Ko Aloha La Ea, Or “Keep Your Love”

Ironman World Championship 2011 Race Report:

Hawai’i seems both a world away and so close at the same time.  I have had so many thoughts go through my head in the past 10 days that I have often thought how it would be possible to capture them all and explain to you what this race meant to me.  I don’t think I can, and I certainly don’t have the memory to recall everything I’ve thought.  So, I’ll try to write a sketch of it all, and forgive me if things go off the rail at times, but it seems to be how my mind works.  I’ve also been having a hard time of figuring out where to start – where do you jump into the ocean off a cliff?

I think I’m going to give you the actual race ‘report’.  It’s such an elusive race, the Hawai’i Ironman, Ironman Kona, or Ironman World Championships, whatever it’s called, that perhaps people want a peek into what it’s like to do this race.  To me, the report is what I lived out, concrete and finite.  What is more interesting to me is what I learned from the race, what thoughts it stirred up in my head, what it makes me want to figure out, but I’ll start with the race and see how much metaphorical rhetoric I can jam in here.

Part 1: Skip all the pre-race blah blah boring – get to the point.

There are helicopters above you, thumping and whistling.  I’ve watched the sun rise while sitting on the pier, looking right through all the people milling around me.  I watched a guy spray sunscreen all around him, but seemingly not on him, and I think a lot on his bike.  His carbon fibre will be happily protected from the killer sun.

I walked down the stairs, into the water, looking out at a mostly open ocean, save for boats and paddlers.  Nothing about this felt strange or uncomfortable.  I swam out, slowly, keeping an eye out for those guys who hand out punches to the face while swimming in opposite directions.  None for me!  What a novelty.  I went out early (you have to tread water while everyone is loaded in the water) and just enjoyed being out there.  It’s not a super chatty place, because it’s enough work just to tread water and stay relaxed.

It was a little wavy out there.  Thankfully I’m happy enough with the behaviour of the ocean, and can accept the rolls and heaves it provides.  I don’t think it was an extreme day by any means, but nor was it flat, and certainly there was an amusing current.  If you looked to your left, you could watch breakers crash on shore, as they had been doing with much more enthusiasm in the days leading up to the race.

Paddle boarders sweep the front and keep the front line honest.  I was 2nd to the front line, happy to let someone lead out.  I heard two minutes to go, and then never heard a countdown to the cannon.  I just heard BOOM and realized it was time to hit my watch and get my head in the water.  And true to form, about 5 seconds in, I got a very decent punch to the face.  Sweet!  It was game on time.  I’ve really come to accept these punches with enthusiasm, and the whole process of swimming really, with excitement and downright glee.  I love the contact, and I’m by no means an ‘excellent’ swimmer who can say this because I rip a whole in the ocean with my speed.  I’m a good swimmer, and I just refuse to say I don’t really like swimming just because I’m not the fastest at it.  I’ve really grown to like it, and for anyone who likes swimming, you just have to love this Ironman swim.

kaboom.  i’m about as left as you can get.

Part 2: The Swim

Long story short, my swim was a little slower than I had hoped for, but I certainly got more out of it than I was expecting, which I’ll explain in the minute.  For you metric’ers (you know who you are) I swam 1:14 something, about 5 minutes slower than what I had hoped for.  Not too bad, considering I’d never swam this course before.  I do have to say though, I am of the belief that wetsuits would make very little difference here, unless you really had trouble staying afloat.  This ocean is very buoyant, in fact, I had an easier time floating while treading water in my swim suit than I ever had in our ocean or lake.  So, just my two cents.

