If you are a fan of sports, you live for the moment where you see the improbable happen. Where a team or an individual seizes an opportunity that magically presents itself. Whether it’s the Greek National team winning the Euro in 2004
Or maybe it’s the USA beating the Soviets in 1980:
The thing about these moments is that we don’t realize that it’s not just about the favorites falling apart, it’s also about the guy who won doing everything right and the Gods themselves smiling.
Because this race was definitely a case of this being my lucky day, and me being prepared enough to take advantage of it.
See, the thing about a 70.3 (Half Ironman) is that every course is different. And the differences can be marginal or significant. And being somewhat of a dilettante I never really understood what people meant by hard or easy …
Now I do.
The swim can be made harder by the swell of the sea. The bike made harder because of the wind and the climb. And the run made harder because of course designers that decide to send you through a golf course with steep climbs and over mushy grass designed to sap your legs of strength.
But I get ahead of myself.
Two nights before the race, I finally read the race packet.
The first jitter occurred after I read the bit about how the winds could reach 35 mph on the bike course. I was like, hmmm…
The second jitter occurred when I saw the elevation profile, and noticed that it was 3494 feet of elevation gain. That’s a lot of elevation over 56 miles..
The third jitter occurred during my first swim on Hawai’i where I noticed that swimming in swell was a lot harder than swimming in a pool…
The fourth jitter occurred at the pre-race debriefing where the run course was described as pretty but challenging because of the elevation profile and the energy sapping grass we had to run over.
But I re-assured myself that this was just a 70.3 and these were not that hard…
The swim was at Hapuna beach. While waiting for the swim to start, I noticed that the weather was very calm and was relieved. I was especially relieved when the guy giving color commentary and calling the race told us that this was perfect weather for this race. That we couldn’t ask for better weather and that we should expect to set PR’s.
This was great, I had my lucky day. Luck was in my favor. None of these silly worries about weather and wind and heat. Finishing was going to be easy-peasy and I could set my eyes on getting close to my PR of 7h07 set at Vineman.
As I lined up for my wave, how much of a stereotype my blog is became apparent. The biggest single age group was 40-44. And everyone in the age group looked like a poster child for a movie about a 40 something going through a midlife crisis. Not me, of course, I am not one of those guys…
This guy doesn’t look like he’s having a midlife crisis, right?
And before you know it we were off. The swim was uneventful and calm. The only tricky bit was trying to swim with the rest of Team Midlife Crisis. If you swam in the best line you got punched and kicked and whacked. If you swam out of the best line it was quiet and peaceful and slow.
I chose quiet and peaceful and slow after the third kick in the mouth. Especially when I did a double take to make sure there was no blood and all the teeth were whey they belonged…
And by the time I had the opportunity to reflect on how pretty the water was, how beautiful the sea creatures are, how piss poor my form is, the swim leg was over and I was racing up the beach to get on the bike…
The most important thing to remember about the bike ride is the following:
The first descent is not the peak, the big climb occurs much later in the ride, and the head wind is worst while getting to the highest point in the ride.
The problem … is that I didn’t remember the race in that way. I remembered it like this:
You’ll notice that in my memory I didn’t remember that there was a peak, and I didn’t realize that the headwind was in the middle section.
And the inevitable happened. I hit the zone of despair and got crushed. I couldn’t understand why this ride was taking so long. And I saw the minutes tick away and I started to panic. This race was in danger of slipping away. I was in danger of DNF’ing.
I was pushing my body very hard, with a heart rate that was elevated, my legs pushing as hard as I could push them, my eyes rabidly focused on keeping my cadence at ~90 a minute to maximize power and speed.
And still the speedometer read between 8-11 mph. And I kept pushing and pushing and pushing. And wondering, what the hell is going on. And how the hell am I supposed to get back in time…
And wishing I hadn’t spent 10 minutes in my T1 transition.
And I felt every ounce of energy slip into that bike as I pushed harder and harder and harder.
And people would just pass me on the way …
And I had no idea why this was so hard. Nothing, absolutely nothing made any sense.
And then a few minutes before the end of this hill, a guy blew past me and said:
This climb sucks.
And then it hit me, I was going up hill, in headwind. And this was about the fastest I was ever going to go up this hill. And then I realized that this was about the lightest headwind I could have ever expected. And I was still in a very real danger of not making the cut-off. I had 40 minutes to spare. If I got a flat, or had any misadventure, I was done. And this 40 minutes, assumed I went pretty fast after having pushed really hard over 30 or so miles…
And so I turned around and moved faster than I had ever moved before. I remember turning at the peak and shouting at the top of my lungs
26 miles to go, tailwind going strong, punch it, chewie.
And I did it… Mostly. Although there were a few tense moments when the legs became squishy, the bladder became weak, and the wheels almost became flat.
The Honu’s run was … interesting. They basically had us run through a golf course. And through some lava fields. The golf course felt like running through a jungle because of the humidity. The lava fields felt like running through the pits of hell. Between the two extremes of heat, it’s a miracle we had so few deaths.
Coming to think of it, some folks may have become more devout Christians after this little bit of hell.
The run was brutal. The parts through the golf course had absurdly steep climbs, followed by ridiculous descents followed by short squishy segments. In short, unpleasantly slow and extremely painful.
The parts outside the golf course were not that much better. The area around the golf course isn’t that pretty. So you had this feeling of being in a nice hotel while in the golf course, sent off to get food for the rich people and then come back to the main dining hall and then sent back to the kitchen for more food for the rich people…
As for me, the run was epochal. Realizing that the bike was a fluke, that I had just done the fastest time I would ever do this course, I knew I had to absolutely finish this run or I would never complete this race. I had a 52 minute buffer on top of the 3h20 minutes, that should have been more than enough…
The first part of the run was promising. I was able to run at about a 12-13 min a mile an hour pace. Not great, but definitely something that would get me under the cut-off. And then in mile 8, I just fell apart. I couldn’t run or move or breathe. I was done. I was baked. I was finished. I had nothing left in the tank. And I started to walk …
And in my despair I noticed that I was doing about 15 minutes a mile pace. And perked up, I could still do this if I could just avoid collapsing along the way. All I had to do was get to the last mile and then I could probably crawl my way to the finish line.
And right when I needed someone to cheer me up, my friend Brad Johanson walked by. yes walked, because brad can’t run. Brad has a broken ankle. And then I realized that if Brad could do this, I could do it. After all I had two working ankles.
And so I pushed onwards. Running a minute, letting my heart rate recover by walking and then running some more.
And finally I saw the finish line.
We’ve all seen these pictures of athletes who finish some event and just cry. And I’ve wondered what it felt like. I wonder no more.
After I crossed the finish line, I broke down in tears. Hysterically and deliriously happy. I had finished this race by slimmest of margins.
There was nothing left on the course. There was no more to give. There was nothing. And what I had given was enough.
I had had my lucky day, and I was able to take advantage of it.
This picture sums it all up: