IM Louiville

IM Louiville
Bikes racked at Ironman Louisville 2010

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ironman World Championship - Kona, HI 2009

Just a few short days ago, I had the amazing opportunity to race in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, HI. It is the dream of so many athletes to be able to participate in this prestigious event. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to adequately describe how it feels to be among some of the most talented, disciplined and fastest triathletes in the world, but I'll try. There are so many things I thought about and experienced, but I'll keep this brief.

Because I had just less than 6 weeks to prepare for this event, and knowing what other things I have on my plate in the months ahead, I had no intentions of "killing" it during this race. I walked into the World Championship race with nothing more than a feeling of honor for being able to qualify and the confidence that I was ready to complete the distance. This took an enormous amount of pressure off myself - after all, I wanted to ENJOY this experience!

I didn't leave myself much time before the race to acclimate to the time change or weather - something that would prove a mistake later on. The roughly 50 degree temperature change from Chicago to Kona takes more than just a couple days to adjust to. One of the first things I did here was the "underwear run" that SO MANY people said I must do. Glad I did it, but boy was I hot. We were barely running (more like a fast walk) and sweat was just dripping from me. I was also a bit star-struck. There were pro triathletes running all over the place! Most were very cordial and friendly! The most disappointing experience was Chrissie Wellington - she seems so sweet and nice on TV. In person, not so much. Guess the true character comes out when the cameras are off.

For this race, I did something a little different than normal - I actually BOUGHT a couple of things at the "Official Ironman Store." Just a couple of things that said "Ironman World Championship" on them. Who knows if I'll ever make it back here - better get some things while I can. Went for a little swim-bike-run warm up and I realized how much I love swimming in the ocean. Many athletes complain of the salt water, but it really doesn't bother me. Sure, it gets in your mouth once in a while, but it's not revolting or anything. I could see so much! And the water was WARM! My last open water swim was in Louisville, where you couldn't see your hand right in front of your face. This was the complete opposite. I saw so many beautiful fish swimming around underneath me. Swam with this turtle for a little bit - very fun! Though I knew I wouldn't be seeing this on race day due to the thrashing about of 1800 other athletes.

The warm up bike ride was nice - hot, but the pavement has just been re-done and there are no bumps, potholes, rocks, cracks - NOTHING but smooth asphalt. What a fantastic change from what I'm used to riding! The air was thick, but as you ride, the wind cools you giving a false sense of comfort. I stashed the bike and started a short run. Now I could feel just how hot it was as was the heat coming up from the pavement. I needed to constantly remind myself to drink - I may have even gone into the race a little dehydrated because it was nearly impossible to keep up with my thirst.

Athlete check in was simple, as usual. Not much different than other races in terms of process. Friendly volunteers, but many of them were a little lost. One guy gave me 2 pink tickets. I asked what they were for. He said, "I don't know." WTF? I later found out they were to allow your family member(s) to come in the finish area - not to get on the course at the finish line, but to lounge around where the food and post-race photos were being taken.

I put a few of these comments on Facebook already, but in case you're not on Facebook, here's what I thought was pretty cool:
1. Athlete wristband was color coded by age group. Guess that's how they
handled the whole compression sock covering up the age group problem.
2. Hard, plastic number for your bike instead of a sticker (very cool!)
3. Normally, they give you a sheet of stickers to put on the various bags (T1, T2,
special needs, morning dry clothes, etc.). These stickers were already
affixed to the bags. Guess the talented athletes do not have time to do this
for themselves! ;)

Rest of it was pretty much the same. Day before the race, I went for another swim, then pretty much laid low. I was staying about a 15 minute drive from the start - which was great because Ironman athletes - especially these here in Kona - are a little uptight. I remained quite calm - I put no expectations on myself other than to try and remember everything I could about the experience.