Here is what really stood out to me.  Firstly, I realized the swell was enough that I was never going to see a buoy so I quit trying to figure that one out, and just keep my head down and enjoy swimming.  Second, a large (to me) ray of some variety was swimming right below me – for me, this is motivation to swim a little faster, but really neat at the same time.  Even being able to see in the water was such a treat here, compared to our ocean back home.  (Also not worrying about hypothermia is another wicked feature of this ocean).  Thirdly, eventually as I mixed in amongst different swimmers, I realized the man beside me had 1 and 1/2 arms, and although can’t remember how it turned out, he was swimming as fast or faster than me.  This would eventually lead me to the man who was missing the lower sections of both his legs, who I had come up behind, and only realized this by reaching out to touch feet and hitting something harder than normal.

I can’t say I’m ‘amazed’ just because these people are missing parts of their limbs as I think that’s patronizing, but I can say I have the ultimate respect for these people’s athletic ability.  The same way I have respect for my athletic ability to get to this race.  Both roads are hard, both roads are most certainly different, but it truly made me feel the spirit of this race that you can’t help but notice all around you.  In this case, it hit me in the face while swimming through an amazingly blue ocean.  Then to top it off, as we swam back to shore (not that I could see it but I trusted those in front of me) a pod of dolphins were swimming below us (quite deep – they looked like mini dolphins) which you could hear a distinctive click before you ever saw.  I was amazed, and happy, and enjoying the entire process.  And I came out of the water a little slow, and I really didn’t care too much about it.  People say this swim is nuts, I felt like it was the most pleasant IM swim of my career.  I’ve done 3 IMs now though, so maybe I’m untrustworthy.

Part 3: The Transition

What happens next is quite funny.  I went through transition, grabbed the bag I was pointed towards (they’re hanging in rows) and ran to the women’s change tent.  Open up the bag and see large mens shoes.  “Ahhh, sh*t”, is what I thought exactly.  Bolt back up, jump back over women with their heads down changing stuff, luckily (well, hopefully) didn’t kick anyone, and run to change my bag back.

Run into HOARDS of people like a salmon swimming upstream while giant boulders of line-backer size men and running right into you.  I body checked (and I am talking HARD) two giant men in the sense that you hit them once, and neither one of you want to change direction, and you body check them again, and then you both push each other (with some frustration and maybe cursing, although not on my part) out of the way.  I have lived another life as a soccer player, and I felt like, in general, my role was to check people into the ground by whatever means necesary (in the fair play sense).  So, this past of mine came in useful.  Also useful was the man running towards me who was # 1782, who really wanted his bag from me – sorry to have caused you distress – I did feel badly about that.

It was my fault, I won’t lie and say they gave me the wrong bag (I think maybe they pointed to the wrong spot), but it’s a pretty confusing place, and I should have double checked before I left.  However, I now had been punched in the face and body checked two clydesdales and was fully ready to bike.  It’s very fun to run around this transition pier, and in no time you’re out on the bike.

getting used to a speedy pace on the bike.

Part 4: The Bike

The bike is tough.  I think it’s the toughest thing on the course, and I knew that going in.  So, I just biked my little heart out, happy to be there and happy to be challenged by the amazing power of the winds of Hawi.  It was a low wind day, which really blows my mind.  I actually loved biking in the nutso winds, getting thrown around to the point of laughter with some of the people that managed to be around each other for the craziest of sections.  It’s really fun.  And I think that so many race reports talk about it with dread (fair enough) but I’d like to tell you that really, you can make it fun (and it’s probably more fun if you don’t have a power meter/garmin/techno metric whatever telling you that you are currently sucking). So if you go there, you don’t have to be scared, if you don’t want to.

What was the only slightly nerve racking moment was being carried to the centre lane by a large gust just as the NBC convertible was driving down the centre lane filming someone of importance and knowing that if I overcorrected the gust I’d likely crash.  So, I just kept my eye on the car and watched the sideview mirror come about a foot from my hip.  Totally safe pass.  Ahhhh……if I could have peed my pants at that time it would have been welcomed, but it’s honestly too difficult to stay on your bike while peeing at the same time.  There really should be some type of prestigious club of “I peed while cycling up to Hawi”.  Doing it going the other way is much less of a challenge.

