Qualifying in October last year was the performance of a lifetime and it delivered a qualifying slot to the Ironman World Championship in Kona! This was the trip of a lifetime. The reward for a great race that followed many hard years of endless yards and miles. Or was it punishment for being self-interested and passionately shooting for a dream goal that most will never achieve? Despite a year to prepare, I was still going to have to contend with the course that produces the second slowest results on the ironman circuit even though it’s not the most challenging topography. What was I getting myself into?
Give Them What They Want
You want the inside story. Admit it. You want my secrets like if I crapped myself during the race (negative but I did pee on myself a few times), was I emotional at any point(s) (yes but more on the fear and frustrated side than happy/sad side), does she still love me after all this hell (debatable but may depend on the phase of the moon more than the actual training), and how much alcohol I consumed the night before the race (one bottle of nice Justin California Cabernet Sauvignon but over a few hours. Hey, anti-oxidants are healthy right!?)
Not What They Don’t Want
You don’t care about my heat adaptation process, my fueling, hydration, electrolyte and caffeine plans, my pace and power metrics, my placement overall and in age group (unless you’re a hater who wants to show the world I suck and didn’t deserve to be there, or a data geek and there are many of you out there but you can private message me for that information).
I don’t want another boring race report floating out there. So here are my highlights and lowlights from Ironman World Championship on the Big Island of Kona in Hawaii. My apologies if I forgot to mention you or if I left something funny out.
Highlights and Lowlights
Highlight 1. THE RACE!
From the rock star treatment throughout the entire race-cation and amazing festivities like the Underpants Run, Path 5k/10k, which DocSlay podiumed on, and Hoala Ironman Training Swim and pre-race activities beforehand, to the helicopters blaring overhead and the cannon blast to start From the tropical fish swimming beneath our feet during the swim, to the expansive lava fields and breathtaking ocean views on the bike, to the amazing adoring crowds and views of top professional triathletes dueling it out on the run, this event was everything I was hoping for and more!
Lowlight 1. THE RACE!
The theme of the day was ‘be aggressive”. For everyone else but me. I just wanted to ensure I finished my one and maybe only Kona and soaked it all in! Maybe next time, I will go for a more aggressive and faster race. This put me at odds with the field right off the bat. In contrast to my usual balls to the falls approach, I began the race defensively as noted in my pre-race Facebook post and it only got worse as the day wore on.
My race nearly ended within the first 5 minutes of the 2.4 mile swim as I got pummeled like a mouse in a hungry lion’s cage. A relative newcomer to swimming without a wetsuit for the first time at the distance, I was struggling to catch my breath and getting swam over and clobbered on the back of my head multiple times by aggressive swimmers. This sent my heart rate through the roof and it took about 10 minutes of swimming head above the water to settle down and find a rhythm. Thankfully, I got out in time and immediately saw the team on the balcony overlooking the swim exit and I didn’t DNF (did not finish) given my state of panic. However, that wasn’t the only aggressive part.
Once I was on the bike for the 112 mile ride, I was confronted with the most aggressive referees I have ever seen (and I have served as an aggressive one myself so maybe it was #karma!). I am not complaining as they did their jobs but it was humiliating as a referee to get nailed myself. In fact, I got nailed for my first dreaded drafting call early (5 minutes in the penalty tent) for not keeping my focus and pulling over to the center to make a pass of a group of elite women. However, for whatever reason (probably got distracted), I failed to complete the pass within the required 25 seconds. So, while not gaining any drafting benefit, I did violate the letter of the rule and deserved some penalty time with a full penalty tent of fellow transgressors! There were about a dozen in the tent with me and a volunteer who jokingly took a selfie with me, but I took it as a chance to get a nice little rest on the early part of the bike post-long-swim.
One penalty is too many and equaled the amount of times I was penalized in my entire Ironman life. However, that was not the end of that aspect of this lowlight. I actually got another in a similar vein in the mid 90 mile range on an uphill with fierce headwind and me out of the saddle.
