Wednesday, October 22, 2008

2003-10-18 - IronMan Hawaii

Originally posted October 2003

"Swim 2.4 miles, ride 112 miles, run 26.2 miles. Brag for the rest of your life.” - - John Collins, IronMan Founder
27 October 2003
Okay, I freely admit it. I’m definitely in “brag mode”. After all, I’ve just finished my first IronMan ever and I’ve got permission to brag from the founder of the original event himself. It’s been 2 weeks since heading over to Kona, 9 days since the race, and 6 days since returning from Kona. I’m now asking myself, “Just how did this incredible thing happen?”
There are 3 ways to “qualify” to race at IronMan Hawaii. 1. Know a race organizer who will put you in the field. 2. Be a lightning fast triathlete (NOT ME) and qualify at any of the IronMan Hawaii qualifying races throughout the world. The closest one to us here in the Bay Area is the Half IronMan VineMan in Guerneville (Sonoma Co.). The third and last way to GET to Kona is actually my preferred method. BE INCREDIBLY LUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Each year a lottery is held for 200 slots. 150 go to U.S. citizens and the remaining 50 go to non-U.S. citizens. This year there were over 4300 applications for those 200 slots. I was lucky enough to win one of them. For the 25th Anniversary of the event, no less! It almost DIDN’T happen…here’s why…
I had signed up for the lottery in November 2002. Since getting interested in triathlon, I thought it might be pretty cool to try and go to Kona. So I paid the $80 (just to register for the lottery), filled out the forms and forgot about it. After all, the results of the lottery would not be announced until April 15, 2003. Then lightning struck at work. I was flying the Boeing 727 at the time I signed up for the lottery. In March 2003, I was awarded a bid to start flying the MD-11. This would mean going to MD-11 school in Memphis for about 2 months. When the school schedule was posted, I was listed to start MD-11 training on Sept 23, 2003. Kona was October 18, 2003. So here it is March 2003 and I’m thinking, “GREAT!! – This will probably be the year that I win a lottery slot for Kona and I won’t be able to go because I will be stuck in Memphis going to airplane school from September through November.”
So with a heavy hand, I log onto the IronMan official website, find an email address for the race office and I write the following email to them:
“Due to work obligations in October 2003, I will be unable to attend this year’s IronMan Hawaii. I therefore request that you please withdraw my name from the lottery, because if I were to actually win a lottery slot, it was absolutely KILL ME to know that I could not attend the race. Thanks, Jeff Martin.”
Fast Forward - - It’s now April 18, 2003. I am sitting at my computer and I suddenly remember that the lottery results were posted 3 days ago on the 15th. I didn’t even think about it on the 15th since I had asked them to withdraw my name anyway. The only reason that I am thinking of it on the 18th is because a triathlon buddy of mine from Walnut Creek also put in for the lottery. So I logged onto and I clicked the link that says “lottery winners” and scrolled down to the “P”s to check out my buddy and HOLY FREAKIN’ WOW-----he’s on there!!!!! He made it! Cool. The next thought to rattle in my brain is, “I wonder if anyone with the last name of Martin got a lottery slot?” So I scrolled back up to the “M”s. My pulse rate immediately shot through the roof. The list read:
Martin Jeffrey L. USA Lottery
California, U.S.A.
I started yelling out loud, “I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it.” Joyce yells from the other room, “what, what, what?” I replied, “I got in the FREAKIN’ LOTTERY.” I was absolutely stunned. My next thought was, “Is there anyway that I can maybe go to MD-11 school some other time, so that I can still go to Kona?”
Now, we step into an alternate dimension as April 18, 2003 suddenly gets “twilight zone” weird. As I’m staring at the lottery results on my computer and thinking about how I can get out of MD-11 school, my phone rings. I am still staring at the screen as I pick up the phone. The conversation goes something like this:
“Jeff Martin??”
“Hi this is FedEx pilot Captain (so and so). I have MD-11 training in June of 2003 and I really don’t want to spend the summer in Memphis. I was wondering if you would consider trading your September 23 class date for my June 17 class date?”
(Stunned silence) followed by even more silence
“Did you hear me?”
Yeah, I heard you. I’m just trying to decide if you’re jerking my chain or not.
“Whadda ya mean?”
Well, you’re never going to believe me, but HELL YES I’LL TRADE!
I let him in on the “joke” of April 18. We work out the details of our trade. I hang up the phone and look at Joyce, who has now come into the room. I tell her about the conversation and she wryly says, “Well, either your planets are aligning or they’re crashing down on you. I don’t know which.” We’re both ALL smiles!
I call the Kona race office to verify that I’m the Jeff Martin that is on the lottery list (common enough name). They assure me that it is ME! I inquire about the email I sent asking them to withdraw my name from the lottery. Their reply? “Oh, we don’t use that email address anymore.” They never got it!
Unbelievable, I’m going to Kona. All I have to do for the next six months is get through the most complex airplane school that FedEx offers and train for an IronMan…piece of cake, right?
Without boring you, suffice it to say that I had a very busy summer in Memphis, TN. I was very focused on both tasks. My summer training plan did not quite go the way that I wanted it to. Too much studying. But, it did go well enough.

