For starters, I apologize in advance for how long this is. However, I felt it was worth sharing the full experience and journey to get across the line this year.
After Ironman Texas, I was in an interesting spot. I was fit, but I knew my 3rd child would coming along in less than 2 months. My original goal was to make sure I stay on top off my training so that I could be as fit as possible leading into his birth, minimize the loss of fitness around his birth, and then do my best to be as best prepared as I could for Kona. This was going to make training hard for sure, but battling through the challenges is what I strive on doing. I decided that doing the Patriot Half would be way to keep me motivated and would be a great opportunity to do a fun, local race.
While we were starting to outgrow our home in Bedford and had discussed maybe moving sometime soon, we decided that we would probably consider making moving next year and not right around when the baby was going to be born. However, that did not hold true and wife and I decided to throw another monkey wrench into the mix. There was a house in Brookline, NH that my wife had been eying/dreaming about for months. She showed it to me one time and I laughed a little when I saw the price as it was way outside of our price range. However, the price was continuing to drop and by early June, the house dropped into the top price point that we could afford. I can’t explain how excited my wife was about this house and at that point, I don’t think I could have said no even if I didn’t love the house myself. We ended up having our offer accepted on the house and that meant we had to sell our house very quickly. Seeing how we had our 3rd child due in a month, we decided to move in with my Mom (the house I grew up in) and “stage” our house in Bedford. So within just over a week, we moved tons of stuff out of Bedford, truckload by truckload, got our current house into a showable state, and we’re living back in Pepperell! I was going nonstop to trying and get everything done which was very stressful and time consuming. This ended up being the 10 days prior to the Patriot Half…
I was really on the fence about whether I should attempt to race or not. I was both mentally and physically drained, but decided to give it a go. I tried to stay positive, but getting up to go to the race was even a struggle, which is extremely rare for me as I’m using chomping at the bit to get to races on race morning. Long story short, I had a pretty terrible swim, a rough bike, and called it a day about a mile into the run. While that was the 4th DNF of my triathlon career, the first two were due to mechanical issues on the bike, and the 3rd was because I ended up having pneumonia and I ended up at the hospital. However, this one was different. It was the first time that I stopped because I just didn’t have it. I am saddened to admit that I was even stressing on the bike about how much work I had to do when I got home and was questioning when I was going to have time to get it done. I normally really strive on being positive and making the best of every situation during the race, but I just couldn’t manage to do that on that day. I was filled with negative thoughts and just didn’t have the desire to struggle through to probably a 7th or 8th place finish. So I got out there as quickly as I could, got home, and got to work. I was pretty disappointed and mainly thought about my clients, club members, my kids and what kind of example I was being to them. The past is the past and I try not to dwell on it too much, but in retrospect, I should not have went to the start line of that race. I had too many stressors in my life, which I should have accepted and decided to skipped the race. However, I mention all this to make sure people recognize that life stressors have a HUGE impact on our mental state and our performance levels.
From there, I took it relatively easy for the next couple weeks and tried to get back to normal state. Things we actually going quite well at my Mom’s house and it was fun training back where I grew up. We also prepared and highly anticipated the birth of our 3rd child.
On July 8th, Gabriel Carlton Cook was born. Everything went smoothly with the delivery and my wife did amazing as usual (all 3 of our boys were born without her taking an epidural!!!). Gabriel was quite calm and was a dream throughout our time in the hospital.
I have often said that the first 3 months after the birth are the hardest. Ironically, Gabriel Carlton Cook was born 3 months to the day before Kona. Life with 3 children hasn’t been easy. However, I have really enjoyed being able to spend time and play with my boys. Calvin is old enough now that we’re able to go on bike rides together and actually play, which you can’t really do as much when they’re younger. We did have the luxury of having some significant help from my Mom for a good portion of the time we spent living with her. However, she did some traveling while we were there.
