ONIPA’A: IRONMAN World Championship 2015 Race Report

34448The theme of Kona this year was “Onipa’a. A Hawaiian word, Onipa’a means “the strength to remain steadfast, resilient and resolute . I tried my hardest to embrace this tradition and embody it in my race.

I felt excited, confident and ready to tackle Kona for the second time. I learned a lot last year racing in Kona that I could use to my advantage this year. I flew out to Hawaii a week early, that’s 4 more days before last year. I was able to get comfortable with the weather and conditions on the big island. Last year, I was super anxious for the ocean swim at Kona, this year I had a lot more confidence and was much more relaxed heading into the race. Days leading up the race I had some bike issues. I lost my chain 5 times on a 1 hr ride and got two flat tires during the week. With all that, I felt at ease, having brought my bike to the MyCervelo tent. A late week cold hit me on Wednesday before the race, I battled with a sore throat, congestion and sinus pressure. I did a Netti pot the night before and morning of the race to help loosen everything up. I had to be careful not to take certain sinus or cold medications that are on the banned USDA list of drugs..

Race morning, I was feeling pretty good. My head was feeling pretty clear and I was very focused on executing a great race. I got into transition early and filled my tires up, checked my bags and then headed towards the swim start. Little did I know, that I had already made two mistakes that would derail my race.

swim garminSwim: After the pros went off, they let the male AG’s into the water. I warmed up and then made my way to the buoy line. This year the officials tried keeping the front group a lot more narrow then last year. This only added to the cluster and chaos of the mass start. As time ticked down the group got a little wider, despite the officials best efforts. The cannon sounded, and we were off!

I went out fast for the first 5 minutes. I was off the the left of the buoy line and I made my way towards the buoys. I was surprised at the lack of contact during the first half of the race. I felt strong and kept my head down, following a few other swimmers in front of me. The swells were pretty big on race day, which made it hard to sight buoys. As we neared the turn-around boat, I was still feeling good and strong. Things always get fiesty after the turn-around. Everyone wants to swim along the buoy line and it makes for crowded groups with lots of elbows and feet.

About 10 minutes in to the back half of the race, I caught a strong fist to the face. Goggles came off one eye and I was a little dazed. I had to keep swimming a few strokes in order not to get run over by the pack behind me. Once I had a little room, I slowed up and fixed my goggles. I had a brand new pair of TYR goggles which I forgot to adjust prior to race day. After 40+ minutes of racing the goggle straps began to feel too tight on my head. It started with a minor headache, but escalated quickly into feeling light-headed and a tingling sensation in my hands and legs. At this point, I knew a PR was out of question, I just wanted to make it back to shore safe. I moved inside the buoy line, stopping a few times to release the tension of my goggles. I tried to remain calm and just take things one stroke at a time.

I could finally see the giant Gatorade bottle on the pier which meant we were almost home. I looked down at my watch and knew it would be a slower day in the water than in 2014. My Garmin showed 4600 yds (200 extra), so the course may have been a little long or I just saw a little crooked. I came out of the water with a swim time of 1:03:19.

T1: I was so happy to rip off my swim cap and goggles. It almost immediately relived the tension and anxiety I had been feeling. I grabbed a quick swig of water from the hoses to rinse the salt water out of my mouth, then stripped off my TYR Torque Pro swim skin. The change tent was jam packed with people so I skipped the sun-screen area and ran straight to my bike (I had my shoes and helmet already on my bike). I got my bike and got caught up behind a wall of other athletes making their way to the exit. T1 time was 2:40.

Bike: I mounted my bike and headed up Palani. I got my shoes strapped on and felt excited to be on my bike. I knew that my slow swim wouldn’t keep me from having a strong day on the bike and run.

bikeAs I started up the hill on Kaukini and began to head a rubbing noise. I assumed it was my brakes which I’ve had some similar issues with in the past. I tried to adjust the brakes from left to right but it didn’t seem to work. At the first turn-around we headed downhill back to town. My bike began to jerk and the wheel started to rub along the top of my frame. I began running through scenarios in my head on what was going on. Was there something stuck to my tire? Did I put my wheel on crooked or was the skewer stripped? The rubbing continued, increasing on downhills when more pressure was applied to the front of the frame. I flagged down a SAG vehicle, which road along side of me for a minute as I chatted with the mechanic. I felt like Tom Cruise Keeneau Reeves in “Speed” as the mechanic was hanging out of the sliding down of the van talking through options with me on how to “defuse the bomb”.

IMG_20151012_093126788He suggested putting on a new wheel, but I didn’t know what that involved (would I have to pay for it, rental fee, or what would happen.) He kept asking what size tube and tire I put on, but I couldn’t think in the moment. I hadn’t changed the front tire and tube of the bike since before IMCDA. I told him that I would try to continue on and see if it got better. By this point, I came to the confusion that I had inflated my tire too much and the heat had expanded it during the swim. I was holding my goal wattage, 240w, but wasn’t able to keep up with other riders. I stopped a few times on the way out to Hawi to adjust the wheel and let some air out.