This 2nd penalty (along with another 5 minutes in another full penalty tent) put me precariously close to the dreaded DQ (disqualification) for three infractions so I was forced to soft pedal the final 15 miles or so to avoid any possibility of not getting my medal! I believe my split for the final section of the bike was 13 miles per hour when I probably have never had a bike split below 20 miles per hour in any of the other half or full ironman races I have done. All of this may have cost me another 20-30 minutes plus a lot of unwarranted aggravation.
This aggression also included natural elements of wind and sunny heat. The aforementioned headwinds along with crosswinds were by far the most aggressive I had ever ridden in. I watched lighter riders being blown off their bikes and being shifted on the road. Some smaller athletes were pulling off the road to eat and drink as they couldn’t take their hands off their handlebars, to do so without potentially crashing. During the bike and run, the sun and heat radiating off the black top and lava was like an oven baking us. That’s all fine and dandy when you’re not doing an ironman but they add to the difficulty of this long grueling event.
Highlight 2. Friends and teammates on course!
Having my close buddy, athlete and fellow coach Wes Hargrove aka Coach Taz racing with me was just amazing. We got to share the stress throughout the build, march into battle together, and encourage each other on course when we started the swim and passed each other on the bike and run. There was my all-time ultimate favorite Sherpa, Julie aka DocSlay to make sure I was ok on all fronts, which was no easy feat between my mood swings, magnified ironman anxiety, and medical complications of late.
There were some other misfits and Reapers of the highest order including the Taxes, Seth and Becky Waltman aka Coach TaxSlayer and Tax Dr., Chuck aka Coach BAMF and his wife Beatriz Sims, Kim Hargrove aka Coach Kim Possible, We also had Viper aka Steve Smith, our team photographer and videographer and IronMouse aka Amy Smith, who volunteered nearly all day catching sweaty near death athletes including me when my leg cramped after my infamous bottle smash at the finish line. They are both of #TeamTagg. Also from the team, was the Millers including Jarhead aka James and his mother Theresa Miller, who raced strong herself, and our new friends, the super cool couple, Alex Baggett and Angie Norrell.
It was awesome to also see many others we knew and really liked like the generous and wise Hauschildt‘s (Melissa and Jared), the Kinmartins, Izumi Z. (who got married in Kona the day after she crossed not too far behind me), Bea, Betty, Thomas, and all the greenies of my former team Dynamo Multisport, etc., These folks made all the difference to us on the lead up to and on the day. It helped me immensely to keep a positive mental attitude in the tough conditions.
LowLight 2. No Socks!
You never know how much the little things mean until you do ironman. Then you learn that these little things are more important than you can imagine. Due to some more forgetfulness on my behalf and some other foul ups like trying to swap socks to my run bag late in the game because of the sopping wet floors in the changing tents, I went out on the bike sockless and preceded to get a severe sunburn on the tops of my exposed feet. Then onto the 26.2 mile run, with the sunburnt and already blistered feet, I made things far worse in the soaking wet shoes. Obviously, this was my biggest error. I’ve never experienced such pain as feet pain and I am not quite the masochist I appear to be. I won’t go as far to say it was as bad as natural childbirth, but, damn, I have never suffered so much as I did from blistering and sunburn feet as I did on race day. I know, suck it up Slayer.
Highlight 3. 2 Week Vacation!
Admittedly, I was desperate for my kids to be there with us when I crossed but school was still in session so that made it a no go for them. Thankfully their grandparents came in to look after them while we traveled. Regardless, who goes on vacation to paradise (except for the dastardly aspects of the race) in Kona for a week before and Oahu at Turtle Bay Resort with some of their closest friends in September? Generally, never us. Enough said but I have to mention the joint massage on the beach cabana with DocSlay, several meals at the amazing Jackie Rey’s restaurant owned by Athens’ Real Estate Guru Reign Streiter’s brother in Kona, the umbrella drinks and great bartenders Eddie and Dennis at the pool bar at Turtle Bay, and the fresh fish (aka Poke Bowl).
