In 1997, I wrote the following piece for Triathlete Magazine's Starting Lines. You can Click Here to read more Starting Lines articles from the past, and they will all soon be posted to the web. Looking back on your life through Ironman-colored glasses is a very interesting exercise...
Kona, Hawaii, the week before the biggest race in the sport: the Ironman. During pre-race week, swim every morning at the Kailua Pier. Think about how nice it would be to live in Hawaii. Find a massage therapist and get a pre-race massage. Think about your fitness level as you watch the finest bodies on the planet saunter around, quads bulging, wash-boards flexing.
As a part of the 100-step preparation plan, put reflectors on your race clothes, and then hope to finish during daylight. Visit this nervous place between excitement and fear. Feel like an Olympian marching with your country at the parade. Attending pre-race meetings and pasta dinners, wonder how much more bloated you could feel during a taper. Think about your training, your life, your nagging injury and whether or not you’re catching a cold. Remember to wrap your bike gear and water bottles in a garbage bag before checking in your bike – it always rains the night before Ironman.
On race morning, be happy that not too many people have found the same secret bathroom that you lined up at. To avoid eye-fog, put a small drop of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo in your goggles, then rinse them twice. Store an extra pair of goggles in the back of your suit. Question your self-seeding at the start as you feel legs and elbows bump into you before the cannon goes off. Seconds before the start, remember to lift your legs to the surface, to get those few added seconds.
Feel the boom of the cannon shoot straight through your heart as you become a fish in a boxing match. Think it will get better, even though people will stay around you for the entire 2.4-mile swim. Climb out of the water. As your tongue touches the top of your mouth, acknowledge the feel of cotton mouth, having gargled salt water for over an hour.
On your bike, feel the crowd that will launch you out of Kailua with a cheer. Find yourself on the Queen K lava fields with a long and visible strip pf cyclists in front and right behind. Continue your journey over the overcooked burnt brownie spewed forth by Madame Pele.
Be relieved to be relieved on the bike. A few ounces lighter, put the hammer down. Hydrate and eat the perfect amount of food. Hit the wind and get discouraged, then remember it’s everyone’s wind. The town of Hawi will blow by; feel the need to get back to the finish faster. As the sun gets higher in the sky, the tailwinds will turn into headwinds, then back again. Realize that you don’t want this moment, this day, this race to end – you’ve been waiting a very long time for these “few” hours. Sense the burn in your legs and take note that your tan line is being tattooed onto your body by the Kona sun. Pull up on the pedals as well as push down to relieve fatigue on your quads.
As you and your cycle-rocket arrive at the Kona Surf, dismount your bike and stumble into the changing tent. The tent-people will help you with your stuff, put sun-block on your back, and with enthusiasm comment, “You look great! Keep it going! Good luck.” Depart the tent with new friends.
Begin your journey through “The Pit” and back into town. Thousands of people will be there cheering you on. Hear the cheers fade, and acknowledge that the only sounds left are your breathing, your heartbeat and the squish-squish-squish of your feet – wet with sweat and water – as they hit the steamy pavement. Question more parts of yourself than 100 years of therapy can. Pretend that the race is 26 one-mile races.
Enter the “Lack-of-energy Lab,” and think about the finish line. Grab your special-needs bag; it will feel like it was in a microwave oven just as you yourself feel like you’re in that oven. Remember Paula Newby-Fraser’s advice: Continue to put ice in your running cap at every station. Get a cramp. To relieve it, take controlled breaths. The cramp will disappear.
Run back towards town, and hear the crowds grow louder. On your final approach, run away from the town, then down a glorious hill to the start of the most memorable pavement on the planet: Ali'i Drive. The lights will be in front of you, the cheer will grow to an uproar. The uproar will spread to every cell in your body. Feel something that you can never explain. Finish the Ironman.
Train Smart, Mitch Thrower (written in 1997 - course has changed since)
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