NOTE: 303Triathlon does not typically publish such long race reports, but this one is worth the read. If you aspire to race Kona, or just admire those who do, this is a worthy read.
2017 Kona Ironman World Championship
A Gonzo-Odyssey Experience by Tom M Bogan
How Alice Saves Wonderland-A Journey Chasing Rabbits in the Land of Lava
One week and a day ago October 14, 2017 I completed the biggest and most incredible Ironman race of my life-The Kona Ironman World Championship. I have been overwhelmed by the entire experience and am certain it will take a long time to ever get caught up on my life pursuits-but I am Tri-ing!!!😊
I fear that if I do not get this going today that I will lose many details and worse, never complete the task. It is long, but very worth your time to read. It will bring you right into the soul of Ironman and feel what it is like to be out trying to find who you are and what you are made of.
This experience is impossible to completely relate how it feels to participate in the Ironman World Championship. Words alone won’t cut it: There is pain & injury, intestinal disturbance, and sun burnt skin that will both peel and bleed. Cramping, salt in your mouth, and burning eyes—both ocean and sweat, a wire brushed crotch, lost toenails -one definite and two with significant damage. Fear & Loathing (In Kailua!), total body fatigue, discovery of new things about yourself and abilities that were previously hidden from you. Revelation, ecstasy and total glory, all that you won’t experience in this text. These mind and body effects are a huge part of it and cannot be felt through these pages-you must experience them personally. It is BIG, and it is LONG. But THAT also is the Ironman experience, so you should embrace that and work your way through this report. If I have done it right, and I believe I have, you will get to feel what Ironman truly is like. I am going to try to open the door a little and show you how it really feels to be IN this event. One additional point- I slowed at nearly every aid station for help, liquids and nutrition. I don’t mention this much in the text. You will NEVER make it without the help of these volunteers. They are your ally out there in the battle fields. They will keep you going with tremendous encouragement when it is desperately needed. A HUGE MAHALO to you wonderful volunteers. Grab a cup of the best Kona coffee you can find, then hang on to your running visor for an incredible ride!
As I write this report (and I did write it out before typing-I had to) I am very mindful of the Ironman mantra “Anything is Possible”. This simple phrase carries so much more weight than you could ever imagine. It has become a deep-seated belief in my psyche that drives my life ever since I started pursuing Ironman triathlon events. One of my first pictures was taken in front of that sign in my Blue Sky tri kit. Its power has taken me from a fearful guaranteed 50 yard body recovery non-swimmer, to the absolute pinnacle of one of the greatest, toughest and physically demanding events in the sports world. A sport I have come to love and pursue as a celebration of what I am now capable of doing.
I decided early on to try to avoid references to the myriad of those out there that have played a most important part in making something very magical happen. I have come to realize that the magic is knowing you. As I would NEVER want to leave anyone out, I have refrained from those references. Every single one of you are a complete and total blessing in my life. I thank God for bringing us together and it is my hope that we will have many more journeys together in this incredible thing called life. My prayer is to carry you beyond as well.
A meager start on getting the appropriate thanks and gratitude to the many people out there who have coached, trained, guided, competed, helped, healed, encouraged, shared and supported me to make this possible has begun. This next step will be worked on over the coming weeks and months. Without you this story never happens. My victories belong to you. And thanking YOU will be yet another monumental task that will prove the validity that Anything is Possible! I hope I have celebrated your many achievements in the best possible wayl!
On to my report!!
A little preliminary information played in to the day. On Friday October 13th, we set up our bikes, bike equipment bag and run equipment bag. I had thoughts in the back of my mind that this was Friday the 13th and would be on guard to not make any dumb mistakes. I am not superstitious, but it did dawn on me it could be a little inauspicious. I have always taken pride to prepare well for favorable outcomes, then let lady luck play her hand.
The Kona Tiki Hotel is located right where the southern swim turn-around point is located. It is 1.2 miles from the Kailua Pier. There is an orange ball buoy permanently fastened about ¼ mile off shore that you can barely see from the shore. It was something I closely observed all week. This floating orange basketball represented something very big for me. It was my ultimate challenge to reach this marker and then return back–alive– to the pier. I watched the sun set exactly over that bouy several times, once with my son while sitting on the seawall by the Kona Tiki pool. I knew I had picked the exact right hotel for my shot at this. Saturday there would be a huge Body Glove boat anchored out there for us to swim around. It looked VERY intimidating.
I removed my white helmet from the #407 bike bag, to ride down to the Kailua Pier that will serve as the Ironman World Championship transition area. I rode the 1.2 miles from the Kona Tiki hotel down Ali’i Drive on my Cervelo P3 with my bags to the pier for set up. Ali’I Drive would be the final road on my journey to the 2017 Kona Ironmans incredible conclusion. I rode with my extra running shoes so didn’t need to pull the bike shoes out of the bag.
I arrived for my appointed time slot around 1:30 at the King Kamehameha Hotel next to the Kailua Pier, to avoid the earlier crowd. I was greeted by 303 Triathlon and they clicked a couple pictures along with some other friends. We took some pictures and I decided I wanted them without my helmet on, so I held it separately. I then proceeded over to the short line to get into transition on the pier. After being checked for my wrist band, matching numbers on my bike and bags, I was permitted to pass on in. I was immediately given several items after passing security. The first guy had a large table with a mountain of brightly colored “Velum” hats on them. He said I needed a hat (right!) I had my helmet off now so it was easy to and put it on my head. Next a couple more tables and as I went by the Cervelo table, a new t-shirt was given to me (need one of those too!!). Another couple trinkets were given by others and I am getting a little distracted with the main objective and now have this extra stuff to corral.
A volunteer “Matt” was assigned to me next to go through the set-up process and to give a personal tour of how things would work tomorrow at the race. I was checked for my race number- wrist band, bike and then instructed to pass my bike off to be photographed. Matt then took me with my bike and gear over to my assigned bike position-almost right at the bike exit just 3 from the end. I told him it looked like I got pole position for this race to which he whole-heartedly agreed. Right at this moment a very critical lapse of attention occurred that neither Matt nor I took notice of, but after positioning my bike and walking off down the narrow run in/out corridor an unknown problem was beginning to take hold and threaten my entire race in the most heinous way possible.
