Conservative. That was the name of the game. It was a different approach than I’d taken in my last four Ironmans. IM Lake Placid, IM Cozumel, IM Texas, and Challenge Atlantic City — top priority wasn’t to finish but to give absolutely everything or be carried off the course. In three of those races I went sub-9:30. But for this race, there was no time goal.
This race was different. 9 family members flew out for this race. I wasn’t going to see them before the race, so that meant I’d have an opportunity to thank them and show my appreciation during the race and shortly after. And then, see them for breakfast the next morning.
“Conservative” would hopefully leave me fully ambulatory at the finish. I’d be able to converse and be fairly clear-headed. The last thing I wanted was to be in Medical for ninety minutes afterward with an IV bag and no way to contact my family who’d been on the course (and in the heat) since 6:00 AM.
So on to the race. (What follows is specific to the Hawaii Ironman experience. If you’re a triathlete searching for power numbers, nutrition suggestions, etc., that information is located toward the end of this post).
Compared to California, the air is thick. The sun is hot. It’s among the many factors that make racing on the Big Island epic.
The plane landed onto the Big Island Thursday night (9 days before the race). Because it was a travel day, and because I’d waited until the last minute to do all of my packing, I took the day off from training. So the first item of business on Friday morning was to swim from the pier in Kailua-Kona in an effort to regain my feel for the water, and reinforce what I remembered from the Kona training camp 6 weeks ago.
I was fortunate to see my good buddy Keish and superstar pro triathlete Bree Wee!
After the swim, it was run time. I wanted to get one last long/hard run in before the race, so it was off to the hottest part of the course: the Natural Energy Lab. My goal was to do three repeats at a decent clip in an effort to acclimate and imprint my brain with one very important message: you can do this.
11.7 miles later, I’d finished my training for the day. I was hot and sweaty, but I was not overheating. It was a great session.
Dinner was consistent with very little deviation. (There is a Costco just a few miles outside of town that definitely met my needs.)
My bike was available for pick-up the next day, so after another swim, I strolled over to the expo to greet my friends from TriBike Transport. Today’s ride would be business as usual.
Everything checked out nicely. My bike was rolling well. Tomorrow (Sunday) was my last long ride: 108 miles to Hawi.
I began the day with breakfast at the condo.
After an early swim with Keish, it was time to ride.
The ride went well. The winds were deceptively tame. It was like a rope-a-dope. I suspected that Madame Pele was setting me up for a false reality.
The next few days were a bit more of the same. Swim, bike, run, eat, sleep.
By Wednesday, things were starting to get real. There were a variety of commitments: AWA Gold brunch, Legacy Reception, Team TriBike Transport dinner, Underpants Run, Ironman Carbo Dinner, Athlete Briefing. I was also trying to do a good job of providing social media for my sponsors. And further, my family members were starting to arrive. Of course, I was also trying to rest/recover/taper. (It’s such an honor to do this race, and it’s so easy to get swept up into all of the energy and excitement — and I loved it! But I was also trying to make sure it didn’t take a toll on my preparation . . . both mental and physical.)
Michelle brought water bottles and cowbells for all of our family members.
Signs were made.
My nieces were getting their game faces on.
By Friday, I was a nervous wreck. I was emotional. I looked tired. And I was a bit of a basket case. My mind was racing — it was noisy. And the look on my face was one of, as my wife might describe it, “intense focus.”
When I knew a camera was pointed in my direction, I tried to smile and look confident.
But Ali’i drive was transforming into something I’d never experienced.
Trying to appear calm in an interview with Paul Romero of Mdrive.
It was nearing 4:00 p.m. on the day before the race. The emphasis was now to make dinner, and to sleep.
Race morning began at midnight.
I went to sleep at 7 pm with every intention of waking at 3 am, but I awoke at midnight and could not quiet my mind.
Preparing for something you’ve never done before is tough. People have said, “This will be your 28th Ironman. No problem!!” But this was my first Hawaii Ironman. I named my dog Kona. I never thought I deserved to race here. Yet now I was in a condo on Kuakini and Palani, in Kailua-Kona, 7 hours from the race start, staring at the ceiling — wondering, hoping.
I rolled out of bed at 2:30 am. Contacts in. Coffee on. 2nd layer of sunblock applied. Time to face the music.
