Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kona 2010 Race Report

[Based on great feedback from my friends and teammates, I have a slighlty different take my performance and have adjusted this report accordingly.  Thank you to those of you that reached out to me with your thoughts.]

I had to let the dust settle a little before writing this one. After most races I'm fired up about something and need to cool off a bit. This time was different though as it was the first time I have been disappointed in myself and emotional.

Before I share the details, I am incredibly honored and grateful that I had this experience. Please understand that this is my honest assessment of what I did on this day. I write it to share my journey with others, but also for my reference later on. Overall it was a very positive experience and the whole week was just amazing. I am very thankful to Theresa, my family, friends and sponsors for supporting me and giving me this opportunity. All that said, I am disappointed in myself, I am driven by always trying to do my best and I did not do my best on this day. Mechanical issues happen and I am not upset about that. I made a choice during the race that I regret. Anyway, here's what happened:

Swim – 1:08:58
I started with a teammate that has done this race 10 times and we were going to start off to the left (but inside the floating Ford Edge as the previous year they did not let people go to the left of the car). However, it was really crowded where we wanted to be, we moved a little more to the right and before we knew it we had pretty much drifted to the center. The cannon went off and I took a deep breath and the beating began. It was by far the roughest start I have ever been in and there where people everywhere. I found some good feet and stayed on them for about 5 minutes, the beating became more of bumping and nudging so I thought things were good. A few minutes later I realized that I was working way too hard and hadn't sighted yet. I looked up and I could still see the lead paddlers…crap I know I'm not that fast. I was swimming way too hard and knew I needed to slow down. Well slowing down when you are swimming with 1800 people who all swim about the same speed is not fun. In hindsight I may have just been better swimming way too hard as the underwater beating then continued for the rest of the swim probably exhausted me more than the actual swim. I even got hit in the head about 100 meters from the stairs while we were next to the pier.

It was pretty cool to see divers below with camera, helicopters above, and the mountains while sighting. There really is no other swim like it and as much being stuck in a crowd the whole time sucked, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Based on two race simulation swims of 1:04 I expected I would swim between 1:05 to 1:10 at this race due to current/swells that I'm not used to. Looks like I was pretty close as I came out in 1:08 and felt really good considering the beating I took. I still have some work to do in the swim but I am continuing to make steady progress.

Lessons learned for next time:
  • People were not kidding when they said everyone is swims the same speed at this race and it is a pack the entire time
  • Next time I either need to start on the left like planned or go to the right, but I'm not trying the center again
  • I really think I would have been better off starting even further up and going a little too hard as I would have preferred to put the extra energy into forward progress then survival of a beating
  • Once you are moving forward and have settled into a group, don't try to slow down or move over… it's not worth it
  • My swim is still my weakest discipline and I will continue to work on it

T1 – 2:58
Coming out of the water, I was relieved that the beating was over and actually pleased with my swim. Sure I want to be a 1:00 IM swimmer but 1:08 is good progress. I took my time in T1 and headed out. The change tent was literally packed and there was barely room to get through it. All I had to do was drop my cap/goggles, and grab my arm coolers which I put on while running to the bike.

Bike – 5:17:57 (Actual ride time ~5:03)
I knew the beginning of the bike was going to be crowded so I took all the riding around Kona super easy. In fact I think half of the people racing passed me up the Kuakini climb as I was just spinning my way up. Once we hit the Queen K I started to settle in and I was slowly passing people. I was surprised as I was expecting more drafting but most people were riding very clean and there were three officials that were around quite a bit.

When I passed the airport I decided it was time to start working a little and kicked it up to my goal watts. The ride from there and through the first 56 miles was pretty uneventful. There was a strong head/crosswind going into Hawi and I just hoped I would make in time to get the tail wind back. I felt great, was well hydrated (peed twice already), under my watt and HR target and had completed the first 56 miles in 2:28.
A little after 58 miles the crosswinds were crazy and people were getting blown around as we were just pulling into Hawi. I was trying to pass on the left but it was starting to be a challenge. To avoid getting hit by a cyclist I had to make a sharp turn and I hit one of the reflectors in the road. I had hit a few of these before and while not comfortable it was no big deal. This time was different though, I felt the impact all the way up my arms and into my body, and about 2 seconds later I was riding on a flat tire. It was probably the hardest impact I ever had on my tri bike and the tire blew out instantly.

