"I like you. I'll gladly sit down and have dinner with you after the race. But when the gun goes off, I pretty much hate you, and I want to stomp your guts out. That's racing." -J Rapp

"the best night of my life.....
...in the most beautiful place on earth"

"It's just one, long, tedious conversation with yourself" -Paula Newby Fraser

"Have faith- trust in the plan - the breakthrough will come. I promise. " Woo

"You can keep going and your legs might hurt for a week or you can quit and your mind will hurt for a lifetime.” -Mark Allen

“The only time you can be brave is when you’re afraid.”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

2011 Kona Ironman Race Report...Got 'er Done!

Showing up late to the party, I've read quite a few race reports already from Kona...and I wish I could write one that was more nuts and bolts, without the "issues" I come across in almost every race.  Maybe I am just so Type-A that I discriminate every little detail, or maybe I just suck at decision making, race planning, and the likes.  Whatever it is, I try to tell a story that lets others learn from my discoveries...keep that in mind as you read this.   I am 100% happy with my result to start with--but that darn "Divine Discontent" always sneaks up on me---I think if I was 18 seconds slower I would not be saying I was 100% happy, and at the same time, I know my times are only important to me; but they are what drives me to keep pushing, keep training, and keep breaking through new levels of fitness in my training.   I learned so much about the race course once I was on there...I think I could write a much better plan for the next time, if there is one...I think just a smarter approach to all 3 legs would make a huge difference---but like I said, for the first time in Kona, I was ecstatic to go sub 10---I'm going for a IM resume without a 10 hour race on there---so to the IM Gods, please don't humble me any time soon ;-)  So with that out there, welcome to my diabolical diarrhea of a diary Kona Race Report:

Pre Race:  I arrived in Kona on Thursday, September 29...a mere 11 days after the birth of our first son Andrew.  To say leaving home was hard is the understatement of the year.  Jenny, Sophia, and Andrew dropped me off curbside, and I felt like we were in one of those movies where the "man" is leaving his girl to go off to war, not knowing if he is going to be coming home alive.  There were a lot of tears shed immediately by all of us (well, not Andrew..), and the race was the last thing on my mind.  I held it together, arrived in Kona to a warm welcome from my mom, and got organized in our huge house "Komohana" which was situated perfectly out of the way of the mayhem that was to arrive down on Ali'i over the next week.  The first few calls/Facetime's home were disastrous, and Jenny and I almost felt that communication was worse than no communication---it just reminded us of how long and how far away I was from them during this delicate time in our lives.  Thoughts of last minute ticket purchases were brought up, but we stuck it out, and things actually settled in and Sophia understood a little bit at least that papa would one day return home.  I don't know how our Armed Forces do it---leaving their families for months if not years at a time with no knowledge of when they will re-unite again...ugh, awful!!

Okay, so that paints the picture of what was on my mind early in the week, but I managed to settle in well...good foods from local markets, good training sessions, legs really started to wake up around wednesday before the race, and I was getting comfortable with the South Swell that was rumbling the swim course and the winds that we would face on the bike.  I did very little running by design, and as race day approached, I could not wait to race.  Doug Thralls did some amazing bodywork on me on two occasions, really freeing up my "always" tight hip rotation...I was zinging Thursday, and worked my best to save that energy for race morning.  Maybe I peaked a bit early, but some bike intervals on thursday kept me feeling "zingy" to race morning.  A quick swim friday morning felt awesome---I felt like I was flying through the water.  So going in to race day, again Chris had me feeling perfect...now it was up to me to execute the plan.  I managed to get a lot of rest going into the race, staying away from the commotion down on the race course and at the Expo.  Dinner friday night consisted of A LOT of brown rice, a Lentil Soup concoction, Ezekial bread, Nut Butter, Quinou.  All good carbs, some protein, and almost no gluten.  I also was on the water all day, and added in EFS after lunch as my "electrolyte loading beverage."   I was in bed early, as the 12 "other" occupants of the house avoided me knowing that I wanted to be alone (thank you all, I was in race mode!).  I ended up watching ""The Last Lecture"  by Randy Pausch on YouTube, and I carried the key points into my race---brick walls (they are there to separate those who really want something versus those that just "say" they want something), the reason behind his decision to do the lecture (his kids)...they all were invaluable tools for the race for me.  Randy died of pancreatic cancer shortly after this lecture...but you would never guess that he was terminally ill with cancer...he was more alive than 99% of the people on this planet...no "poor me," no "why me,"  he was an amazing person.  I didn't finish the video that night, but when I woke up at 3:30am race morning, I finished it...and I was full of Randy Puasch-isms---nothing was going to get in my way on this day.

