Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Kona Ironman World Championships 2014

Going into the Ironman World Championships, I was having the best racing season of my life.  I had PR’d in just about every race that I did, was overall champion at 7 different triathlons, and was going into the race as the number 1 ranked US triathlete in the 30-34 age group.  All was good and meant that there was a lot of confidence going into the race.

Since Jacqui and I had qualified for the World Championships so early in March, we were able to use our time a little better and focus on what we needed to work on---not being able to run to my full potential in the full Ironman distance was my weakness.  I made sure that I logged more miles on the bike than I ever have before---and it was paying off.  In the half-iron distance, I went from running 1:25 in the half marathon down to 1:14 multiple times.  This was all with running much less than I normally do.  I figured the problem was that my endurance was not built up and I would always get off the bike tired and drained.  I was never able to really utilize my running background and flopped the runs.  The big factor for this race was that it wasn’t a half iron was double and I was unsure on how my body would respond.  I actually had some lab work done and found that my muscles are primarily composed of fast-twitch muscles.  That means I can get them to fire quickly and go hard for short periods of time---but it also means that they stop firing when going long distance.  I was told that I can train my muscles to act like slow twitch muscles, but it would just take time and a lot of training.  I made the commitment to ditch short course racing and focus on having a few solid half races and finish the season off with a bang in Kona.  My training was going really well with more 100+ mile rides that I can count on my fingers.  Each one seemed to get better with more power and better legs for the run getting off the bike.  It still was a little nerve-wrecking knowing that I had to swim 2.4 miles before and still run a full marathon after.  

Regardless of my thoughts of fearing the distance of Ironman, I felt that I had done the training and was primed to have a good race.  The trip began on the Tuesday before the race (race day was Saturday).  Jacqui and I caught a late flight out of Chicago with a stop in Los Angeles for the night.  We had a good night’s sleep at a hotel during our 13 hour layover, then picked up the next flight Wednesday morning out to Kona.  It was nice to have the flight broken up, but it still didn’t help with the 5 hour time change once arriving in Kona.  

Our first day, we were able to check into our condo rental and check in for the race.  The  condo was in prime location- just 3 blocks from the swim pier / race start and finish.  It was nice having a place close enough that we didn’t need a car and worry about traffic/parking the entire week.  Similar to last year, the sights, sounds, smells--every little thing about Kona is about the race day on Saturday.  I’m not sure how one could not just be excited and have the nerves start brewing from the first step off the plane.  

It seemed as if we were the last ones to arrive for the race, with many athletes arriving a few days (or even weeks!) prior.  So when we went to check in there was no line.  This year we received nice bright orange and blue Kona backpacks full of goodies from a few of the sponsors and vendors.  Part of the fun of being in Kona for race week is picking up a few of the ‘special edition’ items that companies make just for Ironman Kona - including PowerBar special edition visors, Saucony Kinvara shoes, Cervelo rider T’s, compressSport bags, TYR backpacks/shirts---the list goes on.  

After check-in, I had to rush over to the condo to change and get ready for a semi-informal clinic I was doing with the coaches over at LifeSport.  I went to their house to speak with a few of their coaches that were on site and give them updates on PowerBar products, research that we’ve come up with, and how to help their athletes with nutrition recommendations.  The clinic went for around 1.5 hours which was pretty good since they had some great questions and feedback.  Around 7pm, Jacqui and I went out for a quick run to shake out the legs---wow were they tired.  Not only was it 12am back at home, but we had just traveled all day and were going non-stop.  I kept reminding myself that it is normal to feel this tired after all of the travel and time change.  Post run, it was a quick bite to eat, put the bikes together, and get to bed!  