13 October 2003, Monday

We’re up at 6:00 a.m. for our 10:15 a.m. non-stop Aloha airlines flight from Oakland to Kona. The bicycle is in the hard case and along with the rest of the items we will need for Kona; the back of the Ford Expedition is already packed. Joining me for the voyage is my wife Joyce, and our 2 sons, Eric 13, and Alex 11. All 3 are “skipping” school in favor of cheering me on in Kona. We leave Antioch a little before 7:00 a.m. and grind to a halt westbound on Highway 4. Fortunately the traffic cooperates and we make decent time to the airport. As we check in, I notice 2 other bike cases and 2 other sets of shaved legs (male) to go with them. I chat with one of the individuals. He qualified for Kona at IronMan New Zealand back in February. This makes me realize that along with me, and the other 199 lottery winners; I will be surrounded by the very best age group triathletes in the world.
Our 5-hour flight to Kona goes by pretty quickly and before we know it, we are in the rental minivan and headed to the host hotel, the King Kamehameha. This will be our home for the next 8 days. After getting into our 5th floor room, which has an awesome view of Kailua Bay, I decide to go down to the race registration room and get myself checked in.

The view from our 5th floor hotel room.

I get down to the first floor ballroom that is being used for athlete check-in. It is very well organized. First go to this station where we will check your I.D. and USAT card. Then go here to get your wristband (which I later find out has a small data chip in it). The yellow wristband is king. It gets the athlete into everything! So you have to have it. I wore it for 8 days.

The athlete's yellow wristband.

Then get weighed. Weighed?!?! Oh well. Then pick up your race packet with race numbers (#833 thank you), timing chip, and tons of schwag! Done. Now, back to the room to unpack and assemble my bicycle. Bicycle assembly goes well, nothing broken by the airlines…..whew!

The Bike is ready to go.
So now we’re here, we’re checked in and we’ve got the rest of the day to kick around downtown Kona. We go and look for some dinner around 4:00 p.m. and end up eating at the nearby Italian place. We walk around Kona a little more and then it’s back to the hotel to settle in for the night.

14 October 2003, Tuesday
After breakfast, I decide that I’d better get out and stretch the legs today. I also need to ride the bike and make sure that it is functioning properly after its flight inside the hard case. So I go out for a swim at 7:45 a.m. My little 20-minute swim is amazing. I am swimming in the area in which we will start the race. The water is only 10-15 feet deep in this part of the course and as I swim along, I am being treated to a Jacque Cousteau sea special. Rocks, fish, coral, sea urchins, and many other life forms are just beneath the surface as I swim along. They are obviously well conditioned to the presence of humanoids because they don’t seem bothered at all. This is by far the neatest swim I have had at any triathlon. I’d like to swim longer, but I don’t want to do too much prior to Saturday. I decide it is time to exit the water.

Heading out for a little warm-up swim.

Since everything in life is now corporately sponsored, Gatorade has not missed an opportunity and is the official sponsor of the “7:00 a.m. morning practice swim.” You can drop your gear at the Gatorade tent while you swim, then after your swim, you can get some (you guessed it) orange Gatorade. Nabisco is also there passing out small packs of Fig Newtons. So my post swim snack is Fig Newtons and orange Gatorade. Is this what Peter Reid uses?
Back to the room, change clothes and out on the bike for a 1-hour easy spin. This will serve to check both man and machine. Up Palani Rd. to the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway (also known more simply as the Queen K highway) turn left (northbound toward Hawi, pronounced “Havi”) and I am on the actual racecourse that we will ride on Saturday.
There’s not much out here except small rollers and lots of lava. Fortunately there is a beautiful ocean view to my left as I proceed northbound. Out for 30 minutes, turn around and back to Kona. After my return, I clean up and then we all pile into the minivan and drive up to Hawi to have lunch and to see the entire bike course. As we drive along the Queen K highway I notice that on certain portions there is a TREMENDOUS wind blowing. I am silently hoping that Saturday will be MUCH calmer.
We have a nice lunch in Hawi. On our return we stop at one of the other hotels to take a quick look at their beach. It’s time to head back to Kona because we want to see the athletes’ parade at 5:00 p.m.

Eric and Alex at a beach west of Waikoloa.

The IronMan parade is definitely a big deal. I could have been in the parade myself, but I figured that I would see more if I found a spot on the street to watch with my family instead. Everyone that’s anyone in Kona is in the parade. The mayor, last years champions, local high school marching bands, race volunteers, you name it…..they are there. It takes place on Alii Drive, which is the street that the race finishes on. We found a good curb and sat there and enjoyed the spectacle. Hey look, it’s Gordon Haller, the very first IronMan champion.

The very first IronMan Finisher - Gordon Haller.

Here come the Australian athletes.

It's the Aussie contingent.

All of the athletes come down Alii in alphabetical order by country. After the team from Brazil goes through there is a giant lull in the action. So, figuring that we have seen most of what will be offered, we get up and head over to the IronMan Expo (also known as the athlete’s village) where all of the sponsors are set up in booths pedaling their goods.
We stop at the IronMan greeting booth and Joyce, the kids, and I sit down and record our “greeting from Kona” which will be post later on the IronMan live website. We check out a few more booths. Janus is sponsoring sign making. The kids and Joyce make me signs that Janus will put up on the racecourse on race day. We head to dinner, and then it’s back to the hotel to call it another fine day in Kona.

