Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Big Dance on The Big Island: Kona 2017 Race Report

If you follow me or are a somewhat regular reader of this blog you probably know that I got my first KQ at Ironman Maryland in 2016.  I had a year to plan, to get fit, to try and prepare for the conditions, to watch all the prior editions of Kona that I could get my hands on.  You might be wondering why in the world it had taken me so long to write this race report given that I had the opportunity to see one of my goals and dreams through to the end.  Well...life happened.  In that year I fell in love, completely and selflessly in love with my best friend.  He came to Kona and we had the the best time and the best post race vacation.  And not too long after it was over, I was heartbroken and for awhile didn't even want to think about the trip/race.  So now that we've covered that I'll say the Big Island is absolutely amazing.  We spent 10 days in Kona and then about 5 days traveling around other areas of the island and I feel like we could have easily spent another 2 weeks exploring, hiking, snorkeling, etc.  It's definitely worth a visit (hello Volcanoes!) whether or not you go for a triathlon.

Kona Bound
Getting to Kona from the East coast isn't quick.  It was relatively easy, just time consuming.  We had a 2 leg journey - Baltimore - LA and LA - Kona.  With quite the long layover in LA.  Upon arriving in Kona the airport is pretty much all outdoors and it was gorgeous!  We decided to divide and conquer to get the checked bags and rental car as quickly as we could so we could just get to the hotel for the night and get some sleep.  Thankfully my bike bag fit nicely into the trunk of our Buick rental car!  Quite seemlessly we were off to the King Kam for the night.

Ho'ala Swim
I had decided to go out to Kona 8 days before race day so that I could participate in the 2.4 mile practice swim one week out from race day.  Race start was literally right out the door of the King Kam.  I was super nervous about swimming 1.2 miles out into the ocean and turning around and swimming 1.2 miles back.  The water was crystal clear, everyone was just happy to be there and no one seamed to be overly physical or anything.  I tried to just dial in a comfortable effort and stay steady.  For my first non wetsuit ocean swim and taking it relatively easy I felt great and was happy to have done this before race day.  I came out of the water with the star of the week...Bob Babbit of Breakfast with Bob.

Race Week
The week leading up to race day is crazy busy! You can book yourself full of activities if you want to but I prefer more of a low key and relaxed lead up to race day and this week in Kona and on Ali'hi Drive may have been a bit over stimulating for me.  We moved into a great condo just above the Poke Shack for the week and the rest of the Sherpa crew arrived.  I was lucky enough to be joined by the best crew ever. Mom, Gary, Rory, Kara and my best friends Erin and Brian all joined the party and made for an awesome week in Kona.  There are breakfasts, parades, runs (undie-run), coffee boat swims and parties hosted by all the big sponsor companies and no shortage of fellow athletes/friends to catch up with everyday, not to mention putting the final touches on the training.  Erin and I biked almost the entirety of the bike course in different segments leading up to race day, including the climb to Hilo and back.  It was hot, windy and hard.  We started from Waikoloa, not Kona, and it didn't seem so bad when it was only a 40 some mile ride.

Pre-Race: Friday
Erin and Kara helped me organize and pack my transition bags, we made sure my running shoes were laced how I like, nutrition was sorted and packed, bottles were filled.  I biked down to the pier for bike check-in and bag drop off while Rory and Kara had walked down a bit earlier to work on some
chalk art and catch Breakfast with Bob.  I got in line and walked through the bike check-in area,
which is completely lined with bike reps frantically calling out and scribbling down your components, sponsors, helmet, saddle, etc.  One did make special note of District Taco, I can guarantee I was the only District Taco sponsored athlete racking my bike that day.  As I approached the pier I was partnered with another athlete who would be racked near me and we were paired with a very nice volunteer.  I was paired with Lectie Altman, if you follow Coeur Sports or the age group triathlon world you may have heard about accident she was in and her hard fought recovery she is currently taking on.  This was not her first Kona, she was calm and confident
and helped calm my nerves a bit as I was overwhelmed with excitement, fear, doubts, joy and everything in between.  Our volunteer was very sweet and walked me through transition step by step.  We racked my bike and hung my gear bags and stopped multiple times to point out different parts of the swim course to me.  Once the bike racking was done we hung out for a bit and watched some of the pros come through for racking.  Then it was out of the sun and heat to chill in the Normatec boots and share a great dinner with my Sherpa crew.

