Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Kona 2018 Afterthoughts

There are definitive things I vividly remember from the 1996 Hawaii IM, my very first Ironman and first time racing in Hawaii.  I remember getting off the plane and feeling the sauna like air hit me, and the excitement of seeing the infamous Queen K highway surrounded by barren black lava fields. I remember swimming for the first time from Dig Me Beach on the Kona swim course, hopped up with excitement that I was actually going to race here.  I remember the morning of the race and the pre-race nerves as they have been more or less the same for all of my Ironman races.  But there are two things I remember the most; one was how hard the run was in the Kona conditions and how I swore through the whole marathon that I’d never do this to myself again, only to run the last half mile of the race, surrounded by finish line chaos, and after struggling to lift my legs and take each step during the latter parts of the 26.2 miles, suddenly feeling like I’m floating on the green carpeted Alii Drive, thinking “I need to get back here next year!”.  The second thing I remember was this incredibly powerful feeling for the next few days while still vacationing on the island after finishing this race.  This weight, this burden, that I had been nervous about and focused on for months, was lifted, and now I could relax in paradise on this amazing island with Lisa, exploring, contemplating, and sipping some Mai Tais.  The few days we spent after the race may have been better than the race itself, although for my personality, I didn’t know if these days would have the same value had I not completed the race first.  In fact, I do know that they wouldn’t.  I am not great at relaxing.  Something I’m getting better at but something that does not come organically to me.  After completing an Ironman, I can relax and just enjoy doing nothing or even doing something but without my mind thinking I should be doing something else.  Lisa is great at relaxing and I’m truly envious of this, and I think she really enjoys the “one to four days post IM Eric.”  I love our time spent on the island post IM, and yet I also looked forward to coming home after a few relaxing days.  Lisa always longs for another day while we vacation, and I’m the type that enjoys the time there, but when it’s time to leave, I’m ready, no matter where we go.  I need to get back to my routine and work.  I realized after this first Ironman in 1996 that I really like a process and I get excited to start up a new one.

For all my other races I finished in Kona, I had that same loathe beginning at some point during the marathon, that would turn to elation at the finish line and once again making me want to get back to this same spot the following year.  And then we’d spend some time relaxing on the island post race and it’s been some of the most memorable times of my life.

Back to this years race.  Lisa knows how to find me during and after this race.  The finish area was packed with athletes, volunteers and tons of family and friends waiting just outside the exit/entrance to the area for their athlete.  As soon as I gathered myself together enough and had someone help get me up from my place on the grass where I lied for maybe two or twenty minutes, still uncomfortable yet so grateful that I didn’t have to move, I lumbered through this exit area and Lisa was right there waiting for me. She gave me a big hug, and the first thing she said to me was “this is it!  You’re done racing here, right?” - which was more of a statement than a question.  I honestly responded “I’m done Lis, I’m done here.”  I was still overheated and the host hotel pool was right there so I waded into it and sat on the steps.  The kids were there and excited and reliving the day thus far as Lisa went to try to find me something to drink.  The though of drinking anything, especially Gatorade, was nauseating yet I knew I needed to try to get in some fluids.  It was now about 5pm and they wouldn’t let us get our bikes out of the transition area until after 7pm.  The five of us were ready to get out of there though so we hiked the mile uphill to our rental minivan and drove the 40 minutes back to our condo.  Lisa and Ryan said they would drive back into town later to get my bike, as they wanted me to get some rest.  We showered up and went to Lava Lava, a very cool outdoor restaurant on the beach near our condo that has great food and even better vibes.  I muscled down some fish nachos and a beer, while the kids ate huge cheeseburgers.  Everyone was excited and yet tired. Poor Lisa and Ryan still had to drive back to get my bike.  Lisa only half jokingly mentioned  “Well, since you are done racing here, can’t we just leave your bike here, dontae it to the cause?”.

I tossed and turned that night as I never sleep well the night after doing an IM.  Your metabolism is so screwed up and I think your body is still questioning what the f%#k just happened.  We had an early wake up as we booked a snorkel excursion for first thing Sunday morning meaning we had to leave our condo at 6:45am.  We’ve done this trip many times before, and I do it at my Kona camps with the groups, as it never disappoints.  The boat captain and one other crew member take you out on a twin engined sea raft, where you explore lava tubes along the coast of Hawaii before stopping at two spots to dive or snorkel, one being Captain Cook’s cove which is arguably one of the best snorkel spots of all the Hawaiian Islands.  It was a beautifully clear day - none of the volcanic smog that may have been there months prior from the erupting volcano was even evident.  The kids had a blast exploring the ocean and swimming with the sea turtles.  We stopped in Kona after the snorkel trip and had lunch at Huggo’s On The Rocks, and did a bit of shopping, and finished the day at Merrimans, one of the best restaurants on the island up in Waimea.

Ryan flew back to Florida the next morning, and after dropping him off at the airport, we took the girls for surf lessons.  That Monday night, we went, pre dinner, to see the sun set at one of our favorite resorts.  The west coast of the big island has the best sunsets I’ve ever seen. As the sun was setting, maybe 10 or so sea turtles came up onto the shore to relax, right near where we were.  Another amazing Hawaii trip was coming to a close.

