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At the awards banquet dinner for the Ironman World Championships we were sitting next to some British athletes and their families. I was surprised to overhear in their conversation how much easier it is to qualify for Kona in the United States. I certainly had never considered this, and wondered if it could be true. I had looked over race results to see if there are races that might be a little easier to qualify, basically having good number of qualifying spots without as many high caliber athletes racing. I had thought that some of the races is Asia looked like they might be a little easier, but apparently the races in Europe are very competitive. This makes some sense because at the US races there are a lot of Europeans racing and qualifying for Kona.

During the pre-race banquet dinner they reviewed the statistics of the race. Of the 1850 competitors, about 850 were from the US. I don’t remember the exact number, but it was around 850. There was definitely fewer than ½ of the podium finishers (top 5 each division, top 10 pro) that were from the US. Besides individuals that qualify, there is a lottery for 200 spots. These spots have been divided so that 150 go to the US, and the remaining 50 go to US and international, so at least 150 of the lottery spots go to the US. Also, Ironman has some spots that they provide the US military, special invitation, charity fundraising, challenged athletes, and I’ll estimate that about 100 of those go to US athletes. So, there are probably about 600 athletes in the US that qualify, and about 900 or so international athletes. (These are just my estimates, and I welcome any comments with better guesses)

Of the top 200 finishers, only 50 represented the US. So, although the US represents about 46% of all competitors, about 40% of all qualified competitors, they are only making up about 20-25% of the top competitors. (The US made up 22 of the top 100 finishers)

I the British triathletes we were sitting with might have been correct. The Ironman is changing even more though. There are more qualifying races, so there will be fewer spots available at each race. Also, the lottery will no longer favor athletes from the US. There will be 200 spots still, and each spot will be given to the entire lottery pool. The few spots that have been given to military athletes may be going away. There used to be more spots provided, and the last 2 years they have cut it down to one male and one female spot for each branch of service. This generosity is likely to be going away too as the demand for a spot at Kona keeps rising. The other special invitation spots that the race organizers provide to some fortunate athletes will also likely become fewer as the organization continues to expand and have to provide qualifying spots at their races.

I do feel very fortunate to have been able to go to Kona finally. When I was there I realized that many of the people racing there had been there previously. I don’t know the statistics on this, but I think that first time qualifiers are becoming pretty rare.

So, will I go back? Hard to say. I am glad that I have Kona behind me, because there are so many other great events out there that I would like to do, and now I feel a bit freed up to move on. I don’t plan on shopping for a race that I feel like I could qualify at, but if I happen to do a race that is a qualifier, and raced well enough to get a spot I don’t think I’d let it go. WTC continues to expand their Ironman business, and many of us that have been doing triathlons for a while see the atmosphere of triathlon changing. The big productions are nice sometimes, but many of us just want to get out there, push ourselves to new limits, and try to chase someone down in a good old fashioned race. There could be 50 people or 2000 people in the race, but when you are out there racing it is you against the guy next to you.

Ironman presents a challenge in that the distances are long enough to make you wonder if you can do it. Running a marathon alone is tough, but can you run a marathon on exhausted legs? The one thing that would have made Kona much better for me is if it was the first Ironman I had done. My first was my slowest, but it brought so much satisfaction in just knowing that I had done it.

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Here is some live power data captured at Kona on a few of the pros. The data for Faris al-Sultan, TJ Tolakson and Cameron Brown is at about 7.1 miles into the bike portion, so I decided to look up my power data from the same area. We had turned right on our way up Palani Road which is a short but decent climb up to the Queen K Highway (up to 6% grade).

Here is the comparison. I don’t have HR data since I don’t wear a heart monitor strap while doing triathlons.

 

Jerald Cook

Faris al-Sultan

TJ Tolakson

Cameron Brown

Power (Watts)

385

372

420

372

RPM

63

77

70

77

Speed (MPH)

12.3

13.8

13.5

15.7

Torque (in-lb)

526

     

HR

   

157

 

 

I’m not sure how useful it is to review a snapshot of power data, but it is interesting. I noted that my power was similar, but RPM and speed were lower. The speed difference is most likely since I’m fairly heavier than all those guys. This is also early in the race when my power was higher than it should have been.


