Monday, October 11, 2010

A Thrill of a Life Time!

What an incredible day. The 2010 Ironman World Championship is now history. While I did not make my goal of ending up on the podium, I none the less was ecstatic with the end result. I came back to Kona after taking fifth in my age group as the youngest person in the group four years ago with the dream of going back to the podium as the oldest member of the group. I had no idea how much the competition had improved over the last four years. The cut off for the top 10 four years ago was 11:53:54. This year, the 10th place finisher came in at 11:01:35 on a harder bike course.
The swim was a slug fest as expected. I started in the middle of the pack knowing it would be a fight, but also wanting to take full advantage of any drafting which is legal in the swim. The course is 1.2 miles out and back. For the first 6/10 of a mile, it can best be described as a tight pack. I was either swimming over someone or someone was swimming over me. A little frightening, but the mass was creating its own current. Things started to open up at the turn at 1.2 miles and I was able to get into a rhythm for the back half of the swim. My time of 1:15:33 put me in 28th and was 2 ½ minutes faster than 2006.
When we started the bike, there was not a cloud in the sky. The good news is that we had wonderful unobstructed views of Manna Kea , the 13,000 foot volcano that defines the Island of Hawaii, and Haleakala, the 10,000 foot volcano on Maui. The bad news is that we fried. What can make this Ironman so challenging in addition to the heat are the winds on the way to Hawi, the northern most city on the Island, and today was no exception. The cross winds were so strong, I was almost blown off my bike 4 times. I passed three athletes who were not so fortunate to stay upright and were being attended to by the emergency personnel. At one point, I was riding downhill into a head wind and struggling to hold 17 miles per hour in a section that I should have been going 28 to 30 miles per hour without pedaling. It is always very emotional for me when I finish my bike and today was no exception. Of all the things that can go really wrong in an Ironman, most like flat tires, mechanical failure and crashes happen on the bike. I paid my respects to the spirits of Hawaii as I handed my bike off to a volunteer and ran to the transition area to change into my running shoes. My 6:03:12 bike time was 5 minutes slower than 2006, but given the more difficult wind conditions, I felt like this year was a stronger ride.

I know that many of you who tracked my run have developed your own theory of what I did. Here is what really happened. I knew I was way off my goal when I started the run. I was happy with my swim and my bike time was slower than expected. So I went out on the run a little more aggressively because I was still chasing a dream. The first 10 miles are pretty flat and fast and I was averaging 7:30 minute miles (not counting one bathroom break.) Then at mile 10, I turned on to Palani Road, the steepest hill on the run and as they say, the engine sputtered and died. My 7:30 pace quickly became 8:30s and then 9s and finally for the last 6 miles, I was struggling to hold 10 minute miles. It was painful, but the view of the ocean and the lava fields were great.
And then at mile 25.7, I turned on to Ali’I drive for the last ½ mile. With thousands of people aggressively drinking and cheering every athlete that runs by, it is nothing less than a thrill of a life time. It is also an indelible reminder to every athlete that an Ironman is first and foremost about finishing. My 3:52:10 marathon took me from 29th to 15th in my age group and was six minutes off my 2006 pace.
As I came across the finish line, Nannette, Gary, Alicia and Jim were working as volunteers presenting a real flower lei to each of the finishers. Having my wife and friends as my “official greeters” was very special to me.
Other special things during the day was seeing my training buddy, Scott Boylan, on the bike and twice on the run and shouting mutual words of encouragement. I also saw Raj twice on the run and was inspired by how well he was running on his two prostatic legs. I saw our friend and fellow triGeek, Kebby Holder on the run and she gave me a big “Go Mike.” She and her husband Reg were comfortably sitting in the finishing stands and cheered me on as I ran the last ¼ mile. Kebby took 8th in her age group with a 10:23. Way to go Kebby.

It is now Sunday, the day after the race. I am up and walking…even eating again. We went for a mile swim in Kona Bay….I can’t get enough of it, even though the coffee bar is gone. As I write this final blog for the trip, I want to thank all of you for flooding my e-mail box with great comments. I also want to thank all my training buddies for being there. And most importantly, I want to thank my wife Nannette for always being there….where ever there is.

Finally, in my speech, Keeping the Flame Lit for Life, I encourage my audiences to turn set-backs into learning experiences. Here are five key things I learned from missing my goal yesterday.
1. It is a lot easier to get on the podium as the youngest in your age group than the oldest.
2. In today’s highly competitive world, in an environment when bars are being raised on an hourly basis, staying the same is no longer good enough.
3. If you are someone who chases dreams and captures all of them, you probably aren’t dreaming big enough.
4. It really is all about the journey, not the destination.
5. No matter what goal you set, running the last ¼ mile down Ali’I Drive in the Ironman World Championship is a thrill of a lifetime!

