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One Down, One To Go
I can happily report that race 1 was a success and the win marks another goal successfully achieved. It was an amazingly tough day at the Ironman World Championships (IMWC).
Immediately following the finish line, I found myself laughing. My race plan had been way off the mark and I was served up a big Hawaiian scoop of, "it ain't that easy, it ain't that simple." With the training I've put in and the experience I've acquired, I was certain that I was going to be fast. My main goals for the day were to win, take as much time as possible off last year's time and push myself really hard. I completely neglected to consider what Kona might make us fight through as last year's race was relatively mild. Each leg had aspects that were very different and I realized that while things like PRs and course records are cool, there's a lot more to our sport than finishing times.
After swimming a great deal more this summer, focusing on improving in the open water, I'd expecting to improve quite a bit over my time from 2011. Yet, my swim was 2 minutes slower at 1:14 and that left me a bit deflated (Mr. Potts was significantly slower than usual, which does say a lot). The typical "washing machine" start was in effect, I suppose, but I don't quite agree with this dramatization. What really goes on during a Kona swim is a bit more than just churning bodies.
Leaving the stronger swimmers to lead the way, I start just behind the first several rows of tightly packed bodies and close to the inside track as I don't believe in adding distance by going way outside in search of less populated waters. Since the cannon malfunctioned we had a megaphone start, and like runners fighting for traction we power away, trying to get momentum while bumping and restarting for the first minute or so. I didn't experience any grabbing (although I have little for others to grab!) and nothing has happened to me that I couldn't accidentally do to someone else. You do get clubbed here and there, I did get kick in the face, and I saw goggles sinking to the bottom of those suffering the same (I always wear two caps, one covering my goggle strap).
What was frustrating during my swim, due to a multitude of issues, was trying to find a good pace. I'd find myself swimming up behind a wall of people and be force to swim around or just ease up on some toes until it opened up. A few times I'd lose the feet I'd latched onto and someone else would swoop in the next moment. There were also a lot of drifters swimming straight at a course to "who knows" and broadside you. I'm sure I caused issues for others too. This is a mentally and physically challenging swim and all the jockeying for position keeps your mind occupied. This, coupled with the beauty, and it is easily my favorite swim.
Heading out on the bike is extremely energizing during the IMWC. The crowds are loud and I can feel the magnitude increase as I roll through on my handcycle. I bet every competitor feels it out there. This is your special day.
The way out to Hawi was about as expected. It was already hot and fairly windy. My face was already feeling the sun’s intensity. After failing to protect my face and ending up with horrible burns last year, I began immediately applying several layers of SPF 100 after my morning shower and continued up until the swim start - no fooling around. The early portion carried a decent pace while cyclists rode by giving me a nice greetings and accolades. I applauded them right back, always loving the on-course exchanges. On downhills I'd rip past a line of riders and continued to hold down the throttle until the next gentle climb. There isn't much to damage you until the end of the Queen K and the turn off to Hawi when a series of long climbs and the strong gusts make it tough work to the turnaround and the 60 mile mark.
On the last big downhill 18 miles from Hawi, the pros rode into view and I tried identifying the positions and faces but it was the steepest section and while pushing 49mph all I made out was Crowie's custom helmet as I flew by. I would have enjoyed waching the pros race but I guess you can't have it all.
The winds were not as severe as they'd been Thursday heading up the final 7 miles to Hawi. There was a big dark cloud and it may have brought about a shift. The fury didn't begin, for me, until I reached the top. Then it blew extremely hard and after making the turn we had what I can only call a torrential mist. It was disorienting and I could hardly see as I picked up speed heading back down. I checked my time and I checked the positions of my competitors. About 10 minutes separated me and 2nd place.
While I gained some ground on the other two male handcyclists on the bike back, I wasn't able to best my own time. It felt like I was doing math the entire way, seeing distances and figuring out what I'd need to average. In one way it kept me occupied and it sure got me to work hard. However, I might have made it in quicker or with more energy in the tank without constantly fighting for more speed only to get knocked to the reality of what the headwinds were limiting us all to, a slow steady grind. This isn't my first experience with a strong headwind.
After battling home, I came into transition very fatigued for the run. While pleased with the sustained effort and pace over the run course, I could have made up more time in my racing chair. I believe a smarter approach on the windy bike conditions would have allowed me to do that.
More important than all that, I won my division and had another amazing experience at the Ironman World Championships. As with every race, I've learned more about how to race smarter and how to handle the ever changing conditions we face out there.
Now, I'm heading off the island to get over to another island, New Zealand. Arriving there, I am quite proud to have the new title of Ironman World Champion. Hopefully, I will have a good clean race and get a shot at World Championship title number 2.