Breakfast was surprising small, as I had a hard time getting my breakfast down probably due to the amount of food I ate the night before (I ate dinner at 4:30pm by design).  2 servings of oatmeal, half a bagel with nut butter was all I could muster, and I made a mental note there:  this is NOT enough.  It may have played into the race a few times, as I would have liked to get in twice as much as I did.  My family was up with me, and there was a good feeling in the kitchen having them all with me---it was not the norm for me to have so many people there to "sherpa" for me (thanks Jordan again for the use of the term---it's so fitting).
4:30 am Race Day..My Sherpas all in Orange!
The short drive down was uneventful, parking was easy, and I was off to get numbered up and fine tune my bike and nutrition for the day ahead.  iPod started, the first song was a GREAT sign Eminem's "'Till I Collapse"...my engine was revving.  The number guy was a guy I met at the awards banquet at IMAZ, Eric...another good sign.  Then I ran into Yi---always good to run into her!  Off to transition to attend to tires, bottles, and the likes---then it was time to chill.  I made my way to the King Kam Hotel Pool, and by luck, I found a lounge chair to rest one last time on.  After gathering myself, sending some texts and Facebook posts, I started to well up...I was here, I was ready, and I was going to make a dream come true.  Then things got "really real."  I sat up looked around, and realized I was surrounded by the Gods of Triathlon.  Crowie, Lieto, Wellington, Twelsik, Cave, Abel, Van Lierde, Mackenzie, Carfrae...you name it, they were poolside going through their routines.  I fed off of this...but I ended up not watching the Pro start at all--I had my own race to deal with.  Bathroom trips done ;-), final prep done, TYR Torque Pro suit on, TYR Nest Pro Goggles and race cap on, and before I new it, I was treading water on an inside line close to the pier wall....I was there early, but I had a spot in mind, and the treading was a nice warmup regardless.  The Hawaiian Drum lead in to the race was electric---I thought the IMAZ start was amazing...well, this one put that to shame.  The setup of the swim start in Kona is the coolest...you have the Pier on one side, the Finish "stage" behind you, and a long wall on the left side...loaded with 1,000's of cheering spectators...it has almost a "Super Bowl" feeling with the Pre-Race chants and anthems...and of course the best sports announcer around (Mike Reilly!).
Electric Swim Start
Swim:  1:03:38   415th overall but 77th in my Age Group
I decided to line up on the inside, but not right on the pier as I knew I would get pummeled not only by the swimmers, but by the kayaks and surfboards that "hold the line" along the buoys.

First Mistake that I would change for next time:  I decided to be in the "third/fourth row"---I'll spell out why in a second, but I should have gone for the front row---being a first timer, I was conservative, but now I know that I belong in the front row.  The canon was to my immediate right, and I watched the canonizer intently as I figured there would be no warning to the start.  BAM..let the mayhem begin...

