I wish Ironman racing was more like golf. If it were I would have definitely asked for a Mulligan at the Ironman World Championships last month in Kona! Regardless of how well you prepare physically, mentally and emotionally for the biggest race of the year you have to get to the start line healthy. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to do that this year and my debut in Kona was a humbling experience from Queen K.
Despite some set backs in early September including a case of “foot drop” prior to the Hy-Vee Triathlon, my preparation for Kona went really well. I logged the biggest training weeks of my career and highlighted the preparation with high watts on the bike and the fastest training runs I had ever seen in my (short) Ironman career. Everything leading into the race was focused on success on the island, locked on diet; great training and the BEST gear put me in position to compete with the world’s top triathletes. Rinny and I headed to Kona two weeks early to acclimatize and get (re)acquainted with the course. We spent our first week outside of town at the Mauna Launi Bay Resort where we were treated like royalty. The peaceful resort setting along with the Mauna Launi’s top rated fitness center and pool made for the perfect prepping station.
We headed into town the following Sunday and hunkered down in our condo on Alii Dr. With the craziness of race week and the obligations involved it is nice to be near the action. Almost all my sponsors were in attendance and I was glad to have the chance to do a few appearances for them and to thank them in person for their unbelievable support. Along with the appearances I had a good amount of media obligations race week, definitely something I don’t experience at the normal race. With my strong debut at Ironman Texas and my position in the Kona rankings I had drawn some attention leading into the race. My taper seemed to be perfect and my last few tune up sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday we spot on. On Friday, the day before the race, I noticed I was very fatigued as I prepared all my race gear. With the riggers of Ironman training I was always fatigued in the weeks leading into the race, so when I was fresh and tapered race week it was hard for me to notice that I was feeling off. Friday night Rinny touched my head in passing and then paused and told me a felt a little warm. Uh Oh. It turns out I was running a fever but it was the night before the biggest race of my career…I shrugged it off and said I was fine.
Race morning came and it was an unbelievable vibe in transition. My goal in the sport was finally right in front of me…Kona! I went through my normal race routine and chatted with my coach Cliff before heading into the water. The cannon went off and just like that the race was on. As I battled among the other racers I found myself towards the front of the main swim pack. While I was in good position the pace seemed much harder than usual. I noticed I was struggling to keep my position in the group. Staying focused, I made it to shore still near the front. When I hit the beach I immediately noticed my entire body ached but it was Kona and I was going to keep going! Growing up one of my swim coaches always told me “you don’t have to feel good to swim fast” and I kept this in my mind as I struggled through transition.
The day didn’t get any easier as I hit the bike. As I went up the small coming out of transition I noticed my legs had nothing. One by one the other racers went by me and I dangled on the back of the lead pack. I fought and fought to keep contact and after falling off and catching up several times the group eventually left me behind on the Queen K. Less than two hours into the ride I started reaching for coke at aid stations; I knew I was in a bad spot. Cliff spotted me on the course and when he saw me covered in vomit and wobbling on my bike he knew we had to shut it down. I decided to keep riding back to transition but I knew I was out of the race. The remaining part of the ride was the longest 40 miles I have ever ridden.
When I got back to transition I found Cliff and my parents who had come out to watch my first Kona. They we glad to see I was ok but could tell I was devastated by how my day unfolded. After all the time and energy I put into this single event I was left with nothing. Still I knew this was the gamble I was taking with Kona, when you place everything in one race you can either win big or lose big. My real disappoint was from knowing it wasn’t really me out there racing. I didn’t get the chance to do justice to the extensive preparations I made for the race. But like I said, step one in racing is getting to the start line healthy!
My disappointment was palpable and many friends and family touched base with me after the race to give their support. The strongest message I received was from my friend and founder of Team RWB, Mike Erwin. Mike emailed me with a famous quote from Teddy Roosevelt, “The Man in the Arena.” Mike didn’t know it at the time but during my induction at the Naval Academy I had to memorize “The Man in the Arena” and it had stuck with me through my Navy career. When I read the email I knew I had not lost anything on the day. Instead I had gained a valuable experience that would only make me a stronger racer and a stronger person. I’m no stranger to failure but I have always prided myself on fighting back from my shortcomings. My Kona debut was indeed a failure, but a failure I plan on using to only make my next attempt on the island a success.
We all face challenges in life and all failures can be overcome. I plan on overcoming my challenges in Kona and I hope everyone reading this blog will face their challenges head on too. When it gets tough, and it will, don’t forget the words of President Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Until next time, keep fighting and dare greatly!