Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ironman Hawaii Race Report, part 1

Warning: LONG!

I thought that with a week’s worth of post-race perspective and thinking, I could produce a better, more thought-out race report. In reality, I don’t think that’s exactly the case. But I’ll try my best! Enjoy!

My lead up into Ironman Hawaii was complete opposite from what I experienced before Ironman Coeur d’Alene. By mid-September, I was tired, mentally fatigued, and just trying to cope with (read: survive!) the daily rigors of training. Before CDA, I questioned whether or not I could physically complete the 140.6 miles of an Ironman. Kona was different; I was confident in my physical ability, but staying mentally plugged in was the real challenge.

I know that Nathaniel was concerned, as he was exposed to my daily mood swings and sometimes-great, sometimes-not-so-great workouts. But I assured him that everything that I was feeling and experiencing was normal, and that this Ironman thing – nay, this 2 Ironmans in my first year of Ironman racing – was new. And that I/we just needed to be as understanding and as patient as possible with the given ups and downs. Through it all, he was great, and I can honestly say that he was as much a part of my success as anything else.

Jen was also extremely supportive through everything, and did her best to alter my workouts a few weeks out when I became increasingly run down (and moody). I think my final 3-hour run – where I spent more time gasping for breath and forcing myself to keep going when I felt awful – was the straw that broke the camel’s back. But I have absolutely no regrets about any of it – even the not-so-great parts. Because I would have never known any of this, would have never figured these things out about myself – had I not tried this in the first place.

It is what it is; it became what it was meant to be. And in the end, I can only take away the experiences and learn my lessons accordingly. This is life, and I feel very fortunate to have these opportunities in the first place. And for that I am grateful, and happy.


I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t nervous. I had set my alarm for 4 am, but woke up at 3:50 with butterflies in my stomach. After my disastrous pre-race breakfast at Coeur d’Alene, I knew that I needed to try something different. Additionally, I wanted what I consumed to be completely portable; so that on the off-chance that my food of choice wasn’t found in Kona, I could still eat what I had been training with.

Crazy at it may seem, I packed 3 bottles of Vanilla Protein Plus Ensure, 5 jars of Gerber Baby Food Bananas (stage 3, for those wondering), a small carton of Quaker Oatmeal, and my trusty ½ cup measuring cup in my checked luggage. Race morning, I downed 2 bottles of ensure, 1 jar of baby food bananas, and slightly more than ½ cup of prepared oatmeal without any problems.


I was so nervous/excited/anxious pre-race, that I forgot to make coffee. Oops. While driving to the race start, I figured I would get my caffeine from a caffeinated gel. Oh well. But I was so wound up already that it didn’t seem to make much of a difference. (Somewhere, Elizabeth just fell off her chair. And yes, later she did call me out).

Nathaniel dropped me off as close to the race sight as possible, and then I walked the final half mile to the King Kamehameha Hotel for body marking and everything else check-in-related.

This time, there were no tears in the car and I felt as calm as I would ever be before a race of this magnitude. I knew that racing Ironman was extremely different from short course: if I wanted to survive the race without blowing up, I needed to stick to my heart rate and race within my own capacity. Sticking to my heart rate zones and paying careful attention to my perceived exertion would be my mantra for the day. It had worked once already at Coeur d’Alene and I was confident that it would work again.

I thanked as many volunteers as possible as I got my arms stamped and was lead to my bike. One amazing volunteer helped me pump up my tires, while another pointed his flash light at the pump. They were great and I was so thankful throughout the day for their incredible support. And I tried to say THANK YOU as many times as I could. These races would not be able to happen were it not for the incredible amount of volunteer support.

After taping 3 Powergels to my top tube and checking to make sure my helmet was lying in the proper position over my aero bars, I scanned my bike area to make sure that everything was in order. There really wasn’t much to be done, as the Friday gear and bike check had taken care of much of the hassle. It was then that a girl racked a few bikes down came up to me an inquired about PSI.

“Do you think 150 will be okay?” she asked.