15 October 2003, Wednesday
I got a call from my buddy Kai (the one from Walnut Creek who also made the lottery) on Tuesday. We decide to meet at 11:00 a.m. for an hour easy spin on the bikes. We are fortunate enough to be part of a small group that is going to be met by 2 Pro triathletes. Jamie Cleveland of Canada and Andrea Fischer of Austin, TX (also husband and wife) meet us in the parking lot of the King Kam hotel and before our ride, they take the time to pass along a little information about the course and the race. The ride ends up being pretty much the same ride I had done on Tuesday. Out the Queen K highway and back.
After cleaning up and getting some lunch, it’s time to attend the mandatory pre-race meeting (also in the parking lot of the King Kam….I love staying at the host hotel!!). Here all of the directors (swim, bike, run) get up and talk about their part of the course and what the athletes will see in terms of support and also in terms of race officials. Of course, the big deal on the bike is NO DRAFTING. They pound this rule into our heads. The meeting lasts about an hour and then it’s time to go back to the room, find the family, and go find some dinner. Before leaving, Kai and I agree to meet at 7:00 a.m. for a swim the next day
16 October 2003, Thursday
Carbo Day! Carbo is the big pre-race dinner. I guess they do it on Thursday so that you can do your own thing the night before the race. But Carbo is not until 6:00 p.m. I decide that I will go ahead and swim with Kai at 7:00 a.m. I only swim for about 20 minutes again, then I change clothes and head out on the bike for my last ride until the race on Saturday. I do another easy hour. We spend the rest of the day relaxing and walking around town. Eric and Alex (my sons) decide that they would like to rent boogie boards and try some boogie boarding and body surfing at a nearby beach. We spend an hour or so at the beach. I, or course, have found a nice shady in which to park myself. I’d love to go down and bodysurf with the kids, but there isn’t much sense getting worn out by the sea, the surf, or the sun. So I just stick to the shade and my novel. Yeah, I’m really living it up in Hawaii!

“Dad, I think those waves are kinda big.”

We head back to the hotel to clean up and go to the Carbo dinner. This dinner also serves as a kind of opening ceremony. Mike Reilly, the voice of IronMan, is the M.C. and after getting our plates and dinner we find a nice spot to settle down and watch the show. A nice welcome from the stage, an opening prayer for the athletes (in Hawaiian), some hula dancing, a very cool video with a 25 minute retrospective of IronMan Hawaii, and a very emotional video about Dick and Ricky Hoyt. This is the AMAZING father/son combo that does the race. The son is in his 40’s and is disabled due to cerebral palsy. I invite you to learn more at When this video is done, I don’t think that there is a dry eye in the house. Other stories are shared about athletes who have overcome tremendous odds to make it to Kona. It’s a great high to hear such tales.
One of the other videos that are shown is about the original trophies that were handed out to the 12 finishers of the very first IronMan Hawaii in 1978. The original trophies were hand welded by the founder of IronMan in his garage. It is basically a stick figure made out of metal with a nut (like nut and bolt) for a head. You can see the chance for double meanings here: a nut for a head, a hole in the head, missing screw, etc. Well this year for the 25th Anniversary, and for the first time since the original IronMan, they are going to hand out those same finishers’ trophies again. In fact, they have hired a welder to make almost 2000 replicas of the original trophy and the welder, himself, will be competing on Saturday.

Replica of the original "Hole in the Head" trophy.

The Martin men head into Carbo.

Carbo in full swing.

The performance of "Island Breeze". The white T-shirt in the foreground is the original finishers shirt.

More stage activity at Carbo.

2 hours passes by and Carbo is over. Another day in paradise is a wrap and it’s time once again for the Martin Clan to hit the sheets.

17 October 2003, Friday
Today I am in FULL REST MODE. No cycling, no swimming, and definitely no running. Just some light stretching. In fact, I had purposely NOT run all week. I figured that my legs would get enough of a pounding on Saturday. So today we just take easy AGAIN. The kids do some swimming out in back of the hotel in Kailua Bay. I will have to check my bike into the transition area later this afternoon, so for now I just go down and get a free massage from the massage team that is there specifically for the athletes. They won’t even take a tip. These folks are just too nice. After that I go to watch the kids snorkel and swim. While Joyce and I are sitting there a woman gets out of the water and comes over near us because her towel and bag is sitting nearby. I notice that she has a pair of NASA shorts on. We strike up a conversation and I learn that she is Dr. Yvonne Cagle, an astronaut, living in the Bay Area and working at the Ames Research Facility in Mt. View. She was scheduled to go into space in the next year or so, but the shuttle accident has postponed her mission for several years now. I make sure and introduce my children to this genuine American Hero and also make it a point to have Dr. Cagle explain the value of her education to my sons. I ask Dr. Cagle if she is staying for the race, but unfortunately for her, NASA commitments have her taking a red eye to LAX to speak there on race day. She tells me she is volunteering in the bike transition area later today so maybe I will see her. I never did. We part ways and head back to the room to change because we need to get some lunch and go back to the airport.
My good friend Dick Allen (my crew chief at Furnace Creek 508 and former owner of Brentwood Cyclery) is flying in specifically to watch me race. What a cool thing to do! I’m glad that Dick is coming. He was definitely one of my good luck charms at 508 and I’m quite pleased to have him around again.

