The journey and thus "A" race goal for this year (Ironman CDA) actually began back in June 2011 the minute I signed up for the 2012 race. Rumor had it Lance Armstrong was going to come back to triathlon to race Kona so the wheels began turning when I heard the rumor. Not everyone can say they were able to race in the same World Championships as the man who is debatably cycling's biggest superstar of all time. The perfect launch pad was a race that had been good to me twice before, Ironman CDA. It is the perfect time of the year as it allows plenty of prep time even after a long Colorado winter and is traditionally on the cool side for many.
My first attempt at CDA was in 2009 where I was 3rd in the 40-44 age group. The second attempt in 2010 I was 2nd in the 40-44...with only one spot left on the podium to nail down I broke ground in January 2012 with an initial goal of dropping the 20 pounds of body mass accumulated through two months of zero training. It was an experiment (I'm always experimenting with new training methods), to fully rest and see how much weight could be gained by doing nothing for two months straight. Nothing but eating and living a non-athletic life. There was the occasional swim and a several weight room sessions a week for about three weeks...quite short lived. The benefit was in not having to fill out my training log before I forgot what it is the training was. The psychological boost of seeing the weight drop from improved diet and consistency in training would provide much needed motivation once training for the long journey to CDA 2012. Some basic marker races to check fitness along the way, time trials in the pool and up a mountain all went towards springboarding things into a hopeful Kona slot for 2012.
The trip was a solo trip as wifey needed to save vacation time for her Ironman in Mont Tremblet in August, plus it would save money too. When it comes to "A" races such as this I would actually prefer to travel alone without any entourage or distractions. No motivation is needed or outside help to cheer me on during these type of races because all of that comes from within. I do this knowing everything will be directed towards the task at hand on race day as well as the time at the venue leading up to the event. The ability to come and go as needed without having to compromise on places to eat or when/where to spend time doing this or that is invaluable to a relaxed and ideal situation for what needs to be done. For this, I prefer to travel and stay alone in my own Fortress of Solitude. Come Hawaii time things are different as just getting there is key, Hawaii is icing on the cake and something I'd rather just "do" and enjoy in a less serious manner. This approach could be part of the reason I have never performed well in Hawaii, I don't seem to take it as serious as the qualifier race itself. The other part is the heat--heat is my #1 enemy in racing. For that reason I suppose, back in my early race days in Michigan, I used to show up to races downstate from Marquette (in the U.P.) If it was cold--I have heard "Oh, the Iceman is here." Meaning: The cold temps would certainly not favor them but certainly gave me a huge boost on race day. The cold would often affect others completely opposite of how it would affect me. They would shut down while it seems to lend me an entirely additional gear to jump to. For this CDA was a good choice, as it is known to have mild temperatures with a cold swim in the 50's or low 60's.
The trip there...
I stayed at the Sleep Inn in Post Falls after finding a killer deal for about $70 a night (nearly $80 less than the average in CDA). It was a 10 minute drive to the race site from my hotel so it was a blessing really while saving a lot of cash. There was a bike path right in front of the hotel's parking lot which went all the way to CDA where I would bike/run and test equipment out. They put me in a handicap first floor room which was totally awesome. It had extra room in the bathroom, benches and extra rails in the shower which I'd need once disabled from doing the Ironman. I should ask for those kind of rooms at any Ironman race I go to!
I ran into Max and his wife, a guy from Seattle I've been coaching for years now who has progressed beyond normal levels of anyone I've coached. Once an 11-something Ironman he has gone 9:12 and been to Hawaii as well as kicked my butt on more than one occasion. We had dinner at "Fire" which is a pizza place on Sherman Street in CDA. Since I arrived on Thursday (the race was Sunday), there was plenty of time to discover I would need neoprene socks (legal under a certain temp) to keep the feet from cramping. Water was a balmy 56 F which was just perfect but super cold for others. I love swimming in that cold of water, it reminds me of my summer swims in Lake Superior in a full wetsuit (Wednesday night swims at Judd's house!)