Thursday morning was the famous Underpants run.  With Jacqui and I being so busy with work and training leading up to the race, we didn’t have a chance to make new ‘undies’ so just re-used last years.  We used some tape to cross off the 1 year and changed it to a 2 (the weekend of the race is our anniversary…so last year we both qualified and raced for our 1 year anniversary.  We both made it again and were able to race on our 2nd anniversary!).  The back of our ‘undies’ (really was a swimsuit) said, “racing Kona on our 2 year anniversary.”  It was much more crowded than last year as they were going for the world record of most people gathering in their underwear in one place at the same time.  Since they were going for the record, we all actually wore timing chip race bib numbers and went over a timing mat.  The underpants run is all fun and games with some stretches, fun chants, and a quick 1.5 mile walk/jog around downtown Kona.  There are always lots of fun underpants costumes which makes it a must go to event.  During the run/walk it was that I realized how hot it was outside.  With the run starting at 7:30am, it was already scorching.  People were dripping in sweat from literally walking around.  I knew that it felt hotter than 2013, but during the underpants run was when I knew it was going to be a tough day out on the course.  

Post run, we went over to the pier to get a quick swim in.  During race week, Coffees of Hawaii sends a boat out in the ocean about 500meters away from shore.  Athletes and spectators swim out to the boat where they serve free Kona coffee right to you in the water.  You either have to wade or hang onto the side of the boat to get the coffee, but is a really fun experience and adds to the overall atmosphere of the race.  Many athletes swim out past the boat doing their own thing- you could even swim the entire course if wanted as it is already marked with buoys.  I was still feeling pretty tired / lethargic and decided to just stop at the boat and then swim on back to shore.  

It was then out onto the bike course to make sure the bikes were up and running smoothly.  We ran into a few problems right away with Jacqui having a flat tire and then dropping her chain going up Palani Rd (a steep road that leads up to the highway that athletes bike and run up). We got things going and went out to the highway that is part of the course.  I definitely noticed the wind and couldn’t believe how much stronger it was than previous years.  Everyone said last year how it was an easier year with calm winds, but I never knew what the strong winds were like until we got onto the course this year.  The rest of the day was spent relaxing back at the condo and grabbing dinner at Humpy’s Bar and Grill.  Per usual, I was exhausted at 6pm and just wanted to go to bed, but forced myself to stay awake to try and get on the new time schedule.  

Friday- the calm before the storm

Friday was another swim in the morning.  This time, I actually felt ok and was getting more excited since I had some energy and pop back in my body.  I was able to throw in a few hard accelerations during the swim and could tell I was rested and ready to go.  We stopped at the coffee boat again, drank up, and went back into town to get one last quick ride in.  Thanks to Cervelo and their team, we dropped our bikes off and had them go over any last minute adjustments.  They make sure that the bikes are shifting, braking, and performing how they should.  They even threw on a new brake cover on Jacqui’s bike since hers had broken the previous year.  They do this free of charge for all of their riders during race week.  

Friday is also the day of bike check in.  We laid out all of the race gear, made sure we had all the necessaries for race day, and loaded it into each labeled bag to check in over at the race.  During check in, you basically go down the cat walk.  Folks from the industry line the bike check in corral and take note of every single part of your bike including: bike frame, seat, components, power meter, helmet, hydration, storage, etc.  It is a big deal for companies to move up in the Kona bike count rankings as they want the best in the sport using their products.  Jacqui and I even had our bike put up on because of the special decals I put on them.  Jacqui’s was a BRIGHT neon pink (hard to tell in photos, but looks awesome in person) while mine was the EGO green to match our kits.  

From the check in, we grabbed a quick dinner at Lava Java since it was fast and right next to our condo.  Pizza for me while a burger for Jac!  After dinner, it was time to lay back, get all the rest of our race gear and nutrition ready to get to bed for the big day!  

Race Day!

Up at 4am, I started eating right away.  I had a bowl of granola and milk as the granola is high in calories.  I usually try to get in as many calories with eating as little as possible.  I don’t like to eat a lot, but still want the calories stored for the race.  I also ate a PowerBar wafer bar, and sipped on a bottle of Perform.  With our condo being so close to the race, there wasn’t much rush to get over to the pier.  

