Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ironman Hawaii 2011 Race Report: Coke To The Rescue, Again.

running down Ali'i Drive to the finish line
More pictures to come as I get them!

Since Ironman Hawaii World Championships is the "Super Bowl" of triathlon (sans cheesy halftime shows but fraught with wardrobe malfunctions) I went above and beyond this single race report, and instead logged the entire week of Kona over at, in a series called "The Kona Diaries". You can see Day 1 of the Kona Diaries here, which will allow you to progress through the rest of the entries, including race pacing and nutrition strategy, how I use the nutrition and gear from my generous sponsors, what happens in the week leading up to Ironman, the underwear run, and more!

The final post in "The Kona Diaries" leaves off with Ironman Race Morning, as I walk you through body marking, chip check, me getting nervous and shaky, and everything else that happens just before the race begins, so let's jump from there right to the swim start.


Let me say that this was the roughest triathlon swim I have ever been in in my life.

Granted, everyone is fast and aggressive at Ironman Hawaii, but this went way above and beyond. There was a complete lack of etiquette and self-awareness as a complete free-for-all took place when the start cannon boomed. I got dunked, kicked, elbowed and punched for absolutely no reason other than that I happened to be swimming where somebody else apparently wanted to swim.

It felt like the Running Of The Bulls, except in the ocean and the Bulls have goggles, swim caps and shaved legs.

Whereas typically this type of roughness subsides after about 200 meters, this kept up for over 1000 meters. I remember wondering during the swim how swimmers of this caliber could have such a complete lack of sportsmanship in the water. I'll be the first guy to tell you that "rubbin's racin'", but I've raced for almost 9 years now, and this swim was above and beyond anything I'd ever seen before in terms of agression and downright "rude" swimming.

So while I literally feared for my life during the first 20 minutes of the swim, the crowds eventually spread out, and by the time we got to the turnaround boat, I felt like I had space to swim and draft. At this point, I tried to make up for lost time spent fighting away rude swimmers. I did this by "leapfrogging" through the field, which I did by drafting on the feet of a swimmer, pulling up to their hips, then leapfrogging them to the feet of the swimmer they were drafting off. It took me 31 minutes to reach the turnaround boat, but the return swim, which is nearly 200 meters longer, only took me 30 minutes.

And I do believe that I may have been the only non-shaven swimmer in the water. I'm sure my long, flowy, unsightly leg hair must have slowed me down a couple minutes, but I saved sixty minutes of my life by not shaving. ;)

During the swim, I wore a BlueSeventy SwimSkin, Zoggles goggles, and some TriSlide to reduce chafing.

Swim: 1:01

I relaxed and took my time in swim-to-bike transition. You don't want to forget anything for a 112 mile bike in the lava fields. That's like remembering you have to pee after you zip up your snowsuit, but about 10 times worse.

In my T1 bag I had armcoolers and socks. I put these on, and then ran to my bike, where my shoes and helmet were. I grabbed a Powerbar, shoved it in my mouth with reckless abandon and took off.

The first half of this bike goes by fast. Despite the heat and wind, you are still caught up in the adrenaline of being in the race and finishing the swim, and you haven't yet reached a point of semi-dehydration or carbohydrate depletion. You're just a happy hamster on the bike, churning away.

Compared to previous years in Kona, I was pleasantly surprised to only see one "pack" of cyclists, and I was able to ride the entire bike at my own pace. The wind seemed more fierce from town out to the climb to Hawi, then similar to previous years during the climb to Hawi. For that climb, you simply must stay in the aero position and grind your way up. I got my favorite song playing in my head and did just that.

At Hawi, I grabbed my special foods bag, shoved 9 GU Roctanes up my shorts (several of which I later found in my crotch after the race), jammed another Powerbar in my mouth, then bombed back down the climb to Hawi town. I don't know if it is because I have raced this part of the course 6 times now between Hawaii 70.3 and Ironman Hawaii, but I passed a lot of people who were riding somewhat conservatively in the fierce crosswinds. Call it braveness or stupidity, but despite nearly getting blown off the road a couple times, I stayed in the aero position the entire time and picked off at least a dozen cyclists on the descent from Hawi.

About mile 90, things got tough. This is the "dark place" for me. I wanted to be done, but there was still 22 miles to go. I just kept telling myself "Get to the airport" - since at that point there are stoplights and buildings you can use to string yourself back the pier. But for me, mile 90 to about 103 are the hardest part of the bike split in this race.

Although I hydrated liberally on the bike, drinking whenever thirsty and consuming just over 35 ounces of water per hour, I was peeing orange when I stopped in T2 to empty my bladder. Just goes to show you how much fluid you can lose in this race. In other race conditions, I would have been ballooned up like Michelin Man from that type of fluid consumption.

For the bike, I rode a Gray Storm TT, a Gray aero helmet, Specialized Transition shoes, Zeal Slingshot glasses, Zoot arm cooling sleeves, and a Champ-Sys one piece triathlon kit.