The start was not as bad as I expected, but I expected the worst.  I learned to NEVER stop swimming freestyle, that the head up drill is invaluable, and to fight for it.   Immdeiately, I was pushed to the buoy line and the line of boards and kayaks but the 1700+ swimmers to the left of me, so I was not only fighting other swimmers (all of whom seemed so slow!), but also these things with sharp fins on them (luckily no interactions with them).  And the early "crawl" was so slow!  It seemed like a lot of slow swimmers mis-seeded themselves, I think the opening 500 yards must have been at 2:00 pace, ugh.  Had I started a bit more in the middle, and in the front row, I would have sailed with the faster swimmers.  Approaching buoys was the worst, as the line from buoy to buoy was not maintained by the kayaks and boards, so it created a "crunch" at the buoys, and they wouldn't let anyone swim inside of them.  I fought hard on the first two, but developed a new strategy that was brilliant (if I say so myself...).  As I approached the next buoy, I was 5 feet inside of the buoy, and I was gonna have to hammer someone to get around the buoy.  Instead, I went submarine style...swimming about 10 yards under 2 kayaks, the buoy, and coming out the other side in undisturbed water---AWESOME!  If you were near me, you would have heard my excitement underwater ;-) The rest of the way out opened up a bit, but I couldn't figure out how so many people got in front of me off the start position I had.  I swam though group after group, sighting open water lanes and "intervalling" into them to catch the next group.  I felt great, under control, but flustered as I knew I was wasting energy with all of the maneuvering.  At the first turn, I glanced at my watch---30:00 on the dot.  With all of the extra "work" to get there, I was happy that I hadn't lost too much time in the process, but now we were turning back into the swell, and thus, slower swimming.  I rounded the second buoy at the turn, and headed home.  It finally opened up, and I started to take in this beautiful swim course.  You could see everyone around you against a brilliant blue background.  I grabbed a set of feet here and there, but continued working my way through swimmers.  With 300 to go, I settled in on some feet again to rest a bit, watched the coral reef get shallower and shallower, felt my hand hit the sand, and popped up---thinking, what's my time!!  1:03...happy with the time, but with all the commotion, I knew I could do better...next time ;-) I say this because I never felt like I exerted myself on the swim, I never got to really stretch it out and swim until about 2500 yards into the swim...

T1:  3:50

Up the stairs you dream about running up, through the hoses you also dream about going through (I was craving a quick mouthful of fresh water), I grabbed my swim to bike bag, into the tent, packed with athletes..ugh---again thought about how the starting position decision did NOT pay off.  Changed methodically to make sure I had all the goods for the bike, and was off, running all the way around the dock to finally arrive at my bike (threw down a Gel in the process...).  Hit the mount line, jumped on, and spun away.

