It’s hard to believe another Hawaii Ironman has been and gone! It seems like only yesterday I was stepping off that plane and greeted by that hot, humid, salty Kona air. I am back home in Cardiff, CA now and finally took some time out to reflect on a truly amazing time that has been the past few weeks.
THE BUILD UP
I arrived in Kona three prior to race day with a little work to do. I had come off a sub par result at Las Vegas 70.3 World Champs but I didn’t want that to affect my focus on Hawaii. There is something about those few weeks in Kona for me where everything just starts to click like my body knows it’s time to step up for the big one of the year.
My parents beat me to the island this year and had already been enjoying themselves for a week before Beth and I arrived. It was good to see them for our annual family Hawaii reunion- eight years running so far. As I mentioned in my recent blog pots, having my family there is a very important part of the build up for me. Mum, Dad and Jacque have been a huge part of the Ironman journey and sharing it with them give me and them great joy It was also exciting to have my aunty Julie (dad’s sister) in Kona to support. The day before the race my sister Jacque gave me a good luck card which I will always keep close to remind me of our special bond. She had searched back through our family photo albums to find a photo of us together when I was two and she was six months old.
Having Beth there was also a great experience and since she was slowly building back her fitness post Ironman Wisconsin, she was such a great support to me as I got closer to the big day. I know a lot of her wanted to be lining up herself and I know she will be there with me in years to come. She made a lot of sacrifices this year like taking a leave of absence from her school psychology job to pursue triathlon full time and being the co-ordinator of team Luke in Kona definite wasn’t on her “to-do” list when making that decision.
I woke up before my alarm on race day more than ready to jump out of bed. Kona is a funny one for me as my usual race morning nerves are replaced by excitement and enthusiasm to get out there and stuck into it.
A lot was made of a “slow” swim this year (the main pack swam 51 minutes) but honestly it’s been proven time and time again that swimming 30-60 seconds ahead of the pack is a major waste of energy. I maybe there are a few guys looking to claim a swim bonus or trying to get off the front for the bike prime but it takes a huge effort and 9/10 times it’s going to end in disaster later in the race. I was happy with the pace and saving energy here was going to be key to having it for when it counted later in the day.
I was a little further back in the pack than I had been in the past few years which made me work in the opening few miles to establish my position near the front of the group. I wanted to be well positioned for any major moves while making sure I was conserving as much as possible for a hard second half. I knew the back end of the 112 mile ride is where I could maximize my strength and until then it was a matter of being patient and not burning any matches early.
In saying the game plan was to have a strong second 56 miles the plan definitely wasn’t to ride with either Sebastian Kienle or Andrew Starkyowicz! Sticking to what I knew I was capable of and what would give me my best chances at victory was always my mindset. I took the lead of the race at around 80 miles as we crested the climb of Spencer Hill and now it was time to consolidate the move. I felt really strong across the flats of Waikoloa and up Scenic Lookout as Starky and I swapped the lead several times. With around 10 miles to go Andrew began to push a little over my threshold and I decided to let him go and keep to my pace. We were close to the Kona bike course record of Normann Stadler and he was obviously pushing to get it. I kept my eye on the prize and began to prepare mentally for what was going to be the most crucial run of my career to date.
Onto the marathon I was only a few seconds down on Andrew and before we turned onto Alii Drive, I took the lead. Running through the opening few miles past the huge, excited crowds (and hordes of Aussies) I constantly reminded myself to be to slow down and not run out too hard. It would have been easy to get excited and push too hard too early. I had three minutes up my sleeve to Sebastian and Freddy and even more on Faris and Dirk. I just kept telling myself to be smart. I figured if I could hold a 2hr 50 marathon pace then I was going to force them to run at 2hr 45 pace to catch me.
I held steady with a 3 minute gap all the way along Alii Dr and back to town. I felt strong up Palani Hill and onto the first few miles on the Queen K. I passed the half marathon and a glance at my Garmin showed I was well on track for a low 2hr 50 min marathon (it read 1.22.55) and I was feeling better than I ever had before at this point in the race. It wasn’t long after that the crowds and more important Beth and my dad (who were leap frogging me on bikes) weren’t allowed to continue to the usual point at the top of the energy lab. This meant an extra few miles of loneliness than usual and now it was going to be important to keep focused mentally and push on without their encouragement.