I ran back to town along the Queen K highway, anxious to experience the euphoria of the finish line and that same feeling.  I was pretty beat up, as I redundantly pointed out in the earlier blog posts.  I made the right turn at the hot corner onto Alii, and ran down this incredible finish shoot, and the  feeling was different.  My heart and gut were telling me this was it.  I felt this sense of completion, telling me to soak this in as it would be my last time experiencing this finish line.  But this feeling was much different than any previous finish here.  This completion was not just on finishing this years race, but one of finishing my final race here, and it was fulfillment, not sadness.  Almost relief.  I have had the opportunity to race the Hawaii Ironman, and more than once, something I’ll always be proud of and treasure.  I have also dug a bit too deep here into my physiological well.  I could pick certain points during racing here where I knew I was doing some type of long term damage.  Racing in these conditions, especially for my physiology and not being acclimated, was certainly not healthy.  I’ve always enjoyed the process.  I love having a big goal and then focusing on the process of getting myself ready to complete this big goal.  And I will always need a carrot out there that I’m chasing.  It just doesn’t need to be this race anymore.

Having been home for a few weeks now, I’m already getting anxious about what and where I’ll race next year.  The 70.3 World Championship in Nice, France looks enticing...  I’m back into my strength routine - between the long Ironman training and my injured wrist, I lost quite a bit of strength, so I’m anxious to build this back.  This is also the best time of year for running in New England.  I’ll definitely put something on the calendar soon though, as the quality during the process is much better when I have that carrot.  And to me now, it’s more about the process.  One thing for sure though, I may be done racing the Hawaii Ironman, but I’m certainly not done with Hawaii.  And who knows if in a few years when I age up I get the urge...  Just kidding Lisa!


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Iron Shuffle

How do you write about running and make it interesting?  I don't know if it's possible.

Riding into T2 (second transition area), I felt fresh.  Fresher than I have in any other Ironman, but I purposefully rode easier than I have at other Ironman's, as I knew I wasn't acclimated to the heat and I knew I'd need to keep a lot in the bank if I were going to try to run decent.  I rode at a power output that is about 20 watts lower than what I would ride in an IM race under better weather/temperature conditions.  In regards to the ride and the WTC's regulations of this world championship bike course, it's a bullshit ride now.  When I first raced here, there were 1400 athletes racing and it was a much cleaner and therefore truer ride.  Add 1000 more very high level triathletes to the course and you are going to have a peloton like bike ride.  Why not start the pro's at 6am, and then at 6:20am, start waves of age groupers with a rolling start?  This will help on a number of fronts; the swim will be less dangerous, the packs will be thinned out on the bike and you will have a much truer World Championship.  The results will look a lot different, I guarantee, and it will be a safer and cleaner race.  

The spectating crowds coming back into town are always uplifting.  The streets are lined with people cheering, yelling, giving you good mojo.  When I dismount my bike in any race, I always do a quick self assessment, and on this day, my legs felt really good.  They should though as, as I mentioned, I rode so that they would.  I glanced at my watch and did some quick math - if I ran well, I could beat my best time on this course, which I did 19 years prior!  Based on my training, I felt I could run under 3 hrs 12 minutes if there was cloud cover and cooler temperatures. I handed off my bike to the handlers and ran easily to the changing tent where I put on some socks and my running shoes, some fresh sunglasses and a headband, and exited T2 with two cups of Gatorade.  First thing I was thinking about on the run was where are Lisa and the kids?  One thing I have been doing in all my training runs and that I did here was that in the first mile, I do a butt kick drill where I kick my heel up far in the back as though trying to kick my heel to my butt.  I do my right leg, run a few strides, then my left leg, run a few strides, ... for the first mile.  This simple drill has loosened me up and more importantly set me up to run well.  The problem I'd soon encounter was that it wasn't my legs that I needed to deal with but temperature control. 

Maybe a third of the mile in, I spotted Lisa and the kids - my plan was to look good every time I saw them, no matter how I felt.  I gave them some high fives and headed out on Alii drive where you run four miles out, turnaround, run four miles back, then head up to the Queen K highway again.  I was running well, but very conservative.  It's always incredibly hot and humid on the Kona coast.  Most have no idea how hot and humid this coast is.  And with no winds, this was the hottest year of my ten years racing here.  One thing about this race is that even though there is  typically no rain, you are basically wet from the moment you get in the water until well after the race ends.  Those that change to different clothes in T2 in hopes of feeling fresh and clean for a bit, that lasts maybe 2 minutes onto the run course until you are soaked again from sweat.  Then, you take every approach you can to keep your core temperature down.  During an Ironman marathon, there is an aid station every mile.  The aid station is around 100 yards long and in Hawaii, it starts with volunteers handing out cold, wet sponges.  Then, the next five or six volunteers hand out water cups, then it's ice cups, then Gatorade, then coke, then food (well, gels, orange slices, ...), then Gatorade again, ice again, water and sponges.  As I ran though the first aid station, I grabbed cold sponges and wiped my face and squeezed them on my head.  Next, I'd grab water and take a sip then dump the rest on my head.  Then it was ice.  I'd take as many ice cups as possible, put as much in my mouth as I could, then dump the remainder down the front and back of my race kit.  Then I took in some coke and repeated the cooling process as I ran out of the aid station.  In an Ironman, you focus on running aid station to aid station.  You get used to running soggy, in drenched socks, squishy shoes, wet clothes.  That's the least of concerns. 

Along Alii Drive, I felt solid although I was beginning to feel the heat set in.  As the core temperature rises, there is little you can do besides stopping to get it down and under control.  I was still running well, although conservative.  I approached Palani Hill at mile eight and prior to the race, I had  warned Lisa that I was going to walk up this hill.  I wanted to keep my heart rate as low as possible for as long as possible.  This was the first time I walked on the course.  This would also be the last time I'd see Lisa and the kids until the finish line.  Once you get onto the Queen K highway at mile nine, there are no spectators besides the volunteers at each aid station, as the road is closed. 

