Check Out My Underpants, the Bachelor and My Speedsuit
The Hawaii IM was the first time I had entered an IM with any kind of defined expectations of how I was hoping to perform. Of course any pressure associated with these expectations was of my own creation, but I had trained hard and wanted to do my best in the race. That’s not quite right. I wanted to have my perfect race, the race where everything came together and I finally performed to my maximum capability. At the same time I knew that this was more than a race and I needed to find some balance between focusing on my race and taking in all the events and excitement surrounding this perhaps once in a lifetime experience. Race week in Kona there’s an excitement in the air that’s infectious, an energy even. That energy can be a good thing, helping to get you amped for the race ahead, and it can be a bad thing, amplifying any anxiety or nervousness you might be feeling. Here there are the stars of the sport sitting across from you at lunch or at the expo. Speaking with the voice of experience and success they might talk about preparations and tactics, offer just enough sound advice to call your own race plans into doubt, just enough for you to start questioning, maybe even altering the race plan you’d practiced all summer. Here there is the latest and coolest gear on display, calling to you, a siren song whispering to you that your equipment is inferior, not worthy of this race. Here everyone wants you to be wearing or using their products and they’ve got all the reasons as to why you should be. And then there’s all the clamor for IM gear: the jerseys and tech tees, the vests and visors, mugs and beach towels–everything you need to commemorate your achievement, to proclaim to the world that yes, I am an Ironman, a Hawaii Ironman. But most of all here there are all the other athletes–some of the best in the world–fit, trim and ready to rumble. For many the temptation to test a fitness reigned in by a pre-race taper is too strong and easy spins along the Queen K quickly turn into race-effort drag races or easy jogs into full on mile repeats along Ali’i Drive. The stage is packed, the lights are bright, and it’s a heady mix best taken in small doses.
My race week plans were to keep things simple and easy with few commitments. I’d had enough self-doubt leading into race week that I especially needed to limit my exposure to anything that would exacerbate these feelings. Each morning I was up before the sun rose, something easy to do with the time change and pre-race excitement. I’d sit out on the lanai and watch the sun rise and begin to see swimmers heading out into the bay along the pier for their morning practice swims. Not long after, I’d make the short walk from my condo down to dig me beach and join them. I am comfortable with my swimming abilities, even have advanced open water certification in SCUBA diving, but there’s still something about open water swimming in the ocean that just totally freaks me out, so I was especially happy to have so many other swimmers in the water each morning. That the water was so warm, so clear, so buoyant, I actually became excited to swim each morning. The sea life–from sea turtles to colorful tropical fish–was abundant, and because the water was seldom deeper than 20 feet it often felt more like I was out snorkeling than getting in a practice swim. Coffees of Hawaii had a boat moored 700 meters out in the bay where they were serving fresh brewed coffee (which I had given up prior to race day–which I will never do again) and sports drinks, so my goal would be to make it out to the boat before freaking out about sharks and such, grab a drink and then hightail it back to shore and wish I was less of a coward. All good fun, though through these daily swims one thing became abundantly clear: if I was going to be one of the cool kids I would simply have to get a speedsuit. I’d held out all summer: the technology was unproven, the time savings–if any–unclear, and the suits were perhaps even nothing more than marketing hype. Whatever it was, everyone here had apparently drunk the kool-aid. If there was anything to the hype, I’d be giving away time I couldn’t afford to give. My margins were already so tight to begin with; could I afford to not take any advantage possible? In the end I caved when my mom purchased a suit for me. I was grateful for the gift, liked the suit in my one practice swim in it before race day, and feel that if the suit didn’t help that it certainly had not hurt my performance (and if anything was one less thing to worry about), but this would be only the first among many choices I’d make shifting away from my race plan coming into Hawii (a rookie mistake to be sure) and was almost certainly fueled by my feelings of self-doubt.
I also had a couple short bike-run workouts on the schedule to keep things loose. On Wednesday I was psyched to hear that my wheel from HED had arrived at HP Bikeworks so that afternoon, on my way out to do a recon drive of the course, I picked it up. I had planned to drive out to Hawi and then ride up and down 270 from Hawi to get a feel for both the gradient and the winds I had heard so much about coming into the race, so I was very happy to have the opportunity to test my choice of a deep section front wheel along this portion of the course. The winds certainly did not disappoint as the side winds, blasting in from the sea, were like nothing I’d experienced before. These were worrisome on the descent from Hawi, especially riding with full traffic prior to race day and limited to the shoulder of the road (only half of which was ridable due to the rumble strips along the white line). But using one of the tips I got from Karen Smyers–resist the urge to coast and continue to pedal through for stability–the winds were still manageable and I knew on race day we’d have the whole roads to ourselves and not have to worry about swerving out into 50 mph traffic. I was also able to confirm the other tip I’d got from Karen Smyers: that with each rock outcropping along the road the wind would be momentarily blocked and this would be a good time to eat/drink, so this helped build some confidence and remove some of the fear I’d felt about the bike coming into the race. Still, the climb up to Hawi, whose gradient seemed steepened by a constant head wind, was an area I knew that would prove difficult on race day. I would need to keep my effort in check here on race day to ensure that I didn’t go so hard that I blew my legs up, but didn’t go so easy that I wouldn’t be able to balance out any time loss on the descent. This would be a key area for me to nail if I was going to achieve my goals on race day.
