Grand Kona Slam In The Books!

I admit it.  I’ve been really procrastinating with putting down my thoughts on race day at the Hawaii Ironman, not because it didn’t go well, but because it means that our “little” summer adventure is coming to a close.  L  Whhhhaaaaaaaaaa…   What started on December 10, 2011 (WSER 100 lottery) has now culminated with the inaugural Grand Kona Slam, now officially recorded here thanks to Stan Jensen:   Total time for the 5 races – 91 hours, 18 minutes, 37 seconds.

So, back to business of our time on the Big Island…inbound flights on Tuesday Oct 9th were uneventful despite a departure delay out of San Francisco due to a broken battery charger.  Luckily, they kept us on the plane at the gate while the mechanics fixed it, and we only left about 90 minutes late.  Glad my bubble gum came in handy, no extra charge guys!  I did get to joke with the grumbling passengers behind us that the only reason we were on this flight was because our “private jet” was broken, ha!  The upside of this was our layover in Honolulu was reduced to less than an hour, perfect timing!  After Meredith secured the rental car in Kona and we loaded up our bags and the bike box (thanks to the “Buffalo” Todd Gerlach for the loaner), we made our way to our condo on Ali’i Drive and then a quick trip to Wal-Mart in the evening for the essential items to get us through to the next morning until a more thorough grocery trip at Safeway.

One of the BEST parts of the Hawaii Ironman is the pre-race swims in Kailua Bay at the break of dawn, which we did on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday before the race and even continued the tradition in the couple of days after the race.  Such a gift to be swimming in clear, warm, saltwater with plenty of underwater life to look at and of course the Coffees of Hawaii floating espresso bar.  We even got to swim briefly with a pod of spinner dolphins on Wednesday morning, and also got to meet in person the great folks at at the pier: Chris Frank, Jason Winn, and Mac Brown!

Getting back to the condo gave me time for breakfast and then time to get the Guru Merus out of the bike box and built up, and then a quick shake-out spin on Ali’i Drive to the run turnaround at St. Peter’s Catholic Church and back.  After lunch we hit packet pickup and then back to the condo to chill out.  Love the new bike number mounting “V-tag” and “Eel” that was provided (courtesy of Shimano and , very savvy move by Shimano, especially on SRAM-equipped bikes!) and of course the hands-down coolest bike sticker (Miami Dolphins colors) in all of triathlon found a home on my downtube opposite the one from 2009:

Thursday and Friday were more of the same: early AM swim, breakfast, short bike ride and/or easy run.  I did take a drive up to Kawaihae after dropping Meredith off for a run up Kaloko for a short recon of the start of the climb up to Hawi.  It was nice to get out of the hustle and bustle of town and find a stretch of road with much less car and bike traffic.  I did meet another cyclist who is 72 years old and rides down from Hawi to Kawaihae and back on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and paddle-boards the other 2 days of the week, what a stud!

OK, on to race day…woke up at 4am for breakfast and poked my head out on the lanai and noticed the strong breeze and the swells breaking on the shore just 50 yards from our condo.  Gonna’ be a good one I thought!  Meredith and my sister Nicole dropped me off at body-marking where they actually weighed us pre-race before going to the bike transition area.  (Typically, they have weighed you in at packet pickup a couple of days before.)  Special needs bags dropped, got my bike prepped and loaded, checked on my T1 and T2 bags, and off to reunite with Meredith and Nicole waiting over by the King K hotel to relax and stretch.  It’s here that the magnitude of the day ahead typically hits, I said a silent prayer for a safe race with no issues, and thought about not making any stupid mistakes out there.

This year the pro men’s race started at 6:30am and the women’s pro race started at 6:35am, with the age-groupers going off at 7am.  This afforded plenty of time to get in the water to swim and warm up, and then float near a canoe before the gun went off.  I positioned myself on the very far left of the start line to avoid the inevitable “crush” of swimmers that occurs near the buoys.  Previous years I was more middle of the pack (pretty good) and slightly left (that was a rough one).  Very clean start and found a solid pair of feet to draft off of for the first ¾ of a mile, which I then lost as we merged with another pack of swimmers.  Oh well, it was good while it lasted.  Could definitely feel the swells rolling in which made sighting for the turn point a challenge, but the kayaks did a good job of keeping us pointed in the right direction.  After the turnaround, I noticed a familiar looking face in the water around me, none other than the ‘Croc’ Stephan Schwarze, a friend and Team Jack and Adam’s training partner from Austin!  Small world I thought, and we kept on making our way to the swim exit.  Everything was smooth through T1, and I took extra time to lather up with  sunscreen, as in 2009 I got REALLY sunburned out there which was no fun for a couple of days.  On to the bike and no issues so far!


