For those of you who do Sufferfest Videos (confession: I’m not one of you but Klem is so I get called upstairs not infrequently when there’s something funny on the screen while she’s working out) - you know “It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time” is never true. I was fortunate to punch my Kona ticket more than a year ago at Wisconsin and got to prepare for the race without the specter of actually needing to qualify for it. But there was one big problem: and as typical it all started at mile 11 of the run.
*View from my hotel room balcony of Palani with the Finishing Chute and bay in the background. Circa 6am race morning.
Kona Week is insane. And this time there was no escaping it. The last 2 trips to Kona we stayed about 4-5 miles south on Ali’i Dr at a secluded VRBO. A great lanai, peace and quiet, away from the craziness of downtown Kona, a cute and charming beach town that gets over-run by people like me and Byyny the second week of October. But this time we opted for staying at the King K Marriott - the host hotel and headquarters. And sure enough, day 1 there’s multi-time Kona winner Paula Newby-Frazer in the lobby chatting with one of her athletes, a gaggle of pro’s hanging by the pool, Craig Alexander being Craig Alexander. It was all a bit intimidating but I’m just an age-grouper who got a ticket to the show by the skin of his teeth so I chose to ignore much of it and hop on my bike with Byyny.
Byyny is also insane. 36 hours before we race and there we are biking the Queen K in the heat of the day when the winds are also the worst, him with a Go Pro that he jerry-rigged to his aero-bars (and then to mine) as we pound out some watts and hope the semi’s miss us (they did). Then we swam at his resort (hint: not the Marriott):
*There may have been an attendant with a chilled water and warm robe waiting to take us back to the villa after we were finished swimming. PS: we both swam 1000m. Here’s the data from the swim:
Byyny 14:52, Very little effort, Predicted Time: Very Good
Breyer 18:02, Everything I had, Predicted Time: Very Bad
Kona atmosphere It’s just off the hook. Go to Lava Java, order some pancakes, grab a seat and I guarantee within 20 minutes you’ll see at least 4 pro’s and Dave Scott. I chatted with all the founders of Cervelo over a latte at Evolution who to my great surprise still didn’t offer to put me on a new P5x for free..
All the industry people are there, everyone is ripped, no one is taking this race lightly, no one is up past 8pm and everyone is out for a practice run on Ali’i by 5am, 6 at the latest. Kona is a celebration of all things triathlon, which has its good and bad, but the key word is celebration. Unbridled love and passion for our sport. If you’re not excited there’s something wrong with you.
Build There are only 3 disciplines to triathlon and I’m pretty bad at 2 of them. I knew I didn’t have the motivation to work on my swim and historically I bleed time on the run so after Whistler I decided to try to run 500 miles in 10 weeks. It took me 7. I read a bunch about how to do this safely and then I abused my Treadmill with the following plan:
50% at slower than Ironman pace 30% at Ironman pace 20% at threshold or VO2 max pace (those days were rough)
As it’s me I also got a little crazy and competitive with it. One morning, I woke up and ran a marathon on the Mill. 26.2 miles on the TM - thank you Royal Tenenbaums, US Open Tennis coverage and Ke$ha for getting me through that one. At least 1, sometimes 2 long runs of 18+ miles/week. I hurt my left quad once and had to take 3 days off, then 2 weeks later my right quad (2 days off) and finally after one run I slipped getting out of my hot-tub and thought for a minute I broke my hip. I was a mess but by the end of it I finally had something I never had before - a running base.
*New yellow bike shoes - bad idea as you’ll soon find out
Swim I thought I had a good swim. Clean water, didn’t take too much contact, followed one guy for the majority of it, conserved energy. And yet I came out and had another crummy time, perhaps because I don’t swim. K2 I’m enrolling us in swim lessons at the Y this winter.
Swim Time: 1:17 Swim Pace: 2:00/100m Rank: AG: 228/254, OA: 1792/2316 (At least I beat 26 guys in my AG out of the drink)
T1 So those new yellow bike shoes in the picture from before? For the life of me I could not get them on after the swim. Plus the pier is super long and you have to run ALL the way around it to fetch your bike, which I proceeded to run past. Twice. 14 Ironman races and I still make all the mistakes.
Time: 5:24 (!)
Bike Hopped on my bike and re-grouped mentally. Swim doesn’t matter, neither does T1. But you know what matters? The bike.
Okay, let’s geek out for a minute. 2015 Trek SC 9.9, rode Zipp 808 in the back, 303 in the front (for those of you who will KQ in the future: take it from me do not ride anything deeper than about 50mm there), new Ossymetric rings (56/42) which looks like a large square dinner plate and supposedly improves power, 25mm Continental GP4000S II tires with latex tubes and an extra water bottle on the frame. It’s fast.
