Swim 1:03:21, Ride 5:04:24, Run, 4:03:04, Overall: 10:21:23. 125/168 = 74.4%, 673/2,315 = 29.1%
Two Thousand, Four Hundred and Three athletes were registered for the 2016 Ironman World Championship, but only 2,315 (96.3%) made it to athlete registration. According to “Coach Cox”, of those finishers, only 2,115 (91.3%) finished the race within the 17 hour cutoff. While I did earn my spot by qualifying with a 9:46 at Ironman Cairns and receiving the 6th and final roll-down slot in 9th position, it is clear that I am nowhere near the quality of athletes and not competitive in the least on the World stage… yet… But, I will be. And one day, I will be on that stage in the Top 5 receiving the highly-sought after Umeke Bowl. There are at least 2,403 stories out there, mine is no greater or worse but like all, is unique so grab a bottle and enjoy because this is a thirty minute read.
I have been a triathlete for 6 years with my first being the Lowell Mill City Olympic Triathlon in Lowell, Mass, USA. Dad and Donna were there. It was my first ever outdoor swim without a wetsuit because it was only my 8th ever swim while training for triathlon. I went 36:12 in that 1.5KM Swim at 2:25/100m. Within those first 2 months of being a triathlete I finished 2 Olympics and two 70.3 events with a 4:48 PB on a road bike. In 2012 after Ironman New Zealand was cut to a 70.3, I watched my first ever Kona-Roll Down. The excitement of the talent qualifying for the Ironman World Championship (IMWC) was euphoric; I wanted that. Eight iron-distance events over nearly four and a half years later, I would have my euphoric moment. It was my 2nd and last chance to join my wife Fiona Coyle and teammate Karen McPherson at the IMWC’16. I coached both of these athletes to get to the big island. With pressure, stress, and barriers guided by faith, Passion, and Love, I rose to the occasion and finally attained the pinnacle, the mecca, the greatest triathlon in the World; Kona.
We woke at 4:00AM on October 8th 2016. With just under 3 hours to race time, I had a banana, 4 pieces of toast, and 2 regular Red Bulls. I suited up and Jock McPherson (sponsor from Territory Rural McPherson) drove his wife Karen, Fiona, and myself down Alii Drive. We jumped out and walked to numbering & transition. Air in tires to 120psi, Clif Bloks in pouches, Iced Bottle of ARO Caffeine, and Iced Bottle of Gatorade on the back, water up front, rubber bands and shoes in place on the bike. Check the brakes, check the gearing, turn the Garmin on. Over to Fiona I fixed her front wheel since air wouldn’t go in. I made sure to take my time and not screw anything up like I had when her crank arm nearly came off for her in Ironman Cairns. Bags checked in and sunscreen on. Andreas Raelert was a meter away from me; I saw him running on Saturday. He was 2nd in the world 4 times, but would DNF during the run.
We headed to the entrance to the swim and sat on the ground. I ate a pack of Clif Shot Bloks 15min before go. I never saw the fighter gets or Navy Seal skydivers I expected. I did see pee coming down from the guy in front of me as he tried to conceal it. Why didn’t he just go in the water?
After the canon’s and kissing Fiona (lips) and Karen (cheek) I joined the 1,552 other Male Swimmers and started on the 2nd line to the middle, left of the giant Roka float. I floated there trying to breath, relax, and take it in. I knew what I wanted to do and I had a race plan: Swim sub 1:05 and beat or come near my 1:02:24 from the Ho’ala Swim from the prior Saturday, Bike 283 watts at 3.5w/kg (Best Bike Split predicted this to be a 4:35 bike), and run 3:40. The best I expected was a 9:30 but I wanted at least a sub 10. I set my expectations “low” so that I could reach them but I was 100% going to respect this race and this island.
LEG 1: SWIM
The IMWC swim is notorious. I had done my research and expected a war. IM Mont-Tremblant’12 taught me to just keep swimming. I had felt like I was going to drown there for the first 5 minutes but that was when I went 1:10 IN A WETSUIT, IN A FRESH WATER LAKE! (But I had made significant improvements in 4 years with a 55:53 PB and 3 months of the best swim Coach we know, Rob Jonston who after this race and this experience, I consider more than a “mate”, but a brother). Thank you Rob.
