in front of the resorts it's a nice walkway.  I run out along the pacific and beautifully groomed properties or resort pools. I felt comfortable although there was a nice breeze coming off the ocean to tame the 90 degree heat. We discovered this out and back run at my March camp, and I never find it hard as it puts my mind in a really good place. I finished up the run with a dip into the ocean, where I floated around for a bit and took in the calmness.

Later on, I drove back to Kona to drop off my bike at the Cannondale booth. Murray was going to give it the once over. He's worked on my bike in Hawaii for maybe five trips now and he's the man. The first time I dropped it off to him, I just asked if he could check out my shifting. A few hours later, I stopped back to grab my bike and he had gone through the whole bike including the bottom bracket and put brand new tape on!

Travis and I then hit the Kona Brew House for a couple of beers, some pork nachos and and a thai chicken pizza. All in all, a good day!

This morning, after a swim, breakfast, and easy spin, I was driving back to the condo. I was driving north on the Queen K highway, the same road the course is on. It's a perfectly clear day and I could see the observatory on Mauna Lani off to my right at 14000 feet above sea level. In front of me, I could see the Queen K wind for miles, and to the slight left, the northern tip of the island where the we will ride to before making the return trip on Saturday. To my left is the pacific and a clear view of Maui. I thought about how much I love this bike course, and how fortunate I am to have had the opportunity to learn and appreciate such an amazing place. It's hard to really explain, but there is something really remarkably special about this island.

Okay, time to relax.



Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Tuesday in Kona

Tuesday here in Hawaii. I woke up early and drove down to Kona (30 minutes from where I'm staying - I prefer to be out of the hub of IM chaos) to meet Mitch West at 6:45am to swim on the course again. From 7am on, the pier is packed with swimmers so I like to get in at 6:45 when hardly anyone is there yet. The plan was to swim out to the half way buoy, then stop at the floating coffee boat for an espresso on the return. Mitch tucked in behind me and we set out. The water felt great - swimming here is therapeutic for me. The visibilty is 100+ feet and it's quite amazing taking everything in as you swim. I got to the halfway buoy but Mitch wasn't there, so I floated and waited around for a bit. I figured he maybe turned earlier so I started to head back. As I began the return trip, a big object about 15 feet underneath me came up from behind and startled the shit out of me! I froze, sitting up in the water for second then sticking my head back under to get another glimpse. It was a dolphin playing around. I popped my head back up out of the water again to get a breath and noticed three dorsel fins just off to my left. Three more dolphins! The one underneath me came up and to within maybe six feet of me and then joined his friends. It was pretty amazing and I was looking around for another swimmer to take this in, but no one was near me. I guess they swam out towards the coffee boat because a few others spotted them as well. i cruised back in and rinsed quick. A mob was surrounding Craig Alexander who had just finished up his swim. Yesterday when I swam, Andreas Raelert was getting in the water at the same time. Both these guys are so slight and somewhat small - no wonder they run so fast.

I did a one hour ride out on the course later in the morning and the wind was blowing! I relaxed for pretty much the rest of the day. I'm going to lay very low between now and race day as I have caught a slight cold. My daughter was sick before I left. Combine that with standing on a soccer field on Saturday from 10:30am until 9pm in damp weather where the temperature dropped significantly, then flying for 11.5 hours the next day... The irony is the last time I was sick was going into St. Croix in May! I'm not going to sweat it though. I just need to rest.

Monday, October 08, 2012

My Kona Training Report Card

Six days away from my ninth Ironman Hawaii. Now's the time to reflect on "what we've done to prepare for this". Jeff Molson recently posted a great article on my web site titled "The Report Card" which discusses how he loved report card day because it gave him an honest depiction of how well prepared he was, and his racing in his adult life became a great report card, even though he has adjusted his grading method a bit as he's aged as an athlete. It got me thinking about my report card for this Kona, and of course, comparing it to my other Kona builds.

The thing is, just as Jeff's self grading process has changed, so has mine. Even though I haven't raced yet, I like to give myself a combined total grade that's based on how I prepared for this race in training, with my family, and with my career. In other words, I've witnessed friends building for an IM who would receive an A in their training, yet they didn't go the extra yard at work giving them a B there, and sacrificed to much family time giving them a D there. So their GPA , in my opinion, is a C, which I guess by school definition is satisfactory, but in my middle aged life I feel it's more unsatisfactory.

