So that was it. The Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. (Or as one of the kids perceptively pointed out ‘It can’t be a real World Championship like the Olympics otherwise you wouldn’t be in it Dad’.) Little old me got to play a tiny part in it. Let’s take a look and see how it panned out.
Apart from the palaver that was body-marking (surely it’s not that hard to put them in the pack with the stickers etc. and allow fully grown adults the responsibility of applying them themselves and subsequently having two lines – one for those that managed to complete the simple task and one for those wishing someone else to apply it?). Anyway there were WTC officials reeling left, right and centre presumably as Paul Deen ‘had tweeted about it twice already’ by the time I happened across him and Gary somewhere in the transition area. Imagine if he’d have ended up in the ‘Corrections’ queue like me cos the volunteer ballsed up something I’d have been pretty confident of mastering myself in the preceding 24hours. Nothing to report really – except being weighed at about 10pounds over your race weight. Who’d have thunked tattoos weighed that much? Great confidence booster that one…I actually did a double take to make sure I wasn’t still carrying my Streetwear Bag..which I wasn’t. I’m claiming faulty scales. Many things I am…but being nearly 12 freaking stone isn’t one of them! All fairly relaxed and just spent a little time waiting for the day to get going.
Gary had decided to start left (and then continue left it seems) so we bobbed around over that way and exchanged a few knowing glances. I spent most of the time wondering why people would position themselves so far in front of the obvious start line of the TYR buoys. I’m sure they don’t brag to their mates in the pub about doing the full 140.5miles. Anyway I was in the business of controlling my day. Then there was a big bangy type thing and everyone started whirring their arms around so I decided to join them. As with Frankfurt the plan was to go hard for the first few minutes and hopefully find myself surrounded by better swimmers as a result who would tow me imperiously back to the pier where I would get out, check my watch and think ‘Awesome now to put that Epic Camp bike fitness to good use’. Worked pretty well for a while. Usual shoeing to start with but nothing too rude and then got a good rhythm out to the turnaround point. Just pretty much followed the masses so didn’t really see a buoy up until this point. Partly as I didn’t feel the need to look and partly as there was a bit of swell meaning you needed to time it right. I felt good and had the sensation that I was putting together a pretty solid start to my day. Nice.
That’s pretty much the point at which ‘the plan’ was deviated from. I think it was just after we turned at the second boat that I for the first time sensed something wasn’t right. Couldn’t quite put my finger on it but as my Nan would have said I was feeling ‘right queer’. Kind of a discombobulating head fog. Initially I ploughed on thinking it was probably something to do with the exertion of swimming. Then it got worse. Quite a lot worse. To be quite frank I was feeling shite. Awesome. 30minutes into this and I’m feeling like I’m somewhere between pissed and off my tits (not that I’ve ever been off my tits). It’s all a bit of a blur. So I stopped as it was obviously the fact that my goggles that I’d had for a few months and never adjusted the straps on were actually too tight. So I loosended them. Yeah that’ll be it. Oh no it won’t. This is unravelling pretty fast. Cool so here I am in the Ironman World Championships and I’m doing something I’ve never done before….the freaking breaststroke! Any attempt at anything else and I’m dry heaving. There’s a tonne of people swimming past me and the only two things I can do are breaststroke or water polo. Neither get used that much in the Olympic 100m freestyle final…there’s a reason for that…they’re fckn slow. I’m looking at the pier through this foggy haze and seriously thinking ‘There’s no way I can get there’. Still it couldn’t get any worse…until the first pink hat swam past. I’m not a super flash swimmer so a 10minute headstart on some swimmer chick with gills was never going to be enough for me but it probably would have been nice for it to be nearly at the pier when I got chicked. Then in amongst the sea of yellow hats were an increasing number of pink hats. It was like the bleeding Alamo and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I was now feeling a few rungs down from dreadful and seriously thinking I would somehow get to the pier and then collapse in a pool of my own vomit and that would be it. Eventually I did get to the pier but I didn’t collapse but I certainly didn’t feel too chipper either. From this point on the day is pockets of vague memories with a few standout moments. For example all I remember about T1 is not having a huge problem finding my bike. I wasn’t expecting to be near the front but seriously it looked like I was about the only person to have beaten the guy or gal NBC insist doesn’t make the swim cut off each year to make their coverage better. I do remember rather naively thinking my day would turn full circle from this point and I would majestically mow down the entire field culminating in popping a wheelie as I passed Starkowicz and Keinle somewhere by the airport on the way home. Well maybe not quite that good but I certainly intended on taking a few scalps and putting in a decent bike. I mean the day couldn’t get any worse right?
