First off – if you want to read and see pics, continue. If you have 8 minutes, check out this video I shot on race day. I carried my GoPro along with me and cut it into a pretty neat little piece. Watch it in HD with the sound up if you can.
This is a bit of a novella….so in short I had an amazinglyepic day! It was wonderful not caringabout time and just taking in the day and celebrating the unthinkable distance completedat the finish. I feel as though I’vecome full circle in honoring my father through endurance sports and I couldn’tbe more grateful for the opportunity to complete the most famous race intriathlon. Thank you, Ironman Lottery. Hawaii was a special place for my dad and I –I really felt his presence the whole trip, and especially on race day (and racenight!)
My Dad and I having fun in one of ourmany Hawaii trips together.
The journey that was Ironman Kona really wraps up my 4 yearjourney that started when my father passed away in 2007. That year, just a month before my firstmarathon in early 2008, I somehow found the NBC special on Ironman Hawaii. In particular, during the 2007 special a mannamed Scott Rigsby and his determination, not to mention his carbon fiber legs,made an enormous impression on me. Thatspirit that lies in each of the athletes is indeed infectious. The seed was planted then, and would slowlygrow over the course of a few years. Ironmanwas insane to me at that time (it actually still is when I think aboutit!) Running a marathon was my Everest then– then the bar got raised to the Ironman.
I had the privilege of meeting Scott inKona.
Kona was always my “it” race. The famed finish of Ali’i Drive, my family’shistory in Hawaii, the list goes on. Knowinghow difficult to get in though, I quickly made the decision to realize myIronman dreams last year in France. Andwhat a day that was. I was basicallyfulfilled. I made a deal with Julia thatI would start entering the Kona lottery, and if and when I ever got in, thatwould be my next Ironman for awhile.
My journey to this point is actually summarized quite nicelyin an article written by Don Norcross on Ironman.com:
Enough of the backstory – onto the juicy race details!
I arrived last Sunday and was busy with the normal pre-raceweek tasks, as well as some unusual ones, such as an interview with NBC! I tried to lay low as much as possible, butit’s very tough as the excitement in town basically builds to a chorusthroughout the week. I swam most days, evenseeing my first ever Manta Ray on Thursday! I also made several trips to the famous coffee boat. And Julia and I enjoyed taking part in the“Underpants Run.” Don’t worry, no picsof that! After the bike check in onFriday, I retired to the room with some takeout pasta and basically rested upas much as possible.
I somehow managed to be right behindChrissie Wellington at check in!
I woke up Saturday at 4:00 AM and tried to consume as muchfood as I possibly could. I then walkedover alone to body marking and to load up my bike with the necessarynutrition. As I made the walk past thefinish line around the host hotel there was music gently coming through thePA. Enya. It was such an interesting and amazingchoice. I remember being introduced toEnya by my dad when I was a kid and sick with viral meningitis as a kid. Love her or hate her, there’s a very calmingeffect to her music. In this context itactually felt “anticipatory.” Amazing.
After I was finished pumping up my bike tires and loading itwith fluids I headed back to the hotel (just a short walk away) and hung outwith Julia and my mom for a bit. At 6 AMI headed back to the start and got ready to go into the water. The pros had just headed out and it was ourturn to fill the bay with a mass of people. Getting into that water was so exciting. The nerves were amazing – there was electricity in the air. As I ventured in I was pulled aside by NBCwhere they asked me to describe what I was feeling. I can honestly say I have no recollection ofwhat I told them - I was so freaked out and so excited at the same time.
I was most definitely nervous but couldn't ask for a more supportive wife! Kissing mama goodbye for now.
I lined up in the middle of the pack – I wanted that massstart experience!
A shot from my GoPro before the canon.
Treading water for 15 minutes was a good warm up!
The canon went off andthe nerves turned into energy….we were off.
The mass swim start was somehow anti-climactic. At my previous Ironman in France last year Ihad people grabbing me, trying to swim over me…here it was a much bigger areaand therefore more spread out. And usuallyI’m a middle of the pack swimmer, but here, the World Championships, the fieldis balanced differently – there are fewer average swimmers – so I had plenty ofroom. I got myself into a rhythm, takingmy time.
