A cursory Google search will reveal some interesting pieces of advice with regards to racing two Ironman triathlons 6 weeks apart. Once you have filtered out all the posts stating how poor of a decision it is to attempt the feat, most of the advice entails spending extended periods of time off your feet, maintaining proper diet and sleeping habits, and keeping stress to a minimum. My preparation for Kona could not have been further from this.
A week and a half following Ironman Mont-Tremblant I packed my bags and made the cross-country move back to Kingston, Ontario for my fourth and final school year. Unfortunately, my bags had other plans and decided to spend a few days in transit. This left me with only the clothes on my back and unable to train effectively. The week of Labour Day, referred to as “frosh week”, is also rather infamous at Queen’s. It is a week full of massive gatherings and a lot of fun. Unfortunately, this environment does not exactly foster high performance athletics. However, I was able to put in a solid week of training and got to partake in some fun as well.
I had three weeks of class before I was scheduled to head to Kona. Under normal circumstances, missing a full week of classes is far from ideal. To make matters worse, I was enrolled in seven courses. It was difficult to keep track of which classes I was in, let alone ensure that all the assignments and deliverables got completed. To further complicate the situation, as a fourth year student I needed to find a job for post-graduation. Many employers of positions that I was interested in were on campus the first two weeks of school to host information sessions and conduct first-round interviews. I aggressively pursed these opportunities, which further detracted from my academic focus.
Despite the chaos of the first two weeks of school, they paled in comparison to week 3 – my final week in Canada before I headed off to Kona. I was fortunate enough to have participated in the final round of interviews with several companies, meaning I was back and forth between Toronto and Kingston, logging little sleep, incurring high amounts of stress and making poor pre-race diet decisions at the nightly corporate dinners. As I was pursuing these opportunities, I was forced to miss an entire week of classes. This meant that when I returned to Kingston following Kona, just in time for the beginning of midterm season, I had missed more class than I had attended. Not exactly an ideal scenario. Following the crazy week of interviews, I was burnt out and exhausted – not what you want one week from race day.
I departed Toronto early on the Sunday morning preceding the race to make the 17-hour journey to Kona. I was really dreading the long travel day, but it turned out to be not as bad as I expected. It was truly surreal to arrive in Kona. The Kona airport is a tiny little open-air airport not much larger than a bus station. It definitely was quite the contrast to Toronto and LAX where I had passed through earlier in the day. I exited the airport to be greeted by my parents who had made the trip down from British Columbia to watch the race. Since moving away for school a few years ago, it is rare that I get to spend extended periods of time with my parents. We were all excited for a week together in Kona.
Kona is an interesting place in that everyone is an early riser. Our days in Kona began before 6am and we were in bed by 9pm. The bed was always a welcome sight as the days in the week leading up to Kona are packed with activities. I was able to get a few light, activation workouts in during race week, be it swimming out to the coffee barge in the morning, riding along the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway out to the Natural Energy Lab, or running along the storied Ali’i drive. It was incredible to be training on the course which I had seen only on TV for so many years. In addition to training, I spent a lot of time at the Ironman Expo. In addition to all the great swag and sales, many companies were unveiling new products at Kona, such as the new Cervelo P5X and the Diamondback Andean. I was one of the first people in the world to ever see and demo these products. Another highlight included the Ventum club ride, where I got to demo a Ventum One and ride with Ironman World Champion Leandra Cave and Ironman CEO Andrew Messick. Definitely a unique experience!