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!


Tomorrow is race day. It is still hard to believe. I’ve had several moments over the past few days that were big reminders of the race actually happening, but even then the experience is surreal that it is hard to believe. The last two days I swam on the course, and went out to the floating espresso bar for a coffee. Then I went for a ride on a small portion of the course. Molly was able to ride a demo on both days, so we rode together. I still haven’t seen the end of the course where there is a long up to Hawi, but I know it is there and have an idea what to expect. I’m not going to get into too much on how I feel, how prepped I am, and my race strategy because these are the things I’ve been working out in my head. It is not the time to look at what could be better. Instead I need to assess where I am at so that I can execute a good race. This is only my fourth Ironman, but I feel I’ve done enough racing and enough long distance that I have a fairly good idea how to execute the race. The biggest thing is adapting my race plan to the conditions and how I feel throughout the day.

I have started riding with Canari-Navy a few months ago, and am really enjoying the team. It is very mellow, and they ride with a purpose. Besides camaraderie, fitness, and the love of the bike, they have two major fundraising events for the Wounded EOD Warrior Foundation. This weekend they are doing a two day ride which I am unfortunately missing. I am not EOD, and have never worked directly with them. The first EOD guys I remember doing anything with were Marine EOD guys that I went to dive school with. Since then I’ve had some casual interactions with them at the gym or while working as a nurse or physician. Here is an article from one of their sponsors. Below is a video that is also embedded in that article. It is a slideshow of EOD, showing you some of the stuff they do to keep our troops safe.

Over at Kona there are a number of military athletes competing. Here is an article about the military contention at Kona. If you look at it, you will probably notice that I am not mentioned. This is true for these other athletes:

David Haas (USN), Mitch Hall (USN), Nick Brown (USN), Lee Boyer (USN), John Marinovich (USN), Marty Taylor (USN), Michael Church (USN), Tim Downing (USN), Rob Ladewig (USAF), Eric Reid (USA), Louis Smith (USA), Ottie Taulman (USA), Logan Franks (USMC)

So, the article lists nine military athletes, but there are a total of 23 US Military athletes competing. I am not going to get into all the politics of this, but probably the biggest disappointment is that (I suspect) only the nine athletes listed in the article will be competing in the military division. After the race I’ll revisit this and we’ll see what actually happens.

There will be live web streaming of the race and athlete tracking available. The video usually focuses on the pro athletes until they finish, and then they show the finish line until the race closes at midnight. I have watched this before and it can be quite amazing. Watching the final moments of the race is always impressive, but can be quite the challenge to watch with the time difference. If I finish in 11 hours, it will be 9 PM in California, but the race end will occur at 3 AM in California.

The athlete tracking shows splits at each check point, and will usually give a division and overall placing at each check point as well. My race number is 937, but you can search for anyone by name. You can follow the race here:

http://kona.ironmanlive.com

http://tracking.ironmanlive.com

My plan today is to swim about 20 minutes and then go for a 4 mile run. After that it is just prepping all my gear, hydrating and resting. I have to turn my bike and gear in today between 2:30 and 5 because they don’t want the chaos of 1800 bikes rolling in at 5 in the morning. Race morning I plan on getting up at 3 am, leaving the condo at 4 am, race start at 7 am (following the pro start at 6:30).


We arrived in Kona finally. The adventure started Monday night when we flew from San Diego to Phoenix. There we met up with my parents and flew with them direct from Phoenix to Kona. There were no direct flights out of San Diego, and I was very hesitant in dealing with changing planes without handling my bike myself. I had an experience at the Bataan Death March Memorial Marathon in 2007 where my race gear was lost. I had trained for that race for 6 months, and I didn’t get my gear until two weeks after the race. My options this year were to fly out of San Diego and connect in LA or San Francisco, drive up to LA to fly direct, or fly direct out of Phoenix. Since my parents were coming out on the same day, it was great to be able to fly with them.

