It ain’t over until it’s over – Danny Royce
I believe I was in high school when I first saw the IRONMAN World Championships in Kailua-Kona, HI on NBC. If you have ever seen it (it usually airs in November every year), you know its incredibly inspirational and highly motivating. I knew nothing about triathlon at the time but I said to myself that I would someday do an Ironman and go to Kona. After getting into triathlon in 2011, I signed up for 70.3 Eagleman in 2014 in hopes to qualify to Kona (this ended up being the last year for any North American 70.3 race to be a qualifier for Kona). 2 weeks before the race, I wrecked my bike and shattered my elbow. 3 surgeries later, a STAPH infection, and a few months later, I signed up for Ironman Texas 2015 for my Ironman debut. I never made it to race day as I developed a hip issue that ultimately stemmed from my wreck 9 months prior. I ended up getting major hip surgery and also developed rhabdo in the summer of 2015. I honestly thought I would never run or race again. It was a very trying time for me physically and emotionally. I spent more time in the hospital, doctors offices, and going to rehab than I care to remember. I made my comeback in 2016 and I’m still amazed today I was able to get back to running, training, and racing. I knew an Ironman was not in the cards for 2016. That would have just been stupid, unrealistic, and I would have likely ended up injured again. So after a solid comeback year in 2016, I decided I would make another attempt at racing an Ironman so I signed up for Ironman Florida 2017.
When I originally planned this season (which was about this time last year), Ironman Florida was the main focus. At the time, I wasn’t too focused on 70.3 Worlds and I just wanted to race that race just to experience it and I thought it would be fun. As we started the season and had a solid race at 70.3 Florida, the priority for the majority of the season started to shift to 70.3 Worlds. Eric insisted that we didn’t need to do any Ironman specific prep until after worlds. I was running really well in training and running the most volume I have ever done. The key was that I was healthy and training consistently day in, day out, week in, week out. So we didn’t need to put in any crazy volume, long rides, or lung runs until after worlds. There was 8 weeks separating the two races which really only gave us 4 weeks for an IM build/prep phase (1 week recovery after worlds and a 3 week taper into the race). On paper, I didn’t think it was enough time for me to feel “ready” to tackle the distance. But as we got through the first 2-3 weeks of the build, my confidence started to grow that I could put together a solid race in my Ironman debut.
Mandy and I headed out early Wednesday morning for the 8 hour drive to PCB. We got there in the afternoon, got checked in to our condo, and then did athlete check in to avoid the craziness on Thursday (which ended up being a smart move as the line on Thursday was absolutely insane). I got in a quick swim and run to open the body up after sitting in a car for so long. Not exactly the best thing for you a few days before tackling an Ironman. We picked up my parents from the airport later that night as they flew in from Pittsburgh. I underestimated how important it was to have them there. Just having them there, put me at ease and calmed my nerves. It was also a nice distraction as we tried to avoid talking about triathlon and the race all weekend.
On Thursday, I got in a 1 hour ride and checked out the first part of the bike course and then followed it up with a short run afterward while also checking out the run course. Mandy and I drove the bike course later that afternoon. Most people probably think this is overkill but it’s important to me to see the course, know what to expect, and have some visual cues in the back of my head. Even though you can’t memorize any bike course, let alone 112 miles, it’s every athletes responsibility to know the course. I’ve always feared taking a wrong turn or being mis-directed so I make it a priority to check out every course I race. My buddy, Danny Royce (his rr is here) who happened to be staying about 4 doors down from me asked me to help him out with his rear brake on his speed concept. After some work, we were able to get it fixed but I was still slightly worried and was going to feel absolutely terrible if he had any issues with it. Fortunately, he made it through the race with zero mechanical issues and had an IM PR! My nutrition prep (carb load) for the race started Thursday at lunch with a big lunch and followed it up with another big dinner that night.
Friday came around and I got in a 20 minute-ish swim first thing in the morning to check out the sun situation and swim entry/exit. Mandy cooked up my last carb load meal before the race….. PANCAKES!! Oh so delicious. I did a quick 30 min spin to ensure the bike was working flawlessly with braking and gearing (we’ll get back to this). Everything was smooth sailing and I checked my bike and transition bags later on. I did my best to stay off my feet, stay out of the sun, and hydrated all day. My coach, Eric Limkemann and his daughter Sidney made the trip down from Virginia and they stayed with us in the condo. We caught up a lot on life and triathlon which was a nice distraction for me mentally. I started tapering down my food intake after the big breakfast but finished up the day eating my usual pre race meal of chic-parm (cooked by Mandy of course). I went to bed around 8 pm to try to get as much sleep as possible but I knew I wouldn’t get too much shut eye.
