Race Report: Ironman Hawaii

Pre-race:  I got up at 4 and ate my breakfast.   My left calf was very stiff (no idea why).  I tried stretching it and massaging it, but that only made it sore so I left it alone and hoped it wouldn't bother me during the race.  I gathered all my things and left for the race around 5.

Once at the race site, I dropped off my run special needs (no special needs for the bike this time) got body marked (they stamp the numbers - very cool) and then pumped up the tires on my bike and added my nutrition to my bike.  You don't have access to your transition bags so I didn't spend much time in transition.  I tried to be calm and cool, like it's just any old race, but that's tough to do when you walk to transition next to Mirinda Carfrae and there are cameras everywhere.  I was nervous.

A little after the pro start, I got in line to get in the water.  My plan was to start over by the Ford banner.  I watched video from previous years and it didn't look as hectic over there.  

The Swim:  1:15

The cannon fired and I was prepared for the roughest swim of my life.  It was rough for the first few minutes, then I noticed the gap to my right that never really filled in so I moved over and had clean water for a while.  It was smooth going for a while, but then things bunched up again and it got rough again.  Later, I found some clean water again.  Overall, it was a rough swim at times, but not the worst I've experienced.

Right before the cannon.

I thought I might be capable of a 1:05, but thought I might be as slow as 1:10.  There were some swells that rolled in about halfway, and I've heard a lot of people mention they had slow swims.  It seems like the good swimmers still had fast swim times, but the mediocre swimmers struggled more and had very slow times.  I'm not really sure why my time was so slow.  The swells slowed me down some, but I think part of it was mental.  I was nervous and intimidated and I didn't get in there and mix it up enough.  Had I been more aggressive, I may have had a better swim.  It's hard to say.  Obviously, I have more work to do in the pool.  Every Ironman I do I swim slower than the first.  This is getting old.

One thing that's different about Hawaii, is that I've noticed swim times are all across the board.  The guy who won my age group swam a 1:09.  You wouldn't expect that from an age group winner.  It's a tough swim.  

Transition:  4:20

T1 was okay.  I was disappointed to see my swim time, but not surprised.  It felt like I was in the water a long time.  Transition was very busy and I had no help.  I washed the salt water off with the hose, and accidentally got a lot of water in my eyes and my contacts were very blurry as I tried to get ready for the bike.  I thought I might have to pull them out and ride without them but they cleared up before I left T1.  I put on my heart rate strap, tri top, arm coolers, watch, race belt, helmet and shoes.  I opted to play it safe and not keep my shoes on my bike.  There wasn't a lot of time to get in your shoes before the first hill, and I thought it would be crowded so I thought this might be faster overall and I think it was.

The Bike:  5:20

This was not a good ride for me.  Early on, my legs felt okay but never great.  People were riding so hard through town and I was riding 5-10 watts below my goal so I got passed a lot.  Once on the Queen K and away from the spectators, people calmed down and I was able to work my way through some of the packs as I stepped up my power to goal power.  I was concerned about having troubles avoiding drafting, but that wasn't really a problem.  I had to work at it from time to time, but most people were trying hard to ride legal so once things thinned out a bit it wasn't really a problem.

Coming into Hot Corner for the first time.

I settled in on the Queen K, hit the first aid station, drank some water and threw up.  Luckily, I had some practice vomiting on the bike so I've gotten pretty good at it.  I had a feeling this was a sign I was in for a very rough day.  I think I may have taken in too much salt water during the swim because after this I was fine.  My Perpetuem and Hammer bars sat well and never upset my stomach.  Weird.

I heard the winds in Hawi didn't start until late in the climb for the faster swimmers.  Unfortunately, I had a headwind the whole way up the climb and I watched my average speed go from 22.6 down to below 21.  The way out of Hawi was a blast.  I love going fast so I was doing 40+ mph and passing people like they were tied to a pole.  It was fun....and easier than expected.  We basically had a headwind, then a tailwind at Hawi.  We didn't really get the dreaded cross winds.  We did to an extent, but not bad and not nearly as bad as the day I trained up there.  

The way back from Kawaihae to the airport was a grind both mentally and physically.  Most of the way was into a headwind.  My watts dropped, my head ached, my legs ached and my average speed was dropping. I typically feel good at mile 100, but I didn't this time.  I was mentally exhausted, weak, tired and very humbled by the long line of athletes still in front of me.  The bike is my strength, and I didn't pass all that many people overall. Looking back, I don't think I drank enough water but I think there was more going on.  I'm not sure what exactly, but I don't think my problem was only dehydration.  I felt weak and mentally spent.  I was ready to be done. 

When I get like that, it typically means I'm low on electrolytes so I made sure to take in some extra salt pills, but that didn't bring me back.  I only averaged about 185 watts the final 90 minutes of the ride.  Based on what I trained for, I should have biked a 5:05-5:10 so I was off by quite a bit.

