WOW. Just plain WOW. What an unbelievable experience this has been. Not just having the opportunity to race in this amazing event, but the entire journey that began in 2006 while surfing you tube videos about triathlon. I had just completed my first sprint triathlon and had the bug. I searched “triathlon” on youtube.com and found a promotional video for the 25th anniversary of the Ironman World Championships ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0W_WTFASVCU ) , it was that point that I set my goal to one day race this race.
I did some research about the race and found out you either have to qualify, or get a lottery spot. I was certain that the only shot I had would be the lottery so that would be the plan as I was sure that qualifying was not possible . The following weekend I ran into a college buddy, Garren Watkins, at a Beaver football game and he had recently finished Ironman Canada. I spent like two hours talking to him about triathlon soaking it all in. I mentioned the lottery for Kona and he scoffed, he told me the only way he would ever race Kona was by qualification, so there it was, I was going to have to qualify.
Long story short, I worked my ass off over the next year with a great coach in Scott McMillan and put myself in a place that I truly believed that I could qualify. I Raced Ironman Arizona in November 2008 and finished in a respectable first Ironman time in under ten hours, but was a long way off from a qualifying spot. I put my nose to the grindstone again, and decided to get on board with Coach and Friend Dave Ciaverella. I raced a great race at Ironman CDA in June of 2009 but came up 39 seconds short of a Kona qualifying spot. This was a humbling experience for me, and I decided to jump in on a community fund spot to Ironman Arizona in November of the same year. Dave gave it to me pretty bluntly that IMAZ would be an even tougher race to get a spot at, as it was a faster race and not only draws more competitors but faster competitors. For me to get my spot at IMAZ, I would have to focus more than I had, make bigger sacrifices than I had, and dig deeper than I ever had. I went all in, and claimed my spot with a 24 minute race PR.
Qualifying 11 months in advance was a refreshing feeling; going into the off season with the monkey off my back was awesome. However only 3 weeks after the race I slipped in my kitchen playing with my son and tore my MCL in my right knee. Luckily no surgery was required, I took 8 weeks completely off and eased back into training, the knee seemed to be fine. In March I started getting back into training and noticed my shoulder was really given me some trouble in the water and on the bike. I took a few weeks out of the water. When I got back in I had an unfortunate setback jamming my arm into another swimmer in the pool. I was unable to swim and took some more time off. In mid April I was still unable to swim and went in for an MRI and found that I had a couple tears in the labrum and an abraded subscapularis. Surgery was not an option, as the recovery time would surely put me out of racing at Hawaii. I went on a rehab plan and religiously did my exercises and stretching, and by mid July was able to get back in the water and swim somewhat pain free. At that point my outlook for the race was to enjoy the experience and just get through the race. As the year progressed my training came along well and my outlook on the race changed and I began to set some goals for the race. By September I was running well, my bike was strong and my swim was not too far off from where it should be. I was very very fortunate to do 90% of my training with my coach Dave and his wife Ann who were also racing Kona and are tremendous athletes. Dave went over this race with me at least 100 times throughout the month of September and by the time I got there, I really felt like I knew the course and had a solid plan in place.
My family and I flew into Kona 8 days prior to the race to acclimate to the conditions and get in before much of the hub bub of the race began. When we stepped off the air plane; my first thought was “I have to run a marathon in this heat”? The week prior consisted of the usual pre race tune-ups, registering for the race and getting the last minute details completed. It was so surreal to be on the big island preparing to race in the Ironman World Championships! Everyone there had the body of a Greek God. The amount of people out swimming, riding and running the week before the race was nothing like any race I had ever traveled to. The energy was electric and the atmosphere was incredible. It was just incredible.
My race plan was pretty simple, stay conservative for 130 miles and race the last 10. I was very well prepared to race this race, I had done all the right things to prepare for the heat, and all I had to do was execute my plan.
Wake up came at 3:50 am, I ate my bowl of oatmeal and yogurt grabbed all my gear and headed out to meet Dave, Ann and Bill and drove into town. As we walked into body marking I had goose bumps on my goose bumps. This was it; this was exactly as was on TV. “This is really happening; I am about to race against 1800 of the World’s best athletes on the sports center stage. “ After that, it was business as usual, and I was relaxed as I ever have been. I checked in my bags, put my nutrition on my bike, calibrated my SRM, checked the tires, and took care of the rest of the business I needed to take care of. I found my teammates and sat and relaxed until the cannon went off at 6:30 for the pros and put on my new TYR Torque Pro skin suit and got in the crowded line to the swim start. I could really only shake my head in awe of what was unfolding in front of me just so surreal.
As we were heading down the ramp to the water I heard Ann say “only my husband…” Dave had forgotten to take his Iphone out of his jersey pocket and had put on his skin suit over it. He had to run back and get into his transition bag and ditch it there. This kind of cleared my head a bit and reminded me of how important it is to be able to take things in stride and deal with adversity as it comes, because I was sure to face adversity at some point in this race. I was amazed with how cool he remained and how calmly he went back to the transition area.