Aside from training and attending the expo, highlights of the lead up to the race included the underwear run, bike-check in and the Subaru team Canada breakfast. The underwear run is an extremely popular annual tradition at Kona open to athletes and their families. It was a lot of fun to participate in this iconic event in support of a good cause. At the team Canada breakfast I got to meet fellow Canadian athletes and network with coaches and members of the Canadian triathlon industry. It was great to be able to associate faces with many familiar names and to have established relationships that have lasted far beyond my one week stint on the Big Island. Big thank you to Subaru for their support of team Canada throughout the week, they truly went above and beyond! Bike check-in was really cool as I got to witness the annual Kona bike count. The Kona bike count takes a tally of all the different models of bikes racing in Kona in that given year. It is used to identify which brands are emerging or losing market share on a yearly basis. In recent years it has been expanded to include wheels, saddles, pedals, groupsets, and other components. Despite the significance of the bike count, the process by which it is conducted is rather rudimentary. As I walked my bike onto the pier, dozens of industry representatives were yelling out all the specifications of my bike so that they could be recorded. It was definitely an interesting experience. Following bike check-in, I headed over to the old airport grounds to spectate the TRS Kona Beer Mile. This is a new annual tradition at Kona, only in its second year, but it was quite the event. It featured a star studded lineup full of Olympians and professional triathletes that did disappoint. At the conclusion of the Beer Mile, I returned to the condo to get some sleep in preparation for the race.
I slept surprisingly well and woke up excited for the big day. I had a coffee and ate the usual bagel and banana before making the mile walk down to the pier. By the time I had finished body marking, dropped off my bags and completed the final preparations of my equipment, the cannon fired signalling the start of the pro race. I ventured over to the beach area and made the journey along with thousands of fellow athletes to the starting buoys. Show time.
Treading water waiting for the swim to start was the moment when the significance of the race really hit me. Thousands of people lined the shores as helicopters buzzed overhead, adding to the intensity of the moment. The intensity crescendoed to a peak when the crack of the cannon pierced the warm, humid air. The race was on. Swimming in the ocean overtop of beautiful reefs truly felt more like a nature documentary than a race. I had to remind myself a few times to focus on the race and to not get mesmerized by the colourful fish and marine life on the sea floor. Despite the pictures and videos depicting a violent swim start, I actually found it to be the smoothest swim of my career. There was minimal body contact with other swimmers both at the start and throughout the race. I held a steady effort and was pleasantly surprised to see my time coming out of the water – a rare occurrence for me!
Result: 3.8km, 1:01:22, 1:35/100m, 585/2307 OA, 22/39 AG
Heading out onto the first 40km of the bike course I was able to hold a steady pace and was feeling good. Unfortunately, at the 40km mark my power output seemingly dropped out of nowhere. My legs just felt stale and I was really battling for the remaining 140km. It was a pretty miserable experience compounded by the scorching temperatures, high humidity and brutal winds. Kona is a truly unforgiving course and I was humbled by my experience out on the bike. I was really suffering out there and the miles upon miles of lava rock-lined asphalt did little to distract me from my misery. It was a very lonely experience that truly tested my limits physically and mentally. Upon returning to Kona, I was excited to be able to put the bike leg behind me.
Result: 180km, 5:34:56, 32.3 km/h, 884/2307 OA, 23/39 AG
Historically, I am a very strong runner coming off the bike. I can usually tell whether or not I’m going to have a good run within the first few steps of dismounting the bike. Unfortunately for me, the instant I dismounted my bike in Kona I knew I was in for a sufferfest. As I ventured out onto the run course, I made a promise to myself that I would at least run the first 10km, and after that I could walk the rest. The only way I was going to survive the run was to play mental games. The first half of the Kona run course is along Ali’I drive, a beautiful road that follows the shoreline. The first few kilometers of the run were absolutely miserable. I distinctly remember being disgusted by the contrast of the scenery around me – people lounging and relaxing on beautiful, white sand beaches, while I am in some of the most intense pain of my life trying to get through this race. After many hours baking in the Hawaiian heat, my thoughts weren’t exactly rational or even coherent. In Kona, there are aid stations every mile with ice, sports drink and water. I made a rule that I would run between aid stations and walk through them to ensure that I got all of the ice and fuel I needed. The run course was truly a mental and physical battle – at no point was I able to get comfortable and settle into a pace. The only sense of relief I felt was making the right hand turn onto Ali’i Drive for the final half-mile of the race. I saw my parents in the crowd who handed me a Canadian flag to adorn in the finishing chute. The finish line was surreal – a moment that had been playing through my head for years finally came to light. I don’t think I really appreciated the significance of the moment until I was in the finisher’s area. It was only as I was laying on the grass staring up at the orange Hawaiian sky illuminated by a falling sun that I truly realized that I had completed the Ironman World Championship.