For the next seven miles until I entered the Energy Lab, I'd run aid station to aid station but began walking through the aid station.  It was just so hot and I couldn't get my heart rate down now.  I lost my appetite, yet still tried to force in some coke or Gatorade at most aid stations.  I chewed on ice and used salt every mile, and continued my efforts of trying to cool off at every aid station.  Most around me were in the same boat.  Then, in the Energy Lab, things went from bad to worse.

They extended the time in the Energy Lab (an infamous part of the run course where you run down hill on a dead end street where there is a Natural Energy Laboratory, then turn around and have to run uphill and back out) from three to four miles.  As I was running out, uphill, around mile 18, I had to walk, and this broke my rule of only running the aid stations.  I was burning up.  I walked maybe a half a mile where Cliff Bar had a station set up - they had multiple garbage cans of ice water where they were soaking rags in the ice water and draping them over the athletes as they trotted by.  I had one over my head, two or three over my shoulders and back, and another around my neck.  The 40 seconds of coolness gave a bit of relief from the intensity of the heat and felt amazing, Then, quicker than you had hoped, you were back in the inferno.  I walked almost a mile and then convinced myself somehow to run.  The last seven miles were the hardest seven miles I've ever run.  It wasn't the pounding that you'd typically experience, fatigue wise at this point in an IM marathon.  It just felt incredibly hard to move while so overheated.  You just want to lay down at this point.  In fact, right around mile 20, laying in the smallest bit of shade near a jersey barrier in the middle of the road, the only bit of shade around, was a pro woman, trying her best to get out of the sun.  She had two volunteers assisting her already so I forged onwards. 

Kate was asking me what I think about while out there for that long.  I told her I try my best not to think.  I look out at the ocean as it's beautiful and calming to me.  And I count quite a bit.  It's a trick of mine that numbs the mind.  135 strikes with one foot to the ground equates to roughly 1/4 mile.  I'll count 135 on my right foot, 135 on my left, 135 right, 135 left, then walk the aid station, repeat, ... Usually the last 1.5 miles of this course are pain free as you are running mainly downhill, you are back with the spectators and the crowds are huge and you now know you are going to finish.  It was painful this time around though.  The last 1/2 mile is still by far the best finish line in sports.  I always make sure to separate myself from any other athletes here so I can have the finish line alone.  Both sides of the road are lined maybe 10 to 15 people deep and it get's thicker as you approach the finish line ramp.  As I'm running down this section, I get a bit emotional as many things start sinking in.  I was so thankful to get through and be done as this was the toughest marathon I had ever run here conditions wise.  I was proud that I set a goal to return here, and I was proud of the way I approached and accomplished this goal.  I was excited that I had my family there and that the kids finally got to see the magnitude of this event and got to see me cross this finish line.  And it also sunk in that I was done racing here - that this would be my last Hawaii Ironman (more on this in my race after thoughts).  Kate posted a picture on Instagram where I had just crossed the finish line and I look surprised and excited to see them.  I didn't see them while running down the finishers shoot and thought maybe it was too crowded and they missed me finish.  Then, as I crossed, I heard them yelling, front row, right at the finish, maybe the best seats in the house without being on the other side of the fence!

I ran a 3:53, over 40 minutes slower than what I was looking for, but on this day, I'll take it.  As soon as you cross the line, they have two volunteers waiting for you.  They throw a towel over your shoulders and assist you in walking towards the med tent, the food tent, and the medals and finishers shirt tent.  Many of these volunteers were holding their athlete up, or even trying to help them up after they collapsed across the finish line.  Even though I felt like I needed to be assisted, I didn't want the kids to see me draped over volunteers, so I told the volunteers I was fine and walked the best I could with some semblance of spring in my step.  As soon as I was out of site from Lisa and the kids, I found a small area of grass and collapsed onto my back.  I laid there for I think just a few minutes.  Who knows, it could've been a half hour.  I stared up at the sky and was just so thankful that I didn't have to move.  I finally got up, and ventured outside the gated finishers area to find the family.

Afterthoughts coming next.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Race Day Part I; race morning, swim and bike

Forgive me for the multi part race report, but I write these as journals for myself - just as a reminder of good times.  

The adversity from my last Ironman changed my perspective on what I was looking to accomplish at this 2018 Ironman.  My main goal for this race was crossing the finish line.  After what happened to me in 2012, I guess I don’t view crossing the finish line as a given anymore.  During the marathon, as the scorching Hawaiian sun beat down on me, engulfed by the intense heat and humidity, I constantly reminded myself this.  “Don’t take big chances that may jeopardize your primary goal; crossing the finish line.”  In the past, I would be quite focused on two things; doing the best time that I could on that day and trying to make the podium in my age group.  Maybe I’m just getting softer.  2012 was the first Hawaii Ironman that my kids spectated, and it did not go as planned.  They were young, so I’m not sure how much they remember from that trip but I’m very sure they remember me not crossing the finish line on that day.  I wanted them to see this happen this time, not only because I wanted them to see me come back from that adversity but also because, well, I think it’s a pretty cool thing to experience - the Hawaii Ironman finish line.  

Race morning, I was nervous and excited at the same time.  I was nervous enough that I had no appetite which made getting in my 1000 calorie breakfast an effort.  I think I was most excited for Ryan, Kate and Maddy to witness the spectacle of this whole event, not just seeing me cross the finish line.  Hearing about it doesn’t really do it justice.  The amount of energy all bottled up in one location is unreal.  The athletes are all fairly quiet race morning, waiting for the long day to begin.  The volunteers - it’s as if they were given a crash course on how to be cheerleaders.  And the spectators are nuts.  There are tons of spectators wearing costumes, ringing cowbells, cheering, partying...  It’s a scene for sure.