Matt guided me down the long path that I would run out to my bike, and back in, to the run transition later. It went around the periphery of the entire pier and was quite long. We finally came to the run transition bag area drop off. I hung my running gear on hook #407 as instructed. OK good.
Then we walked by the changing tents, first the womens, then the larger and longer mens. A quick walk through the mens tent familiarized me with what it looked like, and the entry/exits. On the far side of the tent I was to place my bike gear bag on hook #407 with my helmet in it, or so I thought………………
My attention was quickly directed to the swim entry and exit staircase where I was to do my first open water ocean event, without my wetsuit, and now also without my Swim-It inflatable vest. I had lost track of it after my first ocean swim to the coffee boat on Wednesday and was a little concerned over the issue………………
I had no idea about it then, but I was now set up for one of the most dramatic sequence of events that would ever unfold in my triathlon experience. This was going to be an epic test of my fortitude and will to overcome adversity. I was soon to experience the lowest of all lows and the highest of all possible highs. Anything is Possible was silently stalking me this time….
I slept well Friday night. I was set up now to do well and I was very pleased to know I had prepared everything to the best of my ability. I could rest easy and just fly into tomorrow.
I rose at 3:30 as planned, had an early breakfast that would be traversing my small intestine by the time I was in the water. Dressed in my Image Sport tri top that I am particularly proud of, Ironman tri shorts also from my first Boulder Ironman event, lots of body glide, timing chip band around my left ankle. I was ready to rock this event and I am getting really excited with positive energy for the most incredible day of my life- HELL YEAH!! I’m going to be a KONA IRONMAN!!!
I got to the King Kamehameha Hotel early as recommended and went to the back lot for athlete check in and body marking. My daughter Savannah had put other tattoo’s on me since Ironman had their own that were required. She proudly decorated my neck, right shoulder and right ankle with nice tribal theme tat’s.
After waiting in the line, a long line, and passing wrist band inspection, I entered the marking area. A volunteer swabbed my arms with isopropyl alcohol-I asked if we were being immunized today and he laughed. Then right in to pick up my 407 number tats. It was then over to the application tables where another nice lady volunteer put my numbers on with great care just like my daughter would. I thought she’d be proud to see her dad all ready to become a Kona Ironman! I was feeling proud!
Next was the timing chip mat to check my leg bound chip for proper function- athlete #407 confirmed and checked in A-OK! Next the weigh in for any medical needs later. I push the needle to 162 lbs., about 1-2 higher than I had hoped but OK-I’m burning it off today. Now off through a dark corridor and hard to see so I use my nifty swag mini flashlight provided at check-in last Wednesday. I’m rockin’ it and everything is in order. Next is pre-race drinks which I took 2 cups and then completely covered with reef safe sunblock. Be sure to cover EVERYTHING for the roast oven out on the Queen K Highway! Mahalo! I’m digging it. Finally I am through check-in. The warrior prince is prepared for his test today and he’ll be an Ironman.
After that big production, I am now walking out to the Kailua Pier. Back down the perimeter path that I saw yesterday– and eventually now –I am at my bike. I first check my air pressure and find it about 5 lbs. lower that I want, so I go begging to borrow a pump. Several people are using a pump, but none are available for me because they borrowed it from someone else and have to return it. No problem I will be patient……….
After a few minutes I’m thinking–screw it—the pressure is fine and will climb when it heats up anyway. I never had this drop before and am a little concerned that the valve stems may have a problem. The valve cores were slightly bent after being shipped and I had to straighten them a little. I hope they are not slowly leaking! One of my tires got here completely flat.
It was at this point I started looking around at other bikes. EVERY bike had their helmet on top of their aero bars or hanging off them. I suddenly become concerned that I have my helmet in my bike bag so I go talk to a volunteer at the bike bag transition area. The athlete guide clearly states, in red ink: No access to bike or run bags on race morning! I see some people are checking their bags with an escort volunteer so I’m not too concerned. Heck I can just put my helmet on and run out to my bike-no big deal. Maybe I shouldn’t bother. The volunteer says yes- it is supposed to be on your bike, but they allow older athletes (70+) to keep them in their bags.
Ok, I want to be set up right, so I ask the nice lady volunteer if I can get my helmet from my bag and place it on my bike. This inquiry becomes one of the most critical elements of today’s outcome and is about to set off a dramatic sequence of events that will test my fortitude like the wildest possible nightmare. Unknowingly I may have just saved my race from total failure. “Alice” as I have come to refer to her, said she would escort me to my bag so I could retrieve my helmet and put it on my bike.
I approach my bike bag, hanging on hook #407. I know exactly where it is from yesterday’s drop off. There it is 407 on the bag, big towel to dry off, bike shoes, sunglasses, nutrition and……………………WHERE THE F@#K is my helmet!!!? It’s NOT THERE. What???! WHAT!!!???? I cannot believe what I am not seeing!!!
We are instantly at FULL RED ALERT!!
Suddenly, my heart is pounding in my chest and my arms are trembling and shaking. Very clearly in the rule book: No helmet on ride= instant disqualification.
OK, lets breathe in deep…….. again…….. deeply. I’ve suddenly got a major problem and my mind is off the chart on brain wave activity, near nuclear fission level. My helmet—–it is not here—–it must be in my run bag! I screwed up and put it in the run bag!! OK-lets go have a look at my run bag on the other side of the changing tents! Alice escorts me briskly over to the run bags. I look quickly for the #407 hook. Oh yeah- it’s down on the far end-yeah–down at that end! We finally approach it and #407 bag is hanging there, stuff in it……..but………NO HELMET is in the bag! NO!!!!!! NOOOO!!! I’m out of this race before it begins if I can’t find it. I have a BIG PROBLEM. I try to remain calm.
I see Patrick Martinez and Dave Moore and they can see I don’t look my usual self. I explain I have no helmet for the race. They sense my concern while I try to keep a clear thought pattern. Alice then goes over to get some Ironman top brass in on the case. We check the tables and tent area, and under the bag racks but no white rabbit to be found. And no race to be run. And no Kona Ironman for Tom Bogan.