Bike:  5:07:20  376th overall but 8th in my age group--tough age group!!
I heeded the advice of Bryan Dunn, stud triathlete, for my bike setup and some course knowledge.  I established a plan to settle in on the "trip" through town which was crowded and a bit technical from time to time.  Threw down another gel, and kicked into my nutrition plan of 300+ cals/hr based on how I felt, plus as much water as I could handle.  I actually sighted my family in the Hot Corner, buzzed on up Palani to the Queen K, and started the crusade to Hawi...in a long single file line of cyclists that stretched on down the road into the distance.  So many people say there is rampant drafting in this race, but kudos to the race officials, who were everywhere.  Stop watches timing passes, watching for blocks, and breaking up the occasional "pile" of riders that happens when you stick that many high caliber racers on the same course.  There was an Official every 1/2 mile, buzzing up and down the line watching for obvious offenders and handing out red or yellow cards, and writing numbers of those who were "close" to heeding a penalty for future reference.  We quickly learned what a "safe" gap was.  The closest I came to any attention was when an Official took her hands and said with them "give it a "little" more room."  The conditions for the day seemed to be less than what I had prepared for...the climb to Hawi was of course straight into a headwind.  Hit the turnaround, grabbed my Special Needs Bag, and conveniently dropped the contents...no biggie, and young boy picked em up, and I was on my way.  On the way out I had put down 800 cals in the form of 1 EFS Liquid Shot, and 2 bottles of EFS (2 scoops each, 1 with a full scoop of Pre Race).  My needs bag had another EFS Liquid Shot, 2 more bottles of EFS set up the same way, a pack of Honey Stingers, and a Salty Sweet Bar.  I nixed the non-pre-race bottle and the Salty Sweet Bar---Mistake #2!  After the drop and the stop, I hammered the return from Hawi section, spinning out of my 53 x 11 at 95 rpms.  At this point, I was riding with a group of very respected triathletes, including Troy Jacobson.   I studied his moves as he backed off a bit coming down from Hawi, and was curious why.  I found out when we reached the Queen K, as he and the other 5 guys I was in contact with left me for the wolves ;-).  I settled into my wattage goal, and just put my head in an aero position (meaning: down!) and rode the never ending road back towards Kona.  The bike spacing had definitely opened up, and as I was approaching the Waikaloa area I saw a familiar face in the Penalty Tent..and said "THAT'S BULLSHIT" loud and clear---it was Rich Blanco who had passed me with the most authority on the bike course--how the hell was he drafting someone when he clearly was riding at a different level than anyone else?   I started looking at race numbers, and I noticed that more numbers had marks on them than didn't---the Officials were making a statement I think on this day.  I hit a bit of a lull, due to a lack of calories (stemming from that small breakie, and leaving that food in my Needs Bag of course!), so from mile 80 to about mile 87 I started to conserve energy (meaning: back off the pedal pressure).   I hit an aid station, hit the gels and Perform, and recovered, but I think I was in the hole now...shit.  As I approached Kona, I got to take in a bit of the Men's Pro race...Crowie had distanced himself on the Queen K on his way to the Energy Lab--it was in the bag.  I found myself sitting up and watching versus racing--oh well, this was a WC, and I was on the same course with the Elite of the Elite, and I was "taking the experience in" as Bryan told me to do ;-).  I pulled my feet out of the shoes, did the old flying dismount, and was off into T2, so happy with my bike split!  I was estimating 5:15, and all depended on the conditions of course, but with a 203W average, my coaches response after the race:  "also - 5:06 / 203??  THIS file I need to see!  great!!!"  So I guess I pulled something out of my arse ;-)

Gear wise, the Storck was amazing as it always is...I feel blessed to be riding such a nice, fast bike, with the Di2, the SRM...all was great there.  I would also highly recommend a helmet with a front shield---I used the ONE Elite LG Superleggara...I will never race without a shield again, and the visibility is twice that of wearing sunglasses (I can look out of the top of my eyes with a full view versus being limited by the frame of the glasses---FYI.  Di2---game changer.  DMT shoes were perfect again as well--no hot spots at all, no socks, just a very good pair of cycling shoes!

T2:  3:24
Again made the trek around the perimeter of the pier, grabbed my bike to run bag, into the tent, Castelli socks on, Orange Nike Lunarracers on, EFS Liquid Shot in hand, Visor and glasses on, and off to the run I go.
JD and Lisa working...looks like they were having fun!
Run:  3:41:36
So, let me show you the splits first, then I'll explain this disaster that came out okay in the end!  Something is "off" when I run 9 miles faster than 7 miles---ugh!  So hard to look at those splits, but "it is what it is" when cramps force you to stop racing. 

Split NameDistanceSplit TimeRace TimePaceDiv. RankOverall RankGender Rank
5 mi5 mi42:207:00:328:28/mi
10.2 middd5.2 mi47:497:48:219:11/mi
17.2 mi7 mi1:06:438:55:049:31/mi
26.2 mi9 mi1:04:449:59:487:11/mi
Total26.2 mi3:41:369:59:488:27/mi115459431

