Our trip to Kona started with some bad news. While I don’t want to be a downer, it played a big role in our trip to the Big Island so I figured I would start the recap blog off with it. It will fit in to the race recap somehow, I promise.
During our flight to Kona, one of our dogs (Lincoln…we call him Link) jumped our back yard fence and got ran over by a car, not once…but twice. The lady who hit him stopped after the first thump, flipped the car in reverse, and rolled over him again. Luckily the gal staying at our house is a vet student and was able to rush him to the CSU vet hospital.
So, when our plane landed in Kona, Abby and I get calls from the vet giving us the terrible news and his prognosis. Initial assessment that night: major road rash, likely loss of penis and tail, and some pretty significant soft tissue surgery would be needed to put him back together. Ok, we can do this.
Next day I get a call while on my bike scouting the Queen K with Eric Smith. It is the surgeon saying they took x-rays and he has a large “luxation” of his SI joint. Essentially, his ilium separated from his sacrum. He needed a surgery to put it back together that they priced at a solid $20,000. Yikes. At this point we thought we would be loosing him. They talked me in to a CT scan to get a better idea of his condition. Despite having out minds set on not doing the surgery, we went ahead with the CT. Some of our veterinarian friends we were consulting with said to be prepared as CT scans will only show more “bad things”. Seesh.
Well the CT scan showed more bad things…but good news! Essentially his pelvis and sacrum were so fractured (x-ray didn’t pick up all the fractures) they couldn’t do the pricey surgery (Yay!…???). So, at this point (day 2 of Kona trip, Thursday) the quasi-good news lifted our spirits a bit as the estimated bill was within our range and the prognosis for him was poor to fair (hey, that’s something!).
On Friday they put him under to stitch him back together, amputate his tail, and miraculously save his penis (albeit very crooked…when he pees it shoots out to the right so he, conveniently, doesn’t have to lift his leg anymore). At this point we knew he would at least be alive until we got home.
All that said, Abby and I had some pretty heavy hearts the first half of our trip. I was certainly not mentally “race ready” or as psyched up as I wanted to. Abby and I are child-less 30-somethings who love our dogs so the accident was weighing heavy on us as our dogs are family. I felt guilty for not being there, guilty for not training him better to stay in the yard, and overall just felt bad we couldn’t be there for him.
We were so fortunate to have Eric and Celeste Smith with us. Eric kept me focused for the race and they both helped us to relax and enjoy our time on the island. I think Abby and I would have been pretty miserable without them! Eric and Celeste – sorry we were downers the first part of the trip!
The “Link” factor
A little about Link (I promise I will eventually get to the race). Link is a funny-looking dog. We got him as a puppy from a puppy rescue. He has some form of terrier in him that makes him look, well, old. When he was one year old people thought he was a 14 year old grandpa-dog. You can say he is somewhat a Benjamin-Button dog.
One of his first acts as a puppy was to chew off the loop on the back of a brand new shoe I got for work. These were somewhat “dress-up” expensive shoes. Initially, I was pissed. Out of all the shoes he went for, he had to chew on the brand-spankin’-new shoe that I had to look professional in at work. Ga!
After some reflection, I realized there was nothing I could do and it was JUST A SHOE. I still wear these shoes to work, weddings, church, wherever a black dress-up shoe is required. No one has ever noticed the discrepancy between the shoes and I have grown to smile every time I see the shoes. It is a subtle reminder of what he was like as a puppy and for me to not sweat the small stuff.
Link also has a passion for life. “Well all dogs do, Craig” is probably what you are thinking. Not like Link. As soon as our alarm goes off in the morning, Link literally springs out of bed and bolts for the back door to make sure no bunnies have encroached on his territory over night. When we come home from work, Link shakes with excitement to go run/walk/sit on your lap/watch your every move/whatever. He is ready to LIVE LIFE.
With his Benjamin-Button looks and gusto for life, Link has always been a reminder to me to be fine with imperfection and live life to the fullest. He has helped me suppress my innate desire for perfection in all life and really embrace the imperfect things in life. Shoes don’t need to be 100% intact. I don’t always have to have the PERFECT house, car, job, race, training day, bike, etc. A scratch and a ding and not making it to the Olympics is fine. Link has always reminded me to keep things in perspective and live life to the fullest.