Enter the Cheshire Cat- I instantly sense a cool headed confident guide for me that intends to find a solution to my dilemma in the madness of Wonderland—–I hope!! The Cheshire Cat says assuredly “Come with me!” and we proceed to leave the pier for the King Kamehameha Hotel. He is stopped by a gatekeeper that barks “You can’t come in here!” The Cheshire Cat cooley flashes his neck bound identification and says yes we can. I widen my eyes and open my palms to the gatekeeper as I follow my escort through checkpoint Alpha. We do this two more times getting out and over to the hotel. Next we briskly are pacing down 2 or 3 corridors and arrive at a small door that is partially open and the Cheshire Cat chants “Wait here until I return”. Quickly he disappears and the door is partially closed. I can see some others in there but he is off somewhere deeper now. It’s around 5:30 now and the clock is my new enemy. After what seems like an eternity, he returns and steps out. “We cannot locate your helmet but go back to your bike and we will see what we can do.” “OK-but can I get back through checkpoints Alpha, Bravo and Charlie?” I inquire. “Yes, just go back to your bike”.
So off I go trying to recall my last trail. After a long fast jog I get out of the hotel and find checkpoint Charlie. “I need to go back through to my bike.”
“Sorry-you can’t go through here- you have to go through Athlete Check-in.” “I have a magic arm band!”, showing him my athlete band on my right wrist. His first statement echoes back like it came off a rock wall “Sorry you have to go through Athlete Check-in.” I don’t have a magic necklace to get through and that’s the end of that. Forget it. New plan. Damn! Where the hell is the way to Athlete Check in,… that I already went through! This is getting more and more out of control and I try to remain calm. Oh yeah out back around the north side of the hotel.
I enter the KK Hotel again, on a mission now to get to the check in again–and get hopelessly lost in the corridors. I stop and suddenly realize I have no idea which way to go. Nearly petrified, I look around gazing for ANY clues. Quickly I move down to another hallway and finally see a cop standing at a door. “Which way to Athlete Body Marking ?!” I emphatically inquire. “Right through this door out in the courtyard and to the left” “OK -Mahalo!!”
I run out finding the Athlete Check-In ………..and………… and…………. There is a MUCH longer line of athletes. Man, this is beyond crazy. Making my way forward, finally I get through the security guard checking for magic bracelets and have an approval this time. I proceed down the WHOLE line again- Arm wiping, number pick up, application tables, chip test—–WAIT!!!—— “Is it a problem if I go over the mat again?!! A quick “No problem” relieves my fears and sends me running through the dark corridor and out around to the drink,& sunblock stations, and, finally, to the pier. Out on the perimeter , around the whole dock, and I am finally back to the crime scene wondering what the hell to do. Immediately I think loudly to myself “the solution to my problem is not in here!” I should go back out of transition and find a helmet from someone else-beg, borrow, steal-SOMETHING!! I can’t buy one at the expo or any store that is not open now. I have no money. I have no communication available (per rules!) The countdown clock is running against me and I seem to have no options that seem workable.
I start thinking about my very 1st triathlon back in May 2013. It dawns on me that they had to cancel the bike because the event road control company went out of business the evening before. I worked all winter trying to learn how to swim and was partially disappointed that I couldn’t do a full triathlon after all the work to get there! My first triathlon I could not do the bike ride. The irony strikes me hard like a freight train. I finished that race by doing the bike ride of 13 miles right after getting home, so I could make it official. I’m about to have my bike cancelled again, but this time lose it ALL.
Snapping back to reality—and my dilemma. I go over to Patrick and Dave to tell them I’m now in a dire situation: No helmet, clock ticking down. I lucidly decide— get your swim gear ON NOW. I crawl into my swimskin, cap, goggles, earplugs in hand. I am ready to swim now and have one less worry.
I have a brief moment to pull out my 2 pre-race inspirational messages. The first is a poem by Rudyard Kipling–“IF”– go and read it sometime. The second is a quote from the Gonzo Journalism genius Hunter Thompson– “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a ride!” I know what they both say–I have read them many times to near perfect memorization, so I kiss the pages and put them back in my pre-swim bag and turn it in.
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same” comes into my head from the Rudyard Kipling poem. Yes, …..if I can just meet disaster and find my way today——disaster—is an imposter—–
That is what I need to do. I am facing disaster-but you ARE an imposter–something that you are not—-not a real thing—–and I AM going to defeat you. That is the message Rudyard Kipling is sending to me today. This is my solution!!
I now walk over to my bike and there, perched on the aerobars, a white rabbit with a 407 on its nose sits calmly and ready to serve me today. What lava tube it jumped down and came back out of I may never know. Magically, in this Lava Wonderland, the white rascal has reappeared. Unbelievingly I blink and get a second confirmation on the miracle. I stop trembling and my heart ceases its tribal war drum pounding. My helmet and my bike are ready to go. I find a pump finally and top off my tire pressure. Dave! Patrick! I’m IN!!! Disaster is an imposter, and Anything is Possible. Read that again. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!
I discuss with Dave and Patrick that there are always challenges on an Ironman. Unexpected and unanticipated things come up, in Ironman as in life, and we have to find ways to resolve them. This is the crux of the Ironman challenge. And one of the truths and beauty of it. We all agree and figure I have met and defeated my first big one for the day. Both Dave and Patrick would meet their demons today too and do what they could to overcome them. One would have an epic struggle today to reach the finish arch. The other unfortunately would not get to the finish line until the next day. Both are Ironman brothers of the highest order—in my heart—forever.
Quickly I decide I need to go find Alice. She is at the Bike Bag rack and I approach her. Around my left wrist is a red band, given to all athletes from the Ironman Foundation, a philanthropic organization that donates to the communities we visit. Check it at Ironmanfoundation.org. You are to give your red band to the volunteer that means the most to you on race day. Previously I gave one to my good friend Sue Linroth- a true angel in the flesh at Boulder Ironman. Today I walk up to Alice and say, “You are the angel sent to me to save my race today and this band belongs to you.” I hand her the band and say a sincere “Mahalo nui loa.”
