Monday, November 10, 2008

Race Report from Kona

My friend Tom Begg went to Kona this year for the race. He sent me these amazing photos and awesome race report detailing the experience from the 2008 Hawaii Ironman. Thanks Tom!

"We arrived in Kona, Hawaii on Thursday at 2:00AM, after 26 hours and 20 minutes of travel time. The race was to take place Saturday at 7:00AM, and I had a lot to do. Checking in and getting my bike put together were my first priorities. I met Donna Adamoli, my friend, who was also participating in the race, in the lobby of the hotel where we both waited in line to check in. Next up was to get the bike put together. (For those people that know me, I am not the most mechanical person in the sport. So, I needed lots of help... and fast.) I decided that the bike store was too far away so I would take my chance at the expo. I made a bee-line for the Trek booth (the maker of my bike), and asked if they could but my bike together for me. He agreed, and finally I was good to go. Next, I bought a few things at the expo. I ended up buying everything with the "Ironman Kona" logo plastered across it... so I had to finish the race.

The day before the race, at the at bike check, there were about 250 volunteers and 12 photographers. They were writing down what kind of bike you had, gear, etc. I heard one of them talking about my bike, that it was the first bike he had ever seen with NY Jets stickers on it. The volunteer walked me through the transition area and told me where to go and what to do on race day. At this moment, the exhilaration started to rush through me - I was really doing this race. When I got back to the hotel, the family decided to do the swim course with me. So, we headed out from the hotel and made our way to the swim start, where everything was full of energy. Many athletes with their orange bracelets were doing the swim course. My family and I spotted a boat off in the distance,with people gathered around it. "What could that be?" I thought to myself. I pointed the boat out to my family, and we decided to swim out to it. So, we swam about ½ mile to what turned out to be a boat where people were serving coffee. It was a unique concept, and it added to the thrill that Kona brought for me. Looking down at the crystal clear water filled with coral and tropical fish, I truly felt like I was in paradise. I was so glad that my family was with me during this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

One of the reasons I stayed in a hotel 5 miles from the start was to get a good night's sleep before the race. However, the front desk did not get my memo. There was a party with blasting music going on outside the hotel which lasted until about 10:30. I fell asleep just as the party ended, around 11:00. I guess my worries had overtaken me, because I awakened at 2:15 AM. I figured that while I was up I should eat my breakfast. After lots of tossing and turning, I could not get back to sleep. After two hours at this, I woke up the family at 4:20am. We all left the hotel at 4:45am to get the race.

We walked from the parking lot to the finish line/swim start together... I said goodbye to them and headed off to the starting line. You knew it was the day of the Ironman when there were thousands of people scurrying around town at 4:45 AM. It is rare to feel so much energy and excitement this early in the morning. I said goodbye to the family and got a good luck kiss from my wife. The last thing she said was "Death before DNF; don't come back unless you finish." I said, "I love you too," and kissed the family goodbye. I dropped off my special need bike & run bags, then off to get body marked. I filled the ties up, got stretched out by an ART person and then I was ready to go....40 minutes to the start. I just looked around and took it all in. When I walked over to drop off my final bag of clothes, I saw my friends Donna Adamoli and Mike Llerandi from NJ. I also saw Greg Welch and the queen of Kona, Paula Newby-Frazer. The day before, Welchy & I had talked about meeting 17 years earlier (1991) in Atlanta Georgia at Super Show. Greg was known for wining this event, as well as for his sense of humor. I told him his finishing photo at this race in '94 was my all time favorite IM finisher photo.

As I was walking to the start I saw Mark Allen and then I asked him, "Any final advice for a rookie? He said "ENJOY the experience; you never know when you will do this again." I thanked him and made my way to the ocean. I saw Chrissy Willington was putting on her cap so I patted her on her back and said good luck! (Like she needed that from me.)

I wore my Glen Rock TRI tie-dye shirt onto the beach and waited until final moments to take it off and throw it to John Blaze's dad. He said to me, "Take John with you during the race".
I took a final look around and thought how lucky I was to be here competing after watching this event on TV for the last 15+ years, and how thankful I was for all the support and well wishes from family and friends. I had one goal: finish.

The water is where I feel most comfortable, so I was looking forward to the swim; my goal was 1:20:00. I decided to go to towards the middle. We treaded water for about 12 minutes. A person with one leg was leaning on a surfboard with 5 other swimmers, and one of the guys had done the 1st Kona Ironman 30 years ago. They started waving the red flags...then the cannon went off. I had a huge adrenaline rush and began my race at 7:00am. It was the usual kicking and splashing. It was like swimming in a tropical aquarium. Beautiful colored fish everywhere. Thousands of people clapping and screaming, helicopters over head. I couldn't believe it was actually happening.

I finished the swim in just under 1:20 and took my time through transition 1. After a nice rinse-off the volunteers gave me my bike bag, water, put sun screen on me, and gave me a banana. (This was a little different than most races, where you are on your own.) As I left transition 1, I saw my wife and kids, and said to them, "See you in 7 hours." I was off to the lava fields. I had no idea where the bike course was, so I just followed everyone else. The sun was starting to get blazing hot, and at that moment I knew that I wasn't in NJ anymore. The start of the bike course goes through town, and you could see the crowd clapping and yelling. Then it is up a hill and out of sight.