Lowlight 3. Tourist Helicopter Rides.
Somehow, of the four of us riding, I drew the most dangerous open door front passenger seat in the PI Magnum helicopter ride we attended while at Turtle Bay Resort. Within a couple minutes, with my right butt cheek half out 1000+ feet in the air and a lot of turbulence, I had enough. However, we had 50 minutes to go and I could barely breathe, let alone talk. Thankfully, the pilot asked me how I was doing while I was white knuckling the oh s**t strap and turning white as a ghost myself. DocSlay helped me to communicate I was not having fun and he took me back early for the walk of shame which I am sure Steve Smith aka Viper or Amy Smith aka IronMouse captured on film.
Highlight 4. Slayer Video Productions.
With the help of DocSlay and Coach Taz, some of those videos were some of my/our best mass communications work ever. Ok, maybe that overstates it but they didn’t suck and they drew some laughter and praise despite the complete amateurish and sophomoric nature of them. I have to give thanks to Chance Regina of Fusion Sports US, Micah Morlock of Georgia Cycle Sports, which deals my favorite brands like Specialized, Lee Stansell of TifosiOptics, Jason Williamson of Orr Carbon wheels, Varun Sriram of Generation Ucan, and Crisp McDonald Owner/Race Director for Go Race Productions for the encouragement and guidance on these funny videos and support throughout the year.
Lowlight 4. Some of the Things were Letdowns.
I hate to be a downer but not all was as it seemed on social media. Although I heard so much good about Lava Java and Kona coffee, I found it hard to find a great cup of coffee except for on our Greenwell Farms coffee tour and at a Frenchman’s Café near Holy Donuts in Kona. In actual fact, the food in general wasn’t all that special to me except for some spots like Jackie Rey’s, the food truck stops in North Shore of Oahu, and some fish and poke spots. The Luau we went to later in our stay felt like some trumped up pseudo religious cult experience and wasn’t as authentic as I had hoped. I expected to be at a pig picking and it was a big Disney-like production complete with long queues to get in and long waits to get to the mediocre buffet.
Another huge letdown was not being able to keep up with all the positive messages coming in from the mainland. Y’all crushed my PM, text app, FB, IG, twitter, and email!
Highlight 5. I got my medal!
The ironman monkey on your back that grows into a gorilla by the time of the race is gone. It can become a burden especially in the case of such a unique and big opportunity. With my medical issues there was some doubt if I would even race again and it would ever happen, and it finally did! What a relief…
Lowlight 5. Ambiguity.
With such a singular focus for the better part of the last decade, I am now suddenly left without a clear target even though I have a few good ideas. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing per se as it allows me time to refocus on what’s important. However, for me, getting there and finishing was the challenge. Now I need to figure out what’s next apart from enjoying my family and doing better with coaching and at my office.
So there you have it. Maybe this isn’t the race report the data geeks wanted but it’s the highs and lows of my day in the sun, heat, wind, hills, and aggression of the racers and referees. There’s a little taste of the behind the scenes.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I couldn’t have done it without your support whether you are near or far, family, friend, or acquaintance, etc. Folks like Angela and Reuben Adams, Kirk Smith, Kim Stemple of #WeFinishTogether, Ryan Marsh, who trained a lot with me, and each and everyone of my athletes and supporters.
I wanted you to see what the “real” elite athletes may not show you. I wanted Kona to be accessible and less intimidating. I wanted to provide an insider’s view from a regular former fat joe who made it to the top of the mountain for a brief moment.
I sure hope you will someday be able to go watch if you can’t compete. I also deeply wish that you can capture your moment and see that it’s not all good but that the good far outweighs the bad. Thank you for following along during this aspect of my life, your life.
Hit me up if you want more of the nitty gritty details or to be a part of the squad. We would love to have you join the fray! This year and event has only brought so many of us closer. From the youth of TriKidsGeorgia to the merry band of misfits aka the Reapers and all our families, there’s genuine unity that you can’t understand unless you are a part of it.