That's me swimming from the chest mount!
I indeed carried my GoPro Video Camera on all three legs andthoroughly enjoyed taking some video along the way. It definitely slowed me down, but since Iwasn’t here for time I didn’t care! Ieven stopped and treaded water several times to try and get some above watershots as well as shots of me swimming using the “GoPro Chesty Strap.”
I was literally smiling the entire swim and even shouted outat random times under the water “I’m doing Ironman Kona!” I was so pumped and thrilled. Shortly after the turn around I was mindingmy own business and a pair of dolphins and a baby swam underneath me! It was incredible. I was screaming! I stopped and watched them swim by. They were clearly on a mission going theopposite direction. About 3 minuteslater I found my own swimming rhythm back. Then the cavalry rocketed by! Atleast a dozen spinner (dolphins) or more! It was epic! I was goingape-sh*t. What a dream. I had seen a manta ray earlier in the week ona swim and am marveled that I could be in a race and be able to seeDOLPHINS! My day was already awesome andI was only an hour into it!
You can barely make them out on the upper left.
They were much more exciting and clear in person!
As I approached the Kona Pier I reflected back on myswim. In training, I can’t tell you whata bear getting to my swim workouts are. Since it’s the one “gimme” out of the three sports I tend to miss a lotof swims and my races seldom suffer somehow. But this swim was special. Itmight as well have been snorkeling! Ihopped out of the water and got under the hoses, rinsed off, took a few gulps,and got into my bike shoes. Before Iknew it, bike in hand, I headed for the bike mount line.
The swim exit.
I hopped on and headed up Palani. An uphill right out of transition, it waseasy to spot Julia, wearing her “Ironmate” shirt and my mom with her “Ironmom”shirt – my own personal cheering section. They were as excited as I was! Iscreamed at them, gave them the “hang loose” sign and carried on. Through the two loops through town (one outand back that included a nice little climb) it was tough to get my heart ratedown – and I’m pretty sure it was mostly raw emotion, as I was not (yet!)working hard. As I turned onto thefamous Queen K I took some deep breaths and tried to settle in.
Flashin' the "hang loose" to my wife and mom.
The Queen K is the long section of the course that goes allthe way out to the small town of Hawi, some 55 miles away. It’s by no means flat as it undulates its waythere with several fairly substantial rolling hills. My plan was to take it easy, and enjoy theday. I seldom looked down at my Garmin,and when I did I would try and mostly eye my heart rate and cadence, butdefinitely snuck a peak at speed too. Iwas going a little slower than I did in training, but it felt right so I stuckto that same effort. I also really triedto focus on hydration, downing the sports drink like crazy. That along with the salt tablets was reallyworking for me.
I was in an interesting place in the pack. Being a lottery winner I was with some menwho were a much older than me and also some women my mom’s age! It was amazing riding with the best of theworld – despite the fact they had like 30 years on me!
Long stretches of nothin' but lava.
Somewhere between 30 and 40 miles a convertible pulled upbeside me – the NBC crew! So bizarrebeing the focus like that. Theybasically interviewed me while on the bike and I did my best to give them whatthey wanted. It was a trip! During the interview I got a glimpse of thefirst pros on their way back to town. Amazingto see the race develop in front of me! It was hard to make out their faces, but it was amazing to see theirconcentration as they battled each other through the cross winds.
I barely got out of the saddle. This was for the lens!
It was starting to get hot. And windy. From what I hear thewind was less this year than normal….but man it was tough! Climbing into Hawi the wind was completely inyour face with the occasional side gust. It was impossible to hydrate during this time for fear of being blownover. It was also a hot wind….so itdidn’t even cool me down! I was reallystarting to be effected by the Kona sun. The climb went on forever but I finally made the turn around. Shortly after I got more salt tablets andgels out of my “special needs bag.” Ialso peed – which was a good sign for hydration. I spent some time switching my GoPro cameraaround for different angles and was on my way.
