The heart wants & the body won't

Timothy O'Donnell was one of the favorites for Kona or at the very least among the Top 15 men at the GoPro Ironman World Championships, but as much as his heart and mind wanted, his body did not comply. With the emotions all settled now he had a few words with us about that day.

Slowtwitch: Thanks for your time Timothy.

Timothy O’Donnell: It is always my pleasure to chat with the Slowtwitch Team!

ST: With Kona 2014 behind can you actually relax a little or is your mind and body already on the chase for 2015?

Timothy: I’ve definitely taken a few days of R&R after Kona to try and step away from the sport and let my body recover. In terms of the mind, I don’t think I’ve stopped thinking about how Kona went this year and what I need to reevaluate and do differently in the future. While having a poor race is always a tough pill to swallow it definitely is a big motivation to refocus and work even harder for next year!

ST: You seemed to struggle towards the end of the bike segment after looking well early on. Not untypical in Kona for many folks, but likely not the race development you had in mind.

Timothy: I did feel ok for most of the ride however it seems after you get disconnected from that lead group it just gets harder to stay on your effort when riding back on the Queen K. I had a similar strategy as the Hoff, stick with Freddie, he was able to execute and I wasn’t.

ST: Was everything fine during the swim?

Timothy: I felt great during the swim, comfortable and strong. I stayed at the front of the lead pack and put myself in a great position.

ST: Starykowicz and Amorelli took off as the front group left town. When did you reel them back in and whereabouts were you positioned in that big front group?

Timothy: Igor came back quickly as I recall, and Starky went up the road. He didn’t really get much time though, I felt like we could always see him in the distance. I think it was around Waikaloa when he ended up coming back and when I went through special needs in Hawi I saw him on the side of the road.

ST: Can you describe the difficulty of moving up a few spots in such a large group?

Timothy: I positioned myself well at the start of the bike and kept towards the front five guys in the pack on our way out on the Queen K. Getting to the front from behind can be very hard so I wanted to try and avoid that challenge. You have to be somewhat patient when moving up, since everyone tries to ride right at that 12-meter distance. You almost have to try and leap frog, if you see a gap over 12-meter get to that spot and then wait until another opens and then move up again…

ST: Is there much shuffling of places or do most folks just try to stay where they are – either by choice or the situation?

Timothy: The shuffling really begins when we start up towards Hawi. There is a short period where you can get into position before the pace really revs up. Once you get to the last 10km of the climb it is hard to move up unless you are putting out some big power numbers.

ST: How hard was that pace to Hawi? And once Kienle and Twelsiek moved up the road, was it any easier?

Timothy: The pace was solid but it seemed like the wind in our faces was a bigger factor. It was hard to get into your rhythm when fighting the wind and also trying to keep an eye of everyone up the road. I didn’t notice when Kienle pulled away, I was focused on keeping intact with the rides in front of me. The decisive moment for me was a few short miles from the top, I was behind Hoff, and Frodo was in front of him. Frodo let open a sizable gap and the Hoff went around him and bridged up to the few guys up the road. I was able to close the gap back up to Frodo but as I got up someone else, not sure who, came around both of us. Frodo got onto him but I didn’t have the pop to go with them. They eventually got back up to the Hoff and I lost contact. When I saw Hoff make that move I knew he was on and would have a great day.

ST: When did you feel the first sign of trouble?

Timothy: I actually had some cautionary signs from the start of the bike. In the first 10km my fingers locked up like claws and I couldn’t open them. I had to pry each finger open one by one. I took some salt and while they locked up a few times immediately following the first incident it eventually subsided by the airport. They day didn’t get better as I lost one of my nutrition bottles and then lost one a full saltstick container. It was really a comedy of errors for me all day.

ST: But I guess you were not laughing.

Timothy: There was definitely no laughing out there. When those little things go wrong you just have to continually manage the situations and handle them when the come. While no one event seems to be devastating they start to add up and take a toll on your race.

ST: Did you have any ideas meanwhile how Rinny was doing?

Timothy: I saw her climbing up to Hawi and then on Ali’i on the run. It is hard to tell the time gap from the lead girls when I’m running the other direction but I could tell she looked a lot better than everyone in front of her!

ST: You still were in decent position on the run, but we saw you run into the bushes before the Energy Lab. Was that the first such outing?

Timothy: I actually didn’t have GI issues, it seemed to be more of a muscular issue with my abdomen that took me out of the run. As I came over the top of Palani and hit the Queen K (around 11 miles) I started having issues. I actually felt ok at that point and was excited to really try and push the run once I hit the highway (as per my race plan). As I opened up my stride down that first hill I was thinking, “alright lets get after this!” and then it seemed like right after that I noticed a bursting pain in my abs every time I extended my stride. It felt like my stomach was about to tear (or explode!) and it was the first time in a race where I was really concerned about a serious danger with a pain I was feeling. I stopped running and tried to massage it out and get running again but every time I tried to extend my stride it would come right back. I tried drinking more water, avoiding carbs, taking more salt, then not taking anything and nothing worked. I could shuffle a bit so I just started moving along the course the best I could.

ST: At what point did you decide to just hang in to the end?

Timothy: I knew right away this was a something more than a side stitch and I couldn’t just run through it. I was still close to town around target on Queen K at this point and did think it would be very easy to just turn around and go home. However, I have too much respect for this race and if I could move forward on the course I was going to keep going. I had an extra hour or so on the course that will forever be seared in my memory, an experience that I never want to have again. It will serve as a reminder and a motivation as I prepare for next year and for me I see that as a very valuable tool. I wouldn’t have had that experience to draw off of if I pulled out.

ST: When you saw Rinny first, where was she?

Timothy: As I was wogging (walk/jogging) out of the Energy Lab the ladies were coming down into it. Daniela looked ok and Rachel looked strong. Then I saw Rinny and she was moving so much better then both of them. I knew she would catch Rachel since the gap was small but I didn’t know about Daniela since she had a huge gap and looked ok. I stopped on the side of the road to cheer Rinny on and said “Come on Rinny, you have to win this for both of us now.”

When they came by me on the Queen K Daniela was not looking good and I knew at that point it was Rinny’s race to win. Rinny came by around 22 miles or so and I stopped to cheer her on again. That was definitely a humbling experience for me. While it was a uplifting to see Rinny on top her game on the most important day in our sport, it was also a harsh reminder on how far away from my goals and expectations I was at that same moment. Knowing Rinny was going to eventually run by me may have been the hardest part of not pulling out and continuing the race. Not so much her passing me on the side of the road but the idea of how many people would be reminding me about it for the foreseeable future was not a comforting thought. However I couldn’t use that as a reason to quit!

ST: Did Rinny say anything or smile at you as she passed you at mile 22, or was she focused on her task.

Timothy: She was totally in the zone and on task…I would have been mad at her if she had done anything but that!

ST: So what is next?

Timothy: I’m signed up for Ironman Arizona and if I feel like my body is back on track I’ll toe the line in Tempe. Other than that, Rinny and I will be heading to Challenge Bahrain in December.