The gears were jacked up a little on the bike so that was taken care of at Vertical Earth bike shop. The rest of the time was just spent mentally self-boosting my confidence and trying to believe in myself. Doubts always creep in no matter what unless you're a pure egomaniac and think you're indestructible (I know of several types in the Colorado amateur race scene that are like that...) The only thing you can do is be consistent in all your preparation knowing you did everything possible to the best of your ability then let the dice roll. Sometimes you fail even after all is said and done, sometimes you soar like an American Bald Eagle out there.
I woke up at 4:30 AM with a goal of leaving by 5:15 AM. The Inn had coffee early that morning so a Clif Bar and coffee was my breakfast. Rarely do I eat anything race morning as all your digestion needs to be done by race time. You'll want to keep blood flowing to the muscles and not to the stomach for digestion. Parking at the college is a great place to park, nearby transition and close enough that when you're sore & done that walking to the car isn't a big deal. After putting the air in my tires and placing special needs bags in their respective place I finished my warm up with about a half dozen trips to the bathroom.
Once suited up and down on shore I started FAR RIGHT. On the edge and away from the crazies that sprint the first 1K in Ironman races. I knew that they would fizzle after that but you want to steer clear of the wanna be great swimmers (sometimes I swim like a wanna-be swimmer myself!) Steady as she goes you'll pass them the last half of the swim. Standing on shore I was talking with Max and after waiting for what seemed like an unusual delay, I turned to the guy behind me and said "So when are they planning on starting th--" BOOM! The gun went off and caught me off guard as I turned around quickly, dove and sprinted the first 100 yards to bring myself further to the right as everyone went left. The idea was to find clear, open water with nobody around. Normally you'd want to collect the draft off of others but in over-crowded Ironman races such as this (or any Ironman brand race), you want to avoid getting caught in a shark tank with nowhere to go left, right back or forward. You'll lose more time in those accordion-like crunch moments than if you find open water and let the crazies fight trying to scrap for air. Since I'm not a bad swimmer but not the best (I'm usually top 10% at races which are NOT Hawaii)...this is the best option. After 23 of these Ironman races I know the best path to take when that gun goes off.
The swim was quite rough as the wind kicked up after the pros had made their first swim lap complete. I was out there laughing and having fun going up the waves then being dropped straight down after the wave passed under me. Others were being pulled from the swim here and there from the cold, one guy sadly, died after being pulled from the water--several days later while in the hospital. This is a dangerous sport but if you keep your wits about you and don't panic, it isn't as big a deal as some make it out to be. Although Hawaii can be different because there are no wetsuits so that safety latch isn't there.
Once I was done with the swim I had to stop to ask a lady (at the large air-blown arch I'll call the lap/finish balloon) which way to go, because I was disoriented from the up/down swim (even though I had done the race twice). Maybe it was lack of blood flow to the brain from the cold water? I stood up then ran to the lap/finish balloon and said, "I'm done with the swim which way?!" She replied, "You're done GREAT! Congratulations!" I then yelled, "NO! I mean I am DONE which way do I go!? Then she said, "Oh! Great job! Good luck!" Then it must have finally dawned on her and she said, "Oh! Go that way!" She pointed to the right then off I went up the beach to transition.
Transition went excellent until I was heading towards my bike when I spotted the porta-johns. Suddenly, on cue as in most every Ironman I do, I have stop at some point for at least a "sit down moment" in one of those porta-johns. Enough on that but needless to say it certainly slows up transition by a solid (no pun intended) minute . If there is anything I normally excel at in triathlon it is usually topping most in any age group in transition unless I lose my shoes (ala Boulder Sprint race 2011). Once at my bike, as I was trying to find the back pocket in my jersey to stuff extra gels (as insurance for calories), my hand got caught up in the wet, folded back end of the jersey. Then there were about four gels on the ground because of this wardrobe issue. My guess is I wasted a full 45 seconds screwing around with my jersey and gels. Finally, I was off and on the bike!
It rained part of the bike portion while the winds were strong while heading UP most of the hills. This was a much hillier course than the old one, as well as slower due to the headwind. No doubt on a windless day this could be faster than the old course though.