As I ate a breakfast cookie, I re-read an email that my friend Mikko (from Finland) sent to me. He wished me Sisu on race day, and explained it like this: “The Finns have something they call Sisu. It is a compound of bravado and bravery, of ferocity and tenacity, of the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit”.
I even wrote Sisu on my wrist.
I also read and re-read something Mark Allen wrote recently in Lava magazine: “Every turning point, every possibility for a failed attempt at a great dream, is also a potent chance to grasp a piece of yourself that never before surfaced that rings loud with the sound of personal excellence.”
After spending a few minutes on a roller to activate my legs and my glutes, and after eating some coconut bread, it was time to walk to the pier.
The pros went off at 6:25. We were going off at 6:50. I lined up on the far left. (I was the last guy on the left, three guys from the front). The water was not as clear as in the preceding days. The fish were not around. And the water was “swelly”.
Six days prior I swam the Hóāla 2.4 mile training swim with 400 other swimmers (many of whom were going to race Ironman). I began in the same place, clad in the same swimskin, and completed the swim in 1:04. I was conservative in application and knew I could go harder.
Now, six days later, I still planned to go out conservatively but expected to go just a bit faster. I’d become “comfortable” in open water, something I’d attribute to having swum 97 of the last 99 days. My feel for the water was at an all-time high. While I hadn’t any time goals for the swim, I figured 1:02-1:04 was perfectly reasonable.
Tread water, tread water . . . wait, wait, until the canon goes off. Boom!
I focused on the fundamentals. Hand entry, body alignment, breathing. When negative thoughts entered my mind, I expelled them by simply re-focusing on the fundamentals. Things were going quite nicely, as I spotted off of the hungry pack to my right. I was swimming to the left of the fray, on the outside, on nobody’s toes. This was my plan. But as Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”.
Fortunately, it was so far so good. This was shaping up to be my dream swim. The aquarium was fish-less, and there wasn’t the water clarity I enjoyed in my 15 practice swims on the Big Island. Still, nobody touched me. Not a punch to the head, a kick to the mouth, or the dreaded attempt at swimming over or onto me. I simply swam.
I shall say though that one fellow used my feet as a scratching post. His fingernails routinely (every third or fourth stroke) raked the bottoms of my feet.
I am ticklish, so this was funny at first. But that quickly passed. Now it was simply annoying. I considered slowing down to give him a good kick in the head, but that seemed to involve more risk than reward.
I even moved a bit more outside in an effort to suggest to him (at least via my trajectory) that should he draft on my feet, he’ll swim farther than the serious pack to my right. Of course, he was glued to me for the entire swim. He had a foot fettish, and I was Mr. Deeds.
I reached the turnaround, went around the Body Glove boat, and began my return trip to the shore.
It wasn’t too long before I reached the pier. I could hear Mike Riley’s voice. I was so close. When I finally stood up, with my feet planted firmly in the sand, I ascended the stairs and saw the clock: 1:08. That was a BIG swim time. (A bit bigger than I’d expected). I was expecting to see 1:02-1:04. Fortunately, I hadn’t any time goals. Just finish. Minimize contact. That was it.
T1 was chaotic. Since I chose to swim without my heartrate strap, my plan was to simply put it on in the men’s changing tent, so as I attempted to fasten the strap, my hand grazed this guy’s butt next to me. I dropped the strap, and this guy was naked. It was a bit like dropping the soap, I suppose. So I cranked my head the other direction and attempted to grab my strap with my left hand. This, among other things, did not contribute to a quick T1 time. In fact, by the time I finally sorted out my HR strap along with my socks and shoes, Keish (who finished the swim 5 minutes after me) passed me in T1 and got onto the bike course before I did!
Finally, though, I made it to the mount line, and it was time to begin the 112 mile bike.
The bike course was . . . crowded.
I planned to take it out conservatively, but I failed to realize just how many people would be on the course, setting a pace that was a wee bit under what I was interested in maintaining. To overtake one athlete is not often a problem, but I was facing a line of 30-40 athletes. Further, the draft buster was to my left on a motorcycle. Thus, while I was trying to maintain power at 230-240 watts, I’d find myself at 185-190 and then 230 and then 200. My power was erratic, and I was unimpressed with my options.
