Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ironman Hawaii Race Report, part 2

Warning: LONG!

I really didn’t know what to expect for my Ironman Hawaii swim. Some people had warned that the swim was, “the worst thing EVER”, while others mentioned that it, “wasn’t that bad.”

Going into the race, I wasn’t sure what I expected – or more importantly wanted to believe. I did, however, know that I was NOT interested in a repeat of the Ironman Coeur d’Alene swim. A funnel-like mass beach start, improper placement, and starting off way too slow pretty much ensured that 1) I was pummeled 2) I was surrounded 3) I wanted to quit the race before rounding the first ½ mile buoy.

I was determined to make my Kona swim different.

First thing – I had prepared for the worst. And while I know that sounds pretty awful, if you prepare yourself for the worst and (whatever you had prepared yourself for) wasn’t as bad as you initially thought, well, it seems a heckuva lot easier than doing it the other way (ie: prepping for easy when in reality it is HARD). I knew to expect tons of people, I knew that I would be in contact with other athletes, and I knew that there was little I could do to combat the inevitable.

I did have control over where I decided to line up, and in the end, I think that’s why I survived with (relative) ease. Sure, I was beyond the buoy line on the far, far (did I mention?) far left – but the buoys only progressed for a few hundred meters after the start, and I figured that I would eventually follow the hundreds of feet ahead of me and cut gradually across the course once I neared the 1.2 mile turnaround point.

Those final few minutes of treading water were the longest but, ironically fastest few minutes of my life. Listening to the conch shells and drums, realizing the enormity of what I was about to do, feeling the happiness set in that this was finally here, and then the stillness and silence before that final cannon blast.

And then BOOM!


We were off!

One of the amazing things about the Ironman swim (or any swim for that matter), is the silence. Out of the water, we’re much more aware of our surroundings. We hear other racers, we’re accompanied by cheers and shouts from the crowds – but the swim is different. For all the fury of the mass start, as a racer I experience relative silence in the water. Save the splashing of hands and feet. But half the time my ears are under the water and my eyes are peering into the blue depths, and I’m focusing on the race. And I’m tuned into the silence of just my breath and water rushing past my ears.

In anticipation of the cannon blow, I had raised my feet as far towards the surface as possible, without hitting my neighbor behind. As soon as the KA-POW blast, I kicked out hard and took a few quick strokes to get up to speed. Without too much effort, I was swimming at a comfortable (but not too hard, not too slow) pace and focusing on finding a good (read: non-congested) line.

Within a few seconds I had passed the referees on giant paddle boards that, prior to the start, had been shouting “GET BACK!” and was soon past the end of the buoy line. A quick glance over to my right confirmed my suspicion that the more aggressive swimmers were still dueling it out. So – against my basic instinct to cut the course as short as possible by veering right – I made myself head left. There was much more space, less contact, and people seemed to be generally more relaxed than the frenzied foray I saw to the right.

After a few more minutes of dodging around people and trying to find my rhythm, I looked up and – to my 1) dismay 2) amusement 3) surprise – saw a jet skier in the middle of the course. Correction: they guy had been to the left of the course – but because so many of the athletes had lined up to the left in order to avoid what was undoubtedly a blow-match on the right, he was now in the middle of the course.

And I was heading straight towards him.


I thought briefly about swimming under the contraption – but quickly squashed the idea. I was already breathing every 3 or 4 strokes (mostly to sight), but the thought of holding my breath and diving under a piece of machinery in the middle of an Ironman didn’t seem like a very bright thing to do. Seriously.

But I had to think fast, otherwise I was going to run---



Double shit!

In all my years spent rowing, I can honestly say that I’ve never run into a boat or any piece of mechanical equipment. A tree? Yes. But that thing was moving and I couldn’t get my double out of the way fast enough. And there was a current. And I was traveling backwards, carrying a lot of speed. So humph!

And there I was – in the middle of Kailua Bay, swimming my first Ironman Hawaii, less than 10 minutes into my race – getting too close and personal with the rescue craft. I tried to push the boat out of the way, but you can imagine how successful that was. Luckily I wasn’t the only sorry fool to have run into the thing, so without too much fuss I followed the other sorry fools ahead and eventually made my way around.