Checking in was pretty simple and straight forward.  At the race site, we dropped our special needs bags off, got our race numbers put on, and waited in the bathroom line for too long.  Over to the bikes, we pumped the tires one last time (but not too high as the weather would heat up and we’d be riding on scorching pavement), loaded all the nutrition onto the bikes, and made one last trip to the bathroom.  From there, I said my one last good luck to Jacqui and had to head over to the start as this was the first year there were separate starts for the men and women.  

I lined up and waited my turn to get into the water.  1500 men pushing their way through a small swim entrance/exit took a little while, but from there it was a short swim out into the ocean to wait the big cannon blow to start us off.  While waiting out in the ocean, you can feel all of the emotions of the athletes just building up. This is my second time and both times my eyes have swelled up with tears of anxiety, excitement, and fear of what the day would bring.  The Hawaiian drummers were off on the sea wall pounding their drums and definitely brought those feelings up to a higher level.  Out in the water, I swam out to the far left side- not all the way to the left, but pretty far over.  I started front row and as more athletes made their way into the water, we were bunched closer and closer together.  Before I could even react, the cannon was fired and the race was on.  

Mass swim starts are interesting, especially in Kona, because if you aren’t a front swim speed swimmer, you sort of get mixed in the middle.  There really isn’t anywhere to go as there are people in front, back, and both sides of you.  So really if you wanted to go faster, there isn’t much of anywhere to go.  I felt great at the start and actually wasn’t too far off the lead swimmers.  I really didn’t have much contact at all besides the normal touching and tapping from swimmers around me.  After about 15 minutes, I started to settle and just tried to follow as many feet as possible.  I could tell that I was in good position and felt further up than last year.  I wanted to look up and see where the turn around boat was, but kept telling myself that if I looked up it would look too far away and discourage me.  Once at the turn around, I took a look at my watch and was thrilled to see 27 minutes!  Double that and I’m in at 54-55!  I know though that from last year, the return trip is always a little slower.  After making the turn, somehow it seemed to get more congested for me.  I think that I had slowed up a bit and was getting passed by a few others.  I had finally matched speeds with another guy and matched his strokes.  After about 15 minutes, I started to notice that I couldn’t see any other racers around us.  I took a peak to my left and saw we were completely off track and much too far to the inside.  The other swimmers were nowhere near me.  From there, I had to basically swim over the top of the guy that was on my left to start heading back to the left and back into the stream of the others.  I felt like I had lost a ton of time and became frustrated that I wasn’t paying attention to drift that far.  Shortly after getting back into the stream of swimmers, it was the final turn heading into transition.  I knew I had lost some good time after seeing my watch show 1:04 popping out of the water.  Overall, it was the same swim time as last year, but after looking at the results, most people swam slower this year.  I also moved up close to 100 places in the swim from last year.  

Swim Stats:
68th in age group
471st overall

Through transition, I put on my Castelli T1 stealth top.  Honestly, I’m not sure if it is any faster than no sleeves, but it protects my back and shoulders from the scorching heat and sun.  I grabbed my bike and off for the fun ride through the lava fields.  Immediately onto the bike, I didn’t feel good.  Usually I feel fresh and excited to ride when getting out of the water, but for some reason I just felt tired and slow.  The perceived effort of my ironman watts was higher than normal.  The start of the bike seemed more congested than normal, and I made sure to stay out of the trouble by passing most of the riders around me.  The problem was that it was pretty much a continuous stream of riders.  I was pushing much harder than I should because I was trying to pass, but the stream of riders was so long that I had to keep pushing until I found an opening.  This went on for quite a while of the first 25 miles.  Whenever I found an opening to stop passing and get into some clear road, a few of the riders that I had passed would re-pass me.  I made sure that I was very aware of anyone that would go in front of me that I would drop back to stay out of a draft zone.  A draft marshall was also riding right alongside me for the majority of the first 25 miles.  

