Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

IM World Championship 2011

It's hard to describe an experience that you feel you will remember for the rest of your life, for some it's the moment when they look back on their life and realize "yeah I did that." For me it was treading in the water at the start of the Ironman World Championships in Kona on October 8th 2011. I've never really thought that doing Kona was a big deal, it's just another Ironman; swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles. Yes doing an Ironman is a huge accomplishment but to me one Ironman was just like the other, that was until I did this race.

Amber and I arrived in Kona on Wednesday eager to start our vacation, she had been working 70hr weeks and I was traveling quite a bit for work in the weeks leading up to the event. I had suffered from a post-Ironman flu after Canada and had to take a good two weeks off training. I had one solid week and then I started to get sick again, so I was going into this race knowing that I was not going to set a PR but I was just going to soak in in the experience and have fun racing with all the professionals and best age groupers in the world. Being in this event is unlike any other sport, it's playing in an NFL, NHL, MLB, or NBA game in the same arena as all those sports heros you admire but in this event you are suffering for 8-10 hours right along with them.

The weather was not even close to what the weather network was stating that it would be the week leading up to the event. It was between 28'and 30'C everyday with high humidity, not ideal race conditions for someone from Grande Prairie. I stayed relaxed and calm going into the event almost too relaxed, I didn't feel that fear that pushes you to a place of adrenaline and forces you to push harder compete stronger. However I went there for Ironman Canada and I wasn't sure I had another one of those efforts in me only 6 short weeks later. It turns out I was right but the journey over the 10:25 I was out on the course was incredible and I'll remember it for the rest of my life.

The 4 hour time change for once turned out to be very beneficial, I was up at 4-5am every morning (8-9am mountain time) which meant that the 4am wake up Ironman day was not a problem. Amber and I got a ride down to the race start with our friends Robert and Annette and it was great to have a small cheering squad for me. The pre-race run through was amazing; drop off your special needs bags, get personally body marked by two markers and no line up, get weighed at the medical station, drop off the pre-race clothes, sunscreen, body glide, vasoline, go through the bike set up again and hit the washroom one more time before coming back to watch the pros start. It's an incredible feeling to be there at the start line and know that the eyes of the endurance world are on you right at that moment.

I jumped in the water 25 minutes before the start, did a little warm up and realized that maybe I started warming up a bit too soon. Once you go into the water, there is no going back and you have to tread water until the gun goes off. The treading water was tough, I was getting kicked and elbowed constantly and the race hadn't even started yet. The gun went off and it was immediate carnage, elbow in the goggle, kick in the side, dunked and climbed over I was used to an Ironman swim start but this was an Ironman swim on steroids! Usually after a few hundred meters I can distance myself from most of the swimmers and I have a fairly comfortable swim but I was trashing around in the water with some of the best of the best and this was no ordinary group of swimmers. The kicking, punching and getting climbed over didn't stop and at one point my right goggle filled up with salt water burning my eye so badly that I closed that eye and swam for the rest of the swim with one eye open. Until I got hit in the left eye and I was forced to empty my goggles, not an easy task with 1800 adrenaline pumped athletes surging behind you. I'd never had so many people around me during any swim in my life and it was an awaking experience this early in the race. I ended up coming out of the water in 1:05, an excellent time for me in a non-wetsuit swim.

The bike was unbelievable, very hard and incredibly beautiful. I rode through town very fast and I was surprised at how many people were passing me. As I headed out on the Queen K I was getting passed constantly, normally I am passing other bikers like crazy but having others blow by you like you are standing still is a very humbling experience. I kept up my nutrition and pacing and tried to stay within myself and not let anything bother me but every athlete that passed me was like getting a little air let out of my tires, it was just getting harder and harder to keep going. Fortunately the winds were calm until I made the uphill turn to Hawi, there is a 15km uphill section leading into town and the headwind was FIERCE! It took me forever to get to town, get my special needs bag and turn back to Kona. The sun was beating down on me hard and I could feel it slowly draining my energy mile after mile. By 140kms I was just counting down the kms to the finish, that's when I knew I wasn't going to have a stellar day. Still 40kms left to go in the ride and my stomach was upset, I was burnt from the sun and every muscle was telling me to just stop and rest. When I did get close to Kona I was thinking I could just take 10 minutes in transition and drink some water and rest for a while. Unfortunately the volunteers are so good that I was changed, dressed and ready to head out to the run in a couple of minutes with no time to re-charge. Still I managed to have my best bike time ever of 5:15, amazing considering how I felt.

The run was one of those tough experiences when you find yourself shuffling for a few hundred meters and then walking for a few hundred meters. I was using ice, water, sponges, coke, anything I could get my hands on to keep myself cool and fueled. I would run for a little while and the heat and humidity just forced me to slow down and take a walk break. Normally it's not a problem for me to take little breaks at the aid stations but as athlete after athlete passed me I was getting more and more broken down over 42kms. It wasn't until the final couple kms that I realized I was going to make it to the finish and I started running well again. My stride started coming back and I was caught up in the joy of being in the greatest race in the world and very, very relieved that I was finishing. I ran through the finish with my hands in the air and a fist pump that said "yeah I finally did it" now I can say I raced with some of the best athletes in the world and no matter what happened to me on that day I know I gave it everything I had.

Looking back over the past week I can't be disappointed, I did everything I felt I could do and I knew I was going to have a tough race having done one just 6 weeks ago. There are moments when I catch myself being down about the day but being there with some of the best in the world was incredible. It does make you realize how great this sport is and how far it's reached worldwide. I heard French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, any language you can think of out there. I felt so privileged to be out there with all of them and next time I do this race I'll be ready and peaked for it. I'm taking next year off Ironman and my body is happy to have a rest but this is the event if you are a triathlete and some day I'll be back to do it again.