I did plan to do Timberman as a tune up prior to Kona. I love that race and its definitely the largest race we have in NH so I will pride myself on being a part of that event. I had to travel Tuesday-Thursday the week prior to the race and me not being around to help was definitely wearing on my wife when I got home. When I told her my plan was to head out again first thing Saturday morning and I wouldn’t be home until late Sunday night, let’s just say I didn’t get the best of looks from her. I knew how important of an event this was for our triathlon community, I had the majority of my clients racing, and that I was supposed to help out Ironman University. However, I could see how tired she was and that she really needed some help. As a result, I skipped the race and stayed home to help her and be with the boys. I’d be lying if this ended up being a no brainer, easy decision for me as I really wanted to be at the event, but I knew it was the right decision for my family and I do not regret my decision. There are more important things in life than triathlons.
My motivation again took a hit from missing Timberman, but I got back to some regular training and was excited for Kona over the next few weeks. With that, I still had to prep and take care of the move to Brookline to manage. We closed on the house on 8/31 and started to move right in. I did hire some movers to help, but I probably should have went with another company as I ended up staying up until 1:30am with the owner of the moving company the first night putting furniture together because they were already booked and weren’t willing to come back the next day (and never did really finish the job). While I thought we were prepared for the move and moving is never fun, it was a ton of work and even when heading to Kona a few weeks later, we were still not really completely moved in. We LOVE our new home and I am very happy we made the move, but my training took a significant hit for sure.
There were times over this stretch where I strongly considered not racing in Kona this year. Kristen was saying that she wasn’t sure she wanted to go because of the move and how busy we were. I told her I refused to go without her as she has come the 3 previous times. We also couldn’t decide if we did go and which one of our children would be coming. I would have loved to take everyone, but it is a very long trip and also very expensive. In the end, we decided we would just take Gabriel. Eli ended up spending most of his time with my mother in law while Calvin spent most of the time with my mother. While I was disappointed not to bring them, we are extremely fortunate to have family such great grandparents for the boys so close to us.
The Actual Trip to Kona
Our venture to Kona started on September 30th when we headed to LA for the weekend. One of my best friends from college was getting married so we spent the weekend in LA so we could attend the wedding. On that topic, I am pretty sure I set the date for his wedding about a year ago. When we were chatting, he told me they were considering October 1st or October 8th. When I heard that, I told him, “Well, if you want us to come, it will need to be October 1st because we’ll be in Kona on the 8th.” Sure enough, he got back to me not long after that telling me they would be having the wedding on the 1st.
Gabriel was AMAZING during the 2 flights and didn’t cry at all. Literally. That was very nice and made for some pretty comfortable travel. However, neither Kristen or I are really big city folks these days (especially her) and sitting in rush hour LA traffic on a Friday night really confirmed that as it took us over an hour to go 8-10 miles. However, we did have a fantastic weekend. The wedding was awesome, I got the opportunity to swim with Gerry Rodriguez and the Tower 26 crew (Gerry pic), and also ride my bike through Malibu and the California coast line which was pretty incredible.
There was a major blunder involved during our time in LA. One of my clients Mike Bukowski was nice enough to let me borrow a pair of his Zipp wheels for the race that was going to save me from having to rent a pair since I only have a disc wheel for rear race wheels, which are illegal during the race in Kona. So long story short, I kept taking my bike in and out of the cab of the truck for security reasons when we were either driving or parked. Well one time I managed to leave the front wheel on the side of the truck and partially run it over. As soon as I hear the sound of me hitting it, I knew exactly what is was. This put me in a pretty bad spot. Not only did I ruin one of my client’s wheels, I also now didn’t have a front wheel to race on. I ended up renting a paid of Zipp 808 NSW’s which was cool, but that cost me $280 and I still need to buy Mike a new wheel. Ultimately it will be a $1000+ mistake. Ouch! Sorry Mike!!!