Once we hit our first stretch of the heavy wind, it really broke up the riders.  This was nice, but at the same time, was brutally hard.  The wind was harder than I had ever ridden in and really played with me mentally.  After passing quite a few riders through the hard stretch of wind, a small pack of about 5 riders went past me.  The last rider in that group cut directly in front of me and within half of a second, a marshall on a motorcycle yelled out my number and showed a red card to me and said drafting for not dropping back when being passed.  Rules are, you should get 15 seconds to drop back. I didn’t even receive 1?  I didn’t even get a chance to stop pedaling it happened so quickly.  Now I know the marshalls get a lot of negative feedback about all of the drafting on the course, but at the same time, they should not be handing out penalties such as this one.  

Mentally I was frustrated, defeated, angered...the list of emotions goes on.  I really could not believe what had just happened.  A penalty for drafting?!  After all the passing I had done and working through the riders that actually were catching a draft from those in front of them, and I was the one getting a penalty.  From there, I was paranoid.  Another penalty and my day was definitely over.  Although, even with the first one, I thought I was done for.  The next 30 miles, I rode scared and any time I was passed I stopped pedaling and hit my brakes.  Not the best situation for trying to go fast.  

The winds picked up quite a bit again as we started the 7-8 mile climb towards Hawi (the turn around point of the bike course).  I crawled along at 15mph average for that long stretch.  I started to see the leaders coming back towards me and knew I wasn’t too far back, but still had a  4 minute penalty to serve.  After the turn around in Hawi, there was the penalty tent that I was required to stop at.  I had to slow down, come to a complete stop, get off my bike, and wait in line to get a stop watch.  From there, it was me starting the watch and waiting there for 4 minutes.  I couldn’t help but watch all the familiar riders that I had passed go by.  I kept trying to tell myself that the race wasn’t over, there was still a long ride to go as well as the marathon where anything can happen.  With the slowing, getting, off, waiting, and getting back up to speed, the 4 minutes turns into more.  Back riding, we had the long downhill where I was flying down at 40+mph.  I was really hoping to have an easier ride back the last 45 miles, but that definitely didn’t happen.  My body seemed to tense up from the stop, I had no power, and negative thoughts constantly flooded my mind.  Power was low, the heat and wind were high, and there I was just trying to finish the bike.  

We had a short stretch with about 25 miles to go where the wind kicked up again, but this time at our back.  I was flying!  I started to get excited that if the wind stayed at my back all the way into the finish, I’d be running in no time.  It was definitely short lived though.  5 miles later after riding along at 32mph average for that stretch, the wind magically turned and was now right in the face again.  Back down to 17-18mph and barely feeling like I’m moving.  I wasn’t getting passed, and couldn’t see too many riders up in front of me, so just pedaled along looking forward to getting off the bike.  

Back into town, I hopped off of the bike and ouch.  My legs were hurting.  It was quite the struggle to run through the transition area.  The changing tent was jam packed.  I was hoping to use the restroom, but all were occupied, so I told myself that I could wait and would use one out on the run course.  Quickly changing into the run shoes, I grabbed my race belt and started the journey of a marathon in the 90deg temps with 95% humidity.  

Bike Stats:
60th in age group (moved up 8)  ---side note:  had moved up to 30th in age group before serving the penalty
317th overall (moved up 154)

I never felt good running but told myself to keep the legs turning over.  Mile 1- 6:35.  Woah.  I was really glad it was that fast because it felt like I was barely moving.  If it was an 8 or 9, I would’ve really been mentally demolished.  It was nice to know that I could slow up a bit and still would be under 3hr marathon pace (my goal pace coming in).  Miles 1-5 are all along Ali’i drive which is packed with spectators.  It is easy to keep the mind distracted and to keep going.  I was grabbing water, ice, PowerBar Perform, and cola at just about every aide station.  The first few miles are also all rolling, with deceiving hills---definitely not flat.  The small inclines are just enough to burn the legs.  The first 5 miles I was holding 6:45-6:50 pace and feeling decent.  Near mile 6 I knew I had to stop to pee, and waited until I could find an open porta potty along the route.  At mile 8, I finally saw one that wasn’t being used, so jumped in.  It was like a sauna in there.  While peeing, I closed my eyes for a few seconds and then everything went black.  I was knocked out cold and don’t remember anything.  Somehow, maybe from a loud cheer on the course?, my eyes opened and all I saw was white.  Out of the porta potty my body was shut down and I was in panic mode.  How am I going to finish?  I can’t even walk and I still have 18 miles to go.  I was lucky that an aide station was right there where a volunteer saw me and gave me water and Perform.  It seemed to do the trick and I was back moving.  Mile split was 8:45, so overall, didn’t lose too much time (about 2 minutes).  I was back running and felt better than I did before the passing out situation!

Mile 10--Palani hill.  I never looked up, just went as slow as possible, and kept the slight jog all the way up.  It hurt, but I was moving and passing people that were either walking or going very slow up it.  After Palani hill, it was a left turn out onto the highway.  I would say this is where the race really gets the hardest.  You still have 16 miles to go, and 15 of those miles are out on the open highway with barely any spectators or support.  It is where you have to be the strongest mentally if you want to have a good run.  I set my sights on runners ahead and passed them one by one.  It was really a great feeling passing others and started to drive me to go faster.  My body was tired and my pace had drifted to 7:20s but I wasn’t being passed and I was moving through the field.  

It took forever to get to the turn into the energy lab, but once I got there, I knew the race wasn’t too far from being over with.  I stopped to pick up my special needs bag as I had 3 more gels in there, then was off running again.  I saw a few recognizable faces up the road and made it a goal to try and catch up before the finish.  Once back onto the Queen K highway, there were only 6 miles left.  Another athlete started to run with me and was going a bit faster.  He said that we would be going into the wind so we can change places and block the wind for one another.  He went in front of me and I couldn’t match the speed.  This helped me for a little while until I had 3 miles to go.  I started to pick it up as I knew the finish was getting closer and I wasn’t feeling out of it yet.  I picked it up telling myself to just get back to Palani because once you are there, it is all downhill and the last mile.  I was moving really well and excited to be done with my long day full of emotions and pain.  I picked it up another notch and flew down Palani and again down Haulalai.  Down Ali’i for the finish is like none other.  6:14 last mile for my fastest one of the day.  All the hard work, the hours spent training were for that one moment.  I took it all in, sprinted all the way into the finish and let my momentum propel myself up into the air and through the finish line.  Finished.  

Run Stats:
19th age group (moved up 41)
115th overall (moved up 202)

Overall- 9:26:59

Overall, once the emotions of being through the finish were gone, I thought about my race. I had much higher expectations coming in.  I knew there was an outside chance of getting onto the podium in my age group if my bike was on and I had a 3 hr run.  That didn’t happen, but I was proud of myself for getting back into the race on the run.  It really saved my race and actually moved me up to finish higher than I did last year.  Most importantly, it was more experience gained in the ironman distance on a course that can beat up the best of the best.

Post race, I hung out in massage tent and borrowed a phone to get an estimate on when Jacqui would finish.  I made my way over to the finish line and caught her coming in.  I could tell she didn’t have the race she wanted either but being there competing is such an honor that we can never take for granted.  I also was just about positive my run split would be faster than hers...but after seeing her final results, she got me by 3 minutes!  Jacqui ended up having the fastest female amateur run split by over 10 minutes!  Yikes..Rinny better watch out :)  

After the race, it was nice to relax and hang out in Hawaii for a few days.  Coffee, beaches, national volcano park, lots of food...doesn’t get much better than that.  

From here, its on to more training and improving from year to year.  I had a great season and couldn’t be happier with the improvements that were made.  I already have my next race planned out...what will it be you ask?  Gonna keep this one low key and see what happens :)  

Kona 2015---I’ll be back!

And for your viewing pleasure--- our kona recap video :)

Giuliano 2014 Ironman World Championships

No comments: