Many people struggle with that long trip from Europe to Kona, but David Wild traveled from the Big Island to Zell am See, Austria to race the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, and was happy to do so.
Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time.
David Wild: I'm flattered, thank you for this opportunity.
ST: You qualified for 70.3 Worlds and made the super long trip, kind of the reverse of going to Kona for the Europeans.
David: Indeed! Austria is literally on the opposite side of the planet - a solid 12 hour time difference. I didn't have to change the time on my watch! I left Kona on a Monday night and landed in Munich on Wednesday at noon. The flights were actually pretty enjoyable. I watched a lot of Broad City and finally saw the Fast and the Furious - the first one.
ST: Did you sleep at all on the trip?
David: I did sleep on the flight actually. All I had to do was open up a book.
ST: I think you qualified at 70.3 Boise?
David: Ever since Chris Van Luen, a good friend from Oakland and president of the Oakland Triathlon Club, offered me huge support in getting me to Worlds 70.3 should I qualify, I made it my mission all year to punch that ticket. I got the chance at my second ever Ironman 70.3 in Boise, Idaho. My first one was here at IM 70.3 Hawaii, aka Honu. The first place guy in my AG, and my new buddy from Oz, Tim Rea took the only slot so I then turned my focus 100% on Boise two weeks later.
ST: Why Boise?
David: I chose Boise based on the location and timing. There weren’t so many races between Honu and Worlds that I could squeeze into my short 6-week summer. Hawaii’s school year calendar provides a lite version of summer. I didn’t want to fly too far from California either, so that I could be close enough to my parents who live in San Diego and my sister Lani who lives in Berkeley. They were able to fly out and cheer me on!
ST: Was there ever a doubt about going to Austria?
David: After a 3rd place age group finish at Honu and not earning the slot, I was slightly disheartened. If I couldn't get it on my own home turf with a performance I was proud of, I wasn't sure I could earn one at Boise where all these speedy flat landers were coming in from all over the west coast to toe the line. My coach, Mitchell Reiss from ETP America, never doubted me though. His sustainable and rigorous coaching instilled a deep confidence in me. However, when I placed 5th in my age group at Boise after another performance I was proud of, I almost left the awards ceremony early. Ritch Viola from Every Man Jack was there with his team and they optimistically suggested I stick around, in case I got a roll down slot. I thought they were just trying to be nice. In fact, they were spot on - Brett King took one of the two slots and the other slot rolled down to me! I was ecstatic. My sister and I jumped for joy as we called our parents who were looking for closer parking. I think my dad may have even choked up a little. Team TriTown, an awesome local tri shop in Boise, also cheered for me as I floated towards the stage to accept my qualification spot, with my sister’s credit card in hand. Thanks, Lani.
ST: After you arrived in Europe, what did you do?
David: My mom and dad, Kathryn and Norbert, were on the same flight from Newark to Munich and we piled our bags and my bike bags into a huge Mercedes rental van. After some detours, our two-hour drive took four hours to get to the wonderland that is Zell am See, Austria. It was Wednesday afternoon with three and a half days before the big race. The plan was to stay loose, adjust to the climate, to the time zone and to the delicious food - that part was easy.
ST: Was the bike segment what you expected in terms of difficulty, or was it even more challenging?
David: My folks and I checked out the bike course via the mega rental van. I was thrilled to get to ride through a tunnel on the highway and to tackle a formidable mountain ascent. Climbing up the final two kilometers looked like it would be challenging. What intimidated me the most actually was the subsequent descent. With four hairpin turns on a steep drop of what seemed like a 12% grade, I was a bit nervous. The red crash pads on the guardrails did not do anything to quell the nerves. The stunning Alps that framed the whole course suddenly loomed down on me as if they were the ominous mountains of Mordor. Going on a few pre race rides just on the flat lands was good to get a feel for the asphalt quality which was dang near perfect. I spotted Jesse Thomas at the end of a quick spin on Friday and chased him down to wish him luck and gawk in general. He’s such a rad dude who’s easy to talk to and encouraging to his fans.
ST: Talk about your race.
