Thursday, October 15, 2015

Ironman World Championship 2015

Last weekend I competed in my first Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.
After qualifying last fall at Ironman Florida, coach Mace and I planned 2015 to try and peak for one of the biggest races in triathlon.

Several aspects make Kona a very difficult race. In addition to being 140.6 miles, the hills, heat, humidity and wind combine to make it a worthy course. I tried to prepare for the heat by sitting in a sauna to get my body used to sweating (cooling itself) at a higher rate and doing runs with a long-sleeved shirt.

Hawaii Time
I arrived in Kona one week early to see the course and acclimate. Team Every Man Jack had 16 athletes racing and several of us stayed at a house near the venue.

The first day we rode 55 miles including the climb up to Hawi. Several teammates who had raced there before were especially helpful. The climb up to Hawi is 17 miles long and consists of steady rollers, similar to riding up to Wyoming - but much prettier! On the ride back, we felt the scorching heat. As soon as we stopped moving, we were dripping in sweat.

Backyard view of Team EMJ house
I made it a goal to try and get at least one unique Kona experience in each day instead of locking myself up and focusing on the race. The expo was incredible! I could have filled two backpacks with swag. I made sure to watch several terrible movies with teammates, write postcards and spend as much time as possible in Normatec boots at the team house.

By Thursday, my parents and Geneva had arrived. I was feeling slightly nervous and anxious so their timing was perfect. They reminded me to have fun, relax and enjoy the experience.

The guys at the undie run. I think I won the bike short tan lines competition :)
Race Day
Race morning started at 3:15. I made my breakfast smoothie with 2.5 bananas, coconut milk, orange juice, Gu protein powder and a few frozen berries. After crying because I had run out of greek yogurt a day early, I realized I still had half a banana left to eat with almond butter which made me happy. I went back to bed for an hour.
I was dropped off near transition with Geneva and a few other guys. I was feeling excited but relaxed, it was finally race day! Tons of people were stressing out, shaking while waiting in line for body marking and weigh ins. Walking around transition we got to see all the triathlon celebrities!

Before heading to the swim start
After putting on my Rokaswim skin, I went for a short swim on the other side of the pier, away from the swim start. After two minutes, I saw smoke from the canon and realized the pro men had just started. As the helicopters swarmed, I smiled to myself thinking how lucky I was to race at such an event. A few minutes later the pro women took off. I got out of the water and made my way to the swim start. As we waded into the water, I glanced at the hundreds of spectators lining the beach walls and standing on the pier to watch - so awesome!

Equipment: Roka Viper Pro Swimskin
Nutrition: salt water
I quickly headed to the left side of the group already in the water. Even though there was still 10 minutes, I knew it was important to start treading water and carve out a good position. With over 1200 men starting with me, the start would be physical. I planned to go out hard for 300 meters or so before trying to settle in. I prefer to swim with clear water and wanted to avoid feeling like bait in a tank full of piranhas.

The locals on surfboards were yelling at us to stop edging forward and to move towards the pier. Eventually they gave up and the canon went off. I got out pretty good and was in the lead group on the left for the first few minutes. Off to the right, I saw lots of people going faster than us. Still, I wasn't getting mauled and my lungs weren't exploding; I was happy.

2015 Kona amateur male swim start
After 8 - 10 minutes, our pack began heading to the buoy line. I was feeling good and the salt water was bugging me less than in earlier swims. It seemed to take a long time before we reached the turn. As we went around the boat, I spotted a few divers underneath us taking pictures. The thrashing of all of us must have looked pretty sweet. If there hadn't been 1000 people behind me I would definitely have smiled and waved for them!

Heading back to the pier, my focus dropped a few times. I was in a pack and thought we were moving well but I could still see many swimmers in front of us. My thoughts turned negative for a few minutes. How are all these people swimming faster than me? I still have over 8 hours of this thing left. I snapped my self out of it by focusing. Swim six strokes, sight, then repeat. I told myself, this is the world championships! Of course there are faster swimmers. The constant movement in the waves made me a little nauseous so I focused on a quicker stroke rate. Finally, I could see the pier and all the people lining the sides watching and cheering for us. Once my hands touched sand I stood up. As I told myself I would, I smiled big as I headed to grab my bike bag.