Wrong. Over a dozen IM races and never a puncture (Frodo take note!) and then kaboom. 3.88miles (approx.) into the bike and I’ve got a puncture. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I was for the female racer behind me pointing out that ‘If you’re out here buddy you should be passing’ as I slowed and found a safe place to pullover to the right. No real dramas as I’m changing it in amongst some spectators but a first time spectator who asked how often you have to change a tire in these events probably didn’t expect the answer of ‘Pretty regularly. In my experience about every 1500miles or so.’ What I do remember looking back is it was kind of hazy at this point. So having got all the bad bits out the way early doors I could now set about working my way to my rightful place somewhere closer to the front than I currently was. It was great to get up close and personal with Sister Madonna so early in the day though.
Head down, @rse up and wait for the usually faultless HR monitor to start picking up…which it didn’t. It really didn’t seem to be my day but I’m pretty comfortable knowing what the effort should be so I got to work. I think at this point (I haven’t ventured into the results to look at splits) I put together a reasonable hour or so where finally the flow of people was going the right way…from front to back. Main highlight was some goon not only being stupid enough to undertake me but to do so so close that I ended up on the other side of the road (as I was passing at this point too) and right in front of a motorbike with someone riding pillion in a flashjacket with the words Race Official emblazoned across the back. I guess there’s no IQ requirement to enter this thing which is why they don’t let you put your own bodymarking on – maybe he was just desperate for the full IM experience and wanted that to embrace the penalty tent. If so he got his wish. I was happy for him. Mr 933 you got exactly what you deserved.
However, phoenix from the flames this was not. Around about 25miles in I started to fall asleep at the wheel. There was a lot of traffic due to my travails up to this point so falling asleep wasn’t the safest of options. Jeez I should’ve been haring down the most boring IM course known to man (think Dullsville and times it by several) feeling like Eddy Merckx and here I was wrestling with the nodding donkey! I had little choice but to revert to Red Bull and as much cold water as possible at each aid station. I resigned myself that making the top10 probably wasn’t going to happen much to the relief of Keinle upfront. Or whoever it was. I was greatly amused at my inability to recognise any of the leading Pros going the other way despite my very best efforts. I may have just about picked out Marino – I guess I was just going that fast it made it impossible. Honest.
So I can’t really recall a lot from that point to the turnaround. It’s super sketchy. I was fuelling okay so it couldn’t have been disastrous but whether I was being taken or doing the taking is a mystery. It wasn’t until we headed down that way in the car later in the week I realised it was a left turn to Hawi. I do remember seeing people coming the other way and thinking there was an awful lot of them. I saw coach John looking like he was somewhere up the sharp end (certainly compared to me) which I was happy to see as he was racing rather than box ticking like Gary and I. I saw Gary and gave him a shout but as he wasn’t expecting me and doing several thousand miles an hour downhill I got nothing back. The turnaround was pretty underwhelming. The tail/cross wind made it a darn sight easier on the way back and as I had suspected I spun out pretty quickly on the 53×11. In fact the one saving grace of the bike was I do remember never having to shift out of the big ring. Not really a goal but believe me when you’ve had a day like this you’re looking anywhere for small victories!