Race morning came at 3:30 AM and I hopped right out of bed as soon my alarm went off. I downed my breakfast pretty fast: 2 packets of oatmeal, banana, and a GU stroopwafel. I violated the number #1 rule of racing and had two cups of coffee as well (I have never had coffee the morning before a race even though I drink coffee every single day). I sipped on a bottle of First Endurance EFS Pro (6 scoops – 240 calories) as we headed down to transition. Eric dropped off my special needs bags for me which alleviated some stress for me. I completely underestimated how easy a support system makes things. Mandy, my parents, and Eric really went out of their way all weekend to handle anything they could so I didn’t have to deal with it. I am truly grateful for all of their help. I got to transition, threw in my GU gel flask in my run bag, and setup my bike. I ran through the all the gears on the bike (minus the small chain ring as I knew I would never be in it) to ensure everything shifted smooth. Note that at this point the bike was in the big chain ring. I double checked, triple checked everything, then jogged through transition to ensure I knew the flow and where my bike was. I got out of transition and got in a short 10 min run to get warmed up. Made one last stop in the bathroom, did 5-8 minutes of stretch chords to get the lats and delts warmed up (something I need for a good swim), and then started getting into my wetsuit. I had GU 30 minutes before the start to get my last calories in before the race and washed it down with water. We headed down to the beach so I could get a good spot in the rolling start 60 min and under corral. I said my good byes, gave Mandy and Eric hugs (I kissed Mandy only…. sorry Eric!) and tried to stay relaxed and calm.
I reflected on everything it’s taken to get here: The surgeries, the rehab, the setbacks, the blood, the tears, the frustration, the hard work, the sweat, the sacrifice, the dedication, the early mornings, the late nights, the long workouts on the weekends. It was now time to make my IRONMAN debut…..
The cannon sounded and we were off. Guys were fighting to get to the front of line but I didn’t really care. I was near the front and that was good enough for me. The rest would settle itself out. The first 50 yards or so is pretty shallow so I jogged for as far as I could and then started dolphin diving until it was deep enough where I wasn’t touching the bottom of the ocean. A group of 5-6 people immediately formed and I sat in 4th or 5th position. I wanted to find James Burke prior to the start but I never could find him in the mass amount of people. I wanted to use him to pace off of but I unfortunately never found him. I tried to keep everything smooth/controlled and keep my hr down. I was swimming on the left hand side of the group and I kept coming in contact with a guy on my right. I didn’t try to sight too much as I was just following the guys around me and let them do the sighting for us. The pace was honest and I thought it honestly might have been too fast knowing it was long day ahead. It was slightly slower than my 70.3 pace and my IM inexperience had me a bit worried I would burn too many matches early on but I wasn’t willing to let the group go. We made the far turn to headed back to shore on the first lap and there appeared to be some confusion in the group. I was still sitting in 4th or 5th position and it appeared the guys in front didn’t know if we were supposed to head towards the swim finish chute or in the middle between the swim start and finish. There were police lights flashing at the swim finish and in the middle which made it easier to find while sighting but also made it slightly confusing where the exact the turnaround point was. I started remembering the course map and it showed we were supposed to head for the finish. So I started heading that direction and the group seemed to have the same idea at the same time and we all got to shore together heading in the correct direction. It got real shallow and everyone stood up and started walking to my surprise. These guys were swimming a pretty good pace and then all of a sudden everything stopped and it was calm like we weren’t racing. I started dolphin diving to get to shore which launched me to the front of the group. I led the group up on to the beach and around the turn around. I grabbed a cup of water from the volunteers just to take a sip to get the salt water taste out of my mouth. We headed back out on the second loop and as I got into the water waist deep, I took a brief pause to take my goggles off and find buoys. I couldn’t see them that easily so I wanted to make sure I would swim a good line. I found the far turn red buoy and headed that direction. As I did this, the group went ahead of me and then I just hopped back on their feet. Shortly later, we started swimming through the rest of the field on their first lap. This was the most congested swim I have ever done and most contact I have ever had in a swim. I knew it was going to be a challenge to keep the guys in front of me in sight while trying to dodge everyone else. I did my best to wiggle between folks and not disrupt their swim. At some point, I lost all contact and sight of