2005 Ironman Hawaii race report- AJ Johnson
If you live to be 80 years old, you will have spent 698,880 hours on earth. My race at Ironman Hawaii took me a total of 9:22:36, just a fraction of my potential life span. But what a difference that fraction can make.
I arrived in Kona on October 8, one week before the big day. My best friend Ryan and I had a direct flight from Denver and settled in to the Kona Seaside Hotel. Our accomodations were right by the Pier. It was a perfect location. While there were some Ironman athletes around, it was still pretty light and getting in and out of the water for my morning swims was easy. While I spent the day resting or doing short rides and runs, Ryan was driving all around the Big Island seeking out waterfalls and places off the beaten path. Things went smoothly, I registered on Tuesday, and was getting good sleep every night. Since we were trying to do things on a budget, Ryan had brought his camping stove along and each night we would boil water and have rice or pasta and add boiled chicken in for protein. Breakfast was oatmeal or cereal as our room had a small fridge, and we ate a lot of PB&J’s for lunch. Thankfully on Wednesday my parents arrived and we moved to a condo about 1 mile south of the pier. It was more of the same, eat, sleep, run a bit.
I did drive out to Hawi and rode the final miles of the climb to the turnaround. Although I remember it from 2004, I wanted it fresh in my mind so I would have no surprises on race day. Thursday my wife Courtney came in and finally the whole gang was in Hawaii. I love having everyone there with me. It’s so fun to be able to share this experience with those you care about. I was pretty calm all week. I knew that I had put in all the solid training I needed and had no doubts on my preparation. Besides, what can you do in 3 days to make things different? I had all of my transition and special needs bags prepped and ready. I went through them about 5 times to make sure everything was in place and then took them down Friday night for T1 and T2 bag drop off and bike check in. It all went accordingly and it was back to the condo for pasta and chicken. I always have pasta and chicken the night before a race. We gathered around the table, my dad made a little toast, and dug in. Around 8 I retired to the bedroom to watch Gladiator on my computer. I went to bed around 9 and slept well 3:45 came early and I didn’t need all 4 alarms that I set.
I got up, and went straight to the kitchen for breakfast. Breaky consists of 1/2 cup Bear Mush (think Cream of Wheat) with 1/2 a banana and some honey. After that I sip on some PowerBar Endurance until about 30 minutes till start. My dad dropped us off as near as he could to the pier. Court, Ryan and I walked the last 1/4 mile to the start. Ryan went off on his own after wishing me good luck and Court and I got in the line for special needs drop off and body marking. Since Court is photographer she has a media pass that let’s her come into transition with me. It’s great because not only do I have someone to chat with, but she can help carry the bags, pump, water bottle and other stuff I lug around. I got to my bike, pumped up the tires, filled my AeroDrink, made sure the shoes were in the right spot and the bike was in the right gear and headed out. Now I have an hour to kill before I need to get in the water. Unfortunately, Courtney and I got separated and I couldn’t find her. I made my way to the spot my parents and I agreed on and waited. I did some stretching and arm circles and hope Court would show up before the start.
My parents arrived and we took some last minute photos. Unfortunatlely Court never showed. It was the first time ever that I didn’t see her before the start of a race. I took of my wedding ring, kissed it and put it in my bag, I normally would hand it to Court. I tell her that I race to get back to my ring and her, so it was odd not having her there. 6:40 and time to get in the water. There are 1800 people trying to get in at once so it’s congested to say the least. I bumped into a good friend of mine and client named Gary. He and I waded in to our knees and watched the pros jostled for positon. I turned to Gary and told him what I always tell myself during a race or hard training day, “Where would you rather be today?” Here we are at the pinnacle of Ironman racing and it was great. We wished each other good luck and swam into the Pacific. In 2004 I started right up front on the inside, and it didn’t work well. So I started up front, just on the outside. All 1800 age group competitors were bobbing in the water and you could feel the electricity.
Without warning the cannon fired and off we went. There was the usual contact, with one individual trying to punch me in the side to make room for himself. After a little hand to hand combat I got a bit of clear water and moved up. I didn’t see any buoys for a while, but I had about twenty people to my left and right so I knew I was on course. I caught a good draft and just waited to hit land.
