Mandy and I flew out a week before the race and arrived around 7 pm Hawaiian time which totaled about 14 hours of travel. Fortunately, the trip was smooth, uneventful, and all luggage including the bike (most important) made it without any issues. We rented a 3 bedroom house about 2.5 miles southeast of the pier up on the mountain in a residential area away from the hustle and bustle of Ali’i drive. This proved to be an excellent decision as it was great to get away from the IRONMAN chaos and just relax in peace and quiet. It was noticeable “cooler” up the hill/mountain compared to on Ali’i and our house didn’t have AC. I was pretty concerned about not having AC but there was enough breeze to keep the house cool even during the middle of the day. The view from the house wasn’t too bad either.
This was the first time I have ever been concerned about a swim. I’ve seen the videos and pictures and heard the horror stories of the mayhem that occurs in this swim. It’s basically a UFC fight for 2.4 miles and I knew if I got caught up in the chaos, it could make for a long day. After talking to some FOP swimmers and listening to a few podcasts, I decided it was best to line up away from the pier towards the left. Nick Noone messaged me the day before the race asking if I was interested in meeting up and trying to secure a spot at the front of the swim start and to the left of the pier. Nick is a great swimmer/triathlete and did the race last year so I was more than happy to tag along and learn from him.
Nick and I were about the 5th or 6th guys in the water right after the cannon fired for the pro women. We got in about a 5 min warmup before we started to see the start line getting crowded. So we stopped our warmup and positioned ourselves right next to the middle black ROKA buoy. I noticed there was a current pushing us towards the pier which worked out perfectly with us lining up way left of the pier. We treaded water for about 15 minutes together and a bunch of other EMJ teammates found us while we were waiting. We had a great group in order to hold position right next to the buoy. The lead up to the start was not as stressful as I thought it would be. But I credit that to my teammates as we shared a bunch of laughs in those minutes leading up to the cannon. I get chills even when I type this but I made sure to look around and take in the atmosphere before the start. I was completely in awe and couldn’t believe the mass amount of people lined up on the seawalls and pier.
The cannon fired and we were off!! I got out pretty good and I had clean water in front of me. Within 15 second of the start, I looked up to sight and noticed someone was 15 yards ahead already….. dude was absolutely flying. Shortly after, I got clocked in the face and right eye by the guy on my right. I thought my goggle was going to start leaking but it fortunately held up for the remainder of the swim. Within about 5 min of the start, I looked up and noticed I had been pushed over to the right towards the buoys and I was directly in-line with buoys. I wasn’t planning to get in-line with the buoys until about 1k in to the swim after the swim would clear up and I could get into a rhythm. I quickly found a group and sat on feet. The pace was perfect and I focused on staying relaxed and getting my heart rate down. I noticed we had a pretty big group forming…. maybe 20+ guys. I was content letting everyone else do the work and sighting, and I would just sit in and conserve energy. About 1500 yards in, a small gap formed with 5 or 6 guys in front. Not wanting to lose the group, I made the decision to go to the front and bring the group back. I was able to close the gap within 30 seconds and sit back in on feet. We made the turn at the halfway point and surprisingly there wasn’t much contact or fighting for position. Everyone seemed content sitting in where they were. On the way home, I noticed I was starting to move towards the front of the group and was 3rd or 4th guy in the group. I sighted a few times to ensure I wasn’t getting pulled in the wrong direction and to see if there was any groups in front of us. I couldn’t see anyone in front of our group but I figured there was a small group ahead that would swim just under 50 minutes or so. As we came up on the pier towards the finish, I could hear the spectators on the pier cheering which gave me an adrenaline boost. This was my best executed swim I have ever had as I spent minimal energy by drafting and not sighting much during the whole swim. I exited the swim, took my cap and goggles off, and started unzipping my swimskin. I only had 1 thing to grab in my T1 bag (my quarq qollector) so I didn’t even go into the change tent. I stopped right outside the tent, grabbed the qollector and gave the nice volunteer my swimskin, cap, goggles, T1 bag, and then I was off to my bike. I credit my fast T1 time to avoiding that change tent and having very little in my T1 bag.
My plan for the bike was to ride conservative for at least the first half of the ride and then re-evaluate after the descend from Hawi. I did not want to be one of those many people who over bikes and walks 16 miles of the marathon. I headed out of transition for the first 5 miles or so that in town. Kuakini Hwy is absolutely terrible. Several potholes and bumps in the road and plenty of opportunities to lose your nutrition. Fortunately I was near the front of the race so traffic was light for me and I wasn’t trying to dodge other rides and potholes at the same time. I took the first few miles pretty easy as I wanted to get my HR down after the swim and with all the excitement/energy from the spectators. I hit the climb up Palani to the Queen K and just spun relaxed and controlled not wanting to burn any matches.
I got out on the Queen K and I saw a big line of motorcycles off to the side with referee’s just waiting for the big groups to form. I was excited to see this many ref’s to keep the race fair as Kona is notorious for draft packs on the bike. What happened the next 60 miles was completely and utterly ridiculous. I was passed like I was standing still by group after group of riders, majority of which were sitting 2-4 bike lengths back and sometimes 3 wide. I saw plenty of referees on the way out to Hawi but what made no sense to me is that they weren’t giving any penalties out to these guys that were sitting in less than 6 bike lengths. They would arbitrarily give out a penalty to one guy when a group of 20-30 guys flew by me and only about 2 or 3 of the guys in the group were riding legally. I knew the drafting was going to be bad but I never thought it would be this bad. I stuck to my race of riding conservative and I refused to latch on to one of the groups. I let the groups go by and I hoped I would re-pass these guys late in the bike or on the run.