I also made a last minute decision to use electrolytes. Call me chicken for relying on salts, but my primary reason is because the brand I choose (Athlytes), also have several lactic acid buffers and anti-fatigue components in them. I decided I wanted this advantage, so I took 4 Athlytes per hour on the bike.

Bike: 4:58


Despite my best intentions to use as many "heat-hacking" tools as possible for the run (all those tools are outlined in this post), I ran into a bit of a logistical issue.

In Kona, you need to check in your run bags the day before the actual race, and these bags then sit in the hot sun until you get off the bike. You have no access to be able to put extra things in these bags before the race. This means my body cooling vest and palm cooling device, despite being in a portable cooler, were allowed to cook in the sun for hours before the run. By the time I got to them, they were slightly cold, wet and soggy - and not much better than simply dumping ice down my shirt.

So I ditched my cool "heat-hacking" gear and headed out on the run (granted, I did have my body cooling hat, arm cooling sleeves, and my use of heat protecting colostrum pre-race).

By mile 2, I knew my strategy to run 3 miles aggressively, walk 60 seconds, and repeat throughout the marathon, was not going to be a reality. Instead, I was hitting a wall of heat and exhaustion by 2 miles into the run, and getting hungry and sleepy. Last year, this same thing happened, and I didn't realize I was simply dehydrated and low on fuel until 5 miles in. This time, I identified overheating and hypoglycemia immediately, and at mile 2 I spent two minutes simply standing, drinking cup after cup of coke, and dumping ice water over my head repeatedly.

It amazes me that at 350 calories per hour on the bike and 35+ ounces of water per hour I was still underfueling and underhydrated, but that is the nature of this Kona beast.

At that point, I made the decision to string myself along from aid station to aid station until I perked up. At each aid station, I had about 4 ounces of coke (about 40-50 calories), 4-8 ounces of water, chewed on ice and dumped water over my head. It wasn't until mile 18 that I actually did "perk up", and up until that point, it was everything I could do to stay in the race and not drop out from exhaustion.

And then, just like that, I passed mile 18 and stopped quickly to pee. Usually, I just "go" in my pants, but I wanted to see my urine color. It was light yellow. It had taken me that long to come close to rehydrating, but I was there, and I felt a new surge of energy. I took off and ran 7:15-7:20 minute miles all the way back to the finish line, bounding through the last mile in just barely over 6 minutes flat. Thank you, normal yellow pee.

It always feels good to be able to sprint to the finish line. Despite a sluggish start and feeling for 2.5 hours as if I was going to "blow up" any minute, my marathon split was a 3:29.

During the marathon, I used K-Swiss Kwicky Blades, a Zoot cooling hat, and Zoot arm cooling sleeves. I also took 4 Athlytes per hour.

Run: 3:29


Overall time: 9:36.

This is a personal record for me for Ironman, and 17 minutes faster than I went last year at Kona (in similar conditions).

I am stoked, pleased, appreciative of being blessed to race here in Kona, and now ready to go play with my kids, feast on a giant cinnamon roll - then probably polish off a nice bottle of red wine (most likely in that order so that my children don't have to play with a drunk, hyperglycemic father).

Thanks for reading, and leave any questions, comments or feedback below!

Questions, comments or feedback? Leave them below!


Chris said...

Crazy that after all that your marathon split is only 3 minutes slower than my best "pure" marathon.

You're the man Ben.

Do you think that you could have warded off the dehydration by drinking more water or is it just the name of the game?

Ben Greenfield said...

Yep, I think I need to push 40oz/hr on bike.

catvill said...

Great race report! So it sounds like the only thing you would have changed is to hydrate more on the bike, and maybe even eat a little more?

catvill said...

Also, you said you ate a powerbar right after you got out of the swim.... you don't find that 'too much' food at one time?

btw, what do you think about having some chocolate mile during the bike leg, as oppsed to actual food?

catvill said...

...oops, I meant to say chocolate MILK in my last post!

CJ said...

This result from following your dominator plan?! Awesome

Ben Greenfield said...

Chocolate milk wouldn't sit right in my stomach, but some folks seem to do fine with Ensure, etc. I handle the Powerbar just fine, but had practiced it a couple times in training....

Luke Powell said...

Nice race Ben. After reading your race report from Kona last year, I resorted to Coke on the run for IMLOU and it did the trick for me as well...only it worked after just a few miles. Funny how something I avoid like the plague during my normal life becomes a savior during IM!

Dianne said...

Awesome race report! Glad you were able to gut it out, finish and PR!

Nat said...

What an amazing day for you, Ben! Congratulations on your PR and an incredible race in Kona!

Anonymous said...

Nice race Ben. I completely agree regarding the swim, the most physical swim I have ever been in from start to finish, and that "pack" while being the only one I saw, was ridiculous! Hope you have some good rest.


Ben Greenfield said...

Yeah Aleck. That pack passed both of us at the same time! Ridiculous. Anyways, you smoked it. Kudos for a great race.

Scotty Nemeth said...
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