As I started, a volunteer on a long board was to my left, I went under the raised board and had open water for the first initial kicks. Maybe that set me up for a great swim but I never felt like I was at war. Of course it got clustered at times with athletes swimming different directions but I had my steady pace based off of my muscular endurance and consistency. I knew I was on pace by breathing every stroke to the right hand side. I did have moments seeing the fish below me and was actually startled at the boat turn around where I saw a scuba diver literally a foot underneath me. At this time I looked at my watch of around 28:50 or 90seconds slower than the Ho’ala swim. “Oh shit, I need to pick it up here.” Clearly I was slower from the battle-front. Unfortunately, I didn’t know my pace; distance wasn’t getting recorded on my 920XT. I swam to the next buoy on around 1:33-1:35/100m, much better than my 2:25/100m in my first every triathlon!
The water polo sessions from Rob were good but I’ll need more when facing Kona again in the future. I stayed mentally tough and expect that I was very consistent. My heavy muscular legs were quite buoyant in the very salty water and my ROKA Viper SwimSkin was awesome. My TYR goggles were just fine and I felt like I had clear water for much of the swim. I was passing people on the back half which I found motivating and as I sighted past the Kona Inn where we ate as family, I knew I was close. I followed the pier closely and came to the stairs emerging with a major smile for the cameras. While I was slower than the Ho’ala swim by 57 seconds I consider this a major success. After all, I had gone 1:17 at Challenge Atlantic City in 2014. I hit one of my goals of a sub 1:05 swim and my training was clearly working. It was my 4th fastest Ironman swim ever (of 9).
As expected, it was packed. This is a World Championship and everyone can swim! I didn’t get a seat but dried my arms and pulled up my Green and Gold arm coolers to protect me from the sun, keep me cool, and additional aero benefit. I slammed an ARO Caffeine drink with 200mg of caffeine or about 3 cups of coffee. Run to bike located at far end of pier. There, helmet on, glasses on, go.
Even though it’s the IMWC there are still a bunch of idiots out there. Many were stopping right on the line and I saw a couple near crashes like when Chris McCormack slammed his bike into the derailleur of Marino Vanhoenacker and completely screwed Marino’s race. I ran a good 5 meters past to the side and mounted. Up the small piece of Palani, left onto Kaukini and I then put my feet in my mounted shoes. HR was high and I maintained steady power up “Dave and Mark’s hill”. Flying down the no-pass zone to insure I stayed upright into the “Hot Corner”, I heard Dad scream for me with Donna getting video, and a whistle of the first moron on the day, passing by me, on the right, in a no pass zone.
On the Kaukini I quickly saw Mum and Jacinta (Fi’s sister who took 6th here in 2009). Massive speed coming back down and as I saw the 667 people in front of me all I could think was “Shit, there are a lot of people in front of me!”
I climbed up Palani trying to stick on 320 watts which is zone 3/zone 4 and the upper levels of where I wanted to be on climbing during the day.
For the next 60 miles or nearly 100km to the top of Hawi there was endless drafting, blocking, and dangerous situations made by many riders. I saw so many things but the one that had some verbals between was an athlete I was passing who didn’t immediately drop back and that I saw start to make forward progress on my right. But I saw people cross the center line, drafting done in packs of 50+ etc. I only saw one official nearly the entire time give 1 blue card to a guy in front of me when I was in the right zone. Listen, I did cheat, I was certainly in the draft and while I did my best not to, it truly was difficult not to draft. I knew this coming into it; you’d have someone pass you and then just coast. How do you fall back 12 meters to then speed up and overtake while in a pack of 50+ and being over taken at the same time? This is a World Championship and everyone can bike! During the race I had “Some” sympathy for the drafting done at the 70.3 WC in Australia and now believe that either the WC’s should be spread out to level the field, the officials need an increase by 10-Fold, the Male and Female need to be separated over 2 days, OR, GARMIN, GOPRO, and TESLA, all need to get together to take our sport of Triathlon into the next century with sensors on ALL bikes monitoring drafting. Listen, that is where it will be in the future, most likely the latter, since the Mass Start will never stop at the IMWC.
