Cody Westheimer is an age grouper who got to the Ironman World Championships with a lottery slot and his video diary of his day in Kona touched many of us. We had a few words with this very creative man who is known as mrhairylegs on the slowtwitch forum.
ST: Cody, good to have you with us.
Cody: It’s good to be here! I love Slowtwitch. Especially being mocked (in a loving way, of course) in the forums! The wittiness and humor here is second to none!
ST: Are you still having a big smile on your face since that Kona finish?
Cody: Pretty much. The video has sure helped "extend" the smile and ease the "Ironman Hangover." It’s pretty unbelievable for an average guy like me to have been able to do it – not just Ironman, but Kona! I really had a perfect day and it’s nice being able to relive it through all the nice comments on my little video.
ST: Your dad surely is also smiling down on you.
Cody: Always! He would be so thrilled and absolutely speechless. Speechless is not really a Westheimer family trait at all. We sure love to talk. So when words can’t be found it’s usually because of something pretty shocking. Me doing an Ironman would most certainly qualify – especially doing the Ironman. I almost always feel his presence to some degree, but it was off the charts in Kona – especially at night in that lonely stretch that is the energy lab - so spiritual and amazing. I wish I could run there every night.
ST: The video you shot and edited in Kona (see below) has touched a lot of folks. Are you surprised by the reaction?
Cody: Well, to be honest, I knew I had a neat little piece here, so I’m not horribly surprised by the quality of the reaction – I knew I’d reach a few, but I am beyond surprised by the quantity! I’m so amazed and humbled by the power of the internet.
I honestly didn’t really know what the video was going to be until the weekend after the race. I had taken a first pass through the footage earlier in the week and thought I had some half-decent material. Once I started placing some of my music in there I thought it was working pretty well and liked where it was going. I had to edit really quickly - I didn’t want to neglect all of the other things I have going on, but I distinctly remember when I got to the night segment I told my wife, "I think this is gonna be really good."
The next day I added narration and I was pretty sure I had something. For me I was really happy just having the piece for myself – it was a solid tribute to my dad, my evolution as an athlete and as a person…but having something special for me and people close to me and having it go viral are two very separate things. I’m absolutely thrilled and amazed how it’s taken off. The comments both here on the Slowtwitch board and on the Youtube video really touch me. I feel like I’m giving back and putting positive vibes into the world. That’s all I really ever wanted to do in life. Be happy – be positive. It feels great.
ST: Explain your dad's connection to Hawaii.
Cody: Our last vacation together before he got sick in 2006 was on the Big Island – so I have extremely fond memories of him in his prime right before he got sick. Hawaii was really my family’s spot, so coming back here after a 6 years absence to do the Ironman was yet another level of emotion for me.
ST: When you got the Kona slot, did you immediately have the idea to make a video of the journey?
Cody: Not at all! I was so excited though. This was a dream race for me. After I finished my first Ironman last year in France I was totally fulfilled in that realm. I made a deal with my wife that I’d start entering the Kona lottery and when I got in that would be the next one. Kona has always been the dream race for me, especially with all the memories with my dad vacationing in Hawaii.
The idea of the video actually came after a very disappointing Santa Barbara Long Course in August. I was just sick of putting so much pressure on myself to be fast(er). Since I documented my first marathon back in 2008 and carried a little camera the whole way I thought that I could do the same in Kona. Sure it would add time, but the whole epiphany for me was that time didn’t matter – taking in the experience did. When you’re talking about starting and stopping a camera that kinda forces your hand to really take it all in. Viral video or not, I think that really made my race.
ST: How extensive was your camera setup for the event?
Cody: It was very simple. Basically it was a GoPro Hero with the extra battery and a 32 GB card. That gave me about 4 hours of recording time – which was actually more than I ended up needing – I took in about 3 hours of footage throughout the day.
I had the chest mount for the swim – it unbuckles easily, so I was able to stop several times during the swim to get some above surface shots.
For the bike I did a good amount of DIY. The camera was on the handlebars for the bulk of the 112 miles. That way I could get the forward view (my POV) or the view looking at me without stopping or slowing down – I would just loosen the nut and rotate the arm. Then I actually had 3 other mounts. The one on the top tube and the seatpost I barely used, but provided a little variety. But the one on the back of the bike mounted off the rear dropout is pretty awesome. That one I actually had to use moldable plastic to extend the camera further back so my foot would clear the GoPro on the pedal stroke! But the view is cool.
On the run I had this telescoping pole, which was perfect. When I wasn’t using it I’d just tuck it into my hydration waist pack. For the finish I basically put the camera in a pocket of the pack where I had cutout a hole for the lens. I knew it was going to be pretty sh*tty video quality since it was bouncing all around. But I’m a "big" finisher. I totally milked it and I didn’t want the camera to impede my emotion – so the video was totally secondary there.
