Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hawaii Ironman

Now that I've had plenty of time to let the race sink in, I'm going to go ahead and write the race report. To those of you who checked in earlier, thanks for your patience.

As I managed a few posts prior to the race, I'll try not to dwell on the details of my pre-race experience. To sum it up, the week and a half prior to the event went very smoothly. Amanda and I established a great routine of getting up early every day, going to bed early every night, and eating very well for each meal. I'd say the preparation was perfect.

Race morning was a continuation of a smooth and stress-free week. I got up very early, in fact, I managed to get going on my warm up run before 4:00AM. Back to the condo, I enjoyed a hefty breakfast and a delicious cup of coffee.

For the first time in recent memory (or maybe the first time ever!), I was walking out of transition (with the bike set, tires pumped and body marked) by 5:15AM. How was I this well prepared?! We had arranged with my Stephanie and Huggy Bear Hays to show up at their hotel room at the Kona Seaside at around six o'clock. As we were knocking on the door at 5:20, it seemed we were well ahead of schedule. They had graciously offered us to use their room as a "holding cell" prior to the race. It's nice to have this place to settle down, to be a bit calm, and to apply all of the necessary race lubes... in private.

After donning the incredible blueseventy pointzero3 skinsuit (with long legs!), and applying ample amounts of Aquaphor, Vaseline, and Body Glide, I made my way down to the start. I think I was the third person in the water, as I always like to have as long a warm up as possible. It was 6:25 when I pushed off, and I immediately knew I was going to have a good swim.

Just prior to the start, I bumped into Cam Brown, who was one of the few folks I had deemed worthy of towing me through the swim. I cannot think of a recent race where he has not been in the front pack, so he seemed like a good choice. I lost his feet last year, so this time around, I made sure to stick close in the opening 500 meters.

The swim was incredibly comfortable for me, and I credit this to the hard swim build I did in the month of September. However, I must also attribute it to the fact that we had, once again, been dropped from the leaders. As I cruised along, content to be with Cam and other contenders, I once again lost contact with the front guys, who ultimately formed the main bike group. Next year I will have to swim more aggressively, as it's absolutely key that I exit the water in close contact with these guys. Sorry, Cam, you are no longer my go-to swim guy!

Once through transition and out onto the bike course, I took notice of who was around me. The split to the leaders was just over a minute, and Normann, Sindballe, Vanhoenacker, and many more were nearby. Things looked very promising. I opted to really press that first five miles to see if I could bridge up to the leaders. Learning from last year's mistakes, I notched back the efforts when I realized the gap was not closing. Rather than blow myself up early on, I settled into a nice rhythm with three or four riders.

For much of the first thirty miles, I followed a very conservative strategy. My new goal was to ride with Timo Bracht (last year's number 11) and Cam Brown (last year's number 8) until we got to Hawi. At that point, I'd reassess, and begin to really race the bike. Somewhere around thirty miles into the ride, Torbjorn Sindballe and Marino Vanhoenacker gradually pulled away from our trio. Knowing that Sindballe would likely have the top bike split of the day, I chose to remain patient and to stay where I was.

Vanhoenacker's strategy proved to be brilliant, as he allowed Torbjorn to drag him all the way up to the front group, at which point he joined them, as the strong Dane pulled away. Later on in the ride, Vanhoenacker made a break from the group to enter T2 in third.

As I approached Hawi, I watched as a trio of speedo-clad riders came by my fairly quickly. I did not recognize them, but figured I'd likely see them about forty miles down the road... as the pace looked pretty aggressive to me. Timo left me with that chase trio, and Cam Brown seemed to be dropping further and further back.

I went through the turnaround in Hawi solo, and prepared myself for my weakest section of the race. For some reason, I always struggle in this race from mile 65 to about 72. I have learned to anticipate the lull, so it does not come as a shock when it hits.

Regrouping in the section, I waited to see if any of the weaker swimmers would come through to give me a boost. It never ceases to amaze me how much easier it is (mentally and physically) to ride with one or more guys. To be solo on the lava fields can be punishing.

Just as I was expecting, I was overtaken by a strong athlete who had experienced a rough swim: Rutger Beke. He is a guy who, like me, has experience racing the bike solo, only to run his way up the ranks. Unlike me, he has managed some top-five finishes with that tactic, so I was very glad to have his company.

Passing through the town of Kawaihae--at mile 78 of the race--there is a nearly-two-mile-long climb back to the Queen K. It can be a tough section of the bike, but it's a part I've always considered one of my best segments. I come alive at this point, and I know that the ensuing thirty+ miles are often my best.