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Day to be Mellow

Coffee and a cookie in the middle of Kona Bay again? Of course! It was a great way to start off my birthday and still fun after five consecutive days. As we drove down to the ocean this morning, there was a dramatic change in the town. It seemed like the city officials had passed an ordinance banning running on Friday. The street that had been packed with runners for the past week were now void of runners. I wonder why?
The key word for today was mellow. Other than the swim in the morning, Scott and I spent most of the morning sitting on the patio, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and working on our computers. The only serious work we did was to pack all of our equipment for Saturday. To complete the 140.6 miles, we needed to set up our bikes, layout our tri suits, cap, goggles and computer chip, pack a bike transition bag (shoes, socks, helmet, glasses, number, and food), pack a bike goody bag (for mile 56 on the bike), pack a run transition bag (running shoes, hat and more food) and a run goody bag (for mile 13.1 on the run.) A logistical nightmare.

At 1 PM, we rode our bikes down to check in…8 miles and a 800 foot drop…pretty easy. Check in is an event by itself. All the major bike manufactures have people to track what bikes are being ridden by the athletes. A couple hundred spectators surround the entrance just to watch the competitors arrive. This is when I remembered there is nothing typical about this Ironman.
We went back to the house for an uneventful afternoon….amazing. As the sun went down, we enjoyed an incredible pasta dinner with the Boylan’s, Kessler’s, and Jim Shelden. While it was a pre-race dinner, it was also a very special for me being able to share my birthday dinner with such good friends.
Well, this is obviously my last blog before the race. The response I have received has been overwhelming. It means so much to me to have so many friends sharing this event with me…even if it is in cyberspace. One of the common themes in your responses has been how much you have appreciated me sharing my feeling before the big day. So let me conclude by giving you an idea of where I am on the night before the World Championship.
I have become an emotional wreck. It is not from being concerned or worried about tomorrow. I am not nervous about my ability to finish and to do my best. I am an emotional wreck because tomorrow is a day I have been looking forward to since I was treading water at the start of last year’s Wisconsin Ironman and my nephew, Dr. David Salzman who was in the lake next to me said, “Uncle Mike…Game On!” I can’t wait for what has the potential of being one of the great days of my life.
Four years ago, I came to the World Championship as the youngest athlete in my age group. I was 55 in the 55 to 59 year old age group and captured the fifth spot on the podium. Today, at 59, I am the oldest. My dream is to again be in the top 5. A dream – definitely. A realistic goal given the top talent like Joe Bonness (55) and Kevin Moats (56) and three other guys who have run an Ironman 30 minutes faster than me – we will find out tomorrow. In the four years, in addition to getting older, I swam over 1,000 miles, rode 25,000 miles, and ran 5,000 miles with some very amazing and special people. I have hiked six 14,000 foot peaks, mountain biked around the Annapurna Circuit and climbed to Masada, Petra, and Machu Picchu with various family members. My speaking has given me a chance to inspire 70 groups and maybe help some of those attendees chase their own dreams. It has been an incredible journey. I am not sure what the destination is going to be tomorrow, but I know I am ready, and I know my journey to get here today was the result of so many friends, family members and training buddies who have inspired me to chase my craziest dreams.
I am heading to bed early tonight thinking of a quote I heard Bruce Taylor the CEO of Cole Taylor Bank use in a speech 15 years ago.
Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle... when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”
Tomorrow morning, I will be running….and I will be thinking of all of you, running along with me.
Race details for Saturday.
The race starts at 7:00 AM Hawaiian time, 1 PM Eastern, 12 noon Central. I expect to finish in around 11 hours or at 6 PM Hawaiian, midnight Eastern, 11 PM central. In 2006, I finished in 11 hours and 12 minutes. You can track the results and see live video at

Fighting to Stay Young and Winning

It should come as no surprise how Thursday started off in Kona. We swam ½ mile out to the coffee bar for coffee and cookies. While swimming back, I swam directly over a huge turtle about 20 feet below me and stop to watch how he gracefully moved through the water. I can learn from him.
Another highlight of the morning was the traditional underpants run…sorry, I did not bring my camera. I am not sure how it started, but the underpants run has become a tradition on Thursday morning for many years. My guess is that it was thrown in to relieve some of the tension and anxiety starting to build among the athletes. The one observation I can make is that triathlon suits are far more revealing than regular underwear for both men and women.
Later in the morning, I had the opportunity to get 10 minutes of coaching in an endless pool with Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen, the 2009 master swimmer of the year (for the fifth time) and current holder of 47 master swim records. She told me to keep my arms wider (like the turtle.)

Our friends, Alicia and Gary Kessler arrived from Atlanta to complete our support team. Gary is a regular in the Triple-By-Pass Ride in Colorado each summer. Gary and I went for a 4 mile run to keep things moving.
The rest of the day was spent thinking about Saturday. I have been focusing so much on being physically ready and with just two days to go, there is nothing more I can do to improve my ability. Mentally, I spent time thinking about what I needed to do on race day. How fast should I go out on the bike? What should my game plan be for the run? How much should I eat and drink during the bike and run? What should I pack in my goody bag that I pick up halfway through the bike and halfway through the run? Emotionally, I am fighting to stay calm and not let every little sore, pain or ailment frighten me. I am also working hard to fight the gravity of what I am planning to do on Saturday. The “what’s the guy from right field doing here” syndrome. And spiritually, I am trying to connect with what they say in the Hawaiian culture…to capture strength from the land and the sea.
The final event for the day was the pre-race banquet for the 2,000 athletes and 3,000 family members. Our friend Scott Rigsby joined us for dinner. Scott complete the Ironman in Kona in 2007 to become the first double leg amputee to finish the event using a traditional bike and running on prosthetics. Scott has become a great inspiration to many, but my favorite thing that I have watched Scott do is talk with children who have lost just one leg.

