Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ironman Hawaii World Championship - The Two Sides of the Medal

I came to Hawaii with two main objectives;  one was to finish the Ironman World Championship in the best possible way, and the second was to have the time of my life doing it. This past Saturday I fulfilled both and received a medal. Its like the two goals are represented well by the two sides of that medal. On one side, this was the hardest thing I have ever experienced and on the other side, this was one of the best and most amazing days of my life.

Let's get to it:

The hard side - the boring, cold facts you will find in any old race report: 
I think it is almost impossible to describe in words, what Ironman Hawaii really is. Its a monster - something so much harder than any other Ironman races or anything else, I have ever experienced.  I frankly did not expect it to be so hard - but as my friend says;  There is really NOWHERE to find forgiveness during the race ANYWHERE or at ANY time. You swim with no wet suit in the toughest pack in the world - everybody are good swimmers, hence almost every is swimming within 10 minutes, which obviously means everybody is in the same place at the same time. The bike is so darn hot. humid and grueling - the headwind coming back from Hawaii hit me like a hammer, made me dizzy and feeling really sick and with no power. Then the marathon - well the first 15 km are fine, but when all the glamour of the world elite, all the sponsor banners, all the loud inspiring musics starts to fade out behind you - you need to pass through a hot agonizing 42km long, hot asphalt road on top of a lava field, which is essentially draining your energy step by step.

Just before entering the water, I find Guillermo and we give each other a last big hug - I look at the 2000 people already floating in the water, then make my way to the front of the line. Few minutes later, the canon is off and the race is on. I quickly settle in a good pace, enjoying the scenery, but there are a lot of fights - I have many people swim on top of me, pulling me down and I seek a bit further to the left - however this does not really help a lot. Looking at ocean floor is like a giant fish tank and time passes quickly until the turn point at the Body Glove catamaran. I have seen this so many times on TV - its truly insane to be here. Coming back is a bit slower, things calm down slightly  but I manage to swallow quite a bit of pacific ocean, which potentially sets of the first stomach issues.

Reaching the pier, I go far enough right, so when I stand up in the shallow water I get a good look at the whole scenery. Running up the red carpet stairs, picking the green clean water hoses and running easy to pick up my bag and find the bike - not big deal, I am just freaking out, being part of this.

On the bike, things seems calmer and easier than expected - a bit conservatively, I aim towards 205 watts, which is some 15 watts below par and what I pushed just 6 weeks ago in Copenhagen. I want to be certain to have enough energy to manage to finish strong on the run. At least that WAS the plan. Once on the Queen K highway, we have a slight tailwind and there are huge amounts of riders on the road - its practically impossible to avoid getting caught up in smaller groups, but I try my very best to keep the 7 m - the refs here are notoriusly rough. My tummy is troubling me and I try to calm it be sipping water at each aid station, which works a bit and for the first 100km I am kinda OK - tailwind and 33 degrees. How bad can it be?
On the way up Hawii, we see the first pros coming down at full throttle. Jacobs, Van Lierde, Kienle, Crowie - all big guns and big heroes.

At around on 195w I reach Hawi with an average of around 38 km/h, thinking "this is so much easier than I thought" - n ow its just getting down this hill and then 70km home - piece of cake. I guess those could be famous last words, cos right at that moment, the headwind is back, but now mad hard. With the heat and humidity, it hits like a hammer - I try to stay on watts, but I am fading. I am getting passed by many, many bikes - I can't even maintain aero position and I am feeling so sick that I am about to throw up at every sip of water or energy that I am trying to take in. The last hills back into Kona is taking the best of me and I am starting to consider how on earth am I going to run a marathon now. Later on in the day, while picking up my bike, I find out that I had a flat front tire - potentially this has slowed me down, but I did not even notice. I spent all my energy just to pedal to get back to T2.

I guess my face expression here says it all ... dead meat!
Off the bike I must have looked like an old man. Everything hurts - back, legs, stomach cramps - I could frankly hardly walk. Taking my time in T2, my feet are wet and already looking like raisins, but I do not have any spare socks. Coming out of the transition is like a dream. Although I am so dizzy and nausea, there is a huge crowd cheering and I manage to walk/run for the first 2-3 km and then starts to get the running going. But its hard - very, very hard. The heat is hammering down with the blazing sun, the humidity is furious. Strangely enough my legs are kinda OK - maybe because I am moving at a record-slow 10 km/h. But hey, this is IT - the World Championship- this is Ali'I Drive! Come ON - only 40 km left... GOD!!!  My feet starts hurting too, from a number of massive blister. Post-race I drained 12 of them - so no wonder I felt like walking on heated charcoal. I never realized how hilly this run is - there are no times during the marathon where its flat. All the time up and down - and even if I had the ability to find a "rythm" at this time, it would get spoiled by the changes in terrain.

