When I first got into the sport of triathlon there were a few races that I always had on my bucket list and while completing an Ultraman was checked off the list in February, the Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii was on a whole different level. When I got invited to race back in May of this year I was ecstatic. I would be heading to a place I have always wanted to go, and racing a race that has always been a dream of mine to compete in. Since I had been following the history of the race for such a long time once the start list was posted I knew the strengths and weaknesses of most of my competitors and what it would take to come out on top.
After a few days of playing around on the island and getting acclimated to the temperature difference while getting my taper workouts in it was time to race. While this was a race I was looking forward to for a long time, it's also a race that absolutely terrified me as well. For one I have a healthy fear of open water swimming especially when I'm going to be swimming over 6 miles in the Pacific Ocean with countless species of marine life. To see how nervous I was before we got in the water here is a short video .
We got in the water shortly after that and before I knew it they were counting down to send us off. I made a plan to find my kayakers Adam and Glee and avoid the huge cluster that happens at the beginning of these races as everyone rushes to find their support. Since I was one of the few wearing a sleeveless wet suit I would be easy to spot , so I told them I would follow the crowd and they could catch up to me when things cleared out. Once things calmed down and I settled in they caught up with me my nervousness disappeared. Instead it was replaced by a strange calming feeling. It must have been something about the clear blue water and cloudless sky that produced some of the most beautiful views I have ever seen as the sun rose over the Hawaiian mountains. For awhile I was just lost in my stroke enjoying every moment until I was quickly forced out when I spotted a box jelly out of the corner of my eye. I just about jumped on the kayak straight out of the water in one fluid motion.
I took Adam and Glee off guard by doing that but I mumbled something about a huge jellyfish and kept swimming as far away from that thing as fast as possible. Maybe another 5 minutes after that I let out another loud expletive as I got my first taste of a jellyfish sting for the day. At this point I was only around 1.5 miles in and I knew that wouldn't be the last one. After I got stung once and I got over the initial shock It just became an annoyance. It was like getting a small electric shock every once in awhile. One sting became two, two became four, and they just kept piling up. At one point I was being stung on my right forearm, left shoulder and the back of my neck all at once. I gave up counting my stings after I hit 10, but I definitely had quite a few more. I knew going in to the swim that the stings would be an issue, but it still wasn't a pleasant experience.
Throughout the swim I was on a 15 minute feed schedule which seemed to work well, Adam would get the bottle ready and pull the boat over to me, and I would roll on my back and take a chug and roll back over and continue swimming as to not lose much time. This cycle worked flawlessly and I was happy, the only other time I had to stop for anything was early on when I noticed my neckline on my wetsuit was rubbing a bit too much so I stopped to fix that before it became an issue.
On my feed stops I would always ask about my position and for awhile according to Adam I was hovering around 8th place. I could see 2 boats within our vicinity for awhile so I figured I was close to 6th and I kept pushing forward toward the middle of the swim I was feeling really strong and I surged for about 45 mins or so, when I came up for my last feed of that section I asked Adam where I was and he told me 14th or so. This completely floored me as I was feeling so strong and I actually lost time. Regardless I didn't let it get to me, knowing that the swim is not a strength of mine and I continued to push on so that I could get to my bike and have a chance of making up some time on the swimmers.
When I we finally hit the first buoy I was excited as I could finally see the bottom of the ocean again and all I could think was how I just didnt want to be stung by any more jellyfish. I thought that since the bottom was in sight the rest of the swim would be smooth sailing, boy was I wrong. On the bright side once I hit the buoy I finally stopped getting stung by jellyfish but that was made up by the massive current we faced as the tide was going out as we approached the shoreline of keahou bay. I suddenly felt like I was going nowhere and that was confirmed by the stagnant seascape below, I kept asking Adam where the last buoy was when I was feeding since I couldn't see it, but apparently he could. The miles slowly ticked off, 4.5, 5.5, I thought I was almost done, but I still couldn't see the buoy. My goal of getting out of the water under 3 hours was definitely not happening and I had no idea how much longer I would be swimming then all of the sudden I could finally see the last buoy. I started to give whatever I had left in me since all I wanted to do was get on my bike, my right shoulder was killing me and swimming in general was starting to get to me. Adam directed me around the final buoy and before I knew it I saw Erica waiting for me on shore and it was time to stand up and get rid of my sea legs.
I had asked Jeremy and Erica to get splits on certain people for me so I knew where I stood getting out of the water. Even though I was 15th out of the water I found out I was only 4 minutes down from last years champion Miro Kregar and 1997 champion and run course record holder Peter Kotland which immediately rejuvenated me.
