Ironman World Championship 2016
Kona was an incredible experience, and here’s how it went down. The plan was to spend the first few days at the Mauna Lani resort and later move to a condo on Ali'i Dr., so after landing at the Kona airport, we made a quick stop in Kona for lunch and drove to the Mauna Lani. It was hard to contain my excitement when I started seeing all of the athletes riding on the Queen K highway.
The Mauna Lani is about 45 minutes north of Kona. It is an incredibly beautiful resort, and I was in heaven as soon as we got there. The hotel is extremely open and exposed with its own private beach. Our room wasn't ready when we got there, so we went for a casual walk around the property. There are so many tide pools and tropical fish - so beautiful!!
Some of the highlights while staying at the Mauna Lani included: Dinner at the Canoe House, driving up to the visitors center on Mauna Kea, Waipio Valley, Hilo, and dinner at the Hilton where we had to take a boat to the Boat Landing Cantina. I really wish we had more time to explore the island, but we’d have to leave that for another time. The goal of this trip was KONA!
On Wednesday we moved to condo at Sea Village on Ali'i. This was such a great decision because we were able to relax for a while before we immersed ourselves in all things Ironman.
The energy in town was overwhelming. Everywhere you looked there were super fit people running, biking, and swimming. Sponsors and pros were everywhere. I bought everything I could from the Ironman store, and sponsors were giving out so much free swag. I felt like a rockstar!
Thursday morning we participated in the Underpants Run. Everyone was totally into it and having a great time. Afterward I went for a short swim out to the coffee boat. This probably wasn't such a great idea since I was in my underwear and didn't have goggles, but I made it out there anyway.
The main event on Friday was bike dropoff. My dropoff time was 2:30pm, and the line was insane as soon as we got there. The feeling continued to be electric. As we were checking in, each of the bike sponsors were giving people swag that had their respective bikes. Sadly, Specialized wasn't there, but it didn't really take away from the experience. There were tons of media people looking at the bikes and checking what kind of equipment everyone was using. And I even had my own volunteer to help me and walk me through transition. SUCH a cool experience. We finished the night with a pasta party at the condo. Brigitte was incredible and made this huge dinner for our friends and family.
Saturday was RACE DAY. We woke up at 4:30, but of course I barely slept. My parents drove us to the start, and Brigitte waited with me as long as she could before I had to disappear to get my numbers and set things up in transition. I had a few minutes to chill before the gun went off at 6:55am. It was a deep water start, so we all filed into the water and waited.
The cannon went off exactly on time, and immediately things got pretty rough. Since this was a world championship, I expected the swim to be pretty physical, and it was. For the first several hundred meters, I tried to stay out of trouble, avoid getting kicked in the face, and find some feet to follow. I couldn't see anything with all of the flailing going on, so I just followed the crowd and hoped for the best. Eventually I found some feet and followed them all the way to the turnaround. People tried to steal my feet, so at times I had to defend my position. I didn't want to throw elbows or kick extra hard, but I did what I needed to defend my position.
My watch buzzed at 30 minutes just after the turnaround, so I knew I was right where I wanted to be. The way home was much less aggressive, and I was actually able to do some of my own sighting. As we approached the pier, I knew I was close to 60 minutes. I was feeling good since I was drafting the entire time, so I picked it up and passed a few people. I reached the steps just after 60min. I was aiming for a sub-60 swim, but given how things went, I was perfectly happy.
T1 was a breeze. I stripped off my incredible swim speedo, and the volunteer helped me put on my race kit. It was a little challenging being all wet, but we eventually got it on. I grabbed my bike shoes and ran full-stride towards my bike. Running with bike shoes on is a pain, so I always just carry them with me until the last minute. I got to my bike and out of transition, and it was game-on!
The crowd was electric coming out of T1. I immediately saw my family and Brigitte and gave them a huge smile! The first seven miles were around town. There were so many people that it was hard not to have fun. The roads were pretty narrow, so it was hard not to draft. And after a short out-and-back, we were up Palani and out on the Queen K.
Things changed quickly though. It was already getting pretty warm, and the winds were picking up as well. I was hoping for some kind of tailwind, but as best as I can remember, that never happened. For the first 25 miles or so out on the Queen K, it was pretty stiff crosswinds. I was trying to race conservatively since I knew it would be a long day, and because of this choice, it seemed like everyone was flying past me. However, even in the first 25 miles, “conservative” didn’t really feel as easy as it should have.
