“When you get into the water and you are just treading, make sure you take a moment to turn around and take it all in.” – Pat Wheeler
Just as my goal in collegiate swimming was to qualify for nationals, my goal in triathlon was to qualify for Kona. Because each of these events was their respective apexes of competition I knew I wasn’t going to be the champion and as a result they were both treated as a bonus event. The hard work, the sacrifices, and the pressure was all for the qualifier, because if my conference championship and Ironman Lake Placid didn’t go well then there wouldn’t be a nationals or a Kona. Thankfully for me, both events went well and I was able to get on the blocks and in the water with the best competition there was. Whether the race was a bonus or not it still requires preparation and planning. The plan for Kona was similar to my two previous ironman races with some modifications to meet the changes in terrain, conditions, etc.
The approach for the swim was to once again get on the very front line, in the best position possible and fight from the get go. At about I made my way into the water with Jim, Andy, and Elena. The four of us stuck together until we were all standing on dig me beach with less than 15 minutes to go. We exchanged one last encouraging moment and went to our various start locations. To my surprise there weren’t many people already lined up and I was able to get to the front line about 15-20 yards from the pier. For the next 10-15 minutes I focused on holding my position and not getting bullied out of it. I was sure to follow the advice and on more than one occasion, did a slow motion 360 and took in every bit of excitement that the atmosphere provided. I would say its very similar to Placid in that you are in the water for the start, however this time the dock isn’t obstructing your view and there are twice as many people. Add to that the mystique and aura of the location. Every great Ironman
Hawaii has started
here. Just 30 minutes ago the likes of
Craig Alexander, Chris McCormack, Faris Al Sultan, Andy Potts and many many
other great champions were treading water in this exact spot.
“As the competitors congregate behind the start line, time seems to stand still. It can feel like the loneliest place in the world before the start, but you begin to remember your family and friends, all of the people who have pitched in to help you get to that point, all of the people who are going to be watching. And then the cannon goes off and suddenly frees you from all the nervousness and apprehension. It’s time to put thoughts and plans into action. It’s a nice feeling to finally be underway … until you get kicked in the head for the first time.” -- Craig Alexander (As the Crow Flies)
The main difference on this day was that there was no cannon. Instead it was Mike Relly saying “GO” over and over again. Once again without skipping a beat, an otherwise calm surface transformed into a washing machine like furry of arms thrashing and legs kicking. In LP and FL I was able to be one of the first age groupers to the first buoy. This all changes when the level of competition grows exponentially. Instead of having clear water after a 50 meter sprint, I was closely surrounded on all sides for the first third of a mile. To make matters even more interesting, in addition to the school of humans, there were fish jumping out of the water! I am just glad it was the fish that hit me in the head and not my fellow age groupers. All I could think of was the NBC coverage of this race when Al Michael’s commented on the swim start by describing it as a school above, and a school below. As both schools headed away from the pier there were volunteers and race officials lined up along the right side keeping everyone on line. With the swells being what they were it became difficult to sight the buoys at times so having the volunteers in kayaks and on surfboards was very helpful.
In an attempt to keep the gas on, I tried to be as aware as possible of the swimmers around me and notice who was roughly my same ability or slightly faster than me so I could swim in their draft line. This worked fairly well for the first 1.2 miles except for 2 occasions when I wasn’t able to keep up despite 20-25 stroke surges to prevent getting dropped. The turnaround for the swim is marked with buoys, however there is still a boat full of spectators just to the inside of the buoy which adds to the excitement. This is a good feeling because most Ironman swims are 2 loops and you get to see and hear the people cheering half way through. After making the turn for home (still over a mile to go) I found myself at the front of a fairly large pack. It wasn’t ideal as I would have rather been getting a ride than giving one, but at the same time it made me keep my speed up to avoid getting swallowed up by the group.
With the currents/waves moving they way they were, the swim back to the pier seemed to go much faster than the way out. Before long I was approaching the pier and looking to take the most direct line to the stairs. My other objective was distancing myself enough so I wouldn't get stuck getting out of the water or in transition. I achieved my goal, made sure I rinsed the salt off with the hanging hoses, and ran over to the changing tent. There were still a decent amount of chairs available and just as quickly as I sat down, I was off to grab my bike. I guess I had assumed there would be a volunteer somewhere with sunscreen but apparently (as I will find out in T2) you have to ask for sunscreen. That said, off I went on my bike without having applied sunscreen with the exception of SPF 50 at 4:00am.
Next up, the bike...