Sunday, October 12, 2008

Kona Race Report: Part II

So within my first 50 feet of walking, I encountered my family. That was hard. My wife is an athlete, and I can see the disappointment in her eyes when I don't come bolting out of transition as usual. Not disappointment in me, just disappointment that the race had to end like this.

As soon as I started up Palani Drive, the steep hill coming out of transition, I knew I was in trouble. The knee almost buckled. I struggled the 1/2 mile to my hotel, which took almost 15 minutes, and then, without "forward progress", which would have DQ'd me, I got a knee brace from my hotel room.

With the brace on, the pain was manageable, so I walked to the first mile marker.

Hey, here's a cool perk! I can eat 300-400 calories at an aid station and not have to worry about Gi distress, since I'm not running! I grabbed a couple bananas, a peanut butter Powerbar, a cookies n' creme Powerbar, and a handful of pretzels, and strolled on down the road to the next aid station. For good measure, I dumped a cup of ice down into my knee brace for a bit of walking cryotherapy.

Hey this wasn't too bad!


After what must have been about 5 miles of walking, I was glad to arrive at the next aid station, as stale boredom was beginning to set in, and the race day adrenaline was wearing off.

Reality Check: The aid stations are just 1 mile apart.

Crap, this could be a long day.


The first bit of the marathon is 5 miles out and 5 miles back. By the time I got "back" into town, I was physically and mentally smoked. My heart rate was averaging 100 beats per minute. 10 miles is longer than I've ever walked in my life at one time. My quads hurt. My hip flexors hurt. My feet hurt. I was using muscles I'd never used before.

Doing the math in my head, I knew I could walk 15 minutes per mile and perhaps come in around 13 hours, since I biked somewhere around a 5:35. How bad could that be?

The long 8 mile trek out to the energy lab awaited. I was 2.5 hours into the longest hike of my life.


Each step out to the energy lab was pure torture. My knee was throbbing at this point, but I found that if I locked it out and walked with my right leg only, I could go almost pain-free. This was easiest if I stayed in the drainage ditch by the side of the road, so all the way out to the lab, I walked in a cement culvert type of thing, with my right leg higher than my left, so that I could lock out my left leg in full extension.

After already bicycling the last 50 miles solo, my right leg was already dead, and now it was going on pure mental drive - an order from my brain not to stop.


At mile 12, I decided I hate carbs.

I hate soup with crackers.

I hate pretzels.

I will throw-up if I see another Powerbar.

NO, I don't want that gel you're offering me, Mr. Volunteer, do I look like I want sugar? Give me meat and cheese.

Gatorade. No.



Top comments and my desired response that I did not give:

COMMENT FROM SURFER DUDE: "Just walk it off, man, walk it off. Cramps suck."

RESPONSE: "Thanks for the assumption that I'm cramping, but I've actually digested 12 styrofoam cups of sodium-laden chicken broth over the past 6 miles, along with 15 half-banana pieces. I have sodium and potassium coming out my ass. This is not a cramp. But thanks."


RESPONSE: "WTF? I just passed Mile 7! Are you playing mind games with me? Do you think you just string me along another 19 miles by telling me I'm almost there? You're going to be in bed in your pajamas by the time I get even halfway there."

COMMENT FROM VOLUNTEER: "C'mon, a slow jog is faster than a walk!"

RESPONSE: "Buddy, I was just passed by a 75 year old age grouper like I was standing still. I realize the physics of movement dictate that I am going to get spanked by the shufflers. Thanks for reminding me."


And indeed. During my humbling trek, I was quickly passed by grandmotherly, spandex-clad retirees, men with beer guts, and guys with no legs on handcycles.

There was the girl who said, "Just remember you paid 500 bucks for this." As she power walked by me. Oh geez, thanks, that was uplifting.

The guy who said, "I hafta keep my heart rate under 125 or I get heat stroke." As he disappeared into the sunset up the highway, leaving me in his dustl.

Oh yes, and the army guy in combat boots and full army fatigues, doing some kind of military fundraiser. Marched on past. Go army.


It was dark as I made it to the halfway point in the energy lab. All I had to do now was walk 8 miles home. My entire body felt like crumbling to the ground. I was tired. Wet. Soggy knee brace. Sunburnt. Sleepy. Disappointed.

