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!