Hawaii, the big island, Kona, I can’t believe I am finally here. Having done my first Ironman under the watchful (and at times very concerned) eye of my dad in 1996 it has been 22 years of on and off dreaming about doing this race.
An island full of hot sun, beautiful sandy beaches, lava fields, warm ocean swimming whilst watching fishies. A dream come true – why is it that, two days in, I am lying in bed shivering in the middle of the afternoon?
Bottom line is I managed to catch some kind of bug in my last days in Canada, throw in a pretty stressful last week at work, add packing, last training and longish travel in a freezing airplane full of germ throwing tourists and you have the perfect breeding ground for all sorts of things that make you sick. So now 4 days out from the race I am popping Advil cold and sinus in combination with cold-Fx like a drug addict trying to keep that barking cough at bay and make it so that I can at least walk around without collapsing. Not how I had envisioned my race week. I cut pretty much all my course familiarization workouts down to the absolute necessary, swim only twice (the plan was to go every day to acclimatize to the ocean) bike once and don’t run at all. Not only am I sick, I also managed to spread the goodness around, so soon pretty much all my family (who has come to cheer) is a coughing and snotty group – only the kids seem to be immune. Fortunately, by Friday of race week I am enough in shape to do a mini test triathlon prior to dropping my bike off. Ten minutes of swim, bike and run around town and it doesn’t feel as bad as I had anticipated. Maybe I have this thing beat and I can actually race tomorrow? I’ll give it my best shot anyways, sick or not, I will get through this race and if I have to crawl on my hands and knees – Sian Welch and Wendy Ingraham style – so be it. I am here and so is the gang who supported me all the way. There is no germ in the world which can take this away from me!
Race morning has us get up at 4 am. I can actually breathe through my nose without drugs – so I must be ready to race …or at least this is as good as it gets. Quick breakfast and off we are down to Kona. I say my hasty farewells to the cheering squad and am off to body marking. This is the world championships and you can tell. The organization is impeccable: Despite the fact that there are 2500 athletes getting ready I get through body marking, a med weigh in and the sun lotion station in no time. There is an army of volunteers out there – down to the point where they have 20 or 30 folks standing there with illuminated M dot signs with the single purpose of indicating the pathway from body marking to transition.
I check my bike, fill up my nutrition bottles and find a pump right away as well. 10 minutes later and I am pretty much ready to rumble. Lots of time left, so I take some time to take in the atmosphere; the sun is just rising over the bay and there is already what looks like thousands of spectators along the sea wall. It is an impressive view. I also stroll by the pro athlete section and see all the big names getting ready. Even though these guys will perform like superhumans today right now they seem very human in preparation, just like us mortals they pump up their bikes, get things ready, seem slightly nervous and stand in line at the porta loo…This is one of the things that sets triathlon apart from other sports, here we compete with the professionals on the very same course at the very same time. Well, they do get a head start so the super keen amateurs don’t beat them to death during the swim, but that’s’ it.
Its time to go down to the water, the start line is about 200m out in the middle of the bay – one of the unique features of this race, a deep water start. I swim out and find myself a spot right smack in the middle of the field. Quite a few people are lined up right along the imaginary start line between three markers, held back by a line of folks paddling on surfboards. These are the super keen age groupers in that first row, they are packed in like sardines. I am not that keen, or at least I have a will to survive, so I try to hold a spot about 3 rows down, trying to keep just a bit of open water ahead of me, so I can actually start swimming without having to beat on someone right away. As the last minutes before the start go by though it gets ever tighter and I am squished in just like all the others. Well, at least I can draw from a fairly successful Judo career in my youth, so I am prepared for the full contact bit of that swim…I think.