After returning home from that ride, I got my first opportunity to fully inspect the wheel I’d received from HED. The wheel itself was solid and true enough, but the used tubular tire that was on it was a little more nicked up than I was comfortable with. One of my pre-race rituals is to always put fresh rubber on my wheels, so I was really torn looking at this wheel. I had a newer tubular to put on it, but would only have a little over 36 hours to get it mounted before needing to check my bike. It would be a risk removing the tire already securely mounted not knowing what the glue would look like underneath. I wouldn’t have enough time to strip the old glue, remount the tire, and have the new glue set properly if the glue on the rim wasn’t in good shape after pulling off the tire. In the end my worries about the current tire overrode my worries about getting the new tube mounted properly and so I decided to go for it. This turned out to be a huge mistake. I ran out to pick up some tubular glue from the expo, but could only find a brand of glue I was unfamiliar with. This was not the glue I typically use and trust and didn’t know about mixing glues (the tubular I’d be putting on had already been prepped with another brand of glue and I had no idea what was currently on the wheel). Pulling off the old tire presented another problem, the glue underneath was pretty hardened, old, and probably would have been best stripped. Unfortunately I knew there wasn’t time for this so I hoped putting on a fresh layer of glue on top would bond with the old and allow a sufficient bond. I put on the glue, let it set for as long as I could, then commenced to putting my tubular on. The tubular slid on way too easy and was very easy to move around on the rim with limited force. This was never the case with my old glue, so I was worried but hoped that that was just the nature of this new glue and that the bond would set overnight.
The next morning was a busy one. At 9 AM was perhaps the race week event I had been looking most forward to: the Underpants Run. What had started out as a joke nearly 10 years prior in reaction to all the euro athletes making their way around town wearing nothing more than speedos had now basically become a pre-race tradition. Only now, instead of a handful of runners making their way down Ali’i sporting tighty-whities, the event had grown into an all-out parade of athletes–even some family members and locals joining in. And not only had the numbers of participants grown, so had the variety of dress. Sure there were still a fair share of the traditional tighty-whities present (strong believer in tradition this was my choice of race attire), but now there was a whole range of undergarments represented–from the almost risquÃ© and lacey to the outlandish and comic. The event basically starts as athletes gather in the morning in front of Pacific Vibrations, and after general gawking by participants and spectators alike, an oath against the wearing of speedos or any other sport specific clothing outside of training or racing is pledged by all.
Underpants Run Oath
I, state your name, solemnly swear that I will resist the temptation to wear the evil garment known commonly as: togs, scungies, bun huggers, plum smugglers, banana hammocks, crack splitters, butt floss, Speedos, etc., etc., etc., out side of swimming or racing.
I further promise to uphold the sanctity of the local’s home of which I am a guest by frequenting public places in proper attire, obeying traffic laws, and being curteous at all times.This is a pledge as an Ironman: Veteran, 1st Timer or Wannabe.
–Oath by Roch Fry and Paul Huddle
At this point I had picked out what I had thought to be a location sufficiently in the back and to the outside of the crowd so as not to draw too much attention to myself, but couldn’t figure out why there were still so many people snapping pictures. Turned out (as I later learned) that the strategic spot I had picked out not only happened to also be the one chosen by the former Bachelor of reality TV fame, but was also the initial direction athletes took off from heading out from the shop. So before I knew it there was me, the Bachelorguy, the event organizers, Roch Fry and Paul Huddle, and a ton of cameras heading up the entourage of underwear clad athletes in a mock race towards the parking lot of the King Kam hotel, where athletes would engage in some group calisthenics and body-builder poses led by Fry and Huddle. After the “warm-up”, the group rolled out of the parking lot and onto Ali’i Drive (where I finally managed to slip away from the front of the pack) before finally looping through some neighborhoods back to Pacific Vibrations. The whole route was lined with spectators and locals, good fun was had by participants and non-participants alike, and in the end there was even some money raised for charity.
That afternoon, however, there were more serious matters to attend to. I needed to check on the progress of my wheel. As I went to inspect the wheel, the tire seemed better secured than the night before, however, it was still not yet totally set. I needed to do a short ride anyway so I thought this would be a good chance to see if this was just my pre-race anxiety talking and if my worry was legitimate or not. Out on my ride the tubular held, but I could hear a constant, almost crackling sound as the glue on the rim caught and pulled slightly away from the tire as it was compressed and released with each revolution. Crap. Not only did I risk the tubular coming off the rim without a solid bond, hysteresis could result in significant impact on the power I’d need to put out to maintain race effort speeds. Race wheels were meant to make you faster, not slower. Could I use this wheel? I’d have less than 24 hours before I’d need to make up my mind, but there was still time to ride one last time before bike check-in, and I’d hold off on making that decision until then.
The next day, before bike check in I’d decided to ride the out and back portion of the run course down Ali’i drive. Again, there was that sound. Decision time, use the training wheel I’d come out there with or risk an unknown variable, the new front wheel? In looking back it’s easy to see what I should have done, and even when making the decision if I’d had less self-doubt leading into race day–the strength of conviction to truly follow through on the “nothing new on race day” mantra–I would not have made yet another rookie mistake and gone with an unknown variable, hoping that the glue would set more securely after one more day. This would prove to be a very costly error I believe on race day, but at the time, I had made a decision and hoped for the best. I reported to bike check-in and moved on.
The rest of the afternoon was spent making last minute preparations and trying to stay off my feet and relaxed as much as possible. My sister arrived on the island to join us later in the evening. It was great to see her, but rather than join her and my mother for one last meal together before the race, I figured it already too late for a meal and decided against eating out. Typically, I avoid all fibrous foods 18 hours before my race and that can sometimes be tough to do at a restaurant. So I stayed in as they went out and made do with what we had at the condo. Instead of eating any real food, however, I decided I was going to try a combination of meal replacement/recovery drinks and a couple power bars. Not having once tried this in my training leading up to the race, here I was once again making a spur of the moment decision fueled by anxiety rather than reason and experimenting with something new. After finishing my “meal” I was in bed by 10 PM.