Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hawaii Ironman 2007 “Shooting for the Pie in the Sky” A Race Report (Long)

As I sat in the audience at the awards dinner at the Hawaii Ironman last year, I started thinking about my goals for 2007. I just had to get back here to Hawaii. I would be racing in a new age group, the Male 45-49, and I knew that I could go faster.

I like to set my goals in a tiered manner. I set some I know I can achieve, then I put some way up there. I call those my “pie in the sky goals”. My first goal was to qualify for the Hawaii Ironman, and I did that at St. Croix in May. My “pie in the sky” goal was to make the top 5 in my age group and the podium at the Hawaii Ironman; the elite’s elite. I almost did it and I ended up 8th. I didn’t let anyone know about my “pie in the sky” but I think some got the idea when they saw how hard I was training.

Last year I came into the Ironman with a goal of not to melting down and to finish strong. It was my second Ironman and I wasn’t sure if the first one was a fluke. It wasn’t, and I just missed going under 10 hours. This time I was ready to take some risks and push the envelope a little. Historically, 9:54 was the average finishing time for the last podium finisher in my age group over the past 7 years. It was doable.

After it was all said and done, I finished 240th overall and 8th in the M45-49 age group(3rd American) with a time of 9:53:06. I met the average time, but the last podium slot went down to 9:45.

TOTAL SWIM 2.4 mi. (55:41) 1:27/100m 93rd Overall, 2nd in the age group
FIRST BIKE SEGMENT 5 mi. (1:14:43) 18.91 mph
SECOND BIKE SEGMENT 28 mi. (2:20:21) 21.03 mph
THIRD BIKE SEGMENT 59 mi. (3:54:57) 19.66 mph
FOURTH BIKE SEGMENT 88 mi. (5:16:51) 21.25 mph
FINAL BIKE SEGMENT 112 mi. (6:28:49) 20.01 mph
TOTAL BIKE 112 mi. (5:29:58) 20.37 mph 411th /15th age group

FIRST RUN SEGMENT 5.2 mi. (7:10:05) 7:18/mile
SECOND RUN SEGMENT 17.6 mi. (8:46:11) 7:45/mile
RUN FINISH 26.2 mi. (9:53:06) 7:46/mile TOTAL RUN 26.2 mi. (3:20:59) 7:40/mile 250th /8th fastest run split in the age group


My average heart rate for the bike was 140 b/min and for the whole race the average was 144.

On Saturday morning I was up at 3:30 am for my prerace meal which included 3 scoops of Hammer perpetueum, 2 scoops of Heed, 2 gels, and a banana and peanut butter. Dana drove me down to the start area at 4:45. We kissed and said our good byes. I was walking toward the King K hotel when I discovered that I had forgotten my nutrition bottles in the refrigerator. Luckily I had my cell phone with me and I called Dana to bring them back to me. What an idiot. It was like forgetting to bring my bike.

I got numbered, set my gear up and my bike, then sat along the railing watching the orange sunlight begin to brighten behind Mount Hualalai. I called my mother at home and talked to my kids. Then I stuffed all my clothes in the prerace bag turned it in. I pulled on my Xterra Velocity speed suit, got the cap and goggles, and headed to the swim start.

I got down in the water pretty early and watched the Navy seals parachute into Kailua bay. That was quite a spectacle.

The pros got off at 6:45 then I eased my way out to the swim start line. The water felt good. My stroke felt good. I picked a spot right in the middle between the Ford sign and the pier. I held my ground in the front and watched the divers with cameras swim beneath me. I made a few “hang loose” hand gestures for the cameras to ease the tension. Guys on surf boards patrolled the starting line and paddling back and forth. “Come on guys stay back…Stay back” Mike Reilly was counting down the minutes. I looked out and saw the multitudes gathering behind me and the figures lining the sea wall. The helicopter was buzzing overhead. This was the Ironman World Championships and my moment was about begin. Then with out warning..”BOOM” we were off. I sprinted off pretty hard for the first 500 yards or so, I’m sure it was faster than 6:00, just to clear the crowds and get into a good group and catch some fast feet.

When we got to the turnaround boat, I could still see the leaders and they were pretty close. On the way in I just sat back and enjoyed a good draft. It felt so easy that at times I was one arm stroking just so I wouldn’t run into the guy in front. On the way in, I saw that our group was gapped. It would take too much effort for too little reward to bridge, so I just sat back and enjoyed the wonderful view of the ocean floor and stroked it in. I still had a long day ahead of me.

When I hit the pier I looked at my watch. 54 minutes…“Wow, it didn’t feel that fast“. My goal was to get my transitions done in 3 minutes or less and I was pretty close with a 3:10.

I got started on the bike and immediately I heard a clicking noise. It sounded like the kind you get when you put a playing card in your spokes. I looked all around to see where it was coming from and couldn’t locate it. Damn, that’s all I needed, a mechanical problem on the bike before I started. I also noticed that my wattage meter and speedometer wasn’t functioning either. All I had was my heart rate. Why does this always happen to me in a race?

I took it easy to the turnaround up Kuakini then picked it up a bit once I came to the downhill section into town and out to the Queen K. I was being passed like I was standing still. It didn’t seem like there was a lot of resistance to my wheels but the way people were passing me I’m sure there was. Madame Pale had thrown a curve ball at me. I just dealt with it. I found it to be annoying and maddening that I couldn’t find the source of the clicking and the noise became a constant reminder that burdened me through the entire ride.

The wind started to pick up out on the Queen K and reached a crescendo on the climb to Hawi. Laurent Jalabert, former Tour de France star, passed me here. I marveled at how easily he motored past me into this horrendous wind.

The turnaround and back down the Queen K was kind of scary. First we had a tailwind then it quickly changed to crosswind gusts. I could see cyclists being blown sideways up the road. I was unable to grab a water bottle at the aid station there for fear that a gust might blow me over while I had only one hand on the bar.

On the return trip on the Queen K, I felt the winds and the heat. Last year we had a tailwind and rain. This year the true Hawaii Ironman course reared its ugly head. I could see salt deposits forming on my shorts as well as those around me.

Dave Scott once said “Most people lose their concentration after about five hours. They give up. It’s not physical, it’s mental. When you come to Kona, it’s like racing on the moon.” I could feel this happening. I was frustrated with the bike, the wind, the heat and I just wanted it to be over. This is a section which I wanted to work but I totally lost concentration and, instead I fixated on my misfortunes. I finished the bike in 5:29. I was hoping for a 5:15-5:20.

T2 was a welcome site. I hit it fast and got through in 3:18 which included a Porto potty break. Once out on the run I felt at ease. This was a portion of the race which was totally under my control and I was still pretty mad about the bike issue. I was originally going to take it easy on the out and back section of Alii Drive but I decided to just go for it. If I ran well, I could still break 10 hours. I was willing to take the risk of blowing up somewhere down the road. I watched my heart rate hit L3 to L4 levels but I felt good and aerobic and just ignored it.

I began passing people off the bat. I came upon Michael Kruger, an athlete from Germany, whom I met on the awards stand at Ironman Florida in 2005. He had run a 3:00 marathon at IM Germany. He remembered me and said that he was shooting to run 3:15 here. I was cool with that so I mentioned that we should work together. Another German was running with us and some other German guy that wasn’t in the race was running along the other side of the road pacing them. They were all speaking to each other in German. This race has such an international flare to it. Oh yeah, it's the World Championship.

I saw Dana outside our condo. She had recruited an Aussie cheering section and it was pretty loud. I got a good rush from that. Glynn Turquand from Xterra wetsuits ran along beside me and told me that I looked great and that I was second out of the water in the age group. Geoff Cleveland was first and he had a Xterra Velocity on too. Mark VanAkkeren who also had an Xterra speed suit had the fastest overall swim and was leading the amateur division overall. Needless to say, Glenn was pretty happy with us.

