IRONMAN World Championships – October 14th, 2017
Just a little over two years ago, I completed my first IRONMAN and became a man on a mission to get to the “Super Bowl” of triathlon, the IRONMAN World Championships! After qualifying at IRONMAN Louisville the previous year, I had a full year to prepare mentally and physically for the toughest IRONMAN race on the planet. Despite my hunger to dominate this race and race to my fullest potential, things just didn’t want to go my way on race day. I saw firsthand how this race can cripple even the most prepared and talented triathlete, Jan Frodeno (2x World Champion), who finished hours later than expected and amongst the age groupers. I had a few setbacks early in the race, but things unraveled drastically when a bike crash sent me flying over my handlebars at 20+ mph. Much like Jan, my race goals changed from “racing”, to just crossing the finish to honor the race and my fellow competitors. There is no doubt that without my family and friends supporting me, as well as three amazing volunteers, I would have pulled out of the race due to the crash. I would have had to live with that disappointment for many years to come. Luckily, my support team got me through the finish line and I will be forever grateful! Below is a quick summary of how my race played out.
Sheboygan County was very well represented at the World Championships this year with two of my close friends, Frederick Guesneau and Christine Sonnemann-Gordon also qualifying at IRONMAN Wisconsin last year. We also had a huge support crew come watch us race. We all arrived a week before the race to get acclimated to the heat, something I grossly underestimated… Stepping off of the plane, I immediately broke out in sweat just standing there in the 87 degree, 90%+ humidity Kona sun. This race was going to be the real deal…
We rented an amazing place a few miles up in the mountains for 12 of us to stay at. Considering only two people there were racing, it was nearly impossible to be in “race” mode versus “vacation” mode for the first half of the week. Despite my valiant efforts to eat healthy, I broke down and eat/drank my fair share of Kona chocolates and brews.
Just about every day I would do some swimming and bike training out on the race course. The energy out on Ali drive was contagious with thousands of the best triathletes around out training together throughout the day. Everyone was absolutely shredded, making me feel a good 7 lbs. over my race weight! I made sure to get the full Kona experience, competing in the annual underwear run and welcome banquet. During check-in I ended up getting drug tested, which took a good 1.5 hrs. It appears they are really ramping up their drug testing, which is great to see! By the time Friday rolled around, I was confident and ready to race come Saturday.
I set my alarm for 3 am, a good 4 hours before my race starts, to give myself plenty of time to put down a massive 1500 calorie breakfast. I’ve tried to do it in less time in previous races and found myself bloated during the swim. Unfortunately, this was my first mishap of the day as my alarm went off in vibration mode and I overslept by an hour. Once 4 am rolled around, someone woke me up and asked if I knew it was 4 am. Not the way I wanted to start the day… I ended up cutting back my breakfast by 400 calories because of this mishap. I was out the door by 5 am and headed over to the race start.
The day before and the day of the race I always seem to be at peace with where I am at and have very little nerves about the race, no matter what the magnitude is. I honestly get my best night sleep of the week the night before the race. I could tell this wasn’t the case for most of the racers in transition as you could sense the anxiety and nerves in the air.
After the 50 person pro fields went off, approximately 1700 male Age Groupers slowly made their way into the water. I got in the water within the first few hundred people to make sure I had my spot reserved. I waded in the water on the far left side and in the second row of swimmers. Although I’ve made big progress in my swimming over the years, it is still my weakest sport. This forces me to make up ground on the bike and run versus the “pure” swimmers/fishes…
Once the cannon went off, it was complete chaos and would stay that way for the entirety of the swim. I’ve never been hit in the head so many times in my life as we would fight for draft positions with feet in front of us. Having a wrestling background, I actually didn’t mind that much close combat, but definitely wouldn’t be ideal if someone was claustrophobic or sensitive to a few unintentional (hopefully) kicks and slaps.
I always wear two swim caps to help keep my googles in place. I would have one cap over my head, then googles, then my second cap. By the halfway turnaround, somehow both of my swim caps got pulled off of my head. Miraculously, which I am still dumbfounded by, my googles managed to stay on my head! An ocean swim without goggles would have been brutal if not impossible… The only issue was my straps were now in a bad place and my right google started to fill up with salt water. The burn in my eye caused me to stop twice on the way back to empty and readjust the goggles. Just a small mishap to overcome which could have been much worse.
Results: 1:02:15 (OA – 612/2455, M25-29 – 62/105)
There was around 400 racers exiting the water within a few minutes of me. This is one of the biggest issues of having a mass start where a huge majority of the field are at the same caliper level. Because of the congestion around the bike mount location, I ended up packing my bike shoes in my T1 bag rather than on my bike. This paid off for a fairly quick T1 and first bike split.
This is where things would get interesting… My biking has really started to become my standout strength and have been having some solid long rides up to this race. I set out to push a pretty aggressive bike of 245 watts given I would be riding in 88 degree lava fields with full sun for the entirety of the ride. I knew if I could ride well for the entire race, I would be able to make up some serious ground lost in the swim and put myself within the top 5 AG contention.
Right when I jumped on my bike, my heart rate sensor was not connecting to my Garmin, but luckily my power meter was. After a few times trying to connect, I gave up knowing it was probably best I didn’t know what it was in this Kona sun!
At the start of the bike, I had about 600 racers out in front of me, most within just a few minutes. This led to some crazy jam packed roads… In theory, every rider should be over 6 bike lengths away from the rider in front to avoid a drafting call. This was nearly impossible with this many riders on the road covering such a short distance. I pushed quite a bit harder than I was hoping to, often riding at my threshold to pass the largest groups in hopes of clear roads in front of me. I was so nervous about not making a pass fast enough (drafting call) that I was seriously anxious to see some open roads.