I have no idea who got the magic rabbit back to its perch– Alice, the Cheshire Cat or someone else, but I hope somehow all of you get to read this and understand how you helped to save my race. Go ask Alice..…I think she’ll know…….Anything Is Possible.
I’ve calmed down a lot now and the male pro’s are about to be sent off. We are making our own final preparations and staying calm. The National Anthem is played. No kneeling anywhere I can see. A quiet introspective moment is taken by most—prayers, meditation, and deeply drawn breaths. A swarming school of 2500 of the worlds best triathletes is about to be released into the Pacific Ocean. Today 94% of them will make it all the way to the finish by the 17 hour cut off.
The cannon on the pier goes off at 6:35 sharp and this race is now LIVE. Five minutes later, 6:40, another cannon sends the female pros off and we are now on deck. Male AG swimmers come on down! Dave, Patrick and I (Three Amigos?) walk down the stairs together in awe of what we are experiencing. People line the pier and seawalls several bodies deep. This is a major stage and we have an incredible audience. We wish each other well and bump fists. We go down to the water and look to our right. A line of triangular buoys stretches south out as far as one can see to the horizon. Somewhere out there is a huge Body Glove multi deck boat near the Kona Tiki Hotel. I cannot see it and it looks more like 10 miles down that line. I’ll want to stay left as there will be a huge group of women chasing after us 15 minutes after we go. I lose track of Dave and Patrick as I make my way left, away from the carnage zone. Waiting on Dig Me Beach near the seawall, very close, there are a half dozen native Hawaiian dressed men. One has a conch and is blowing it announcing the impending challenge to the Ironman contestants. We will meet those challenges today. I am ready. This is the 2017 Kona Ironman World Championship Race and I AM IN IT!!
About 6:55 I enter the ocean. We have to swim out a good 100 yards or so to the start line and I work out just left of the ROKA buoy floating along the start line. It looks like a giant lava rock. Staying face down and stretched out I claim my territory. I am at ease and roll to breathe comfortably. Below me are several coral head formations and a myriad of fish. It is a wonderful place and I feel completely at peace with being in the ocean.
A huge percussive BOOM! Goes off and we are underway! I take nice long easy pulls and establish a comfortable pace. Several guys floating on their surfboards look left and right as a maelstrom of activity threatens to knock them off their boards. But they are prepared and stable. Lots of splashing is going on as the 1600 or so men are jockeying for position and finding a path through the jam. Occasionally you are bumped or hit but that’s the way it works and it is not a problem. I feel more comfortable than I ever have with this. Just keep moving forward.
My goggles are staying in place and I am breathing easy. Drafting at every opportunity is going well. There are lots of opportunities to catch other swimmers. All my 5 years of swimming experience are making this easy. I feel like a complete swimmer. I am sighting for buoys and staying left. A couple buoys out I start feeling the up and down swells now. The buoys appear and then disappear behind the waves. We are all going straight so I start sighting less and stay in the drafting zones. This is a good strategy in Kona as the swimmers really know how to swim straight. Head down and stay in formation. Smaller chop waves make for some breathing cadence alteration but I still am amazingly comfortable. The salt is starting to become very apparent in my mouth but not bothersome.
There is a lot to see in the ocean swim-unlike any other race I have done. Sometimes it is quite shallow, other times an abyss with no bottom. Cables stretch from buoys and disappear into the darkness several fathoms below us. I am in an incredible body of water and feel at complete peace with it. I started to notice below me a bunch of what looks like oatmeal is moving in the same direction of the swim. I pause and watch the Quaker Oats move forward faster. I am in a current! Probably the tidal flow and it seems to be working for us. I am not sure what the oatmeal is but hope it is not someone puking out there!!
Around the 25 minute mark I start looking around for any pink caps. The women started 15 minutes after us and no doubt are on the warpath chasing us. I never heard the cannon go off for them. I am acutely aware that a school of several hundred mermaids are chasing us and will be churning the water like inside a washing machine. I maintain a slight left heading.
Finally about 30 minutes out I hear an aggressive splashing off to my right about 20 yards. It is a pink tipped torpedo speeding out to sink that Body Glove boat. She comes by and is really moving with powerful kicking and arm pulls. I expect to see more activity, but it suddenly gets very calm again.
Knowing the scout has checked the pathway, and an impending maelstrom is imminent, I move a little more left to avoid a problem. I sight now and am seeing the Body Glove boat-still a ways off, but I know I’ am coming up to the checkpoint Kona Tiki. I am feeling good knowing I am a long way out now and it is going better than expected.
Suddenly I hear a big splashing frenzy going on and I hope it is not some sharks that have discovered a great new dish. Pink caps suddenly are all around us and they are on the move. Lots of bubbles are churning but I am not being hit or bounced around. Kicking arms, splashing water and flailing legs are propelling them much faster than I can go. They are doing a great job cleanly working through us. I try drafting as much as I can and usually can keep with them a few strokes before being dropped. I find it exciting to be in the water with all the activity now. It is energizing and fun to swim this way.
Finally the Body Glove Carrier becomes prominent. It is a huge boat with music and a tea party going on. I’ll bet the Mad Hatters up there somewhere. It would be great to join them but I have other intentions today. And want to get somewhere past 6:00 ”Body Glove” becomes very readable on the boat now and I decide to look over to the left (I breathe primarily right) to look for the Kona Tiki. I tried a few times and thought I saw the general area but quickly refocus on the coming turn. Time to move in tighter for the right turn.
Finding myself in the middle of a big pack of splashing and kicking swimmers I am not at all intimidated. Turns always get much more active and contact is inevitable. The important thing is to hold your line and avoid having your goggles knocked off. Around the Body Glove and now ahead is another smaller darker boat about 100 yards out. I take a moment to check my Garmin and it is showing 49 minutes-good time for me! My Ironman swim is going well.
The waves feel different now and I need to adjust to a different breathing cadence. They feel bigger and more demanding of my attention. Right side breathing is still working well but I am prepared to draw air left if necessary.
The second boat I don’t recall the name, but I recall it being darker so I’ll call it the Black Pearl. They had a good party going on too. I thought it would be fun to be there swimming between them to enjoy both parties! A boat block party!!