Out on Queen K its gets silent - runners are suffering just like myself or even more. I see many throwing up, some quitting. I manage to make it to the Energy Lab - the infamous stretch some 15 km from the finish line. Now I know I will finish, though my motivation hits an all-time low. I keep running/walking at around 5:50 min/km, but slowly fading. The last 10 km is just survival. Every time I stop to walk, I am so dizzy and nausea that my legs are literally trembling. Running is so painful, due to the blisters - I think I am down to 6:30 - its slow, but I am progressing. The last mile feels very, very long. You can see and hear the finish line, but we are being led in a loop down back on Ali'i, before coming into the famous finish line area.

I slow down, the crowd is mad here, literally 100s of high fives, people screaming - and then at 10:49 the voice of Mike Rilley "Thomas Rohde - You are an IRONMAN" - what a great feeling... at least for a few seconds.
Just over the line I am being picked up by 2 volunteers, I get to sit down in the grass and chat with a few friends, but I am not good. I find my way back to the medical tent, get assistance and starts throwing up. I am almost 5kg from my weight this morning, so massively under-hydrated, thought I have been drinking very well all day. I get to lie down and the medics decide to put me in intravenous rehydration, pumping some 2 liters of salt water into my left arm. After 2 hours or so, I start feeling better, get some color back in my face and feeling back into my legs and (partly) my feet.  Its over - I made it, goal achieved. Ironman Hawaii 2013.

Officer down - 2 hours with IV regaining body fluids

Probably one of the best days I have ever lived, since the 26th of June 1992:
Hawaii is amazing - simply amazing. We have been here for a week now and its people and nature is beyond anything I have experienced elsewhere. Its so good, it actually makes me wonder, why other places in the world cannot be like this. With a more simple, clean life, good spirits and karma, with less Facebook, camera phones, compression socks and Ironman race reporting...

On the morning of the 26th of June 1992, I had just turned 18 and I had my final exam for my driving licence - a big day indeed. Nervous, but I passed it fine and from here on, this day went ballistic. First, around noon, I went to Roskilde Festival for the very first time - met all my mates, then we saw my favorite band Pearl Jam perform. Then Denmark played Germany in the Football Eurocup and won, setting the whole country on fire in a spree of happiness - and ending this day, we saw Nirvana perform and then goodnight. Probably the best day of my life period. Until this past Saturday in Kona that is.

Since we arrived to Kona, we could definitely feel the strong vibe of the Ironman. Circus was in town. Everywhere you see 6-packed, sharply shaven athletes, some well into the 50s or 60s, most with a fat% well under 8%. Frankly, I quickly found this a bit absurd - way too much and too cliche for the sport of triathlon. But apart from that the World Championship is everything I had ever dreamed of. The day was hard indeed, but I enjoyed it the best I could, through the dizziness, nausea and bleeding feet.

Hank Schrader - init ??
Great highlights includes the bike check in, where when I realized how small the pier really is and the place is full of the world elite. Then the swim in the fish tank and getting out of the water, looking at the scenery unfolding. The Hawaiian people supporting us with Alohas and cheers, the kids and parents helping out on the aid stations - so happy to help, though the sun must have been burning them too. The run on Queen K, much harder than I imagined, but what an experience to be here and be part of it. Being passed by elderly runners here, who have the strength to even get here and then they cheer you going "you can do it" - I have so much respect for these men and women who keep coming back here to race well into their 70s. On the podium during the award banquet, was a cute woman at 77 years old, who finished well in a bit more that 16 hours and was determined to come back next year. I have seen this on video, but seeing her live here made me realize how strong the body and mind is and how well one can grow old in a healthy matter, if you take care of yourself. Much respect for these folks.

Eventually, just a big amount of thanks to all of the people who have cheered and supported me on this long journey.  De Soto Sports, Triatech, OOB Coaching, Argon 18 Bikes, Fit4Bike, I AM ID, SIS Nutrition - thanks a bunch. A special thanks to three persons who especially walk an extra mile for me:

Guillermo Lladó - as a mentor and helped spawning the initial spark to actually do this. Have survived countless kilometers of biking with me on his tail, so much bullshit about watts, tyres and what not. Taught me to push hard, showed me the ropes in Ironman, as well as taking me in as a friend.

Aleksandar Sørensen-Markovic - my friend, coach and colleague. Pushed my limits in training and in life, making me believe that I actually could realize that major turn in my career - most likely one of the most daring and best things I have ever done. Without your support, guidelines and confirmation that this was indeed possible, I doubt this dream would ever become real.

Blanca Martí - my love and biggest support every day. Always there for me with sweetness, words of comfort, soothing hands on my sore legs. I love you - you are the best thing that ever happened to me.

Now its time for a bit of relax, surf and good food - enjoying another week of experiencing Big Island. Mahalo to you all !!!

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