ST: How often did you stop during the various legs of the race to mount the camera differently?
Cody: I stopped 5 or 6 times, probably. All the alternate angles were shot after the turnaround, so I was fine with taking a quick break to change the camera around. My ass was grateful for the quick break! I remember at one point the nut that holds the camera in fell off so I had to stop and go back a few hundred feet! Luckily I found it…but the process of filming my own race was a bit of a balancing act. I wanted to get footage, but if that became too much of my focus it would take away from my enjoyment of the race. I’m pretty obsessive – I have a hard time doing things half-assed – that was the risk in deciding to film, getting too caught up in the act of filming and setting up shots. Luckily, I’m happy to say I pretty much achieved a perfect balance. I don’t have a single memory of the camera or filming compromising my experience or being a burden. Best of both worlds for sure.
ST: At what point of the run did your arm start throbbing holding the camera out on that extension?
Cody: Ha! Not at all. I was very strategic with when I shot. It’s not like I had the camera out all the time. There was one point where I got uncomfortable, but it actually turned out to be my favorite shot – the shot of my legs and the horizon in the background. That required a bit of a lower back twist to get the pole oriented correctly. That was tough for me at about the halfway point in the marathon. But I didn’t hold that position for long!
There was actually another time that a spectator on the Queen K offered to run with me and the camera too. It’s a cool shot he grabbed, but since it’s much further out it’s actually too good a shot. I felt it took away from the whole first person point of view that I was going for in the video. I like the idea of it all being 1st person. I almost wanted to put my finisher photos in there, but again, it took me out of the experience. The only 2 non GoPro images in there are the two of my dad at the end, which seems quite appropriate.
ST: You are really a music producer and have done the opening for the TdF coverage of Versus among other things. How did that all get started?
Cody: I’ve been doing music for a long time – since I was a teenager I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life. The TdF was really just serendipitous. I had a meeting with the producer, David Michaels about some other ideas and he ended up mentioning the tour. My jaw dropped when he told me I could demo to compose the music for it….I’m a huge cycling fan. So I demoed, got it, and the rest is history. It’s been a pretty amazing year! Being both a composer and an athlete, I feel like I’ve got a bit of an edge on that kind of music. Quite ironically, music is actually what got me into endurance sports – by working on the film "UltraMarathon Man" back in 2007.
ST: How did you go from there to dabble in video?
Cody: I’ve been a photographer for as long as I’ve been a composer and musician. I even hijacked my dad’s dark room at his veterinary clinic when I was a kid. The jump to video was pretty organic. I made my film "Running for my Father (shameless plug: runningformyfather.com) back in 2008. When I got my new DSLR about a year ago (a Canon 7D) I was immediately intrigued by its incredible video capabilities. I’ve done a bunch of smaller videos since, including one with Slowtwitch’s own Jordan Rapp (ridebright.org) and a handful of promotional videos for Carmichael Training Systems. I do enjoy shooting and editing even though music is my main gig. Story telling, whether it’s through music or video is just what I really love – that, cycling and running of course! (oh yeah, swimming too – only in Hawaii though!)
ST: So what is next?
Cody: Man, isn’t that the question. So I’ve done 2 Ironmans now. If it were possible to have 3 best days in my life it’d be those two and my Wedding Day (of course!) Just because I feel like I need something to be looking at possibly doing race-wise, I’m eying the Solvang Double Century since it’s totally different. I’d also be intrigued by something like Leadman…but probably not next year since it looks like you have to qualify now.
Since I’ve got a really busy end of the year with a ton of music projects I’ll likely just do some very informal riding and running until the New Year. It’s nice to have this little video rolling – it’s letting me relive Kona everyday! And there’s also "ironcure.org" the twitter driven endurance sports/support group site that I started. Basically if you’re effected in anyway by cancer or any other disease you can tweet and add the #ironcure and you’re in on the feed on the site. I’d love for it to eventually evolve into a "Team in Training" kinda thing, but with a broader cause than just blood cancers. It’s of course tough to balance all of these ventures though, so if you’re intrigued drop me a line and let’s put our heads together!
Finally, there’s also the NBC broadcast to look forward to…but I sure don’t want to jinx that, so that’s all I will say.
ST: Anything else we should know?
Cody: I just wanted to say "thank you." The Slowtwitch community has been so unbelievably thoughtful and welcoming of this video and me. To be honest I feel that ST usually has a bit of an "elitist" tendency. To have such an outpouring of support and gratitude means so much to me. Even more, I like to think that through my little weekend project I’m inspiring others not necessarily to just race and push themselves, but to remember that this is supposed to be a fun sport that you ultimately enjoy. And racing for a reason and becoming better in touch with your own emotions can enhance the experience and your life even further.
Thanks again for letting me sound off. ☺
Learn more about Cody Westheimer on codywestheimer.com or his facebook page