the other guys around me. I have no idea what happened but it didn’t matter at this point, I had to keep going and not worry about it. I felt myself getting into a better rhythm on the second loop and part of that probably had to do with not worrying about staying on feet and just swimming my own race. I made the far turn to head back to shore and I couldn’t really see the buoys ahead of me in the swarm of people but I remember spotting the tall building next to the host hotel on my practice swim. I headed just to the left of that thinking that would be straight line to the swim exit. After a few minutes, I realized I was swimming all by myself. No one was anywhere around me. I could see the tall building and I could see swim exit up ahead so I thought I was doing something right. It wasn’t until I was about 200 yards from shore when I saw the swarm of people of 50 yards to my left. Shoot….. I swam way too wide heading into shore. Not ideal, I thought, as I started to dolphin dive to shore. I heard Dave Ragsdale mention James Burke swam under 50 min as I stood up out of the water. I figured I didn’t lose too much time with my screw up. I ran up on the beach and tried to remember this was an Ironman and not a sprint. I stayed relaxed, got to the changing area, got my wetsuit off, and threw on my bike helmet. We weren’t allowed to leave our bike shoes clipped in to the pedals so I carried my bike shoes with me as I ran to my bike. A volunteer handed me my bike and I was off.
BIKE (4:51:48) – with a mechanical
I ran with my bike past the mount line with my shoes in hand. I stopped just past the mount line, leaned my bike up against the fence and out of the way of anyone behind me. I slipped my shoes on and carefully got on my bike. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of the swarm of people watching. I headed out with all things feeling good. I kept power in check and purposely low trying to get my hr down. I was passed early on by someone (I forgot to look to see if he was in my AG) and I tried to keep him in sight but he was riding faster than I was comfortable with. About 4 miles in, I looked down and noticed my chain was in my small chain ring. Hmmm…. how did that happen?! I hit my di2 shifter button and I don’t hear the front derailleur move. I hit it again, nothing. Hit it again from the base bar button, nothing. Oh crap I thought….. my di2/electronic shifting is dead. I shift the rear derailleur and it works fine. I hit the front derailleur button to go DOWN to the small chain ring and I hear it move. I then hit the button to shift it to the big chain ring and I hear the derailleur move but the chain doesn’t move from the small chain ring. I try hitting both buttons back and forth multiple times and I can hear the derailleur move but the chain never moves off the small chain ring. I’m soft pedaling and out of aero at this point trying to figure out what I’m going to do. I pull off to the side of the road and put the chain in the big ring with my hands. I spin the crank and the chain falls right back to the small ring. I do this 2 more times and it falls back to the small ring every time. I’m now freaking out in my head trying to figure out what to do. I had a brief negative thought of dropping out of the race as I thought my day was basically done but then I thought I have come too far to get to this point to throw in the towel. I would never be able to live with myself if I quit and I would be letting everyone that came here to support me down. I knew there was an aid station around mile 10 so I figured lets just get to the aid station and I can figure out a plan along the way. I hopped back on the bike after what seemed like an eternity and half of the field passing me. I was able to hold 200-210 watts in the 39-11 gear which was right around my goal wattage so I was still making decent time. I started thinking about how am I going to fix this front derailleur. I then remembered I had a multi tool in my flat kit so I figured once I got to the aid station, I could try to adjust it with the allen key and get it fixed. I got to the aid station and pulled off to the side of the road. Luckily, they had bike racks there so I could hang my bike and easily work on it…. much easier than doing it on the side of the road. I pulled out the allen key and starting turning the FD limit screws. I made a couple small adjustments but the chain wouldn’t go to the big ring. I tried to eye the alignment of the FD but I couldn’t see anything obviously wrong. I made some more adjustments and tried to see which way the FD was moving as I needed it to move away from the frame but I couldn’t see it move. I started turning both limit screws hoping to have this “eureka” moment but nothing seemed to work. I asked the folks at the aid station if they could radio for race support. I knew it was shot in the dark and it could take 30-45 minutes for them to get there but I was running out of options. While I was turning screws, I saw Derk De Korver (the favorite to win the AG in my opinion) fly by along with Danny and a whole bunch of other folks. I thought my kona shot was basically zero at this point and completely went out the window. I tried a couple more adjustments