It seemed really odd, to have a discussion like this the morning of the race. But I was grateful for her conversation, even if it was about tire pressure. In reality, it made my own fears and insecurities seem normal (I too had wondered about tire pressure with the heat and wind that would surely be forthcoming. In the end, I had opted for 120-130 psi on my tubular tires).

“Are you using tubulars? If so…then totally. What are your tires rated for?”

We continued to chit chat, until she looked at my bike and asked, “Are you…Marit…?”

Let me start by saying – there are a lot of things that I had prepared for the morning of the race. I can safely say that this question wasn’t one of them.

“Um…yes.” I replied, not really knowing who she was and feeling a little weird about that. I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and asked about my cats, or said something that makes me pause for thought. I love having a blog and meeting people in the triathlon community, and yes the House Monsters are a part of my life. But it can still be a little weird – but if I didn’t enjoy meeting people or sharing bits of my life – then I wouldn’t have a blog. So there.

“I’m friends with Bri Gaal. My name is Brooke Tvermoes….”

“Holy Cow!” I exclaimed. “You race in the NCTS!?! That’s awesome – I used to live in North Carolina...”

And then we continued to carry on our conversation. I wish for the likes of me I could remember what we discussed, but I was so nervous before the race that the memory escapes me. I can, however, say that I was really happy when – while running out towards the energy lab turnaround – I saw Brooke running back towards Kona. She looked so strong and focused! She ended up having a super race, and earned a podium finish in our age group. I was sorry that I never got a chance to see her after the race, or to wish her congratulations.

After one more final check of my bike, I made my way towards the port-o-potty line and waited…and waited…and waited…but eventually saw a familiar face when Michelle Simmons walked by. I think she could sense the fear in my eyes and quickly agreed to wait for me.

Unfortunately, my trip to the loo wasn’t all that I had hoped it would be, and for the first time this season and in recent racing memory, I didn’t produce my usual pre-race bm. Loveley!

When I told Michelle she said not to worry, and that I would probably go somewhere on the run.

Excellent! Nothing says ‘confident’ like the image of oneself shitting one’s way down the Queen K Highway.

But there was (literally) nothing that I could do about it, so I spent the rest of my pre-race time in the company of Michelle and her friend Jen. While the professionals were lining up, the three of us made our way behind the finish-line stage and away from the thousands of other anxious athletes. It was quite surreal, actually, pausing to listen to the National Anthem, seeing the professionals treading water on the giant TV screen, watching the Navy SEALS parachute in over the bay, and hearing people from within the crowd wish us good luck.

I felt nervous, but more so like I was in a dream-like sequence as the three of us made our way towards the crowd. It was as though someone else was walking in my place and I felt oddly detached while ambling along towards the famed green steps (leading into the bay) while the professionals started off. Michelle zipped me up into my borrowed Blue Seventy Speed suit (THANK YOU BETH SHUTT – your suit IS magical and has been warmed up for your future race at Kona – whenever that will be), and we slowly s-l-o-w-l-y shuffled our way into the water. At this point I became separated from Michelle and Jen, but in the end figured it was okay. I had already wished them both good luck, and I knew that I needed to get myself ready and lined up in my own way.

I could hear the music in the background and the race announcers whipping the athletes and crowd alike into a frenzy. The tension was palpable, and I noticed that very few racers seemed happy or were smiling. Instead, everyone seemed grim, nervous, tense, and unsure about the adventure that lay ahead. I could relate and knew that the feelings echoing around were written all over my features as well.

But pausing at the edge of the water would do little to get my race started, so with a little bit of maneuvering and weaving through the crowds of people just waiting at the water’s edge, I dove into the bay and started swimming towards the far left.

Immediately I felt better. I was in my own world, looking down at the (slightly) murky water, stirred up by the hundreds of athletes who had already entered. As I swam further away from shore, the visibility increased, and I found myself momentarily distracted by the dozens upon dozens of brightly colored fish and beautiful ocean topography below. My stroke felt easy and light, and I enjoyed the few moments of peace before the frenzy of Ironman swim start.