The gun goes off – this is it. I am officially racing the Ironman in Hawaii – crazy. Also crazy is all the rotating arms and kicking legs around me. There is simply no bit of water that does not already have at least a part of a swimmer in it. I simply find a pair of feet and do my thing, no matter who I kick and who I beat with my arms – this is no place for Canadian politeness. After a few minutes I receive a solid kick to my left goggle which leaves it feeling like it is now embedded in my eye socket and some kind of contact that almost rips my watch off my arm I try to not be influenced by that, find a spot of relatively clear water and fall into a decent rhythm. After a while I notice that my watch hasn’t beeped yet (it is supposed to give me split times every 400m), weird, but nothing I can do. I am just here to have fun anyways, no need for split times…but I am curious really…I have no idea how I am doing…I pretty much get sucked along in a big mass of people up to the turn around point. I check my watch there – 30 minutes. I am actually doing great. The way back is a tad longer than the way there (because the swim goes past the start line all the way back to shore of course) but overall the involuntary drafting has provided me with a fairly decent first half of the swim. The second half is a little less crowded, at some point I find myself loosing my focus and sure enough I lose contact to the group I was in and have some open water to myself. Sounds like a good thing but it really isn’t – drafting in swimming is legal and a major advantage. So I zig-zag a bit and try to find the next pair of feet but never get back into a tight group like I had on the way up. I make it to shore though, super relaxed and in a (for me) acceptable time of one hour and 12 minutes. I rush to my bike to see the usual scenario – pretty much all bikes in my age groups section of the transition are gone – to be precise 1420 of the 2472 bikes are gone…time to do some catching up…
I have only a few things to say about the bike ride. As usual, being a weaker swimmer, I pass a ton of people. As usual there is some drafting but I try to stay away from it as much as I can. The only unusual thing is that passing is slower than average I do not blast by any people like they are standing still which sometimes happens in races with stronger swimmers and weaker cyclist. Here lots of people are slower than me on the bike but just a tad. This is actually an advantage at the aid stations because everybody is going through at roughly the same speed. So as opposed to Whistler (where I had to avoid hitting people who had virtually stopped at aid stations and missed a few stations because of that) here I manage to grab something at every station and am super on top of my nutrition and my heat management. There is almost no wind either and the little bit of wind there is comes form the back…so I am winning on all levels…Well everybody is winning on al levels…and that becomes evident at the turn around point. Or shortly before when we get a first glimpse of the pro athletes blasting down the hill from Hawi – who was that in the lead? Where is Lionel? Lots of the pros are too fast for me to recognize them. The ladies I recognize, Daniela already in the lead…Lucy in hot pursuit…cool – I have a first-row seat to the pro race. Now to the amateurs…usually at this point of a longer race I have caught up to the better amateurs (in Whistler I biked the 4th fastest amateur time overall) not here though…I lose count at about 50some….there is a whackload of people still in front of me…clearly people are not only better swimmers but also better cyclists than me. Ah well…I am just here to enjoy the race and learn for possible future endeavours (maybe?). The turn around comes sooner than expected and down it goes – no trace of the feared crosswinds, no sun, and even the last 50km into town, famous for the headwinds…nothing…maybe even a bit of a tailwind…all the stories about this race are a lie…this is by far the fastest and easiest bike ride I have ever done in an IM. I average just under 38 km/h and roll into transition after 4 hours and 48 minutes in 668th position. If my math is correct I must have passed roughly 753 people on the bike. What I don’t know is that everybody else had a similar easy and fast day – both the male and female bike course records are shattered (by 20 minutes in the female world) the conditions were just THAT exceptional….