Once the wind picked up in Waikoloa, I was given a bit of space.
But it was brief at best. By the time I reached the turnaround in Hawi, athletes were still bunched together. In fact, it wasn’t until the downhill section from Hawi that I broke free.
I finally started to hammer. I wasn’t racing — still playing it conservatively — but I started to push the envelope a bit. I knew three of my teammates (Team TriBike Transport) were ahead of me. Two — Kyle and Keish — were close. One — Jared — was in another zip code.
There’s a fine line between going hard and racing. And it’s tough to keep a close eye on that switch — my goal was not to flip it.
Before the race I’d received a text from my mentor Kurt Madden (2-time Hawaii Ultraman Champion and multiple Hawaii Ironman Top-Ten Overall finisher). He sent me this: “Develop a rhythm early, let the other athletes do the work for you, and hammer the last six miles of the marathon. Play and no work. You will do well!”
I knew I was starting to hammer the bike, and that the plan was to do no hammering until mile 20 of the run. But I was so frustrated by the crowded bike course, by the drafting “dynamic” over the first 60 miles. So I tried to do two things: take advantage of those who paced poorly and were falling apart AND push consistently higher power numbers than I was able to maintain on the way out. The result was rather enjoyable, as I began overtaking many cyclists. Unlike the first 60 miles of the bike — where I was humbled and really started to think that I needed to sharpen up — the final 52 miles helped me remember that I am fairly strong on the bike, that my bike training (5 days/wk, 13-20 hours/wk) was kicking in.
Many endurance athletes are time geeks, and I’m no different. Even though I wanted to race conservatively, I did find myself calculating my bike split and thinking, “Wow. I’ve not gone over 5 hours since IM Cozumel, and that’s where my legs seized up during the last 12 miles and I could barely pedal!!” Here I was on the Big Island, lava rocks on both sides of me, at 21mph average, looking at a 5:15. I’d gone 5:02 at Cozumel.
So I tried to remind myself that I’m taking it out conservatively. But at that point in the race, I began to question whether I really meant it, or if I was simply trying to self-justify.
I started to consolidate my split, thinking “Ok. 5:15 is great. Nice work”. But then the winds kicked up just before the airport. My average speed was no longer 21mph. It didn’t exactly plummet, but it dropped to 20.9, 20.8, 20.7. And then I remembered that my Garmin was set to Auto Pause and that my current average did not include my stop at Special Needs (2 minutes).
And then my knees (plural) began to ache. It was not an acute pain. It was a dull ache that encompassed the full spectrum of the upper-portion of each knee. (Prior to taping my knees, I’d have this sort of discomfort at mile 40 of the bike — during training and racing. Since taping, I’ve been without pain. Today it showed up, but fortunately it wasn’t until mile 105.)
7 miles to go with “achy” knees. And then the big question: will I be able to run?
I finally rolled over the timing mat and reached the bike dismount line. I saw a split of 5:23:27. I was no longer thinking about my bike split, though. I needed to know if my knees would cooperate for the run. This part was a bit stressful.
I slow-jogged in my socks through Transition and to the Men’s changing tent. I was purposefully forefoot striking, and I knew I’d not know if I could run until I got my shoes on and gave it a go.
My bladder was full. Normally I’d pee on the bike, but all I managed were two very minor discharges. With all of the athletes on course, bunched up, overtaking, cutting in front and compelling me to drop out of the draft zone, I suppose I had stage fright or performance anxiety. I didn’t pee well. BUT I did a fine job of hydrating, and my bladder was sloshy.
Knowing that my knees would be happier to carry less weight, I spent three minutes at the pee trough in the transition tent, relieving myself of that uneasy burden.
As I crossed the timing mat and ran onto the run course, my body celebrated! It was as if my knees forgot all about their problem with the final 7 miles of the bike. Things felt great!
I shall say, however, that while things felt great physically, I routinely have mental issues during the first 1-4 miles of the run in an Ironman. (It’s so hot. And 26.2 miles seems so far. And it seems so ridiculous that we’re running after turning in a fairly legit day of swimming and biking.)