Result: 42.2km, 3:32:48, 5:02/km, 645/2307 OA, 14/29 AG
Final Result: 10:18:07, 645/2307 OA, 14/29 AG
Following the race I went out for a nice steak dinner. I was pretty spent but still managed to polish off several thousand calories worth of food. I was hoping to return to the finish line for the midnight finish, but once I got back to the condo I quickly fell asleep. The following day we ventured down to a local beach to do some snorkeling. It was really fascinating to see all the marine life only a hundred feet from shore. I was really sore and my body was beat up, but I couldn’t let my last few precious hours in Hawaii go to waste. Following the snorkeling session, I packed my bags and headed for the airport. It took me approximately 24 hours of travel to get back to Kingston – just in time for Tuesday class!
Transition Back to School
The transition back to school was a challenge in its own regard. Not only was I a full two weeks behind academically, but my body and mind were exhausted from the race. With midterms and term projects quickly approaching, I had to really work hard to catch up. In some regards, this was as challenging of a task as the race. Socially, the transition back to school was quite different. News of my race and results had spread throughout the school community through social media, official releases and even a newspaper article. In fact, there were several instances in which I was approached on campus by someone who recognized me as the “Ironman guy”. My motivations in pursuing endurance athletics have been, and always will be intrinsic. To be receiving praise and acknowledgement from my peers for an individual pursuit actually put me in an awkward position in that I wasn’t truly sure how to handle it. Of course I was proud of my accomplishments, but I don’t view my achievements any higher than anybody else who dedicates significant time and effort towards a goal. Frankly put – triathlon is a selfish pursuit. There are many others who put more effort into projects benefiting a greater portion of society whose actions go unnoticed and unrecognized on a daily basis. Perhaps this is more of a commentary on our society, but nonetheless I truly was grateful to receive the praise of my peers. I hope that I was able to inspire someone to adapt a healthier lifestyle and to recognize that any goal is attainable if you are willing to put in the time and effort required to accomplish it.
2016 really was an exceptional year for me. I got to race in beautiful destinations across North America, I improved as an athlete and as an individual, and I got to meet some lifelong friends along the way. Triathlon is a lonely pursuit – it requires immense amounts of time and energy, and improvement is measured in months and years versus hours and days. As a result, it can be difficult to stay focused and motivated to push through tough sessions and tough weeks of training. Surrounding yourself with good training partners and a good support group is imperative if you are to find success in the sport. I can confidently say that I could not have had a better group of friends to train and hang-out with than I did this year. A big thank you to everyone at Queen’s University Varsity Triathlon and to Bryan, Jane, Pohsly, Super-Cop Sanjay, Moody and the Chows for all the great times this past year. Of course, my family has also been right along my side throughout the whole journey. Whether it was coming out to support me in a race or sitting at the computer continually refreshing the timing website in anticipation of my results, they have continually gone above and beyond in their support of my pursuits. Finally, a big thank you to everyone who follows my progress, be it through social media, or by reading this blog. I am continually blown away by the amount of people who come forward and share with me the impact I have had on them. It is one of the reasons I continue to work hard day-in, day-out.
As exciting as 2016 was, 2017 is shaping up to be another banner year. I have recently joined the LPC Hurdle Project and I look forward to training and racing alongside some of Canada’s top multisport talent. I have already seen immense improvement as a result of a structured and focused training program and look forward to realizing my untapped potential. Additionally, I am also happy to announce that I have signed a contract for full-time employment following graduation. I will be working in a field that I am very passionate about and in a role in which I will develop my skills at an accelerated rate. I look forward to moving to Calgary, Alberta in September to begin my career. Life is pretty good now – but it isn’t time to take the foot off the gas yet. Lots of hard work lies ahead.
Let the good times roll.