B2B Ironman Race Report – by Michal Kovac – 10:19:30
As I write this, 4 days after the race, I am still having a hard time thinking about anything other than Saturday. It was such a great day! My first iron distance triathlon, finished safe and sound, and with daylight to spare! Never before in my life have I committed so much time and effort, mental focus and physical training towards a single day. It finally came on October 20th, 2012. I was excited beyond words. My goals were 1-Pacing 2-Nutrition 3-Finish. I wanted to keep a cool head while riding the bike (not go too fast) and pace myself on the first half of the marathon. I also wanted to nail the nutrition plan because I heard that a race this long is all about nutrition. I was fortunate enough to race as planned, without any major issues.
The race execution started on Friday, after several rest days in the prior week. Friday was really another rest day, with just a 2 mile jog in the afternoon. From lunch time out, I was on nothing but liquid diet consisting of 25% plant protein powder, 25% fat and 50% carbohydrates. It was a blend of almond milk and a couple of scoops of powder. I wanted to have an empty stomach come race morning. It worked! I did not sleep very well the night before the race, but I rarely do. I opened my eyes on every hour except 2AM, and woke up at 5AM. After mixing 4 Infinit bottles for the bike, I was ready to go. I thought that my wife and kids will take me to T1. They were sound asleep, so I turned out the lights, kissed them and off I went. On the way out, I hit the corner of the granite counter with my left hip – right on the bone! This pain would stay with me the whole day… and ironically it was the only pain I felt for most of the race – until mile 16 of the marathon!
Around 6AM, I drove up to the transition area and was glad to see most of my friends and training buds within a few minutes. Lonnie Kaye was talking to a guy with no arms, who quickly introduced himself to me as Hector. Hector was smiling ear to ear, and truly humbled me. He was on his fifth Ironman! The people we meet in this sport are truly inspirational. Soon after I dropped off my special needs bag and setup my swim to bike bag, I went to the body marking area to get marked up with 483. I saw Diego, my training bud, my friend, and a fierce competitor. I wished him a great race and we talked a bit about the swim. He was ready. I then drank the rest of my liquid breakfast, grabbed my wetsuit and goggles, and boarded the trolley that would take us to the southern tip of Wrightsville Beach – the Swim Start. Everyone at swim start was a little anxious, but you could feel the electricity, the race energy was in the air. It was cold, but nobody cared. I warmed up with a little swim, and we were ushered under the starting arch for the national anthem, and a short motivational speech. One minute to go, I am standing behind Brad Stone, who is behind Wade Davis, who is about 3 rows deep. I grab Brad by his shoulders and shake him, “this is it, buddy!”. Then the music starts playing “Till I Collapse” and a moment later, the horns go off. I run into the washing machine, and fight to swim for about 5 minutes, until the field spreads apart. The swim was straightforward, because I practiced it 3 weeks before the race. Somehow, Jimmy McKay and I get out at the same exact time, which is weird because we did the same thing at White Lake Half Iron triathlon in May. I guess we swim at the same pace! (Good job Jimmy, sorry you didn’t get to finish the race.) The showers felt very nice and warm, and I wanted to stay for a while… The swim to bike transition went pretty well; I will be faster next time, and I will try not stick my foot right on top of a fire ant hill inside the changing tent! Thankfully, I did not get any bites. I did notice that my right hand was covered in blood, but was not sure where it came from. I then noticed two gauges on my fingers and realized these happened in the swim start when my hands were extending right into another swimmer’s kicking toe nails… Glad I was unaware that my hand was bleeding in shark infested waters for the next 2.3 miles!
One of the agonizing decisions leading up to the race was what to wear on the bike. I knew it would warm up later, but it would be chilly for the first 2-3 hours with slight wind. I chose to wear a cycling jacket with a thin fleece interior (a really nice Louis Garneau piece from Grand Strand Bikes). That was one of the smartest things I did for this race! It kept me comfortable and warm, and I took it off once it warmed up halfway at the 56 mile special needs station. I think it saved me from burning a couple of hundred calories early on. I was really looking forward to mile 35 where our MBTC club would be stationed. I stopped there and tried to give Debbie and Pete my jacket, but they advised me I could get a penalty if I did that, so I kept it on. It was so good to see them there! The first half of the bike leg was down wind and I conserved a lot of energy, averaging a speed that I hoped to keep for the rest of the way. I drank a bottle of Infinit with an extra scoop of EFS for each hour on the bike, and hydrated with NUUN from the Speedfil on my bike. I also ate a few solids: one Stinger waffle per hour plus a half a banana in the first hour. The last two hours, I was drinking a slightly different mix of Infinit and EFS, to cut down on the protein. I felt really good on the second half of the bike, despite the headwind each time we made a right turn. Somehow, I averaged 1mph higher speed on the second half, which surprised me. Once I passed mile 95 and saw my club family cheering me on, I knew this race was going well. Just after that, I noticed that my Speedfil bottle was hanging to the side, off of one loose screw. There were some rough parts of the road that must have rattled one the screws loose. From that point on, I held the straw with one hand, and hoped the second screw would stay in place until I finished. Returning to town was probably the most dangerous part of the race. The traffic was backed up and there was very little room on the right shoulder to pass some of the half iron bikers. Just before the Convention center, we had to ride over the bridge with metal grates that were covered with rubber mats, and this felt like riding on ice. After floating through this section slowly in a single file fashion, I took my feet out of the bike shoes and stretched my legs – aaaah, that felt awesome! People cheering all around the transition area made me feel like I should keep a good pace and change fast, it’s a race, go go go! This race has the nicest volunteers and staff! I really felt fully supported. I picked up my shoes, used the bathroom, turned in my bag and ran out the door.
The 26.2 mile marathon has begun. I looked at my watch for total race time – it said 6:24, and here is where my head got in the way. The way I felt on that first mile was truly better than I feel on the first mile of any run. My cadence was right at 90, and heart rate was in low zone 3, so I thought I was pacing well…. until I saw the first mile split, which was a whole minute faster than planned. I slowed it down, but the second mile was only 30 seconds slower. I then thought, “hell, I should try to break 10 hours” (and shoot to run a 3:30 marathon). Pretty sure this was a mistake. For the next 15 miles, I was running a good pace, drinking HEED at one station, then Pepsi at the next, then water with salt tablets the next, and alternating this triad of nutrition. I ate a couple of orange slices, but nothing solid. Before the first turnaround, I was hoping to catch Brad Stone, who I thought was in front of me, since he is a better swimmer and a faster biker. I was also keeping an eye out for Diego Sosa. I thought that either one of those local friends might be coming towards me anytime now. To my surprise, I made it to the turnaround with no locals in sight. Soon after, I saw Diego, then Brad, and was looking for Jimmy. I high fived them both and I think I surprised them as well. On the way back into town for the half point turnaround, I met up with more local friends on the half course, and it was very good to see them all. They were extremely encouraging, and looked great. Miles 16-24 were tough. At mile 16, I started to feel a sharp cramp every time a lifted my left foot. It was my calf, warning me to slow down. I ate more salt, drank more HEED, and walked my first minute. I saw Matthew and he looked at my with pity. I know he was feeling like I was done. Starting to run again was a mind game. Next step, no next step. No, next tree… I wanted to make sure the calf, plus the rest of my tired legs, did not seize up on me. I then saw a guy who earlier in the race was running about a 6 minute pace, looking like a pro, (headband and short shorts, yellow shoes, the whole runner’s world package), only to barely put one foot in front of the other when I passed him at mile 18. I thought, “conserve, you dummy, conserve!” I walked at least a minute after each aid station until mile 24. At mile 19, I was sent the wrong way by a volunteer and had to backtrack, adding about half a mile to my marathon. This was the case for many athletes during the race, and I was lucky to figure it out before I went too far… I watched Diego argue with another volunteer about this same triangle loop. With 3 miles left in the race, I was starting to feel stronger, and walked a bit less. I saw Brad going through a lot of pain, and we exchanged a few words, when he encouraged me to not wait on him, and go get it done. With that jolt, I ran through the last two aid stations, down the hill, and onto the finishing shoot cobble stone street, where I saw my peeps from MBTC. By then, I felt light as a feather, bouncing on cloud 9, and my back was tingling with electric shivers of a true runner’s high. I slammed a five to Pete, who grinned and yelled “I am sooo proud of you!!”. It felt good to run fast, and once I crossed the finishing arch, I kneeled and kissed the mat. When I stood up, one of the volunteers gave me the medal and covered me up, and I just could not hold back the tears. I looked up and thanked God, and then saw my family. They were apparently screaming my name but I could not hear anything. I spotted them and got a big hug from my boys, Eli and Lucian. All the long rides on Saturdays and Sundays, long runs on Mondays, long swims, bricks, interval rides, speed work, tempo runs, hill repeats, and open water swims climaxed in this moment. I could not have been happier with the result. I was an Ironman, and now I knew exactly what that meant!
I would be foolish to think that this race was all me. There were many people involved in motivating me, inspiring me, coaching me, and enabling me to train. I would like to thank them all! First, I have my family to thank for their sacrifice. My wife was extremely patient, although she now knows I am crazy to wake up at 4:30AM and hop on my bike for 5 hours, then run another hour on Saturdays… she made it possible. My kids who were fighting not to say, “Daddy, don’t go running” in the mornings, evenings, and in-betweens, will certainly enjoy the offseason! My brother in law, Mike Farish, who has been my training buddy though all of this, and who would put logic and reason behind every number we tracked, is one of the key motivators in my registration for this race. My coach Lee Gardner from Trismarter who put the training plan together for me each and every week since the middle of May! Lee has taught me the next level of training, and treated me like a pro athlete while balancing my work and family life. My training partner Diego Sosa, who is fierce competitor, great athlete and a true friend. Brad Stone who has been an inspiration from day one, but this year really helped me out by introducing me to a whole foods, plant-based healthy eating lifestyle. And finally, I have to thank Pete Politis, and the rest of my friends at MBTC, who became my extended family these past two years. Our club is what it is because of Pete, Paul, and Jerry. There has not been a group of people that I enjoyed as much as I do MBTC, ever! I hope to inspire and motivate many others as we continue to grow this fantastic sport in our area. And if you have read all the stuff above, and you made it this far, you will be an Ironman!