So it’s a battle of words. The dominant voice says “Ah, let’s walk a bit”. And the other voice, in an effort to assert its dominance, says “NO!!” This goes on for the next 30 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, as this crazy dialogue plays out in my head, I know that every aid station must be maximized. Not only must I get through the next 10 miles, but I need to cool my core so that I don’t do what so many have done before me: blow up when they get onto the Queen K and then into the Natural Energy Lab. These first 10 miles will set up (or render impossible) the final 16.
My pace was 7:00-7:15/mile bang on. At every Aid Station (each is separated by 1 mile), I’d grab two cold sponges (placed in my singlet on each side of my chest), pour cups of cold water onto my head, onto the cooling towel wrapped around my neck, and onto my arm coolers. Then two cups of ice. (To cool my core, I dump ice down my shorts — making sure it is resting against my perineum. The ice from the other cup goes into my right hand. I hold it until the next aid station. Ice in the hand is an effective cooling mechanism). Then it’s onto the Coke. I try to drink at least one cup of Coke at each aid station. Then it’s time to resume running.
By mile 4 along Ali’i Drive, the negative voices were silenced, and I was feeling great! I saw Marc, Angela, Taylor, and Briana at the TBT tent, and I saw three of my teammates pass me on the way back into town.
I reached the turnaround and just ran.
Count steps. Smile. Repeat as necessary.
By the time I made it back into town, I was at mile 9.5. And that’s when I finally got to say hello to my family. I stopped, said a brief hello, gave Michelle a few big kisses, and got back down to business.
Just then, my brother ran up next to me and said “Brother!! Keish is 4 minutes up the road. You can catch him!!”
Oh boy. The gameplan was to be conservative. There were over 16 miles remaining, and that part of me — the part that wants to race, to compete — was itchin’ to be triggered. I smiled at my brother, kept the same pace, and reminded myself that I know what pace I can hold without getting into trouble. It was hard, but I stayed consistent.
A couple miles later on the Queen K, where desolation abounds, I caught up to my teammate Kyle. (He won the ITU Long Course World Championship in AG 50-54 a few weeks ago in China).
Flanked by lava rocks, the only things you hear are footsteps, breathing, and a few helicopters in the distance. I asked Kyle if he needed any nutrition or anything, and he simply said “Keish is just ahead. Catch him!” I nodded my head. But mentally I was shaking it, as the goal was not to get into a race.
Of course, a mile later I saw my friend Steffen. As I passed him he said “Keish is up the road!” I looked at him and simply quoted Doc Holiday: “That’s the rumor”.
I was committed to racing my race. And my race on this day was a conservative one.
At Mile 12, my heart rate strap shimmied from my chest to my stomach. I’d likely dropped a few pounds today, and that was enough to keep the strap from remaining snugly around my chest. Now, though, with the strap around my stomach, it was disrupting my breathing. So at the Mile 13 aid station, I stopped, undid the strap, and tossed it.
As I continued to make my way up the Queen K (there is rarely a flat section. You’re either going slightly up or slightly down.), I finally saw the solar panels atop the Visitor’s Center at the Natural Energy Lab. I’ve done this section. Once 5 weeks ago. And 3 repeats a week ago. I also knew that as long as I made it in and out okay, I could do as Kurt Madden suggested: Hammer the last 6 miles.
I was starting to get excited. See, as far as I was concerned, the run was chunked into these parts: Miles 1-4 are Hard Work. Mile 7-8 is Hard Work. Miles 10-16 are Hard Work. And Miles 16-19 are Hard Work. But everything else is business as usual. I was starting to allow myself to get really, really excited. The Hard Work was almost complete. I simply needed to make it in and out of the Energy Lab. Then it’s 6 miles to the greatest quarter-mile in triathlon.
My cooling strategy could not have been working more perfectly. People were blowing up. Some were doing the death march. Some were just standing, looking utterly defeated. Microwaved. Baked. Overheated.
But I was cold! It wasn’t the type of cold that acts as a forewarning to heat stroke or heat exhaustion. I was sweating plenty, but the sponge/cold water/ice/cooling towel/arm coolers approach I’d taken was paying off handsomely.
I made a left turn into the Energy Lab and proceeded to run downhill toward the ocean at a quick clip. My pace was sub-7, and I felt great. Just before the turnaround, I saw Keish. He looked very good.