So here's my honest assessment of my 2012 Kona pre-race GPA:

My training went well for the most part. I relied on my cumulative base and made most of my training quality. The race will be the true test of how this worked, but I always tell my athletes that we have to realistically look at what type of time we have each week and optimize that time. For me, this means an average of 10 to 12 hours per week which is quite minimalistic compared to most age group triathletes. So I made the most out of the 10 to 12 hours. I watched a video recently that Chris McCormack did where he answered some questions on nutrition. One of the questions was on post training nutrition, and he explained how the first thing we need to do is absorb that session we just did, by sitting down for awhile, resting, letting ourselves absorb the session. I guess toweling off quickly then changing clothes and forcing in a cliff bar while driving to my next client or to pick up my daughter from soccer practice isn't sitting down and absorbing the session. But in the real world, and I am by far the majority as an endurance athlete here, I don't have the 18+ hours per week to train and 7+ hours of non-sleep recovery to absorb sessions. I did put a lot of emphasis on recovery. I still feel as though I can crank out a hard effort like I did back in 97' however, it now will take me a day or two longer to recover from this. If I had a specific hard session scheduled for a particular day and I still felt unrecovered from a previous session the day or two before, I either went easy or took a rest day and did that specific hard session on the next day.

I did quiz's along the way to assess my fitness and progress. The VT ride was a nice quiz that assured me that I still had that aerobic cumulative base to go long. Sidetrack here, but I feel most overestimate building base, especially if they have been an endurance athlete for a year or more, and they fall into the trap of just logging junk mileage. Most triathletes can get on their bike and ride for 4+ hrs, regardless of their present condition. It may be at only 12 mph, but they could still do it. Now, how do we bump that up to 20 mph? I'll give you a hint - it's not by riding lot's more miles at 12 mph, or even 17 mph. Okay, back on track. I also did a weekly tempo ride on a somewhat closed course .8 mile loop which sounds boring as hell, but I liked the concentrated effort and I liked to track my progress each week. Some of these sessions, I'd pedal the 45 minute cool down home so beat that I felt as though my crank was square instead of round, yet I'd be smiling because there is something rewarding about suffering through a hard session to endurance athletes. I did a weekly track or treadmill session that went fairly well. I still have an imbalance in my right hip/si joint that screams at me when I'm not recovered - this is something I am really going to address after this race. It only bothers me when I run, but it can be quite bothersome. It never get's worse though, so I block it out. I don't pay any attention to it unless it's so bad that it's changing my run gait in which case i back off the session. Swimming - well, I began in late August and feel okay in the water. I don't dock myself here because it's not as though I just don't swim because I hate it. Again, I weigh the time I have and where it's best spent. Because I have a little bit of a swimming background, I can rally enough to get me through most IM swims in an hour give or take.

Mentally, I really enjoyed the training for this IM. It wasn't arduous like some of the catabalistic sessions I had done for previous IM's. I chose different bike courses than I typically would ride in training, and because I was only riding three times per week as compared to four or five in the past, I felt relatively fresh for my key sessions. Besides VT, I only did one other 100 mile ride. But I did a lot of hard four hour rides. We shall see how this pays off on Saturday - that's the key, right? But physically, I'd give this build a solid A, mainly because I made progress and enjoyed the process.

I'll keep this short regarding my career and family, just in case anyone is actually reading this or hasn't drifted back to their Facebook page yet out of boredom.

Career: I've been in my own business since 1995 and anyone in their own business knows that you are always working because your mind is constantly thinking about how to keep your business effective, and you never want to rest on your laurels. I have some great projects in the works and these things get put on hold while training for an IM. I also want to spend more time with the people and athletes I presently work with. I will pick both of these things up as soon as I get back to CT, and with renewed enthusiasm, because I'm always very motivated coming off this race. Actually just writing this paragraph down makes me more anxious to get some of these ideas rolling and also makes me more accountable, which I like. My grade here during this build was a C.

Family: I have a rule that my family shouldn't pay the price for my obsession. It's easier to state that rule than actually stay 100% true to it because the reality is that the family will always suffer a bit when one member of it is training for an IM. I made a concerted effort to be mentally present with my wife when we are together, even though she may disagree;) I always look for signs from her to see if my training is getting to her and address these early on and quickly. I remind myself all the time to do this, and to never take her for granted. Lisa made things really easy though as she was a gem with my schedule. She loves Hawaii and is as excited to show the kids this island as I am. Each time I asked her if it was okay for me to get in a bit longer session, she was fine with it. And yes, you should ask your spouse if it's okay, not tell them this is what you are doing. Sure, some of the home projects didn't get done, but they will, and she didn't pressure me here whatsoever. I didn't miss one of my kids events. I would still go out and play basketball in the driveway with my son, although maybe it was for only 45 minutes now instead of 90. I had dinner with my family just about every night. These are the things that I personally weigh heavily and I made sure they didn't slide, even if it meant missing some training. I'd give my grade here a B. I'm a very tough grader in this category.

I would say my honest assessment of my pre-race report card GPA would be a B. When training for an IM, I don't know if it's possible for anyone to honestly receive an A. I do know that it's not possible for me. And also that I'm content with a B given the fact that there is no such thing as life balance in IM.