I pulled off the road a little before special needs (on the other side of the road). I could not see the turnaround but knew I was close as I could see the town. To make a long story short, I thought it was a simple pinch flat, tried fix a flat and that worked about 30 seconds before white goo was coming out of a cut in the tire. On the second repair I spent much more time inspecting and found a decent size cut in the tire and put an inner tube patch on the inside to keep it together. Then I found a dent/crack in the brake track that had a sharp edge going into the bead of the tire, so I used the remaining patches to cover that, probably about 4 of them. While it was not ideal I just hoped it would keep the sharp edge from puncturing the tire/tube.  I got everything mounted again, crossed my fingers and slowly inflated the tire with CO2 to make sure it held. It held up fine but I had to open my rear brake up as the patches were hitting the brake pad every revolution of the wheel.

Luckily this happened before special needs so I was able to get my bag and another tube before leaving. Also, I was fortunate to be near two wonderful spectators that had both done the race before and kept me calm. Unfortunately while I was standing there for about 12 minutes the weather changed. There was a light rain and the wind appeared to die, then a few minutes later the rain stopped and the wind came back.
When I jumped back on the bike I was determined to make up time (hey Chrissie won the race with a flat once). I figured I got a short break to stretch and rest and was going to fly down hill and back to Kona. Less than 5 minutes later I was riding out of Hawi and as soon as I went over 30 mph I would get a horrible wobble in my back wheel. I tried to slow down but realized my rear brake had no stopping power now (since I opened it up), so I tried to suck it up and just go full speed like I did earlier in the week. That lasted maybe 1 minute and the wobbling and thumping of my rear wheel at high speed combined with the crazy crosswind had me more scared than I have ever been on a bike, and I use to ride BMW Freestyle. The rest of the descent I rode sitting up with the front brake on, just praying I didn't crash. In my practice ride earlier in the week, I was flying in this descent (averaged 36 mph) but this time I was getting passed continuously.

Quick Side Note: Funny how during the race the dent/crack looked huge but after the race it really isn't that bad. My lesson learned here is to relax as things always seem worse during a race then they really are. The real problem was the speed wobble it created which probably has something to do with the 6 inner tube patches that went on the tire and rim. Even with those, the sharp end wore through them and put a second hole in the tire, right next to the bead.

Next came the mind games and the thoughts of quitting or pulling over and waiting for tech support to get a different rear wheel. I then realized two good friends of mine from Endurance Nation would give anything to be in Kona doing this race right now. Both should have been here but due to situations out of their control they were not able to race. Trent and Al would never quit or give up, so there was no way I was going to quit. I came to an internal agreement that I would keep going until I saw tech support and finish the race no matter what. I pushed the rest of the descent and was thrilled when I was back to Kawaihae.

I finally saw a support vehicle but it was behind another car and as we passed each other probably doing 20mph in opposite directions. So I decide it just wasn't meant to be and I was going to ride this one in myself.

After some more ups and downs on the emotional roller coaster, I stopped as my rear wheel felt weird again; the wobble had gone away a little but the thumping got worse. My tire felt low as I could squeeze it pretty far so I filled the back tire, probably lost about 2 minutes here, but more importantly I mentally reset. At that point I decided I was going to just enjoy the rest of the day and the experience. Next time I race an ironman my time and placing will matter, but today it does not matter if I am 10th or 100th in my AG, so I might as well enjoy the experience. I felt like the weight got lifted off my back and was relieved, as I am always so driven to perform to my potential.

When I started riding again I noticed my head was getting warm and realized that I had not peed since before the turn around. Crap, in the whole survival ride out of Hawi I didn't take in nearly enough water or nutrition. For the rest of the bike I focused on getting water, nutrition and salt in.

After reviewing my power file, my actual moving time was 5:03 and that includes running in transition with the bike. My power was about 10 watts lower than targeted and my heart rate was lower as well. My goal was to ride just under 5 hours and I think I could have easily done that if I didn't have the issues coming out of Hawi or if I would have hit my power target instead of taking it easy.