I swam out to the left side with Ann and lined up in the front just to the right of the floating Ford truck. This was a mess; feet, knees, elbows hands kicking, clawing and pulling from every direction for about 10 minutes waiting for that cannon to go off. I heard mike Riley say his usual stuff and then he mumbled have a great day, there is no count down for the cannon in an Ironman, but I knew when he said have a great day out there that it was time, I clicked my watch and took off and about the time I made my first stroke I heard the cannon, it gave me a jump I needed to separate from those around me. I had a clean break and while it was a choppy mess for the first 400 meters or so, I swam pretty cleanly. I stayed left and just kept in cruise mode, focusing on long clean strokes with strong pulls. Before I knew it we were at the turn around. The swim back was a bit tougher. There were a couple points that I would be swimming completely alone and then hit a wall of people and swim in place over the same coral for what felt like 5 minutes. I just kept thinking about my stroke and form and kept a steady relaxed pace. I made a bit of a surge the last 800 meters to try and separate from the pack I was swimming with and did without a problem and felt good doing it. I looked down at my watch when I got out, but it had somehow got turned off in the swim. I felt like I had a decent swim and my shoulder felt pretty good so I was happy but probably could have pushed it a little harder. I went through transition with no hiccups made my way around the pier, grabbed my bike and headed out. The clock read 1:04 so I figured I had swum an hour which was my goal time so I was ultimately happy with my swim. My actual time was 1:01 so I am OK with this.
Out on the bike, Dave’s words kept going through my head, “you will have many people, even 50 year old women sprinting past you the first 10 miles of the bike, stick to your watts and you will see most of them again”. He was right, people started flying by me. I was being passed probably 20 times to every one person I passed the first 10 miles, this was discouraging, and it was very hard to keep in control, especially with all the people lining the streets cheering you on. I knew though that I had to stay within my watt range or I would pay later. My biggest fear in this race was to end up walking at the end of my marathon. I was not willing to make a mistake that would leave me finishing this race disappointed. We knew I could ride 220 watts and be able to run a 3:30 marathon, so I kept my power locked right at 220, for the first 15 miles. Out on the Queen K the heat was picking up and the winds started to blow. I was so set on the conservative plan that I decided to back off my watts to 215 because I was afraid my legs might have been feeling a bit of fatigue early. As we turned left to Hawi, the winds really began to blow. It was primarily a head wind with 40 mph crosswind gusts. This was the most miserable part of the day. I had been told about the winds and the heat, and had even spent a few days riding in it, but still was shocked at how hard this bike ride was becoming. I was having a hard time staying in the aero position with the gusts and my shoulder was really beginning to ache. I began to curse this race. This was not fun. When I saw the pros coming down from Hawi and most of them were out of the aero position, it made me feel a little better. After the turn around and special needs we had a nice tail wind down the hill for a few miles. My attitude changed to the positive again, and I started having fun again. Then the cross winds came again, but this time I just laughed, this was absolutely ridiculous, but I was actually glad that I was able to experience the “trade winds”. I figured out that if I just watched the people about 25 meters in front of me, I would see them being blown around and know to hold on and lean into the gust. At about the 80 mile mark the cross winds went away and the winds turned into a mild head wind. I just kept my watts around 215, stuck to my nutrition and hydration plan, and continued to dump water on my body at every aid station. At mile 100 I was ready to be off the bike, and the last 12 miles seemed like an eternity, aside from my shoulder aching I was feeling good and in good spirits. Before I turned off the queen K I remembered to turn my watch back on and reset it to run mode, so I would be able to pace my run properly. As I approached transition I heard my family yelling and cheering for me and I was excited to get on the run so I could see them. I did not look down to see my bike time and forgot to look up at the race clock. The last time I looked at my time was 100 miles into the bike, so I estimated I rode about 5:20-5:25, and my goal was to ride 5:15, but I knew the winds could be a factor and the most important thing was to stick to my watts, and I did so I was happy. My actual bike time was 5:16!
The first step after dismounting my bike was a shock to the system, but as I ran around the pier my legs loosened up and it felt good to run rather than pedal. The inside of my arms felt like they were chafing so I grabbed a bunch of Vaseline in transition and lathered my arms and side. I also changed socks in transition, and it felt sooo good to put a new pair of dry Newton socks on! My T2 time was slower than I thought it should have been, but I figure it was these two things that made it so.