On the bike, I could not deliver my target of 283 watts with 300watts for the first 3 hours. While I’ve done this multiple times in the Alice Springs Winter, the heat, humidity, and winds of Kona were too great for me. While I’m used to riding in 60F weather, my garmin was reading 90F-100F for the entire ride. I felt acclimatized thanks to our sponsor Mombasa Day Spa, Alice Springs but believe my size of 178 pounds and lack of heat training in the Aussie winter prevented me from pushing hard in extreme temperatures.
I realized early on that I wasn’t going to hit my power but I didn’t let it phase me. I was in the IMWC! This is literally all I remember saying throughout the day. “I am racing in the Ironman World Championship!” How awesome is this!!!! My rookie year was not the year to expect greatness, but it was to be a stepping stone for the next 20-50 years of endurance sport.
Highlights were doing my best to Not draft and not getting a penalty for that, passing a shit-load of people on the decent from Hawi (with my massive 55-23 chain-ring as Shane from Smith St Velo, Alice Springs, a sponsor of Busso’15 said to me as I had him put this on) note: half the pro males have a 55-23, so I was going to do that too, seeing our 61 year old athlete Karen McPherson on the climb to Hawi, and then seeing Coach Rob on the decent to Hawi near the port. When seeing Rob and going back and forth with him for 10-20km he told me he did a 54 swim which I was happy for him and he said he was just “Keeping it light”, when I then saw him fly up the steep hill from the port back to the Queen K. I came back to him and said “Why are you passing me?!” I hope Rob takes some needed rest and realizes that RECOVERY is one of the foundations of Triathlon training.
The packs disappeared after Hawi and I made a ton of progress. The winds were there all day long but I only felt the crosswind shake my front wheel once. I was never negative having trained in the Alice winds for so long but it was a bit disappointing that I could never get the power up. Regardless, the intensity WAS there as my average HR was 132 compared with prior IM Race pace HR and BDO’s of 133. My cadence was solid on 89, TSS too low of 243.5, IF of 70% with my FTP at 357 but balance was 50%/50%; I burned 4,198 calories. My time was nowhere near what I wanted nor expected but I did it. Leg 2, complete. P.S. I just grabbed another 2 glasses of Champagne here in the United lounge at Honolulu airport. CHEERS!!!
I fueled with 3 shot bloks and a salt tablet pretty much every 20minutes when I lapped the Garmin. I used Gatorade, water on the arms, and when I finally drank Coke, I felt the sugar, salt, and caffeine immediately. I had a second 200mg caffeine hit of ARO half way though the ride but I barely felt it; going forward I would rely mostly on non-caffeine bloks and Coke.
Shit. Literally. Ok, well I guess I need to hit the bathroom AGAIN in an Ironman Transition. If anyone can tell me how to not have to take a shit during an Ironman, Please write in the comments! Minimal protein, fat, and fiber for 2 days and I still had to go!!!
So I went, put socks on and my Saucony Kaleidoscope shoes on, visor thanks to the Germans at the Parade of Nations, bib, and FuelBelt pouch with 2 gels and an M&M canister filled with Salt Tablets.
It was a slow friggen T2 due to Pit Stop #1 having peed while cycling 2 times. My hydration and the 8 pounds I put on during the week was FINE, I was carbo loaded and had ENERGY, but my Bowls, SHIT!
Phew, no flats, power lower than Cairns which means one thing. I should have a great run. Now, lets run a marathon! The crowds were huge and I quickly saw Mom and Tony. (Their first time this far via plane, first time to Hawaii, and they saw me go 10:15 at Challenge Atlantic City). While I came out of the water in 704th position after the Pro’s and Male Amateurs, I passed around 355 athletes to move up to around 349 position on the course at that time. However, out on Alii Drive I was quickly passed by a TON OF PEOPLE. Those first 3-5 miles could have been incredibly demoralizing but I was absolutely focused on MYSELF and the FRIENDS and FAMILY that got me there. OUR SUPPORTERS and ALL of those SPECIAL people who for me, are the only reason why I want to return to Alice Springs. The amount of support that Karen, Fiona, and myself had on our Closed group “The Road to Kona” and personal messages were amazing and had me get to bed hours and hours after the race after reading everyone’s messages filled with love and support.
