I have come to believe that some of life’s most meaningful moments come when you dream big and persevere until your vision is realized. That is what happened to me 12 hours ago. As a kid, I dreamed of being an Olympian. Several of my college teammates (Nordic skiing) made the U.S. Team – I knocked on the door but it did not open. I thought my window of opportunity for world championships had closed as my 20’s came and went – as did my 30’s. At 40, I tried my first triathlon. I soon set a goal to one day qualifying for the Ironman World Championships, aka “Kona” – the Holy Grail of long distance triathlon. Eight weeks ago, I broke my curse of just missing – I qualified for Kona at Ironman Mont Tremblant in August.
While the thought of jumping right back into training mode after Tremblant was less than thrilling, I knew that if I just worked hard for a few more weeks, my Kona dream would come true. With this being a potential one-in-a-lifetime experience, I decided to splurge and bring my kids so they could see their old man compete with the best in the world. Thankfully, my dad and his wife decided to join us, which greatly helped with logistics once I went into pre-race mode.
After arriving on The Big Island, I had a few days of light training and dozens of logistical items to attend to before race day. Soon enough, I was watching the sunrise across Kailua Bay as the top long distance triathletes waded into the warm waters. I worked my way through the pack to get a few rows back on the starting line. I took in the moment. This is the world championship, and I had made it. The beauty and spirit of the island was all around us.
Within a few minutes, the calm treading of water turned into a chaotic froth, and we were off. I stayed left of the main pack, which made for less (incidental) pummeling but also kept me from catching a draft. It seemed to take forever to get to the first turn (1+ miles), but soon I was heading back in the direction of transition. Finally, my feet were on solid ground again.
Transition was busy but well organized. I took my time to make sure I had everything on, including another layer of sun block. Soon I was peddling away. The first hour was pleasantly uneventful, but then the crosswinds started to howl. I kept as aero as possible and carefully monitored my heart rate. We made to turn up to Hawi, and the crosswind seemed to becoming from both sides without any rhyme or reason . . . but soon turned into a brutal headwind. The turnaround in Hawi was a welcome sight – not only as a mental point of reference that I was now “heading home,” but also because it meant we’d pick up a tailwind for about 10 miles. Once back onto the Queen K Highway, we were hit by a crosswind that turned into a headwind. There was no escaping it – just has to grind it out. I wondered how much a toll these tough conditions would have on my run. I stayed focused on heart rate and power readings, as I kept telling myself that I have stuck to my targets and that all my training has prepared me to run well. It felt awesome to finally get off the bike!
Bike: 5:32 (20.2 mph)
I could finally slip on my running shoes and not worry about potential mechanical problems or crashes – better yet, I could get my butt off that saddle! I eased into the run at just under a 7:00 minute pace, taking time to soak myself with water and ice at the first aid station. Mile 2 was a real treat because I could high five my kidlets, which I did again at mile 8 – this gave me an enormous mental boost, which I needed because mile 9+ brought a steep quarter mile hill on Palani Road. I knew once I crested the climb, the terrain would become quite steady for a while. I was now watching the pro race evolve in the opposite direction, a reminder that the world’s best were suffering in the lava fields too.
As I descended into the infamous “Energy Lab”, where the road surface was 115 degrees I’m told, I still felt fairly strong as I entered what has been deemed the hardest part of the run. I worked through some side stitches and made it to the turnaround at about mile 18. Soon I had to climb out of that section with a mile long ascent. I reminded myself that I trained regularly on much tougher hills. I also reflected on the beauty of the island, and how lucky I was to be there.
At mile 20, I was definitely feeling fatigued and had a couple of 7:30 miles. I decided in the moment to do two things to help me get home. First, I started drinking cola at the aid stations. Second, I dedicated each of the next six miles to people who have made such a positive impact on my life. I had a mile for mom – and thought of all her kindness and support . . . and for dad who is always there to go the extra mile for me . . . and for my kids, Evelyn and Ross who bring me such happiness in life. With the combination of caffeine and powerful thoughts, my pace quickened back to a 7:00+ pace.
With a mile to go, I could hear Mike Reilly announcing at the finish line. Goosebumps overtook my arms. My eyes welled. I turned onto Alii Drive for my final turn – something I had dreamed of for many years. My feet were floating. I felt no pain. There it was – the finish line. I was so pumped. My dream came true!
Run: 3:07 (7:10 min/mi)
My friend and chiropractor, Mike Santipadri greeted me with a bear hug. He had put me back together so many times over the past few years, and I am so grateful. We shared the moment of accomplishment. Before long I greeted teammates and friends.
A half a day after the race started, the best part was getting huge hugs from Evelyn and Ross as they gushed about how proud they were of me – little did they know how they helped me reach my dream through their love and support.
My Kona dream came through. For me and I suspect most Kona athletes, this was more than a race . . . and the preparation was more than simply training. When life becomes turbulent with highs and lows, the regimen of training provides a steady rhythm that helps keep one balanced. When I hit a point in a workout when I begin to doubt if I finish it, I remind myself that my competition is out there somewhere with that same choice – cut the workout short, or finish it off strong. Having chosen the latter almost every time, I then draw upon those moments when the going gets tough in a race. The deeper you dig your well, the more you can drink in a drought.
I am so very grateful to everyone who enabled me to reach and achieve – family, friends, QT2 coaches/teammates. Mahalo!!!
Final: 10:09, 22 out of 236 in my division.