Kona 2018 - Playing the cards you are dealt.
The IRONMAN World Champs on the beautiful Big island are in the books. As expected the race never disappoints and is just such an amazing journey to take on. First of all I want to send out a big "Mahalo" / Thank you to my girl, family, friends, sponsors and everyone who followed along - I felt the energy all the way and kept you all in my thoughts during the day. It makes the sport so much more to know you are not just racing for your own experience, but hopefully inspire and motivate someone to along the way. That thought makes me happy. A special shout out goes to my Coach Jo Spindler, he is the most inspiring, experienced and knowledgeable coach I came across, I am set for the rest of my triathlon career. So let's go through the day one by one:
3am wake up: That was a really early bird this time, on purpose. I slept well as I always do in race week, I know how to calm/ control myself and get myself into the mind setting I need to get the best out of myself. The reason I got up so early is that I wanted to be at the so called "body marking"/ (race number tattoo, one of the traditions from this race) at 4:45am sharp. In 2016 all got a big hectic because I arrived 5:15am, lessons learned so here I am early with a big grin on my face. I am still getting chills when I think about the atmosphere the volunteers created at body marking. I even got some watery eyes while being there and chatting to people, laughing and joking around, very unique is all I can say about it. After I headed to my bike into transition to check on the mechanics and set up my second breakfast/ lunch for the bike ride. Yummy yamm yamm, even got a salty nut bar (Sponser sports nutrition) for the later stages of the bike. After my dry land warm up and opening up my joints I jumped into my Sailfish Swim Skin, lubed up with lots of Vaseline and another layer of 50+ sun protection and off I went.
Swim: As for every discipline I had precise plans what and how to execute, regardless of people around me. Saying that, people around me is the key word for the swim. I started on the left side of the middle of the 1700 men in the 3rd row. Without warning the gun went off and it got really hectic and tight. Hands, feet, elbows, pulling ankles, you name it, it is as messy as it looks. Unless you swim under 50min (which almost nobody can) you will be involved in the beating and it stays until the halfway point/turn around before heading back to shore. That's where most start to fatigue and I upped my effort against the current of the ocean. I just missed a big pack 100m before me, so I swam mostly on my own on the way back. I felt controlled and exited the water a few seconds above 60min, really happy with that after all that happened with my shoulder etc. - really feel I figuered the swim part out and I finally know what I need to do in order to get faster in the water, all thanks to my brilliant Coach Jo. I did feel a bit funny in my stomach due to some unplanned salt water intake, nothing that influenced me much but some other athletes went on puking around for 180k on the bike, luckily not me. Quick, unspectacular transition (without dizzyness! - a good sign that the swim was not too taxing) and off I went to hit the pedals for a bit.
Bike: The first part of the 180k bike course curves through town, main objective was staying safe and don't go crazy on the wattage. Once we got to the highway the race starts. Once again, I knew exactly what I had to do and to think about. While many might think that you get bored during a 180k ride, you mind is actually all the time busy. Just to mention a few: stay away from the draft zone, look out for other competitors not to crash, control the power/energy you put out, drink/ eat every 10-20min, check your muscle activation is right and you are not cramping up in hands, neck etc. As you might have noticed I am always trying to be a positive, well meaning person, but I have to let this out now. I knew beforehand the draft party would be there and I have to say it was better than in 2016 (15-20 men packs in 2018 instead of 50+ what I saw). I rode really well the first 50k, good power and aerodynamics - but the inevitable had to happen. The slower swimmers arrived riding in packs staying behind the front wheel of others (it feels like soft paddling and easy due to the non existing wind resistance). I prepared myself beforehand for it. In 2016 I rode away 3 times, burning matches along the way to do that. They eventually catch up with you effortlessly in a group. So, in 2018, I let them go right away, sat up, drank and cooled myself and try to not get affected by also many familiar faces that rode at the "Saturday group ride" on the Queen K. Deep down I am sure they know, that they would never be able to end up with a bike split like they had if they had to pedal it on their own. I have no problem if you are dealing with doping like hormones, steroids to make yourself feel and look good at your own health risk, go right ahead. As soon as you enter a competitive environment like a race though, you are a little ****. Yes, the highway is busy with so many athletes racing but as the race director said, drafting is always a choice (rare cases such being unlucky while being caught in a moment of front guy braking down and you are in their draft zone OR overtaking someone over 25sec because the one is speeding up as well, so it's more than 25sec = drafting = blue card penalty). On the Kona highway there are small road signs every 12 meters (legal distance to front rear wheel) so it is very easy and obvious to gauge if you are at risk of drafting or not. Any sort of cheating is not acceptable, everyone knows the rules. Done with that topic friends, no more negativity from my side. Since I knew it would happen, I prepared beforehand. I read about the legendary basketball player Michael Jordan and how he coped with haters and negative situations. Everyone gets an emotional response to negativity, even if you hide it and swallow it down, it is there. Jordan stated that he used that energy for his purpose as motivation to work even harder. So that's what I did. I