At some point I’d kind of stopped racing. It wasn’t a conscious decision and it wasn’t related to how pants it had been to this point. It was just a consequence of having a shitty day and feeling pretty shitty. I was aware I was going through the motions and couldn’t really pinpoint why. Proof is in the fact I hadn’t been looking at my watch to calculate a probable bike split or average speed or anything. I was in the biggest race of my life just getting from A to B – no more, no less. Still it couldn’t get any worse. I hadn’t had a puncture for over 50miles and the occasional can of Red Bull was keeping the sleeping at bay. Awesome. Well, not really. This is the point where I inexplicably pulled over, unclipped, assumed the all fours position and heaved and heaved. I didn’t barf but I sure had a good old go. Strewth I felt pretty crook. I then lay on my back staring at the sky without the will or ability to do a lot else. Go me! At some point I got back on and started to ride but I was weak as a kitten and pretty uninterested in the whole affair. I was getting a bit sick of working to improve my position only to see it return to an even worse point in a fraction of the time. So sick in fact that I got off again and was sick…a lot. Which was pretty much how it played out all the way back. Cycle a bit, sometimes strong enough to take back some of the positions I’d haemorrhaged during the latest barfing episode and then repeat. It must have been a lot as when I eventually got back in to town 6:45 had elapsed….on the freaking bike alone! I think a couple of times I was at such a loss and feeling so groggy that I just lay there thinking ‘What on earth is going on and what the hell can I do about it?’. Unfortunately I didn’t have the answer to either question. Which is probably why when I finally arrived the long suffering family’s only comment was ‘Where have you been?’ fair point, well put really. I’m usually pretty accurate with my predictions of where I’ll be when. Here I was about 2hours out!
So a bike ride I certainly wouldn’t rank in my top10 all time list finally comes to an end. I hand my bike off and then it’s like a boxer on the verge of quitting. Just past the dismount line I’m down on one knee just trying to gather myself. The most horrendous 8+hours imaginable and I just have to run a marathon in this heat. I’m walking pretty gingerly around the largest collection of bikes known to man and then I manage to break into a little trot all the way to a very lonely bag hanging on a very lonely hook. Changed and off. Miraculously I’m feeling kind of okay. Along way from fast but I’m rolling along at around 8mm pace and whilst not feeling on top of the world there were certainly signs that maybe the worst of the day was behind me. Ran past my main man Petro and he ran a few paces with me. It was good to interact with someone after a pretty lonely few hours. I was in pretty good spirits considering and set off to see if I could salvage something from the day with a decent run. Unrealistically at this point considering I had nothing in my stomach and hadn’t run a step for over a month I was hoping I could trot out a 3:30 marathon. I was finally taking on a bit of fuel and other than having to pass the condo twice (crikey that was hard) it was okay-ish. Ran along with the occasional person and had a little chat. Coming back down Ali’i the pace had slowed but not worryingly so. Got to Palani and looked at it and thought ‘Fck that’ so I walked up it. The guy on the mike was bigging up the guys running down saying ‘These guys are looking to break 10hours’ he was right – even the pillock walking up the hill with around 15miles to go had started the day thinking that might be achievable. I think it was unlikely at this point. This was probably the only point where I felt a little cheated. Didn’t last long I had the 15most boring miles in IM history to complete yet. Crikey it’s just the bike course without bikes! Got a few lifts at this point as I saw a few people I knew coming the other way. Funny how people being 10miles ahead of you can give you a lift. Then I saw a guy not looking too good with his hands on his knees and I was just about to offer some generic words of encouragement when he turned to look my way and I saw it was Coach John. No words were needed. He was obviously having a tough time and I was genuinely disappointed to see it. It was good to hear him on the podcast the next day sounding very circumspect about it.