While I could have easily been broken down right there and then, with 22 miles to go in the heat and humidity I only focused on “Be consistent”. My “Don’t walk” faded with the first aid-station but was far better than the complete bonks of IM Mont Tremblant 3:58? marathon and Challenge Atlantic City 3:52 marathon. The crowds were amazing and the atmosphere was electric. But like many others at the IMWC, I never had so many athletes near me. This is a World Championship and everyone can run!
My nutrition plan was a gel every 30minutes, salt tablets every 20minutes, and then Gatorade and coke. I think I stayed as close to it as possible with eating one of my carried gels and losing the other. I may have had another gel but already can’t remember. I certainly worked hard during the run having 20:38 in Zone 3, 2:20:40 in Zone 2, but 1:19:27 in Zone 1. My average HR of 129 was low to the 133 expected but having spent probably 8min+ on the shitter, over 4 stops would have dropped that down.
After Alii, I saw Mom and Tony on the Kaukini Highway. Mom was a ball of tears and I gave them both a high 5. She posted that, very proudly and it would be the last time I saw her on this trip. Fortunately, I’ll be back with Fiona for an American Thanksgiving in 5 weeks in dirty jersey.
PALANI HILL would be my first mini-victory. I gave a huge high 5 to Pete Murray on the Hot Corner and ran the entire hill except for the aid station. On the backside of Dave and Marks’ hill I saw Jo and Pete Coombe (Wheel Science) who were absolutely ecstatic; they were at our wedding with Jo having raced here before and Pete doing his best to get here but will be in the future, guaranteed. Thanks for the photos friends! The music was too loud at the top but the volunteers were amazing.
The Queen K continued and just went on and on and on. I wondered “where the hell is the energy lab?” I desperately wanted to see it. And I felt cramps coming on at least 4 times but I knocked that off with immediate salt tablets. I continued on hitting Pit stop #3 (2nd on the run) half way out on the Queen K. I came into the energy lab and had a decent run down-hill. Nearly towards the end I saw the very qualified Chris Rancie who I beat by seconds into T2 during my 9:22 at IMWestern Australia, but then blew me away with a 2:59 marathon. I had given him some advice with his injury the day prior to the race and he was truly grateful. We actually embraced in the lab with “awes” from the volunteers. It was a special and memorable, meaningful moment for me. The Clif Energy Section in the lab was absolutely awesome. I turned around, continued on, and hit my next mini-victory of running the small incline out of the energy lab to the aid station where I could have easily folded and walked. In the lab, I had 2 full cups of Red Bull but shortly later really felt the caffeine hitting me and vowed that I would not consume any more caffeine having consumed north of 900mg of caffeine during the day.
But I continued on and half way down went back to the same friggen port-a-jon for my 3rd damn bathroom break!!! A woman was hogging the only loo there which is my only negative and criticism of the race. (Really? One loo at each aid station for 2,300 friggen athletes????), then a guy went in front of me so I lost more minutes there. All in all, probably close to 10minutes with the 4 stops.
I continued on without any negativity because I was racing Kona baby! And for the second time I saw my beautiful wife, yelled out for all to hear “THAT’S MY WIFE!” gave her a massive hug and kiss and told her I was proud of her.
My next mini victory was running the entire Dave and Mark Hill at a 5% grade with 1.5 miles to go. I flew down the backside with Pete Murray high 5, and rounded the corner. I saw Mum and Jacinta for more high 5s, I had seen Jock and Karens family along Alii drive all decked out in our incredible Sponsors Supporters shirts. I also saw Dad and Donna with 200 meters to go. I round along Alii Drive and while I absolutely took everything in and breathed every moment, it wasn’t the absolute feeling I was seeking; reaching your goals.
But, I was finishing, I was competing in, racing in, and respecting, the greatest event, in the greatest sport in the world. All I could do was take it in. Running down the finishing shoot I did all I could, SMILE. Take it in and know that I had trained, sweat, teared, bloodied, to get here and I was finishing, crossing the line of this amazing event.