Speaking of people cycling the other way, it certainly was cool (and humbling, although you have to remind yourself pros have a 30 min headstart) to see the pros roll by the other way.  I can’t say I was overly fascinated with the men’s race, so to see Julie Dibens blowing away the chase packs of Wellington, Carfrae, Cave, and on and on, was really, really cool.  The woman I was cycling around for a good section of the lead up to Hawi and I really delighted in the ‘coolness’ factor of getting to see these girls race.  A major perk of going to the World Championships.

Another perk?  (Although this might make me sound like a jerk…..hey, hey?) is that people are caught for drafting.  I’m never really in a group where I could stay behind the same person.  I appear to be either a) faster or b) slower and c) really believe I should ride at my effort to stay true to me (physically and morally).  But after the turn around in Hawi the penalty tent was FULL of riders. They couldn’t all fit their bikes in the tent it was so full.

As you ride along, you can see red marks across the bib number implies a penalty, and as I really slowed down in the last 1.5 hrs of the race (because I really don’t like when people blame inanimate objects for their performance, I will cite “tiredness” for my decrease in speed) I got to see a lot of these people go by.  Just makes you think, is all.  Like the thought, I saw a lot of “say no to doping”….perhaps you need to wear the “say no to drafting” shirt before you’re allowed to wear the “down the with WADA” theme.  I may lose some followers, but it’s about time as I notice more and more people reading my blog.  Don’t want to get too popular.  Also guaranteed now next race I do I’ll get a drafting penalty.  To be fair, there is lots of cycling behind other people in this race, however, as I listened to a race official explain to someone on the street corner (yes, eavesdropping is always part of the race prep), they “would give athletes the benefit of the doubt…and aren’t as concerned with the measured gap as they are with those who intentionally stalk and track other athletes”.  Enough said.

Again, for the metrics, I think my bike was 5:35, which I believe was 1 minute slower than my Ironman Canada.  I have no complaints and was quite surprised by that.  What I can say is that the efforts required for both races were quite different.  I can describe IM Canada as controlled, straight forward, positive and happy.  I would describe this race as toughening, crazy, fun, desperate, and keep control of yourself.  I encountered a section where I had slowed in speed, while others maintain or increase their speed, and that means you get passed.  It seemed like I got passed A LOT.  In reality, I’m sure it wasn’t that horrible, but to me, as a competitive person, I really don’t like it.  To me, at this point in the race, I was already quite physically challenged and then I became incredibly mentally challenged.  Hey…..hmmm, wait.

What I mean was that I found myself in a rough spot.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think negative things, feel sorry for myself, think escapism type actions, get distracted from the purpose of the day (which incidentally, was to work hard and enjoy the experience).  After a little while you realize negativity serves no purpose, and that you are only wasting your opportunity of experiencing the greatness of this race.  But if you’ve ever had this experience, then you know you can’t just switch off the bad thoughts and see puppies and rainbows.  So, I started the slow count from 100 backwards to 0 with one deep breath in between.  Then surprisingly, there were no rainbows at 0.  So back up to 100 I went.  No puppies.  Insert curse word, twice.  Back down to 0.  I think by this time I was able to return to words and sentences not including numbers.  Then I puked.  Albeit little pukes.  Although the second came out my nose, so how little could that be.  I really don’t get too revved up about puking.  I’d get revved up about pooping in my pants, which I will write about later on.  If you’re still reading this race report by now, as Macca says to Raelert, you’re a true champion mate.

“When you don’t have anything nice to say, better to not say anything at all”.  You have to be good to yourself, you have to respect the challenges you face and work through them.  If you really believe in the ‘process’ to the goal, these parts are your process.  The stuff that goes off routine without a hitch and you never think of again, are a very small part of the process.  The bike comparison between my last two races are very different.  What I learned from the two?  Almost nothing from IM Canada, and HEAPS from IM Kona.  What is more important to a developing athlete?  And that may be the biggest take away message I have to give from this race.  I learned so much from this experience.  As a relative newcomer to this sport, I’ve learned quickly that I’m actually pretty good at it, but being in this race I learned also that there are people who are great at it.  I learned I want to be great.  Winning is terrific, but with winning can sometimes come the lack of fire to improve oneself.  So there is a benefit to finishing 12th in your age group, I believe, 22nd overall as an age groupers, and I think most impressively, 42nd (or something like that) overall.  Gaining perspective is a wonderful lesson.