Then I saw the finest sight in Tri coming towards me. Gary ‘Buddha’ Fegan on the run. We stopped and exchanged pleasantries and I think he realised I hadn’t DNF’d as had been reported to him. It’s great when your coach has so much belief in you that he has you down as a DNF. The same guy who tried to convince me to back out of Frankfurt on account of a broken wrist. Only kidding Scott’s done an awesome job at getting me from nowhere near qualifying to qualified in 9months. So I sent Gary packing with some words of encouragement and told him as it was 12miles of running since I’d last tried to convince myself of the wisdom of the phrase ‘better out than in’ that I was pretty sure I was over it now and I was just gonna grind it out. We had a manhug. I promptly felt sick again. He has that effect on people Gary…especially when he’s in tight-fitting lycra in the sun. My day, that appeared to have gone to the depths, then showed itself to have only really scratched the surface. It all started again…but worse. This time I couldn’t even stand or walk. I was in absolute la-la land. I was pretty happy to be able to retain my sense of humour throughout. There’s nothing you can do (well not when you’ve tried everything) and it is what it is. I haven’t looked at the splits but I’d estimate the next 4miles took me in excess of 2hours to complete. I spent most of it either on all fours or flat on my back explaining to a lot of volunteers that I was in fact ‘Alright’ and ‘Fine, thanks’. What I actually meant was there was nothing anyone could do and I wasn’t about to quit. One volunteer pointed out I had 6hours left to finish. When you’re lying the gutter doing the maths on how the hell you’re going to manage to do 10miles within those 6hours I think we can say it’s not a great day. The problem was at this point I couldn’t move and ‘couldn’t move’ into 360minutes doesn’t get you 10miles. It was seriously that bad. I had no idea how I was going to even get the next 10yards or survive the next 10mins let alone go 10miles. Fortunately my psyche doesn’t see me having battles with my inner self not to quit. Just the way I’m wired. Not sure in retrospect if that makes me fortunate or unfortunate. When it comes to completing something I’ve said I’ll do I go with Magnus Magnusson approach – I’d started so I was going to finish.
Once I assumed the foetal position and declared I was just going to get 40winks the medics were called. This was possibly the one fleeting moment where I questioned the safety of carrying on. Not whether I wanted to but whether there was too much risk involved. That thought soon passed as I probably threw up or fell over or both. Okay here comes the Doctor and the Medics they were gonna need to get the best of me. Oscar winning performance was called for to avoid being pulled.
‘Name?’ – well that’s an easy one it’s written right down here on the vomit soaked number.
‘Where are you right now, Adam?’.
‘I’m on the Queen K, lying flat on my back in a pool of my own vomit. It’s what is commonly known as living the dream.’
‘Okay what day is it today?’
‘I’m hoping it’s still Saturday otherwise this quest is all somewhat in vain.’
‘Right we’re gonna do a few checks, blood pressure pulse etc.’
‘Okay so you’re pulse is 88bpm. That’s a little high for you isn’t it?’
‘To be fair I have had a pretty tough day so I doubt it’s currently optimal. Although technically I’m resting I wouldn’t expect to see my resting heart rate.’
Then finally the words I really didn’t want to hear but was glad I did.
‘Okay buddy you’re good to go.’
I’m not sure if ‘good to go’ is a medical term but on the basis I couldn’t do anything other than lie on my back and refuse assistance and if it is, it probably needs re-working. Good to go I was not. I think this is borne out by the mile split up on the Queen K of 57minutes 11seconds. Christ I’ve run 10miles in that time before now! As it was so bad it was all quite amusing and I was in surprisingly good spirits. The objective now was just to finish. If it hadn’t been Kona and the kids hadn’t flown out especially would I have bothered? The answer probably should be no but I’d wager it would probably still have been yes. I’ve spent over a week trying to fathom out if that’s a good or bad thing. Jacobs or Marino – you decide. It’s a pretty individual thing and whilst I wouldn’t criticise either I’ve personally always found giving up to be way harder than trying. So try I did. I mean it couldn’t get any worse could it?
Then as I was throwing up my quads started cramping. Locked solid. Then my calves. Well at least that took my mind of everything else. Now it really couldn’t get any worse.
‘Glow stick, buddy?’