I must admit I hammered the first 25 miles pretty aggressively especially since my weight was down to 143 and hill climbing was going great leading to the race. The other incentive is I wanted to reach the front of the race as soon as possible to start counting athletes ahead of me. It is nearly impossible to count who is ahead of you on the second bike loop as you have first looping athletes in the mix. I'm usually around 50th place by the first turn around at this race. I was about 57th this time around so it was average I suppose. By the time I hit the second turn around on the new course I counted 18th including pros (very good for me actually) and this is where I caught up with an athlete I coach, Max Lawler (aka Mr. Awesome Swimmer). Knowing if Max could be reached early on the day would be going well as he is a strong cyclist. This was part of my strategy, to work with him to pace each other legally to make in-roads on the guys in front bringing us BOTH into Kona Q contention. Several guys went by far to hard too try to keep up with them so in Ironman, picking your battles on who to keep pace with is wise. Besides, it is all about nutrition and centering in on your own pacing. Knowing Max and I are fairly close in race results typically, he would be an ideal race-mate throughout the day. In the end I would race against myself but yet, it is still involving those in your age group. I can separate the two while not concerning myself should there be any other non-40-44 athletes in front of me. The task at hand was only with the 40-44 athletes. The "working together" plan was great for a while then as Max was starting to suffer from what I can surmise--"nutritional deficit" shall we say, I went into attack on those who had passed us earlier as our placing was dropping significantly about mile 80-100. Knowing the age groupers were putting Kona Qualification into danger I had no choice but to go it solo. I really felt badly for Max as he put in so much work for this and had set his own "bests" higher than even leading into CDA. He apparently has the Eye of the Tiger again and will reset himself for Ironman Cozumel this fall--the sign of an athlete that believes in himself and has what it takes to be amongst the best--BELIEF.
There was a "no passing zone" where we got stuck behind a first lap lady rider who was actually going 11 mph. OUCH! All that work I had just done was vaporizing quickly at 11 mph. There were two athletes behind her so she had three of us in tow. Finally I said it was just ridiculous and I was telling the other two I really needed pee and they would not pass--flat out refused. Good thing too because yes, that is illegal. (Although a totally stupid thing about IM CDA in the first place...is to have a no pass zone for over a mile which is only ONE bike width wide--SWEET JESUS give me a break with 2,300 athletes on a two loop course!) Anyhow, here we were dropping to 8 mph on the bridge/overpass near the end of the no pass zone. No telling how long it took us to get through that zone at 8-11 mph exactly because there was a downhill too where we must have hit at least a wicked 13 mph! Once we were off the no pass zone portion, we accelerated to about 28 mph in the last mile of the bike. Finally, relief in sight! The only other real hold up which may have been the reason I was stuck behind this lady was the fact that at mile 60 on the bike I pulled over to a porta-toilet to pee...so when a bike is involved you lose more time than if you stopped on a run.
Non-event. More importantly they had a huge urinal in the men's tent in T2. It seems to have given me new life in the legs and stopped the stomach cramps. Part of my issue in distance racing is my inability to gauge the proper liquid vs salt and calorie intake. This I'm pretty sure, is why I have to pee a lot in Ironman races. Usually it is inadequate salt but that balance depends to a large part the conditions you are racing in. It is just more pronounced in Hawaii than any other race for me, so yes, I should consult a nutritionist as I know no matter what I've tried heat is my self-destruct button! Fortunately, CDA wasn't hot!
The race...THE RUN
Normally my bread and butter of racing, I started out at a fine pace, catching Mike Orton of Blue Seventy Wetsuits and my main contact for their sponsorship. He used to race pro but at short course, this was his first Ironman. He is quite an amazing swimmer and accomplished cyclist. I came up from behind him noticing we were wearing the same race outfit. Before knowing who it was, I said, "Nice race kit!" He turned and we both laughed realizing we knew each other. The first 10K split was my fastest of course, then the next split was still going along just fine. I had no idea what place I was in, nor did I know my average pace or time because I do not wear a watch or look at a clock when racing. I RACE FROM THE HEART. Although any given day it is a question as to which Kevin will show up. The Kevin that wants to DIG DEEP or the one that just goes through the motions and doesn't give too much of a rip. On the third split trouble started brewing. My mind couldn't focus, the form fell apart and everything was becoming quiet. People would be shouting but it was a slow motion silence. Breathing became shallow then the wheels started falling off. Time for damage control!