The flight was very interesting because there were so many racers on the flight. Many of the people that weren’t racing knew about the race going on and were planning on working or watching the race. The flight was full, and there were only two small children, and the flight was full of skinny people. Very unusual indeed. The buzz of excitement amongst the athletes was obvious. I didn’t see anyone I knew there. The athletes I talked to were all from east of the Mississippi, so they talked about races that I am not very familiar with. We sat next to a coach that was coming out to speak at the coach’s corner.

One thing that I am slowly starting to grasp is the value of age group, as many of the athletes were discussing their age group. In the last few years I have raced age group, clydesdale, military, collegiate, and elite. When all these divisions are available to me I have to choose one to race in. I like racing military division, but many of the military competitors are in other divisions which makes the military division less desirable. It is interesting, but some people have explained that they can’t race against the young fast guys in the military division, and others have told me that it’s not fair to race military when I can win my age group. I used to like racing clydesdale division, but started feeling the division was underappreciated. I’ve had races where I destroyed that division (winning by 15 minutes) and would have placed in my age group, but was given a lesser award. Also, I’ve seen really good races fail to recognized the clydesdale division by giving their awards after last, and almost as an afterthought. Over the years I have seen a lot of races that awarded top 3 overall and top 3 masters (40+) before giving age group awards. When I turned 40 I was actually a little excited about establishing myself as a top masters triathlete, but have yet to race where masters are recognized. I liked racing collegiate and elite, although I don’t really represent those groups well, because they are provided a first wave start which I feel is a better race experience. On this flight to Kona I have noticed some of the pride people have in their age group. I like to race to see how I do against the overall field, but the age group is the standard in triathlon. I still think there might be too much focus on the age group, possibly because I still have good overall finishes, but if you look at the top 1% of any race you’ll see it includes a number of age groups.

The flight was long, and it is hard on the body to sit for hours. I had never been to Kona, and was surprised to see that the airport was surrounded by black lava rock. I really would have liked to get a swim or a ride in, but by the time we picked up groceries and checked into our resort there wasn’t any time. I was determined to get my bike put together so that I could ride it on Wednesday. The bike was completely assembled except for the seat when I realized that I had left the seat at home on the workbench. Fortunately my son was flying in on Wednesday, so he packed it to bring to me. I’ll just have to wait a few hours longer than I had planned.

The trip is already going quickly! The plan today is to go to race check in, swim on the course (while Molly demos an Argon 18 bike), and then go for a ride after my seat gets here.


It is hard to believe that in a week I’ll be in Hawaii, and that I am less than two weeks away from the start of the Ironman World Championships. My wife Molly and I watched most of America’s Got Talent this year (the first season of this show we watched), and the judges often asked the contestants what their act meant to them. The answers were generally some cheesy plea to get the judges to accept them to the next level. I started thinking though, “what does Kona mean to me?”

Most people don’t realize that I was swimmer initially. Not that great of a swimmer, but I swam year round from age 7 until age 12. My first award wasn’t until I was 11 years old, a 6th place ribbon for 100 yard breast stroke. I actually bawled when I got that ribbon. I don’t think my coach, Dennis Good, realized that I had never won anything. Breast stroke became my favorite event, although I still rarely won anything. My sister and I became burned out from five years of year round meets and practices, so we were relieved when our parents asked us if we felt like leaving the swim team. A couple years later when I started high school I joined the high school swim team and appreciated the feeling of getting into shape and actually started enjoying swimming again.

At the end of my freshman year we moved from California to Saratoga Springs, New York. Since I wasn’t swimming I decided to start running to hold onto some of my fitness. I ran one mile a day. After a few weeks I was chasing down a slow old guy during the last half of my mile run. I realized later that he had slowed so we could run together. I told him how we had just moved out from California, and I was shocked to find out that he worked with my dad and had just moved out from California for the same job. Gary Ballard quickly adopted me as his running protégé. He told me I could run a 10K, which I never imagined doing, and I quickly fell in love with running. He also told me about triathlons, knowing that I was a swimmer. The idea sounded fascinating! My sophomore year in high school I ran on the cross country and track teams, and swam with the YMCA team where I still preferred breast stroke. I hadn’t really thought anymore about triathlons, but was swimming and running regularly. Again, I wasn’t really that good at either sport, but enjoyed them both a lot. My performances were good for smaller meets, but as soon as I raced in invitationals or even regional championships, I wouldn’t come close to placing.

Another year later I moved back to California, and saw a triathlon magazine in Waldenbooks. I remembered Gary telling me about triathlons, and the cover was intoxicating with a cyclist that looked more like an astronaut with the aero helmet and aero bars. I read every single word in that magazine, and I mean every single word. I studied the magazine information, advertiser’s small print, classifieds, etc. I was extremely motivated to do a triathlon. I was running cross country in the fall, and joined the city’s masters team. My masters coach, Dean Drury, was surprised that I was swimming two-a-days from the start, especially since I had run for cross country practice between the two swims. I didn’t care about breast stroke anymore. I just wanted to do distance freestyle, because I knew I wanted to compete in triathlons. I finally got a bike for Christmas, and it wasn’t really what I wanted, but realized I couldn’t do a triathlon without a bike. It was a 40+ pound ten speed from Sears, and I started riding with a couple friends, namely Eric Dickerson, who also rode 40+ pound bikes. We would ride up to Lake Berryessa with 2 liter bottles of Coke strapped to our bikes. I had no knowledge or experience on a bike, and started reading Sally Edwards’s book on triathlon training.

My first triathlon was the Icebreaker triathlon, a part of the Redwood Coast Triathlon Series. I believe it was in March of 1986. It was a sprint triathlon: ½ miles swim, 3 mile run, 15 mile bike. My parents and sister were there for that race, and so was my old swim coach Dennis Good. He had become an Ironman triathlete, and was competing. I remember a lot of the excitement leading up to that race. This race was my first step in approaching my dream of competing in the Ironman that I had since read a lot about. In my race packet there was a picture of the swim at Kona, and we were laughing about how crazy that looked. Well, I was soon about to experience a smaller version of how crazy that was. The race had about 300 people in it with no wave starts, and no wetsuits. We stood in the freezing water, and when the gun went off I had my worse swimming experience ever! Of course I was clueless, and was packed in the middle, and absolutely didn’t expect to have people swimming on top of me, punching and kicking me. I panicked and fought as hard as I could to get out of there. I probably never swam so hard, but managed to be one of the first swimmers out of the water. My hands were shaking from over exerting myself and I fumbled putting on socks, running shorts, a tee-shirt, and tying my shoes and was in 12th place when I left T-1. The run out of transition was a 10% grade boat ramp. My arms were so engorged with blood that they felt like pure lead, and that there was no blood left for my legs that were screaming as I tried to run. My lungs were on fire and I was shocked at how horrendous I felt. I finished the run in 50th place. I was sooo glad to be on the bike, but I was soooo slow. It took me 1 hour to complete the fairly flat 15 mile course, and 100 people passed me, for a 150th place finish. It was spectacular, and I was hooked. I was now a triathlete, and I knew what I needed to work on.

I love the excitement I see in new triathletes, or even in seasoned triathletes that act as if triathlon is THE ONLY sport. I have a lot of other interests now, but for a long time I felt the same way. I really wanted to do Ironman, the king of all triathlons. I didn’t know many triathletes. I swam with swimmers, ran with runners, and biked…well, not with cyclists. Cyclists were too exclusive, and I couldn’t figure them out. My friend Eric and I rode our bikes more and more, and harder and harder. We would find out about time trials in Davis or Fairfield, and showed up to them to kick almost everyone’s ass there on our crappy bikes. The bike shop owners and other cyclists that bragged about “hammering”, who we beat, would say “wow…you guys should really get better bikes.” We had no money, or jobs, and certainly no sponsorship or mentorship from these guys. This is one reason I am absolutely enamored by what I see Jim Vance doing with his young athletes. I look at that and think “wow, if only I had someone teaching me how to run or bike at that age….”