He will remind me that more than ever now, with his nub of a tail, crooked penis, likely abnormal gait, and scars from various surgeries. Despite all this, I am sure (when he can walk) he will still fly out of bed in the morning and protect us from the impending attach of bunnies.
Ok, now we can get on with the race recap
Aside from the the stress about Link, Kona was an AMAZING experience. We were fortunate to travel with Eric and Celeste Smith and spend some quality time with them. I was very lucky to have Eric with me to nerd out hard on all things triathlon. The venders, the new bikes, the professional triathletes…Kona week is really is a triathlete’s dream.
My Mom and grandma also made the trip out to Hawaii. This meant A LOT to me. I was so honored and humbled they made the trip and we had so much fun spending time with them. I think they both enjoyed the perfect weather, the beaches, and exploring the island.
Leading up to the race I asked for advice from every friend that I know that has been to Kona. I had 2 months from the Boulder Ironman to prepare and wanted to maximize my experience as this would probably be the only time I would do the race (Ironmans are hard!). I took in all the advice I could and was really glad I did. Mentally I was well prepared (minus the Link thing) and reflecting back on the race it was more or less what I expected because of all the great advice I got.
So, my recap will be in the form of advice to the next Kona participant. These are things I learned and would pass on to the next eager Kona qualifier.
Gratitude is the only Attitude
Ok, I stole this from one of my main Kona mentors, Matt Britton. Matt has a true zeal for life and gratefulness that we should all strive for. Link’s accident reminded me to be more grateful than ever for this experience. Gratitude is literally what mentally got me in the right place and kept me in the right place to finish the event.
Future Kona athlete: be grateful for the experience. It is truly an accomplishment to actually get to Kona. Be thankful your body can do something this crazy. Be thankful you have support in your life to even attempt an Ironman. The volunteer helping me check in to the race told me he is a marathon runner and likes to go as slow as possible to “get his money’s worth.” Well, you can still race but be grateful during the race and take in as much as you can.
Swim at Dig Me beach!
Dig Me beach is the start of the swim for the Ironman. The mornings leading up to the race they have most of the swim course set up with tons of freakishly-fit looking triathletes getting their last few swims in before the big show. Us main-landers need to get used to the salt water, waves, and cool looking fish! We swam at Dig Me most days leading up to the race and Abby and I went back after the race for a few swims. It was very cool.
People watch at Lava Java
Lava Java is a cool little coffee shop on Ali’i drive. Todd Mellinger suggested we do this and he warned me I would feel fat with all the super-fit people walking around. Well he was right. How do people get this fit??? The people watching is interesting as you get to see people from all over the world (70% of participants are non-American). And Eric and I could drool over the bike porn.
The swim is actually water polo
The swim for the Kona Ironman is aggressive. Really aggressive. Matt warned me about this but it was way more aggressive than I thought. With every male starting at the same time at essentially the same pace, it is chaotic. Bryan VanMeveren suggested I swim on the outside near the Kona Inn. I started over there but as I sighted the buoys I kept getting closer towards the middle. Future Kona athlete: Be ready to get punched, kicked, swam over, pushed, and dunked for an hour.
The good thing is that this environment really forces you to hold back. I kept wanting to swim faster as I felt like I was going too easy. However, every time I tried to accelerate there were more people ahead of me not allowing me to go faster. So I came out of the water feeling good since I was no where near my limit during the swim.
The bike is windy. And hilly. And hot. And busy.
This year we had a headwind. The WHOLE FREAKING TIME. Winds were coming from the north going out and from the south later in the morning. Some of the pros missed out on the head wind going back as they got an early start and are, well, much faster than me. The mid-pack age groupers suffered big time on the bike from the wind.
Oh, and it is hilly. 6,000 feet of elevation gain! No big, steep climbs. Even the climb to Hawi is not that steep. Rather, it is rolling up and down the whole time. I stayed in my big gear the whole race (that doesn’t mean I was going fast though!).
And it’s hot. This is most pronounced the last 30 miles or so as you go back in to town. It is later in the morning so the temperature is higher and you are in the most dense part of the lava fields. Luckily(?) we had a strong headwind to “cool” us off.
