I guess you can put this in the “Better late than never category” or maybe not necessarily “better,” just late. But I have finally gotten around to writing a bit about my race (?) in Kona. To put it plainly, Kona was a terrible day for me. Ironman #13 certainly proved to be anything but lucky. Or so I thought at first. In hindsight however, I feel I am incredibly fortunate to be able to do what I do, and to have competed on our sport’s most hallowed ground. Despite things not going according to plan, I still consider myself very lucky to have had another experience across 140.6 miles of the Big Island.
I lined up right next to Pete Jacobs as I knew he would get out to the front early. It was quite a pleasant start without much roughhousing amongst the boys. For the first 500m or so (who can really tell distance out there? ), things were going well. I don’t think it slowed me down at all, but out of nowhere I started cramping in my right calf and foot. I tried to just “kick through it” and it went away, but it scared me that I was already cramping. My main goal was to make the swim group. Nearing the turn, I saw a split forming and did all I could to hold that front group. Sadly it wasn’t enough. For some reason the tail of that lead train seemed to be wagging quite a bit and I just couldn’t get a hitch to play caboose.
I swam along the rest of the way, kicking through the leg/foot cramp and conserving energy as I knew trying to chase down the front group, or pulling along the second, would both be wasteful.
Getting onto the bike I was hopeful that the group I was with (Sebi, Jordan, Amos, Andreas, etc…) would be strong enough to pull us back tot he front, but not so strong as to drop me like a school girl. Glance up at that bike split again and I’m sure you’ll realize it was the latter situation that materialized. And with rather shocking expediency, much to my chagrin. Before the first climb up to the Queen K I was already falling off. I was working hard. My body and powermeter told me so, but I was losing time. Onto the Queen K I was digging deep, out of the saddle, huffing and puffing. To no avail. I was unhooked. In the beginning I thought I had just been outclassed. That I was riding hard but they were riding harder. Coming back up Palani I was in no man’s land and knew my day, at least my day of realizing my highest aspirations, was done. Soon I was passed by a few guys I knew I should have been able to ride with. I was seeing power numbers WAY beyond what they should have been to stay with them and it was then that I knew something was wrong. I went through all the possibilities (or so I thought). I reset my powermeter, manually zeroed it, turned it off and back on again, checked my rear wheel for a soft tire, etc… all to no avail.
I was losing gobs of time, and would be lying if I said the thought of flipping a U turn didn’t come into my mind. But I figured I had come all that way, so had family and friends, so I might as well soldier on. At least I’d get a workout in!
It wasn’t until I was at the bottom of the Hawi descent and sitting a couple of towns away from the front of the men’s race (pretty far back in the women’s even), that a light bulb went off and I realized what may have been the issue. I pulled to the side of the road and flipped over my bike. My heart sank when I spun my rear wheel and saw it come to an immediate halt. It was completely my fault. I had to adjust my rear brake for the wider rim on my race wheel and to replace the pads and I didn’t realize that it was rubbing. I had waited to the last minute to put on my race wheels in an attempt to avoid a pre-race flat and in all the rush and activity before and during bike check in, I failed to notice the rub.
I disconnected my brake and got back on. At that point I had two choices: 1. Ride my watts, have the run of my life, and finish last; or 2. Gamble. Take the risk, ride harder than I planned and hope getting back to somewhere I could even see “the mix” would give me the adrenaline to run well and maybe pull myself back to 30th or better.
I took option 2 and as it almost always does, the House won. For the first six miles or so I felt descent, but soon, and in rather arresting fashion, my efforts on the day came back to haunt me. Stiffness, cramps, yada yada yada… I just fell apart. For the first time in my triathlon career, I walked outside of an aid station. Strolling along the Queen K I realized it was going to take a LONG time if I kept walking. So I mustered up a “run” (?) and told myself no more walking unless its in an aid station. It would end up being the slowest marathon of my sporting career.
I certainly thought of bagging it. But I had no reason. I was suffering a fate of my own making. An avoidable circumstance at the hands of my own impatience and inattentiveness. I make no judgments about those who made the decision to fold their cards and DNF on the day. There are certainly valid reasons to do so. But I was not injured. I would be doing no further harm to myself by seeing it through and I have somewhat of a “policy” of not DNFing that I try to adhere to.
I am a fan of this sport. I am passionate about it. I am fortunate enough to coach and be friends with many age group athletes who make sacrifices and put in loads of effort just to get the chance to race in Kona. It wasn’t that “quitting wasn’t an option.” Quitting is always an option. The truth is I simply had no reason to do so. Stepping off the course solely because I wasn’t going to finish in the top 15 seemed rather bereft of merit. Our sport, unlike many others, has a history in that certain course. I don’t mean to be melodramatic, or cliche, although I know this may sound like I’m encroaching on both, but I felt that by quitting I would be doing an injustice to those who strive to get here, and to the sport itself.
It is a fantastic experience to trot down Ali’i Drive and cross that storied finish line. I’ve known it to be so on good days, and I am happy to say I know it to be so on not so good days.
Luck plays its role in our sport, but we are all lucky to “ply the trade.” And any day you cross the finish line of an Ironman, in the grand scheme of life, is a pretty good day.
As always I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my sponsors and supporters. Again… cliche, but truthful all the same, I could not do it without your help. So I offer a huge, yet insufficient THANK YOU to Zoot, Ceepo, Mavic, SPY+, PowerBar, Mikelson & Mikelson, LLP, my family, my fantastic friends, and all those who have offered encouragement and support throughout this season. On to 2014!!