But I wasn’t going to complain. For, clinging onto the life-saver raft attached to the boat, were three or four other athletes who decided the mass start was just too much. I knew that I was lucky, as I didn’t need to be rescued.

So I just kept swimming. And swimming. And swimming.

I wish I could say it was life-altering or that I discovered some great thing about myself – but I really didn’t. I enjoyed looking down at the blueness below, seeing the interesting lava formations on the ocean’s floor, and catching the occasional glimpse of brightly-colored fish in the amazingly clear water.

There were a few times on the way out to the turnaround point, where I was hit or made contact with other athletes. But I always had room to move to one side or the other, and I never felt like I was getting intentionally hit (or beat up, like CDA).

Additionally, I wasn’t vying for a prime spot in someone’s draft. I didn’t feel the need to be directly on someone’s feet, so I didn’t fight for position or try to knock anyone else out of the way. I figured that the current from the athletes ahead was plenty of draft, and while there wasn’t someone exactly in front of me – there were plenty of people within a few body lengths just ahead.

Maybe this attitude was more symptomatic of my general mindset going into the race. I knew that it would be a long day, and that (knock on wood), no SINGLE thing/error/mistake/misjudgment would affect my overall race. I had worked so hard in practice, pushed beyond my comfort level for so much of my season that I was just tired of fighting it. Just tired of fighting period. I was tired of the constant proverbial mental tennis match going on in my head, revolving around the sport, workouts, and ultimately this race. And I was tired of being afraid – afraid of failure, fearing a missed workout and the consequences that would undoubtedly come with it, afraid of this race.

Deep down, one of my saving graces was taking as much pressure off myself as possible – the will to survive became greater than the will to PUSH, STAY FOCUSED, and FIGHT TO THE END of every workout and session. And I knew that by just finishing the race – given how I was feeling in the weeks leading up – would be a success. That was my mission, my focus, my goal. And be letting go I was finally able to be happy and (relatively) more relaxed.

Call it what you will, think of it what you may – but going into the race, I just wanted to have fun. I just wanted to survive. And if that meant that I didn’t fight for every draft in the swim and ended up swimming a few minutes slower – well I was okay with that. Maybe in the future it will be different. But on this day, at this time – I was done fighting and I wanted to enjoy the day as much as possible.

I did make note of another athlete’s BRIGHT RED LEG COMPRESSION SLEEVES and thought their wardrobe choice was interesting. I wondered briefly if the red would attract more heat on the bike and run at all, but then squashed the idea.

I noted other people’s goggles and masks, and wondered if blue lenses made the ocean look even MORE blue. I could see the Kona coast off to my left, the sun rapidly rising over the steaming mountains and was grateful for my tinted Speedo Vanquishers (a new pair! I use a NEW PAIR of goggles before EVERY open water swim race OR triathlon. Much less fogging to contend with and I enjoy my non-circuitous routes much more. My sighting has become much better and I kind of enjoy swimming straight.) The sun, although bright, was out of my eyes and I could see clearly.

I could tell that it was going to be a hot day, and thought briefly that THIS EXACT MOMENT would be the only time when I wasn’t sweating or getting majorly sun burnt during the day. As contrary as it sounds to mass swim starts (especially Ironman), I figured that this would be the most comfortable moment of my day – this one hour or so swimming in Kailua Bay.

Very quickly the crowd thickened and while sighting I noticed the turnaround was just up ahead. I prepared myself for the inevitable blows that accompany a change in swimming direction, but I did my best to stay near the outside. The water clarity was such that I could catch a clear glimpse of the boat’s underside off to my right, and I focused on holding my line through this section of the swim.

Before I knew it, we were rounding the final buoy and heading another 1.2 miles back towards shore and transition. Taking a quick look forward, I sighted the large antenna near or behind the King Kamehameha Hotel, and moved to the left side of the course (again) to avoid the crowd.