Slept pretty good that night - race morning, I couldn't really take in the amount of calories I normally do. Transition opened at 4:45am. I think I got there around 5:15am. You must go get body marked before being allowed in transition - they stamped the numbers on your arms - fun! Tension was high, though. You could see the looks in the athlete's eyes - anxiety, nervousness, fear, excitement - all balled up into one. I got to my bike - oh yeah, you HAVE TO leave your helmet with your bike - cannot put it in your T1 bag. I think this is because there is not enough space with the way they have the bags hanging. But I didn't like it because I hate putting anything on my bike that could fall off. All you could see was aerohelmets - I think I might have seen 1 or 2 regular helmets. I put my nutrition on the bike, pumped up the tires, checked and re-checked the gears and brakes and then wanted to do a walk-through. However, you need an "escort" and it proved to be a PITA, so I just left transition. Guess I'll just follow everyone else when I get there.

Went to find a quiet place to hang out before the start - and did. It was a bit confusing how to get around there - every time you wanted to get from point A to point B, there was something blocking the most direct path. We were directed, redirected, routed and rerouted every time we went somewhere. I had no idea how long it was going to take me to get to the swim start, so I decided to head over early. The Navy Seals guys jumped out of a plane, the pros started and then there was the national anthem - no idea why they don't do this before the pros start.

I got to the water and immediately moved to the left. As strong of a swimmer as I am, with the best of the best here, I knew I'd get clobbered. I wanted to have the most peaceful swim possible to start the day. I went left. We treaded water for at least 15 minutes - many of the age groupers inching ahead of the Gatorade bottle start line. They kept yelling at them to back up, but the aggressive overachievers refused. It was frustrating. I met a friendly woman who qualified in Arizona last year - her attitude was awesome and she seemed just as happy as I was to be here. I looked back at the crowd that had lined the shoreline - amazing. I had tears in my eyes as I remembered how hard I worked to get here and how truly special it is to be able to compete in this event. Here was my pay off.

The gun went off and we started swimming! One of the most gentle Ironman starts I've ever experienced! It was great - for about 200 yards. Then the boats kept pushing us to the right - they wouldn't let me go as wide as I wanted, so I was forced to swim with the pack. It got violent. It was a very wise decision to safety pin my chip strap - even with that, I still felt it being ripped off my ankle. I was hit from both sides over and over and over again. I swam with my head out of the water to avoid being kicked in the faced. I tried to move left - blocked. I tried to move right - blocked. At one point I just stopped swimming and stuck my elbows out as far as I could to the left and the right just to create my own space. I wondered if I was going to drown. I gasped for breath and tried not to fight back. I was being pushed under by the arm strokes of other swimmers on both sides of me. I tried not to do the same thing to the other swimmers. My watch was just about pulled off my wrist (I didn't notice until the run how damaged it got). This went on for what seemed like forever and I despised that the most favorite part of my race was turning into a fight for survival.

We made the first turn and I went very, very wide. Aaahhhhh....peace. I was away from the other swimmers, so I caught my breath and found my rhythym. The water was the most amazing blue - there was not a single swimmer now on my left and I was happy again. Then I started to feel some chafing under my left arm. It really started to sting because of the salt water. I wondered how bad it was getting and I wanted to stop moving my arm so the stinging would stop. I knew I just had to suck it up - it was going to hurt until I got out of the water. I wasn't even half-way yet.

After the next turn, other swimmers started getting closer to me. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who had enough of the "fun" of getting beat up by the pack. There was this guy who was swimming all crooked - as soon as I'd pass him, he'd speed up and pass me back - only to go all crooked again and I'd pass him again. It wouldn't have bothered me except that he was swimming right in my path each time and I'd have to jockey around him. I had people CONSTANTLY hitting my feet and, try as I might, I couldn't keep from getting agitated. I kept thinking to myself "GET OFF!" and then give a couple of aggressive kicks. But the toe tapping would continue....guess I'm an easy target to draft from because I don't kick much, but people, STOP HITTING ME! I hate people touching me! GRRR!

I was near the swim finish and those stairs they have in the water are tricky - everyone seemed to be tripping up them, including myself. They had hoses hanging with fresh water running through them and I stopped just long enough to spray my face and rinse off the armpit where the chafing was - it felt so good when the stinging stopped. Here's what sucked - I was running to my bag and was being PUSHED left and right by the men. No "excuse me" or "sorry", these guys were purposely pushing me forward, left, right, whatever. I think they should put in a new rule - no TOUCHING anyone running through transition. I yelled at one guy to stop pushing me - I followed it up with, "Not like you're going to win, anyway." I got a nice finger in response - that made me laugh.

No help from volunteers in transition, but it went smoothly. Got to my bike and see that my helmet had been repositioned. Yep, someone obviously knocked it off my bike and put it back on - the very reason I never put my helmet ON my bike in races! Well, guess I was glad someone put it back. Transition seemed long - it wasn't really long, but they forced you to go the longest way possible each time you went in and out - I suppose to make it fair - but it seemed goofy. Got out on the course and - UH OH - I forgot sunscreen. Usually, they have people outside the changing tents yelling it - and ready to apply! Not here - I hoped this wasn't going to be a problem, I couldn't worry about it now.

It wasn't 5 minutes before I saw a group of 5 guys blatantly drafting off one another. Are you kidding me? This is the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP race - why the heck are you DRAFTING?? And they continued to draft for as long as I could see them ride off. I was so disappointed - there was a lot more of this in the miles and hours to come. I did see lots of officials and lots of people getting penalties, but still...draft for about 20-30 miles and get a 4 min penalty? You still have an advantage. Maybe they need to make the penalties a little more stiff. I had a lot of guys pass me and cut over just too close - why do they do that? None of the women ever seem to cut over so recklessly, but it's like the men feel like they have something to prove. It's a big road, you can wait until your back wheel passes my front wheel before you cut over, tough guy (or DB).

Bike started out fine, but it was hillier than I expected. Not like Louisville hills - but these long stretches of gradual uphill. I'd be pushing out reasonable effort and would look down just to see 8mph - FOREVER. There was a cool section of black lava rock that had all these smaller white rocks spelling out names or words of encouragement. Biggest bummer was that the water on the course was not cold. And I couldn't seem to keep myself hydrated. I was drinking and drinking, but remained very, very thirsty. I saw my shorts and compression socks COVERED with salt. Not just a few salt stains - white could have been the new color of my shorts and compression socks - not kidding. I was taking Endurolytes, but I guess not enough of them. This was the first time I'd used Endurolytes all year. Just never got hot enough this summer!

As the bike went on, it got windy. Brutal wind. No matter which way you turned, it just seemed to hinder my progress. The cross-wind was tough - I had a tough time controlling the bike in a few sections. I wondered how the tiny girls don't get blown right off their bikes. I was uncomfortable on my seat. I wondered if it had slipped again because I could not find the right position. I felt like I was up and out of the seat way too much, but I was just miserable in the aero position. As the miles ticked by, I got more and more discouraged. My shoulders were now feeling the pain of the sun, my female parts did not want to be on the seat any more and my pace was slowing drastically. I tried to enjoy the scenery, but I gotta tell ya, not much to look at. I was out there so much longer than planned, I ran out of nutrition and Endurolytes. It's one of the loneliest races I've ever done. No spectators - just aid stations. Had this not been Kona, I might've quit. It was not fun.

