The first Kona Ironman: A retrospective blog (Part II)

Dig Me beach. For those that have never been there, it can hardly be called a beach - more like a postage stamp of sand and, at high tide, not even that. But it became the vortex of energy for the racers, and remains so to this day. Every morning you ride or run there, or at least pretend to from your hidden parking spot. It was mandatory to hang out and sling bull until you finally jumped in and swam 100-yard pace as long as you could, or were out of sight.

I called it the gunslinger effect. Someone would draw and say, "I did 250 miles a week,” and the next guy would draw back, "I did 300 miles a week.” This would go on and on until everyone felt like their penises were each one inch long. It was not a healthy atmosphere for the ego, even though everyone was lying. This still goes on, and is one reason most the pros sneak up to Dig Me early in the morning and just jump in and out little noticed.

Once we finished our swim we sprinted away from the pier afoot until we were out of sight. Then we would walk home. And every day we would go past this Banyan tree, with a bunch of locals hanging out, and every day they would mumble something at us. It was some sort of Pidgin, but for the life of us, we never understood a word of what those guys were saying. Later on, we finally figured out that this was the local hook up spot for the killer Hawaiian herb. None of us smoked the stuff anyway, so no great loss...

In addition to the bike race they would hold a 10k footrace the week before the Ironman. Once again, just about everyone around would take part. I don't remember the winners, only that I ran 36 minutes or so. This race also fizzled out, becoming a 5k on the Wednesday before, and now has morphed into the Underpants Run. The run course for the race started at the Kona Surf, ran through town, and past the airport turn for a mile, back to the airport road, and down to the airport, then back into town. They later instituted the Energy Lab loop to free up the airport during the race.

This was the first year that athletes were not allowed personal support vehicles. The prior 3 years, your wife or your buddies would follow you around and feed you whenever you wanted. It was a free for all, and when I look back at John's bike split in Ohau in the 4:30+ range, it makes you wonder if his buddies were feeding him from the back of the van. Of course we hardly even knew what drafting was back then, and no one talked about it until this first race in Kona.

No neutral support vehicles were allowed either, and we were instructed that if you had a mechanical or a flat you'd have to fix it yourself. This had us all worried, since most of us were not seasoned bikers yet. So, I had a handlebar pannier with a crescent wrench, a chain breaker, a crank puller, extra spokes taped to the top tube, allen wrenches, spoke wrench, and an Auto Club map of the entire island under the plastic cover. I outlined the course on the map in yellow marker, kind of how they do it in adventure racing today. I was not going to get lost. I filled six of Kim's empty glass peanut butter jars with ERG - a very early fluid replacement drink.

They said you had to wear a helmet that year, so I used my lifeguard Dory helmet. Imagine the old big round Bell helmets, lots of round holes in it, and a plastic white chinstrap, with a big red stripe all the way around. Man, I was cool. All this went on my new Raleigh Pro bike, the exact bike Dave won on the year before. I was ready for the big adventure.

The pre-race jitters were unbearable for us by now. When I went to the island I figured I had about an 80 percent chance of winning, since I had won 8 or 10 races leading up to this one, though nothing longer than 3 hours. Kim was my main training partner, and he only decided to do the race right before we left. He was swimming and biking with me in the summer, but had not run a step until we got to Kona. And then he never did a run longer than 11 miles, so I figured him for a long night or DNF.

My other buddy Jeff was a long distance hiker, he did the Pacific Crest Trail, 3000 miles from Mexico to Canada. He didn't race too much that year, and when he did I beat him by over 10 minutes, so I figured him a non factor in the race too. I didn't realize the drop John would make on his swim, so I figured I had him in the bag too, and with Dave out, the only guy that I was actually afraid of, I had high hopes for my race.

I had no idea that nutrition, heat, and genetics would be factors. I just figured it would be a longer version of what I was already doing, and I would win as usual. We ate like starved Viking's the last 3 nights, and my race weight of 158 had swelled to 175 by Friday night. It was carbo and fat loading on a grand scale, one that the Sumo's would have been proud of. We really did feel like the gladiator's of old that last night, not sure if we would live or die, but we would damned well be fighting.

The day before that first Ironman in Kona was hard to describe. The fear of the unknown was really starting to creep in. After all, only about a hundred people had actually done the distance; only one guy had actually raced it; and that was on a different island. We were there to race this thing, but blind to what strategy to use. We didn't know what to eat and drink, and there were no heart rate monitors to tell us that we could be going too hard. Up until that last day, I was confident that it would be like any other triathlon I had done, just longer.

But now doubts were setting in, and my nerves were getting the best of me. Most of the last week, Kim and I were seeing who could watch the most TV. I got the one-day record of 22 hours, and he got the week record of over 70 hours. We figured that our normal swimming tapers would work for triathlon, so like our coach used to tell us, stay off your feet, keep your mind off your event, and sleep like a hibernating bear. I doubt that we did more that 8 hours of actual training that last week, and all of it really easy.

We went through the pre-race rituals of shaving down our bodies, loading up on the calories and water, and getting all our gear ready and checked in. I have always hated that feeling that you get when there is nothing left to do, and the starting line is still 12 hours away. Nothing to do but go to bed, lay awake with those 100 mph thoughts banging around in your head, half-sleep for a couple hours, and it's 3 am before you know it...

After a huge breakfast, pancakes and oatmeal for Kim and Jeff - eggs, bacon, and toast for me - we walked to the pier. I have to imagine that the looks that gladiators would have had on their faces, sitting in the holding room just before their fights to the death, were very similar to what I saw on the faces that morning. There wasn't a lot of chit chat, and most were into their own heads, like walking zombies. We got in and did a little warm up in the dark, and before we knew it, the gun had gone off.

To be continued...