Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Honu pau - Ironman 70.3 Hawaii race report

Sometimes winning does not happen at the finish line.

Much of what I wrote in my previous post has a direct bearing to this one. I am not going to repeat all that, so if you have not already read it I suggest that you do. What I will summarize here are the outcomes I predicted:

  1. I would miss the swim cutoff time
  2. I would make the swim, do fine on the bike, but miss the 2:00PM halfway run cutoff
  3. I would finish

By my calculations, if I did finish I would just barely make the swim and run cutoff times, with a total time just under 8:30. The bike, specifically, was to come in just under four hours to have any chance of finishing the run in time.

My result was none of the above.

I did make the swim cutoff. It was close, as predicted. My recent best effort swim pace has been around 2:45/100 yds. I was hoping to stay below 3:00, and to have any chance of finishing the swim in time I need to get down to 2:40. I did 2:41. The cutoff was 1:10 after your wave start. I finished in 1:07:45.

Was I last out of the water? No. But I am confused by the results. There were eight people slower than me. Three made it under 1:10, and one of those finished. But there were two with swim times over 1:10 who got times for the bike and run, even though they got a DNF for the race. Hmm. They should have had their timing chip removed on the beach. Apparently they were allowed to continue. No big deal.

I was so surprised that I finished the swim in time that I hardly knew what to do. Of course I had planned everything, I just never thought I would get that far. All I really wanted to do was celebrate, but I had to hustle up the ramp to T1 and get going on the bike. I probably would have stopped at the water's edge had my sherpa team not been screaming at me to run through the arch.

Finding my bike in the corral was no problem, because it was one of a handful still there. No problems with transition, got going on the steep uphill start, executed my bike start plan perfectly. Go easy on the climb up to the Queen K and take advantage of the first long downhill to take on some water and solid food -- Scratch Labs chews.

Two things were radically different than my practice runs. My heart rate was through the roof, and I felt really tired. The degree of fatigue I felt was like nothing I had felt before at the end of a swim or the start of a ride. On my way to the turn-around my the Mauna Lani my goal was to get my heart rate down from zone 5 to below 4.5. It was not until Kawaihae that it settled down, but every hard effort would make it go up again. Basically my heart rate was one to two zones higher than what I consider normal for RPE, especially as measured by respiration.

The other thing I began to notice was that I was not hitting the power levels I had planned on. I was typically around ten watts below plan. If I tried to get back up to plan, my heart rate took off and I felt an intense wave of fatigue. But then, a bit of good news. I hit my way-point time at the junction of Highway 19 and 270 exactly as predicted, fifty minutes from the start of the bike. I thought perhaps my power levels were a little off, and that I should keep doing the best I could.

Unfortunately this would not hold. My next way-point was Lapakahi Park, which I was supposed to reach at 1:40 after start, but arrived at 1:45. Along the way my legs felt like cottage cheese. I was supposed to get to the Hawi turn-around at 2:15, I made it at 2:25. To be clear, these were maximum times to finish before the 5:30 bike cut-off. My goal was to beat them without burning all my energy. Instead I was falling behind while using every ounce of strength. This is not the way to ride the bike segment of a triathlon.

It was at that point that the words Guy Hagi said at the start really sunk home. Words I have heard countless times before, even from Terry Laughlin. "You cannot win a triathlon in the swim, but you sure can loose one." Now I knew what my problem was. Not a lack of fitness or training, some sudden, mysterious loss of leg strength. I had just had the swim of my life, a full hour going as hard as I could. No wonder I was so tired. No wonder my legs could not muster enough energy.

There was one more thing I realized just before arriving at Hawi. I had gotten behind on my nutrition, and very likely had not packed enough fuel. I had a four hour bottle of Hammer Perpetuem, the drink I have been using for over a year with excellent results. To supplement that I had one bag of Scratch Lab chews and one Bonk Breaker bar. The chews were to replenish after the swim/ The Bonk Breaker was to replenish after the climb to Hawi. The long downhill section would give my stomach a break and ensure easy digestion.

I felt better soon after eating the bar, and continued to push the Perpetuem. This was a 4X concentration, so every swig had to be accompanied by a good slug of water, which I did. By the time I got down to sea level at Kawaihae I was out of fuel. Not optimal, but at least I didn't barf. Next aid station was just past the 19-270 junction and I knew I could get a bottle a Gatorade there.

The climb from Kawaihae to the intersection was a death march. I could barely pedal. My handlebars were wobbling. Even so I passed someone. I could see vultures flying overhead.

I made the junction at 3:45 from start, ten minutes behind plan. I had not lost any more time, but I had not made any back, and I was cooked. It was there that I decided to throttle back a little so that I could at least make it into T2 without crashing. A few minutes later my feelings were underscored when I saw a truck go by with the bike belonging to the woman I had passed climbing up from Kawaihae. She was in the cab, condition unknown. I decided I was not going to abandon out here, not unless my feet fell off.

A little later an official van pulled along side to check on my condition and offer me a ride. I said I preferred to ride it in and they said that was fine as long as I was able to continue. I made it all the way to the Highway to Hell (Hoohana St.), about 100 yards from the dismount line, when the same van pulled me over. They were profusely apologetic as they explained that they had been ordered to stop and pick up all riders still on course because the course was closed. So I rode the last 100 yards in the van. Silly.

The interesting thing is that at no time did I feel bad about not finishing the bike. Well, I was annoyed that I was not allowed to ride all the way to the finish. What I mean is I did not mind missing the cutoff. Finishing the swim was a huge reward for me, and I could tell that I was doing pretty good on the bike. I had a good plan and I was prepared. I just had not grasped how much the swim would take out of me.

My supporters were more concerned about the swim than I was. They even made me my own race bling knowing that I was not likely to get a real one.

As I got off the bike both legs were flickering with the onset of cramping. Back at the condo I sat awhile in the jacuzzi, and again my legs were cramping when I tried to get out. I was really wrecked! A hard swim and a hard ride.

A number of people have asked me if I intend to do this race again next year. For now, my answer is that it depends on improving my swim. For a rough estimate I averaged the times in my age group, the idea being that if I could be a middle of the pack swimmer I should do okay. The average time in my AG was around forty-five minutes.  That is a lot of improvement to make in one year. My friend Steve Davidson did it in 54:40 and finished in 8:19:35 -- that's cutting it close! -- so perhaps that much improvement is not necessary. But there is another number and it is hard to measure. TSS is as close as we can get. I was swimming really hard. To have a good race I not only need to improve my swim time, I also need to improve my efficiency. I need to be more streamlined in the water.

It is too soon to say where exactly this is going. I will do the Tinman in a couple months. Let's see if I can shave a bit more off of my swim pace by then.

Last but not least, a big mahalo to all of my supporters, most of all Sonya Weiser Souza and my tireless sherpa and wife, Pattie.


  1. Great effort out there, Gary. This is a very hard race for a first Half Ironman. I know you gave it your best. My rule is: "Wait at least two weeks after a race to decide to do it again or never to do it again."

  2. What he said.... wait long enough and you begin to figure out how you could have done this or that but not thinking about it seriously and then the race put out the early bird discount and save a gazillion dollars. And then you start sliding, you only "look" at the application, and you slide a little more and you just mark in your calendar the last day before the early bird goes away. And in a moment of weakness you click on "submit" and you think oh my, what have I done...and then you start training because now you don't want to waste that money. It's a never ending story this triathlon stuff.