Rounding the Black Pearl I am feeling great. I am certain this swim is going to be good for me and likely faster than the 2 hours I was fearing it might require. I also knew it was likely I would be swimming against the tide flow going back in. Noticeably, the waves again feel different-not difficult but just different than the 100 yard short chute. I hope that it is not something that will become difficult for the swim back in.
After a couple hundred yards, it seems all is well. I am still moving comfortably and I have zero panicky feelings out here. I am really feeling accomplished as a swimmer. I even clear my goggles several times. My eyes are stinging a little at times when the water gets in but stops right after dumping the water out. I also start really noticing my mouth is developing a really nasty salt taste that is not getting better. Back to long full strokes and it feels really nice and helps to distract me from the salty mouth. I start seeing the oatmeal migration going on again below me and it is showing that we going against it. I also notice some very shallow shelves are being crossed at times. This depth is really variable out here and not the bottomless pit I had expected. Some fish are visible.
Now the salt taste is on my mind and I think this is really unpleasant. I try to remind myself that everyone out here is feeling the same way so, just as the triathlon saying goes, HTFU triathlete!! I get this off my mind by getting tighter on the buoys and finding drafting partners. At times I sense and know others are using ME to draft! I am very pleased to know I am now being used as the point man to draft by others. I have really morphed from the 50 yard body recovery that I was 5 years ago-WOW.
The swim seems like it is going to be very successful and I am aware many are out there wondering- is he going to be in soon? Will he make it?? I am planning a happy result for all of us.
¾ the way back in I start seeing the LZ. I am seeing the church steeple, the KK Hotel
and main city metropolis. Suddenly I am at the end of the pier and being close seems to be faster. Soon a long line of people in the water are visible and I know I need to swim there. It is not really easy to distinguish where we are going but that line of people seems to be the best target now. Dig Me Beach is visible now and to the left side is the staircase so I hold left. The ground starts to come up to me and I can see I will be successful on my swim. I have arrived and stand up in the water. Tons of people are there to greet and congratulate me on my first, biggest and most incredible swim of my life. I tear off my goggles and cap while I dig the earplugs out of each ear. I feel great and really excited to be out of the water. I don’t have any fear or concern and am now hoping for a chance to do a non-wetsuit swim sometime next year. I hope that helmet hasn’t ducked down another hole, cause I’m going to need it!
Scurrying up the steps I hit the timing mat. I’m low 1:40 s easily on the time. Hope those watching are pleased too. Let ‘em know I made it!!! A quick left turn and I see what looks like an Indiana Jones film set- a jungle tent with several green snakes angrily twisting back and forth spitting venom out below!! A writhing veil of eels caught by some fishing charter now blocks my way to my bike bag. And I thought the dangers were out there in the ocean and not here right as I get out of the swim!!
It is actually several green hoses going full bore and spraying water. We rinse off here, so I go grab one of the vipers by its’ head and stream it all over my head and body. I open my mouth and power wash out about 20 lbs of salt- and probably a filling or two with it. Next my face—-Close those eyes!! AND don’t blow a contact lens out!!– It’s powerful! And then again all over my entire body. I want ALL that salt off me. I have been warned it gets bad if you mess this up. Those fire hoses are really pumping. Seems I heard something about a water shortage coming over to Kona. And I think I have found out why! The Snake Pit is passed and I think to myself—I’ll be wanting this fountain again later today- and maybe some salt too!!
Feeling fresh again I now take a couple fast steps to get my bike bag which has already been grabbed by a volunteer. I am extremely happy that I am not discovering a missing helmet in my bag right now! 😊I shuffle a couple yards to the BIG white tent and enter. Inside are several guys changing over to bike gear. Several are standing there casually and completely naked like they are in a locker room–never seen that at an Ironman. Maybe I should check that smaller tent out next door—–
I found a chair to plop my bag down. Off with my swimskin (Thank you ROKA!) and then a good toweling off. Cliff Gels and bloks stuffed in my tri top pockets, sunglasses, bike shoes and socks in hand and out the door to the perimeter run. I get a nice long warm up running around the track and finally to my bike, with a helmet perched on top-thank you very much Alice!– and have a nice sit down on the green astroturf next to it. Socks on, shoes on, hopped up and strapped the white bunny to my head. Pulling the bike up I carefully released the rear wheel from the well and pushed it out with my right hand on the seat.
Under the bike out arch, I ran a long distance out to the far end of the mount mat. Clip-clip! And we are off on a 112 mile cycle adventure through the lava fields.
Immediately riding out in a lower gear I run into a jumble of triathletes on bikes including a hand cycler. It is really congested so I swerved left as I’m upshifting. I went even more left, calling out “on your left”. I didn’t have enough room so I went over the double yellow centerline stripe. The entire road is closed-but-it is a violation for crossing it and I recall the rule states it is not to be done “for any reason”. I was concerned that I could have put myself out. This race is very strictly policed. No official contacts me or rides by to give me a Blue or Yellow Card violation. After the first left, I find another congestion point but decide to hold my line next to a white lane stripe. These lines have little white squares on them all over the island that are reflective night markers. Running over one them bounces you pretty good and you want to avoid hitting them. I stay just right as a result and wham! A woman next to me collides and yells out at me to watch out!! I slow and see we both are OK, make a quick verbal check that she is alright, quick sorry about the contact and we are reconciled instantly.
The course runs around town first north, then back down toward the pier via Palani Drive. The downhill on Palani is a strict do not pass zone. At the very top, I passed a rider and quickly determine I am on Palani and now have another violation concern. More drama. I am just not getting this right! 3 incidents already and I have gone only a couple miles. Again no indication that I’m being pulled over. And if I am, maybe I can say I know Commander Dave Moore of the Longmont Police force. Thankfully it seems I have dodged another bullet but it will be on my mind until I pick up my finisher certificate at the end of the race.
Finally we are heading out south down the Kuakini Highway-more of a road here in town and get to the southern-most turn around about 3 short miles down from the pier. At this intersection with the Queen K Highway we turn around and trace back to Palani Drive. This time we climb up the hill and everyone is cranking their low gears. The hazards fall away now as you are headed out to the most desolate, scenic and surreal landscape of the lava fields.
