It's a good thing I was feeling on top of the world, for I would need every ounce of energy to keep up with the 1800+ world class triathletes here for the big show down. This event has more hardbodies than the Top 40 Rap Video countdown, and make no mistake they were here to COMPETE. I was certainly fit, but you could easily pick me out of a line up as one of the 200 lucky lottery slot winners. I don't even have an Ironman logo tattooed anywhere on my unshaven body, for the love of Pete.
|(Ironmen do have fun, such as the Thursday Underpants Run)|
No worries. I was AT KONA for IRONMAN. After applying to the lottery for 12 years and sticking to a solid training plan for five months, I was as ready as ever. I yearned to be a part of this now-world standard for crazy endurance challenges that sucked me in with their ABC and NBC one-hour specials decades ago (see video above...drama, baby!). This was long before I was pulled into the world of marathons, ultramarathons, and 100-milers, which even the Ironmen here will tell you is a bit off the deep end. As a teenager when I heard that the origin of the sport was a dare from Commander John Collins in 1978 to combine the toughest swim, bike, and run tests on the island and settle a bet about which athletes were the most fit, I was seriously hooked. How could you not want to be part of a story like that?
|(The Ironman Tribe, photo courtesy of Phoenix)|
I was in good company, however. Western States 100-mile Run Champion Graham Cooper was here after qualifying at Ironman St. George, as was WS100 Champion and 25-time sub-24 hour finisher Tim Twietmeyer after claiming his spot at Ironman Wisconsin. Graham was hoping for a sub-10 hour, and this definitely wasn't his first trip here. His family helped him triple check all his drop bags like a fine-tuned machine. Tim was new to Ironman Hawaii like me, but he was a known quantity among his age group. When I asked Tim which is harder, Ironman or Western States, he just said "Are you kidding? You get to SWIM in the Ironman." True, true. But as a runner, it was the swim I feared the most.
|(Only at Kona can I fit in with a Speedo and compression gear...sooo sexy)|
|(An Army of volunteers get us marked and ready)|
(1,800+ athletes check their gear one last time)
|(Defending champion Craig Alexander chats with Ben Hoffman)|
|(That's the race number to have!)|
The goal for my swim was to stay on the back 1/3 of the pack and have a comfortable experience. It was going to be a long day, so best to hit the bike feeling good and staying aerobic. The 2.4 mile swim distance wasn't a worry so much as the mass start with 1,700 people. When the cannon sent us off, the ocean exploded into a white mass of bubbles and we went heads down.
|(On your marks, get set....)|
|(GO! And the sea becomes a washing machine)|
|(Look out fish, we're comin' through!)|
At the halfway buoy, I caught a glimpse of my watch - 41 minutes. This is fast for me! I found a great line on the way back, using the waves from the open ocean swells wherever I could. I hit the beach in 1:20:44 and felt good. That was supposed to be the hardest leg, but honestly, it was fun! I changed into full bike gear, had the volunteers soak me in sunscreen, and hit the road.
|(Swim done, now onto the bike)|
|(Canada's Brian Preston shifts into high gear)|
|(Chris Lieto takes it out fast, per usual)|
|(Does it get hot on the Queen K? HELL, yes!)|
Havi was a reminder about who is in charge on this island...and it ain't us. The heat kicked up to the 90-100's, and the cross winds coming off the mountain were keeping us leaning 20 degrees to stay upright. I had to get out of the aero bars and white-knuckle it for a few miles just to stay on the road. Fallen athletes were being picked up on both sides of the street, proving we are all just one gust away from unforgiving lava ditches.
|(The isolation of the climb to Havi)|
|(Chris McCormack off the bike and putting on the chase)|
|(Ocean on the right...that means we're headed back!)|
|(The press follow the head-to-head duel of Chris McCormack and Andreas Raelert)|
I entered T2, and walked my swollen foot to the change area. The volunteers took one look at it and called over a medical person, who said something about "metatarsal swelling...foot cooked from hot asphalt...ice...five minutes". Clearly I was not the first person with this problem, and I was far from their biggest problems in the full medical tent. Within seconds my foot was packed in ice and they were changing my clothes.
The conversation with the volunteers reminded me of any great crew trying to get their ultrarunner out of late-race aid station. Does it hurt to walk? Well, you've got nine hours to walk a marathon. Did you come this far to drop now? I didn't think so. How about we cram that foot into a running shoe and get you out the door and see what happens? We did just that, and I took an extra minute to watch Chris McCormack win his second world championship before taking off.
|(Speedy runners already 10 miles up on us)|
|(Feeling good enough to run right out of T2)|
|(Catching a breeze on Ali'i Drive)|
|(Volunteers were top notch all day...and even recycled 98% of the trash)|
|(Alaska's Katy Rosane doesn't let a minor thing like a broken foot stop her from completing an Ironman)|
|(Plenty of aloha spirit along the course)|
|(Oklahoma's Angela Stewart smiles as we climb up to the Queen K)|
I got a huge surprise at mile 10, when Tim Twietmeyer walked along with me. He was working through some back spasms (and massively swollen hands) but laughing his way through the whole thing. It was awesome to see him out there and get a surge from his ever-positive vibe.
|(Tim Twietmeyer keeps me in good spirits at mile 10)|
|(Madam Pele was nice enough to throw in some cloud cover on occasion)|
|(Super stoked to see this sign...getting close!)|
|(Yup, we're running on a live volcano)|
|(The inspirational mile says "Go, Scratch, Go!")|
In an instant, the calm and quiet of the Queen K was replaced with cheering fans four-deep on either side as I headed down Ali'i Drive one last time. The finish was a party that would rival Times Square, and I crossed in 12:04, good enough for 1,333rd place. I gave a little dance to Kool and the Gang, and the crowd shouted out "YOU ARE AN IRONMAN". I couldn't believe it!
|(At last, there it is...the final ramp)|
|(What a great time!)|
|(Crossing the finish, with enough energy for a few dance moves to Kool and the Gang)|
|(Look, I'm getting lei'd on the big screen!)|
|(Sophie swipes my lei and makes eyes for the medal)|
My body was completely drained, but my soul was spilling over with joy. Is an Ironman tougher than a 100-miler? Well, it's a different kind of tough. I certainly won't be recovering as fast as an ultra. The Ironman training and discipline required is definitely harder, but to approach the mental challenge of a 100-miler, you would probably at least have to do one more lap of the swim and the marathon. But I get the whole Ironman thing now. I can see why the tattoos are so common. This is a bold statement to engage fully in life and find your best, then toe the line with fellow warriors from your tribe. There's nothing wrong with that at all, my cousins!
A huge "mahalo" to all of the directors and great volunteers for putting on a spectacular event. And thanks so much for keeping that lottery system around - I will keep putting my name in and hope to come back again! But for now, it's time to go sit on a beach and rest with a few mai-tai's. It's what Madame Pele would want, no?