My nerves that morning, and in my whole build up, revolved around one thought; how will I handle the heat?  I felt really prepared for this race - more so than previous Ironman's.  I timed my build up well.  There is a science behind peaking at the right time which most don’t understand.  Most Ironman triathletes feel that more is better.  They get consumed by mileage and putting in big volume numbers and typically start way early, which means they peak way early.  I have to admit, the bike crash I had eight weeks out from the event really threw me.  Because of torn tendons in my left wrist, I couldn’t swim and missed five weeks of swimming. I couldn’t really ride outdoors as I couldn’t support any of my weight on my left arm, but after three weeks of not riding outside, I knew I needed some long rides so ventured out.  I think in hindsight, not being able to put any weight on my left arm actually helped me.  It forced me to stay seated and ride in the aero position for 95+% of my long rides.  I rode courses that had more altitude gain than Kona’s course, and rode up all these hills seated and aero.  Kona is a course that you can stay in the aero position for 95% of it - that is, if you can handle staying down in the aero position that long.  Most cannot as their low backs, necks, shoulders get very sore as they aren’t used to training in this position for the majority of their training rides.  My long training ride was primarily one route, where I rode from my house out to Lake Warmaug in New Preston, up into Warren, then down Warren Hill into Cornwall and North on route 7.  I would turn around 2.5 hours into the ride and ride back the same way.  Many may find doing the same route for their weekly long ride boring but I found just the opposite.  I enjoyed this route and it allowed me to measure my progress.  On each of these long rides, When I reached Washington on the return trip, I knew I had roughly 35 miles left to get home and this was always the higher quality part of my ride, the part where I’d push the pace.  This training really paid off on race day.  Also regarding my build up, because of the lack of swimming and cycling over the recovery period from my accident, I worked more on my running.  I felt pretty good the weeks leading up to my race.  My legs didn’t feel heavy or dead.  My breathing felt good.  I felt loose on most training sessions.  I had been swimming a lot, well, a lot for me anyways, prior to the accident, and felt like I was at a point where I could start really working on speed.  But the five weeks off totally changed that idea, and instead I was limited to easier tempo swims the three weeks prior to race day.  I knew I had decent swim base to swim the 2.4 miles steadily without it affecting the rest of my race negatively, but I knew I wasn’t going to feel fast in the water.  

Back to race day.  After getting everything checked and set up, I joined Lisa and the kids outside the swim nd T1 area to try and relax a bit before the race start.  English was the minority language being spoke around us.  This race had 72 countries being represented and not only by athletes but by fans and spectators as well. After the national anthem and the pro men and women started, I left Lisa and the kids to go take my place in the bay treading water and fighting other athletes for a decent starting position.  Before leaving Lisa and the kids, I told them I’d see them for dinner.  I swam out the 75 meters to the starting line around 6:45am, and treaded water for the next 15 minutes prior to the gun starting the age group race.  Race officials on surf boards paddle back and forth along the starting line, doing their best to hold the 2000+ athletes behind the starting line.  Meanwhile, everyone from behind anxiously crowded closer, pushing, kicking, shoving, trying to get a good starting spot.  For anyone who is the slightest bit claustrophobic, this is your worst nightmare; being in deep water with limited space to move your legs to tread and people grabbing and pushing at you.  I yelled to those around me at one point “everyone relax, let’s be civil, the extra six inches of space you are trying to gain isn’t going to mean much today now, is it?!”  Then, the cannon goes off and just like that, it get’s even worse.  As much as I enjoy swimming in the bay on the days leading up to the race, I despise the swim on race day.  This is maybe the only IM that still has basically a mass start for the amateurs.  They let more people into the race every year, and everyone is good.  Most are swimming between one hour and one hour five minutes, so, for the entire 2.4 miles of swimming, it’s a challenge to find free space.  The first 200 meters is more of a brawl than it is a swim race.  Athletes are swimming over other athletes, pulling them down under them, kicking them, knocking them hard with swinging arms.  I took the outside root looking to pop outside the scrum if necessary but most do the same.  I found some clean water for maybe 50 meters early on before I’m once again engulfed by thrashing swimmers.  I finally find space way outside and even though I’m receiving no draft benefit, I can relax a bit and find my stroke.  For the next mile, I had a guy behind me who was drafting off of me, yet he hasn’t learned the etiquette yet as he hit my feet with his hands on maybe every stroke.  I sent him a few warnings with heavy kicks.  This would buy me maybe seconds of contact free swimming before he was right back up on me slapping my toes again.  The annoyance of this had me seriously contemplating stopping and turning but I controlled my “road rage” and played nice.  I finally lost him on the return trip when I put in a surge.  When I had free water, I felt relaxed and steady, but as predicted, did not feel fast.  I exited the water in one hour one minute and checked the swim off my race day.  