As I approached the aid station at about mile 16 I thought twice about actually taking any calories because up until that point I was almost over diligent with my nutrition and hydration. I just made sure to keep myself cool although I really hadn’t felt the heat all day so this was more of a prevention as well. Within the next mile things started to go a little downhill and I was now struggling up the very slight incline up to the entrance of the energy lab at around 30 second/ mile slower than my pace up till that point. This was the first time all day I had hit a low point and now the real race had started for me. I must have repeated to myself “just stay calm” 1,000 times in the next few minutes. “Keep moving forward”, “It will pass”. Freddy gained some big time on me here and I ultimately lost the lead of the race which I had held for the past hours on the run and obviously on and off since about the 4 hour mark on the bike. I was not going to lay down and be happy with second place.
A mile later we hit the special needs aid station and I grabbed my flask of Red Bull and guzzled the whole thing down. The long drag up the hill to the Queen K went a lot quicker than normal and before I knew it I was only 6 miles from home. I passed Craig “Crowie” Alexander just outside the energy lab and he stopped on the spot and yelled to me “You are going to have to suffer if you want this”. I wanted it! I wanted it so bad. I could see Freddy just 45 seconds ahead with the NBC cameras, photographers and the helicopter hovering above. That is it. That is the leader of the Hawaii Ironman right there and unless you fight he is going to steal the day. I pushed on for two more miles with everything I had as I was back in a groove and had risen from that low point. Soon we were back to the point where a huge crowd had gathered and now 3 miles to go. Everyone was so excited and yelling encouragement to me. “You can get him”. We were approaching Mark & Dave’s hill with two miles to go and all of a sudden the time splits were getting out to a minute, a minute 15 … he was pulling away. I didn’t have another gear and with 5 minutes on Sebastian in third, today I was the second best man to race the Hawaii Ironman.
The last mile, once I turned left at the bottom of Palani Rd, felt like I was in mile one. All of a sudden the pain lifted and the adrenaline had kicked in. I was seeing so many friends with beaming faces, jumping around in excitement for me. As I entered the finish chute my sister Jacque stepped out of the crowd screaming and holding two flags (the Australian flag and a boxing kangaroo flag) and I stopped for a half second and gave her a hug and kiss. The energy of running down that chute was electric and I was so excited crossing the line. It was so special to have Beth, dad and my mother there to experience it with me.
Waking up the next day it started to sink in that I had come second in the Hawaii Ironman. I was desperately close to achieving a life long dream of winning the holy grail of our sport. I have to admit the first thing I thought after that was, “I am coming back here to win this thing”. If I was hungry to win it before now I am absolutely chomping and the bit! The rest of the day was busy with media commitments and of course there was awards and the after party. I really enjoyed every minute of it but on the third day after the race Beth and I got to take some time to lay at the beach and do absolutely nothing for the afternoon. I think it was there it really sank in while we watched the waves crash on the beach, life really is good! This journey is a long and tough one but if you keep working and keep believing then dreams really can become reality. I go into 2014 with more belief than ever that I can compete to win this race.
There really are too many people to thank that have not only helped me recently but even throughout my whole career to reach this point. Sponsors, supporters, advisors, mentors, coaches, friends, but through it all my family. Mum, dad and Jacque you mean the world to me. I love my team x
Ironman World Championship
October 12, 2013
Men 1. Frederik Van Lierde (BEL) 8:12:39
2. Luke McKenzie (AUS) 8:15:19
3. Sebastian Kienle (GER) 8:19:24
4. James Cunnama (RSA) 8:21:46
5. Tim O’Donnell (USA) 8:22:25
6. Ivan Rana (ESP) 8:23:43
7. Tyler Butterfield (BER) 8:24:09
8. Bart Aernouts (BEL) 8:25:38
9. Timo Bracht (GER) 8:26:32
10. Faris Al-Sultan (GER) 8:31:13