While I was suffering on the bike, the parents were enjoying smoothies by the ocean.

Coming off the bike into T2, my legs were stiff and sore and running was a struggle.  My left calf was tight.  My spirits were really low.  I didn't anticipate feeling this beat down coming off the bike.  I expected to be hot and possibly a little dehydrated, but I thought my legs would feel strong.

T2:  4:40

T2 was slower than it should have been because I really couldn't run around transition like I wanted.  I was moving very slow.  My legs didn't want to move.  Once I got into the change tent, I sprayed on some sunscreen, put on my running shoes, put on my fuel belt and grabbed my bike water bottle filled with water with an Endurolyte Fizz tablet in there.  

The Run:  3:42

Starting the run, I was mentally preparing to be out there a very long time.  I wasn't sure how I was going to run a marathon.  My legs felt like I was at mile 20 already.  But I didn't go to Hawaii to quit.  I kept telling myself that. 

At the start of the run I had two ziplock bags in my fuel belt - one with my salt pills and Fizz tablets, which I stuffed in my tri top pocket, and one with a pepto pill and Tylenol.  I take the pepto at the start of the run as a pre-caution.  It helps keep my stomach settled.  The Tylenol was what I really wanted, and, of course, I dropped one of the Tylenol pills and it disappeared.  Crap.  I soon remembered I had two extra Tylenol in my fuel belt so I took those, but now I was out of Tylenol less than a quarter mile into the run.  

I drank the water bottle (24 oz) within the first mile.  I was very thirsty.  Then I drank one of my fuel belt bottles of Red Bull and refilled it at the aid stations.  I took cold sponges and ice at the aid stations.  A couple of miles in and I was loosening up and starting to feel better.  Not good, but better.  My average pace was 8:20, not what I wanted but good considering. 

Early in the run on Ali'i.

I held the 8:20 pace for most of the marathon (if you looked at my splits on ironmanlive, they were wrong the whole day - I was never sub 8 and not slower than 8:30 until late in the marathon - I really wish they'd post accurate splits because Courtney thought I really came alive out there when she saw my second split).  

I made a huge mistake out there though.  I got away from my race plan.  I was tired, physically and mentally, and it felt easier to just drink a little from the aid stations from time to time than refill my bottles.  I had a plan that included filling my fuel belt bottles at the aid stations and only drinking from them so I could track my water intake and make sure I drank enough.  I needed to drink about 5-6 fuel belt bottles of water per hour.  I drank about 8-9 total for the entire marathon.  I took water at aid stations, but not enough, and by not using my bottles I had no idea how much I was drinking.  I felt like I was running in a fog.  I wasn't really focused like I typically am.  I wasn't executing my race plan.  I was just moving along the run course making things up as I went.   

On the Queen K, I felt okay (possibly because clouds had rolled in and covered the sun - it was still hot but not quite as bad) and pushed the pace a bit.  My legs had loosened up and I began to think I was going to negative split the marathon.  By the turn around at the energy lab, I was getting tired.  Then I hit special needs (about mile 17) where I got more gels for the second half of the run and more salt pills and more fuel belt bottles with Red Bull.  The way out of the energy lab is a gradual uphill.  We had a slight tailwind, which was absolute torture.  It wasn't enough to give you a push.  It felt like it was moving the same speed I was so that made the air feel dead, calm, and I could feel the heat radiating off the ground.  The group I was running with was running 8 minute miles into the energy lab and now we were all running a 9:10 pace.  

I figured I'd pick it up again on the Queen K, but I never recovered from the energy lab.  My legs ached and I felt like I was in my first ironman willing my legs to keep running.  An 8:50 pace felt like absolute torture, and that was all I could manage so that was the new goal.  Run an 8:50 pace for nine minutes and thirty seconds and walk for 30 seconds.  Red Bull did nothing top pick me up and I had to force the water and gels.  I had no interest in food or water....or running, for that matter.

Mentally and physically, the final 6.2 miles of this race were the toughest I've ever run.  The bottoms of my feet hurt, my quads ached, my calf was tight, etc.  I wanted to admit defeat.  I wanted to walk it in.  This race had chewed me up and spit me out.  

But I said I was going to leave it all out there.  And, obviously, I was still able to run.  So I continued on and eventually I made it to Palini and down Kuakini and back on to Ali'i for the final time.  The crowd was loud and thick and I heard the finish line long before I made it there.  I was in absolute agony, but I told myself to take it in and cherish the moment.  Thinking about running down Ali'i got me through my training this year.  This was it.  This was the moment I dreamed about.  The crowd was the biggest I've ever run through.  They filled the street giving us only a narrow path to run through.  They were loud...very loud.

Coming down the finishing chute.

The finish line was very welcome.  I was ready to be done.  I heard Mike Riley call me an Ironman for the first time ever, but I didn't see my time.  I had lost interest in that hours ago.  