I wasn’t too surprised at the massive amounts of people that were still around my person – this was, after all, the Ironman World Championships – and everyone who qualifies to race here is a stud in their own right (according to the words of Jen). Everyone is fast (again: relative!), everyone has (at least once at either a 70.3 OR full IM distance) put together a good enough race to get them to Kona in the first place. I had prepared myself to be surrounded my massive amounts of people during the swim, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Time-wise, I had no idea where I was. Perhaps my earlier season-self would have balked at this, but now my focus was different. It didn’t matter if I swam 60 minutes, 1:05 or 1:25 – I just needed to DO it.

Nearing the end of the swim, my pace quickened, and I felt stronger in the last 10 or 15 minutes than I did for the previous 50. I moved as far to the left as possible, latched on to someone’s draft, and zoomed past people on my right – one of whom was, incredibly, the red compression sleeve wearing swimmer that I had spied in the beginning.

Chris had warned me that the people that I started swimming with for the first 5 or 10 minutes of the race would be the SAME people that I would finish with. And this just verified his statement.

I watched the bottom grow closer, began to see signs of fish darting in between the coral and rocks, and knew that my swim would be over within a matter of minutes. While sighting I realized that the pier/transition was rapidly approaching and that I would be out of the water shortly. In effort to stave off leg cramps (going from horizontal and not using my legs for 1+ hour to vertical and SPRINTING up the green steps can cause horrible leg cramping), I made sure to flex and point my feet a few times each. My claves felt good, and I was relatively confident that I wouldn’t cramp while exiting the water.

Knowing me, I would invariably end up face planning in front of spectators and the NBC Camera Crew. Perfect! And before you know it, you find yourself on the blooper reel of the televised Ironman broadcast.

Yeah. Sure. Not so much.

The sand seemed within reach, but I was still in relatively deep water when I noticed an underwater cameraman swimming towards the pier. In past races, I’ve never seen rescue divers or cameramen under water, though I’ve been assured that they’re there. So this was a first to me. I just remember seeing him (or her!) swim and thinking about the randomness of the sight.

For some reason, my senses felt dulled – and while during other races this may have seemed out of the ordinary, right now it was just another interesting moment – one of many – for the day.

The final few minutes were a little harried, but I managed to squeeze into a group of people and swim until my fingers scraped the sharp sand at the bottom. The water was murky, churned up by the swarms of athletes who had exited ahead of me.

I quickly found my footing, half-walked, half-ran, half-jumped a few steps and managed to find the strap of my speed suit and get the top off before I hit the green steps. No – for those of you wondering, math was never my favorite subject.

And hit the steps I did: in fact I managed a fantastic face plant on or about the third step from the bottom. Oops! Shit! Shit shit!

Gee, I hope no one noticed.

Luckily no one was behind me, and I only (slightly) scraped my right shin. I didn’t have time to think about how embarrassing it was, because as quickly as it had happened, I was running under the hoses and taking my sweet time to rinse out my mouth and douse myself with fresh water.

Jen had warned me to take FULL USE of the fresh-water hoses before T1, as salt could (potentially) chafe in very unpleasant places. I made sure to rinse out my mouth, aim the nozzle down my shorts, rinse my shoulders, and take one more gulp and spit it out. I looked up briefly for a clock but never saw one. No matter – I would get my time later when I left transition to start my bike.

“NUMBER 1774!” I yelled as I made a be-line to the far left (again) for my red swim-to-bike bag.

The volunteers were so helpful, and before I could search for too long, one girl handed me my bag and directed me towards the change tent.


My senses felt a little overwhelmed initially. I had gone from the relative quiet of the swim, to the chaotic environment of the T1 change tent. Athletes were yelling for gels, sunscreen, water and volunteers were shouting back and forth at each other.

I stood, momentarily dazed at the scene ahead of me in the middle of the entrance, before one lady grabbed my waist and directed me into a chair. Clearly someone warns the volunteers of the stupidity/bumbling-ness of athletes entering the tent. I was just happy that someone else took charge for a moment or two while I took bearings of my surroundings.

In a very business-like matter of fashion, she dumped out my bag and said, “Okay! What do you need?”

Before I could reply, another girl was at my side, helping me sort through the vast array of stuff that I had crammed into my Transition bag.

