IRONMAN WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP : Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Oct 14th, 2017
Don’t try to be a hero!
It was about 110kms on the bike and I had huge cramps in both quads, and both calf’s. This was something new for me, something I hadn’t experienced in many years last time I had felt something like this was 2014 Ironman Brazil, as I slowed down and pulled over, the thought came don’t “try to be a hero.”
The scene was set, the male pros had started, slowly the female pros went, Mike riley asked all of us to get into the water; all male age groupers slowly descended on the beach and in the water. We now waited for the moment, to start the Ironman World Championships, the excitement built, the crowd cheered, and the gun went off. Swim 3.8km: The swim had started miserably arms-elbows flying all over, within a few meters I was beat up, one smashed into my left ear to make me switch to a bit of backstroke to get my bearings. I was now stuck in the middle pack, with a sea of swimmers coming towards us, quickly I decided easier to draft off with this group, than go alone and chase the lead pack. So as the chop increased, I just kept going steady, slowly swallowing a bit of Pacific Ocean. Usually the last 200-300 meters I have energy to speed, this time I just stayed relaxed and got out with a time of 56! Not bad, not the 52-53 I was expecting, but 56 wasn’t bad for how I felt. T1 was pretty quick, take speed suit off, get bags, shower, shoes, helmet on and off to the bike. Bike 180.2kms: immediately after mounting there was a small climb, I punched the legs it felt like I was at 100% effort but the speed showed 10kmph, must have been the swim I thought, took a bit more energy so the legs will open up shortly. Then came a flat, again started to punch, speed showed 20kmph, and then wheels were making a noise. I spotted a bike tech and stopped, the front wheel was easy, quick tune to put it back in the middle, the back was a different story; the wheel was jammed in the frame. So we exchanged stories, he said the derailleur was shifting out of place, the hanger was bent (in transit) and so wheel kept moving. He made a few adjustments, said this should hold, but track a tech down in case you feel wheel slip. The goal of the bike was to do it at 80% effort, conserve till hawi climb section that was the goal. The first 60km was effortless and without any significant issues, the climb to hawi felt easy too, the sun had started to beat down and the winds had picked up. The much talked about lava fields did feel like an oven.
Around 110 the cramp hit, as I pulled over I checked my nutrition, I had taken salts, Gatorade, banana so that was ok? Decided to add more salt, stretched a bit, and off we went. The smallest hill felt like a climb, the wheel had moved again, spotted a tech got it fixed. Around 115 I had my first vomit, now that’s never good, I prayed it eases off but that wasn’t the case. Nothing would stay in, gels-banana-cliff bar, would be a bad idea not to eat for 65 kms so I kept adding salt every 10 mins, and sipping on what I could. At 140 I had a massive cramp in the left leg, so as I pulled aside I did the math, try to be a hero now and push for 6:20 or take it easy and see where it takes me. After stretching, the plan was set, even if I did 20kmph I would make it well before cut off, but even holding 20kmph felt like effort. In the midst of all this, at one point the bike slid, now there was no water or anything so that weird? Luckily there was ample room to slowly get control and get off, to find out the bike tags they had given had slid and was stuck in the rear wheel, again stopped the tech who made adjustments and off we went. Now the situation changed a bit, go 20kmph for last hour, and hope there’s no mechanical, or push a bit now and take a chance, so I chose the latter. Slowly I could muster 22-23kmph and finally made into T2 with a 7:01 not bad considering what had happened all day.
Now to pick up your run bags in T2 you have a solid 200-300 meters jog, I couldn’t even lift my legs up, let alone jog, so I walked, used the loo, picked up my bags and sat in T2. The math was simple I had ample Time to walk the marathon, don’t try to be a hero, you didn’t come this far for a DNF I reminded myself. The first km was almost at 7 pace, the legs will Open up I thought, the aid stations were poorly stocked when compared to other Ironman events still drank Gatorade, had orange with salt, water, sponge, ice and the shuffle began. By 5km it was clear to me this was going to be a long day, the course actually gets difficult around 17kms so today was going to be all about survival.
Around 10km I had my first vomit on the run, and the sun wasn’t letting go yet. 13kms in I walked next to this guy who was wearing a Maryland tri team shirt, so we exchanged pleasantries, to soon realize both of us were having a similar day. Jeff and me made a pact jog a bit then walk, and then jog and it worked out well. While we chatted, the sun had started to set on queen K, Jeff would remind me about the mile splits and our avg pace, by then I had put my Garmin on heart rate mode as the speed just was getting slower by the second. As the sun set we started talking about the energy lab, and once we hit that it would be 10km left. By then the only thing I could keep down was the luke warm chicken broth, everything else was coming out, so every aid station I was sipping bit by bit. One by one I saw friends pass, some went whizzing by, Victoria passed me to say she had mechanical on the bike, Tanya, Deepak, crossed heading to the finish line.
Now usually after the sun sets, it gets chilly, at Kona there was no change, no breeze, we were still sweating, what made it worse is that there are no lights None! So pitch dark in spots, with just glow sticks we saw the way to the energy lab. I lost Jeff as he stopped at special needs to pick up something but caught up within 5 mins. We were 10kms away, he was cramping so we started going one light to another, one cone at a time walk-jog-walk-jog. Finally the turn to palani came and I told Jeff I had to push now, because even if I did cramp I knew we would crack 14. I saw Deepak, couple other friends and started to finally flow, sub 6min km felt like I had won a medal, the next one got emotional, lot of people lined up cheering and it started to sink in, the finish line was in sight, the noise was getting louder with each step.
Wiping tears, for a second life flashed back the struggles, the falls, for a second future came in mine, the resilience would have to be there lifelong, finally I removed my cap-my goggles and made sure there was no one around me in the chute, gave hi5 to the crowds and jumped to the finish. The spotters caught me and Mike riley announced “You are an Ironman....from India.” I didn’t want to go to medical, so I went straight to my bag, picked up stuff and went to eat pizza- ice cream. I saw Victoria and her friends we exchanged stories, and I headed back to my car. Slowly the feeling had sunk in, the dream had been realized, Kona Ironman World Championship finisher was getting added to the resume, now only if I could have a beer right now to celebrate I thought, but since there was no one to pick up my bags and bike I headed to the car and home.
I sat in the car, slowly it had sunk in, a dream had been achieved today, and it had taken 18 Ironman’s to come to this stage, which put things in perspective. A solid race plan includes one where you know how to react when things go wrong. It is said in life, such as Ironman “Anything is possible,” you plan so hard, you work so hard to have the best race ever, then life throws a curve ball (few in my case), champions they say find ways to hit them out of the park, I am glad I could muster energy to do the same.