I must also say, thanks to Doug Giles for lending me his wheels.  If you know me, you know I have a road bike, and no race wheels, so out of total kindness, Doug offered me his wheels.  I didn’t even ask.  I think he should take them himself to Kona next year.  Jeremy Hopwood also lent wheels to me for Ironman Canada.  I think I owe these guys some baked goods.

happy & relieved to be running.

Part 5: The Run

No secrets here – I love the run.  Firstly, very happy to shuttle my bike away to catchers and get going on the run.  I said my goodbye, managed to get off my shoes while cycling (first time ever – the magic powers of being shamed in the shoot made me do it), hopefully distracted some people with my 1 in 10 road bike (zing!).  My legs felt as they should, mostly crappy with a chance of sunshine, went through the bag tent, risked being boring and took the correct bag, and threw on my shoes.  Someone threw on a cold towel across my back and at that moment I realized I was hot.  I really hadn’t felt that bad (except for the part I felt really badly for myself, but I really never lingered too much on thoughts of temperature) – but I realized at this point that it must be hot if this towel feels that cold.  However, I think I quickly forgot about the heat as I set out on the run.  Not too sound too much like a jerk, but I really didn’t think the race was that hot.  So either I was delusional or well acclimatized.  I’ll go with the latter.

I wrote before and I meant very strongly about the beauty of Ali’i drive.  It’s vine and flower covered, with bright blue ocean and stark lava rock adorning the shore.  It’s gorgeous.  I continued to appreciate it and never had a grumpy thought while running along.  I did have the thought, “HA, you passed me on the bike, so did you, so did you, so did you”…you get the point.  I passed a lot of people back, and that’s the beauty of triathlon (at least, it’s the beauty for me).  And I told myself that on the bike but when you’re in a bit of a black hole it’s hard to see forest for the trees.

So I powered on, feeling quite comfortable while keeping an eye out for signs of mass destruction (possible as I had felt great while starting some runs while doing some training here leading up to the race, then quickly nose dived into a strange feeling of heat panic and a strange heart rhythm, 3 beats fast, 3 slow beats, any cardiac nurses out there?), but there were none, so just ran comfortably in typical 1st half of the marathon style.  To me, it’s just the way to do it.  Maybe one day I’ll launch myself into a killer pace, but that really seems self-destructive.

All systems normal, I ran along getting tons of compliments on my race suit provided by Aquadiva (thank you!) and people are always willing to voice their support for Canada (very nice of you, eh).  It’s quite fun to run back into town and UP Palani.  That is quite the hill.  This is where I’m quite sure I encountered some funny running behaviour.  So this is a steep hill and I saw no purpose in grinding up it, so I just took it lightly, enjoyed the sidelines and started to notice a woman in white beside me.  We ran up to the top mostly together (and people on the sidelines are very enthusiastic about “BEATING” the woman who is beside you while you still have 15 miles to go) and started the Queen K together.  I don’t know if I’m just sensitive, or if I’m right on, but this woman continued to find a way to run in front of me (as in, I ran 5 feet to the left to not run on her heels and she moved over 5 feet – that’s a bit more than delusional drunk snake run tactics).  As I was just trying to recover from the hill and get my stride back, I just found this annoying and it happened 3 or 4 times.  Eventually I just had enough of her and ran quickly and easily past.  I’ll sound like a snob, but oh well.  I think I’ve earned the right to say I’m a great runner.  In fact, I recently learned that I’m one of the best.

i love the darkness & light of this course.  i also love chicking guys.