We finally got back to the pier and I crossed the mat in just under an hour. The change tent was crazy. Lots of guys all rushing to get on helmets, sunglasses, race tops and get out to their bike. My transition was uneventful and I got out to my bike and on my way. The first 10 miles or so are done as a loop in town and they are very fast. I hit mile 5 and saw my parents cheering by the side of the road. I hit the turnaround point, saw the family again and made my way out to the Queen K. Early on I just try to settle in, get some calories down and find a rhythm. I downed 1/2 a PowerBar after 30 minutes and settled in for a long ride. I had a lot of guys going by me at this point. I knew from last year that the winds don’t pick up until 25 miles past town so I bided my time. Well, the winds didn’t pick up like they normally do. I debated on pushing a bit more, but the winds can pick up any time and turn a great ride into a suffer-fest in a hurry. I kept downing my PowerBars, Endurance and salt tablets on a regular interval. My stomach was fine, the legs were good and my pace was faster than I was hoping for. The last miles to the turnaround in Hawi the wind picked up a little, but it was nothing like 2004. I spun up to Hawi and grabbed my special needs bag. I grabbed more Endurance, another PowerBar and a PowerGel. I made my way back to town. The winds stayed calm and it was a fast ride in. I stood up a bit on the climbs to stretch my back and use some different muscles. I finished the ride in 5:10, around what I was hoping for.
In to the tent again for another manic change. I put on new top, slipped on shoes, my D3 visor, sunglasses and a volunteer put some Vaseline under my arms. On my way out some volunteers lathered me up with sunscreen and I was ready to go. For the first few miles I just settled in to a pace that I was comfortable with and let the legs go. They came around really quick and I felt good from the start. The first 10 miles are an out and back along the shore. This is the only spot where there are spectators. It’s relatively flat with a few rollers. There’s a good amount of shade, but no wind to keep you cool. My stomach was good and the Coke and water were going down well. Through this portion I felt great and would pick out a runner ahead, focus on them until I passed them, and found another target. I made my way up Palani Road, a steep incline about 1/4 mile long. There’s a lot of people cheering on this section because it’s slow and painful, perfect for spectating. You make a left on to the Queen K again and start the long 5.5 mile section to the Natural Energy Lab. This portion of the run can be brutal. There’s no shade, no crowd and it’s mostly a slight uphill. I had run this section earlier in the week to be mentally prepared for this part. I saw Ryan on the road with his camera and he cheered me on. I hit the 1/2 way point of the run and saw that I was on pace for a 3:05 marathon. This really got me motivated and I just wanted to hold things together. I felt great and kept picking off groups of runners. Making the left down into the Energy Lap I saw my friend and occasional training partner, Michael Lovato. He was obviously having a tough day and struggling to move forward. I gave him some words of encouragement as I went by and he gave me some words of encouragement. The bottom of the Energy Lab is the hottest point of the race. The air gets hot and heavy and it seems like the temperature goes up 10 degrees. Coming out of the Energy Lab I knew that if I could just hold it together I’d have a great time. With 10k to go I just focused on each aid station. I kept taking Coke, water and Gatorade at every station. The final mile of the run is great, except for the hard downhill going down Palani Road. It is murder on your quads after 24 miles. I knew I was going to finish, and have a new PR to boot. Coming down Ali’i Dr. was amazing. I was giving the fans high fives and pumping my fist. I saw my parents again and gave my dad a high five. I was looking for Courtney since she is always at the finish line and saw her with her camera in hand, snapping photos. As I crossed the line she and two volunteers came to help me. I grabbed Courtney and hugged her as hard as I could. One volunteer put a lei around my neck and the other gave me a towel. I put my arm around Courtney and started to make my way to the food.
I had just run a 3:06 marathon to finish in 9:22:36. It was over an hour faster than my time last year, and a new IM P.R. by 20 minutes. I couldn’t believe what I had just done and I was in disbelief. I saw my parents and gave them the biggest hug I could manage. Ryan showed up and we were all back together after a long day. After a few pieces of pizza, I walked to the table to get my finisher’s medal and shirt. I started to feel a bit dizzy so I went to the med tent and put my feet up for a bit. I felt better so we made our way to a restaurant that overlooks the finish line. I ordered a burger, fries and the biggest Coke I could get. It was great to finally relax and enjoy looking back on an amazing day. After dinner Courtney, Ryan and I made our way to the finish and watched people come in for an hour. It was really cool to see some of the over 60 competitors come in. They are truely inspirational. We made our way back to the condo and it was time for bed.
The next week was spent sleeping in, body-surfing and eating. It was a great way to recover from the effort and spend time with my family. I couldn’t have imagined a better trip. The race was more than I dared to dream of and an experience I will never forget.