The decent out of Hawi was intense and exhilarating. I probably averaged about 35mph for thatsection, although it was a bit scary with the crosswind. Sometimes it would really come out ofnowhere! There was obviously no way totake in nutrition under these circumstances so I pulled over a few times tochange the camera, eat and drink.
Still happy despite the pain.
Finally making it back to the coast the wind was reallypicking up. I had heard about thissection being particularly grueling. Bythe time I hit mile 85 I was pretty cooked. Hot. I would grab water from astation and basically pour it all over myself. I even tried stopping and having the volunteers shower me down but therelief was short lived. One thing helpeda little more than others though: Coke. I’m a big Dr Pepper fan, but nothing beats Coke on a bike or run. It’s AMAZING. I didn’t have much on the bike, but just enough to get that twinkle inmy eyes back.
As far as I came to being unhappy the whole day.
Shortly before mile 90 I had something special to stopfor. Earlier in the week my mom and Ihad driven the bike course. When we sawthe word “Ironman” spelled out in corral on the lava rock with a huge spacebelow and more corral in a pile nearby we went to work. It now read “Ironman 4 Eric.” I stopped, paid tribute to my dad and was onmy way back to town.
A little timelapse of my mom and I with the lavarock.
As I passed the airport I was a bit out of my mind. I saw two goats on the site of the road andhad to ask a cop at the next intersection if they had goats on the islands – Ithought I was hallucinating! Luckily henodded his head, “yes, they do have goats.”
Before I knew it I was turned back onto Palani and was againgreeted by my Ironmate and Ironmom. Iheaded into transition hot, but so ready to get off that bike! I sure love the bike in general, but 112miles in and out of the “aero position” and through wind, heat and hills is noeasy task – going for a nice little jog in paradise sounded like a good idea.
Julia about to cheer me in off the bike.
I took my time in T2. A volunteer got me a cold towel to wipe my salty face down as he had thethrill of applying more sunblock to my shoulders. Before long I was up out of the comfy chairand off to tackle a marathon run. This iscrazy. Just 3 and a half years ago amarathon was my Everest and now I was starting the 26.2 mile run after over 8hours of swimming and cycling.
Excited to see the family after a 7 hour hiatus.
As I made my way up back up Palani I had my GoPro on atelescoping pole. I saw Julia and my momand even stopped for a hug. Julia evenended up running with me for a short bit. As I turned down Ali’i Drive for the first long loop through town Ibegan to realize how tired I was. Butthis is Ironman. Ironman Kona! Of course I was tired, the key for me was tokeep moving. And that I did. I tried to just walk the aid stations, whichis something I more or less kept to. Iate some pretzels, coke and banana – but that was about all I couldhandle. I talked to people, tried toencourage those around me and tried to feed off the crowd. (Obviously) I’m a chatter box. I love interaction, especially in thisatmosphere. The spectators wereamazing. I loved egging them on andseeing their reaction to my little GoPro camera. People loved it! Especially the other athletes – people couldnot believe I brought it along….but why not?!
Yes it looked strange, but the video is gonna be sweet!
Shortly after the turnaround at about 6 miles I had my firstmajor problem of the race. It must havebeen the heat, but my stomach turned. I’llspare any details, but for a short time I was worried I might be reduced towalking the rest of the race. Fortunately I was still able to maintain my slow jog but had to makeseveral more “stops” throughout the race. Certainly not ideal, but I managed to remain positive the whole time,and was partially excited and intrigued by the idea of running into the night.(In France my race ended right as the sun was going down, so I didn’t get thefull nighttime experience!)
Yup, still happy even though my stomach wasn't.
As I passed Julia and my mom again at mile 10 or so I wasboth excited and sad to have just 16 miles to go. This was the ultimate for me, to take part inthis race. And I was only three or sohours from completion – in the blink of an eye it would be over! As I said goodbye to them for the last timebefore the finish I ran up Palani – the steepest section of the course. The athletes going the opposite way instantlyexcited me – they were about to finish! I went pretty crazy screaming and high fiving them – trying to egg themon. I think I was more excited than theywere about their finish! This was areally nice moment for me, but I quickly realized how fast I was tearing upthis hill! My hip started to tightenup…big mistake! I got way too emotionalway too early and thus pushed it way too hard. I didn’t panic – I just gave myself a nice little walk break so I couldrecover and started to jog again once the terrain leveled out.