Slowly but surely I made my way to the far left, past the crowds of other athletes hanging out by the pier. My plan was to start as far left as possible, in order to avoid the chaos of a mass start. I already knew how awful the IM swim start could be after my experience at Coeur d’Alene, and I really didn’t care for a repeat of that debacle. Besides, I had been assured the night before by friend and triathlon coach Bob Mitera that the distance from one end of the swim course to the other was only 50 meters.

Trust me when I say, that I was MORE than willing to sacrifice a minute or two in order to have clear water while swimming.

While treading water, Kevin – one of my occasional long bike-ride-with-Charisa buddies – had called out to me. We chatted briefly, and when he mentioned that he was moving further left, I decided to follow suit. I was amazed at how calm I was; indeed I had already accepted that this thing – this Ironman Hawaii – was about to happen, weather I liked it or not.

And all the stress, emotions, highs, lows, ups, downs, and everything in between was about to be erased the moment that the cannon went off. I knew that with my first race stroke, the pressure would be gone, and all that I would have to do was swim-bike-run. Survive.

Easier said than done, I know. But I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that the final few weeks leading up to the race were hard. In talking with friends and other racers, I realized that I wasn’t the only one struggling. Racing Ironman is HARD, and while some can handle the stress of multiple Ironman races per year and long training session after long training session (after long training session), I realized that (at least for my first year of racing Ironman), I wasn’t one of them.

I never would have known this had I not gone through the experience – and I have absolutely no regrets – but one of the many invaluable lessons that I learned was that I will crack physically LONG before I crack mentally. But when I finally decide that the training is too much or that I’m not having fun, or that I just want to be DONE – well, it gets ugly.

Perhaps this will be different in the future; indeed after having completed Ironman Hawaii, I am fully aware of how incredible the race is, what a special event and wonderful day can be. No doubt, these memories will fuel my fire. One day. And my future training for this race – should I 1) ever qualify again and 2) should I decide to do it – may be different.

In the present, though, I knew that the moment that the cannon fired, I would be released from the anxiety and stress and unhappiness. That the start signaled something far greater than I could have ever imagined: That I had made it. When the training was excruciating, when I had convinced myself that I wasn’t going to race because it just didn’t seem possible (let alone fun), or when my fears and doubts threatened to take over – that I acknowledged those feelings and emotions, but pushed them aside and clawed my way back. When the going got tough, I didn’t quit – and if I could do this race, this year, this time, and do it to the best of my ability – then anything else in comparison would seem easy (knock on wood).

The final few minutes spent treading water in Kailua Bay before the start of Ironman Hawaii is indescribable. I had seeded myself two or three rows back from the front, and everyone around me was very respectful of each other’s space. I could see some athletes hanging off the boats, paddleboards, and Ford IRONMAN raft. But in reality, I’m not sure that their effort was really worth it: the buoyancy of the salt water was such that little effort was required to stay afloat.

The noise from the cheering crowd and voice of Ironman, Mike Reilley, were masked only by the beats of the Hawaiian drums and blowing of conch shells. I could hear the long sounds of the shells being blown, and as the race start neared, the beating of the drums seemed to increase until I could feel the vibrations in my very core. I thought briefly of a scene from “Lord of the Rings” when the people of Rohan go into battle during the third movie.

As the beating drums intensified, I noticed more and more athletes looking around – perhaps awaiting our start. I wasn’t sure how or when it would happen, but I was left with little doubt that it would be soon.

A brief distance away I could see the paddle boarders patrolling the front line of swimmers as people were either pushed from behind or tried to creep forward. “Get BACK!” they yelled in unison, paddling furiously up and down the start line, trying to control thousands of overly eager and anxious triathletes.

The beating drums seemed to grow increasingly louder and I had a feeling that when the music stopped, the race would start. One guy looked at me and rather nervously exclaimed, “I think I know what’s about to happen.”

The drumming crescendoed and was matched by my beating heart. In that moment, in that exact space of time, I knew that this was exactly where I was supposed to be, and that whatever happened during the race, I was grateful to have this experience. I will never forget it as long as I live.

And then suddenly: Silence.

No music.

No Mike Reilley yelling.

No crowds cheering.

Just silence.