One thing about being a mediocre swimmer and a decent cyclist is that you get to go hunting after getting out of the water which is one of my favorite things to do. I got on my bike and headed out on a mission. The course starts with a 1500 ft climb right out of the water with really no time to get your legs under you. As I got in to my rhythm I started to pass some of the other athletes, within the first 10 miles I had reeled in 5 athletes and pulled myself in to the top 10. I was starting to get my nutrition in and I was feeling good. When I finally could see Peter I sat a few hundred yards behind him for awhile using him to gauge speed and lines on some of the quick downhills and just to have someone to keep chase on. Somewhere around mile 20 in Captain Cook I made my move and finally passed him which was a huge boost as I considered him one of the contenders for the overall win. Next time I saw Erica and the crew I shouted out, "One former world champion down, one to go" as I set my sights on Miro who was right up the road. I was now on the attack and riding more aggressively as I moved up in the field. Click here to see me in attack mode
After I locked in on Miro it wasn't long before I decided to make a move and pass to move in to 8th place. I kept on the throttle and was searching out for who was next. Jeremy told me there was a group of 3 right up the road and it wasn't long before I saw them and started reeling them in. I passed Yasuko as she was off on the side of the road with her crew and then Kathy and I think the male in the group was Jochen. We were about 45 miles in and I was feeling amazing. I was now in 5th place and gaining momentum, I knew I had about 15 miles before the final 30 mile climb and I was on top of the world. In the distance I could see Julie, Tobias, and Tony and all 3 of them slowly were becoming closer and closer.
As we made the right hand turn on to South point road I was really gaining on Julie and was getting ready to pass. Once on south point its close to a 500 ft drop in 5 miles so you can really pick up some speed. It was pretty windy and Julie was fighting the wind and her bike on the descent and I carefully passed her going around 35 mph, I allowed my speed to get up to 42 mph as it was a pretty decent straight away but as I came over the next horizon I immediately went in to damage control as I spotted the next 90 degree turn and a stop sign with volunteers waving frantically to slow down. If there was a sign or a volunteer close to where I spotted the turn I would have been fine, but unfortunately I was out of luck. I came into the stop sign hard and slid across the road going down somewhere between 30 and 35 mph. Immediately I got up and tried to move out of the way so Julie had a clean road and then I looked at my bike to see if it was okay to ride and hopped back on much to the chagrin of the volunteers that witnessed the crash. It all happened so fast I'm really not sure that there was anything I could have done differently to avoid going down.
Erica, Jeremy and Adam pulled up as I was getting back on my bike and asked what happened as they saw me pass Julie and then the next thing they saw I was off my bike and bleeding. I couldn't have been down for more than a minute and if you look at my power file you cant even tell there was a crash. While they were concerned I told them not to worry and I soldiered on. Even though my first stint in 4th place was short lived I managed to catch up to Julie again shortly after and continue to the hunt for Tony, and Tobias who I had been able to see at one point and Craig who I knew was likely out of the water first but no idea where how far ahead of the rest of us he actually was.
The next few miles I was definitely on high alert as we descended back to sea level before making the final 30 mile, 3567 ft climb up the volcano to the Day 1 finish. While coming down the Naalehu coast was breathtaking I was too busy fighting the winds to stay upright on my bike to truly enjoy it. The winds of the southernmost and windiest portion of the US certainly did not disappoint. It was shortly after this that I decided to stop and have Adam replace my front wheel from the 808 to the shallower 404 the winds were really picking up and I didn't want to be fighting them while having to climb. The switch out was quick and I was ready to climb. I could see Tony and Tobias in the distance and my focus turned to reeling them in.
For awhile I was still making some progress it seemed as they both were in sight and seemed to be coming back to me, but somewhere around mile 70 things started to really take a turn for the worse. Up until then I was having no problem taking in nutrition but suddenly I was not able to keep anything down. I was throwing up any solids that attempted to swallow and my power numbers just started to plummet. I switched to ensure to get some quick calories in but I'm not sure I was absorbing that either. I thought the heat was getting to me but never once did it occur to me that the crash was the culprit. The thing is that as we started to climb the temperature started to drop but I was still burning up. Adam and Jeremy were running beside me so they could shove ice on my back to keep me cool while climbing but nothing seemed to be working. Even though my power was dropping and I was fading my effort level had increased two fold and it was getting ugly.
While my I was able to hold between 220 and 230 watts for the first 3 hours of the ride I was suddenly having a hard time getting my power over 200. I had been drinking water religiously and dousing myself to keep cool in the 90 degree temperatures all day, but somehow I still managed to be dehydrated as well. On top of that the adrenaline spike from my crash had been long gone, and I was left with a body that did not want to do any more work, I think somehow I moved in to the shock phase of the accident and as much as I was focusing on not letting it happen my body started shutting down. Slowly I started to see Peter's crew truck more frequently and I knew he was gaining on me, and at the same time Tony and Tobias were getting further and further away.