Lessons Learned:
  • Don't hit reflectors in the road J
  • Riding with people all day makes it much harder to keep a low VI. I was 1.02 in my two race sims and 1.05 in the race.  I've been spoiled over the last two years as I could ride away from the packs
  • Things always seem worse during a race then they really are.  I need to relax, just keep going and not get worried or worked up.  For example, after sitting on the side of the road for about 14 minutes total and going slow out of Hawi, I was convinced my race was over as I no longer had a chance to place well or hit the time I wanted.
  • Don't at anytime stop taking in fluid/nutrition there is no room for error in the hot/humid conditions
T2 – 4:31
I did a very easy jog through T2 and for the first time actually stopped to pee in transition. Unfortunately, I was dehydrated as I barely peed and it was bright yellow. I guess the 45 minutes or so of not drinking much and the hotter conditions on the way back on the bike took their toll. I felt like I spent an hour in T2 as I sat down in a chair and put my shoes on, let a volunteer help me with sun block and then put all my other stuff on and in pockets before leaving the tent. It was kind of nice to not be so rushed for once J

Run – 3:33:47
I felt great. It was probably because I didn't have any pressure on myself to make a time and I was just enjoying myself. I didn't even look at my watch and went as slow as I could in the first mile. After that I just kept jogging. I saw Carrie, the Zoot Crew, Theresa, Abigail and my Mom all within the first two miles.

Usually I just run by and barely acknowledge people due to my focus but this time I actually stopped to talk for a second and even gave Abigail and Theresa hugs. It was nice to be able to do this and not try to squeeze every second out of my race. It was kind of fun just to be enjoying the run and I was getting tons of compliments from the spectators on how good I looked.

My original plan was to jog easy for the first 10 miles then pick it up on the Queen K. I actually ended up
running all 10 miles effortlessly and ran up Palani strong. I was never warm or uncomfortable and having a great time.

After making the turn onto the Queen K, I once again thought about racing. I figured since I ran the first 10 miles basically per my plan anyway that maybe I could pull of a great marathon. I dropped my pace to my target and made it about a mile. In that mile the slightly warm jog I was on became hot and my perceived effort when up significantly to only see my pace drop by 30 seconds. With 15 miles left to go, I made a very tough decision, a decision that I have thought about and in many ways regretted every day since the race.

For the first time ever in a race, it got tough and instead of pushing through it, I gave in and backed off.  My body was hot, I wasn't feeling it after the one mile of picking the pace up, and my mind gave in. I convinced myself that my race was over because of the bike mechanicals, I had no chance in placing, and I should just enjoy the day. 

[In hindsight and after a few great conversations with friends, I realize I did not quit or give up.  I did however give up on racing and instead became just a participate or finisher for the first time.  Although a small difference to most people this is a big difference and a big deal to me.]

The remaining 15 miles were one heck of a roller coaster. For the about 6 miles to the energy lab, I basically did nothing but try to convince myself that I had made the right decision. Seeing the pros going the other way that looked horrible or were walking, it was easy to justify what I did. My pace slowed to about 8:00 min/miles and I felt fine physical so I just keep slowly moving forward.

I hit the energy lab and found out they were not kidding at it gets hot down there. Even my ultra relaxed pace (which was continuing to slow mile after mile) was tough to hold and I was getting warm again. So I slowed down a little more and started to walk the aid stations.  At least I made it to the energy lab without walking. Since I had already given in when it got tough, it was easy to do it again and I went really slow the whole time in the energy lab.

At the end of the Energy Lab I had a little less than 7 miles left and crossed the motivational mile sign. It said "m.ancona what's your one thing". It then hit me, for the first time I didn't have a one thing for this race.

I had tried to convince myself for the last year that I was doing this race just for fun, but inside I was still competitive and had goals. They were not aggressive goals that I was committed too, but I was definitely there to do more then just finish.

I thought once more about trying to pick up the pace, but I didn't have the desire to and within a minute I slowed again. I continued to walk the aid stations and jog around 8:00 min/miles in between. I was now being passed by people and my mood had changed significantly. I was upset about the flat and in a world of pity and at the same time I was even more upset at myself for giving up for the first time. I felt sorry for myself but also incredibly disappointed in myself. I was embarrassed as people spend years and years trying to earn the opportunity to do this race and I had just given in when it got tough. I was even more upset that I didn't have a clear goal in my mind and didn't even know what my one biggest reason for being out there was.