High fiving a dude less than 1 mile out!
As I jogged on the Queen K the sun was setting over theocean. It was beautiful. The next aid station had chicken broth. I thought given my stomach trouble that thatwould be a very good idea. I also hadsome pretzels, coke and water. As sunwent down quickly it was dark before I knew it. I now had a glow stick thing around my neck. The darkness was eerie at first, but quicklybecame dreamy. A long line of drivenpeople were making their way back into town to finish their race. Meanwhile, those of us slower ones wererunning out
of town so we could loopback and finish ours. All so we couldexperience the Kona Ironman by being in it.
The sun went down quick!
It was pretty quiet out on there on the Queen K. There were some street lights, but a lot ofsilence between the aid stations. Oneaid station in particular was really rocking it out. Awesome music, dancing, basicallyhilarious. The volunteers of this racemade the race. They were incredible –the best! It definitely helped. But it seemed like a really slow grind for me. I was oddly ok with this. I was not even eager to finish – it was allpart of the experience. I can honestlysay this was the first time in a long distance race where I was content to beout there experiencing the pain and fatigue of racing – I was not eager to endit. Part of me wanted it to lastforever. I made the left turn for theenergy lab –it looked pitch black.
Turning into the energy lab.
As I ran into the darkness it seemed to get quieter andtranquil. It was so spiritual! It was easy to gate out the pain andstiffness in my legs and focus on my breath, the crickets. There were long stretches of darkness andthere would be a bright event light at the end of the road – a sort of beaconthat I’d run towards. It would castshadows of the runners just ahead of me and the ones running towards me - ontheir way home. Once I’d pass the lightmy shadow would be cast in front of me. It was exceptional. The state ofmind after 125 miles sure makes you appreciate the little things in life. I made the turnaround and high fived a fewlocals – I was on my way back home.
My eyes saw just slightly more detail than this.
And it was blinding when you got there!
I visited the second “special needs” stop where I picked upthe last of my salt tabs and somehow managed to down a gel. Still feeling ok I kept jogging until I hitthe “Ford Motivational Mile” somewhere around mile 18 or 19. As I passed over the mat the big screen read“C. Westheimer You Are Great.” I smiled,high fived the two volunteers who were dancing feverishly and carried on.
Back on the Queen K I tried to settle into a rhythm. It was a funny duality. I was within striking distance, but still hada ways to go, and much of it was a false flat going uphill into town before thefinal decent on Palani. I maintained aslow run, allowing myself to walk at the aid station and continue walking untilI had finished eating and drinking. Thisworked out well, despite yet another bathroom stop at around mile 21.
Julia and mom patiently waiting.
These last miles were something else. Here I was, having covered 135 miles sincedawn, running into the night. Thiscertainly did not happen in my first Ironman! Night on Queen K was perhaps the best and most unique part of therace. As I made my way closer to town Istarted to allow myself to celebrate. Iwas within 3 miles and I knew the last mile would basically not even count, soI really wanted to savor those last two.
As I was running that last bit I wanted to pay specialtribute to my inspiration – the man who I model myself after. He’s inside me and will always be withme. My dad was the best father I couldhave ever asked for. We had plans thatwould never be realized. We had dozens ofmore trips to Hawaii where we’d snorkel, boogie board and argue about where topark the car (long story.) He was mybest friend and I could feel him with me. This is why I keep doing this. When you peel the layers of the onion away – me in my rawest place –he’s so deeply a part of me I feel like he might as well be running right nextto me – egging me on, cheering for me. Iwas getting so excited to finish soon, but I also a bit sad that this day – theday I had dreamed of since 2007 was now coming to a close.
As my heart was filled with emotion and my eyes a bit teary,at about mile 24, I saw a bird fly by the street lamp – it was perfectlyilluminated. I quickly remembered thatthere were Owls on the island. I’m quite“raptor obsessed,” largely due to the many connections with my dad and birds ofprey. I scream out “OWL!”uncontrollably. Unbelievable. I’ve never been able to make one out soclearly. As if to cheer me on the Owlcircled back towards me for one broad loop, not quite over my head beforedisappearing into the darkness. “Thanks,Dad.”