I walked under the Ford Inspiration Station at mile 18, where people can leave you encouraging messages. Jessa had left one, but it didn't show up. Maybe the readerboard broke down. I almost did. The anticipation of a message had strung me along the past 3 miles.


I GOT A GLOWSTICK. They handed it to me as I stumbled out of the energy lab. I don't even know what to do with it. I tucked it in my shorts and kept walking.


The long walk down the highway from the energy lab was the worst. I started talking to myself and hallucinating.

"OK, let's see, mile 19 to 20 is going to be like walking from my house to Albertsons, here we go!" Then I'd picture the big Albertsons grocery store on Argonne, and walk to it.

"Done grocery shopping, now let's take our groceries over to the Rocket Bakery and get some coffee, over at mile marker 20.5". And off I'd go, jabbering mindlessly.

Out loud. People probably thought I was nuts.


The stories I've heard of the Ironman walk involved somehow hooking up with some kindred spirit to stroll with and learn your fellow athlete's life story and motivation. There were none of these friendly companions during my death march. Just long silent dark highway.

I was glum by the time I got back to Palani Drive to walk the last mile to the finish line. Volunteers and crowd participants cheered me on, but I had nothing left to give but a half-hearted smile. I just wanted to go home and be done with this thing. I was limping at this point.


The final 400 yards and the finish line were anti-climactic, and had a very different feeling from last year. Mike Reilly announced, as I crossed the finish line, "You've just fulfilled a lifelong dream! Ben Greenfield, YOU ARE IRONMAN!"

I didn't feel like Ironman. Or a fulfilling dream. Over the next 2 hours, I eventually gathered all my belongings and made it back to my hotel room where I crumbled into the bathtub, barely unable to stand, sit, or bend either leg.


OK, yes, I know that wasn't the happiest blog posting!

But here is what I learned:

1) DON'T QUIT. I learned more about perseverance and mental toughness during this Ironman than any other physical endeavor of my life.

2) RESPECT. Anyone spending more than 12 hours on an Ironman course now has my deep respect. Something about the point where it get dark is incredibly mentally challenging.

3) UNDERSTANDING. I learned much about what happens on the race course AFTER it begins to empty out. The loneliness. The quiet. The boredom. I understand much more about the experience of Ironman.

Ultimately, I am glad I fnished. I wish it could have been a better race, but that's the way the chips fall. I haven't yet decided if I'll race Clearwater. I'm signed up, have plane tickets, lodging, and everything squared away. I'll spend the next week rehabbing, then make that decision. I had two very fast 4 mile runs and a 2 hour brick completely pain-free during taper week, but I exceeded the volume that my legs were ready for in this race.


That was the last Ironman for the next 2 years! Time to take some time off from the volume and work on speed. I'll bounce back from this race stronger than ever. I promise. Look at Rutger Beke. He was 800-ish in this race last year after walk-jogging a 5 hour marathon. And third this year. He said that last year's marathon was the reason why. He learned alot. So did I.

Over and out.



Diane Swift said...

Sooooooo sad reading Ben, you're making me tear up.
I know all about talking to one self outloud however....
I was lost once in the woods,very

Onward and Upward...

Matt said...

Glad to hear that you finished! I can feel your pain, kind of. Walking when you know your in shape to finish alot faster than you are going to but its out of your control. I feel you on the your almost there thing, I was told that 200 ft from T2 at Troika, hmm, ulcer didnt think so..

Way to push through it!

M-K-C-T-R Rydeen said...


You were perfect! You are able to look everyone in the eye and know that you did the best you could with your injuries. You didn't quit, you persevered.

I am sure that you are disappointed, but your boys will look back on this and see how incredible you were. After all you just showed them that no matter how hard things get, to never give up...and what parent doesn’t want to instill that value on their children?

Hold your head up! Lots of folks are PROUD of you.


Pat G. said...


Your posting after this race reminded me of reading the Psalms...getting so low and feeling like it'll never end, and actually writing what your feelings and thoughts were /while/ in the 'pit'. Your typical high goals and achievements might make some of us normal folk feel like you don't know what it feels like to be near the bottom. Your words on this post make it clear you understand the 'low lows' and they are also a part of becoming even stronger. I'm proud of you. Hope you get some really good sleep and your knee heals entirely. Often the way up is down!
Thanks for being so honest on your entries the last few days....
love from Moscow...