Got to have matching colors
The transition tent was much busier then my experience at Ironman Boulder. They didn't have sunscreen so I accepted I would be getting a tramp stamp and headed out to my bike. 
Equipment: Trek Speed Concept, Enve 6.7 wheels, Rudy Wing57 helmet
Nutrition: Four packs of Gu chomps, a few walnuts, and dates with almond butter. Everything mashed together quickly so I'd grab a few of whatever every 15 minutes. I almost ran out of food near to Hawi which I took as a good sign because I used to have trouble eating enough. I started off with two bottles of Skratch then went to water and Gatorade.

My main goal of the bike was to deliver myself to the run with as little dehydration damage as possible. In town, I was passed by people who were riding much harder on hills than I wanted to. I was confident in my race prep that I could ride strong for 5 hours and didn't want to burn any matches early. I frequently was sitting up or using my brakes to make sure I was respecting the draft zone of those cutting in front of me. Instead of worrying about getting passed, I focused on having a higher cadence and controlling my effort so I could ride strong on the Queen K.

The crowds and surrounding intensity made many people make decisions they would later regret.

The Queen K through the lava fields
Once onto the Queen K, I saw that there was a distinct lack of cloud cover meaning it was going to get hot. Athletes who weren't pacing smart or forgot to take in food / liquids or use cooling methods were going to suffer. Coach Mace and I had decided on a power range for the ride. To avoid overheating, I knew I needed to keep my heart rate under 160 as much as possible. I decided to stay at the lower end of the range for the ride out to Kawaihae (before the climb out to Hawi). Throughout the ride, I went through 10-12 water bottles between drinking and squirting them into my helmet - which was very refreshing.
Training Peaks analysis here. Strava file here
For the climb up to Hawi I wanted to ride strong - at the upper end of my power zone.

One of the main competitors in my age group, Sam Long, caught me on the climb up to Hawi. Sam encouraged me before passing. I rode a little behind Sam until I dropped my chain switching between chain rings. After a quick pause to get it back on, I continued to the turn around in Hawi. I saw Sam in the penalty tent just after the turn around, it must have been very difficult to ride the first section coming out of the swim with most of the field.

Coming down from Hawi, after picking up my special needs bags, we had some strong cross winds. From teammates, I'd heard the race actually starts at mile 80 - 85, heading back to Kona. The heat was really starting to effect people.

I allowed my power to spike a bit on the uphills and windy sections as I felt strong and wanted to gain time on some of my competitors if possible. However, my main goal was to still arrive in t2 as prepared as I could be to have a solid run. This meant staying on top of hydration, nutrition and cooling. Sam went by me again with around 25 miles left but I kept him in sight throughout the remainder of the bike.

As anyone who has raced Kona knows, the airport is a welcome sight on the way back to town
Into transition, I smiled big from all the spectators screaming at us. I took my time in transition to change socks, switch out my heart rate strap to the Stryd running power meter and grabbed a few cups of water before heading out.

After a few months of testing with Stryd, I was part of a live running with power demonstration during the race

Equipment: On Cloud running shoes, Boco race trucker hat, Rudy casual sunglasses
Nutrition: Four Powerbar gels in a flask through mile 14, Base Performance salt every mile, Red Bull after mile 14, lots of water / ice
Ali'i drive was packed with people. Right away I saw I was running 6:30 / mile pace - too fast. I was hoping to run between 6:50 and 7:00 / mile pace for most of the run. However, I quickly acknowledged that heat management was going to be more crucial than running fast. Athletes stressing themselves to run their goal pace would suffer too much after the first section and blow up. After I settled in to about 7 min pace, I only looked at my watch a few times for the next 3 hours. I just focused on my form and heat management.

On Ali'i, I tried to let my form flow and find a rhythm. I got splits from others that I was a little bit back from 4th place in my age group. I stayed calm and was confident that I would eventually reel people in. The first three or four miles of the marathon, most people run too fast because it feels fantastic to get off the bike. I worked on nailing down a routine for each aid station.

Loved this stuff and it worked great
The aid stations in Kona were very long. For each aid station, I would go salt, sponges, water then ice. One cup of ice went into my hat and a second one down my top. After another cup of water or some Gatorade, I would pick up my pace to focus on the next aid station. In between each aid station, I'd suck on an ice cube and hold some in my hand. Lots of blood goes through your hands so it felt fantastic - try it. Every two miles I would take a sip from my gel flask.

I stayed calm the first 5 miles and took in as much energy from the crowd as I could. My feet felt good and I held back the urge to show how fast I could go. A few people came back to me around miles four and five. I ran up to my EMJ teammates and we talked for a bit before continuing. I caught Sam just before the turn around and he said he was struggling with the heat. He urged me on and I told him to stay strong.