Happiness was getting off the bike. I now took my time in transition - very slowly, methodically taking the time to get comfortable, cool down (a volunteer put a cool towel on my back - my shoulders were in heaven!), and slapped on the sunscreen. Unfortunately, it was a bit late for that. I started running and immediately was too hot. My heartrate shot up, I felt winded even though I wasn't running fast and then I started feeling a little dizzy. I stopped to walk - I had to calm down. Sweat was pouring off my head and face - I walked to the first aid station where I got a sponge to cool off - and I was elated that the sponge was doused with COOL water! It was a tremendous relief. I took in more calories than usual - I had run out on the bike a while ago, I knew I was down on energy. I continued to walk for about another quarter of a mile and then felt OK to run/shuffle. I could feel the heat coming up off the street. This first section of the run had a few spectators - people in front of their condos, cheering on friends - LOTS and LOTS of people riding bikes next to their athlete friends, cheering them on. A few more miles and I started feeling better. I ate an orange and it was like the best orange I ever had!! I now just wanted to finish and conserve. At this point, I decided to conserve. I didn't want to come out of this race too beat up to train for the next one, so I did a little run/walk that I had been thinking about doing ever since I signed up for this race. The sponges were key in keeping me cooled off.

The course lead you back through the town - with all the spectators - then back on, um, I think it's the Queen K - a very long, lonely, hot stretch of road. It seemed to go on FOREVER. I was doing a little more running now, but not fast. It was cooling off a little and I would get goosebumps when the wind would gust. Why does my body have such a small window of comfortability?? Did I mention the course was lonely? Not only is there really not much to look at, but there are NO SPECTATORS anywhere! Just aid stations. I was moving so slowly, I felt like I was going to be one of the last people to finish. Oh, I knew I'd make the time cut-off, but I had so many cyclists pass me - and now the runners were doing the same thing. I was passing no one.

I got to the Energy Lab as the sun was setting. I turned into it and the view was amazing. Absolutely gorgeous. No one told me how pretty this was - then again, most people were done with this section WAY BEFORE the sun started going down! Later, I was told it was 104 degrees in the Energy Lab. I was almost to mile 18 and I saw the special needs section. WHAT?? OK, not a problem for me since I didn't have a special needs bag, but mile 18?? Why wouldn't they put this at mile 13 where it belongs? I'd be so bummed if I had to wait until mile 18 for my special needs stuff!

Inspiration Station was a joke. Just a couple girls giggling and talking to themselves, music playing was less than inspirational. I'm trying to remember the best Inspiration Station I ever passed - think it was Coeur d'Alene...the guy there was just cheering and yelling and playing some real upbeat music. Now I compared all Inspiration Stations to that and, unfortunately, they are all falling short! Guess I didn't realize just how good that guy was at the time. Just after that, there were eater guys? They were twirling their fire sticks and then blowing huge flames from their mouths. Quite a sight, but again - if I had been faster, I'd never have seen this - so good and bad that I was able to see it.

Now the sun has set and I'm on the way back in - about 6 more miles to go. I decide to run the rest of the way. It's getting cooler now and I'm comfortable, but found a new problem. I can't see! It got SO DARK on that street - I could see little glow necklaces, but nothing else. There were still a few athletes coming the other way (cool, I'm NOT going to be last!), but I didn't see them until we almost ran into each other. It was ridiculously dark! Did I mention it was lonely? Quiet. Very quiet. At many points, I could only hear myself breathing and the shuffle of my feet on the pavement. I had a hard time reading the mile markers. I could see they were there, but I no longer could read what numbers were on them - so I had to guess. These things were just a couple feet away from me and I could not read them. Like I said, SCARY dark!

Finally, oh but finally, I got back into town and they had streetlights. There were now a few spectators - I think I was near mile 25. I saw Sally and she cheered for me, but I couldn't even muster up a smile. I so wanted this to be over. I had to concentrate hard on not tripping over my own two feet. The last mile seemed to go on and on - turn left, then right, then curve around...ok, now I knew where I was in relation to the finish. There were more spectators here and there were chalk messages on the street - though it was too dark to actually read any of them. Then I could hear the I knew I was close. OK, don't trip down the finish chute! People held out their hands for some hi-5s and I weakly slapped their hands as I ran by. I tried to smile as I ran down the finish, but I was wiped. I just want to be done. Then I heard my name being called and was able to throw up my arms and smile as I crossed the finish line. Totally beat up, but I made it. I just completed the Ironman World Championship 2009!