I was frustrated climbing up to Hawi as I watched other riders pass by me one after one. I began to check my bike computer, waiting mile after mile until we got to the turn around at Hawi. It began to rain about 2 miles outside of town. It was a drizzle, which caused some riders to slow up due to lack of visibility and traction on the roads. At the turn around, I finally started to feel confident again on the bike. I was making up ground as I started to descend. We had a slight tailwind down the hill. As soon as the roads flattened out I could feel the burn in my legs. Just like last year, the last 30 miles would be a headwind heading back to Kailua-Kona. It was a long grueling 30 miles and I watched as my hopes for a sub 5hr ride began to drop each minute. I started trying to calculate the mph I would need to ride sub 5, but the wind was just too strong, it wasn’t my day on the bike. Bike Split 5:09:08 (21.74 mph).

T2: Surprisingly, I was till very positive and hopeful heading into transition. I knew the run at an IRONMAN can make or break your day. I had been working on my mental strength since IMWI and I was anxious to see how it would hold up on the big stage. I dismounted my bike and made the run around the pier. After getting my shoes, socks and bottle in T2, I headed up Palini and onto Kaukini. T2 time was 3:26

Run: During the first mile, I looked down at my watch, hoping to see around 7-min per mile average. It wasn’t. I was in the 8’s and my legs were hurting. The heat was intense and I knew it wasn’t going to be the magical run that I hoped. That didn’t mean my day was over. After being stubborn and not enjoying the moment last year in Kona, I made a promise to myself that I would enjoy it no matter what.

I had a blast making jokes with spectators, seeing friends and cheering on other athletes. The way up Ali’i drive was long but the people with hoses and sprinklers really made it bearable. On the way back down Ali’i drive, I began to feel my skin burning. I realized I had forgot to wear sunscreen all day. My skin was burnt and I had goosebumps. I ran by my girlfriend at mile 9 and told her my skin was burning.

At mile 10, I watched as the champion, Jan Frodeno came by. 2 spots later, one of my favorite athletes, Tim O’Donnell came down Palani with a strong lean going on. He had put everything out there and deserved the great finish he had. I ran aid station to aid station. Stopping at each one to take in fluids, sponge myself and thank volunteers. It was cool watching the pro fields coming back in from the Energy Lab along with the top age groupers. Some local guys had some great races and I was happy to be able to cheer them on when I wasn’t having my best day.

At mile 16 I saw someone walking, it was Meredith Brooks Kessler, a well-known pro triathlete and IRONMAN Champion. I saw her earlier in the day on the bike stopped with the SAG vehicle after having some mechanical issues. It wasn’t her day, just like mine, but she was out there finishing what she had started. A lot of other pros who had issues on the day, packed in their races early and DNF’d. I slowed to a walk and thanked her for being out there with us and congratulated her on making it back to the big island. She asked me how my day was going and I just said it wasn’t my day, but I was trying to enjoy the moment. She told me she was glad that I “respected the distance.” She was out there doing the same and inspiring people along the way.

I made it out of the Energy Lab and knew there was 8 miles left. I checked my watch and saw I could still make it under 10 hours if I tried. I made it one aid station after another. Ran down Palani and onto Ali’i Drive. I had a new goal at that moment and it was to honor a friend. I lost one of my best friends 5 years ago to the day. It was on October 10th, 2010 (10/10/10) and he suddenly passed away. I ran down the finish shoot with a smile, seeing my girlfriend and hearing cheers from the crowd. I could smile because I knew without a doubt everyone back home could care less about my finish time. Whether it was 9 hours of 16 hours, they were gonna be proud of me regardless. I held one hand over my heart, just below the R.A.F patch on my race kit, and pointed to the sky. It’s hard, but I’m trying to never take one moment for granted. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to race on the sports biggest stage wit the biggest stars. Despite any outcome, I can look back at that moment and smile knowing I had a great friend along with me the whole way. Thank you Ryan, miss you and love you. Run: 3:41:29 (8:27 min/mile pace)


Overall: Another trip to the big island. Its a magical place. I had a great support crew along with me and back home. Thank you to everyone who has followed by journey this year. Thank you so much to my sponsors who have believed in me and helped me get to the start line each race. Endurance House, TYR, INFINIT Nutrition, Superfeet, Feetures, Rudy Project, Tifosi, Cervelo, Zipp and Peak Performance. Mahalo. Mahalo. Mahalo!

What’s next: Rest. I’ll be taking some time away from the sport to rest and recover. I need it more than ever, physically yes, but especially mentally. I did 4 IRONMAN races in less than 12 months and 3 in 2015. That’s just too many. I hit a peak during my season after winning Toughman Minnesota. As I continue to race, I continue to learn what my body needs and what it can handle. I’ll use everything I learned this from this year and put it into my plans for next season. I don’t know when or if I ‘ll ever make it back to the Big Island of Kona, but it was a privilege to be out there the past two year.

Thank you again to everyone who supports, encourages and follows me along this crazy journey. It wouldn’t be worth it without you. Stayed tuned for 2016 plans after I have a chance to decompreas from 2015.

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