Slowly the terrain changes from lush, tropical and inviting to rocky, arid and majestically immense. Into the great wide open. Rolling easy hills and a good rear wind encourages you to go fast here. It is good to do so, but this race is notorious for getting progressively harder as it goes on. You need to conserve here as you will not have enough for the return trip if you push too hard. And it will not end well. It is hard to hold back. I have a 27 mi/hr split here and realize this will probably be the fastest one.
North of the Airport, I get to the Veterans Memorial Cemetery . Just north over a hill it gets breezy. This is where I spread some sand out across the highway-see my earlier post about that. From here to the north turn in Hawi, is 100% uncharted territory.
Aid stations are coming up every 7 miles. The first and last parts have water, so the first bottle goes all over me for cooling, then fresh banana halves, gel blocks, and one bottle racked going out. I am nursing my Cytomax bottles to avoid the Gatorade which I don’t like so much.
Riding through the lava fields is surreal. As far as you can see to the right are long wide black paths of ragged, jagged, chunky pieces of volcanic rock. This immense flow of frozen river goes under the road and flows out a mile or so to a vast and beautiful deep blue ocean to your left. It is totally mesmerizing. At times the texture changes to very smooth wet looking black rock that was just oozing and flowing like pancake batter-now frozen in time for eternity as a testament to a great molten lava flood. The contrast to the road you are riding on is remarkable. The highway is like a pool table. The smoothest road I can ever recall driving on. And it has freshly painted white lines. It stands freshly and defiantly to the lava fields and is most certain to never out live the surrounding terrain. There are reflective blocks camouflaged on the lines and you will hit them lots while riding. The gusty winds are the other concern and often they send you across the blocks again. This helps to clear the trance that this terrain induces. Rumble bars are on the shoulder as well but we have a closed road and nearly all the riding is in the car lane. The blocks are the main hazard and I try to avoid bouncing my tires on them for fear of flattening them.
Working north, I pass the “Donkey Crossing” an area where they apparently like to wander across the road. I never did see any however. A look to your left seems at times that the ocean is ABOVE you. The land appears to be below sea level and it is an interesting illusion. I really feel like I am in Wonderland out here and things are not the way they seem.
Still on the Queen K Highway, passing the Waikaloa area, many people have come out to cheer and suddenly we have a big fan zone. This is one of the finest Resort areas on the island and I understand it has the most fantastic beaches. It is welcoming to all, but notorious for some of the biggest stars and wealthy folks. Finally down a big hill to a 3 way intersection. A “T” really, and the mystical fields are behind us now. Here you take the left roadway down into a small industrial looking zone near the ocean’s edge. Climbing up now past several houses and a more forested terrain, the legs start to burn a lot more. This is Kawaihae and it appears to never be destined to be a resort area. The scenery surrounding this is still absolutely spectacular. A huge mound of a mountain still rises to the north and we are heading around the left to Hawi. This section is where the wind really starts coming up. It is quartering in from the left and requires a lot of leg energy now to move forward. It is gusty, variable and unpredictable. First a sustained push right, then a hard, sudden jolt to the left. It is very untrustworthy. It is worse when riding through areas where the lava walls are piled up on both sides of you- a feature you find time and time again on the road now.
Soon there is a wide open low grassland dotted with wide top trees. It is very gusty now and you better hang on to your bike. It reminds me of Wyoming and there are several ranches with cattle in the area. You better love wind to live here. The Pacific Ocean now is over-the-top Magnificent. It has white caps as far as you can see. You feel like you are experiencing the most incredible revelation of the heavens and earth. It is deeply moving to be up higher looking out over the edge of earth and sea, with a strong wind in your face. It is like the end of the earth and you are looking into creation itself-this is where it happens. Heavens Gate. The earth, the ocean, the sky and the heavens- it is spiritually fulfilling and I find it hard to look away.
Finally we are on a long 7 mile climb up to the town of Hawi. It still looks like Wyoming and the winds are strongly gusting at times. They have a cooling effect though and so are welcome. Your skin is baking to medium-well about now, but the humidity seems to be improved.
The town of Hawi has a large welcoming crew for athletes that ride up, wave at the turn and disappear in a few seconds. I gave a big arm swing to thank them and they returned the energy! 100 yards is special needs. I grab my anticipated lunch and find that it has congealed into a nasty mess! My sandwich is like molten lava. A black oblong and oozing sandbag was a fresh banana a few hours ago-and my favorite “Complete Chocolate Chip Cookie” has been transformed into a gel pack now. I choke some of the peanut butter sandwich remains down my throat. It seems as if it has already been eaten once. My bottle of Tail Wind is intact and I add the extra cool water from the station as planned, and it is the most successful result of my otherwise dismal lunch plan. The rest has served as a sacrifice to Pele. I’ll need to supplement my lunch plan at the aid stations-remember what I said earlier!
Aloha to the gods for now, but I will be back a couple days after the race with my family and discover a beach that is more heavenly than what I have seen already- the Black Sands of Pololu Beach.
Down from Hawi the winds are very strong now. “Eat and drink at the aid station” I was told-it is impossible to do it coming back down-100% TRUTH. The winds are rocking now and they have turned around to be in my face for the decent as well. I’m getting a strong wind quartering in from the right followed by vicious blasts from the left. And they are totally random. How does it do that!!?? I find it is best to hold my right aerobar and then put my left hand outboard to the sidebar on the left. It seems to really help. I am congratulating myself for choosing a 303 front wheel and suddenly think of the irony of being a 303 Triathlon athlete in Hawaii. Thanks Bill Plock and crew for the cool awards you gave us! 303 ROCKS-in many ways!
I am riding fast and stable now and easily handle the turbulence. I’m starting to push hard again and remind myself that the last 30-40 miles are waiting to grade my strategy. Back down through Kawaihae finally I am hitting some good speeds on the downhills. A right turn and climb up the hill and I am back to the lava fields. This time for the final exam.