and all of a sudden I got the chain in the big ring!! Just as I did this, race support showed up. It only took them 2-3 minutes to get to me which I feel very very fortunate to get support so fast. I didn’t want to shift the FD back to the small chain ring and check to see if it would shift back to chain ring for fear of getting stuck back in the small ring again. I just happy that I got the chain on the big ring. I told race support I got it working and he looked at it for 30 seconds or so and he said he would follow me for a little to make sure I was ok. I hopped back on the bike and made sure not to ride angry. I tried to stay positive and told myself it’s a long day and anything can happen. I started to remember Danny Royce’s motto at IMCHATT – “It ain’t over until it’s over”. The second stop at the aid station felt like it was forever but it ended up being only 5 minutes after looking at the data. Race support followed behind me (he was on a scooter) for the next several miles. I started to pass people that had blew by me as I was on the side of the road. Around mile 18, I hit a bump in the road and my hand moved and I accidentally bumped the FD button which shifted it into the small ring. Oh crap, not again….. I really didn’t think the chain was going to shift back to the big ring on its own but I was relieved when I pressed the button and it shifted back to the big ring! The mechanic behind me saw this and he pulled up to me. I couldn’t exactly hear what he all said to me but he said he would drive up ahead and stop and I could pull over so he can force the FD to not move from the big ring position. I wasn’t sure 100% sure I needed to stop for another adjustment but it was still early on and I didn’t want to have the issue again later on in the bike ride when I didn’t have race support right there with me. So I pulled over up ahead and he went to work as I tried to re-tape my draft box cover as it had popped off (even with tape on it already) when I hit that bump earlier. He made some more adjustments and got me rolling again. This 3rd stop (if your counting) was about 3 minutes of time on the side of the road. I can’t thank the mechanic enough. I wish I got his name or could have found him after the race to shake his hand and buy him a few beers. He ended up finding me on facebook and sent me a message on Monday after the race. Thank you Jason Covais!!
So off I went trying not to be an idiot and ride my own race. I focused on smooth controlled power and tried to get my hr low. My hr at this point was much higher than I wanted it be. I wanted it to be in the low to mid 140s but it had mostly been in the mid 150s the whole time. I started passing some folks and tried to use the sling shot effect to my advantage to make up some of my lost time. I started coming up on a few riders who were riding a decent pace (maybe just slightly slower than me) and I looked over my shoulder as I was going to move over to make a pass and I saw a course official pull up just behind me. I felt like I was riding a legal distance behind the guy in front me but I was taking zero chances at this point and I hammered to pass the couple guys in front of me. I wanted to make sure the official knew I was making an obvious attempt to ride legally and not take advantage of anyone. A little later on, I noticed that I had formed a 4-5 person train behind me. From my standpoint, they looked like they were riding legally…. and possibly right on the edge of the legal distance. I didn’t care much as I was just focused on riding my race. Around mile 40 or so (from what I can remember), Joe Adriaens passed me. I already thought my Kona shot was gone but there was still something in the back in my head that said it’s a long day, anything can happen. I knew if there was any glimmer of a shot at Kona still left, I had to go with him. He opened up a decent gap but I kept him in sight. I still had the 4-5 guys behind me in tow and then I realized if I was going to ride with Joe, I couldn’t let any gap open up between us. So I timed a nice little surge to get back up to him (sorry to those guys who were behind me for that random 300 watt surge). A little after mile 50, I passed Joe as I wanted to be in the front of the group through special needs as I was planning to stop for 2 bottles and some GU gels. Coming up on special needs, I had been feeling the urge to pee and had been holding out on finding a good time to “go”. Having never peed on the bike before, I didn’t know how hard it was going to be or how long it was going to take but I knew I needed to go. Just before special needs, Joe passed me by and then I decided it was good time to “go” and I just went for it. I started soft pedaling and 2 seconds later, things were flowing. What a relief. The guys behind me probably didn’t appreciate that but I needed to go. They ended up passing me as I was relieving myself and I road up to special needs last in the group. To my surprise, none of them stopped at special needs to grab a bag. I wasn’t about to abandon my plan now. “Stick to the plan, stick to the plan”. “Follow the f’ing plan” – Tommy Allore. I grabbed 2 bottles of EFS pro (240 calories each) and 4 more GU’s from my bag and off I went.