“Socks! Shoes! And all the gels – I’ll put those in the pocket! And the inhaler – that in the pocket as well….bike gloves – most definitely! Sunglasses – yes! Um…. “

Before I could get any further, a third volunteer asked if I wanted sunscreen and I told her ANYWHERE that I had exposed skin, I would want sunscreen. Immediately I felt my back receive a cold squirt of SPF 50 Banana Boat while someone else started rubbing it on my legs.

Just as I was reaching for my socks – my first volunteer grabbed them and put them on my feet! For those of you that know me…let me just say that I hate feet. I don’t like feet. They are gross. They are smelly. And sometimes they are even hairy. And in many instances, they are all of the above.

Correction: I hate everyone else’s feet and I don’t like it when people touch my feet. Ugh.

So I was greatly bemused with one of my (incredible!) volunteers actually systematically put on my socks and then bike shoes. I almost wanted to tell her that she didn’t need to do that – that my feet were gross and that someone who was willing to volunteer their time for Ironman didn’t need to be subjugated to my icky feet or smelly bike shoes. But I didn’t. Instead I took the time to shove a few gels up my bike shorts (in the legs), and quickly downed a Chocolate Powergel.

“Go! GO! You’re ready – have a GREAT race!” they yelled as I stood up.

I looked around to make sure there was nothing that I was forgetting – it seemed so wrong to be rushed through transition that quickly, on my way to bike 112 miles. Before my long rides (6+ hours), I usually take my time, double check and tripe check to make sure that I’m not forgetting anything. And then still, I look around and mosey out the door.

Heck, before ANY ride, I take my time and look around. Perhaps if I employ people to stand at my door and yell, I’ll grow accustomed to moving my rear a little faster. Oh well.

But with so many people cheering and shouting at you to GO GO GO!, it seemed pointless to dawdle. Besides – after CDA – I did learn that you CAN loose in transition.

Clip clop clip clop clip clop! My feet made a funny noise as I ran out of the tent, past the Men’s tent and all the way around the pier, only to double back for my bike. In the process, I noticed that many other people had clipped their shoes to their bikes, and regretted that I hadn’t made the same decision. Oh well – too late for those thoughts now. Besides, I would probably fall over in front of even more spectators in effort to throw my leg over the seat and jump into my shoes.

I carefully rounded the slippery turn and made a bee line for my bike. I grabbed my helmet, adjusted the back closure and fastened the chin strap. In the process I dropped my gel wrapper on the pier – and for the life of me, I couldn’t just leave it there. Bad Karma, or something of the sort. So I picked up the flippin’ thing and threw it into the trash can a few spaces away.

Quickly as I could, I ran out of transition and headed towards the BIKE OUT banner – noting the time of 1:10 in the process.

Wow, I thought to myself, that’s pretty much exactly like Coeur d’Alene.

Suddenly the man directly ahead of me dropped his timing chip, and without thinking I stopped, paused, picked it up, and handed it to him. It took barely any time away from my race, and in the end didn’t affect anything at all. It was the right thing to do at the time.

Hearing the cheering and yelling from the crowd, I threw my leg – as gracefully as I could – over my bike seat and clipped in. The road twisted beyond the banners and I was eager to see what lay ahead.


Jen said...

I love this, marit!
The fact that you picked up the gel package and the man's chip speaks volumes about you as a person. Not that you needed to on this day...but you did.
You are a huge inspiration. Thank you.

cherelli said...

and you didn't even think about sharks in that clear blue ocean, just the colourful little fish??? If nothing else that has got to be an achievement from the start of the year right? awesome Marit!

Alili said...

You're so cute - picking up your trash and handing people their chips. :) Seriously, sounds like your swim was very smart! Good job!

Ange said...

oh my gosh Marit...we were just in the same mindset that day let me tell you..very interesting. And...we were heading out on that bike together!! I saw 8:10 when I left the mats too!! so funny. Wish I had seen you.
great RR!!! Can't wait for more

D said...

I sort of read it. Really. But the swim is the most boring part so this must be the most boring of your posts, right?

And I would like to, respectfully, request that you change the name of your blog to "Warning: Long" teehee :)

Teresa said...

YOur swim was much more "peaceful". or as peaceful as an ironman swim could be. Great report. Anxious to hear about the bike.