"Welcome Dick, glad to have you here!"

We round up Dick, make our way back to the hotel and at around 2:00 p.m. Dick helps me round up my bike and transition bags and we head down to the transition area behind the hotel to rack the bike and hang up my T1 and T2 bags (T1 = swim to bike bag with cycling gear, T2 = bike to run bag with run gear). This is the last time I will see my gear until race day. They have security there all night so no one messes with anything.

Getting the bike into transition. The volunteers are amazing.

These racks will be completely filled later.

Now that the bike and bags are done we leave the hotel at 4:00 p.m. and walk down Alii Drive to find an early dinner. We end up going back to a place that Joyce and the kids and I have already been to once. We liked it a lot, so back we go.

The pre-race dinner.

As we make our way back to the hotel after dinner, we notice that almost all of the race day equipment has been set up. Bleachers, finish line arch, announcers booths, have been steadily going up throughout the day.

Alii Drive is plenty busy this particular Friday night.

We stop along the sea wall that marks the official swim start and run finish line of IronMan Hawaii for a couple of photos.

This is right next to the King Kamehameha hotel.

Kailua Bay in the background. I'll be swimming there in a little over 12 hours.
We head back to the hotel, where I do a few last minute things to get ready for Saturday. Lights out at 8:00 p.m. because that alarm is going to go off at 4:15 a.m. on Saturday. It was really starting to feel like the race would NEVER get here. I’m about to be proven wrong!

18 October 2003, Saturday
Yeah BABY! Race day is finally here. Sure took long enough! I actually wake up just a few minutes before the 4:15 a.m. alarm. Good. This way I can turn all of the alarms off without anybody else having to wake up. I eat my breakfast and take my pre-race supplements. Dick has crashed on our floor for the night and he and Joyce and the kids are still sleeping soundly (but only for a few more minutes). Soon my activity has them slowly stirring. Dick grabs his camera and start shooting photos.

My kids and wife show their enthusiasm on race morning.

Before I do anything else, I put my timing chip onto my ankle. Without that, the rest of day, would “not count”. I eat breakfast and take my pre-race supplements. I follow the fueling and supplement guidelines written by Steve Born at E-Caps. Steve’s advice paid huge dividends at Furnace Creek 508 in the fall of 2000 and I have continued to live by his advice ever since then.
I take a nice hot shower to warm up my muscles and follow that with some light stretching. Swim suit on. Sunscreen on. Gather up my personal stereo (gotta have the tunes to stay mellow on race morning………..if case you’re wondering nothing but Rush will work today! Thank you Geddy, Alex, and Neil). I’m feeling caught up and even a little ahead of schedule, so I decide to head down to the transition area to pump up my tires one last time. I grab my pump and head out the door and down to the bike.
I arrive at the entrance to the transition area only to be told that I can NOT get in to see my bicycle until I have been “body marked” (where they write your race number onto your skin). Okay, fine. I go and stand in the line for body marking. Remember there are 1600+ athletes trying to accomplish the same thing, so the line is very small (NOT!). I get to the front of the line and the guy says, “where’s your swim cap?”. What? “Yeah, you can’t get body marked unless you have your swim cap.” CRAP! Fortunately, I am carrying one of the walkie-talkies that the kids have been playing with. I call up to the room and Dick answers and he brings my swim cap down to me. You da MAN, Dick!
The body marking line takes about 30 minutes to get through. I pump my tires up. The guy next to me blows a tubular tire right then (sounds like a gun shot). Of course, now he wants to borrow my pump. I feel rushed to finish up, but how do I say “NO”? I don’t. He borrows the pump. I wait. Another couple of minutes wasted. I’d swear that I was ahead of schedule just a few minutes ago…….not ANYMORE!
Back up to the hotel room to drop off the pump. Everyone is up and moving now. I have now gone from feeling ahead of schedule to feeling VERY behind. With or without me, the cannon will sound the start at 7:00 AM. Inside the room I grab the rest of my race gear: goggles, water bottles for the bike, and my “special needs” bags for the ½ way points of both the run and the bike. This time I will get EVERYTHING done and be checked in and ready to race. Yeah, right! Final hugs, kisses, and well wishes are exchanged and I head down to make my way into the final part of check in (right before you get into the water).
I drop off the 2 special needs bags (bike and run) in the designated spot. I then proceed along the green Astroturf down to the swim start. I finally have time to don my headset and now the music is working and I’m starting to relax a little. Right before the entrance to the water is one more bag drop-off. I strip down to just my swimsuit, swim cap, and goggles. The clothes that I was wearing over them, as well as my iPod stereo go into the bag and I hand it to one of the volunteers.
I was across the timing mat and hear the familiar “chirp” of the electronic timing mat as I am now officially checked in for the 2003, 25th Anniversary, IronMan Hawaii World Championship Triathlon. I climb down the 3 steps into the waters edge and make my way into Kailua Bay with my fellow triathletes. I look at my watch. It’s 6:50 a.m. Hey what was I worried about, I had 10 minutes to spare. I look back toward where swimmers are entering the water. The line still looks kind of big to me. But, somehow they get everyone into the water in time for our start at 7:00.
Typically the total number of competing athletes at Kona is around 1500. This year, because it was the 25th Anniversary of the event, they had allowed almost 1800 to sign up. With dropouts, we had 1649 line up to swim on race morning. This was the largest field ever assembled for IronMan Hawaii.
I swim over to the left side of the group and find myself a spot to tread water about 2/3 of the way back from the front part of where the fast swimmers are hanging out. I turn about to look at the sea wall hoping to catch a glimpse of Joyce, the kids, and Dick. Futile as you might imagine. There must be several thousand people lined up to watch all of us start. It looks pretty awesome! I check my watch again. It’s getting pretty close to 7:00.