It is HOT and it is WINDY. I am struggling to hit 13 miles an hour. I can usually hold a 20+ average and now find myself succumbing to the reality of a far lower average. My legs are tired and suddenly- there it is- a shooting but light left leg inner thigh cramp. It flashes and then is gone. I look at my odometer and yep- 76 miles, these usually show up around 80 miles. Right on schedule. I am now backing off the throttle by 5-10% of perceived effort. The cramp stays away. I am acutely aware that it will go full on if I push the threshold. I decide to hold at this level. About 5 miles later I felt another lighter twinge in the same spot. Time for the Hot Shot! I get my new Hot Shot squeeze bottle out of my bike bag and take 1/3 of it. The Cinnamon burn sets off my taste sensory nerve endings on the anterior 2/3 of my tongue, then to the chorda tympani, up the facial nerve (CN VII) to the CNS where it works its magic by some unknown mechanism—– and subsequently my cramp is placed in check! Thank you Hot Shot.
15 miles later I took another 1/3. And all was well. A 2nd bottle was in my tri top pocket and I was ready if necessary. Back at the airport I was feeling a little sad that I might never get to see the magic of the north of the island again. It was then that I decided-I’m taking the crew back there later. It was fantastic. Don’t miss that when you go!
Kailua finally approaches and I am appreciating the mesmerizing experience I have just been through-like a dream. I have completed 112 miles of bike riding and a memorable experience that I’ll never ever forget. The crowds bring me back to the reality of the Ironman Event that I am competing in and the excitement rises quickly again……I turn on Makala Blvd to a cheering crowd with all the support in the world. The energy took a swing back to intense. I am off my bike, leaving the shoes attached to the pedals, drop it to a volunteer and take the long track around the pier periphery to the run bag area. The volunteer already has my bag and gives the handoff to the running back going up the middle.
Into the other side of the change tent, I plop down, unbuckle the white rabbit, change to fresh socks-ahhhhh-pull on my favorite Asics Tri Noosas (Old model version 8!!) Race belt and number strapped around my waist and grab my cool new Kona Ironman visor for a 26.2 mile run. No visual assault this time with naked bodies. My day is going a lot better than it started, I came through with no cramps, my legs feel strong and I have no doubt I will make it to the finish line. I carried a slight concern out the doorway haunting the far recesses of my mind about the lane and bike pass. Fear and Loathing in Kailua—
When you come out of T2 you have a different course to follow but similar roadways to the bike course. Fortunately the volunteers keep you on track to keep your concerns down. Still YOU are responsible to know the course and go the right way. I got on Palani and up to Kuakini. But this time you turn right which was the way we came back on the first bike loop to go out south-VERY confusing-huh?!!
Anyway I bear right here and now go down Kuakini Highway (really a street) a short distance to a right on Hualalai. A short distance down Hualalai and you turn LEFT on Ali’I Drive toward our hotel Kona Tiki. Nice and simple……….
OK now I am running south on Ali’I for quite a while-about 5 miles to the turnaround at St. Peters church. As I approach Kona Tiki I see the 3 people I love the most in the world in my life-my wife Lori, and my 2 kids Wesley and Savannah. They have seen me earlier come out of the swim but this is the first time I have seen them-well into the afternoon. I run by fast tossing some cooling sponges and will save the hugs for the return in a few minutes. Several more friends see me on this leg of the run. This is the part of the race where it happens frequently. It is very energizing to have them now! I hear my name called out often and turn but you need to remember that your name is printed on your run bib. People you never have met will be calling it out all the time until you finish!!
I think again as I have so many times already, about all those watching on live coverage, and I hear their voices in others that are doing this here today. I did hear you!! I’m trying to set a good pace cause I‘m not feeling bad now. I finally see the south turn and this time it is rather stark and not a lot of activity like the others. I give a big mahalo thank you to the volunteers for being out today-they need some cheering too. Around the corner and 2 timing mats are crossed. I know a LOT of people are seeing this live and I feel their energy while they watch. I’m on my way back north on Ali’I now and the cheering section is regular now. I am entering the hug zone.
On the way back up I pass Patrick Martinez who is moving right along. I had to pass him out there on my bike because he is a super strong swimmer. I acknowledge him and we clap hands as we pass. He is looking good, but heading for some troubles. A while later I pass by Dave Moore heading south on Ali’i. He looks fine to me and I am happy as he seems to be putting in a great performance too. Unknown to me he is already in serious trouble. He has been unable to hold food in his stomach, is sweating a lot and losing valuable salt levels. He is also going rhabdo-a condition that breaks muscle tissue down to supply energy.
As I am running back north, I see Sue Linroth-a lady that has seen it all with my pursuits. With her is Marsha Murphy and we exchange a couple of big hugs. Things are going very well I tell them but they have not heard the white rabbit story yet! A few hundred yards later I see standing on the left side of Ali’I drive one of the most famous Ironman competitors of all time- a lady I came to know through my business. She is holding her infant child and we make eye contact. Chrissie Wellington has one of the most infectious smiles you could imagine and that makes me very happy in my line of work! I go to her and exclaim “Chrissie! I am here and in the race!” She gives me a big hug, smile and cheer. I saw her earlier in on Tuesday when I arrived and ran down to the Parade of Nations. She was in a beautiful convertible model A at the head of the parade and I stopped to greet and hug her then. She was inducted into the Ironman Hall of Fame at this event and was returning to Kona primarily for that. I was extremely grateful she was here, for it is her poem, the one that she reads before every Ironman, Rudyard Kipling’s “If”,…… that I read each race. Completely awesome. Chrissie you helped make it happen in more ways than you know!
Running now up past the Kona Tiki, I see Lori and Savvy, but no Wesely. I give them both a huge hug and enough extra for Wes. They sense I am doing well, but like everyone except Patrick and Dave, they have no idea that it almost didn’t ever get started.
I recall Tricia Dixon too but don’t believe I got a hug so I’m saving that one for later. Please feel free to inquire about my “Give an Ironman a Hug Program” that I started!
I’m feeling like the Energizer Bunny now-big recharges on Ali’I Drive. Hug section a BIG success.
