Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Kona - The Heat is On

First off, I would really like to thank all of my HPR team mates that came down to Kona this year.
When things were tough on the day, it was the fact that I wanted to get back and share the day with you guys that kept me going.

I have actually lost track of how many Ironman's I have done so it is safe to say that I have a pretty locked in routine race morning. With this being my 9th race in Kona, I have a certain way of going about the morning at this particular race. 3:45, wake up from a restless night of sleep. 4:00, breakfast and coffee, 4:30 head out the door to transition. This year was a bit different because we were staying a few miles outside of town so we had to drive into Kona and park. This was much less of a problem than I had anticipated. One of the cool things about Kona is walking towards the Pier in the early morning darkness. You basically walk along the final stretch of the run course towards the bright lights of the finish line and you know that these are the same few hundred meters that will end a year long journey. It is hard to describe the emotions; anticipation, excitement, nervousness, dread, take your pick. All I know is that when I walk these steps in the morning I do a quick visualization of how I want to feel when I am traveling the same steps that afternoon.

A quick bit of history. The last two years I have been 32nd and 21st respectively. I have been the top Canadian at the race which is cool, but I have wanted to be the top Canadian in the top 10. In both of these races I suffered a poor swim and took myself out of the running early. This year I came in to the race knowing that the first 15 minutes of the day would be crucial for me. To contend in Kona you need to be in either the first or second group out of the water. Although my swimming has been going well and I feel much stronger in the water (big thanks to Neil Harvey and Patrick Kelly for their help) I was trying not to stress out about the importance of the swim. I think that is one of the things that was hindering me. I was just thinking about it too much when I just needed to swim. (Don't think, it can only hurt the ball club - Bull Durham)

When the cannon went off this year I got off to a good start and when I saw a split beginning to happen I went with it (in the past this is where I fell off). I was at the tail end of a very big group and I had to work a bit to make sure I stayed there. The pace seemed to ease up and I was right there as we made the turn at the far end of the course. My positioning at the back of this group was a big mistake. The pace seemed to slow as we were heading back and it became way too easy swimming back to shore. Unfortunately I was stuck and just swam in the bubble I was stuck in. It turns out that a group of swimmers on the front of this bigger group split off and came out just over a minute up on us. This group included some of the big bikers (Stadler, Beke, Hellriegel). I don't know if it would have made a big difference the way my day played out, but it would have been nice to execute this part of the plan a little better.

When I finally hit shore, I grabbed my transition bag and started running around the Pier, this is when I had an athletes biggest nemesis creep in; doubt. My achilles had been a problem all week and I wasn't sure if I would be able to run at all. This run around the Pier on concrete in bare feet didn't put these doubts to rest. I jumped on the bike and went very hard for the first 10 miles. I saw where I was in relation to everyone else and was still confident that I could move up into a good chase group. As it turns out I ended up being the lead of a chase group for a number of miles. It wasn't until about 30 miles in that Steve Larsen and a couple of the other slow swimmers/fast bikers came by. I went with these guys for as long as I could which took me away from the pack I was pulling but also proceeded to hurt me pretty good. At the turn around I noticed that I had pretty much put myself in no man's land. There were a couple groups ahead and a couple groups behind and me in the middle. Oh well, I had done a solo time trial here just a few weeks earlier so I just rode as hard as I could. Coming up to Waikoloa I heard that I was in 45th place. I didn't recall seeing that many guys ahead of me at the turn around so this was a bit of a surprise (and not a welcome one). I continued on a pretty lonely journey all the way back to Kona, picking off the odd rider who had completely blown to pieces. I was about to head into the unknown.

T2. I dropped my bike, ran around the pier again and hit the change tents to get ready to run? I headed out and it hurt. My left achilles was like a tooth ache. Fortunately, it wasn't a stabbing pain, it just ached and felt uncomfortable every time my foot hit the ground. I ran past the HPR gang about 500m in and they were their wildly enthusiastic selves. I wasn't running with nearly the same spring in my step as normal, but running past everybody gave me the much needed ability to suck it up and keep going. I kept running expecting to see Rach around the first mile. I wanted to let her know how I was doing and see what she would say. Basically, I was looking for someone to tell me to stop. I should have known better than to expect Rach to give me this kind of advice. When I finally saw Rach at the 4 mile mark I told her that it really hurt and her response was "is it getting worse?'. It really wasn't getting worse, but it was causing my running form to get worse and worse which in turn was causing me to slow down. I went from running 6:30's - 6:40's to running 7:00 - 7:15's out on the Queen K. Normally when I am "on" I will go from running 6:20's to 6:50's and I really felt like I had that type of fitness. Seeing the times I was running and not really being able to do much about it was disheartening as I went through the second half of the marathon. Coming out of the energy lab I knew that hitting the finish line today would be a victory in itself. In the end I closed with a 3:03 marathon and finised 26th (top Canadian) in 8:57.

The thought of dropping out did go through my head more than a few times on this day. I had gone to Kona knowing that on a good day I could crack the top 15 (a good run would have seen me achieve this), if everything worked out in my favour and I had an amazing day a top 10 was possible. It is hard in the midst of pain and discomfort to reconcile the fact that you are not going to meet the goals that you set for youself. If I have learned anything over the years, it is that not meeting goals or realizing a dream on a particular day does not mean that the goals or the dream should somehow go away or die. When you are in the midst of seeing a dream fade, I believe it is extremely important to hold onto what you have accomplished and salvage what you can out of that moment. I truly believe it brings you closer to realizing the dream or, at the least, it brings meaning to what is even more important; chasing it.

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