The first transition area was uneventful this time around and I was soon heading out to tackle the 112 mile bike course.  About a mile into the ride, I heard something make a clank like noise under my bike and thought that maybe I ran over something that someone ahead of me had dropped.  Another athlete pulled up next to me maybe a 1/2 mile later and told me that I had lost my spare tube kit off the back of my bike.  I’d now be riding the next 111 miles praying that I didn’t get a flat!  The first 10 miles of the Kona course are in town, before you head out onto the infamous Queen K highway towards Hawi and then back.  This is typically where you get an idea of the winds that you will be experiencing that day.  There was very little wind.  In fact, in all my experience racing and training on this course, I’ve never experienced a day with the winds this low.  Many would find this a great thing but I actually prefer wind.  Not the gusting trade-winds that feel like they are going to knock you over, but I like a head wind for some of the ride as it makes the bike more challenging for most and splits up the groups more on the bike and it also cools you off.  No wind in Kona means the run will probably be very hot.  Anyways, once on the Queen K, I found myself moving well, passing a lot of athletes that swam better than me, and I also found myself riding in open space, meaning no huge packs like there were in 2012.  I kept the pace easy as I was anticipating a very hot run and knew I’d need my reserves.  I was riding comfortably, yet felt strong.  Around 20 miles in, five guys in a pace line came by me.  Then 10 more who were basically now attached to the five guys who just came by.  Then 10 more who made this pack now 25 strong.  So much for thinking this would be a clean race.  No matter how much I try to set myself up for the fact that there will be packs of cheaters on the bike, I still can’t believe how deliberate many make it.  I’ve gone over this in my past race reports so I won’t beat a dead horse, but it was amazing to see guys who served a drafting penalty catch back up later riding on another athletes wheel again!  I never took the “if you can’t beat them, join them”attitude during the ride and got caught up in the packs.  I instead would drop back.  Sometimes I’d have to stop pedaling to drop back, only to have more athletes fill in the space I was trying to create, but I was intent on really trying to see if riding clean was an option here, and it actually is.  The frustrating part is that I feel like it cost me maybe 10 minutes.  Once we started descending from Hawi, I began to up the pace a bit and started passing huge groups.  Then, with 35 miles to go, just like in all my long training rides, I really upped the pace.  I felt great.  The ride felt very controlled, and my last 35 miles were definitely my strongest.  I fully understand that conditions are the premium decider on how fast or slow you ride here.  Nonetheless, I have competed in this race in every age group from 25-29 up to 50-54.  And to me, it’s kind of cool that my fastest bike split on this course was at 51 years of age.  The bike wasn’t nt all that easy though - it was very hot because of the lack of wind.  Many of the athletes around me were caked with salt.  From mile 90 to 105, we actually had cloud cover  but I could see these clouds moving inland and knew that when I started running, they were non existent.Two of the three disciplines completed, but the most challenging was just beginning...

Friday, October 12, 2018

Ironman Eve

So, I had good intentions of posting each day while I’m here, mainly as this blog has become my personal journal, a way to document some cool thoughts as my aging memory becomes less dependent.  I enjoy writing but when I’m motivated and the thoughts are organic.  No need to record redundancy, and the week leading into this race, from a training perspective, has been status quo to my race week leading into my qualifier in June.  I will say that my legs feel good.  I feel good.  I had an interesting build for this race, with the bike crash two months ago and working around my recovery from that.  But, the short of it is I feel well prepared.  The distances don’t intimidate me.  Well, the last 10 miles of the marathon in an IM always put a bit of a scare in there, but the biggest worry here with me is always the heat and humidity and how well I manage it.

I have been racing for quite a long time now - much longer than I ever envisioned.  I never have or will take for granted the privledge it is to race here in Hawaii.  And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, however I’m more appreciative than anything else.  This years race marks the 40th anniversary of the Hawaii Ironman World Championship, and I’ve had the fortune to compete in 25% of them.  I get to race here on this amazing island once again, in such a beautiful setting, and with my family here, and that is such a privledge.

Lisa, Kate, and Maddy O arrived on Wednesday and I don’t think Kate and Maddy have stopped talking, shopping, or shooting photos of each other since they walked off the plane.  The non stop running of their mouths must be more exhausting than doing an Ironman - they are quite funny and adorable though.  The two of them are running my Instagram this week and on race day for my friends and family to get an idea of what’s going down, and since I’m not great about keeping up with social media.  It’s been a lot of fun having them here and it’s been a really nice distraction from focusing on, well from focusing on just me.  This sport is extremely self focused and can feel selfish. Hopefully we inspire maybe a few people from our actions but the reality is that the commitment to this sport is a bit self absorbed.  It has many feeling like they are super important and others are super interested in their hobby.  I try not to bore others with Tri talk, and for my friends who have been extremely supportive, it certainly means a lot.

Ryan arrived Thursday and man was it great to see him.  He had quite the ordeal getting out of Florida during hurricane Michael.  The destruction caused by that storm definitely puts into perspective the minuscule importance of the race tomorrow.  Catching up with him and hearing how well he’s adapting to college life makes me extremely proud and satisfied.

We will have an early dinner tonight and I probably won’t sleep that well, but I get to wake up and spend the day swimming, cycling and running.  In Hawaii.  With my family.  It’s going to be a great day!  

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Kona 2018 Day One

“Why don't we turn the clock to zero honey
I'll sell the stock we'll spend all the money
We're starting up a brand new day” - Sting

1999 was my fourth trip racing Kona.  I have two very fine memories of that trip; One was that I set my pr that year on the old, harder course.  The other was of Lisa and I laying out on a secret beach, one that you take a long lava road to and then follow a foot path which opens up to a sandy white beach with small waves of turquoise water rolling in, and no umbrella is necessary to escape the sun every now and again as there are palm tress for that.  There, we listened to Stings Brand New Day album on my Sony Discman (1999!) over and over because a) I only brought that disc, and b) it’s a great album.  This is one of my favorite memories of all my trips to Hawaii.

Monday was the long, uneventful day of travel to get to Kona.  I went to sleep early Monday night as I was anxious to awake and swim at the pier, one of my favorite things to do.  I didn’t sleep well though due to the time change and more so my kid like excitement to “play” in the water the next morning.  I awoke at 3am Kona time and never really fell back asleep.  I stay around 45 minutes away from the race hub of Kailua Kona as I Ike it a bit more relaxed and peaceful.  I love triathlon but it can get a bit overwhelming staying at the heart of the race on Alii Drive - at least for me.  I packed up my swim gear, grabbed a coffee and plugged my phone into the aux cord in the rental mini van and hit shuffle.  The first song that came on, the first song to start this 2018 Kona experience, was Stings “Brand New Day”.