Before the race, I noticed that there were a ton of aid stations on the bike…. 19 to be exact. Even though we ended up with rather easy Kona conditions on the bike (minimal wind and cloud cover), I grabbed water at every single aid station on the bike to stay on top of hydration. I wanted to make sure I started the run hydrated as I figured it was going to be a complete sufferfest on the run. I started the bike with 2 bottles of EFS Pro (240 calories each) and 6 GU’s. Just after the turnaround in Hawi, special needs didn’t have my bag ready to go for me which cost me about 20-30 seconds. I grabbed 2 more bottles of EFS Pro and a few more GU’s.
On the descend from Hawi, there was very little wind and I was bunched up with several other guys. I tried to get away at one point as I hammered to the front only to be re-passed shortly later. It wasn’t until mile 75 or so when the groups finally broke up. On the way back to Kona, we were presented with a tail wind the entire way and cloud cover. I had hoped for much tougher conditions as I feel training in Florida gives me an advantage over others in dealing with the heat. The rest of the ride was rather uneventful. I passed some guys that had passed me earlier but not nearly as many as I would have liked. I came into T2 with a positive attitude knowing I had executed my plan and I had plenty left in the tank.
In hindsight, I believe I biked too conservatively. My bike split was pretty slow and I know I’m capable of much faster. I need to be more aggressive (but not too aggressive) and take more chances. Lesson learned for next time.
I came into T2 and went into the change tent where it was just pure chaos. I quickly found a spot to sit down and got into my run shoes. Some volunteers were in there with water cups which worked out perfectly as I had a bottle of EFS pro powder (3 scoops) ready to go in the my run bag…. I just needed to add water. They quickly filled my bottle up with water and I was off and onto the run course.
The first 10 miles of the run was an absolute blast. The crowd support was insane and I was feeding off the energy with all the cheers from everyone. It was getting warm and there was no breeze while running in town but my HR was right on target, effort was in check, and pace was perfect. I did my best to keep calm, relax, and just chill. There is really no flat section on the run course so on the climbs, I let the pace slow and kept my effort the same and made sure to not let my HR spike high. I was having so much fun that I told multiple people “this is a f-ing blast” as I ran by. I headed up the steepest climb on the course around mile 10 (Palani) and I knew this could be a critical moment on the run. If I ran it too fast, the next 16 miles could be absolutely miserable. So I took my time running up Palani staying as relaxed as possible.
I got out on the Queen K and I was met with a descent headwind. The next 10K felt completely uphill and the headwind was no help. I started passing people which gave me a lot of confidence. One guy started running with me and shortly later, another guy came by us and we both latched on to him. He took the lead and we both sat behind him and let him block the wind for us. Just before we entered the energy lab (mile 15 or so) I got a boost of energy and went ahead of the group. I entered the energy lab and I started to see some of my teammates heading the other way who were all having fantastic races. To be honest, they looked pretty terrible. I had always heard that people look like death when they come out of the energy lab which now I can say I saw it with first hand experience. We had a slight headwind running into the energy lab which was keeping the temps manageable. Once at the turnaround and I started heading back to town (~mile 16), it was like a switch was flipped on and the oven had just been turned on to it’s max. It was an inferno. I started to understand why my teammates looked so badly running out of the energy lab. I grabbed my special needs which had another bottle of EFS pro powder (3 scoops) and few more GU’s. I filled the bottle with water at the next aid station. Cliff Bar had a station where they were passing out ice towels. I grabbed as many as I could to try to keep cool. I saw a huge ice bucket and I stopped to dump my head in the bucket. Back on to the Queen K and my pace continued to slow and I started walking aid stations in order to stay cool and hydrated. I went through a rough patch for 4-5 miles starting at the turnaround. I was still relying on my nutrition of EFS pro/GU’s and grabbing water/ice at the aid stations. I didn’t feel like I needed to go to coke yet. Around mile 20-21, I started to feel good again and my pace was getting faster. I saw Nick Noone up ahead and gave him some words of encouragement as I went by. I saw some EMJ teammates who weren’t racing and were out on the Queen K cheering us on. They told me I looked great and I was having a fantastic race. I hit mile 24 and I was starting to struggle. I figured Nick was starting to catch to me and he caught me right at the top of Palani and the Queen K. He was running with a German guy and they absolutely flew down Palani. I hung on for dear life and sat in behind him running as hard as could down that hill. Once we hit the flat section on Kuakini, I had absolutely nothing left. Everything hurt and I couldn’t stay with them. It seemed like it took forever but I made the turn onto Hualalai and then onto Ali’i towards the finish line. I saw my brother just before the finish line and gave him a high five. Then I saw my friend Amy who started running with me as I neared the finishing chute. I entered the finishing chute and everything was a blur. I did my best to take it all in despite my head not being completely there. I raised my arms and delivered my best knockout punch as I crossed the finish line.
OVERALL (9:05:41) – 33rd AG/142nd OVERALL/10th USA AMATEUR
I am extremely pleased with my race. Considering this was only my second ever IRONMAN and first time in Kona, I feel like I nailed it. I’m very proud of how I raced and I didn’t let anything outside of my control get to me. Trust in the process and plan….. thanks to my coach Eric Limkemann. I do think there are things to improve upon and ways to get faster. With this experience and another IRONMAN under my belt, I’m feeling more and more confident in my abilities at this distance.
HUGE thanks to my family/friends(Mom, Dad, Nick, Brianna, and Amy) who made the long trip to Hawaii and cheered me on. I can’t thank my wife enough for putting up with me the last few months. It was a long training block and there were times I was not pleasant to be around and rather moody. I love you Mandy!!
Lastly, thank you to all of my EMJ teammates for their support and encouragement. I got a huge boost of energy each time I saw you guys out there on the course.
Until next time…