I knew I had my work cut out for me to catch the group and at first I thought it might be possible. I thought about hammering to catch back up but it wasn’t a match I was willing to burn. I rode the next 30 miles solo and I was able to pass a couple guys along the way. I made the turn on highway 79 and was curious to see everyone coming the other direction. I would finally get a glimpse of how far back I was. I started doing math as guys rode in the opposite direction towards T2. Around mile 85 just before the 180 degree turnaround, I shifted my RD going up a slight incline and I dropped the chain. Ugh…. not another issue. I hopped off the bike and threw the chain back on just as the group I was riding with 35 miles earlier, passed me going the other direction. This threw off my math and trying to calculate how far back I was so I was left just hoping for the best. I stayed positive and kept telling myself “Its a long day, anything can happen” and “It ain’t over until it’s over”. I started remembering Danny Royce’s blog where he lost 10 minutes at IMCHATT due to a flat and he stayed strong the rest of the day and still managed a solid result and a KQ. As you can tell, his motto of “It ain’t over until it’s over” really stuck with me since reading his race report.
On the way back to T2, I came up on the major intersection of highway 79 and 20. There was a volunteer just before the intersection and I thought she was telling the cops when racers were coming. I noticed that the cops were still letting cars cross my path ahead of me and I was coming fast. I got out of aero in anticipation for this and swerved around the cars as the cops never saw me and were waving cars across the intersection. I was fortunate to make it through the intersection without getting hit as one of the cars saw me and stopped just before moving forward. But it definitely was a scary situation and probably would have ended my day. I started to reel another rider in but then a strong rider, who I later learned to be Matti Weitz, passed me around mile 90. At this point, I was ready to get off the bike and just wanted to get to T2. I threw the data out the door and just said stick with Matti and keep him in sight the whole way to transition. Matti passed the guy I was reeling in and he took this opportunity to sit just behind Matti’s wheel and most definitely not at the legal distance. He was 1 maybe 2 bike lengths back for several minutes. This was making me pretty angry and I started to think about what I was going to say to him when I passed him. A few minutes later, a race official pulls up and BAM!! Blue card to the guy riding on Matti’s wheel. Oh that felt awesome and it provided me some positive thoughts for the remainder of the ride. We hit the bridge/climb at mile 100 and a rider behind me started sprinting the bridge and passed both me and Matti like he was going for the strava KOM. I thought he was absolutely crazy and couldn’t fathom how he even had the legs to sprint that fast/hard up the bridge. The 3 of us rode the rest of the way until the guy who sprinted up the bridge veered off course as we made the slight right along the coast. I then realized that this guy wasn’t even in the race! He didn’t have a bike sticker or anything. He was simply out for a training ride and now the whole sprinting up the bridge made complete sense. I rode the rest of the way into transition and started to prepare myself for the marathon. I was in good spirits and was still hopeful I could catch some of the guys in front of me.
As far as nutrition, I started with 2 bottles of EFS pro (240 calories each) and 4 GU roctane gels. I grabbed another 2 bottles of EFS pro (240 calories each) and 4 GU roctane gels at special needs. I drank all 4 bottles and 7 gels for a total of 1660 calories. I grabbed a ton of water at the aid stations and kept drinking as much as I could. I have no idea how many bottles of water I went through but I was trying to drink 5 bottles of water (in addition to my EFS pro bottles) and I would either drink it, squirt it on my neck, or wash myself off after peeing. My guess is that I drank 8-9 bottles of just water. I also peed a second time on the bike later in the ride.
I ended up losing a little over 11 minutes with the 4 mechanical stops (not including the special needs stop). Potentially more when you factor time to slow and speed back up.