3, 2, 1……….BOOM! The cannon sounds and we are OFF!

I'm somewhere in that mess! One of the green caps in the middle of the photo.
Yeah, there I am...right, right there!

I like to describe the beginning of a triathlon swim start as an “underwater wrestling match.” I’m guessing that within the first 1 minute of swimming that I have been either kicked or punched no less than 10 times. I never take it personally. Just all part of the fun. It finally starts to thin out a bit, and I start to find my rhythm and settle into my stroke. I also get into watching the rocks, coral, and fish below me. In spite of 1600+ bodies churning the water, it is still remarkably clear.
As a matter of fact, I am having the time of my life. This is the most I have ever enjoyed a swim on any triathlon I have done. I continue on and every once in a while pop my head up to check and make sure that I am still heading in a somewhat straight line toward the boat in the distance that marks the turn point. The swim course is basically a rectangle. Head south in Kailua Bay for about 1.2 miles, make a 90 degree right turn and go about a 100 yards, make another 90 degree right turn and then head north about 1.2 miles back toward the King Kam hotel for the 2.4 total miles of swimming.

In the beginning of the swim, as I pop my head up, I realize that 1.2 miles down to the turn around is a LONG WAY. No worries, I just keep on moving and stay relaxed and concentrate on my form. When I first started triathlon, I was always such an incredibly slow swimmer that I usually was alone and off the back. On this particular swim, I always seem to have plenty of company around me, so I feel pretty good about that.
I make the first turn at the boat. It’s full of spectators. I wave as I go by but no one on the boat seems to notice. Oh well. After just a brief time swimming westbound, I make the second right turn and head north back toward the swim finish at the King Kam. I pop my head up again and look. Man, that hotel sure it tiny out there in the distance….1.2 miles away.
On the return leg of my swim, I have the sensation that I am not swimming in a very straight line. Every time I check on my progress, I seem to be drifting too close to the buoys along my right. I try to compensate and make sure to keep myself moving forward.
To me, the return leg seems to take much longer. I suspect that I am now growing impatient with the water and am ready to be done and get onto my bicycle. Finally, the hotel seems near. I realize that the swim course is starting to narrow as the organizers have places buoys that “herd” us into the finishing ramp. Swimmers start to collect around me again and it’s time once again to get kicked and punched. It seems worth it to be done. Volunteers are positioned at the bottom of the ramp where it enters the water. Hands reach down to me and help me, and the other swimmers to “find our legs”. I’m always amazed how difficult it is to stand up after a long swim. It requires a totally different set of muscles and I always seem to leave my sense of balance elsewhere for about 10 seconds.

I was hoping to break 1 hour 30 minutes for the swim. As I stand up, I look at my watch….1:22. Yeah! I’m liking that! I start to trot and make my way up the green Astroturf and glance around to look for Joyce, the kids, and Dick.

1 down, 2 to go.

I round one of the corners on the way to transition and there they are, my personal cheering section. I see Joyce and Alex first. “Hey, 1:22, not bad, eh?”, I shout. I see Eric next. He is just a little farther down, where he readies the camera, and snaps off a set of photos.

So now comes the EMBARRASSING part of my race. I’m so happy with my swim time, happy to have seen my family, and happy to be out of the water, that I fail to notice the small “speed bump” bunched up in the carpeting while I’m waving to Eric. TRIP! Splat! Down I go. But fortunately I catch myself on my hands. The carpet is soaked from all of the swimmers that have already come through dripping wet. This is fortunate for me, or I’m pretty sure that I would have had a nice “rug burn” on the palms of my hands. I pop up and keep moving. I find out later that my luck holds: Eric misses the fall with the camera!
I’m finally into the transition tent, where I get my T1 (swim to bike) bag handed to me by one of the fabulous volunteers. I head into the changing tent and suit up into my cycling clothing. I make my way out to the bike, where it’s handed to me by a volunteer. These folks do everything for you except the race.

All right. Time to go for a little bike ride.

Out of the hotel parking and up the hill…

Starting out on the bike course. King Kam hotel in background.

The first part of the course does a few “zigzags” through town. This makes it somewhat good for the spectators. At least they get to see the cyclists for a portion of the course. It’s about 51 miles to Hawi (directly from Kona and another 51 back) so the bike course spends about 10 miles wondering through Kona before we leave town to head north up to Hawi and back for the 112 mile total.

Early portion of the bike in downtown Kona. Coming down Palani Rd. to head south through town.