After the weekend in LA, we had a direct flight to Kona that got us into Kona on Sunday afternoon. This meant we had 5 fun days on the island before the race which ended up being really nice. We didn’t do much during the week. We didn’t rent a car and outside of going out to dinner with the Piper’s (Thanks Jim!!!) and lunch with some friends and another client, we just laid pretty low, ate well, and got some rest. Gabriel continued to be a real angel throughout the week, which was great. I had a few functions with Ceepo and some of other vendors that we’re a lot of fun.
This was a very unique situation for me mentally leading into this race. While I had a little bit of doubt about my fitness going into Ironman Texas, I knew without a doubt that my fitness was not where I wanted it to be heading into this race. Given how challenging the conditions are for this race, I was struggling. I certainly wanted to do my best, but there is no substitute for hard work and putting in the time to truly prepare for an Ironman, nonetheless the Ironman World Championships. I knew a Kona PR was pretty much out of the question. This was the first time I had headed into an Ironman not expecting to PR. Given this was my 12th attempt at completing an Ironman over quite a few years that was really tough to swallow. Nonetheless, I decided to just go out there with no expectations. There was nothing I could do about my fitness level at that point and all I could do is go out there, enjoy the experience, and give it my all. I realize how lucky I am to have been able to compete in this race 4 times.
The Actual Race
My swim volume leading up to the race is what I would consider to be embarrassingly low. I would need to go back to my training logs to confirm, but I would say that I averaged maybe 2 swims a week, but there were a few weeks were I was only getting 1 swim in a week. This was due to a combination of life at home, travel for work, being a bit nervous about my bike and run volume. However, one very smart thing that I did do in my prep was joining the Granite State Penguins so that I could swim with a group. Swimming with a group can be very beneficial and help you push your limits in the pool. I look forward to continuing to swim with them when I can.
I decided to line up towards the right hand side of the start about 3 rows back. When the gun went off, there was plenty of contact and congestion with others, but it wasn’t too bad. The challenging thing about Kona is you have so many swimmers at similar swimming abilities that you often have congestion and a lot of contact throughout the entire swim. This year’s swim was no different. I would find relatively short pockets of time when I could swim without hitting someone else, but then all of a sudden it would be completely congested for a bit. I did really try to focus on drafting of others when I could, but my primary focus this year was staying relaxed. I focused on technique, counting my strokes, but just tried to stay in the moment so I could enjoy this awesome swim.
The swim seemed to go by faster than I expect. As a approached the pier, I was looking forward to getting out of the water and getting out onto the bike. As I popped up out of the water and saw 1:02:xx, I was completely shocked! That was my fastest Kona swim to date! I was planning to be happy to get out of the water in under 1:10 so I was pumped!
Transition 1: 4:30
While I would have liked T1 to be a bit faster, the tent was very crowded. I am also a believer in covering yourself in the heat. As a result, I wore long compression socks and arm coolers. I was able to work the arm coolers onto my arms while I was running to my bike, but the socks can be a bit challenging to get on. I also had to pack a bunch of Glukos gels in my tri suit pocket and really wanted to make sure I got them down in there so I didn’t lose them.
I did make the mistake of not leaving my helmet in my T1 bag. I had it in there as I headed into bike check in the day before, but they made me take it out during the check in and I was under the impression it needed to be with our bikes. It would have been easier if I put it on while I was running to my bike. As the pictures from the ride show, for the first time in Kona, I decided to wear my aero helmet.
Bike Split: 5:21:54
I knew I wanted to keep it quite conservative heading out on the bike. Given my lack of swimming and the swim being a non wetsuit swim, I knew my legs may be a bit more tired than they should have been. I knew I would be in big trouble if I headed out riding too hard. This bike course can be a very demoralizing place if you push too hard early in this race. So with that, my goal was to average around 225-235 watts consistently on the bike (as opposed to the 250 watts I averaged in 2014).
There is always a bit of drafting as you loop around in and out of town. Its nearly impossible not to draft in a few sections because you’re riding 3 bikes wide at times and its just extremely crowded. However, I didn’t get aggressive at all there and just went with the flow. There are some people trying to weave through the crowd and it can be quite dangerous. This section of the course should be changed. Yes, it is nice to allow the fans to see everyone before they head out of town for a while, but all this section does is bunch people up and open up the opportunity for packs to be formed early on in the bike.