I was there, I had done it. I was unique and special. I was one of only 40,000 – 50,000 athletes since 1978 to ever get to this point when 15 people competed and 12 finished the first ever Ironman, conceived on Oahu of 3 Endurance Events already there: A 3.8km Swim known as the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, a Ride around the entire Island in the Around-Oahu Bike Race, and the Honolulu Marathon. I achieved it and I finished it. BUT, I did it with my wife and a woman I look at as more than a friend but someone who has the upmost respect for life. Karen McPherson went on to finish 9th in the World and she says that she was only there because of me. Fiona, she too, 54th in the world says she owes it to me. It would be incredible if the Passion and Love of life that I have, shown through these amazing women, were able to transcend the political, self-centered bull-shit that exists in the entire World. After all, I raced alongside Turia Pitt, the blind, the physically challenged, but we all did it; we all completed what we set out to do because as my hypnotherapist had said when I pursued my KQ, “You do, what you do.”
I waited just past the finish line for Fiona and embraced her when she arrived. We returned bikes to the car after hours lounging in the recovery area. We regrouped with Karen after her finish and family as well. We celebrated as One Team, backed by the support of real friends that have gone above and beyond over the last eighteen months. These people are loyal, honorable people who we respect. We hold these finishes with them.
We were fortunate enough to receive sponsorship funds from eight local sponsors found within Alice Springs Australia. Many of these businesses have supported triathlon as well as Fiona and I over the last 6 years of being triathletes in Alice. There were also new additions with generous support from Triathlon Northern Territory, Triathlon Australia, and the Darwin Triathlon Club recognizing us through multiple avenues. To you all, thank you for being part of our journey.
What is next?
Ironman New Zealand (my 10th ironman) on March 4th, 2017 and the Asia-Pacific Ironman Championship in Cairns June 11th, 2017. I’ll be competing with Mark Russell, Duncan Rogers, and Fiona in NZ and maybe Duncan at Cairns. Then, we plan on moving to Tucson, Arizona to the #1/2 city for triathlon in America.
I’ll continue on, building upon past seasons and working even harder for Fiona to help reach peak fitness.
Goals will rebuild, renew, and identify themselves. We’ll come back stronger, fitter, and more focused than ever and I’ll give us both another chance at getting back to Kona with goals of Sub 1 Hour swim, Sub 5 hour Bike, and Sub 4 hour run. Overall, my swim was 789 of 2,208 (35%), My bike was 238 of 2,185 (10%), My run was 1,124 of 2,115 (53%). I agree that triathlon is swim-bike-run and that I need significant improvement on my run. But carrying an extra 10-20kgs compared with the top guys who would easily run 2:30-2:40 outright compared with my 3:02 tells me only one thing. Make your strength your sword.
While we were waiting in the United Lounge, Fiona spotted Mark Allen. He was sitting there talking on the phone. We didn’t see any other triathletes and Fi mentioned that most of those people would haven’t the slightest clue that this man was one of the greatest triathletes our sport had ever seen. We met him at Challenge Atlantic City and I printed the picture out to get signed at the Gold AWA Breakfast. We met him again at the Heros of Hawaii event.
On the back of the picture I wrote a few words that basically gave gratitude and thanks to him. I wrote to him saying that while he was beating up on Dave Scott in the IronWar of 1989, I was only 5 years old, but he inspired my generation and will continue to inspire for generations to come. I gave him complete respect and solace but felt compelled to give him a genuine message. He asked me, “When was this photo taken?” I told him Atlantic City 2014. “You look fitter now”, he said. I replied saying that I’ve trained hard the last few years.
Later, when I was grabbing some food, Mark came up to me and extended his hand saying thank you and offering me my best. It was a special moment for me and one that could only come from Kona. This race, this island are special and sacred.
FINAL FINAL WORD
So just how hot was it? At every aid station I put multiple cups of ice down my tri suit. I had volunteers pour giant climbs down my top. The ice disintegrated into my groin and then down my quads. Ice would pop out the end of my suit. But at one point while running to the energy lab with massive pools of sweat on my chest I felt and the ice was gone. All I could think was “WTF?”… 10 miles to go…