I met Mitch West at the pier at 6:30am.  It was the same scene down there as usual during race week here; A lot of people with very little body fat wearing very little and very little English being spoken.  I like to get my training swims in at the pier during race week around 6:30am as there are other swimmers going in, but it’s still not that crowded yet.  Around 7am is when it get’s super busy.  The water felt amazing and nostalgic right away, especially the saltiness.  The visibility in the shallower water wasn’t as crystal clear today due to a lot of rain yesterday, but once you got out into the bay, the visibility was back to it’s incredible range.  I felt a bit sluggish which was expected from the long travel day and little sleep, but I kept the effort easy and just enjoyed being out there.  At some point, Mitch turned and headed back in, as I hit the buoy where I wanted to turn and I was all alone.  I began the return trip, and maybe when I was 3/4 miles from the start/finish, I spotted eight spinner dolphins directly below me, and it gave me an indication of how great the visibility is in the bay because they were down below maybe 40 feet, based on how small they looked.  As I’m enjoying the view below, all of sudden I sense something out of my peripheral vision.  Mind you, I’m alone out there at this point.  It was another seven spinner dolphins swimming right by me, around five feet directly in front of me!  Not a bad way to begin this trip.  

I gave my father a call to update him on my morning - he’s been out here to see me race a few times and has been to most of my races in general.  He really enjoy the whole atmosphere and experience - in fact he feeds off it as his motivation is always higher than it’s usually high self following one of these trips. I certainly enjoy having him at my races, and even though he couldn’t be here this time, it feels right when I get to talk with him each day. Hearing his excitement about the minutia of my day is quite cool.

After the swim, I grabbed a Jamba Juice and another coffee, went through registration and then walked through the expo.  The expo at this race is very cool as it’s huge, and all the vendors want to show their latest new gear.  They also offer up some great deals if you happen to be racing.  Many of the pros were around doing interviews or Q and A’s.  Then it was the drive back to where I stay to put my bike together and get a ride in on the Queen K.  I rode an easy 32 miles and my legs felt surprisingly good.  My low back was tight which was definitely from sitting on a plane for 10 hours.  My bike felt fast with the race wheels and new tires on!  

Tomorrow will be another solo day for me but I’m excited as Lisa, Kate, and Kate’s friend Maddy arrive later in the evening.  I’ll try to be better about taking pictures as well - Lisa was on my case about this today.  Kate will be taking over my Instagram and Facebook page when she get’s here as she will be much better with content and keeping family and friends at home up to date.  

Saturday will be here quickly.  I feel ready.  I’m relaxed for the most part.  I know the pain that’s coming to me on Saturday all to well - I have nothing but respect for this race, and this Island and how it humbles you.  In some bizarre way, I’m looking forward to it this tenth time...

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Honu 70.3 race report

“Don’t call it a comeback…”
                                 - modern day philosopher LL Cool J

It doesn’t feel as though I took four years off from racing, although time has been traveling rather quickly since my kids have been in high school.  And even though I have kept fit, at my age, it’s easy to question if you still have the ability to race at the pointy end of your age group.  I view staying very fit and “practicing what I preach” as a responsibility towards my occupation.  But staying fit and being competitive are two totally different things - two things that can certainly be intertwined, and even have an overlapping consequence, yet do not go hand in hand.

I have been thinking about racing, no, I actually feel a need to race the Hawaii Ironman one more time, as it would be my tenth time, and I have unfinished business based on the result of my last time there in 2012 (broken toes - long story).  In my busy life, like most people my age, I have yet to find the optimal time to fit in an IM - I don’t really know if this exists.  So instead you find a time where your time constraints will be a bit less hectic.  This seemed to be the year.  The problem is that in order to qualify for Kona nowadays, you need to do a full Ironman qualifier.  I don’t have the time or desire to do two Ironmans in one year now, so my option was to race a late season IM this year that would qualify me for next years (2019) IM.  That was going to be the plan, however, In January, my good friend Jeff Molson informed me that the Honu 70.3 (half Ironman, on the Big island of Hawaii) would be the only half to offer Kona slots for this year’s IM.  This is a race that both Jeff and I had always wanted to do anyways as it’s another opportunity to race on part of the World Championship course, yet you’re only doing half the distance!  I surprised Jeff when I informed him that I actually signed up - what was just a possibility and idea was now a harsh reality to him.  I knew he’d follow suit though and sign up as well.

My idea was to join Jeff and bring my son Ryan out with me for a fun boy’s trip before he heads off to college; however, he had his track states meet the same week as well as CT Cup soccer games, so it was just Jeff and I. 

I had great support from my family and friends back home.  When I sign up for a personal endeavor like this, I try my best to keep it to myself as to not bore others with my focus.  My family and close friends at home though seemed genuinely interested in this goal of mine and how things were progressing - and if they actually weren’t, I really couldn't tell so it was all good.