Coming up Kuakini Highway to the first turnaround Meredith and Nicole were waiting to cheer me in which was great to see them on the way out and then saw them on the downhill coming back into town, all systems go!  After the climb up Palani it was time to settle into a nice rhythm on the Queen K while still being aware of all the other riders out there, cones, wind, rumble strips in the pavement, lost water bottles, etc…all of the stuff that can end your day early.  Made good time up to Waikoloa, and then caught a SCREAMING tailwind on the short section to Kawaihae where my speedo hit 74 kph (46 mph)!  On the climb up to Hawi, I opted for a more “defensive” strategy of trying to maintain proper spacing behind the riders up ahead, and not try and leapfrog my way around them continuously burning needless energy.  Well this worked for a little bit and then we all got bunched up coming up one of the steeper climbs which earned my a nice little red card from the motorbike marshall.  I could not hear her AT ALL over the sound of the motorbike as I asked her a couple of times what the red card was for.  In hindsight, she probably couldn’t hear me either, so I just shook my head and continued riding.  Closer towards Hawi, the crosswinds were pretty wicked, and it’s always nice to make it up to the more protected areas near the turnaround point, after which I grabbed my special needs bag and rolled into the penalty tent.  After checking in, they started a stopwatch for 4 minutes and informed me of a drafting penalty.  I quickly unloaded my special needs items ( bar, gels) into my pockets and a still slushy bottle of Mountain Dew into my bottle cage, and then answered the call of nature right then and there, sweet relief!  After that I got some calories and water down, and it was time to go!

The descent was rather uneventful and goes so much faster than the climb.  I’ll spare you the gory details, but the ride back to Kona was a grind, I kept at it, kept fueling, kept hydrating, kept moving.  Hitting the soft plush carpet at the T2 bike handoff is always a nice moment, and I quickly made my way around the circumference of the pier, grabbed my T2 bag, and into the tent.  Socks and shoes on, visor, race belt, Ziploc bag of gels, another dab of sunscreen on the arms and shoulders, and I was off.  Legs felt good right off the bat, and they easily found a pace reminiscent of a 50 mile or 50k run.  Watch check:  2PM.  Wow, gonna’ take a sub-3 hour marathon to break 10 hours, maybe not this time J !  At the condo at mile 2 on Ali’i Drive and Meredith, Nicole and her 3 kids, and Meghan were all waiting and cheering with BRIGHT pink poster boards “GO UNCLE PAUL!”.  We exchanged low and high fives, and back to the work at hand.  Aid station rituals:  fueling and taking salt tabs on regular intervals, grabbing cups of ice and water, sponges on the head, keep moving.   Before long I was back at the condo for more hooping and hollering, and ten back to work on the steady pace.  No Garmin this time, more running off of feel and not wedded to particular splits.  It’s been a long summer of running at this point and this one is to be enjoyed, soaked up, and savored.  The turn at Hualalai Road comes and goes, and then soon it’s time to ascend Palani Road: quick short steps, don’t redline it, smooth and steady.  Left turn on the Queen K, wow that looks like a long way!  One aid station at a time here.  Getting the solar panels of the Energy Lab finally into sight is a blessing, for there is the left hand turn followed by a bit of downhill.  It’s here, and I’m moving well.  Right turn to the turnaround point and I’m passing folks by the bucketload.  Lots of meltdown here (them not me).  Turnaround point, made it, home stretch!  Grab special needs bag:  gels, small flask of Mountain Dew (not frozen anymore but definitely not boiling hot), and my deployed brother-in-law Ryan’s unit patch.  Let’s get this done.  All while running: Grab a cup of ice (or 2), squirt mtn dew in, drink, repeat, that tastes good!  It’s all gone by the time I’m back on the Queen K and fall in step with another runner whose friend/coach is riding on a bike right next to her.  She’s running GREAT, and I’m going with her.  Though, she clearly is annoyed by this even though it’s her friend/coach that is violating the race rules.  Next aid station she slows and I cruise on by to “Mark and Dave Hill”, pressing with each stride forward.  Legs are feeling good and looking forward to the short, steep downhill on Palani, piece of cake compared to Wasatch!  Floating, thanking, waving, smiling.  Proud of coming this far and still feeling good.  Hualalai again, Ali’i Drive.  A blur of positive noise, cheering, music, clapping.  It all goes so fast no matter how much you slow down.  And yet, the finish line pulls you in faster and faster the closer and closer you get to it.  I don’t want this to end…is it really over?

The finish line handlers are so nice and sweet and dote over you like concerned mothers.  Finish line lei, Bonk Breaker towel, water.  One of my handlers lost her son in combat 3 years ago and we share a moment as I explain the unit patch in my hand.  Photographer takes post-finish line photos (which I have not seen yet).  I don’t want to leave even though it’s a madhouse and I’m hungry and where is Meredith?  Expecting to see her soon I continue through to the King K beach/pool area but friends/family are not allowed in here this year, well that’s a bummer.  Finisher’s shirt, hat, and medal.  Chocolate milk, slice of so-so pizza.  Walk back to the pool area, I see her up by the pool!  Reunited. We’ve done it!

As always, thank you for reading and for ALL of your encouragement and support!

P.S. The final reward, Real Ale Devil’s Backbone Tripel Ale, VERY tasty!

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3 Responses to Grand Kona Slam In The Books!

  1. Mark Lindsey says:

    Loved following your adventure. Can’t wait to see what’s next.

  2. Pingback: Fri, Nov 2 |

  3. Pingback: 2012 Paul Terranova First to Complete Grand Kona Slam | Hill Country Trail Runners

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