On the way back to town my body felt good and my cooling methods were working. I saw several groups of EMJ cheering squads and they yelled for me, saying I looked great. As I headed up Palani to the Queen K, everyone running around me was more spread out and they were hurting. I had heard stories of people being crushed heading up Palani, completely falling apart once they reached the Queen K.

Palani hill on the run
I reached the Queen K and it was a completely different atmosphere. Other than aid stations, there was hardly anyone out there. Geneva had worked her way to a lonely spot on the course and provided great motivation. There was no shade and the people running in front of me were falling apart. Every few minutes I would start to see another person stop to walk. A few pro men and women were trudging along or walking with each other.

I told myself that I enjoyed the heat. My legs were starting to hurt but I kept on taking in salt and slowing down at aid stations. After a few miles, I saw the men's winner, Jan Frodeno cruising back. I finished off my gel flask around mile 14 and started taking in Red Bull for energy. Heading down into the energy lab, I told myself that no matter what happened in there, I would run as strong as I could once I emerged.

I caught two more guys at the turn around in the energy lab. I saw a few more pros walking and another throwing up on the side of the road. Things were getting hard. I focused on making it to the top of the hill just out of the energy lab. I thought of everyone following along in town or at home and continued to push. Heading back to town, I knew I was in second place by 10 minutes. I was going to try and reel him in as much as I could, anything could happen in the last nine miles of the marathon. Still, I was not going to be upset if I ran to the best of my ability. All I could control was that exact moment so I did my best to not worry about the result. On the Queen K there was even more carnage. A few guys spectating from EMJ biked out to meet me which was great. They said I looked awesome and to focus on form up the last hill.

Last section before the carpet!
My body hurt a lot by mile 22 but I knew I would finish strong. I smiled going through the aid stations and made sure to thank the volunteers who ran after me with extra sponges. As I turned down on Palani, I started to think about all the hard work that had gone into the race. My quads screamed as I pounded down Palani with spectators going crazy all around me. The street was lined with screaming fans taking pictures and encouraging me. I felt good and tried to take it all in. There were messages written in chalk on the road and fans sticking half their bodies over the barricades to give me a high five. I slapped a few hands as I headed to the finish. I felt so grateful and so ecstatic crossing the line. I had done it.

After acknowledging the crowd, I was quickly flanked by volunteers in case I collapsed but I told them I was good, just extremely happy. I leaned on them for a bit as they guided me back to the recovery area. I wanted to find my parents and girlfriend to thank them and celebrate.

So happy to see her!
The rest of the night was spent cheering on finishers, eating and sending my bike home with Tri Bike Transport.

The next day Team EMJ had a team lunch. It was great to see everyone who raced and all their friends and family. Later that evening we went to the awards ceremony. Standing on the podium at a world championship was an incredible experience.

The next few days Geneva and I stayed with my parents a little ways out of town. We went snorkeling and drove around the island, hiking to see the variety of landscapes in Hawaii.

Thank you so much to everyone who made this trip possible. My parents and Geneva, thanks for cheering me on all day and being patient with my slow walking after the race.
Team EMJ thanks, for providing constant inspiration and clean-up-nice products throughout the year.
Normatec, those boots. So awesome. I used them every day for a month leading up to the race.
The best swim skin and goggles out there, thank you Roka for supporting us.
Thank you Enve for hooking me up with a pair of 6.7's to use on race day
Coach Mace for being the mastermind behind the training plan and keeping me on track.
CSU Triathlon and NoCo Tri, thanks for being great training partners.

Up next is a little break before I start planning out the next few years. Nothing is set in stone yet but I have received encouragement from numerous people to see where I can take things in triathlon. I love the training and lifestyle of the sport. As long as I'm still having fun at the end of the day, why not... Though I've had some success at the Ironman distance I consider myself too young to focus on it. The physical demands for training are extensive.

My time in Kona was awesome and I hope to be back to race again some day. If you have any questions about the race or my experience there, do not hesitate to reach out and contact me!

P.S. Over the next few months, I'll be reaching out to potential partners to work with over the next few years. If you know anyone who might be interested in supporting me in any way, I would love to be put in contact.

Thanks for reading and have a great day!


  1. What a great race report Steve! It's been awesome to see how far you've come - and you remain so absolutely positive and humble. Class act! :D Go RAMS!

  2. Really great report. You are a stud. Hope to one day race at Kona!

  3. To See you competing at such a high level really inspires me. Since I am young too, this is fantastic to read and hear.