I re-passed Rutger, and began my assault on the final thirty miles. On the really windy years, that final bit can really punish those who have gone out too hard. The headwinds can make you unsure as to whether you are going up or down a hill. It's not uncommon to be out of the saddle and gearing down to descend!

We were faced with a moderate amount of wind on our return trip. Folks would be hurting, but there would be no major blow-ups.

Rutger and I exchanged the lead a handful of times, as he seemed to own me on the down hills, while I had a bit of an advantage on the climbs. We managed to keep a great tempo over the closing miles, and I felt great coming back to town.

As always, we picked up a few of the riders who were spit out the back of the main group, as well as two of the unknown speedo guys. Entering T2, I was anxious to start the marathon with one of the sport's toughest runners: Beke.

Within the first mile, I was already losing ground. I took a slow transition, and lost two or three spots before the run began. My goal was to take the first ten miles very conservatively, as history has told me that Alii Drive can be stiflingly hot and humid. Many a runner has cooked himself early, only to find the tank empty out on the Queen K. I wanted to be ready to pick those guys up on the final eight miles of the run.

I think anyone who's raced Kona more than once would agree that this year's trip up and down Alii was uncharacteristically mild. We seemed to have strangely dry air (for Hawaii), and there was even a slight breeze. Although there was not a cloud in the sky, and it was plenty hot, the day was not serving up the brutal conditions it has in the past.

Once out on the Highway, I began to close in on the top ten. In 2003 I remember how much harder the fight was inside that top ten, and I tried to brace myself for those battles. As I approached twelfth place--Tom Evans--I got ready to have him match my move. As I went by, he seemed to let me go... then I heard his footsteps. He came right up on my shoulder, and I assumed he was preparing to run with me. At that point he said, "Lovato, my wife says it's OK if you beat me because I'm still better looking." Ha! I love it. Tom's the type of guy who has no problem talking a little trash right in the midst of a race. You gotta love that.

Further down the road, I got word I was catching the tenth and ninth place guys. Knowing that the race would truly begin when I hit that eighteen mile mark, I was excited to already be in the money. I felt so relaxed and so controlled up to this point. I felt that the pace was very manageable, and with the exception of the climb up Pay and Save hill, I was running every mile between 6:15 and 6:30 pace. With ten miles to go, I was imagining myself reaching that top five before we got back to town.

Assessing the competition as they left the Energy Lab, I knew that McCormack and Alexander were out out reach. They looked very strong, and they looked to be racing one another solely, something that surely pushed them to the race best run splits. Next up was Torbjorn and Deboom. They had a comfortable margin on me, but they did not look to be untouchable. Following them were Lieto, Vanhoenacker and Eneko Llanos. These guys all looked well within my range, as did the former champ, Luc VanLierde. I made the turn, grabbed my special needs, and proceeded to turn up the pace.

After nearly eight hours of racing, I was finally allowing myself to let it all hang out. I had patiently waited to that point, the point at which I'd really go for it. I made my way out of the Energy Lab, and received a split that I had closed on VanLierde. I was really moving, and thoughts of a smokin final 10K were on my mind.

As I turned back onto the Highway, I really ramped it up. For about a mile I was still holding strong. With a 20-mile split of 2:09, I was still under 6:30 average. I figured I'd be finishing around 2:50-2:51, unless I ended up in a tight battle, at which point I thought I could squeeze out a bit more.

Somewhere around 21 miles, my pace faltered. I was experiencing some serious downward pressure, and the focus shifted from maintaining pace to squeezing cheeks. I'll try to refrain from sharing the graphics and gore, but let's just say I became completely satisfied to hold seven-minute pace over the closing five miles.

The battle I was looking to fight UP the road became a battle I was looking not to fight BEHIND me. There are always athletes waiting to pick up the pieces should you come undone, and I was determined to maintain my placing.

I did my best to keep the pace alive, but the distraction of the turtle's head was too great. I settled in to enjoy my jaunt down Alii. My mom handed me an American flag, and I crossed the line all smiles.

I was ecstatic to be back in the top ten, and to have executed almost exactly as I had hoped to do; I was very pleased with my performance. As with every race, I'll take home a few valuable lessons. I'm confident that I'll be moving further up the podium next year.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ironman Hawaii!

Just thought I'd get on here to make a quick post to the blog. It's been a quick but relaxing couple days since the race, with the only downside being that I've had zero internet time. For some reason, I've had not hotmail access, so the email replies have been behind... as the race report usually is!

First and foremost, I want to thank you all for the positive and encouraging emails you sent prior to the race. I got every one of them, and I appreciate that supports.

