Ironman World Championships 2016 - KONA
I arrived in Hawaii very excited to race. I had no fear of failure, no fear of success, only…gratitude. Was it because my kids came along to watch me race Kona for the first time? Was it knowing that this was to be my last Ironman for the foreseeable future? Was it the fact that I’m in a place where I’m more confident & secure being in my own skin? I don’t actually know, can’t really put my finger on it…maybe it was all of the above, maybe none. But I was most definitely filled with gratitude.
In no way, however, did this take away from my competitive attitude. I felt I wasn’t just willing to do my best, I was willing to do whatever it took. A willingness to race with searing pain, the mental attitude to block out negative thoughts, a commitment to stick to MY race plan. Anything to for that elusive sub-10 hour race in Kona (the only Ironman I haven’t been able to get under 10 hours so far!). It’s not easy for a prairie boy to come into the ocean swells, heat, wind & humidity and put a good race together. Those are just excuses, and I don’t like them.
Race morning was fantastic. I woke up before my 3:30 alarm, ready to go. Anticipation was high, but I remained calm. Going through body marking, final bike set-up, alone time to mentally prepare for the upcoming day, it all felt good. Again, it felt special just to be a part of this whole event. Being there early allowed me to reflect on how I got here. They say it takes a village to raise a child…well, it certainly takes a team to raise an Ironman. From financial support (thank you Abacus Datagraphics!!) to moral support (thank you friends…you know who you are!!) to the daily grind of it all (thank you family for being my biggest supporters & motivators!!), this was a bit of an emotional time. Again - filled with gratitude - it reminded me that it’s not always the outcome of the race as much as it is the journey to get there. Never forget that. Now for the race itself…
The swim was great. It’s the last remaining Ironman that is a mass start, so there were around 2000 athletes thrashing & climbing over each other as soon as the cannon went off. Awesome, I thought. This is where it all begins. And it was a rather uneventful swim for me. Well paced, no panic, no sea-sickness, enjoyable…the plan was to always race with the marathon in the back of my mind.
So the plan was a relatively easy swim, conserving energy for the rest of the day. My goal was to swim under 1:20. Mission accomplished… my 1:17 swim was the fastest I’ve managed here at Kona by about 5 minutes… pretty good.
The bike was amazing. It’s everything you imagine when you see Kona on TV. Winds howling, heat rising, nothing but the barren black lava fields to stare at. Again, I rode a very conservative bike leg in order to try & minimize the damage the heat has placed on me in the past. Shoot, I even found myself smiling on occasion I was enjoying the ride so much! Everything was going to plan, on pace for under 5:10 bike, which was my goal. But the island had different plans.
With 21km to go the wind turned directly into my face, and it was strong! My pace slowing, I dug deep but the winds were too much. While others around me formed a peloton & rode away from me (another form of cheating, much the same way as performance enhancing drugs are…even done by the same people wearing shirts & socks that say “dopers suck!” booooo…), it became mentally demoralizing. If 70% of the words we say in our own heads are negative, I was definitely struggling to find that 30% of positive. In fact, not sure I could find 1% positive in that last 21km of riding. In the end my time was 5:19 on the bike, well longer than what I wanted. But hey, get over it & focus on the marathon ahead.
The run started out well. Good pace, legs were good, feeling confident. Seeing Nicole, the kids & our friends, Cariann and Kurtis on course helped a lot. My oldest boy Luke, 10, even ran beside me to give me splits & what I needed to run to get the sub-10 hour. For 13km it was going great, I was ahead of pace (sitting just under 3:09 marathon). Unfortunately the heat & humidity were really tough. The entire race had been done up to this point to conserve energy & limit the effects of the heat. But here I found myself, rapidly increasing heart rate, dizzy spells, not being able to think clearly. It felt like my feet could explode & my skin might spontaneously open into a series of massive blisters. Oh my, this is not what I wanted. So the decision was made to slow the pace, transition to survival mode.
But I’ve always promised myself and my kids that even though I will not win, I will never quit, you should ALWAYS finish what you start. And so began my version of the “Ironman shuffle” for the last 29km of the race. Despite the struggles I was able to find the reserve to finish my last 7km at a better pace than my previous 21 (it may have helped that I met Craig Alexander, my triathlon hero, near an aid station with about 6km to go…a real highlight of my day!). But I never stopped, never walked. In the end I never attained my sub-10 goal, but coming down Ali’i drive I didn’t much care. This was my best effort on this day, I couldn’t ask any more out of my body, I coaxed every last drop of effort it had. For that I was satisfied. I was proud that I could compete in this World Championship without Ironman being my whole existence. It is something I do, not my entire identity. I didn’t train 20+ hours a week, was still able to be an active husband & father, work full-time, run a small farm and business, have a bit of a social life…yet still compete in the pinnacle of our sport. My endurance sport readers… It can be done!!
But what a journey! Truly unforgettable, I want others to have the same experience we did. The energy, the intensity… the enormity of the event is so unique & special, it’s a blessing to be a part of. So as I take a step back from competing in this sport for a time, I will turn my focus towards my passion. Helping others in achieving their dreams of getting the most out of themselves in their endurance sport. And that’s why I started Grit Performance Endurance Physio, to help people find their best inner athlete, to reach their maximal potential, and have that same feeling of satisfaction that I had running down Ali’i Drive! Thanks for your support & encouragement….