David: The day before I decided to race without a heart rate monitor or cadence monitor. These data-gathering tools were bugging me and often bugging out. I was excited to race with just my power meter on the bike. The cannons were blasting for the prior waves and the suspense was building. I saw Tim, Brett, and Mike Valunich at the swim start and we wished each other luck. The water was crisp, clear, and dang near as perfect as I could dream. The Grand Hotel, a large white building to the north, was easy to sight off of on the way out, and the Kitzsteinhorn mountain to the south was an easy sighting on the way back. There was constant contact from my wave and the slower swimmers in the wave before us. Near the end, the speedy guys from the next wave were coming up and I only once swam alone for a few seconds. All in all it was my best swim at a long course event.
The transition area was very large and you can see from the transition times of us age groupers that it took three or four minutes to get from the water to the wheels. My transition went smoothly and I was on my bike strapping up my shoes before I knew it. The crowded bike course and issues with drafting racers, blocking racers, and constant, almost tangible scrutiny from the referees need a whole blog to describe. However, the breathtaking views, well-marked turns, and near-perfect road quality took the cake. I had a few moments early on in the course to exchange words of encouragement with a couple riders going up the climb after soaring through the sci-fi-like tunnel. There was lots of position swapping going on up the climb and it was hard not to fall within the mandatory five bike lengths behind a slower climber ahead. There was inevitable blocking and what the referees called drafting slogging up this climb. I saw a few undeserved blue cards thrown and even a red card. I was admittedly paranoid, so I did my best and did not fall prey to the peer pressure of joining some of these pelotons and blockers.
The descent was not as bad as I thought it would be. Had I taken it for a real practice ride prior, I would have bombed that thing much harder. My watts stayed steady in the high 200s, but I saw a few peaks during the race reaching the 400s. These peaks likely played a role in my poor run that followed. I peaked my power a few times too many on the ride, I only ingested 200 calories immediately before the swim, 500 calories on the bike with four bottles of hydration, and I began my run likely still jet-lagged and hungry for lunch. I had one of my worst half marathons ever. Oddly though, it was still one of the most fun runs ever. It began with me jumping in right next to Heather Wurtele who would take 2nd that day. I stayed with her for the first 1.5 miles. The crowds loved her and I encouraged her as well. She left me in the dust and I began to slow. Seeing my friends Evan Borders from the Oakland Triathlon Club also suffering along with Brett, Tim, and Mike, I felt a little less alone. Then I found myself running next to Magali Tisseyre! She was on her final lap while I was still on my first. Another burst of excitement and love of the sport overtook me. I stayed with her for less than a mile and then had to drop back again. As a dude who podiums in local races, I finally got the reality check I was told about when coming to this race. On the run I finally felt so humbled by seeing these international women, age groupers, and of course the pros, just roar by me. That’s when I got happy again and felt grateful to be there. My mom, dad, sister, and sister’s friend all had signs up and were cheering for me throughout the race. I couldn’t help but finish with ecstasy.
ST: Did you do anything after?
David: I showered and sought out the Austrian provisions. The smorgasbord did not disappoint, and I gorged on some excellent post-race food with friends and family! On the way home, I sat down for a 13-hour flight from Munich to LA and right next to me was Magali Tisseyre. I couldn’t believe it. We had great conversation about her life as a pro, my life on Kona as a teacher, and our overall experience on the course at Worlds. She said she even remembered me from running next to her in the race. The best advice I got from her was to make sure I’m training happily. She emphasized how important it is not to punish oneself and to make sure that we as triathletes treat ourselves to something nice and relaxing everyday. She said we have to find the balance between training hard and living a happy life. I believe that’s a big reason why she’s such a phenomenal athlete.
ST: Have you ever heard of the racing rule of thumb where folks are only willing to travel to a race if the travel time is in proportion to the actual average race time for that distance? So maybe 2-3 hours for an Olympic, or 5-6 hours for a half, and 10-13 hours or so for a full distance race.
David: I’ve never heard of that rule! It sounds like a rule an economist created. In truth, I could not have made the sojourn to Austria had I not had the outside support from my friend Chris Van Luen of the Oakland Triathlon Club. When I am ready to pursue qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in my hometown, I will likely abide by this rule and look at Ironman Arizona or Lake Tahoe.