Kim said...

amazing start (other than that darn jet ski)! i cant wait to read more, awesome job getting through what i have heard from others is a brutal swim!

Runner Leana said...

Your writing is amazing Marit. I felt like I was right there with you! It sounds like you had a terrific mindset on the swim. Awesome job!

Anonymous said...

wow, i feel like I just did the Kona swim myself and i'm about to get on the bike! I love the interior monologue, I have many similar thoughts pre-race and during the swim. Not heaping expectations on yourself can work wonders for your performance - I do my best when I'm relaxed and detached from specific race goals, and just out to there to have fun.

ADC said...

Don't listen to Dee - great post.

Philip said...

Thanks for sharing your race day with us all!

Angela and David Kidd said...

Ha! I hate feet as well and I hate having them touched. I always feel terribly guilty when I get a pedicure. The worst is T2 when they take nasty socks off you. At least in T1 your feet are still clean.

Amazing post. And I like how honest you were about just wanting to finish and not fighting for a draft or position. You just enjoyed it!

Bob Mitera said...

Hi Marit! It was awesome (and somewhat fitting) to see you on Ali'i Drive.

1) I left my shoes on after I checked in on the pier and was headed to the swim. Then I stepped on a nail.
2) LOVED the silence right before the start
3) I smiled at the turn around boats.
4) LOVED the swim exit.

There was no wind on the way up to Hawi that we could detect. It did start blowing quite hard on the return and it was HOT as I remembered it.

Bob Mitera said...

Hi Marit! It was awesome (and somewhat fitting) to see you on Ali'i Drive.

1) I left my shoes on after I checked in on the pier and was headed to the swim. Then I stepped on a nail.
2) LOVED the silence right before the start
3) I smiled at the turn around boats.
4) LOVED the swim exit.

There was no wind on the way up to Hawi that we could detect. It did start blowing quite hard on the return and it was HOT as I remembered it.

Beth said...

You know when I was swimming this morning I was thinking about what you said - about how peaceful swimming is because you really can't hear all the madness going on around you. All you can hear is the water. I think this might be part of the reason why I really like swimming. You can turn off all the "noise". Anyway - can't wait for the next installment! I know I said this last time but I LOVE YOUR RRs!! :)

kerrie said...

love it!! i have got to get my race report up too :), but i'm glad you have made it okay for me to be a little wordy, lol. and fwiw, i totally tripped and the swim exit steps too and got a gash in my left shin...even though i said to myself as i got there "do not trip on the steps". okay, waiting for the next part!

Ryan said...

I was one of those in the melee' to your right :-(

It is true that everyone around you at about 10 minutes into the swim you'll finish the swim with. There were two guys wearing compression sleeves that surrounded me the entire swim...strange, but then again...everyone there was a stud!

Damie said...

I am having fun reading this ;)

Kim said...

What a great start to a wonderful day! You had such a great attitude and I am convinsed your account will help others as they do this race. I remember reading every dang Kona race report on the planet before I attempted it! Great detail! You're awesome Marit! Miss you!

Jennifer Yake Neuschwander said...

Marit this is such a great race report. I know you were tired from all the training before Kona. However, it really sounds like you were able to get to a place where you could really enjoy the race and take everything in. You still managed to go fast too. Thanks for comparing the swim at CDA with Kona. I got totally chundered at CDA and would never have done another Ironman if I wasn't already signed up. It's nice to know they are not all like that and even somebody as talented at swimming as you gets knocked around. Can't wait to read the rest.

Mer! said...

LOVE the way you're doing this in sections..probably easier than one long report...LOVE IT!!!

OK HOW have we been friends for nearly a year and I didn't know that YOU TOO hate feet? I'm worse though---I hate other people's feet, but I don't mind my own--therefore, I like pedicures...how rude of me is that???

Marit..you have such an awesome spirit....I know the weeks leading up to IM were difficult...and you found your spirit at the start--and that's what made me smile most....that and your dislike of feet....AND that you stopped to get trash..how cute!!

Cannot WAIT to read the rest..but I also love that I got a play-by-play at lunch!!!
Love, mer