Riding through town is a major thrill. There are thousand of spectators and they are very generous with their applause. It’s quite wonderful. The course through town heads south for a bit and then turns around to head back to the north. Pretty soon I am at the sharp right turn (Palani Rd.) that will take me up the hill to the Queen K highway and north to Hawi. As I approach the right turn, I see my fabulous cheering section again (my family) cheering and clapping for me. I give a wave. I know that I won’t be seeing them again for about 6 hours.

Joyce holds her sign and cheers me on as I go by with a little wave.

I make the left turn onto the Queen K highway and now there’s only a little over a 100 miles to ride. I settle down and settle in. There is a volunteer station every 5 miles. They all cheer every time you go by. I have my Sustained Energy that I’m drinking but every time I go by an aid station, I make it a point to grab a water bottle as well. It’s supposed to be in the upper 80’s today (and it was) and I want to make sure that I stay “ahead” on the hydration game. Plus it feels good to squirt a little water down my back once in a while also.
The miles click by. The lava fields roll past. I pass some cyclists. Some cyclists pass me. Along the way I pass one of the physically challenged athletes on his hand cycle. Yes, he was ahead of me until then. That means that without the use of his legs, he was able to beat me on the swim. Amazing! I notice that he is NOT wearing gloves. I comment on this as I ride past. He laughs and says that his hands are as tough as the bottom of a dogs paws.

This is what a hand cycle looks like.

The ride up the Queen K highway is devoid of all auto traffic today except official race vehicles. Even residents are not allowed on the road at the portion of the race. It’s quite nice having the road all to ourselves. The time seems to pass at a reasonable pace and before I know it, I am making the climb up into Hawi. This is the first time that I have experienced any wind at all on the bike course and thankfully it is only a small headwind. I’m about out of nutrition but I know that in Hawi is my “special needs” bike bag with 3 more bottles of Sustained Energy in it. I get into town, make the turn around, hear the chirp of the timing chip machine as I roll across the mat and now there is only slightly more than 50 miles of cycling left. I make a quick stop to pick up my nutrition and also to visit the “facilities” along the course. I remount the bike and make my way back to the south toward Kona.

Hangin' loose on the Queen K highway.

10 miles later, I am passing another of the aid stations and am greeted with a sight that no one wants to see. A cyclist is down on the road in a pool of his own blood. I never heard what caused the accident, but I did hear later that he was okay. I’ve noticed that the most dangerous part of the bike course is when you are passing the aid stations. Athletes are concentrating on picking something up for the volunteers and their attention is focused away from what’s ahead of them and what’s around them. I’ve had to veer slightly at several of the aid stations to avoid other athletes and volunteers alike. I suspect I’m equally guilty as well and have probably caused other cyclists a bit of consternation as I was concentrating on the hand-off of a volunteer and not on the racers and course.
I get into the last 20 miles of the bike and am greeted with the first substantial wind of the day. A nice stiff dead-on headwind. I’m getting tired and my speed is definitely beginning to drop. I find that I’m “walking” a fine line between wanting to push hard enough that I’ll finish up the bike, but not pushing so hard that I will not have anything left for my FIRST marathon.
So on I grind. 15 miles to go, 10 to go, 5 to go. I’m now starting to pass some of the runners. They are over on the left side of the road. Once again I marvel at these athletes abilities. I’m just finishing the bike and they are almost finished with the race. Unbelievable. I pass Peter Reid (the eventual winner). He’s out front following the camera truck and he looks strong.
1 more mile to go. I make a right turn and leave the bike/run portion of the course and head into the final few turns that will take me into transition. There’s Joyce and the kids again cheering me on. That always feels magnificent. I roll to a stop at the bike dismount line. A volunteer racks my bike for me and I trot toward the transition tent.
Relief! It’s great to be off that bike. 2 down, 1 to go. Inside the transition tent, I grab my T2 bag and head into the changing tent once again. I’m offered a cool wet towel and a cup of ice water. Nice. Did I mention how great the volunteers are? I tell one of them that maybe I’ll just stay here. He laughs and says, “that’s why we’re known as the pleasure palace.” I peel off the cycling clothes and pull on my run clothes and shoes. After another drink, I exit the changing tent. Joyce, Eric, and Alex are out there waiting for me behind the barrier. I’m walking and talking to them. I can’t run yet, because my legs have forgotten how. Walking will have to suffice for the moment. Alex pipes up, “Dad, when are you going to start running?” “I don’t know honey. As soon as I can get my legs working,” I reply. I tell Joyce that I will see her at the “hot corner” in around an hour or so.

I get out on the run course and I finally manage to get my legs working at a slow trot. As least my rate of travel has increased slightly. I head south through town on Kuakini Highway, make the right turn on Hualalai, followed by the left turn on Alii (later…much later, I will make the right turn on Alii and run the ½ mile to the finish line). This is the “hot corner.” I head south on Alii and avail myself to the food and drink of the aid stations located every one mile. Down to Keauhou and the turn around point. I allow myself to walk the turn around. It’s my reward to myself for having run this far.