My mantra going into my training for this race was “leave no stone unturned”.  In fact, as corny as it sounds, I’d actually say that to myself each morning in the mirror.  I know, but this worked for me as it made the focus and relevance more real each day.  I knew I didn’t have a lot of time so I focused on quality over quantity.  I’m a firm believer anyways in that if we have been involved in endurance sports for some time, we build up what I call cumulative aerobic base, meaning we can go for a long period of time.  Yet doing so at an aggressive pace is another story.  All my weekday rides were done on a computrainer indoors as this was safer and more efficient.  I’m old school.  I had a Wahoo Kickr, which I do think is great and will probably go back to at some point, but prefer the simple erg mode of a computrainer.  No swift, strava, or other flashy software for me, just putting together quality wattage based sessions in ergo mode on my computrainer.  Every ride had a focus whether it was big gear strength efforts, time trials, VO2 max efforts or simple recovery spins, and just about every ride was followed by a brick run, typically on my treadmill as the weather this winter and spring was a bitch more or less, but also because I could set a speed and I had to run that speed.  Again, quality over quantity.  Most rides were in the one hour to 90 minute time frame, and if I was short on time, I’d cut the ride a bit short to squeeze in a 10 to 15 min brick run.  I’ve been coaching for a long time now, and one of the things I can certainly attest to is the fact that a good portion of triathletes blow off their brick runs.  After doing a hard bike session, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’ve done enough.  I can also testify that this is a huge mistake and that most don’t run well in triathlons because of this.  Anyways, I also kept in three strength sessions each week as I also feel these are incredibly important.  Actually, I know, not feel, that these are important.  I started swimming a couple of times a week in mid April.  As my build for this race progressed, so did my confidence.  I was putting forth some really solid efforts in training and also recovering very well from them.  Yet until you are actually in the competition, after taking a lot of downtime, it’s still easy to have doubts.

I never take for granted what it takes to qualify for the Hawaii Ironman.  It’s probably harder than the race itself as there are so many great athletes with that same singular goal as you shooting for the few coveted slots awarded at the qualifiers.  This Honu 70.3 race had one slot per age group - win the group or no deal.  With 200 people in my age group, from many different countries, all vying for that one slot, there was no room at all for error.  I have to say that I was a bit concerned about the southern hemisphere countries as they were coming off their summer and would be much more acclimated.  Kona is not that far a flight from Australia and South America, two countries that have some really solid triathletes.  I never go through the participant list though.  I feel this can only get in your head.  My philosophy is take care of yourself, and race your race, and the chips will fall where they are supposed to.  I was nervous though during the week leading into the race.  It never feels good to be nervous.  But it’s been awhile since I was nervous prior to a race.  The value and importance of doing well was back!

Okay, enough of the boring stuff, let’s get to race week.  The race was on Saturday, June 2nd, and I flew out the Tuesday prior.  Jeff had arrived at the Island earlier and came to the airport to pick me up.  he mentioned how bad the vog (volcanic smog) was that day from the active volcano and the lack of winds.  Now for those who don’t know the Big Island of Hawaii, it’s a big island!  The volcano was 100 miles away from the race venue and over two 14000 foot mountains.  The media really blow things out of proportion.  Listen, if you happen to live close to the erupting volcano, it’s an incredibly serious and tragic issue.  But over 7/8ths of the island is fine, and the fact that their economy relies heavily on tourism, the news isn’t also stating how the resorts on the Kona coast and north of there are fine and open for business. 

Jeff also informed me that the trade winds were to pick up again on Wednesday and blow the vog out and boy was he right!  We started Wednesday morning with an easy shake out run along the coastline - this is my happy place.  I have spent a lot of time in Hawaii and the big island is by far my favorite.  I ran along a volcanic path and the stark contrast of the black path next to the white sand that flows into the bluefish green ocean just relaxes me.  The palm trees, and the breeze coming off the mountains also helps.  After breakfast, we rode our bike for 36 miles, from Kawaihai up to Havi and back - this was part of the course and included a lot of gradual climbing on the way up, which meant a nice long downhill on the return trip.  Now I have raced out here nine times and also put on training camps on the island.  One thing you can guarantee on the climb up to Havi is that there will be some wind.  It varies all the time from light to holy shit!! If the trade winds are really blowing, you end up with a severe cross/head wind combo on the way up, meaning a severe cross/tailwind combo on the return.  This Wednesday, wind wise, was a holy shit and then some day.  I honestly have never felt the trade winds so severe.  For seven to eight miles, it was hard to stay upright.  The gusts would jolt your bike laterally two to three feet.  It was nuts, but I also have ridden here enough to know that this was definitely at the higher end of what we would get and would change day to day.  The goods news was that it took all the vog out to sea and we had beautiful sunny weather.  We ended Wednesday’s training with a swim at Hapuna beach.  Hapuna is one of the top beaches in the world and the swim is nothing short of spectacular, with crystal clear visibility through the water for ever and a white sandy floor.  On this day, because of the winds, the chop made things not so smooth.  It didn’t matter though as it still felt great to swim in this ocean. 

Thursday, the winds died down and we started the day with a swim, followed by an easy spin.  Jeff and I ate really well on this trip.  In fact, we managed all our time on this trip quite well.  Things were just moving along very easily and efficiently.  Back to the food though; we ate fresh fish every day for lunch and dinner, and dinner was also accompanied with a beer or glass of wine or two.  Mainly two. 

I felt really good in the easy training sessions which continued to boost my confidence.  I wasn't sleeping great, but I never really do, and I felt fine upon awakening. 

Friday started with a swim again and Hapuna Beach was so smooth.  The winds were lighter, and swimming was more of a treat than an effort.  The water is so buoyant that you feel as though you are swimming with a wetsuit without the restriction of one.  I then did a very easy brick just to keep things loose and keep the legs moving a bit.  After checking in our bikes to T1 and run bags to T2, it was just nervous time and trying to relax until race start.

Race Day

Boring details for the trigeeks; I awoke at 4am, ate a plain bagel with peanut butter and a had a cup of coffee.  Then showered to loosen up, gathered all my other race gear, ate 3/4’s of a banana and drank 16 ounces of Gatorade, and at 5:30am, Jeff and I headed over to the start.  I put my nutrition on my bike which consisted of a large bottle of gatorade behind my saddle and a smaller bottle that consisted of 600 calories of EFS liquid shot mixed with water that was between my aerobars.  Anything else I’d grab on course.  Filled my tires up with air and headed down to the swim start.