After that first race I started running 3 miles to swim practice, swim for an hour, then run 3 miles back home, prior to going to school to get used to transitions. I would then swim with my swim team in the afternoon. I was going to bed early and getting up very early, and I was only in 11th grade. The few times I told teachers or friends what I did in the morning, they refused to believe me. I worked in a few 15 mile runs, and then did the Davis marathon, just a couple months after my first triathlon. I ran 7 minute pace for the first 20, and then bonked. There were no gels back then, and I didn’t eat the entire marathon. I finished with a time of 3:30. I really wanted to run the marathon in pursuit of my Ironman dream, but gained some fear when I struggled for over an hour to run the last 6 miles.

It didn’t take long for me to start doing well in triathlons. I had never done well in any sport before, but I was just good enough in all three legs of the triathlon that I was doing awesome. I taught myself to bike as hard as I ran, and routinely had a 40K split of 1 hour if the course wasn’t too hilly. I had two bike accidents during my first year of triathlon that were both major setbacks, but I didn’t lose focus of my goals. My first year in college I improved my swimming to a 500 yard time of 5:05 and 1000 yard time of 10:14. Still not good enough for large meets, but since not too many people wanted to swim those distances I helped the team out a lot. I usually placed second on the swim during triathlons. I had bad eyesight, so I couldn’t see the buoys and had to follow the lead swimmer out of the water. There used to not be timing chips, and transition splits weren’t determined, so although I usually had a very fast transition I would let the first swimmer out of T-1 right ahead of me instead of stealing the fastest swim time.

In 1988 my goal was to qualify for the Bud Light US Triathlon Series National Championships in Hilton Head, SC. I ended up qualifying at three different events. I almost didn’t go because I had no money to get there, and subsequently felt criticized by some of the people that really encouraged me in my goal to qualify. My youth pastor announced “he never wanted to go, he just wanted to qualify”. That was not the case. I was just too young and stupid to think about how I would actually get there if I qualified. I was just focusing on qualifying. Well, I decided that I should go, so I ended up working 40-60 hours a week (I figured out ways to work overtime), at McDonald’s of all places. My training sucked. My school work sucked. But I went. I had a pathetic performance, but it was still an incredible experience going there.

It wasn’t much longer that I realized nothing was really going well in my life. I had moved out on my own, living with criminals (putting it nicely), working full time at night as a line cook at a truck stop, failing in college, and getting fat and out of shape. I still saw myself as a triathlete, and knew that I wanted to go to Kona. When I enlisted in the Navy it was important for me to get my bike out to Orlando, where I was stationed for a year while in Nuclear Power Training. I hardly rode it, and didn’t do a triathlon for several years. I was on submarines when I started racing intermittently. Even though I never had a good training program, I always seemed to do pretty well in the races. I held onto my dream of doing Kona, but never seemed to get into enough shape that I even pursued getting in. In 1994 I did a lot of races as I was getting in shape for Navy Dive School. My fitness was great, helping me rank first in my dive school class, and I had some good races. While in dive school at Pearl Harbor, I went and did the Waikiki Rough Water Swim, one of the events that inspired the Ironman. Then I went about 7 years without much racing, except the inaugural Rock n Roll Marathon in 1998. I had lost the dream, and recall having dinner with a friend (around 1997) and telling him how at one time my dream was to go to Kona, but that I really had no desire to do that anymore. Those words coming out of my mouth almost shocked me. How could I have given up on something that I was so determined and passionate about?