Race Day: Saturday AM
Rory and Kara volunteered for body marking on the pier so they were the first to head out.  I was up and had my classic pre race applesauce breakfast before getting a ride down to the pier with Gary and Mom.  I got in line to head into the athletes only area on the pier.  I was able to spot Rory and Kara for my body marking, then it was on the get weighed and then a stop for some pre race hydration before heading out onto the pier to make sure tires were pumped, nutrition and hydration loaded onto
the bike and bike computer was ready.  Once the bike was good to go, I got into my speed suit, turned in my morning clothes bag and was happy to take a few moments to attempt to relax with Lori and Brian.  I was so thankful to have them near as I was getting quite anxious.  We watched the flyover, the pro men, the pro women and then sent Brian off with the AG men as we waited for the final wave of the day - the AG women.

THE SWIM: 2.4 Miles - 1:17:24
I lined myself up to the right and a couple rows back.  I knew I wouldn't be contending for a spot at the front of the pack with this crew.  This swim is amazing, crystal clear water, scuba divers, helicopters, drones, the iconic turn around at the Body Glove sailboat and of course the famous steps bringing you out of the water and onto the pier for the rest of your day.  I was able to find feet and stick with them for about 30-40% of the swim.  We had relatively calm waters and though I had been warned that it would likely be a very physical swim I didn't experience much more than a couple taps or bumps.  I don't say this often, but this was hands down my most favorite part of the day.
Out of the change tent and to my bike!

T1: 5:02
Up the famous steps and under the fresh water hoses as I peeled down my Xterra Speedsuit.  Into the change tent for a quick slip on of my LG aero tri top, put on my LG shoes and get covered in sunscreen before heading out to my bike and running out of transition.  Ellen was just behind me in transition and we were able to share positive vibes on the way out.

THE BIKE: 112 Miles - 5:58:54
I headed out on the bike feeling good and confident as I made my way up Palani toward Kuakina Highway for the prelude to the Queen K.  As I attempted to make my first shift for the short climb up Palani my worst fear came true, my rear shifter didn't work.  I quickly pleaded with Madame Pele, if there were any day and any course I needed my bike to work properly it was now.  Today. In Kona.  Hundreds of training miles with no issues, I needed 112 more miles out of this shifter.  And that's exactly what I got. Crises averted.  The out and back on Kuakini was just a quick trip but brought up back through the "Hot Corner" to see all the spectators before sending us out to grind away on the Queen K up to Hawi.  I knew within the first 20 miles or so that this may not be my greatest day.  I couldn't get comfortable on my saddle at all.  I hunkered down as best I could and executed the plan - HR, hydration, nutrition, enjoy the day.  I make it up past Waikoloa and knew the cross winds and climbing to Hawi were only about to pick up, as the air temperature and pavement temperature continued to heat up.  The commentators say is every year "112 miles of heat, hills, and humidity" well they aren't wrong.  I made my way to the turn around in Hawi and hoped for a bit of a tailwind on the way back to Kona, nope, no such thing.  I took 3 fresh, ice cold bottles of Osmo from my special needs bag and headed south.  I had done a decent job of keeping myself cool, I was drinking gatorade and water from every aid station and taking an extra water to cool myself with.   Around mile 75 or so the soles of my feet began to burn.  I had never experienced this before - not even during 140 mile rides of constant pedaling around Cambridge on brutally hot and humid days.  My HR began to drag a bit so I started taking Coke (with a sport top cap) at the aid stations.  My stomach wasn't feeling awesome but I knew I needed to continue to eat if I wanted to have a shot at running 26.2 miles.  I reach my hand into my bento box (new top thanks to Felt during race week) to grab a waffle...all I could sense was waffle mush.  I paused...and then went in for a full scoop and put if down the hatch.  I knew there wouldn't be another aid station for 15 or so miles and I needed calories to keep the engine running.  The thought it now makes me want to vomit, I don't know how I didn't vomit then.  I continued on my way back to Kona, reminding myself that Kona isn't about fast, it's about steady and consistent.  As I approached town I was able to see the front of the women's pro field on the run course as well as some of the top finisher's from the pro men's field.  I made the turn back down toward the pier and heard the cheers from my crew as I approached the dismount line.  I've never been happier to pass off my bike to the volunteers and get on to the run.  I kept my bike shoes on as I dismounted as I had been cautioned the heat from the pavement would likely burn my bare feet should I decide to leave the shoes on the bike.