Erica told Jeremy to tell me what I already knew, Peter was coming and he was coming fast while looking strong. My aggressive competitive self normally would have taken the challenge and made him work to pass, but I was already at my limit and fading fast. Peter eventually passed me right before we made our way in to Volcanoes National Park and I didn't even think of responding. I had moved from attack mode into survival mode and there was no turning back.
Regardless I kept yelling at Adam and Jeremy that my power wasn't where it needed to be but anything we tried didn't seem to work, or maybe it did and I would have been a lot worse off than I was! At one point Jeremy asked me what I needed and my response was " I need to be on the top of the Volcano and off my #$%@ bike". My attitude and mind set went from who's next to catch, to who is chasing and who might catch me. Looking at my file my average power for the last 2 hours was 178 with a normalized power of 184, compared to an average power of 221 with a normalized power of 236 for the first 3.5 hours. My body clearly had shut down and there was nothing I was going to be able to do about it. Fortunately I was able to make it to the finish line still in 5th place surprisingly with the 3rd best bike split on the day, behind Craig by a little under 5 minutes and only 70 seconds behind Peter. Click here for a video of me finishing day 1
When I finished I was absolutely spent. I was shaking and I was hardly able to stand. Erica came over to see how I was and the finish line staff quickly got the doctors attention so she could treat my road rash and see the extent of my injuries. All I wanted to do was go find the house we rented for the night and go to sleep, I still was unable to take in any food and my body was really starting to feel the effects of my crash.
I was so shelled I forgot to even look at the leader board before we left to see how things were starting to shake out after a very challenging day 1. I had no idea how big a lead Craig had out of the water and I have to admit I was a little deflated to find out that I was already trailing him by 52 minutes. However the fact that the difference between 2nd and 5th was only 12 minutes with 2 long days to go kept my spirits high going in to Day 2.
Post Race Analysis: Click the bolded section for links to Garmin Connect
Swim Details : (Target 3:00 for 6.2 mi/ Actual 3:18 6.72 mi) Despite actually swimming 6.7 miles instead of 6.2 it looks my team kept me on a pretty solid line throughout the swim and hopefully helped avoid some of the currents that we faced our there. The 1:41/100 yd pace was slower than my 1:31/100 yd at Ultraman Florida but I think the currents definitely had something to do with that. Julie swam within 1 minute of her UMF time but everyone else seemed slower. Juan was 7 minutes slower, Brian and Meredith were 17 minutes slower, and Pedro 27. So with the UMFL class an average of 15 minutes slower at UMH my 21 minute slower swim isn't as bad as it looked at first glance. On top of that the fastest portion of my swim was the back end which either means I started too slow or I paced perfectly. That being said coming out of the water more than 45 minutes down from Craig put me in a place where it was difficult to recover from. I definitely need to be working on my swim this off season and I am hoping to dial in my stroke for next year. I have some video of me swimming during the race which will be helpful in determining on what to focus on.
Bike Details: (Target 5:00 for 90 Miles/ Actual 5:35 91.28 I am extremely happy with the pre-crash portion of my ride, I was right on my power targets and everything was going according to plan. I felt strong right up until that point and if I break the ride down to pre and post crash it looks like this: Pre Crash: 2 hours 40 minutes : average power 228, normalized power 244, post crash 2 hours 55 minutes: average power 186, normalized power 199. As you can see the crash had a bigger impact on the day than I would have liked to admit at the time. I never realized how much a hard crash like that can take out of you. Now that I have done a deeper dive I really wonder if it had more than just a psychological effect on the next two days. After looking at articles and pictures of crashes of Contodor and Froome from this years Tour De France I am grateful that it wasn't worse and I was able to continue on, even if I wasn't at full strength. The burning question is now how my day 1 would have played out if I had been able to stay upright on my bike and continue riding at 100%. Would I have hit my target mark of 5 hours? Maybe, 45 watts is a big drop in performance and over 3 hours could possibly have netted me the extra 38 minutes which would have definitely changed the dynamics of my race as that would have only put me 7 minutes behind Craig at the end of the day. Unfortunately the race played out the way it did and I crashed hard effecting my performance, but that doesn't stop me from thinking of what could have been. The fact that I was able to ride so strongly in the first half that it allowed me to still have one of the top bike splits on the day is definitely encouraging and a sign that my bike training was on point, and shows how high my fitness really was going in to the race.
Day 2 Report coming soon