In 2001 I started racing triathlons again, and was loving it, until I had another bike accident in 2002. I was in great shape but my recovery took me a lot longer than I had expected. I lifted a lot of weights, and did a lot of running in 2004 and 2005. I started getting interested in events other than triathlon. I was in medical school at the time, and some classmates were getting interested in doing their first triathlon. I remember telling my friend, John Laird, that triathlons weren’t that big of a deal. I had lost that spark somehow. I did a couple triathlons mainly because my friends were doing them, and of course I beat them all. Not only that, but some of them that did a ¼ iron distance race, my time for the ½ iron distance race was less than double their time. I started to get the triathlon bug again, and really wanted to get a spot for Kona. I was also getting a little tired of meeting Ironman athletes that were either much slower than me, or the Ironman was their first or second triathlon ever. I was in great shape in June 2006 and tried to qualify for Kona at the Eagleman triathlon. I fell apart on the run (biked too hard, plus my seat post came loose and dropped all the way down). I stayed around for the roll down and picked up a spot for Ironman Florida in November. I decided I just needed to tackle that beast. Unfortunately I had surgery and ob/gyn rotations starting, and in four months before the Ironman gained 20 pounds, swam zero times, biked zero times, and ran a total of 100 miles (<5 miles most weeks), longest run 10 miles. That’s not completely true, because I had also signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon, so 6 days prior to IMFL went and ran a marathon on no training. I finished IMFL in 13:52, in the cold dark night. It was the most amazing experience and I was wearing my medal to bed for about a week.

Since then I’ve tried qualifying at Eagleman 2007, Oceanside 2008, 2009, IMAZ 2008, and finally did so at IMAZ 2009. IMAZ 2008 I finished in 10:31, and 2009 in 9:33. It was projected before the race that there would be 8 of the 72 qualifying spots going to my division (M40-44). I predicted that a race time of 9:45 should be good enough to qualify, but with 9:33 I was in 9th place. I had to sweat it out all night, excited about my race and finish, but sick to my stomach that I once again missed qualifying. The actual allocations are calculated based on people that start the race, so when I showed up the next morning I couldn’t believe it when I saw there were 9 spots for my division, and the cutoff line was drawn under my name. It was unreal. Molly and I were both so excited. She’d been through this triathlon journey with me, and knew all the ups and downs way too well. There were 456 starters in my age group, out of 2516 total starters, so although we got 12.5% of the qualifying spots, we had 18.1% of the competitors. The roll down ended up going to 12th place, but it was so awesome to show up and not have to sweat the roll down. I was talking to Kevin Koresky right after registering for Kona, and he said “was there ever a doubt?” I couldn’t believe it. Sure, I understood it was a compliment, but “was there ever a doubt”?! I approach people all the time when I see them wearing Ironman World Championship clothing, and a couple months prior to IMAZ approached a woman at the YMCA. She went on about how she’s done Kona many times, and that 2009 was the first year she hadn’t qualified. She never had a doubt, and was surprised when she didn’t qualify. I later met a triathlete in Irvine on the coffee crew ride ranting about how he couldn’t believe he didn’t qualify. He was in my division at IMAZ, and he never had a doubt, and still managed to tell me how his bike split was better than mine.

My first triathlon was 24.5 years ago, and I’ve been in the Navy for over 21 years now. When I joined the Navy, I wanted to get a college education. It was tough convincing the Navy to send me to school because I had transcripts with Ds and Fs, but had ranked at the top of my classes in the Nuclear Power Training pipeline. I dealt with 6 years of rejections, but then ended up with three associate degrees from San Diego Mesa College, a BSN from Point Loma Nazarene University, an MD from Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, and now am about to get an MS from UC Irvine, all sponsored by the Navy. This year I am achieving some very big goals: racing at Kona for the first time, and graduating from residency. People are used to me racing in a Navy uniform. That is not because the Navy is supporting my triathlon activities (although I was able to race at the Armed Forces Championships in 2009 and 2010 which is an incredible experience, and funded by Navy Sports). I’ve never had a sponsor, and have decided that since the Navy has been such a big part of my life, I should wear something that says Navy on it instead of anything else.

I already have big goals for next year, namely Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1200K randonneuring event that only happens every four years. But what does Kona mean to me? It is like going to the moon…something I’ve dreamed about for so long I’m afraid I might wake up before the landing.

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