I ran with the Germans until the 9 mile mark and then they were gone. They were off the back and I continued to motor at 7:10 to 7:15 pace up to Palani hill. At home I had made a Ironman simulation course which included a hill 10 miles into it. My course hill had a steep 20% grade and was just about as long as Palani. Running up the real Palani was a lot easier. Dave LaTourette, my coach, was on the hill and told me that I was in 8th. He also gave me the condition of the athletes ahead of me. “Two look like they are cracking, Go!!!”.

I met up with Macca, the race leader, on the Queen K just as he was getting to the 25 mile mark. I yelled at him. I really wanted him to win this year.

Last year my pace seemed to fall off on the section going up to the energy lab. This year, I trained my body with my simulation runs to pick the pace up here. I began picking off blown up pros and age groupers on this section. I was feeling good and things were going well. One guy from my age group passed me, Dave Boyes, and he ended up running 3:05 for the fastest run split in the age group. I couldn’t touch his pace. He was really moving.

Every day at this time the cloud cover usually rolls in from the mountains and sometimes it rains. Today that didn’t happen. It was sunny and hot…. just how I like it.

Once I got to the energy lab, I could see the competitors coming out and I looked for those with my age group numbers. I needed to pick off more because this is the part of the race when most meltdowns occur. I made it up to the Queen K and continued up the road to Palani. The energy lab didn't seem so bad. I passed Rutger Beke there.

I came upon a familiar figure at 23 miles who appeared to be struggling. It was Ken Glah. This guy was pro last year who historically has finished top 10 overall in this race and I was about to pass him. Wow. I suppose I was salvaging my race or Kenny, uncharacteristically, was having a bad one. Dave had ridden down there to provide me some encouragement for my final push. He gave Kenny some as well. Kenny asked for the race time and Dave said 9:36. We were going to break ten hours.

I could feel my calves starting to tense up and I could tell I was on the verge of cramping. I continued to push pretty hard to get to the 25 mile mark at the top of Palani. After I got there I would be golden.

Once I hit the down hill I just let gravity do the rest. Dana, Dave, Amy were all there yelling for me. Dave yelled “pick off as many people as you can” and then I just started running as hard as I could. It must have looked like I was being chased by a bear. I was suffering pretty badly here.
Before I knew it the finish line was coming up on me. Instead of jogging in and savoring the moment, I pushed it like it was a 5K. I saw 9:52 on the finishing clock and I ran up the ramp crossed the line and as I walked down the ramp my legs buckled to the point that I almost fell. Lynne Smith was there to catch me and help me to the medical tent. It was good to see her. I looked at my watch and I couldn’t believe that I finished in that time. My run must have been 3:20. I guess Madame Pele had rewarded me for my perseverance on the bike.

Dana, Dave, and my friends Michael and Claudia Yatsko were there to hang out with me at the finish line as I drank chicken broth and ate potato chips to kick my sodium levels up. My right leg went into tetany and I had to have a volunteer hold it in stretch. Ouch. My legs were incredibly sore. I had really left it all out there.

It was a good day. I had almost reached the “pie in the sky”. I can’t complain with being 8th in my age group in the world, especially when I work a full time job, have three small kids at home, and a wife that does Ironmans too.

Now it’s time to go eat some real pie…and I’ll take some ice cream with that too ; )


mjc said...


Amazing race and I'm glad to be working with you for the next year or two!!! I too hope I can get to Kona in the next couple years as I read your story it just inspires me to continue to train harder and harder each day. Doing what ever it takes sure does show from your times this season, CONGRATULATIONS on your finish this year and I wish you the best for your next "Pie in the Sky" goal whether it be for the next race season or next year personal goals, whatever they may be!!!

Congratulations again and I'm impressed! Now its time for you to relax and me to hit it hard!!!

Tell the family Hello and I hope this a start to great relationship on the course and off!!!

M. Carnal

MarkyV said...

Dude... nice job!!!

David C said...

Hi Rob,
Congratulations on your result. It just proves having goals and working hard can pay off.

And by the way, us Aussie's just know how to have a good time.

Dave C