Keish has shared many maxims with me, but the one that seems most relevant is this: “Training is training. Racing is racing”. Racer Keish was on the course, and despite an ankle injury that’d kept him from doing much run training, he was going full throttle. This guy, after all, was ranked #1 Ironman All World Athlete for AG 45-49 in 2013. He’s a beast, and I was gaining on him.
As I reached the turnaround, I knew there was a quick stop I’d planned to make at the Special Needs. In my bag I had two gels — Carb BOOM! Apple Cinnamon and Grape Pomegranate. These were going to give me the mental acuity and the extra calories to hammer the final 6 miles.
First I squeezed the Apple Cinnamon into my mouth. Delicious. Then I held onto the Grape Pomegrante, as I planned to use it at the next mile marker.
The road out of the Energy Lab is hot and uphill. I was running a 7:15/mile, and I was not gaining on Keish. I knew he knew I was about thirty feet behind him. And I knew he was going hard in an effort not to be caught.
This is a guy who placed 3rd at the ITU Long Course World Championship in China a few weeks ago. His ankle has been killing him, yet here he is. Going all out. I was inspired just to be on his radar.
Of course, when I finally bridged the gap and found myself running along side him during the last part out of the Energy Lab, he enthusiastically urged me to keep going, to push hard, to enjoy every moment. What a great guy.
So I was almost at Mile 20, and I knew I could finally let loose. I still had some horsepower in reserve, and I was excited about this. There was also something else. When I entered the Energy Lab, Coach Patrick of Endurance Nation was near the exit. Sure, he had 10 minutes on me, but I’d love to catch him.
I attended his Ironman Texas training camp this year, and among my goals at that race was to come in under 9:27, as he’d previously won his AG (35-39) at IMTX with a 9:27. When I finished that race, I looked up at the clock and saw 9:27:59.
They call him Iceman. That’s when you’ve arrived in this sport. When you have a nickname. If I have a nickname, it’s DP (from the boys at IM Talk). It was supposed to stand for Dirty Pash, but they’ve also quipped that it stands for Double Penetration. (Thanks John. Thanks Bevan!)
So now that Mile 20 was in sight, I decided to do what I could to catch the Iceman. I dug deep. I pushed. I started to use my arms more. My HR strap was long gone, but I could sense my HR rising.
As I was heading back to town on the Queen K, heaps of athletes were heading out the Queen K to the Energy Lab. Among these athletes was superstar Andrea Bess, who saw me and yelled “Hey Jason!” That made me smile. And then about ten seconds later I heard her say, “Hey Keish!!”
Hahaha. That actually made me smile more. I really enjoy spending time with Keish, and I hoped he’d bridge up to me so we could run the last bit together.
I continued to hammer, and right around mile 22, my focus was drifting a bit. But just then, Paul Romero came bounding down the middle of the road, running about ten feet back shouting things like “You’re amazing! You’re looking great brother!!” (Paul chose me to be on Team Mdrive about nine months ago. It was a tremendous vote of confidence.)
Paul was only near me for 30 seconds or so, but his encouragement made me feel about ten feet taller.
I ran with renewed purpose. I attacked in hopes of catching the Iceman.
The miles clicked over to 23, 24, and 25. Right around mile 25, I saw my dad.
He was by himself, taking photos of me and shouting words of encouragement. We’ve had a turbulent relationship, probably because we’re very similar. But to see him there — and to remember how many times he’s come to see me race when I’ve finished in 12, 13, 14 hours — well this was something special. He was a bike racer. A very good one. And fast. He’s never seen me go this fast. And here I was, doing it on triathlon’s biggest stage. That moment in the race — where I saw my dad — was one of the more special moments I’ve enjoyed in my life.
Back to the race. I still had 1.2 miles to overtake the Iceman. I skipped the aid station at mile 25 and ran a 6:47 mile.
When I got to mile 26, I still couldn’t see him, but I was now on Ali’i Drive, and the crowds were going nuts.
Just as I entered the finishing chute I saw him.
He was ten feet in front of me, and if I wanted to, I could likely overtake him. But to do so in the finishing chute seemed like a really cheeky thing to do. There will be other races. And now that we’re in the same AG, our paths will certainly cross again.
Patrick McCrann, the Iceman, finished in 10:12:08. I finished in 10:12:09.
I spoke with him afterward, and he was all scraped up from a bike crash. He crashed during the race. But instead of DNFing, he mounted his steed, managed to ride steady, and turned in a great run. That’s why he’s called the Iceman.