Once I hit Palani all those thoughts disappeared as there were more spectators and I could see the finish area. I continued to jog and took it all in with a big smile on my face. For that last 5 minutes or so, I completely forgot about everything that happened and for the first time since my first race (2004 Chicago Marathon), I just enjoyed finishing and the finish line. It was truly an amazing experience to cross that finish line on Ali'i.

I ended up finishing in 10:08:11, 54th in my age group and 524th overall.

Post Race
The post race high that usually lasts at least a few days only lasted about 10 minutes this time around. By the time I made it out of finish area and found Theresa, I was an emotional mess. I am a pretty thick skinned person and usually do not let things get to me, but this did. It was one of the only times in my life that I was truly disappointed in something I did.

After eating and drinking a ton we went back to the condo and I weight myself. I was more than 6 pounds (4.5%) lighter than before the race. I felt fine and never had an issue during the race but obviously I was not nearly as on top of my hydration as I though. Lesson learned I still have to take in even more water. I guess the silver lining to jogging the marathon is that I don't push myself enough to expose the dehydration and I was lucky for that.

I tried very hard that evening and the next week to convince myself that it was ok to give up and just enjoy the day. I told so many people that I was still happy with my race and tried to convince myself I was. Three weeks later, I have accepted what happened and moved on, however I will likely always be disappointed that I allowed myself to give in when it got tough.

Some closing thoughts
  • I'm impressed if anyone actually read this far … thank you to anyone that spent the time reading all of this.
  • As usual I will not even pretend that I could do this on my own. I appreciate the amazing continued support from my wife, daughter, family, friends and sponsors as you are all very important to me.
  • Kona is different and unique, sure the Boston Marathon and Clearwater are amazing events, but Kona is in a whole different league. Even if you never get the chance to race there, I really recommend going race week, in fact I want to go back sometime and not race just so I can enjoy being there and not have to worry about the race.
  • Ironman racing is a roller coast of emotions, I hit more highs and lows in one day than I do in many weeks or months
  • Shit happens on race day, but I'm proud of how I handled the mechanicals and that I made the best of it
  • I know I should have performed much better but at least my first Kona experience was still positive and a decent time
  • I've finished three ironman and I have still not run well or executed well …. Looks like I know what to work on next year!
  • I will never again race an ironman without first knowing what my one thing is BEFORE the race. Never give up has new meaning to me now.
  • Finishing MOP (525th OA/54th AG) earned me a finisher's photo with 9 people in it all within about 20 feet. Sure was humbling when I saw that.
  • Somehow I thought making it to Kona was going to be satisfying and end this quest, instead I'm now even more motivated to get back and have the race I know I am capable of having.
  • While I have fun participating in this sport, fun or enjoyment is not why I participate.  I am driven to improve and perform to my potential.  I've tried a few time to just go out and race for fun and it hardly ever works.  My type-A personality is what drives me and I cannot hide from that no matter how hard I try to convince myself that I can.  No matter what happens with anyone else out there I am always competing with myself and this was the first time I lost.


  1. I like the Chicago '04 reference...6 years it's been since we did that!

  2. Thanks Brett ... but I think is was 06 we ran Chicago together :-)

  3. I've enjoyed reading your race reports. Don't beat yourself up too much, you'll be back at it soon enough!

  4. Good report Matt and I understand it 100%. I wrote the same thing last year more or less... came away with the same feelings, realised I didn't have the same drive to persevere when things went south during the race, convinced myself I was happy to "finish" and not "race". Easy to say, a lot tougher to convince yourself when you know deep down you expected more of yourself and didn't come up with the goods on the day.

    I think the best thing to come out of it though is that when you go back you'll be all the more hungry for a result and your one thing will be a lot more clear and in focus. At least that's what I'm hoping! I'll be a few more years til I'm back there (that will just simmer the fire even more I think) but Kona is definitely a place where a score needs to be settled. :)

  5. Thanks for sharing your experience. I read every word and think you did an amazing race. You are definetly a winner in my books,plus a great son, husband,father and God Son.