Ten miles out from Kawaihae, we hit a stiff headwind. And it was BRUTAL. You know it’s tough when you’re pushing hard and barely hitting 10mph. I was so happy to make that left turn and hit a little downhill for a break.
The climb up to Hawi wasn’t bad. Or rather, it wouldn’t have been bad on any other day, but today it was definitely not pleasant. It’s tough to know exactly where the climb starts since you just sort of drift upward from the ocean. The views on this part of the island were gorgeous. The best part about this section of the race was getting to see the pros zoom by. You never really have any idea of how they’re doing except when you pass them on the out-and-backs. It is definitely a treat to be racing on the same course as them!
After the turn-around was when I noticed exactly how hot it was. Just before returning to Kawaihae, I got a gust of that hot air. You know the feeling - when the breeze actually feels like it’s heating you up rather than cooling you down. It was at this point that I realized my day was going to be a lot harder than I wanted. I was sweating like crazy and had salt everywhere. I also realized that I probably wasn’t keeping up with my nutrition plan which meant bonking and dehydration were inevitable. Man that wind, heat, and humidity is deceiving!
The last bit of the bike was a huge drag. I had ridden or driven it a bunch of times, but it just seemed to never end. The last part of an ironman bike leg is never pleasant, but for obvious reasons this was so much worse. I can’t even begin to describe how good it felt to get off that bike.
T2 was way more chill than T1. I could tell that I was bushed, so I took my time just to get a break from the heat. I specifically remember putting a cold towel over my head in and using part of it to wipe the salt out of my eyes.
I wanted to walk out of T2, but WTF, this is Kona!?! I put on a good show for about a mile before walking. I can’t tell you how embarrassing this was. I tried to run with my friend Dave for a bit, but I just didn’t have it. Realizing just how long this day was going to be was so tough mentally. Five hours maybe? Six hours? I had no idea, but I knew that I would finish no matter how long it took.
I did the run/walk thing as best I could, and I made a friend who essentially carried me through the first 10 miles. The climb up Palani was terrible. I walked the entire thing, and seeing my friends and family made it worse. It couldn’t have been fun watching me slowly pass by suffering like that. I still had 15 or so miles left at this point.
The Queen K was more of the same. Run->walk. Mostly walk. So many people had passed by this point that I wasn’t sure there were any people left! I slowly descended into the Natural Energy Lab and made the final turn-around. The sun was setting, and it was actually starting to cool off!! I was basically broken at this point but still moving forward.
I finally made it back to town. I knew I just had a little downhill down Palani and a few turns left before I was home. I desperately wanted to run the last mile, but I couldn’t. I walked part of it. I think I even managed to over exert myself and get a slight side stitch while trying to run. It was completely dark at this point, but I made that finally right turn down Ali’i Drive.
When people say there’s no finish line experience like Kona, I’m pretty sure they’re right. It was the most incredible that I’ve ever seen. So many lights and people. Everyone is cheering and screaming. The flags of every nation line the chute. Somehow I managed to spot Brigitte to give her a quick kiss before slowly jogging the last little bit down the carpet. It was magical.
I didn’t really hang around in the after party area. Instead I wanted to change out of my race kit and race shoes. My feet were hurting so badly from absorbing too much water that was pooling in my shoes. We missed the dinner reservation because I finished too slowly, but we just headed back to our favorite spot, Lava Java, for some food. Interestingly enough, Sebastian Kienle was eating dinner at the table next to us after getting 2nd that day.
So now six months later, I have a ton of feelings about the race. I don’t know why it took so long to write this, but part of me just wasn’t happy with how it turned out. Embarrassing myself out on the run course did not feel good. I know that I didn’t train hard enough to earn a rockstar performance, but I did put in enough work in order to finish well. I also think part of it was the fact that my heart wasn’t quite in it that day. After qualifying in July, it was tough to motivate myself for training and for another race just a few months later. Kona was the victory lap, so expectations were low. However, despite being low, I kind of feel like I exceeded my expectations, but in the opposite direction.
And with that, I’m done with Ironman (for now.) It’s been a fun five year journey, but I want my life back. Getting to Kona consumes every aspect of your life, and I want to feel what it’s like to be normal for a while. I want to focus on doing one sport well. I want to put the same amount of energy into my career as I did for Kona. I will always ride my bike, but I don’t think I’ll be racing it again anytime soon.