Well, I looked good here...
So the first thing I have to mention is I went against what I ALWAYS do...I went without an HRM all day.  I simply had a Timex watch that had my overall time on it versus the full Garmin setup giving me lots (meaning: too much!) information for me to play mind games with.  I immediately found my legs out of T2, as if I hadn't ridden at all---AWESOME.  I was running with 2 other guys, and we were picking people off right and left...I was a happy kid in summer camp and ready to crush this thing--swim and bike were both practically perfect, and had me right on my "best case" projections.  When you hit Ali'i Drive to start the 5 mile out and back, things get REAL, really REAL.  On the bike there was of course always a breeze/wind, but Ali'i was stale, hot, and felt like a swamp.  I was still feeling great though, saw my cheering squad in their awesome orange shirts in front of Humpys...they were right where I needed them!  I left them, and POW, ribcage (intercostal) muscle cramps..straight to a 10 out of 10 in pain.  We still hadn't hit the first aid station (am still curious why there isn't one at mile one??).  I was buckling---and digging for the first aid station..it seemed to never come!  I eventually got there, and immediately went into emergency mode...how do I get rid of this?  The answer was probably right there in my hand (the EFS Liquid Shot), but I couldn't muster a swig of that hot gel.  Instead I tried Coke--of course the wrong thing!  I was walking out of this aid station still buckled in pain as Chris approaches on his way back into town, shaking his head---my heart sank, as I knew he was disappointed to see me give in.  I kept my mind focused though, thinking this will pass, and when it does, you need to RUN! This section forced me to stop racing, and start surviving the race---I didn't train to have it go this way, but there was nothing I could do when I hobbled between aid stations as I tried to find a solution.  Finally, at about mile 7, things started to turn as I went to orange slices and Perform---lots of it.  Between aid stations I was getting better, but was still limited in speed fearing they would come back with a vengeance.  I made it back to my crew, and John gave me a much needed pep talk...
but not here on the Ali'i return...John's pep talk...
I walked a bit after, mumbling nonsense to myself and told myself to stop feeling sorry for myself and get back into this thing---but the damage had been done.  I went from my "perfect day" target to geez, I may finish in 11 hours....ugh, NOT a feeling I had imagined going into this race feeling as good as I did physically and mentally, but I didn't let it crack me.  Chris has told me many times that you can recover from a "bad patch" and to just work with it, trouble shoot it, and come out of it stronger than ever.  After making my way up to Palani, I was welcomed by this guy with his young daughter on his shoulders---RUSS BRANDT!  He was saying everything I needed to hear, and along with what John had said to me 5 minutes earlier, I hit the Queen K, felt the breeze, and joined the race again.  Welcome back Mr. Svans, you are now in hunting mode---Chris, you are always right!  I "hit the proverbial RESET button" as Russ was screaming at me to do as he ran up Palani as I walked.  I took the momentum of running out and down " Mark and Dave Hill" to regain entry into the race.  The cramps were still there but tolerable, but I just kept on the orange slices and Perform, and they were gone by the time I hit the top of the Energy Lab.  Chris played a trick on me by saying the turnaround was another half mile into the Lab, so when I turned, I was all smiles.  I picked up my little note of motivation (the only thing in my Run Special Needs Bag...), and cycled through the names and quotes I had written on it...including "It's go time" and "put the women and children to bed and go hunting for dinner."  I was breaking down those walls that Randy Pausch mentioned, and was doing this for my kids...to get this done and to get "home"...as fast as I could put this chapter behind me as I could so I could move on to packing to go home to them.  Quite frankly, I think a lot is made of the Energy Lab stent, and  I agree 100% with what Bryan told me going in...it's really not the big deal that everyone makes it out to be.  Yes, the air is stale running up and out, but nothing compared to the Ali'i stretch, and you are now running back to "home."  Then there is the Ford Inspiration Sign with the notes from your cheering section. In my case, I asked my family if they could ask Jenny for something to put on there---I don't think my feet were touching the ground as I approached, so I would say the Sign worked wonders for me.  I hit the mat that triggers the sign, and glued my eyes to the digital sign..waiting, waiting, and then there it was...."You Got This Papa!"  So, I had lost it a few times before the race, but I had tears rolling down my cheeks and was almost uncontrollable with the sniffles---I just couldn't hold it back, and didn't want to.  Luckily I was alone through there, and that little note meant so much, they were right there in the middle of the war with me, cheering me on, feeding my positive reinforcement that I did in fact "HAVE THIS!"   I re-composed myself and was back on the Queen K, knowing that this section was tough, boring, and rolling.  None of that mattered...I became a man on a mission, and after a few checks of the watch, I had sub 10 back as attainable, but it was gonna take a huge effort.  By the time I reached Mark and Dave Hill, I was flying---I guess walking all that way on Ali'i saved my legs for this effort I was putting in, and I felt no effects of the 20+ miles I had already covered on the run.  I picked a guy way up ahead---about 40 people were between the two of us...he was my "goal catch."  As I reached the top of the hill to head down Palani, I was greeted by Russ again, and I told him he was my new best friend (well, he is "one" of my best friends now...don't worry Ponch and JD ;-)   That reset button was a charm to hit, and I ended up catching my "goal catch as I made the turn onto Kuakini Hwy, but now my goal was bigger, very specific, and very close...getting to the line sub 10.  I must have been running 6:30's from the bottom of Mark and Dave Hill to the final turn on Ali'i...I was on Holy Ground now, and there was no way I was going 10+, but I still had work to do.
on Holy Ground
There was one thing that was going to keep me from celebrating the final section with my family, and here I am trying to go sub 10 with seconds to spare as I approach my family---sorry family, I said screw it, and put out another surge to get me down the shoot, as I wasn't quite sure how far the finish line was...Mike Reilly was right on cue saying "these guys are fighting for sub 10 hours---give em all you got!"  I was fist pumping while sprinting with no one but me and that line..and a clock reading 9:59:43 as I crossed the line into a dream I have had 1,00's of times, watched on TV hundreds of times, and into my personal catchers:  My mom and sister Inta who's shift ended at 5 pm, and I was finishing at 4:59:43pm...PERFECT!  My dream of 15 years DONE!  My Bucket List contained one item, and this was it...maybe time to add some new targets on there.