Volunteers grabbed me, threw a towel around me and forced me to keep walking.  They took me to a spot in transition where they dumped ice water over my head.  Then they took me over to the food tent and showed me where I can get my medal and t-shirt.  They asked if it was my first Kona.  I said it was and they asked how it went.  I told them it was a rough day for me.  One of them said, "well it couldn't have been too rough because you broke 10:30."  "I broke 10:30?"

10:27:51 is my official time.

They say you don't have your best race the first time you go to Kona.  I heard it before the race, but didn't believe it.  After the race, everyone I talked to said the same thing.  Your first Kona is tough.

So I didn't have as good of a day as I'd hoped for, but looking back it could have been much worse.  I was pretty steady all day, but a little slower everywhere than I wanted to be.  I broke 10:30 and finished in the top 50%.  Most importantly, I finished the Ironman World Championships and had a very memorable day.   It wasn't fun like I'd hoped or promised it would be, but it left me wanting more.  I've seen and experienced the next level.  I feel like I have unfinished business out there.  I want to go back.  I can't stop thinking about it.  

I need to go back.

After the finish.

It's hard to describe, but Kona is a very special race.  I had a tougher day than expected, but I'm not going to make excuses or complain about a 10:30.  I'm very proud of my accomplishment, and from the way it sounds finishing 12 minutes slower than your qualifying time isn't bad for a first timer.   This race was difficult, and it got the better of me.  

But the whole week was fun.  It's a completely different Ironman experience.  It's the biggest race of the year, yet at the same time it's a celebration. Everything is on a bigger level, over the top.  It's awesome.  

I thought this course would be easier than Wisconsin, and the only real difference would be tough competition and heat and possibly some strong winds.  But this race is a lot tougher than Wisconsin, physically and especially mentally.  The bike course has about as much climbing, it's just not as technical.  But it beats you down.  It's hot and desolate and the winds are relentless (the winds pick up later in the morning so it's very important to swim fast and get to Hawi quickly and start the journey back to Kona).  The run course is hot and has 50% more climbing and half of the run is on a lonely highway with no spectators. Everyone out there is fast and the second you let up, you get passed by a lot of people.  1,000 people went sub-11 out there.  It was a humbling day, that's for sure.


In my next post, I've got some photos and video of the finish line after dark and I might post some pics from the week I haven't posted yet and talk about what made Kona so different.  Then I'll stop going on and on about this race, I promise.  

It's time to start planning 2012.  



Brian said...

Great Job Mike!! I've really enjoyed following you on your path thru Kona. I can't wait to see what you can do in 2012 with a little more experience under your belt!!

Jon said...

Awesome job Mike! You really pushed through a tough day out there. Thanks for describing your nutrition for the run. I learned a lot!

Beth said...

Congrats on a great race! I've heard Kona is WAY harder than you can ever imagine, and keeping strong when you're hot, tight and tired could not have been easy. I look forward to see what happens for you in 2012!

Katie said...

wow - WOW! you pushed through a really tough day! congrats on your finish, and you WILL be back!

Mike said...


My nutrition plan was as follows (I didn't execute the hydration part well enough, but I think I had a decent plan going into the race):

Prerace - 700ish calories 3 hours before the race. One gel about 20 minutes before the swim. Water with Fizz before the start.

Bike - 4 hour bottle of unflavored Perpetuem mixed with strawberry Heed for flavoring and to cut down the total protein. It was 800 calories of Perpetuem mixed with 200 calories of Heed. I drink off that every 20 minutes and wash it down with water. I mix it as a paste so it's thick. It only lasted 3 hours and 40 minutes. I also had 1.5 Hammer bars cut up into chunks in my bento box that I took as I wanted. Those lasted about 3.5 hours. After that was gone, I switched to gels for the remainder of the bike. I took at least two salt pills every hour, so I was taking in about 700mg of sodium per hour. I also took one Pepto pill at the halfway point to keep my stomach settled. My goal for water was about 40-50 oz of water per hour but I didn't hit that. Bad execution on my part. I took in about 1500 calories on the bike. I burned close to 4000 so I replaced 37% of my calories which is right where I want to be (30-40% is my goal).

Run: Start run with Tylenol and Pepto, 16oz of Red Bull on fuel belt. I also took a 24 oz bike bottle to drink early in the run to make sure I could rehydrate after the bike. I take 2-3 gels per hour and try to take in about 3 salt pills per hour (700mg). Goal for water was 40-50 oz per hour. I had more gels and Red Bull at special needs. I lost track of how many gels I took, but I'd say I averaged 2 per hour plus the Red Bull so I probably took in about 900 calories on the run.

I'd say my nutrition plan was good. I just didn't execute the hydration well enough. I hope this helps.

jenez_world said...

congrats on a fantastic result !! we all know how humbling kona can be. i have really enjoyed following your journey and look forward to the next phase. it may not be that anything is wrong with your swim technique but how you swim in open water. when there is a swell you need to change your stroke and increase your stroke rate to power through.