And there are a lot of cyclists trying to go the same speed. Everyone swimming around an hour means we all get on the bike at the same time. This was chaotic. The loop at the beginning through town was like a crit, except somewhat dangerous as you had a thousand amped-up, aggresive triathletes in aero jockeying for position. This continued for the first 30 miles before we spread out. I stressed more about trying not to draft than I probably should have.
So, future Kona competitor: focus on riding your pace, don’t draft yet don’t over-stress about not drafting.
Future Colorado Kona athlete: Ride 287 to the Wyoming border as much as you can. The Queen K is very much like 287. Pick windy days to do this. Ideally days when you have a headwind in both directions. (Thanks Matt for the advice).
All-in-all, the bike portion was really hard. I am glad it was tough as the race lives up to the hype in that aspect. I would be a little disappointed if it was easier than what I experienced. Future athlete: embrace the challenge of the course. Be mentally ready for it and enjoy it. It is part of the Kona experience.
Have fun on the run
The run was fun. What? Did I just write that? Ok, it wasn’t fun like drinking a good IPA with friends or watching a good movie, but it is quite the experience. A marathon after a 2.4 mile water polo and a (hard) 112 mile bike will never be easy. But wow, the atmosphere on Ali’i drive is incredible.
I set in to a pretty easy pace right away as I didn’t want to blow up and walk the marathon. After 3 Ironmans I am getting pretty good at the “Ironman Shuffle”. My thoughts were to take in as much as the experience as I could. This is probably my last Ironman on our sport’s most famous stage. I wanted to take in each step and enjoy it.
So I did. And I had fun on the run. I did not run particularly fast and I was VERY ready to be done as I came down Palani. Looking back on it I picked up my pace between mile 18-23 as I was feeling pretty good. Then I slowed a little the last 3 miles not so much because I wasn’t feeling good, rather, but because I wanted to take in as much as I could the last few miles.
I am glad I did. The stretch down Ali’i to the finish was an amazing experience. As I turned on Ali’i Eric was right there to give me a pat on the back. Hundreds of spectators lined the finish and cheered us in as the announcer yelled: “CRAIG DEPPERSCHMIDT, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
Future Kona athlete: take it all in and enjoy it. Be grateful that you made it to the run of the Ironman World Championships in Kona. Embrace the heat and the mental struggle. It is one heck of an adventure. Savor it.
Also: Run hills! If you live in NoCO, run Bacon Strip. Every week. In your sweatshirt.
Post-race advice: see the island!
Abby and I had a great time after the race. We got to spend some time snorkeling and swimming with dolphins with Eric and Celeste. We took in the sunsets with my mom and grandma. Our second to last day on the island Abby and I did an epic road trip to see the island. We saw the southern most point of the United States, Volcano National park, hiked through a recently-erupted volcanic crater, walked on a black beach, saw huge water falls, and toured around Hilo (the town on the opposite side of the island of Kona).
Future Kona athlete: Make time to hang out after the race. The Monday after the race almost all traces of Ironman are gone. It is crazy how quickly the town flips back to normalcy. Everything is much less crowded. “Normal” tourists (not super-hero ripped athletes) start to migrate in and you no longer feel fat.
This whole Ironman journey has been quite the experience. Two years ago if you asked me if I could even complete an Ironman, I would say “No way!” It has reinforced my thoughts that life is one big adventure and there is so much to be grateful for. It has given me confidence that I can take on most anything I put my mind to.
Kona was not a perfect race for me and I’m fine with that. But it was one heck of an experience and I am grateful more than ever to have experienced it.
BIG thanks to my wife for the support and encouragement, especially every time I came home from a big workout convinced I could never run a marathon.
Thanks to Eric and Celeste for making Kona such a great trip and cheering us up those first few days! And thanks for being the BEST support crew ever!
Thanks to my Mom and Nana for making the trip out to the Big Island to experience it with us. I hope you two got enough beach time in!
Thanks to Runner’s Roost and Rocky Mountain Multisport for the support. Happy to race for such a great company!
Finally, thanks to all my friends and family for your support through phone calls, texts, and Facebook “likes” and messages! They all have been meaningful and I appreciate you thinking of me.
Be grateful and enjoy the adventure!