If tumbleweed could have blown across the water, I’m sure it would have fit right in and nobody would have batted an eye.

The silence stretched for what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was probably only 15 or 20 seconds. The longest stretch of silence in my life, without a doubt.

And then…


The cannon fired and we were off! An ocean turned white by the frenzied kicks of thousands of feet.

My Ironman Hawaii was finally under way. And I smiled as I started my first strokes…


D said...

Clearly I need to go to bed... you just made me cry.

ADC said...

Oh D, I am so near the tears as well - I feel as if I was right there at that moment. Marit, you are such an amazing writer. Can't wait for Part 2 - hurry up!!!!

Kim said...

awesome awesome awesome. i love your uncanny knack for remembering details! i love it!

Ange said...

ok Marit..I'm totally crying here.
thank you for bringing back details that even I had forgotten somehow. deep breath.
those drums were intense huh.
YOu were SO SMart go left. let me tell you. My swim was NOT OK! I thougth I might die. Really. You seriously did the rightthing there. Not sure why I didn't ask anyone.
-your comment about the queek K totally cracked me up.
- it was amazing to see you out there. As Michelle said, I feel like I know you and it was very comforting
-I think our state of mind was very similar as we muscled through the end of our 2nd IM training in one season and we finished 1 min apart. TOo funny.
CAN'T WAIT to read more. You are an excellent writer.
no coffee??? :)

Greyt Times said...


Stef said...

Um, next??? :-)

Echo the comments about the great writing. So much talent there partly I suspect cause you write from your heart. Not everyone can, or dares, to do that.

Anyway I've read enough to know that after this experience you can do whatever you set your mind to Marit, racing or otherwise.

Still though . . . Next???????

Jennifer Yake Neuschwander said...

Tell more more!

cherelli said...

Gee Marit, can you keep doing Ironman races so I can keep reading your race reports??? You have a knack for capturing the emotion in each moment :) Looking forward to the next chapter...

Anonymous said...

yay, the charge of the Rohirm!!! one of my favorite parts of the trilogy and a great analogy. looking forward to part II. Is this going to be two-parter or a trilogy, btw? ;-)

BriGaal said...

Glad you got to talk to Brooke! I'm sure you helped calm some of her nerves, too. Can't wait for the next installment :)

Beth said...

WHEW!! My heart is beating in my throat just reading of that start. How amazing!! Can't wait to hear the rest - you are such a good race report writer!! (oh and thanks for warming up my suit for me - I hope it gets to return to Kona one day! :)

Teresa said...

Amazed at how you can remember every detail and then write it down so well. Loved your post.

runningyankee said...

wow- you are an amazing story teller. its like i am right there next to you. love every word of it! congrats again :) so happy to have you join us in the off season. its a wonderous place!!

Heidi Austin said...

Ahhh... i'm sooo hooked and ready to hear more! You totally got me in almost tears~ Love your writing girl :)

GoBigGreen said...

Oh Marit! I just put Grisham down to read you:)
more I am running out of reading materials !

Train-This said...

Oh shit, and the gun just went off???

I expect this report to be written quickly. I don't care how long just get it up. I have a life to lead and I am left hanging here!

Alili said...

I can't wait to read the rest, seriously - I'm captivated. And now I feel the need to watch Lord of the Rings...again. :)

Missy said...

Nice cliff hanger;) What a time, what a day. Sorry you didn't get to poop..of all days!!!

Angela and David Kidd said...

I know how this story ends yet still I got all nervous reading it.

More please.

Rebecca DeWire said...

You are a fantastic writer! I totally feel like I am there.

A couple things:
1) I am so sorry to hear that you forgot your coffee that morning. I am a total coffee addict and if I couldn't get my usual amount the morning of, I would be in a full blown panic.
2) That is so cool that you met Brooke. I met her last year at Duke half and she was such a nice person.
3)I agree that IM training is rough. I wasn't aware that you were having so many ups and downs with it. It reminded me of myself, because I am definitely not someone who can just do the long training like a machine.

Can't wait for the next part.

Ryan said...

From what I remember, the cannon was more of a

Ka-Boom than a pow!

Just my thoughts :-)

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