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.

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