T2: 4:34
A quick run into the change tent - put on run socks and shoes, changed into my sleeveless tri top and grabbed my racebelt.  Got another slather of sunscreen before heading out for the final 26.2

THE RUN: 26.2 Miles - 4:58:42
As I exited the pier I heard the announcer call out the top 3 male finishers - oh boy, they were done and I still had a marathon to run.  I dialed into my HR and started getting my bottle of Osmo pre-load/active in to help keep me hydrated.  I headed out on Ali'l Drive, past my friends and family and out past our condo.  I was able to see some friends on this out and back and new full well some of them were putting together darn good {AMAZING} days!  Icey sponges were available at every aid station and I took advantage of every single one.  The first few miles ticked off, I was feeling good, I was sticking to my nutrition and hydration plan, I wasn't moving "fast" but I had a steady and consistent pace that I would have been thrilled to hold on the day.  By mile 7 my feet were on fire, the soles of both feet just felt like they were going to rip off.  I pushed the pain aside and told myself to just keep running, that way I'd be done and off my feet sooner.  I made my way up Palani, past my crew and past Lee, whom I told "I'm never coming back here again".  I got a little pick me up at the Base tent around mile 12 or so with some cheers and rocket fuel as I carried on toward The Energy Lab.  I had used The Energy Lab as a specific visualization exercise many times during long runs, knowing it wasn't going to be easy, and I looked forward to putting in the work in the actual Energy Lab.  I promised myself I wouldn't look down at my feet as they felt like they were covered in blood.  Any other race and I would have stopped to look and assess the situation and maybe DNF if it were a major heealth concern.  But not here, not on the Big Island, not on this day.  As I made the left hand turn and headed down I knew my feet were not in a good place.  Holding run form and pace was extremely difficult, by mile 16 or so my stomach had started to revolt against anymore sweet sugary things.  I kept moving foward and after what felt like forever got myself out of The Energy Lab.  As I turned back onto the Queen K my feet were killing me - I had started to do some weird hobble-run on the outer most edges of my feet to attempt and dull the pain.  The sun was setting quickly and any hope I had of a daylight finish had diminished.  It was not completely a manage the day, manage the conditions and get yourself to the finish line in one piece kind of day.  Around mile 23 Pete was waiting for my on the Queen K - it was so nice to have someone to listen to my complain about my feet!  I told him, completely seriously, that we would be spending the night in the hospital because I likely needed a skin graft for the soles of my feet.  I trudged on back toward Kona, past the Base Tent, past Palani, past Rory and Kara, until the right hand turn that would take me back to Ali'i Drive.  That final downhill was the worst! I used my chews as a bite stick, as the friction between my feet and shoes was about a 9.7/10 on the good old pain scale.  One last right hand turn onto Ali'i Drive and I soaked in that final stretch.  I knew my crew was waiting for me at the finish line.  I took in the chute, I raised my arms, thanked my Dad, and celebrated.
Focused and Forward in The Energy Lab.

FINISH: 12:24:36
This was not my best race, not my worst.  It was an incredible experience, a learning lesson and the culmination of an amazing journey.  The island is careless with people's dreams, even the best of the best will crumble in the conditions the island throws at you.  Having experienced it firsthand, it makes it all the more amazing what the top pros and age groupers can do.  We stuck around the finish area to cheer in the midnight finishers and went back the following day for the awards banquet (highly recommend if your travel schedule allows).  I then took a week off, of pure vacation, no bike, no running, so swim workouts, just relaxation.  No thinking about what the next race was or when it would be.  Honestly I didn't know if Ironman was in the near future, distant future or ever again at the point.  I spent entirely too much time at the local pharmacy buying all the blister care and protective products I could find to give me a fighting chance at walking normally for the rest of our trip.  Spoiler alert, I didn't need a skin graft, my feet weren't bloody, but the soles of both feet were completely blister covered.  From the tips of my toes to my heels (thanks humidity, salt water, and sockless bike!).  A few days out from race day and I already knew I wanted to go back to Kona - maybe not immediately or relatively soon but I needed to come back to this island.  I prepared as best I could, but there is nothing to prepare you for that course and those conditions other than being there and racing on that course, in those conditions.  Now more than 6 months out, I have 140.6  #8, #9, and #10 on the schedule.  I know that I want more than anything to get back to that island, to feel the energy, to take on one of the hardest single day events in the world.  Stay humble, stay hungry.

My Crew <3 td="">

Breakfast with Bob, Poncho Man and Rinny

Heather Jackson at bike check-in

Andy Potts at bike check-in