Now on to the crux of this race-the part that starts slaying triathletes. At the junction of Ali’I and Hualalai you turn right and this is a good thing because another ¼ mile down the road is the finish where they are busy calling out names and proclaiming them an Ironman. You don’t want to be by this right now. You still have to run north out of town on the Queen K to the Natural Energy Lab AND back. Running by a finish line is very difficult in an event and we do this at Boulder Ironman 70.3 and Boulder Ironman 140.6. You are usually tired by now and it is hard to concentrate on your race while others are finishing. It is a test of will to do so, and it asks: “Just HOW tough are you today-you are not done!”
A left up Kuikini then and north on Palani-this is a big uphill now that tests your legs. Many give up the run and walk it. A left turn puts you on the Queen K and off we go away from the crowds again.
Now you are out on the course with many suffering runners. Many are glad to share their misery with you and the energy vampires (thank you Dr. Leo Rodriguez-you were right!) as I call them now, are ready to suck your blood. Staying positive in this part of the race is EXTREMELY beneficial. This is where you must smile at pain and try to make it look easy. You are not fooling any of the athletes but it really helps you to finish the journey. When the chips are down, some people really shine and this is your moment to be that person. This is the attitude I take. Soon I am running along and find my friend Lisa Plunkett-a superb long time triathlete that has gotten here via the Legacy Program. She has been in something like 15 Ironman events now. We start running together, then walking to recharge again. It is in this part of the race that many friendships are made, or renewed. Each looking to draw some energy from someone. As we run along another couple people join us. The run/walk strategy works pretty well at this time-as long as you run fast.
Our engines are worn out, our fuel is low and oil is leaking from the oil pan. We are starting to get a little blessing from above though, because the sun, that has been broiling us all day long is now beginning to settle into the horizon over the Pacific to our left. The cooling is having a positive effect as anything that feels better is a big boost. We get to an aid station just outside of town and watch the sun start its plunge into the sea. At the station stands a carnival vendor that has two fistfuls of glowing neon sticks. As we walk by we are to take one and put it around our neck, or carry it so that we will be visible in the coming darkness that will soon consume us. At this race a big number of athletes will finish in the dark. The sun goes down earlier and the length of the days light is foreshortened over other venues. I grab a yellow one and collar myself-no rabies tag. This will be my first night finish.
It gets interesting seeing the enchanted land of the dancing rings. As it darkens to pitch black it is evident you will not be able to see very well where you are running and you will start to slow and do so cautiously. The Queen K becomes a colored light show like a bunch of fireflys buzzing around in the Midwest. Lights on the huge hill rising to Mauna Kea start popping on from previously unseen houses-thousands of them. It looks like the volcano has a huge lava flow coming down toward us. It was very quiet (the road was closed) and the wind was calm. I immediately I thought of the song “Learning to Fly” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Tom Pettys’ songs are deeply intertwined in my triathlon pursuits. They have helped me make sense of my world many times. “And the sun went down as I crossed the hill. And the town lit up, the world got still.” It was so perfect –as I was looking at what it meant to me now. Coming down would be the hardest thing.
Finally at the Energy Lab road we turned left to travel west into the bowels of the night. A very loud and raging party atmosphere was out ahead of us. A couple of huge red arches completely reached over the entire road. Music was blasting and people were chanting along, shaking and dancing. A half dozen or more colored streamer tube men with little arms were bowing up and down as if saying thank you to us. It was incredible to see this audio mayhem festival going in this remote area and it reminded me of a Mad-Max like atmosphere. “Thunderdome” I thought.
Here in the middle of nowhere is this crazy Auntie Entity ruled, Master-Blaster driven Oasis of Audio Carnage trying to give athletes the will to finish this now really bizarre experience. I ran through the aid station and out,…. Beyond Thunderdome,…. to the turnaround like a mile further.
407 checking in-I’m ready to bring it home! Over the mats and some more numbers pop up on some computer screens thousands of miles away. Looks like he might just make it!
We were walking and running still, and now really mesmerized with this station at the end of the world. Our group started to splinter and we were mostly on our own again. Lisa ran ahead of me and I had to walk again. She disappeared somewhere ahead of me. I got moving again and I went back through Thunderdome, was freshly replenished by my volunteer pit crew, and was allowed to pass on out. Didn’t break the deal and didn’t face the wheel!
I was happy to be heading home! Just a 10K Bolder Boulder run from here-I was still walking, then running fast. I felt strong after each walk and decided to do a good longer walk. My energy was rising now and the cooler air felt refreshing. Fireflys were dancing around in front of me while slower ones were still traveling less energetically toward the energy lab. In a semi trance like state I started running again with about 4 miles to go. This time I kept running and got stronger and faster. I brought what remains in and finally-found Palani. People were really cheering now. The city brightened up. When I ran down Palani I really opened it up. It was downhill and I ran as fast as I ever did in the race. It felt SO good. I held good form and my strength was back. Now a couple more turns to Ali’I Drive.
A left off the Palani sprint on Kuakini and a flat section with a long stride and good form. I’m not lost in the KK anymore-I know right where I’m going. At Hualalai I take the right and see ahead the Ali’i left or right intersection. This time I am going right!! This is it- What I have been looking so long for. I’m on my way with my last right turn into one of the greatest moments of my life.I turn to the right down Ali’i.
A new Kona Ironman is about to be born. A dream is about to be fulfilled. An incredible journey through so many waterways, oceans and roads is about to culminate. A new champion in life pursuits is about to be proclaimed. On Ironmans greatest stage, October 14, 2017, at the Ironman World Championship, in Kailua Kona Hawaii, I am about to summit the highest peak of my triathlon pursuits. As I run down Ali’I drive I want this to last forever. I think of all the people that have blessed my life working so hard to get me here. I have tremendous pride for their accomplishments and am about to burst. I shed a couple tears. I want to return again to this place one day. Suddenly, I remember- it is all about the journey and I have been in it the whole way! I drop at the 4th M-dot on the runway mat-my 4th Ironman event- and slap the M four times. I spring up energetically and run the last several yards to a cheering crowd. I wonder to myself-will I have what it takes to get here again.
And then, as I am running up to that glorious arch, with all those people, I remember again………….. AS ALWAYS…….. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!!
Tom Bogan You Are an Ironman!