During the banquet, Lew Hollander was honored as the oldest competitor. At 80 years old, he is trying to complete his 21st Ironman. Lew gave a simple answer when asked why he does it. He believes he will live 20 more years after his last Ironman and he likes pushing that date back every year. He was my shining example today of what most of us are doing in Kona.

Staying forever young.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Town Filled with People “Who Can.”

Kona – Day two

Aloha! Another beautiful day in paradise. We woke up early this morning for our swim in Kona Bay. What a great way to start the day. The coral was teaming with fish and the water was packed with triathletes. The real surprise was that the Kona Coffee Company had set up a swim up coffee bar ½ mile out on a catamaran. A Starbucks of the Sea. And to the group in Kona this week, a ½ swim out to a free coffee bar would barely be considered a short work out. I don’t even drink coffee, but this stop was too good to pass up. And when you are drinking hot Kona coffee in the middle of the Kona Bay, life is good.

After our swim, we headed over to TriBike Transport to pick up our bikes. TriBike has developed a great business of picking up bikes in major cities across the United States and shipping them in large containers to the Ironman events. After checking out the bikes, we hop on for a 20 mile ride down the famous Queen K highway. This is the 50 mile road from Kona to Havi that seems to get a lot of attention on NBC sports for its cruelty. Triathletes must ride through the mid-day sun across lava fields to complete the bike course. I remember my first time in Kona and how intimidated I was by everything I had heard. But on this return visit, it was time to enjoy and to make friends with the grand lady. I had survived her perils four years ago and now it was time to say hello to old friends, like the airport and energy lab that were points along the way. It felt great to be back on my bike.
One of the things that becomes obvious after a couple days in Kona is that this town is filled with people “who can.” Everyone has a personal story of how they are chasing a dream. Each person is traveling with an entourage of friends and family members who all believe in them and are here to support them. People get to Kona two ways. They either finish an Ironman in the top 3 percent of their age group, or 10 percent of the field paid $50 for a chance at 200 slots in a lottery. The common denominator is that everyone believed it was possible. Since Ford is the title sponsor of this event, I think it is appropriate to quote Henry Ford who said, “Whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually right.” It is inspiring to be around so many people chasing dreams, celebrating their journey and living life.
At 5 PM, all the competitors meet up for the Parade of Nations. We march by country down Ali’I Drive the “Main Street” of Kona. Friends, family and the community come out to cheer each country. It sounds pretty corny, but when you start walking with fellow athletes behind the American Flag, it suddenly becomes a big deal.

My personal highlight of the parade was seeing Rajesh Durbal. I met Rajesh in Atlanta in April when he was in Mike Lenhart’s Getting2Tri training camp for challenged athletes. Raj was born missing one hand and both feet. Raj will be competing in the Ironman World Championship on Saturday as a challenged athlete because he is a shining example of a person “who can.”

We returned to our mountain hide-away for a quiet dinner that Nannette and Joanne prepared.
Kona – Day Three

Wednesday was a repeat of Tuesday, without the Parade of Nations. Swim to the coffee bar, bike on the Queen K, run along Ali’I Drive, quiet dinner at home. Tapering at its best.

Ironman World Championship

Keeping the flame lit in Kona, Hawaii (Monday)
We are five days away from the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii and I am writing this daily blog to share this experience with all the people who helped me get here.
Nannette and I arrived in Kona on Sunday afternoon and were joined by Scott Boylan (my training buddy from Frisco), his wife Joanne and Jim Shelden. We are sharing a house on 2.5 acres of flowers and fruit trees that overlooks the Pacific Ocean and is 800 feet above Kona. The view is spectacular and the peace and tranquility are very welcome.
Our day started off with a one mile swim. Swimming in Kona Bay is never just a training swim. In addition to the emotional thrill of being on the race course, Kona Bay has crystal clear water and is only 15 to 30 feet deep. The coral that covers 75% of the bottom is a magnet for beautiful tropical fish. So the sightseeing really makes the training very enjoyable.
Later that day, we went for a for a 6 mile training run on Ali’i Drive (famous for being the first 10 miles and the last ½ mile of the Marathon.) We had plenty of company and the runners (men and women) were all impressive and intimidating. This is when I remembered that the people here this week all think that training 20 to 30 hours a week is normal. Each person has already competed in an Ironman and finished in the top three percent of their age group. There is nothing average about anybody. We are all crazy.
Kevin Moats, the current world champion in our age group had the five us over for dinner on Monday night. Kevin has been competing in the Ironman for over 25 years and has a house right on the Ocean on Ali’i Drive. Kevin lives in Atlanta and was a wealth of information.
It feels great to be back in Kona.