Date: October 9, 2010

Before I get into the details of race day, I’ll comment on how I felt the week going into the race. I have been a little silent on that purposely because I needed to focus my thoughts on more positive things. First, I don’t know if it is possible to get to a race and think that training went so perfect that it couldn’t have been better. I was very pleased with my swimming and cycling training, but still could think of ways that I could have trained those disciplines better in a perfect world. My running had improved since I became focused again in July, but my distance running has been on a gradual decline over the past 2 ½ years. Weight control seemed to be one of my biggest hurdles this year. Overall my weight going into Kona was okay, but still about 10-15 pounds higher than where I think it should be for a perfect race. My experiences with weight control and weight fluctuations warrant a separate post.

My taper went pretty well, and may have been my best taper yet. The taper was more of a mindset than a strict rest period. I still did the majority of my workouts, but didn’t do any workouts because I felt I had to. If I felt tired I would quit the workout early, or even skip a workout. Also, I had no purposeful carbo-load. I certainly do not have any problem eating enough carbohydrates (although I have read several articles that state many triathletes do not eat enough carbs), so I don’t need to plan large carbohydrate meals. Simply by not exercising as much and still trying to eat mostly quality foods I get enough carbs without overdoing it too much.

Two weeks prior to race day I had several unplanned hiccups. First I had three invitations to dinner, and because I had a conference in Newport Beach I ended up eating lunch out as well. Going to dinner and breaking from my normal diet isn’t that bad, except that I have a difficult time eating well after indulgences. I did experience some weight gain, which I wasn’t too thrilled about, but felt that visiting with friends is important. It is important to make time for important people in our lives, and between demands of work and Ironman training it can be easy to let time for friends and family to fade away.

Wednesday, September 29, I had an incredible swim at YMCA Masters. I swam so hard that I was actually nauseated, which isn’t something I normally experience in training. The following day I went to swim again, but the pool was closed due to lightening. Friday I went to swim with UC Irvine Masters and almost instantly noticed a right rhomboid strain. I cut the swim short because I couldn’t work it out. I couldn’t believe I was one week away from Kona and was experiencing an injury. I did a lot of stretching and range of motion exercises with little improvement. I went to swim again on Monday, and noticed pain still, but thought it was getting a little better. The other thing I noticed Monday was that I was getting sick. I woke up with a terrible sore throat and very congested. I went to get a massage to focus on my upper back, shoulders and hip flexors, my main problem areas. Tuesday I felt worse, sicker, but also more sore. A massage can increase soreness, so I wasn’t too surprised. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I swam at the course, but just kept the intensity real light and didn’t swim more than 2000 yards. My rhomboid strain gradually resolved, and I didn’t have any problems with it during the race, or even now. My sore throat subsided, and I was hoping that my cold was going away. On Wednesday and Thursday I went for 27 mile bike rides on the course, which both absolutely wiped me out. The illness was taking its toll on me, and I was a little concerned about how it was going to affect me race day. I recalled though that I had the exact same thing happen to me at Ironman Arizona last year, and although I didn’t feel well the week going into the race, I felt great on race day. That is certainly what happened to me this year. If the illness impacted my race, I can’t say that I noticed it. I was definitely congested, and struggled with some of the heat, but I can’t say the illness kept me from performing.

Race morning was awesome. I got up at 3 AM, had some cereal, eggs and coffee, then headed out at 4 to arrive at the numbering area when they opened at 4:45. My bike and gear bags were all in place from the day before, so I just had to inflate my tires, put my computer on the bike and my nutrition on the bike. The transition area wasn’t very crowded that early, so I was able to take care of everything pretty quickly. I ran into David Haas in the transition area. Captain Haas is the commanding officer that was featured in the Kona video last year. I also saw Faris al-Sultan in the porta-potty line drinking a Coke. I didn’t see many pros actually in the transition area. I figured their stuff was set up early and they were off warming up or getting massages.

Prior to the race start my race plan was ultimately to enjoy the race and to definitely finish. Molly and I had a discussion about people that choose to DNF races. I know some people absolutely look down on DNFs, but I don’t look down on DNFs that much. There is something admirable about suffering to finish when the odds are against you, but I think a lot of it depends on why you are there. I have had a couple DNFs where I could have absolutely finished, but I wasn’t there to suffer or to have a bad race. There are times when regardless of the amount of suffering and how slow things are, I am there to finish. I wasn’t showing up at Kona to win (I was being realistic), or even to push myself as hard as I did when I qualified, but I still wanted to have a decent race. I wanted to finish still running, hopefully smiling, but above all else FINISH! I was cautioned by my friend Phillipe several times that the hard part is qualifying, and that Kona is a tough race with a very competitive field, so be sure to enjoy the race. I planned on a smooth swim, biking a little easier than I felt I could do with a goal of 240-250 watts, and then see what I could do on the run. I knew that my running wasn’t as ready as the swim and bike, and I knew I wouldn’t have to drive to push a fast pace like I did in Arizona, so I was just going to run at a comfortable pace.

I got into the water about 20 minutes prior to the start of the race. It seemed like a long 20 minutes. I was treading water 5 yards north of the floating Ford vehicle, about 4 rows of people back. I thought I was all the way over to the left of the field, but saw in photos afterwards that there were a lot of people on the other side of the floating vehicle. In anticipation of the start, there was a little chaos as we were packed in the water. I had to flutter kick to tread water, and kept my forearms at chest level with my elbows out to keep people from bumping into my face. We were packed tightly as the life guards kept pushing us back behind the start line. When the canon went off though I must have been a little bit more ready than most of the people around me. I was able to lunge forward into a hole and swim ahead of all the swimmers that I was at the start with. I was on the far edge of the swimmers where I was seeing nobody to my left, another reason why I didn’t realize there were a lot of people further left than me. I tried to stay on the outside and just draft off of people just to my right. Swimmers drift around though, and several times I found myself squeezed between swimmers. I knew I was bigger than them, and that I could probably push them under to get my space back, but we were all playing nicely. I didn’t witness any freak-outs during the swim, which I find oddly amusing, but this was a more experienced crowd. About 10 minutes after the start I experienced incredible turbulence in the water. Usually I feel the draft of the swimmers in front of or near me, but this was churning water that made me think I was right behind an outboard motor. I looked up and only saw swimmers and white water everywhere. It was an amazing moment. I was a little surprised that although I started the swim a little aggressive, I never felt winded. I did slow it down and cruise for most of the swim, picking it up occasionally when I realized I was way too comfortable. I finished the swim in 1:04:12, 439 overall, 56 division. There were 1849 starters, and 265 in my division (the largest division, 14.3% of the field).

Everyone comments on how fast my transitions were. My T1 was 2:14. The top pros weren’t much faster than that. The transition area is pretty long, and I just trotted through at a pace that wouldn’t spike my heart rate. After coming out of the water I grabbed a hose for a quick rinse, then grabbed my T1 bag. All I had in it was my race number on a race belt. We had to go through the changing tent, so I put the belt on as I ran past the bodies crowding the tent. As I left the changing area there was a small aid station. I wanted some water, missed that and grabbed Perform (the sports drink they are using now, from PowerBar), had a sip of that and ran on. I realized I missed the sunscreen, so I doubled back and yelled “sunscreen” and stood there for about 5 seconds while three ladies lathered sunscreen on my back, arms and head. I didn’t wait for long, but wanted some on me. We had to run around the entire transition area. They do this to keep it fair regardless of where your bike is located. I put on my glasses and helmet, then grabbed my bike which already had my shoes clipped in, and then out to the mounting area. That took 2 minutes and 14 seconds. I could have definitely done under 2 minutes if I had rushed it, but it was fast enough and I got some sunscreen.

The bike was intense. Usually in a triathlon I am just constantly flying by everyone, never being passed or riding near anyone’s pace. This race was different. I couldn’t believe how crowded the ride was for the first 10 miles. My plan to ride at 240 watts for the first 10 miles didn’t work. Here is my power data from the first 10 miles:

There were packs of riders flying by me. I was a bit paranoid of getting a drafting penalty, so I would wait for these packs to fly by me, and then pass everyone I could at about 350 watts until I reached an area that had a small break. I would then merge into a non-drafting line and relax for a few minutes until people were flying by me again. There were a lot of people getting drafting penalties, but I didn’t really see penalties issued until after we were up on the Queen K Highway where there was more room for motorcycles for referees to issue penalties. It may have been some racer’s strategy to draft through this area since they may have gotten away with it. I prefer not to chance it, and my power data proves that I did a good job avoiding drafting. I felt good, but knew I couldn’t keep up 300 watts for five hours.

There were aid stations every seven miles (I think). I gave up time at each one and a lot of people would pass me there. I grabbed as much as I could. Even when I felt comfortable I was grabbing water to drink and then spay over my head and body for cooling. Initially I would grab one water and empty it on myself through the aid station, then discard the bottle. Later I ran out of food, and wanted more water to use between aid stations because it was getting hot. I would grab two water bottles and stow them in my bottle cages, then look for calories. I had never used Perform before (big mistake), and preferred bananas but they were difficult to get. In my training I’ve mostly used water and then eaten solid food. I find I am much more satisfied with this. I was tracking my calorie intake and not relying of how I felt. I took in 300 cal/hour for the first 3 hours of the bike, but after that I had ran out of food and was relying on the aid stations, so I was getting about 200 cal/hour. I had eaten five gels that I brought and then one gel from the aid stations, and I hit my limit on gels. I had also brought two full size cliff bars which I ate in the first two hours of the bike. I never bonked or got ill, but my stomach sure wasn’t enjoying the aid station food much. The bananas were good, but there was only one person handing out a ½ banana. If they weren’t ready, or if I wasn’t ready, there was no banana for that aid station. I think I had four or five ½ bananas on the bike.

Overall I think the weather was very mild at Kona this year. I had always heard about heat and winds, and definitely got to experience them, but with so many age group records being broken this year I figured the conditions must have been pretty favorable. There was about 15-20 miles near the turnaround at Hawi where the winds were tough. I had a couple scares, and then mostly sat up out of the aero bars to keep my wheel steady. I was riding a Zipp 303 rear with my powertap, and then a Zipp 808 front. The front wheel was too deep, and I was wishing I had just ridden my 303 front. I took the climb up to Hawi very steady, holding mostly around 240 watts. A lot of people passed me up this climb, but the combination of heat, winds, and climb made me choose a steady power where I wasn’t pushing too hard. It probably would have been strategically better to push a little harder on this section, but I was conserving some mental toughness for later in the race. At the turnaround we experienced a wonderful tailwind. Here is the data from the descent:

I was cruising at about 40 MPH in the aero bars when the road had turned and the tailwind became a crosswind. A gust nearly knocked me over and scared the crap out of me. The rest of the descent was out of the aerobars with most of my weight on my right foot (wind was coming from the left) to help steady the bike. The return to town had some tough moments. There were some areas where it suddenly seemed unbearably hot. The winds were mild, and we might have even had a slight descent, but we were only riding at about 15 MPH. It wasn’t just me, everyone was dragging. The final 30 miles or so we had a pretty decent headwind, and I witnessed several people falling apart. The brevets I’ve done helped here. I had the endurance on the bike to keep up a decent power and endure the final miles on the bike when a lot of people were getting tired. I finished the bike in 5:10:25, moved up 106 positions overall to 333, and 5 positions division to 51. My split was decent, but there were definitely a lot of people that rode faster than 5:10.

A quick comparison of my bike with the bike at Ironman Arizona last year:

 

IMAZ 2009

Kona 2010

Time

4:55:44

5:10:25

Average Speed

22.72

21.65

Average Power

238

251

Normalized Power

247

262

First 1/3 NP

263

276

Second 1/3 NP

253

257

Final 1/3 NP

219

245

 

T2 was again fairly fast. Off the bike there are handlers that take and rack your bike for you. Again everyone had to run through the entire transition area, and I just kept an easy trot, prepping mentally for the run. I grabbed my bag and headed into the changing tent which for some reason had water all over the ground. All I had in my bag was a hat and my shoes. I’ve had very good luck with the initial release of Zoot shoes, so I chose to run in an old pair I had instead of a newer pair that just hasn’t seemed to be as blister proof. I grabbed some Vaseline off the table and put some on my Achille’s where sometimes the shoe can cause some bleeding, and then I was off. This transition was 2:34, again one of the faster transitions. It was so fast that when I ran by my parents and my son they all had their heads down and were texting. I yelled and the lady next to them let them know they had missed me. I thought it was completely hilarious! Texting is very distracting.

Soon after starting the run I knew it wasn’t going to be a fast marathon, and that I needed to focus on relaxing and minimize the walking. People were flying by me from the start. Even though the beginning of the run was overcast, I was feeling pretty hot. I put ice inside my tri-suit and inside my hat every aid station (located every mile). I was also dumping a lot of water on me, and even though my Zoot running shoes have ports for water to fall out of, they were pretty heavy with water. I walked each aid station, and walked up the hill on Palani to the Queen K Highway. I could have ran it, but it was pretty steep and I wasn’t moving up it very quickly so decided it was a wise time to walk. I ran pretty much the rest of the marathon except at the aid stations. The run along the Queen K, from Palani to the Natural Energy Lab seemed to take forever. It was hot up there, and I was dousing myself as much as I could. At about mile 17, near the turnaround at the Energy Lab, I saw a medical van and stopped to get some Vaseline for my feet that were killing me. I took off one shoe and saw how horribly macerated my foot was from the hours of dumping water on myself. I didn’t even bother taking the other shoe off because the sight was not a positive one. I decided that I couldn’t dump water on myself anymore and just used ice in my hat. I couldn’t believe how hot I felt. I would feel my hat every now and then to find there was still ice in it, even though I was burning up. The run back on the Queen K seemed to go by faster even though I was actually running slower. With only a couple miles to go Marty Taylor, a Navy Seal I had met a couple years ago, caught up to me and we ran the final miles together. It was exciting turning off the Queen K where there were tons of spectators cheering us on. The turn down Alii Drive to the finish was electric. My run time was 4:24:35, where I fell back 534 positions to 867, and 121 division positions to 172. Overall my finish time was 10:44:00, a time and finish that I am thrilled about.

I know a lot of people were watching the race online and following my progress with the athlete tracking. Thanks for all your support, emails, facebook postings, texts, phone calls and positive thoughts. Your support definitely added to the amazing experience I had. My parents and sister, and Molly and Kendall were there cheering for me which was so coo. It would have been cool for Mark and others to have come out too, but I realize it’s not always possible to drop everything and head to Hawaii. I saw TriClub friends Mike Plumb and Brian Long cheering for me on the run which was a pleasant surprise. I saw several of the military athletes out on the course which was awesome. I tried to cheer for all of them when I saw them.

The weeks before the race several people asked me if I was going to race, or going to enjoy the experience. I tend to get focused on the race and block a lot out, but I reminded myself quite a few times that I needed to take it all in. Some of my favorite memories:

  • Getting numbered meticulously by stamps instead of a marker
  • Being packed in at the swim start waiting for the canon to start our day
  • Seeing how clear the water was as it got deeper
  • Seeing my family screaming for me when I got on the bike
  • The lava fields with the dead looking trees
  • Suffering on the climb to Hawi
  • Seeing the ocean across the lava fields
  • The many spectators and volunteers along Alii Drive at the start of the run yelling “Go Navy”
  • Finally reaching the Natural Energy Lab
  • The volunteers at the run turnaround that were dancing to Eye of the Tiger
  • Suffering on the run
  • Finishing the run with Marty Taylor
  • Hearing Mike Reilly announce “Jerald Cook, you are an Ironman!” and then announcing “Both Jerald Cook and Marty Taylor are in the US Navy”

 

The last stretch along Alii Drive running alongside Marty Taylor:

 

Ylenia Santoro from UC Irvine sent me this picture she captured from the live webcast:

An hour and a half after I finished, Molly finally found me:

Thanks for reading!

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