As I left transition, my legs were feeling great, I honesty could not believe how good they felt. I saw my sister Stacie right out of transition and I think I gave her a high five… Right after I ran up the hill to turn right, my wife Elee and son AJ were there with my other sister Deanna. I stopped and gave my wife and son a hug and kiss, and gave Deanna a high five and went on my way. My plan for the run was to hold 7:49 pace for the first 16 miles see how I felt in the energy lab and let it rip. Again, I knew people were going to be passing me and I had to stay controlled no matter how good I felt. Dave told me that if I stayed to the plan and was able to run 7:30 pace or faster the final 8 miles I would literally pass 100 people in the final 8 miles. I just kept telling myself as people passed that I would see them again in the final stretch. I stuck to the plan exactly. I would run 7:35 pace on downhill stretches, 7:45 pace on flats and 8:15-8:20 up hills, and averaged 7:46 for the first 16 miles.
The beginning of the run was HOT, but by the turn around on Alii a slight cloud cover started to come in as it had all week, this cooled it down a bit, but believe me it was still HOT. I kept to my nutrition/hydration plan and dumped as much water and Ice on my head, down my shirt and down my pants as I could at every aid station to keep my core temp in check. My Heart rate never left zone 2, and as I turned into the energy lab I started to pass people that I recognized had passed me at the beginning of the run. There was a head wind as we ran in to the energy lab that made the heat seem tolerable, but when we turned around and the wind was at our backs, it was like I stepped into the sauna. On my way out of the lab I saw Dave on the other side, he yelled that I was looking great, and on the final stretch and to let the hammer down. OK I thought, this is it! I was still feeling really good, HR still in zone 2 and running with my mouth closed. I picked up the pace to what I thought was good final 10k pace. I continued to feel good and hold the pace until mile 23 at which point I figured I could take it to another level. I could certainly handle a faster pace for 5k, but forgot about “Mark and Dave Hill” at mile 24. This was somewhat demoralizing; it is unreal how large this hill feels at mile 24 of an Ironman. This is the first point of the race I felt pain. Although my heart was telling me to dig and push through, I chose the easy route and backed off, telling myself that I would just push extra hard after this hill. I don’t really recall too much of the details after I made the right hand turn onto Palini, that quad busting feeling of that downhill was painful, but it felt good. I remember doing the math and realized that, while I had zero idea what the time on the race clock was, I had a shot to run under 3:20 if I could push the last mile. The next thing I can remember is turning right on Alii, and the crowd! I remember thinking I should be smiling ear to ear, but I am not sure if I could. Jason Lester met me in the middle of the road and told me “this is it bro”, and placed a Leigh over my head. Then I saw Marc (one of my best friends who made the trip to support me!) and his wife Casey I gave him a high five , then heard my dad yelling, saw my sisters and their families, gave a smile and pushed on the last few hundred meters. I remember thinking to myself “why do they put a ramp at the finish line to climb up?” and told myself not to fall as I was clapping and fist pumping into the finish. Volunteers instantly tried to take me away, I pulled away to look for my wife and kids, Matt Lieto was in the finish shoot and I chatted with him for a bit, he told me great job and asked how I felt, I realized that I did not even know what my time was, I looked back at the race clock and it said 9:48 so I assumed that I had gone somewhere around 9:46. I looked at my watch for my run time and it read 3:20!! Wow! I found Elee and my kids and cried a bit on her shoulder and gave them all big hugs, there is nothing like seeing the people that you love the most in this world at the finish of an accomplishment like this!
My actual finish time was 9:45.46 putting me 55th in my AG, and 271st I think overall. I am extremely happy with my race, and especially my run. I ran my race exactly to the plan that my coach and I came up with. Like I said earlier, I came into the race 100% prepared and executed a perfect race plan for that day and my first time there. I would not change anything in my race. Like always I learned a lot on the day, and feel that I can go faster on that course, but first I have to get back….
So, many people to thank, number one as always is my wife Elee! She is the one who does the hard work of taking care of my family when I am out training; she is the one who truly sacrifices for me to chase my silly dreams. Without her I could not be the person I am.
My two kids AJ and Brook, I just hope that I am being a good role model for you two; you two are the driving force in everything I do. I am so proud to be your Daddy!
Dave Ciaverella man I cannot thank you enough, and you know that. You are possibly one of the most selfless people I know. You go way above and beyond for me, and am so so honored that you coach me. You truly are one of the best in the business, and there is no doubt about that.
My mother and Step Dad, for whom I work for, thank you for allowing me to do what I do. I cannot express enough how much your support means to me.
My dad, sisters, brother in law, nieces and nephew who made the trip to Kona to cheer me on, it was awesome having you out there supporting me! I love you all and am lucky to have each of you in my family.
Bob and Casey, thank you so much for making the trek to support me! It was awesome seeing you guys all around the course, and am glad we got to spend some time together on the island!
Ironheads it’s a privilege to be able to race and train with such a high level team. 8 of us there at Kona racing!! Ann, Bill, Darren, Bonnie, Tim, Julie and of course Dave, great work out there!