I was going along, minding my own business, averaging 24.6mph through the first 18 miles on 250 watts when the winds hit. They always hit you at Kona but some years are worse than others (2004, 2014 among the worst, 2013 among the best). The fact that they started up so early was a bad sign. Primarily a headwind with some cross and it’s Kona so we’re not talking about a little 5 mph breeze. Lean the bike into the wind and focus. Keep the wattage the same. My speed over similar terrain dropped from 25mph to 15mph. It’s demoralizing but I took a breath, smiled and told myself it’ll get better which is typically true but as this is Kona there’s also a chance it’s not.
We did get a bit of a tail wind at around mile 48 as we began the climb up to Hawi, about 12 miles away. Got to see the pro’s shooting down from Hawi - Frodeno, Kienle and Hoffman leading the men, Ryf a couple of suburbs away from her competition. Bunch of motorcycles with tech support, NBC cameras, 2 helicopters, pace car - it was quite the procession. Then the top male AGer’s who all look like pro’s. Finally, the turn around at Hawi and pray you survive the descent. The wind was blowing hard and a couple of huge wind gusts knocked me and my bike several feet to the side - it was downright frightening. I can’t imagine how some of the smaller athletes or those who rode deeper front wheels fared.
You get back on the Queen K (the same road that had the bad head/cross winds before) hoping for respite but knowing what’s more likely in store and sure enough.. winds had changed direction so you get more head/crosswinds all the way home. Re-think my sub-10 hour goal - I knew I needed perfect conditions to go 9-something and these were anything but. Kept my head down, cadence high, system hydrated. Say a little prayer.
Bike Time: 4:59 Bike Pace: 22.42mph Normalized Power: 247w Rank: AG: 86/254, OA: 543/2316
T2 And I couldn’t get my stupid yellow bike shoes off. It took 3 volunteers about 2-3 minutes to rip them off my feet. Unbelievable, I’m such an idiot.
Time: 6:07 (!!)
Run I did the math and knew I needed about a 3:30 marathon to get under 10. That’s a tall order for me - I may have some run fitness but it’s largely been untested and I knew it was pretty fragile. Still, a 3:30 is 8-min miles so I tried to go out on Ali’i - a down and back of 10 miles that’s pretty flat - at a pace under that. I was holding 7:45s. Ran up the hill at Palani and high-fived Greg Welch who was announcing people on it. Crowds were so big.
Turned onto the Queen K at Mile 11 to start the final 15 miles. It was 89 degrees in Kona, and it was humid. They say it’s at least a few degrees hotter on the Queen K. Looked down at my watch - 7:54 average pace. 2 hours left and I set out to destroy myself to stay under an average 8-min pace. I’ll save you the gory details and fast forward about 110 minutes but it wasn’t pretty. I turned myself inside out to try to make it but by the time I climbed back up to Palani, my pace was 8:12 and I knew my chances to go sub-10 were over. But I never gave up and while I may need new knees in a few years, I’m going with it was all worth it.
For anyone who doesn’t think adrenaline is a real thing, give an Ironman everything you have and then once you cross the finish line try to to walk. How the legs can go from running to needing to be propped up by 2 people and hauled off to a lounge chair is a little beyond me.
Run time: 3:35 Run Pace: 8:13/mi
Total Time: 10:04 Rank: AG: 72/254, OA: 491/2316
Afterward Found Byyny who looked like I felt. He asked me to get him some pizza and broth. No problem, it’s like 100 feet away in the athlete’s post-race area, let me get my walker and I’ll be back in about 45 minutes. I returned a few minutes later only to discover Byyny and my thermos filled with delicious Kona coffee had vanished into thin air. I looked everywhere for him and more importantly my thermos then thought maybe I was confused and left him somewhere else. I started asking around if anyone had seen a 45yo male with a finisher’s medal around his neck who looked younger than stated age but as this was Kona that didn’t help narrow it down much. I finally found him in the medical tent getting IV fluids so I texted his wife to come fetch him so I could begin my 2-hour walk back to my room 250 yards away.
We all rallied for a beer later and to see the Midnight Finishers. A son finishing with his Dad. A double arm amputee coming down the finishing chute. Old guys, young ones, everyone freaking the you know what out. It’s dark, it’s actually raining, it’s still warm out and Kona is going bonkers.
*Me, Byyny and Mrs Byyny at about 11:58pm at the Finish Line. Not pictured was the inebriated middle-aged guy who was a spitting image of Bill Murray in Caddyshack who once he found out we had done the race provided us with some unsolicited medical advice: we are stupid for being here and instead should be at home chasing a vodka with some pain-killers. Thanks Doc!
So that’s all I got. 3rd Kona and with the new slot rules making it more difficult to get in I’m not sure when or if I’ll make it back but either way that’s okay. It’s been so much “fun” and I’ve appreciated every minute of it, even through all the suffering. Special thanks to everyone - ALL our families, friends and loved ones - for supporting, cheering us on and tolerating us! Wheat Ridge Cyclery for the last minute work on the Breyermobile, as well as Team Timex, Team DGBG, RealRyder and 303Triathlon for all your support. And good luck to the Wondercouple in Maui in 2 weeks.. K2 please don’t drown.