Racing yesterday was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. This was my fourth Ironman, but my first trip to race here on the Big Island. There is nothing that compares to Hawaii. I don’t think it is possible to prepare yourself for this race. It is simply something you have to experience. Here is a recap of the day:
The day started with transition yesterday morning. After getting my nutrition on the bike, I decided to check and see what the pros do for the biggest race of their lives. A few racks over sat Macca, Alexander (Mens Winner), Potts, Lieto, Badman and many others getting their bikes ready for the day. I shared a few words of encouragement and all of them shared them back. There is a sense of camaraderie here that does not exist at other races. I think those guys knew what we were about to get ourselves into, and because of that, everyone shares something in common.
After my pro gawking, I made my way to the swim start and the pros were entering the water. I had another chance to sit on the wall and watch them get ready to go. We had to pause for the Navy to parachute in then the national anthem and off the pros went.
Right after their start, we make our way into the water and out to the buoy. We bobbed up and down for about 15 minutes, the excitement builds, the people all around are cheering, then…. Boom, the cannon goes and we are off.
At this point, I knew this day would be different from other race days. Normally I can get out front in swims and find some open water. Here, I had the crap kicked out of me for 58 minutes. The girls are the worst! One of them made a fist, then kicked breast stroke to get some guy off of her. I really thought this thing would thin out, but it stayed tight all the way to the finish. Someone asked me about sighting, and I thought they were kidding. Your goggles fill up with water from all the turbulence and all you can see is a white foam in front of your face. I did my best to keep it easy and to stay right behind someone so I would not get clobbered.
I exited the water in about 58 minutes and based on the conditions, I was pretty pleased. I took my time in transition, got some fluids, sunscreen and took off on the bike. The bike felt easy on the smooth roads and I spent most of the way out of town getting passed by 100’s of people. The wind was at our back and we were flying. I did notice that everyone going by me was caked in salt and when I looked down at my black shorts, I realized the same thing. We were losing fluids and fast. I kept with my strategy of drinking a lot of fluids on the bike, took in some salt, ate plenty of power bars (5 total for the day) and some gels.
When we made the turn to head up to Hawi, the wind started and it was blowing right in our face. This was about 10 miles from the bike turn. At that point, we saw the pros coming by and that was cool to see them cruising down the hill so quickly. I was also blessed with a 4 minute drafting penalty. I went to the tent, spent 4 minutes with 8 other athletes and enjoyed the time to get fluids, take salt and eat a Powerbar. It kind of reminded me of a stop in Richards!
On the way down from Hawi, we were moving pretty good, then when we headed back out on the Queen Q. At this point you are 34 miles from Kona. I also realized why the ride out was so easy. The wind was right in our face blowing 20+ mph and I spent the next 2 hours in the small chain ring doing about 15 mph. In addition to that, the heat was just cooking your back as you struggled to move up the road. People were pulling over to get in some fluids because no one wanted to let go of the bars.
Once I cooked my legs coming back into town, it was time to start the run. On Ali’i drive, I felt pretty decent. Legs still felt good and I got to pass my family twice in the process. You spend about 11 miles of the run in town before you run up Palani out onto the Queen K towards the Energy Lab. You then spend 5 miles running to the Energy Lab on an open road with no fans. The only thing you notice on the way out of town are pros walking home, aid stations in the distance and the heat coming off the road. I hit mile 13 and was starting to notice my fluid was not digesting in my gut. By the time I got to the Energy Lab, nothing would go down and I really started feeling weak. I just don’t think anything could have prepared me for what I was feeling. I started walking and running and then walked some more. I spent a lot of the Energy Lab walking trying to get fluid to go down. By the time I got out of there, I started feeling better and was able to run the last 4 miles at a decent clip.
As I look back on that moment today, I just can’t describe the respect I have for the few athletes that come here and run through those conditions. After what we experienced on the bike, then having to run in that heat, I now know what this Ironman is all about.
As I struggled out in the Energy Lab, I wanted to make sure Shani took Hannah to see the women’s finisher. Hannah stood right there as Chrissie Wellington made history with her 3rd straight win. I was so glad she got to see that happen.
Once I started running down Palani, all the pain left. You make a right turn onto Ali’i drive and the only way to describe it is like a ride at Disney World. You feel as if you are on a giant people mover sliding between fans with music, lights, drums and cheers. Then you see it, the finish chute lined with people…then you step up to the arch and what you have waited to hear, “Timothy Monk of The Woodlands, Texas, You are an Ironman.”
Once done, volunteers give you a real lei, and escort you back to the finishers area. Shani and the rest of the “Team Monk” crew made there way back to greet me and we just sat and talked about what we experienced. Everyone was tired, but we just took some time to take in the moment. After about 20 minutes, we made our way to get the bike out of transition and started the walk home up Ali’i while other finishers were coming in. I turned to see the finish line under the lights and like they described it on one of the television shows, it is something seen in Disney Land.
After a decent nights sleep, I did not feel that bad this morning and we made it by Lava Java and ran into Chris Lieto and Robert Larioza with Base Performance having some breakfast. Chris had an incredible race and it was great chatting with him about his day.
To wrap up our Ironman experience, the whole family headed to the awards banquet. Like the pre-race banquet, Ironman put on another awesome show. Seeing all the age groupers get their awards and then having the chance to see Chrissie Wellington and Craig Alexander take home the overalls was a real thrill. Chrissie Wellington’s speech was one of the best I have heard in years. It was not so much about triathlon, but about why this sport can do so much more for those that seek it out.
Lastly, I have to thank everyone again that have supported me on this journey. I have enjoyed chronicling this from the start and have been told by many that it was inspirational. I can’t say anything that I have done is inspirational, but I hope anyone that has the dream to race on the big island can realize that chance. It truly is an amazing experience.
The amount of well wishes I received and congratulations over the past few days has just been overwhelming. I am thankful in my life to be surrounded by so many incredible people.
I look forward to next week enjoying HI with the family. They deserve a week of R&R and time away from the Ironman.