After the turn around, I pick up the pace and find that I am making something in the neighborhood of 9-minute miles. I think, great, if I can keep this up, I will come in under 13 hours total. I was hoping for something under 14 hours so this is very motivating to me. Of course my REAL goal is just to finish my first IronMan and still be vertical at the end. At this point my brain feels the motivation, but I’m fairly certain that my legs don’t.
All right, north on Alii. I make it back to the hot corner (right turn on Hualalai). Joyce and the kids are there cheering me on again. Alex is first and he is using his walkie-talkie to tell his brother that I’m coming, so that Eric can take a few more pictures of the now very tired Dad. Both Eric and Alex run alongside briefly (very cool). I find out later that Dick is there also. I just don’t see him, since he is busy taking photos.

Alex (left side of photo) paces his tired Dad near the hot corner.

Left at Kuakini, down a little ways, right on Palani Rd., and back up the hill. I walk the length of Palani Rd., about a ¼ mile, it’s just too steep for me at this point of the race to find the energy to even run slow. I make the all too familiar left turn onto the Queen K highway. I travel north again along the Queen K toward the turn around point at the Natural Energy Lab. By this point in the run, I’ve covered roughly 10 miles. It’s about 6½ miles until the left turn into the Energy Lab, and then a 3 mile round trip down and back inside the Energy Lab. Then once you exit the Energy Lab and make the right turn back onto the Queen K highway, it’s about 6½ miles to the finish line.
So at this point in the run I’m feeling pretty worn out, but I’ve made a deal with myself. I’m going to play “connect the dots.” The dots, of course, are the aid stations. I’m going to run (slowly) to each aid station, and then allow myself to walk past each aid station while I get a drink or something to eat. So that’s my reward. Run to an aid station (1 mile) and walk through and eat and drink. I also get a cup of ice that I put inside my hat and replace on my head. I also splash a little cold water down my back. So my run has become 26 1-mile repeats.
Somewhere around mile 11 or 12, I realize that it feels like there is a small rock inside my right shoe. I silently hope that it IS a rock, because if it is not a rock, I know that it is going to be a nasty blister. At the next aid station I check my right shoe. Darn! No rock. I don’t bother taking off my sock to check. I know that I am developing a major blister on the bottom of my right foot. Seeing it will only annoy me, so I figure why bother, I can’t do anything about it anyway. I pull my shoe back on and press on. Jog a mile, walk the aid station. Jog a mile, walk the aid station. I join another pair of runners (a gal from Germany and a guy from New Mexico) who are using the “connect the dots” program as well. We strike up a conversation. This seems to help the miles go by slightly faster. Auto traffic is once again allowed on the Queen K highway so occasionally we get shouts of encouragement from passing motorists. We have the entire brake down lane to run in (which is coned off). It is almost one full car width so there is plenty of room for the runners now heading in both directions.
At last we are greeted by the left turn that will take us down into the Natural Energy Lab. It’s starting to get dark. I notice that the road down in here is not very well lit at all. There is no traffic, so that’s not an issue. I’m just worried about stepping into a rut in the pavement and twisting an ankle. My 2 running mates have now left me and gone on ahead. I’m just not able to keep up with them anymore. I press on at my own pace.
Down at the bottom of the Energy Lab is the turn around point. I allow myself to walk this as well. The official race photographers are there and take my picture. I only realize it after the flash goes off. I tell them a little lie. “Hey, if I’d known you were going to take my picture, I would have run.” (NOT!)

Once you make the left turn into the Energy Lab, the course is a fairly steady descent down to the turn around point. So at this point, as you can imagine, I’m looking forward to the steady uphill all the way back to the Queen K highway. After I make the turn around, I run a few yards and then stop at the table that had the special needs run bag. I’ve stashed another flask of Hammer Gel in there. I’ve been using Hammer Gel to get me through the run and my first flask has run dry so I’m ready for the next one. I’ve also stashed some aspirin in there. I take two. And off I go wandering in the darkness at a slow jog.
I make my way to the top of the Natural Energy Lab and the right turn at the Queen K highway. Just a 10K to go (slightly over 6 miles). Just before making the turn, a volunteer hands me a “glow stick”. This is required equipment now that it’s dark, since there’s auto traffic on the Queen K highway. I wrapped it around my right wrist and head for the finish 6+ miles away.
I’m still playing connect the dots as I move along. Another aid station past…5 miles to go. I’m pretty much by myself at this point, no one to talk to on this part of the run. There are runners passing me in the opposite direction (still outbound to the turn around at the Energy Lab).
3 miles to go. I’m noticing a trend now each time that I walk an aid station. It’s getting harder and harder to run after I walk. I’ve had this happen before. My body is starting to shut down. My legs are screaming, “ENOUGH!” So with 3 miles to go, I tell myself, no more stopping or you just might not get there at all. I’m running now, slowly, but I am running. The glow of downtown Kona is a shining beacon drawing me near. I’m starting to feel the excitement of finishing this thing.
I make the right turn at Palani Rd. There are still thousands of spectators lining the street. Every once in a while I hear my name called out. “Way to go, Jeffrey!” These are the spectators with the official race program. They see you coming, hurry up and look you up in the program, and then shout out your name as your pass. It’s very encouraging.
Down Palani, less than a mile to go now. I get that wonderful lump in my throat that I have come to truly take pleasure in, at the finish of an endurance event. It was the greatest at the end of 508, but this is a pretty close second. Left at Kuakini, right on Hualalai, and this time, I get to make the right turn on Alii Drive. Alii Drive: the most famous finish in the all of triathlon. It’s after 8 p.m., 13+ hours since the start of IronMan Hawaii 2003. The streets are still packed. I’m “high fiving” people left and right; almost everyone I run past now. I begin to look for Joyce and the kids one last time. Eric and Alex absolutely live for the finish. Their favorite thing is to hang out about 50-100 yards from the finish and join up with me and run across that finish line arm in arm with their Dad. Joyce and I have pre-arranged a meeting place. I’ve known ahead of time where to look for them, just in case the crowds made it difficult. I see them, right where they are supposed to be. They join up with me. I tell them that it’s hard for me to talk because I am too emotional. Dick is also at the finish and gets a fabulous photo of the kids and I.