Carlos Sue and I at Dinner Sunday night...Champions!
I felt so fortunate to share the course with so many athlete-friends of mine...we all kept each other going out there.  Carlos and Sue, you define Ironman for what you overcame on this day---a huge congrats to you for the perseverance you showed us all by reaching that finish line.  Dad, I have to say that hug on the beach after the race was the best father son moment of my life....I knew you knew how big of a deal this race was to me, and I am so glad you were there to see me "finish what I started" over 15 years ago.  Remember watching the race every year?  Well, watching it this December will hopefully bring on a whole new meaning.  And Mom, you have always been right there cheering me on, and of course it was no different this time--sometimes I even think you are more excited about races than I am!  to my sis's and bro, thanks for making it over to Kona; I know it was a challenge, but every one of you made it and made the trip that much more special...it has been way too long since we were all in the "same room" together...let's try to make it a more frequent occurrence (well, I am probably the guilty one here...).  And to JD and Cyndi..thanks for showing my family around when I was too busy being selfish---well, racing ;-)  You two continue to prove that you are very special friends, thanks for everything you are!

I think I made them proud parents on this day ;-)
Me and the Deans Post Race..Love em!

Jenny, simply, you are amazing.  I missed you more than I ever want to miss you...you have been behind me on this journey, putting up with the long hours, the nights with "no Papa" at home.  The calls after my failures, a crash...and you have been there unconditionally for me every step of the way.  I don't know what's next (or after IMAZ...), but I know you have given me much more than you have received, and I can't compete with your heart and unselfishness that you have exuded over the past 18 months....I feel like the luckiest man alive to have you as my wife.  You are my rock.
Calling Home...


  1. You da MAN!!!
    I am surprised you were able to ride so fast with averaging 203watts... Must have been aero and fast out there!
    Had a lot of fun following you from 2500 miles away...
    See you at IMAZ!

  2. Thomas Gerlach Pro TriathleteOctober 21, 2011 at 10:45 PM

    Agree with Kevin. Bryann must have set you up good to ride like that. Nice write-up. Keep it up.

  3. Thanks Kevin and Thomas....was a fun day minus the cramping for sure...setting up well for IMAZ at the moment!!