I change into my run gear and go to the sun lotion table. It is a bit of a battle there so I grab a handful for my head but ignore my arms and legs. After all the bike ride was almost completely cloudy, and even though Kona is in full sunlight right now the clouds have been moving down the hill in past years, so it can’t be an all sun run….at least that must have been my logic. I trudge off and find my goal pace. I aimed at a much lower pace than in Whistler, having learned from blowing up there and am quite positive, nutrition and heat management went much better on the bike than in Whistler and it can’t be much hotter than there either. My reasoning is solid…for the first 10 km. Once I leave town up Palani hill -despite my personal cheering squad being right there – all kinds of things happen. I feel spent, I have no power, my heart rate is higher than it should be, I feel a bit bloated and have to be careful with the nutrition I take on and I have to change to damage control mode…again, this feels like Whistler all over. This is also where the hard part of the run starts, out on the highway, there will be no shade or moral support for the next 30 km or so…just the lava fields and me (well and the constant stream of faster runners passing me…
I start drinking coke. The magical sugar drink that makes all athletes fast. But even that doesn’t really give me wings (maybe I am mixing up drinks here?) It just helps me maintain a constant but VERY slow forward movement. Somehow, I make I it to the energy lab turnoff, this is traditionally the hottest and most lonely part of the course – a dip down to the ocean with no wind and just scorching heat. My 2 brothers and one of their girlfriends are out there cheering for me – a super confidence booster. I promise myself to not get beat by this island and to not walk in the energy lab…and I am good to that promise…uhm on the downhill to the turn around anyways. On the way back up I understand why this thing is so famous. It is not a big hill and only a few km long, but the wind (if there is any) comes form the back, so it feels like there is no wind. It is hot, hot, hot, and this is not even a hot year by comparison. I can’t even imagine what it must be like in a when it’s actually really hot. Bottom line – the island beats me and I do have to walk stretches of the uphill after all. At the exit my cheering squad is still there and my brother made the math – If I keep up this “pace” I should be making it to the finish line before dark with no problems. That was my self set secondary goal (first one was to finish). So that gives me great confidence right there. It is only 12 km now…really not much in comparison. I can do this!
The rest of the run is uneventful I jog from aid station to aid station walk through, take on coke, cool off with ice and water and soldier on. In what (correctly) feels like an eternity I am back in town and I can finally run down that famous Palani hill and turn onto Ali’i drive, running into the finish chute. It is still broad daylight – mission accomplished. Half way through the chute the whole family gang is there and cheers like crazy, Canada flag and all. I jog by, afraid that if I stop I might not get going again and make it through the finishers arch. I somehow hear the famous words of Mike Reilley “Holger Bohm you are an IRONMAN” but not really. I get snatched up by a support person (not only because I look bad – every finisher gets a volunteer to walk then from the finish line to the nutrition station – or to medical if needed) and get dropped of where the food is. This is it…. I did it…it’s over? Somehow this is all too uneventful right now. I am to flattened to be happy really. I just don’t think I can comprehend what just happened yet. It will come I am sure. I eat a bit, pick up my pre-race bag, get my finisher’s t-shirt and go find the family. I “ran” the marathon in 4 hours and 29 minutes – 10 minutes slower than in Whistler even. Officially the slowest marathon I ever ran. Ironically, I got passed by almost the same amount of people I passed on the bike and finished in 1139th position (out of 2472 starters) so a tad better than half way. Bit of a different story in my age group though. 193rd out of 285 starters….seems like those 40+ year old’s are not that slow…well there is room for improvement and maybe I have a reason to not give up triathlon after all and try this again some day 🙂
For now the family takes me home forces me to clean up and somewhat prepared so we can get back to the finish line for the midnight party – and most importantly Finn’s 10th birthday at midnight and then the actual vacation part of the trip can start…
A week later…I am back in Kimberley unpacking after a long trip home. It is finally sinking in. I have the towel, I have the medal, the hat and the finishers T-shirt. I also have a thousand plus images of Hawaii and the race to chose from and I have to wear a long sleeve shirt because a)it is really cold here and b) my arms are peeling so badly that it looks like I have some kind of skin disease (I should have taken that extra minute in T2 after all and taken some lotion).
All this happened way to fast, even the days after were somehow jam packed with activities, recovery and battling the cold bug that was still going around and I never really got a chance to reflect.
I can’t believe I raced Hawaii…after 22 years of dreaming. With all of my family there supplying the best support one can wish for. On top of all things it was the 40th anniversary of the race, Finns birthday and the best conditions in 40 years.
And just to close the loop….I did my first Ironman in Roth in 1996 at the tender age of 21 which was the year when Lothar Leder was the first guy to brake 8 hours in Ironman history. And here I am 22 years later racing Hawaii for the first time and Patrick Lange breaks 8 hours for the first time in Hawaii Ironman history…it must have something to do with me 🙂
What better than to close this journey with Mike Reilley’s words: “Holger Bohm – you ARE an ironman!”
I think my dad would have been proud.