stored that anger within myself to unleash it when I needed it at the later stages of the bike. It was a very fast and rather "easy day" for Kona conditions on the bike. Not hot and little wind, unfortunately. At the 130km mark the cross winds started to come around, best news ever. That meant that any draft effect from the person in front of you is out the window, everyone for himself now. I dipped into my stored frustration backup (and a Sponser activator coffein shot) and hit the gas. From that point onwards, I passed people most of the time. Big shout out to the all 3-4 riders from the "Every Man Jack Team" - strong, super fair riding from every single one, you guys have the heart in the right place as I already witnessed with my friend Steve Jackson (who had an amazing first Kona race here!) at Ironman Florida in 2017. At around 100k I saw another racer standing frustrated at the side of the rode waving his hand at everyone passing to throw him a Co2 cartige (to pump up a flat tire, somtimes they malfunction and don't work). Beforehand I packed my flat kit bag in a way thay I will have quick access to the my two cartiges. I pulled over to the side of the road, threw one of my Co2 cartridges to the guy and carried on, that good karma will still come in handy as it turned out. Later on, I felt that my back tire felt a bit off, not flat but strange. I asked another athlete if it looked flat but the but the nice Aussie just replied "looks alright buddy" - and further on I went. Turns out when I picked up the bike after the race, the back tire was flat. It kept enough hawaiian air to keep me riding safe and fast along the whole course, Mahalo Madame Pele! Energy wise (due to my Sponser nutrition and the perfect pacing strategy) I felt really good all day, breathing calm on the bike. At the 90k mark I started to feel muscles pulling at my calves but especially both hamstrings and gluts. Knowing it can be related to lack of sodium/salt and dehydration, I immediately popped salt tablets and drank, which did not change anything, rather some stretches to open the rear side of my legs up a bit. It got better and I continued riding, always feeling like I still have a marathon to run and in control. My Felt IA bike with Swiss Side Hadron 485 and 800 worked like a charm the whole day, fast and safe in cross winds.
Transition 2 / off to run: They say the first step off the bike is a good indicator of your running legs, I agree. In past Ironmans, except for Florida, my engine and energy always were the limiting factors, my muscles were strong and ready. Not this time though. A small cramp hit me on the hamstrings on the first step, I ignored it and contributed it to the jump off the bike and sudden contraction. When I leaned over to empty my transition bag with run shoes, drink belt etc. reality started to settle in though. Some very sore and tight muscles from calf up to the gluts said "Aloha" to me. I took enough salt tablets, coca cola, gels, Gatorade, water, ice, sponges for a life time and nothing changed a thing during the entire marathon. Something I never experienced so far, classic Ironman story - always in for a treat and march into the unknown. When thoughts of walking started already at kilometer 1 of 42, I thought to myself "common now get it together". I focused on what I could which was nutrition, hydration, cooling, all the mental tricks I know, enjoying the atmosphere as well as I could. Often it is just one of the lows you experience in an Ironman and it goes away. This day it did not. I am very proud of my mental strength and fortitude during that run. I never allowed moments of weakness, always turned them into the best I could in that moment. I have been working on my running cadence, which was so low during the run I could not believe it. Even my most tired training run the cadence was way higher than during any part of this run. I threw my elbows back hard to promote a quicker turnover but nothing happened. Really fascinating how sometimes the body cannot come back from overdoing it. In the past I would have been frustrated and disappointed about all of this. I also would have backed off mentally during the run, just get to the line somehow. The reason I am not disappointed is that I learned from role models that the only thing that matters is the effort. The actual result is not something that is directly in your hands at that moment, only keeping the effort high and honest is. I did everything as well as I could leading up to the race, from getting a triathlon bike after my crash (big thanks to 3bike.ch in Zürich for the huge help with making everything as smooth as possible!) to training and getting my body healthy again. Another reason why I am at peace with Kona 2018 is that I know all the reasons why it turned out this way. Not as a way to make excuses for anything, but as an objective background to keep in mind that it affects your race. The main reasons are lack of consistency in training during the year and a new bike and positon two weeks before the race which crushed my muscles during the 180k (we should have done the Ironman on a spin bike and upright position I would have been fine haha) Again, both points that were not in my control and I optimized every step of it to the best of my knowledge. All in all, grateful for the experience and the lessons learned. All of it very little compared to Pro's like Sebastian Kienle who devoted 24hours a day over a year to this race and walked away empty handed, not even given the chance to run at all and finish the race. I am giving my body (mostly muscles) some rest to recover and then I am excited to start my 2019 journey. If it leads to Kona or not is still in the stars, but it will involve one or two Ironman's for sure! So, buckle up and pick out a goal for yourself, sign up or tell someone about it to give you some extra motivation. Then commit and go for it, no matter how big or unrealistic it seems. As Ironman motto says "anything is possible". Thanks for reading and you should get a medal for making it till the bottom of the page. Mahalo and chat soon, Matti P.s. : How is it even possible to sunburn your lower lip?!