I spoke with a friend before the race and he told me that the roads should open up around the 30-40 mile mark. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for me… At about 40 miles in, I had already passed over 300 hundred riders, riding in the left lane for nearly the entire time. Yet all I could see in front of me was a single file row of bikers. I continued to ride left, only being passed by two riders for the entire first half of the bike. At mile 47, I got my first ever dreaded penalty call for not completing a pass fast enough after I just caught a pack I worked so hard to chase down. After that, I backed off on the power, not too eager to make big group passes all the way to the turnaround in Hawi. Lesson learned is that the next time I race Kona, I have to come in a much stronger swimmer and also push it quite a bit harder swimming than I normally would. If I can knock off 3 minutes or so on the swim (easier said then done), that would put me within the top 300. That would be a much more manageable number of passes on the bike… Coach Laura, let’s get to work!
At the turn around, I had worked my way up from 62nd to 25th AG and only 4 minutes down on top 5 with a good 50 miles left on the bike. On the way back, the field finally strung out a little bit. I put my head down and road my planned power for the majority of the back half, catching people quite a bit faster as they began to fade. Looking at the splits against my competitors, this is where I started to make up the most ground. Not having all the power surges and focusing on riding “my” race helped me to really get into the zone. That all changed at mile 96 of the bike. I was riding with my head down, occasionally lifting head to get a feel for how fast I am approaching other riders. Right before I arrived to the aid station, I lift my head and someone is changing a flat tire IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD! The shoulder is a good three feet wide, so why he didn’t see a need to move over is beyond me. Anyways, I swerved around him and struck a water bottle someone tossed before the aid station. At that point, everything happened in slow motion as my brain realized the ending was not going to be good… I tried to correct my steering left-right-left, and by the third correction my wheel was completely sideways. I learned the hard way that wheels don’t like to spin when they are turned sideways and I was quickly ejected over the handlebars at 20+ mph. I completed about ¾ of a flip and landed real hard on my hip/back. I never screamed so loud in my life as it felt like I broke my pelvis, to the point where I had zero pain from all of the other road rash I suffered.
I blew a flat tire in the crash and I was in zero shape to change it. None of the volunteers were able to help me if I wanted to keep racing, so I had to wait a good 20 minutes for the bike support to show up and get me back on my bike. At that point, my race was “over” and just wanted to get back to transition to let my parents and friends know that I was okay. I hopped on my bike and slowly made my way back to transition, just trying to loosen up my hip. Right up to the crash at mile 96, and excluding the 5 min penalty, I was averaging 23.9 mph. This definitely would have led to a bike split PR for me. Oh well, that just how life goes sometimes! In all, I lost a little over 30 minutes from mishaps on the bike, but more importantly, my hip was in pretty bad shape going into T2.
Results: 5:17:52 (OA – 666/2455, M25-29 – 60/105)
When I rolled into T2, I was feeling pretty emotionless, having the crash drain everything out of me. I slowly put all my running gear on and made my way over to the medical tent. I was in no hurry to start my 26.2 mile sufferfest… In medical I got bandaged up and took some ibuprofen. After spending the better part of 10 minutes in transition, I decided it was probably time to test the run.
I knew it would hurt, I just didn’t know how bad… As I started to “run”, each step was pretty painful on my hip. A few minutes in was the first time I saw my parents. I knew they were so relieved to see that I was okay, knowing something must have happened on the bike course. I broke down and all I could muster was an “I’m sorry”. So many people support me and I was so disappointed in myself for crashing at my biggest race of the year. They quickly lifted my spirits and I kept my feet turning.
About two miles in, my running “shuffle” was still giving my hip a lot of grief. Mentally, I was not prepared to walk another 24.2 miles. I pulled off the course at the second aid station and told some volunteers I was pulling out of the race. After a few minutes talking with them, they convinced me to keep going. This was the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS! I’ll be forever grateful for those three volunteers, because without them I would be thinking about the disappointment of quitting for many years to come.
As the miles ticked by, my hip seemed to loosen up a little bit. The ibuprofen must have been working! At that point, I decided to finish the race in the least amount of pain and effort possible. I really wanted to “enjoy” the race. I started running alongside other racers, no longer competitors, and heard some very amazing stories about their journeys. I no longer wanted to “beat” the person next to me, but now wanted to help them get to the finish line. I would start walking with someone that seemed to be struggling and we would then run together, pushing each other to keep going. Despite the slow speed, the back half of this IRONMAN run was the most enjoyable run I’ve ever experienced. It truly was the Hawaiian definition of “Aloha”, which is to have love, peace, and compassion for one another. This race and trip to Hawaii has been life changing for me.
Results: 04:19:20 (OA – 1257/2455, M25-29 – 77/105)
It’s so easy to be disappointed with failure. Especially when it comes at the most important time. To be honest, I’ve hung my head quite a bit about crashing and how my race played out. A race that I have thought about every day for the last two years. But the more I reflect on the race, the more proud I am for not giving up and realizing how lucky I am to have such amazing support. Everyone from all of my friends and family that came to Hawaii with me, my coaches Blake and Laura, my awesome Sponsors, and all of my friends following along. Your support is greatly appreciated!
The disappointment and lessons learned from this race will be used as fuel for 2018. Excited to get back to work!
Overall Results: OA – 943rd out of 2455, AG – 75th out of 105, 10:52:41
Below is my tentative schedule for 2018:
2/10 Seroogy’s 15k – C
3/18 70.3 Puerto Rico
5/5 70.3 St. George
6/3 Green Bay Olympic – TBD
6/10 70.3 Wisconsin
7/14 70.3 Muncie
8/12 70.3 Benton Harbor – TBD
9/9 140.6 Wisconsin
11/3 140.6 Florida – TBD