Average power: 198 watts
Normalized power: 203 watts
So how did my FD get so screwed up? I’ll never know for sure but I have a couple theories. A FD doesn’t just miraculously get out of alignment on its own. So it somehow got bumped out of alignment. It’s possible when I left T1 and leaned my bike up against the fence, the FD could have gotten hung up on something and caused it shift/move. I may have accidentally bumped the FD when I was setting up my bike in transition in the morning (I don’t remember this happening but it’s entirely possible). Or someone may have accidentally bumped my FD after I left transition when they were setting up their bike next to mine. Who knows though. It’s something I’ll never know for sure what or why it happened. It is what it is.
From Triathlete.com – Photo credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for Ironman
Photo credit: My wife, Mandy Jackson
I got through transition pretty quickly and set off to run my first marathon. Mandy was right there as I got out of transition and she didn’t even let me get a word out. Apparently my support crew planned that as they knew something happened (they thought I flatted) but they didn’t want me to tell them every time I saw one of the them. They wanted to keep me thinking positive so they planned to just feed me info and not let me dwell on what happened during the bike. Much to my surprise, Mandy told me 2nd was 3.5 minutes ahead and I was 3rd in my AG. That’s all I needed to know as I knew exactly who I was chasing (Joe). I kept calm and had no doubt I could chase him down. I ran up to Matti within the first quarter mile and that’s where we officially met. He told me he was trying to run 3:15 pace and I said “PERFECT!!” I thought I was capable of running in the 3:10-3:15 range but having never done an Ironman, I knew there was a lot of unknown and the odds/chances weren’t exactly in my favor. Matti and I literally ran side by side for 20 miles. We had a full on conversation for about 16-17 miles. We talked about our run strategy and he said we run easy for 32km (he’s German) and then we work together to bring it home the last 10km. That sounded like a solid, smart, and safe plan. Something told me to just stick with him as I was a rookie at this distance and I could use any tips/help I could get. I few times I would pick up the pace without even realizing it and he told me to slow down….. “too fast, not yet”. I was feeling great. I felt like I was out for an easy jog. My hr was low. Part of me couldn’t believe how low it was (mid 140s) as my hr is never this low running 7:20ish pace. We had a few fans jokingly give us crap about having a conversation during a race. We would smile as we both knew we were in for a long day and we would need all the energy we could save for the end of the marathon.
I got some updates on the way out on the first loop that I was putting time in to Joe. I was in no rush to catch him and figured I wouldn’t play my cards until the second loop. Matti and I started catching guys who appeared to be struggling and likely overbiked. My confidence was extremely high but I didn’t let myself get ahead. Matti and I kept telling each other that this was a game of patience and nothing mattered until the last 10km. I made sure to get my nutrition in (4 Gu’s in a flask) on the first loop and take water in at every aid station. I was a little faster moving through the aid stations than Matti but I would slow after the aid station and wait for him to catch up. My nutrition plan was to take 2 GU’s an hour plus some Gatorade. And drink as much water as I could get from the volunteers at the aid stations. I had to pee within the first 3 miles and I knew I couldn’t afford to stop so I just let it flow while running.
The way out to the turn around at the park flew by fast. I saw Joe and Danny as they headed back and I gave them both some words of encouragement. We ran back towards transition to finish the first loop with ease. I finished my GU flask a lot earlier than I thought I would (around mile 9 or 10) so I got rid of it at an aid station and started taking in Gatorade. We got to the half marathon (1:35:43) and the time back to Joe was still around 3 minutes. Mandy was absolutely going crazy when she saw me. I was calm/collected and knew exactly what was going on and what my plan of attack was. I think I had to calm her down as I knew exactly what was at stake and I was extremely confident. It wasn’t time to play my cards yet.
I grabbed another GU flask from special needs and we headed back out running side by side with Matti. I could feel my stomach start to act up a bit and had that feeling of having to go. I took in a couple sips of Gatorade and my GU flask and my stomach felt worse. So I decided to go strictly to water to calm the stomach and would go to coke if I needed energy/fuel. Speaking of coke, Matti and discussed at what point we would start pounding coke. I tried to stay away from coke as long as possible. I didn’t want to take it until I really needed it. I think I started taking coke in around mile 16 or 17. I got some more updates on the way out to the park that I was gaining more time. At this point, I knew 100% this was going to come down to the last few miles. I had already thought about what I was going to do if I caught Joe. Do I just continue on and pass with authority? Do I sit on his heels for a bit and wait? I knew whatever I did, I couldn’t give him any glimpse of hope. I also figured I started before him so I would need a big enough gap ahead of him to account for the delta of the rolling start. I figured if I could get a minute ahead of him, that should be enough. We got to the park again (mile 20) and the gap was down to a minute. I had now been running patiently for 20 miles waiting to attack. I felt like I waited for so long and there were many times I wanted to go sooner but I knew this was my only chance and it was time to “unleash hell” and go for it. I picked up the effort/pace and tried to get Matti to stay with me. He started to fade but I couldn’t wait for him. I had to go.