Of course, just after me was my good friend Keish.
He probably could’ve overtaken me. He has a nickname — he does these long runs from his condo in Kailua-Kona to the mini-mart for taro manapuas. (They’re purple). He arrives, dripping in sweat, with a credit card in hand, eager to purchase a few of these purple-clad dumplings. The ladies that work the cash registers call him Purple Manapua Man.
Overall, my first Ironman Hawaii was excellent.
I was able to see my family immediately after the race.
Keish and I had an opportunity to discuss the race.
I even enjoyed a beautiful swim from the pier the following morning.
And then breakfast with the family. And a fond farewell to my brother, his wife, and their two daughters.
That night my parents and my in-laws were able to join us at the Awards Banquet.
I also got to see my friends Gary and Carla, who both finished their first Hawaii Ironman. (I’ve seen them every MWF for Masters Swim at 5:30 a.m. for longer than I can remember.)
Gary also stopped during the race to give Michelle a big hug!
Amazing athletes Andrea and Bree joined us for dinner!
And of course, I got to spend a lot of time with my beautiful and wonderful and super-supportive wife.
The next day was a day spent with friends.
These two weeks on the Big Island were magical. As corny as it may sound, my experience at the Ironman World Championship is proof that dreams come true.
Day before: 8-10 SaltSticks
Night Before: pasta, broccoli
Morning of: Erin Baker’s Breakfast Cookie Morning Glory, Punalu’u anpan, 2 Saltsticks, coffee, 3 Mdrive Elite, 1 Mdrive Joint, 1 Mdrive ATP, 1 Tumeric, 2 Ecchinacea
Bike: 3xHoney Stinger Waffles, 2xRedBull, 1 Punalu’u Coconut pan, 2xbottles Fluid (2 scoops), 1xCoke, 2xMdrive Elite, 10xSaltsticks, 3xPerform, 3-4 bottles water
Run: Coke every aid station, 15 Saltsticks, 2 Boom! gels, 1 Advil, 1 Mdrive Elite
Bike: East West Bikes
Bike Transport: TriBike Transport
Gels: Carb BOOM!
Thoughts on cramping: I have cramped in my last four Ironmans. This has happened toward the end of the bike or around Mile 11-14 of the run. If it is exercise-induced cramping as a result of muscle fatigue, then perhaps my conservative approach to the bike is what made the big difference, as I did not cramp once during Ironman Hawaii. If, however, my cramping is due to sodium and electrolyte depletion, then perhaps my vigilant hydration on the bike and my attention to cooling my core on the run are what kept the cramps at bay.
Average watts: 203
Normal Average for me is around 220-230. NP is usually around 230-240.
Run: 7:00-7:15/mile (lost 30-40 seconds per aid station)
Swim — I’ll need to get on toes in the swim.
Transition — Going sockless with my cleats already clipped in on the bike will save me time in T1. May need to wear my HR strap under my swimskin. Bike — Surging on the bike is a must here if you want to race. I’ll need to join a weekly roadie group ride in the months leading up to the next Hawaii Ironman. Should incorporate weekly hill repeats as well.
Run — Need to train at 6:30/mile if you want to average a 7:00/mile (assuming the same lost time at each aid station)
Cycling on the trainer in the Pain Cave helped me. 87% humidity, 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Your muscles learn how to work more efficiently under that stress. This, coupled with the on-course cooling plan (sponges/cold water/cooling towel/arm coolers/ice under perineum/ice in right hand) worked brilliantly.
Build toward Hawaii:
7-day Kona Training Camp (6 weeks out)
Half-Ironman (2 weeks out)
12 mile run in Kona (8 days out)
108 mile bike (6 days out)
Average weekly training volume for 2014: 20-28 hours/week (some weeks higher and some weeks lower)
Swim: 15,000-20,000 yds/week
Bike: 250-400 miles/week
Run: 35-45 miles/week
Trained consistently until Wednesday of race week:
Wednesday: 2 mile open-water swim
Rest and Recover
Thursday: 1.2 mile open-water swim
Rest and Recover
Friday: 1.2 mile open-water swim
Bike 10 miles with surges
Run 1 mile with strides
Saturday: Finish my first Hawaii Ironman