Okay so once again it could then. Lying on the Queen K and being offered (quite justifiably) a glow stick. At least that made me laugh at my predicament. Gary and I had joked earlier in the week that our primary goal was to finish without a glowstick. Some point up there I started moving forward again. Given the circumstances pretty well too. I seem to remember running along at 9-10min miles and just putting one foot in front of the other and then walking the aid stations. The heat of the Energy Lab was bearable – well the sun had disappeared an hour or so ago to be fair. The mythical Energy Lab aka an out and back on a side road with a cone turnaround at any other race. Back up onto the Queen K and it was dark, really dark. No street light dark. Funnily enough at the start of the day I hadn’t thought to put a headtorch in my transition bag. Once or twice I tripped over cones and nearly had head ons with runners coming the other way but I was now making reasonable forward progress towards the finish line. Absolutely no idea what time had elapsed. It feels a lot later than it is as it gets dark about 6pm. Finally got back to the point where those running down Palani were being commended on their sub10 finishing time whilst I was running up it. They don’t make such a song and dance about those reaching that point over 3hours later. It’s a funny old thing the ego. Despite it taking a severe shoeing for an awful long time it still dictated that I pick the pace up over the last couple of miles. Not sure what for but I guess I’d prefer that than throwing in the towel and walking. In fact I walked very little of the marathon as I recall. 12miles of running, 4miles of hell and then 10miles of ‘running’. An object lesson in turning a potential 3:30 marathon into a 5:15! Wow 1:45 behind schedule on the bike and 1:45 behind schedule on the run. Consistency eh? Add in the 20minutes on the swim and that’s a pretty solid day in my book.
So I finished. I high fived a few people, probably just about raised a smile and then went back to where it had all begun over 13 and a half hours ago at the Dig Me beach steps and promptly had a bit of a sense of humour failure and lay down. On the basis lay down was about all I could do then being told you can’t do it didn’t go down that well. Nor did the medic telling me I didn’t need to get up as they could get me a stretcher. I had battled all day under my own steam and I wasn’t about to start taking outside assistance now…irrespective of which side of the finishing line I was.
‘You can’t stay there buddy.’
‘I just need a minute. I’m not really doing any harm am I?’
‘It’s okay we can put you on a stretcher you don’t need to get up yourself.’
‘I’d like to see you try.’ – which given how powerless I was at this point was definitely false bravado. I like to think I coupled this with my best Paddington Bear stare but I doubt it.
‘Look, what about if you give me 90seconds to gather myself and then I’ll get up under my own steam. That’s all I’m asking. 90seconds’
‘Do you need medical?’
‘No. I’m fine. Just give me 90seconds.’
Medical tent is no badge of honour in my world. Wasn’t going to happen.
And to think Gary calls me a stubborn SOAB. So I got up and made my way slowly over to get my medal and t-shirt. I’d fought harder than ever before for this medal and yet I was so spent I felt nothing.
Shuffled off to meet the family and apologised to have kept them hanging around for so long. The kids told me I’d set a great example which was nice to hear but stubbornness is a weakness as often as it’s a strength. The humility to back down or change tack without fear of losing face is something you won’t be surprised to hear I’ve always struggled with. Just hope the kids figure out that we’d all be a lot better off without serious bouts of confirmation bias sooner than I did. Just to prove I hadn’t been making it all up I promptly headed over to the nearest flower bed, assumed my now well honed all fours position and excavated my stomach one last time.
‘Dad is that sick on your Finisher’s T-shirt?’
‘Yes I think it is.’ all rather appropriate really.
I’ve avoided writing this for a while partly as I didn’t really want to and partly as I then took a week after the race to explore Hawaii and as keeping my eyes open was a struggle for a few days it wouldn’t have been right to use that time bashing away at the keyboard. But I had thought about it and decided I was going to end with the email I received from Scott ‘Sea Biscuit’ Molina after I finished – which coincidentally is exactly what Gary chose to do. So here it is and it’s still as piss funny now as it was the first time I read it :-
My scrolling finger just got toasted looking for your name in the results! 🙂
But it looks like you’ll be going back to the UK winter with a good tan which is always nice!
Hope you had a good week and will look back on this experience as a really special time in your life.
Cheers from NZ,
Well yes I will look back on it as a really special time and it’s just as well I’d decided that the finishing time wouldn’t define how I viewed things looking back. Apologies that the report is a bit long but 13+hours means there’s more than normal to talk about!