So a big ol’ highway and a lot of people to pass.  And the ability to watch Chrissie run by (smiling somewhat!).  Mirinda – not smiling.  Wurtele – doing so well!  So inspiring to watch.  Now, somewhere in the middle of the highway I’m not feeling so great.  It was one of those instant moments where your head spins a bit just as your stomach turns.  I instantly slowed down as a protective mechanism.  Assess.  What is going on?  My head then felt fine but my gut did not.  It’s a cramp.  I think.  Just run on, take a mile or two to work it out.  Two miles later.  “What side is your appendix on?”.  I don’t know the answer to that question, and I think how dumb b/c you’re a health care professional.  I continue with all the ice, the fluids, the gels, as I’m not going to let myself get distracted from my plan.  But honestly this was a bit painful.  I tried for a bathroom, it was locked and I’m too stubborn to wait.  Next bathroom, locked.  Into the energy lab (about 4 miles later), I was thankful to run in here, knowing there would be a turnaround and more nutrition in my bag that I needed (I put one gel too few in my bag, but had enough nutrition in eLoad etabs to get me there, always have a backup).

Next bathroom.  Locked.  I’m now convinced I really have to go to the bathroom.  This is the pooping in your pants part I previously mentioned.  No, I actually didn’t poop in my pants to I’m sure your disappointment.  Although at times I had to worry, and this is something I’ll need to sort out for future races, as you have some control in planning out your nutrition, and it’s a tricky science, and I may need some help with it.  I ended up with a lot of gas (this was the pseudo appendix pain) and had no choice but to pass it, and just hope everything would turn out rose-coloured.  Um, not literally, although…I suppose possible.

I am still hurting, knowing I’ve slowed but not caring too much as it was still my best effort, I arrived at the special needs station.  I know they had called out my # as I ran into the lab turnaround, so I was expecting they’d have it ready.  No, no they didn’t.  Well, at least it will be on the ground.  No.  Well, at least they’ll have it.  No.  That was a case of ‘great expectations’ if there ever was one.  So, after running to special needs, slowing, stopping, waiting (not long but 10 seconds feels long) and finally yelling my bib #, getting a “It’s not here” and me needing to release a little tension in yelling “COME ON!”, and then a somewhat pirate induced “ARgggggggh” as I started up running.  I felt a sense like, you could cry or you could figure out a plan.  I still had eLoad tabs with me, which was enough to get me to another station so I took it and just got on with things, the dark horse of negative thoughts flying a little too closely to my shoulder than I would have liked.

Just when I had pulled myself together and starting running up the not so big but looks big hill to the highway (doesn’t help it’s wavy with heat) I heard a very quick footfall behind me.  Really, this doesn’t happen to me in the race.  I never hear a fast person come up behind me, so it seemed odd, in the energy lab of all places.  It was a little boy, running with my bag.  I didn’t have much ability to talk, but I said thank you.  He said “sorry”.   I was humbled again, like I was in the water.  This race is bigger than you, I thought to myself.  That boy warmed my heart (which incidently was probably at some stage of overheating as it was) and my belief was restored that everything would be alright.

Top of the hill.  The bathroom.  An open one.  All details spared I allowed myself 60 seconds (when you do sit in a race it is very tempting to stay seating, so I find giving myself time goals helps from dilly dallying).  Then I realized I needed 90.  But no more, and back on the highway I went.  Not immediately feeling glorious, but better.  Then it became a purpose to pass back those who had re-passed me while I was seated.  Upon finishing that, feeling back in control of what was going on, I realized I had a decision to make, and perhaps the most important decision of my entire race.

I could see girls up the road, but quite far up the road.  It’s a long highway, you can see a lot.  My life at this point basically boils down to these thoughts.  This is the world championships.  You want to walk away from this knowing you gave it everything you had.  Don’t regret anything.  You have made a lot of choices in your life to get to this point.  You can still make choices now.  You must believe in yourself.  One person at a time, you can do this.

And I did.  After going through turnarounds I could realize that I was out of contention for a top 5 or 10 in my age group.  That would be the only thing I can say I was a little sad about, in all honesty I really did wish for a top 5 in my age group, but if you scroll through you can see the amazing depth of competition it took to place there.  That was initially disappointing but all you can do (or all I can do) is learn from that and use it to help me understand not to get overly comfortable with my ‘bests’ as there are a lot ‘better bests’ out there.  It’s not upsetting, it’s inspiring, to realize I need to work harder and get ready to blow some ‘limits’ out of the water (ironically, it starts with faster swimming).  So at a point while running back toward town, I was running with all heart and no need for worry about placing.  It was truly a race against myself.  And whatever poor girl ran ahead of me.  And I did really well.  With the obstacles I had to positively overcome, I ran a 3:16 something, good for 2nd overall fastest age group run.  Not too shabby.

Again, for the moments that make you think, as I was running back to town, so where some other people, but they were doing it on their bikes.  They would still have a marathon to run.  It was a slow trickle of riders coming through, and all I could think for them was ‘good for you’ because I knew they would make it.  I also thought ‘my god that is going to be tough’ because you still have a marathon to go.  Humbling.

Eventually upon reaching Palani there were no more girls in sight.  So, I was able to start enjoying this just a little bit more.  I smashed my way down the hill (enough that my laces – yes – my elastic laces – became somewhat undone).  I could feel that it was possible for my shoe to come off, and if so, I didn’t care enough to run back up the hill and get it.  It would have made for some comedy, but luckily for my skin it stayed on.  You run along an amazingly supportive stretch for a few blocks, turn the corner and then you’re back along Ali’i drive to the finish, lined with people, probably 5-10 deep all the way along.  I had the luxury of being all on my own, no one really close, so I was able to slow down and just look at everything around me.  I had many people heed advice to enjoy the last stretch.  I did.  I was so amazed with it all when I reached the finish line I really didn’t know what to do.  So I just took it all in, and there’s a lot to think about when you’re up on that ramp.

Although I’d have to double check, I think my time was 10:14:07.  And I worked for every minute of it.

Part 6: The Thanks

I can write on and on, but this is reaching novel proportions, and I’ve certainly had many more thoughts on the race, my life, my future and my support.  All I want to finish by saying quite classically I could have done this without the support I’ve received from so many, most closely my family but especially from my partner Shawn.  I’ve been given the opportunity of a lifetime and I’ve done all I can to honour that and try to not take anything for granted throughout the year.  My life has changed as a result.  As with so many turns in the road of life, I didn’t know this was coming.  But most things that I hold most important to me in my life, come from surprises, risks, and dreams.

this guy finally gets a holiday! so deserved!

A big thank you to so many of my friends and training partners who are such wonderful people, to my coaches Jeremy Hopwood & Jerry Ziak (ofVanRunning) and swim coach Nathan Skirrow.   To the companies who put their faith my desire to do well and be a good ambassador for sport: Aquadiva Swimwear, Reflect Sports, the new & equally as awesome sponsor CHICKED, and the Massage Therapy Clinic at the UBC Aquatic Centre.  Also a big thanks to Compressport Canada who sent compression sleeves in a flash for me to take to Kona – they were wonderful & my calves love them!  You have all made me feel so special with your support & enthusiasm!  You can all do me a favour by checking out all these companies and support those that support athletes.  Their involvement in sport is a lot more than product=money.  These people do a ton to help athletes anyway they can.  It has been really neat to be able to partner and experience this with them.

Part 7: The Wrap

As I’ve also written before, as I learned this year, there is nothing wrong with being a dreamer.  And I couldn’t help but notice, in those that have achieved greatness in this sport that dreams are a common theme.  So if you take anything away from this report, maybe you’ll feel that it could be that it’s ok to have a dream, whether you tell your neighbour that dream or not, it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you’re ok with having one.

The rest is up to you.

 

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