The volunteers at this event were great, and they helped me throughout the day. Over 5,000 make the pilgrimage every year. I had seen the bike course many times on TV, but had never been on it and had no idea where it went. I just knew it was 112 miles in the hot sun through the lava fields. If you have seen the course on TV, it is pretty desolate, not much to look at, so the rest stops turned out to be my entertainment for the next few hours. I had fun at each rest stop, throwing my bottles into the bottle catch and getting kudos from the kids who said "Nice shot." (You had to throw your water bottle into a small bucket as you rode, trying not to hit other bikers. I made about 6 out of 18 that day.

The bike was going along fine until the I hit about mile 58, where the wind was kicking up and just about blowing me off the road. I held on for dear life for the next hour. At this point, my internal check engine light went on. I was pedaling as hard as I could, going 9 MPR up a hill with wind pushing me down. I held onto my handlebars as hard as I could and just prayed I would not crash. Up until this point I averaged about 15mph (my goal) and was doing OK. Now my 7 hour (15mph goal) went out the window and I just wanted to finish. I had no idea when the bike/swim cut-off was, so I started asking people, but no one knew until I met my new friend. I don't know her name but we rode together for many miles; she was 62, and she knew the cut-off time--5:30pm. She would ask me what mile mark we were at, how much time we had left etc. I assured her we were doing fine and would make the bike cut-off.

My next thought was, "Where the heck is the turnaround?" It seemed to be a million miles from the swim finish. When I got to the turnaround in Hawi, I stopped to pick up my special needs and go to the bathroom. We were joined by another rider, a 65 year old who looked like he had crashed during the race.

I had about a 1 hour cushion to make it, but was worried that if I got a flat, I was done. (I can barely change one in less than 30 minutes) So when I saw the bike safety crew I yelled " better follow me, I may need your help."

The last few miles were tough, but it was so good to be back into Kona. I could see a lot of the runners already on the course, andI knew it would be getting dark in the next few hours.
I saw my family and then got off my bike and handed it to the volunteer, I said "you can have my bike, I never want to ride that thing again." It had been 8 long hours in the hot sun.

My plan was to get to the ART guy and get stretched out, so I yelled "I need your best ART guy." The guy I said that to laughed and said, "I work the Olympics." I said, "Cool, let's go." We went into the T2 locker room and stretched me out. I grabbed my run bag and some water and was out the door in 12 minutes.

I started on the run and saw the family again; the first 8 miles snake through the town of Kona, giving you a lot of energy. A woman from Canada passed me, and then I passed her, and then we ran 6 miles together. We had a pretty good pace. She was also a lottery pick. Then another lottery pick joined us and people kept yelling "The 3 musketeers look great!" (I know they lied, because I was tired and knew I had 18 more miles to go.)

I had to slow down my pace so I said good bye to my new friends and was on my own again. As I ran down the Queen K, it started to get dark. I grabbed a glow stick and kept going.
The water stations were great because they gave you so much energy. There were 20 people at each one handing out water, soup, Gatorade, etc. I was on a lonely stretch on a pitch-dark road with cars whizzing by, and the field starting to thin out at mile 15. I would run with different people for short periods of time. I met a 71-year-old male from Canada who had won his age group at his 2 previous IM races; I met another lottery pick from Scotland who was just trying to keep going.

The next goal was the Energy Lab (As my son TJ says, it's an oxymoron--it takes the energy form you to go through it. When I approached her, my knees were starting to hurt. I got 2 Ibuprofen from the medical staff, and asked if they had 2 ice packs I could put on my knees to run with. He laughed and said "No, sorry." By this time is was so dark I got 7 more glow sticks and put them on my neck, arms, sticking out everywhere. People kept laughing and calling me the Glow Stick Man. I said I did not want to chance getting hit by a car, runner or hand cyclist.
On the way back to town and the final 8 miles, I looked at my watch and tried to do the math--what miles per hour did I need to run/shuffle to make the 17 hour cut off? I did that calculation 20 times over the next hour.

I met a nice 62 year old women from White Plains at the 21-mile mark, and we ran together for 3 miles. She told me she taught PE and was going to retire this year. I another women, 61, who passed us, and my new friend was off--she said he wanted to beat her (same age group.)

I just kept going until I could see the lights of Kona. As I got within 1 mile I knew it was going to make it. People kept yelling at me and the others, clapping. One lady said to drop the glow sticks for the photo, which I did. As I hit the final ¼ mile I could see this huge party going on. There was music blaring, cameras, and everyone was going crazy. It was what I had dreamed of years ago as I watched Hoyt push his son Rick through the finish, Julie Moss duck walk, Peter Reid, Tim Deboom, John Blaze, Chrissy Willington and Chris McCormack.

I picked up the pace, slapping the hands of the crowd. I could hear AC/DC 's "Hell's Bells" blaring, and I felt like a rock star. I sprinted the final distance with everything I had, and heard Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, say "Tom Begg from him Glen Rock, NJ, you are an Ironman! Now that's he way to finish an Ironman. My family was there to great me, and my dream had come true. I received my lei and then they walked me to the desk where I received my hat and t-shirt.

My family I walked back to the car at 11:15; they had been up since 4:15 AM. They wanted to get to bed, but we had to walk through the crowd and the finish line. The music was blaring and there was so much energy that we stayed until 12:10 clapping, yelling and dancing. It was a great ending to 15-year dream."

-Tom Begg

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