Steve said...

Finishing a race when you have to face that much diversity definitely makes you an ironman. I have no idea what a walk like that must feel like but I give you props for finishing strong and learning what being an ironman is all about. Sorry the race and now it is time to get healthy.

LORIE said...

Ben. . .. I am touched by this post. I love how you ended it with what you learned. I have always been impressed with you as an athlete. I of course am in awe over your abilities as an athlete but I have always admired your dedication to the sport, your humility, your desire to help others, and your overall positive and realistic outlook. You are an Ironman and I am proud of you. I look forward to seeing you.

Anonymous said...


We were the couple from Seattle on the flight over to Kona with you and your wife and the boys. We loved the chocolates the boys gave us and we didn't need the ear plugs. We should have had you keep them! You were a great dad and you and your wife should be proud of the boys...they are real cute.

We were on the highway at Waikoloa on Saturday looking for you on the bike but too many bikes going by to find you. We enjoyed your blog and were inspired by your struggles on Saturday. You persevered and you should be very proud! As someone who just had arthroscopic surgery on my knee, I know about knee pain.

We hope you are catching up on your sleep and spending some quality pool time with your family before you come home.

All the best in future Ironman's! You will be back!

Tina and Kevin King
Richmond Beach, WA

Anonymous said...

Ben, you probably don't know me, I met you at blue lake,and have followed your blog off and on since. Just wanted to say that I admire your perseverance. That kind of performance takes a very strong person! That was a great read as always.

Aleck Alleckson

kathibest said...

Hi Ben,

Thank you for the vuneralbe blow by blow of your race. I knew that something must have been wrong because I followed your race all day on, I knew something had to be going on because I expected for your timing chip to to be posting or registering first out of the group that I was watching. I loved the ending of your post regarding what you learned. Look at all the character that you developed and the perspective that you would have missed if you had, had the perfect race. This race was meant to be for you to define character and give you perspective. You have a perfect race still waiting for you and I look forward to that report as well. We all have these character defining races and they are typically more life changing than the perfect race. You are a true champion! Here is one of my favorite, Not quitting quotes:

Never give up.......

Each and every day we face a myriad of challenges that severely test our resolve. Like it or not, demanding problems and difficult decisions are every bit a part of every day living as eating and breathing. The manner in which we handle life's trials and tribulations in large measure dictate the degree of success we ultimately enjoy throughout our lifetimes.

Some of the matters we must deal with are fairly innocuous and easy to address, while others by their very nature are life-changing in scope. And it is these life altering issues that literally make us or break us, depending on how we manage them - or allow them to manage us.

"It's always too early to quit."
Norman Vincent Peale

Thank you for not quitting....
Your example was inspiring....
Your life will be richer because you didn't....
I am thankful to know people like you....

Kathi Best

Michael W. Bergquist said...

When great athletes like yourself have a bad day and still come in first, others have a tendency to devalue or dismiss your struggles. Winners don't get much sympathy, even though they still deserve it. On the other hand, the first goal for every race is finishing, so it's refreshing to read about how you refused to give up. I've been there battling against the midnight deadline, so I know what it's like to give everything just to finish when everything seems to go awry. Every story is different and I appreciated that you shared what you went through. I don't believe you need to go through hell to know what it's like to be a real Ironman, but you do need to conquer everything the race throws your way. You were a real Ironman when you had your best race, just as much as you were this time when it took so much just to finish. You probably won't find as much satisfaction in this race as you find appreciation for it.

TRi*Tawn said...

Ben, I came across your blog before Kona and loved your whole plan of attack. I also noticed you have IT band syndrome. I suffered from that problem for the better part of this year and can relate to the pain... Ouch!!

Anyways, I had Kona coverage on my computer all day Saturday, and I just happened to see you finish!!! Good for you for making it all the way. What an inspiration! Congrats.

PS - I'm new to the blog world, and I love seeing what other triathletes like you have to say. Check out my new blog ( if you get a chance!