Next, I'd like to thank every one who has sent me a congratulatory note on my top-ten finish. I'll get back to you all soon, and I'm happy to see that you're as happy as I am to be back in the mix here in Hawaii.

And finally, the race report is on its way! I promise!

Thanks again... and stay tuned for some photos and some play-by-play reporting!

Monday, October 08, 2007

I have finally made it to Lava Java. We've spent a lot of time here in the past, but hadn't made it down this year. Amanda decided she wanted to do a bit of shopping, so I left her downtown, and came up here to grab a delicious smoothie. It's great to sit here in the evenings, as the view is just about perfect. The ocean is right across the street, and with the exeception of a few odd triathletes running by in their speedos and commpression socks, the view is unobstructed.

We've got about twenty more minutes before the sun sets. Right about now I'm regretting not bringing my camera.

Ah, another day in paradise, and another day closer to race day!

Thanks for checking in.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Days Three and Four

Finally I am posting a couple photos of the new Javelin Lugano. This bike is one fast machine, and I look forward to putting it to the test out on the Queen K next weekend. The next photo is from me at the start of my Energy Lab run.

Yesterday morning Amanda and I went out to the Energy Lab so I could do my last longer run before the race. It’s become a bit of a tradition to start the run out there, finishing in town, normally at the Jamba Juice. This time around, Amanda left me out there and then drove to town where she parked the car. She also had a long run on tap, so her plan was to start at Jamba, meeting me midway to pass off the car key.

I did an initial out-and-back inside the Energy Lab before hitting the Queen K. This part of the race is often considered the hardest part, as the wind from the highway is no longer cooling you off. For some reason, I tend to like this part of the run. It’s always hard; and it gives you a look at your competition behind and in front of you.

I was very happy at how easy it was to run along at my race pace. It’s so nice coming down from altitude, as the efforts, even in a much hotter environment, seem so much more moderate. The fact that I’m in the middle of a taper adds to the ease at which I was running along. Either way, it was a great run.

With a couple miles to go, I spotted Amanda on the other side of the highway. I crossed over, and we did an exchange of the car key mid-stride. We continued in our respective directions, Amanda toward the Energy Lab, and I toward town.

After finishing up I sucked down a delicious Jamba Juice and headed back to the condo to have some more food.

Amanda showed up about an hour later, and after she fueled up, we went out for a short spin. The crowds are starting to grow out there on the course, and unfortunately there were a few too many foreign athletes riding their bikes like idiots. It’s tough to see folks disobeying traffic laws and pissing off the locals, especially considering we already feel a bit of resentment from them regarding our invasion of their island. All we can do is to do our best to extend a few courtesies while we’re out there, and hope to keep the peace!

Today has been a nice, mellow day. We got up early and headed down to the Pier for a nice swim. I felt really good in the ocean, and feel like I’m right on track to establishing my swim rhythm. I really find that it’s important for me to spend as much time as possible in the ocean prior to race day.

After the swim we made it out for another short spin. Amanda is a bit tired from her long day of running yesterday—twenty miles—and I am all about resting! I capped off the afternoon with a massage.
It’s now the official start of race week, so we should see a huge influx of athletes arriving. It’s about to get a bit crazy out there. I’ll try to find some entertaining photo subjects to keep everyone amused.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Day 2 in Paradise!

Before I move on to today’s report, I have to point out the two highlights from yesterday. Highlight number one happened when I was enjoying my first ocean swim of the trip. There weren’t too many folks out there, as I had gone out a bit later in the morning. It was just about 10:00AM, and most of the crowds tend to show up around 7:00 or so. I was not too far out, in fact, I was just about to turn around, when I picked up my head just in time to see a dolphin flipping out of the water. I plunged my head back under to look for the rest of the group. Sure enough, just off to the left, there were about six or eight more dolphins, in two little groups. In the fist small group, there was a tiny one swimming very close to the others. It was definitely the cutest little baby dolphin I’ve ever seen. I watched them for as long as I could see them, then turned back. What a cool sight!

Highlight number two was picking up Amanda at the airport. Ever since our first trip here back in 1999, I have enjoyed surprising her at the airport in various rental cars. We do occasionally travel together, but it seems there have been many more times when we arrive separately. That first time, I showed up in my friend Doug’s Cadillac. This time around, I rolled up in my super cool convertible. But the true highlight is that I now have Amanda here with me!

Today started early, as I got up just in time to drop Amanda off at the pool for the Kona Aquatics Masters swim. She needs to keep her swim workouts going, so we planned on her joining the group a few times. I headed off to the ocean, as I am trying to get as many swims as possible out there. I really found that it helped me last year, so I’m staying away from the pool.