I ran the next 10km like my life depended on it. I passed Danny shortly after the turnaround and he told me to go get him. I finally got sight of Joe ahead of me as I exited the park. I started using land marks to get the time gap. 45 seconds, 30 seconds….. I made sure to keep the effort/pace fast but not too fast that I faltered the mile. I was really impressed with Joe as he never looked back once to see where I was. I was now in unknown territory. My longest training run was 20 miles (I did that once) and I have never even ran a marathon. Everything was new to me and everything was starting to hurt. I took full advantage of the aid stations and ran through them as fast as I could while pounding water and coke. I knew I could make up a bunch of time just by flying through the aid stations. My mind was starting to get a little weird and I knew things weren’t completely there. Around mile 23 I had the gap down to 15 seconds or so. We went through an aid station and I flew through it but still managed to grab a coke. Joe was now within grasps. I didn’t even think about it, I went for it and passed him shortly after the aid station. I gave him some words of encouragement as I went by. He said something to me but I couldn’t make out what he said. I knew I couldn’t let up and I knew I couldn’t look back. I focused as best as I could to keep me mentally in it and continued to dig as deep as I could. I could tell Joe wasn’t on my heels but I still didn’t know how far back he was. I knew I had to just put one foot in front of the other and continue to dig. I started counting down the miles until the finish… 2.5, 2, 1.5…. My quads were killing me and I wanted to stop but I knew if I stopped even for water or coke, I may not be able to start running again. I started grimacing and yelling at myself to keep going. I saw my dad with like 2 miles to go and he was pumped. I tried to feed off his energy. Dig, dig, dig, go, go, go…… go to the well, empty the tank. I went through the final aid station and thought to myself that this was my one moment of opportunity. Did I come this far to falter the last mile? Did I spend 2014 and 2015 getting 4 major surgeries and all that time in hospital beds and doctors offices just to let this opportunity slip away? Did my family and friends come all this way for me to not give it everything I have? I couldn’t let this slip away. I wouldn’t let this slip away. I ran like hell that last mile. I could tell my mind was not completely there but that told me I was at my limit. I got to Alvin’s Island and I could hear the finish line. Sprint! Sprint! Sprint! I had no idea how far back Joe was and I couldn’t afford to give up any time. As I approached the finish I heard Dave Ragsdale (announcer) say that Joe was just 12 seconds back. I somehow managed to find another gear that final stretch. It was a complete blur but I remember raising my arms as I crossed the finish line as I knew I just gave it everything I had and that’s all I could ask for. I heard Dave say those 4 famous words to me: “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” and my dream had just came true.
FINISH – 9:03:30 – 3rd AG/8th Overall
I could barely stand up on my own. A volunteer grabbed my arm and kept me from falling over. Somehow we found Mandy and I went over to give her a big hug and tell her I loved her. She started crying telling me I was second and going to Kona. Dave came up to me and congratulated me which I thought was very nice of him. I was light headed, dizzy, and not completely there. Mandy’s fb video doesn’t give it justice just how terrible and miserable I felt. I felt like a bus had just hit me. They took me to medical to check my vitals. I tried to drink some Gatorade but my stomach hated it. After 10-15 minutes in medical (I made sure I didn’t get an IV for anti-doping reasons), I told them I was ok and I walked out. I walked up to her and she asked if I heard. I said “heard what?” She told me someone had ran from behind and caught both Joe and I. And that I ended up 3rd in the AG and not 2nd. I was still feeling absolutely miserable so I was more concerned about just how bad I felt. I told Mandy, Tommy, and Amber that I didn’t even care. I was extremely happy with my effort particularly on the run. I dug further than I have ever had before and that felt amazing and absolutely terrible at the same time. Nick Gough was the one who ran up to second and he just so happened to be right next to us as we were talking. I went up to him and congratulated him on great race. Nick had a fantastic race with a 3:03 marathon (the fastest run of the day).