The race started at 6:30am.  My wave went off at 6:55am, four minutes behind Jeff’s 55-59 wave.  This was my first time participating in a rolling start and even though I had been strategizing all week about where I’d seed myself and how I’d start, I still was unsure right up until our wave began.  A rolling start means that when they start your wave, they send you off in a line of four people every three seconds.  You seed yourself and your time doesn't begin until you run under the starting banner.  The problem for me with this set up is that you may not be racing head to head with your competition.  You may start right up front and never see someone all day who started three minutes behind you, and yet they may make up a minute on the course and beat you.  Two days prior, one of my biggest supporters - my father, sent me an email stating “I’ve been thinking a lot about your swim start and here’s my take; why don’t you seed yourself more towards the back of your wave.  This way, you are hunting down your competition and there are no surprises.  The really fast swimmers are going to take off anyways so don’t get caught up in that.”  I thought great advice, sounds like a plan.  Then, five minutes before our wave went off, I said f’ it and moved to the front.  My thinking was that the guys that were really confident that they had a shot at that one Kona slot were going to start up front, and that’s where I needed and wanted to be.  As we waited for the final few minutes before our wave started, there was one guy in my group who cut in front of everyone and peacocked around, sizing everyone up.  There was no way I was letting this guy beat me.

It was a running start into the water and I found empty space right away which is so rare!  I was loving it and felt smooth.  Around the first turn buoy, maybe 1/8th of the swim leg, a guy came up on my side and I jumped into his draft line and stayed there for most of the swim.  He was moving well and the few times I tried to come around him, I realized he was swimming a faster pace than I was capable of, so I stayed in his slip stream.  We passed tons of swimmers from the earlier waves but had free water most of the time.  Exiting the water, I felt as though I swam solidly, yet comfortably.  T1 was chaos now as many waves were exiting the swim and getting on their bikes, and I had no clue what place I was in out of the water, learning later that I was sixth in my age group. 

I felt solid on the bike right away.  I kept my cadence a bit higher and settled into a rhythm.  My philosophy for this race was to go somewhat conservative, at about 80% of my FTP.  I was concerned about the heat on the run which is why I was being conservative.  Around 20 miles into the bike I moved into the lead.  I didn't know this however while racing.  Ages were not listed on calves and because of our late wave start, I was moving past a lot of athletes from the earlier waves.  The winds were lighter than the previous few days.  As we got closer to the turnaround in Havi, it was raining.  Even though the showers felt good, I was concerned –when the showers end, the heat and humidity comes.  And that it did.

I rode strong to T2, and heading out onto the run course, my legs felt surprisingly bouncy.  It was hot and humid though and the sun was blazing now.  The run course is a new one for this race and consisted of two loops on a golf course and roads.  It was undulating, with lots of turns, segments of pavement from golf cart paths, segments of grass, and segments of road, and I loved it.  It was a slow course and I ran very conservatively again for the first loop as I was worried about the heat.  I felt as though I was running slow and yet no one was passing me.  Not only was no one passing, but I was actually passing quite a few younger athletes still from early waves.  There were aid stations at every mile and they were well stocked.  At every one, I’d first dump a cup or two of water over my head.  Then I’d take a swig of Gatorade, then I’d grab ice and munch on some and dump the rest down my trisuit, then I’d grab some cold sponges.  I did this at every single aid station, never slowing to walk though.  At a few I’d also take a swig of some coke. 

There’s an out and back at mile 10 and as I was coming out of it, I saw a guy charging hard behind me.  I had no clue what age he was but didn't want him to catch me so it was no longer conservative Eric.  I pushed hard.  It felt hard.  I counted my steps - this is a mind game I play to divert the pain.  I count 140 steps with just my left foot striking the ground and this equates to roughly a quarter of a mile.  I then do 140 steps counting my right foot, …  The counting dulls the mind and keeps me moving forward.  There were many times in the final three miles that I felt like slowing.  Even walking.  But instead I’d try to push harder.  I had worked way to hard the previous months not to be totally honest with myself and place it all out there.  My last three miles were my fastest.  Soon after crossing the finish line, the fast running guy from mile 10 came across and asked me if I won his age group.  Now I could see him closely and realized he was much younger than me.  I said “Son, I could be your father!”  Honestly, I think he was more delirious from the effort rather than being complimentary towards me.

Here’s the interesting part; Because there were no age numbers written on our calves, and because the race numbers were randomly assessed, I still had no clue if I had won my age group.  I had a good feeling about it, but was still unsure.  I raced back to our condo to shower and get back to the race before Jeff finished.  I also wanted to get my phone which I had left at the condo.  As soon as I got there, I called Lisa who had been tracking me all day with some friends.  When she answered, the first thing I said was “did I win?”  Lisa was choked up and said “oh my god, yes, you won!!!”  People tracking me at home knew how I did overall before I did.  Second place was a guy from France approximately eight minutes back, and third a Canadian around 15 minutes behind.

I found Jeff a bit later at where else? – the beer tent.  We waited for awards and the Kona slot allocation, and then celebrated at the best restaurant on the Big Island.  It was a great day, and it felt terrific to be back.  I felt quite alive, and it felt awesome. 

The next day was a lazy day at Hapuna beach and the morning before I flew out, I got in one last run along the coast on my favorite winding lava trail, a reflection run where I absorbed the past few days, past few years, and breathed easily feeling very satisfied and content.  I’m looking forward to doing the same a few days after the IM in October..