START and RECOVERY of THE BONK!
By the time I realized what was going on, knowing my blood pressure was getting lower with shallow breathing, I recalled previous Ironman races and what they did to restore it at the medical tent. Basically I needed a bit of everything. Liquid, calories, salt. The first thing I reached for was potato chips. Handfuls crammed into dust followed by a water chaser would provide me with all the basics I needed. Next aid station it was Coke and ice. Repeat each aid station. After the dismal third section split, things started to come back but was it too late? I had only been passed by one 35 year old on the run that ended up second in his age group, so all was not lost. When passing another athlete he said, "Wow, your age group is just KILLING IT today!" That was not good to hear because that meant there were a ton of other guys still ahead of me in my age group. If ever run legs were needed they were needed NOW!
THE FINAL 10K
Energy levels were restored from the chips, water and salt. While I did stop two other times on the run to use the porta-johns, I counted to about 20 both times...there was a 40 second+ loss right there on my run. All these bathroom stops are nothing more than a lack of salt so the body acts like a sieve and does not hold onto the water well. That and the fact my bladder is the size of a walnut. Back to the race, I'll spare the details with the bathroom issues. Something clicked and it was damage control. Figuring I won't die out there if I push harder, rest can come when the line is crossed. Just put the pedal to the metal and let it fly. It was nice passing some folks those last 10K but there weren't many 40-44's so it was nerve racking not knowing where my position was.
The ONLY indication of where I stood was from a guy in my age group I had passed who said, "Are you 40-44?" Barely enough breathe to answer with a "Yes." He generously responded "Congratulations you are now passing 5th place." Given this was near the last four miles of the race, I was unsure as to how reliable the information could be due to either a miscount on his part or just fatigue and being delirious after a long day. There was no way I was leaving anything to chance so continued to keep the pace high until the finish. With four blocks left I had closed in on two guys about 25 yards ahead but they got into a sprint at that moment much like the one I was involved in 2010. It was like watching my 2010 race from behind. One guy vanished while the other guy stayed about 25 yards ahead. I had no gas in the tank to pull either of them in. In the end neither were in my age group whew!
THE AFTER...Med Tent
Feeling much better than 2010 at the finish line, I only needed to catch my breath but knowing the Med Tent had blankets and lounge chair, the Med folk convinced me to visit them. "How do you feel?" they asked. "Like I just did an Ironman and I'm really, really tired and getting cold now." Off I was to the Med Tent. Well, it was actually outside the Med Tent but in a nice lounge chair. In hindsight, nutrition was the main issue in this race, pacing was fine. Everything else went according to plan, but not getting enough food/drink is something to work on for Hawaii and all future races.
Today, July 9th I finalized registration online for the 2012 Ironman Hawaii World Championships. The past week I had spent in Canada walleye fishing with my family, not working out for two entire weeks. Yesterday I competed in the Boulder Peak Triathlon, one of the most competitive Olympic distance races in the USA. Placing 4th in the 40-44 (which I won in 2011), coming off of a two week layoff from training and a full Ironman still in my legs, four hours sleep the night before the race, and dealing with a foot injury from Ironman CDA, I suppose it went "okay" but I didn't really care as it was a C race. The celebration has begun, time to refocus and gear everything towards recovery and building distance towards October. There is only one trick question which has been consistent in all but one Hawaii appearance (this will be my 10th time racing out of 15 qualifications). That question is, WHICH Kevin will show up on race day. Hopefully, not the one that usually shows up there! Don't be surprised if someone decides to flip the script...and take a pass on yelling UNCLE. As my favorite Nike commercial says, "The theory of evolution says that only the strong shall survive. But the theory of competition says, just because they're the strong doesn't mean they can't get their asses kicked...no matter what the stats may say and the experts may think and the commentators may have predicted, when the race is on, ALL BETS ARE OFF."
Best wishes to everyone in their remaining 2012 season. See you on the race course!