ST: You moved to Kona about a year ago to teach. Most folks spend at most a month there, but you can tell us what is it like to live on the Big Island full time.
David: Living here still feels like I’m in a pleasant dream. Having applied to become part of Teach for America last year to earn my credentials and my Masters degree in secondary education in mathematics, I accepted an offer to come teach in Hawaii. I made the request to teach on the Kona side of the Big Island, knowing that there would likely be an active triathlon community there and I was not let down. The triathlon community here is small but very close knit. There are young and old, sprinters to ultra-ironman athletes here. There are a handful of families who all participate in local races and really it feels like one big family at the local events. There really is about one race per week, whether it’s a free or cheap long course race with aid stations and volunteers, or a sprint duathlon at the pier.
At the same time, triathlon is not on most people’s radar even here on the Big Island where the World Championships are held. This is a good thing. The history and Hawaiian culture is so rich and spiritual in nature. My students love to hunt, spearfish, dance, surf, skate, and body board. American Football may be the most popular sport here. The friendliness and aloha I feel from everyone is what makes this island so great. It can be hard for some people who transplant to the Big Island if they don’t fully embrace the lifestyle. Personally, I admire the way my students, their families, and the community are willing to welcome newcomers into their ohana. All of a sudden I’m calling my elders aunty and uncle and getting called uncle by little kids I barely know. The natural beauty of the jungle, the volcanoes and the ocean ties us together and keep us all in constant awe of Mother Nature.
ST: Any chance you will return sometime soon to the mainland?
David: In terms of living on the mainland for an extended amount of time? Possibly. However, I feel pretty committed to staying here in my teaching position in Kona to at least see my freshmen from last year graduate. Go Wildcats! Class of 2018!
ST: How does your family feel about that?
David: They are very supportive. We do miss each other, but we call each other every week. They also like having an island connection. Owning property out here with the family is a dream of mine, for sure. For now though, Lani, mom, dad, and I have an emoji-filled group-text message going strong.
ST: Do you now have many hosting requests?
David: Surprisingly no I don’t! I have only hosted a few friends since moving here. I’m currently accepting all applications...
ST: What is on your agenda for the Ironman World Championships?
David: This year I’m stoked to say I’ll actually get to watch it! Last year I was frustrated that the Big Island high schools scheduled a cross-country meet on the same day as Ironman (I was our high school’s assistant coach), but I’m not coaching this year. The Konawaena Tri Club, which I formed last year with 11 inspiring high school students, wants to use this day as an opportunity to volunteer in the race and gain exposure for our club. The plan is that we will be volunteering at a pro aid station on the bike course along with another high school’s triathlon club. My students so excited to meet the pros!
ST: Will you come to the Slowtwitch gathering on Wednesday?
David: If this is an invitation, I humbly accept! I will definitely be there. What time? My girlfriend and I will be returning from hiking the Napali Coast in Kauai that morning.
ST: It is always on Wednesday afternoon between 3:30 and 7pm. Details are in a sticky forum thread.
David: Oh great, I’ll have time to shower and pluck my eyebrows beforehand then. Just kidding. I won’t shower.
ST: Anything else we should know?
David: I want to thank you again for the chance to share with you and Slowtwitch about my journey to World 70.3 and my passion for teaching. I also want to shout out to my parents and sister yet again for their relentless encouragement since I was a karate kid back in Kindergarten. My extended family, friends, and colleagues also deserve a huge Mahalo for the love and support they show me. The Oakland Triathlon Club, Triple Threat Triathlon, and Elite Triathlon Performance America have all provided me with support and training programs that have gotten me pretty far in this sport. Coach Mitchell Reiss has improved my triathlon fitness with truly over a year of injury free training. I want to shout out a huge Mahalo to my friends and training buddies from Oakland to Arizona to Kona to Australia. You all know who you are. Even if we never trained together, but you were there by my side as I put in the long hours, thank you!
Lastly I want to express my appreciation and gratitude to my local bike shop sponsor Bike Works Kona, who has without hesitation supported me from the first day I met them last year.