Once the swimming was done for both of us, we packed up the car and headed out to Hawi. Amanda was going to do a hill run out there, as sometimes it’s nice to get a break from running up and down Alii Drive. I was going to do a longer ride, back to town. Every year we head out there to do some sort of Hawi ride. It’s a great part of the island, as it’s very lush and green. Plus, it’s typically the part of the bike ride where the cross winds can be the most brutal.

Normally we’ll do an out-and-back, incorporating both the climb to Hawi and the descent. But this time around, I decided to try something a bit different: a point-to-point. I had never done this before, and I must say that it was quite enjoyable. I did get blown around quite a bit on the first 12 miles or so from Hawi. It was one of those days up there! It’s been a few years since we really got knocked around at Ironman Hawaii, and I have a feeling this is going to be one of those rough years.

After finishing up the ride, I did a quick transition run from the condo. By this time it was about one o’clock, so the temps were warming right up. It’s always nice to do a few runs right smack in the middle of the day, just like on race day. I felt incredible out there running, and I did my best to just cruise along, saving it all for next weekend.

That’s it for now; thanks for checking in!

Thursday, October 04, 2007


I have arrived in Hawaii! The trip yesterday was very easy. I was actually surprised at how smoothly things seemed to be going. I woke up nice and early to finish packing, while Amanda was out doing her early morning track workout. By nine o’clock, I was just about done, which meant I had time to make the 9:50 bus to the airport. I had never taken this bus, so I wasn’t aware of how easy (and cheap!) it was going to be. Amanda dropped me off at the bus station about 24 seconds before the bus showed up: so far, so good. I hopped on the bus, paid my ten bucks, and settled in for the hour-long drive to DIA.

Anyone who’s ever traveled from Denver, and especially anyone who’s ever traveled on United from Denver, knows that it’s not easy to show up with overweight luggage. I had a few extra pounds in both my bike box and my suitcase, so I was prepared to pay the overage fee. For some lucky reason, the ticket agent, who is normally one of the harshest stickers for the rules, not only let me go with my heavy bags, he also neglected to charge me the bike fee! As an added bonus, my new friend at the ticket counter gave me a free upgrade to Economy Plus. I was off to a good start.

The flight to Honolulu was a surprisingly painless seven hours. I got some work done on the computer, and then I settled in to view two enjoyable movies.

After an easy layover in the Honolulu airport, I was off to Kona. My good luck seemed to be continuing, as I found both my bike and my bag to have made the inter-island flight: never an automatic guarantee. Off to the car rental, I was fortunate enough to get an upgrade to a convertible! Amanda and I had planned to rent a Jeep Wrangler for our last week here, but the opportunity to jump right into a fun car was too much to pass up.

After dropping off my stuff at the condo, I headed out for another bite to eat, and to get some groceries. Right about the time I hit the produce aisle at Safeway, I also hit the wall. My body was suddenly aware that it was just past midnight. Ouch.

Returning to the condo, I went directly to bed. Normally I’d attempt to get the bike built, as well as to unpack, but I was too beat to consider it.

About nine hours later, I awoke to a beautiful Hawaiian day. The sun was slightly hidden by an overcast sky, and the temperature was just about right. I always love that first run back in a warm and humid environment; the body just seems to work better.

However, just before I went out for that lovely run, I decided to build the old Javelin. This way it would be all set for a ride later that day. Imagine my surprise, the veteran traveler that I am, to open the bike case and see that I had forgotten two very crucial pieces of equipment: my wheels. Oops.

You see, I had packed my bike on Tuesday evening, and was very careful to put everything I needed in my box. I even managed to double-check things. However, Wednesday morning, when I was packing my suitcase, I found that there was no room for my training helmet (something I bring just in case I do not want to wear my Super Cool Darth Vader Helmet all the time). It would appear I had opened up my case, inserted the extra helmet, and sealed up the box… without replacing my wheels. Seems like that would have been a pretty obvious thing.

Ah well, it just goes to show that even on my eighth time racing this event (and my millionth time traveling with a bike) that I can still make a mistake or two. Ha!

Rest assured, our Most Excellent House Sitter and friend, Jen Martinez, has arranged for a speedy delivery of the wheels. They are slated to arrive on an 11:30 flight Friday morning with our friend Brandon Del Campo. And in the meantime, I’ll just have to borrow Amanda’s wheels! Yet another reason I’m so happy she’s arriving today!

More updates to follow… and as soon as I have wheels, I’ll post a shot of the new race rig.