Eric is on my left and Alex is on my right. I look at Eric and then I notice that Joyce is also there running with us. She, too, is caught up in the excitement of the finish.
I hear my name being called over the P.A. by the voice of IronMan: Mike Reilly. It is just SO AWESOME! Right before we cross the line together, we stop. I’ve told the kids, ahead of time, that we are going to stop and give our gratitude and pay our respects to the triathlon gods by kissing the finish line. We kneel down and plant a big smooch right on the “white line.” We stand and walk across. 13:18:42. Yeah Baby! It’s over!

A big smooch for that white line!

YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m greeted by yet another volunteer who places a towel around me and a lei. Hey, I got lei’d! (Couldn’t resist). We pass through the finishing area and stop to take a few more photos.

We are guided toward the medals and trophies where I receive both.

I've got my medal around my neck while Alex holds my trophy.

You’d think after an IronMan you’d get to sit down, right? Wrong. After the lines for medals and trophies, then we went and stood in line for finishing photos. Well, Joyce and the kids stood, I sat down on the grass. The official photographers call these “podium pictures”. I could never figure out why. There is no podium! Great photos nonetheless.

Finally I plant my hindquarters down on the cool lawn. Ahhhhhhhhhh! Dick joins us and we get something to eat from the post race feed. Pizza and ice cream!

We sat there for a good hour just enjoying the moment. The kids decided that they were tired so they went back up to the hotel room and went to sleep. I was starting to feel human again. Amazing what a little nourishment and hydration will do. Joyce, Dick, and I decided to go back to the finish line and sit in the grandstands and cheer the remaining finishers. We did this from about 9:45 p.m. all the way until the official close of the race at midnight. What a fantastic party! The later it got, the louder it got every time another finisher crossed the line. What a sensational experience.

"Island Breeze" entertains the crowd between finishers.

The party (race) concluded at midnight. With the HUGE help of Joyce and Dick we headed upstairs. I took a quick shower, and it was lights out. That bed felt great! I was thoroughly and completely trashed!

19 October 2003, Sunday
Hey, I can move! Barely. I always say that it’s great to be fit so that later you can walk around, moving about like you are in your 90’s. Stairs are absolutely the worst. Not so bad going up, but going down even one step is an adventure in agony!
Today is relax day. After a little breakfast, we take Dick to the airport and say “ALOHA!” I’m still blown away that he came to watch and cheer me on. I’m not sure that I can finish ANY major athletic event without Dick in attendance. He has certainly been a good luck charm.
After lounging about most of the day, we head to the awards banquet at 6:00 p.m. Mike Reilly is the M.C. once again. Trophies are awarded to the top 5 age groupers in each class and to the top 10 male and female pros. The pro winners speak. We eat some more food. Not quite as good as Carbo, but still pretty decent. We watch some more videos. The ceremony is wrapped up and we call it another night in paradise.

20 October 2003, Monday
Today the hotel is alive with people trying to get out of town. We’ve planned to stay until Tuesday so that we can avoid the airport rush. So today we are going to pack all of our suitcases (time to break the bike down again). After that we pile into the rental car and head down and see the Kilauea Volcanic National Park. We have a great time! I don’t do quite as much walking as Joyce and the kids, but I enjoy myself very much.

We arrive back at the hotel in the evening and wrap up our last day on the big Island. I think we are all ready to go on home.
21 October 2003, Tuesday
After some breakfast we head downstairs for one more “unofficial” finishers photo. I pose by the marker for the start/finish line.

The sign reads: "Official Swim Start and Run Finish Ironman Triathlon World Championship"

Then it’s back to the room for some last minute packing, and then it’s time to head to the airport. Waiting an extra day turned out to be a GREAT move! The airport is deserted today. Every airport employee that we talk to mentions what at complete zoo it was on Monday. So to make this long story shorter: we got home!

Joyce and the kids headed back to school after their long absence. I did some unpacking on Wednesday and spent some time looking at the photos we shot and even more time admiring my medal and trophy.

What an incredible event. What an amazing experience. I was unbelievably fortunate to get into the lottery. Luck was still smiling on me as I was able to change my MD-11 class date so that I would be able to attend the event. I wasn’t able to train quite as much as I would have liked to this summer but ultimately it just didn’t matter. In fact, it just gives me something new to shoot for when I go to do IronMan Canada in August of 2004.
Sometimes I just can’t believe the incredible opportunities I’ve had. I feel truly fortunate. I don’t know what else to say, except this:
“I’m an IronMan!”