With that lift I proceeded towards town. I could hear the announcer, the “Voice ofIronman,” Mike Riley, in the distance now.
As I turned down Palani towards the mile 25 marker I allowedmyself to rejoice. I was basically goingnuts already. I was high fivingeverybody in site – especially the kids. I took the downhill way too fast, letting my emotions get the best of meonce again. I was screaming out “THIS ISAMAZING…” “I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS!” It wasa rush. By the time I hit the bottom ofthe hill I had just a few blocks to go before I made the final turn down Ali’IDrive. I quickly realized how exhaustedI was from the downhill celebration! Opps! Since the street was not socrowded with spectators that I could celebrate with I decided to walk a fewsteps so I could recuperate before the REAL celebration!
As I made the final turn down Ali’i I was smiling andrejoicing uncontrollably. I was yellingto the crowds, “Can I get a Hell Ya?!” And they’d give me one! I made myway through the sea of people, high fiving and screaming. A quarter mile later (which felt like thequickest 400 meters ever) I was in the finish chute. 100 yards of pure bliss. I had it all to myself. I was running back and forth, spinning around,jumping up and down, basically going nuts. The crowd was also going crazy, smiling, cheering - it was amazing. Towards the end of the chute I saw myIronmate and Ironmom. I ran over to themand basically gave them the biggest hug ever. They were screaming in my ears so loud that they distorted in stereo – thatprobably took a year out of my hearing! But all for good! Mike Riley wasannouncing my name and exclaimed, “Some are just happier than others!”
As I made my way up the ramp, I was still going nuts – Icouldn’t believe it! And then I realizedthat there were no fewer than 3 video cameras pointed at me, just feet away. Wow. This was crazy. I was stillscreaming uncontrollably. I certainlywas happy! I pointed at the icon of mydad on my jersey for the camera and exclaimed, “It’s all for this guy!” I calmed a bit. Then as if to continue the celebration afterthe brief lull a volunteer and I started randomly high fiving, one hand afterthe other. Hilarious. Finally, after what must have been a fiveminute celebration (but felt like 5 seconds!) the NBC producer took me backover to the pier for my “post race interview.” He basically said “go” and I dished out my raw emotion.
After my interview I met up with Julia and my mom and wasstill absolutely ecstatic. We walkedover to the tent where I picked up my medal and shirt. Before long I was downing slices ofpizza. Mediocre pizza never tasted sogood! After a bit I picked up my bikeand transition bags and went back to our humble hotel room. I took a brief shower before making my wayback to the finish line – I wanted to experience Ali’i Drive on the other side.
The vibe was electric. The chute was lined to the teeth with rabid spectators beating theirthunder sticks to the music. There wassuch an anticipatory feeling the later the evening got. I stuck my hand out trying to remindfinishers to celebrate in the chute. Itworked on some, but others were just too focused on that line.
One person that was particularly amazing to see finish andcheer for was none other than Scott Rigsby - perhaps the first initial seedthat got my mind thinking “Ironman” years ago. Now I got to cheer him in.
It got more and more exciting the closer it got tomidnight. Mike Riley is a master of themicrophone and I can only say that the only thing that tops cheering for peopleon Ali’i Drive is being
cheered in bythe people on Ali’i Drive. I’m so happyI got to experience both in one night.
The next day I got to see the message my mom and wife wrote on Ali'i.
From a training standpoint I had anything but a perfect race,every one of my three splits being significantly slower than what my trainingtold me I could do. Yet I could notimagine a more perfect race! I operatedperfectly within my means on that day and pushed myself by going the distance,not by driving myself into the ground. Theconscious decision to take this race as it was – a gift – was perhaps the bestdecision I’ve made since being involved in running and triathlons. I smiled nearly the whole day and filmed over3 hours of footage (video coming soon.) I stayed positive and enjoyed the experience 95% of the time. And with that finish – that makes up that 5%and more! This was a race that truly wasnot about time – it was about heart. Forthat, my dad would be proud.
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