Everyone was assuming there was only 2 slots and I knew there would be at least 2 with a small chance of 3. I hadn’t heard officially if there were 2 or 3 based on number of starters so there was a still a glimpse of hope in my mind. We headed back to the condo and got some food in me. Once I got some pizza in me, I started to feel better and actually be coherent. I later learned there was officially 2 slots allocated to my AG based on number of starters. I didn’t even need to ask the guys who beat me, I knew they wanted their slots. I knew my last hope was if one of the older AG’s didn’t take the slot or didn’t finish under the 17 hour cutoff. I started looking at the tracker and saw the M75-79 was going to finish in plenty of time. Then I saw the M80-84 participant was going to be right on the border of finishing in time. Even if he didn’t finish in time, I still didn’t know where that slot was going to be reallocated to but I knew my chances were high it would go to my AG. Long story short, the older gentleman didn’t finish in time. I believe he finished somewhere around 17:05-17:10. My hat goes off to him just for sticking it out and never giving up. Damn impressive!!
I got about 2 hours of sleep that night. Not because of the anticipation, I was just wired and still amped up from the day. I also pounded like 4 redbulls earlier so that didn’t help. I rewarded myself with a nice big breakfast the next day. The Pancakery in PCB is legit. Definitely check that place out if you are in town. We headed to awards after breakfast and I think Mandy was more of a nervous wreck than I was. I told her it didn’t matter either way and everything happens for a reason. Before awards started and much to my surprise as I thought I was going to have to wait another 1.5 hours to find out about Kona slots, Dave Ragsdale got up on the podium and gave a little sneak peak on slot allocations. He said there were 2 slot reallocation’s. 1 for the women and 1 for the men. He announced the F75-79 had no finishers and that slot was being reallocated to F50-54. Then he said M80-84 had no official finishers and that slot would be reallocated to…… drum roll…….. M30-34!! Mandy and I were sitting with Matti and his gf and they all screamed. I got a huge smile on my face as my other dream had officially came true. I still didn’t 100% believe it until Dave called my name during the actual slot allocation ceremony.
I feel somewhat lucky to KQ on my first attempt at the distance especially with the slot reallocation. But I also know that I worked my ass off the last two years to set myself up for a solid opportunity at a KQ on my first attempt. I obsessed about nutrition, pacing, and my mental state the last 8 weeks. I knew if I was going to falter or struggle with the distance, it was going to be because of one of those reasons. I made sure to leave no stone unturned and I planned for every type of scenario I could think of and how I would handle it. I’m just getting a glimpse of how hard KQ’ing really is nowadays. It’s harder than ever with less slots at races and tougher competition across the board. Even in a race that took over 9 hours, it came to down to seconds and there will never be a race that goes perfectly.
I want to thank my wife for putting up with me the last few weeks. The training had taken a lot out of me and I was pretty moody and not always pleasant to be around. Thank you to my parents, Eric, and Sidney for making the trip down and all the support before, during, and after the race. Thank to you everyone that was at the race that gave me words of encouragement along the way: Tommy Allore, Amber Allore, Danny Royce, the whole Royce family, and many others. Thank you to everyone following along at home and everyone who sent me messages.
2017 is in the history books! Can’t wait for next season! But first… pizza, cookies, and BEER!
YDM, gutsy race and the Royce”s were proud to have watched you in action and meet your awesome wife Mandy. Stay well.
Great race report! Couldn’t be happier for you and Mandy. Till next time…
Great race report! You’ve really inspired me as you pushed through the challenges! I’m 3 weeks from my first IM – IMCUZ. Thank you for taking the time to write the RR, for putting in the hard work and never giving up. Cheers friend! I’ll be tracking your progress in Kona!
Steve, congrats again on one hell of an accomplishment! I have a lot of respect for the hard work and dedication you put into this, and really enjoy following your adventures. Keep up the hard work, and best of luck in Kona!
Super inspiring Steve. My sister Anna told me about your awesome accomplishment 👏👏👏. Well done 👍. Way to go.
You may have just moved up the podium in that race… https://www.usada.org/nicholas-gough-receives-doping-sanction/