Once I got out on the Queen K, I really tried to get into a groove. I seemed to be getting passed a bit more than I was passing people, but I had absolutely no problem with it. Just stayed in my little box and focused on what I could control and that was my power/effort level and trying to maintain a good aero position as much as possible. My heart rate was gradually going down and I felt pretty good. However, my legs still start to feel a little fatigue about 20-25 miles into the ride which definitely made me a bit nervous.
Somewhere around mile 30 or so, I got passed by a HUGE pack of riders. There were at least 3 riders wide and about 5-6 rows back, all wheel to wheel. As they passed me, I yelled out “What is this an ITU race?” in frustration. I don’t recall ever seeing a pack that large and clearly that deliberate pass me before. This is disappointing on many levels. Primarily as an athlete, its tough to see that group slowly pass by, but it also frustrates me as a race official. To that point, I hadn’t seen any race officials. However, I am very happy to report that a few minutes after the pack passed by me, a race official rode by and I was able to see the official penalize some of the riders in the pack. That being said, I was really disappointed with what I saw on the course this year and really think Ironman needs to make a change to their current penalty system. We discussed this for a while during Age Grouper For Life Episode #8 if anyone is interested.
The winds did not seem too bad this year. That is certainly a relative term, but I remember that being worse certainly the first year I raced there in 2012. We seemed to have a tailwind most of the time on the way out to the turnaround, but there were a few sections when there was a strong headwind. However, there always seems to be a really strong headwind when you climb up towards the turnaround in Hawi,
As I approached the turnaround, I felt like I was in a decent position. I did decide to carry Skratch with me and dump into my aero bottle like I did in all my races this year and it only confirmed again that this is what is best for me. It does stink having to carry all of it, but agrees with my system so my better than Gatorade does. My Glukos gels and bars were going down smoothly. I was a bit slower than I would have hoped at I think I approached the turnaround at about the 2:45 mark.
As usual, the tailwind heading out of Hawi was helpful and got me out of there quickly. However, I did realize I hadn’t peed yet and I was concerned. I did try a few times, but it wasn’t happening. I don’t want to get too graphic here, but let’s just say that I don’t think I could have peed without something coming out the other end. For the first ever on an Ironman bike course, I really need to stop and hit a porta potty. Unfortunately to my dismay, there was not a single porta potty that I saw the entire way back to the transition area. I kept going aid station to aid station hoping to see one, but never did. I am quite baffled by this and don’t know why Ironman wouldn’t have some facilities at each aid station as I thought that was pretty standard. As a result, I did not pee the entire ride and my stomach was not feeling as good as it normally does. I can’t say it felt bad, but it definitely would have appreciated a pit stop.
So despite not hitting a porta potty, the ride back to the pier was relatively uneventful. My legs never felt awesome, but they never really got any worse which I was quite happy about. The only issue I had was I did drop one of my tubes of Skratch when I was getting it out of one of my bags. This did cause me to ride the 45 minutes to an hour consuming just water. I should have packed at least one more container as I probably would have ran out even if I didn’t drop the one container. However, I felt alright heading towards transition and was looking forward to getting off the bike.
Transition 2: 5:08
When I got off my bike, my legs felt alright. I’ve certainly have had them feel worse coming off the bike in some previous races. However, my top priority was getting to a porta potty. There were plenty in transition so I was able to get in one and take care of business without having to wait at all, which was nice. I did feel a bit better after that. However, I went a bit slower than I normally do in T2. I am not thrilled with my T2 time, but I wouldn’t have done much differently.
Run Split: 3:43:17
Then I was off the run. That’s always my strength, right? Well spoiler alert…it was not my strength today! I knew my run fitness was not where it had been in the past, but I still thought I could throw down a decent run. If I practiced what I preached and went out conservatively, I should be able to hold it together and at least run a sub 3:30 marathon. I actually did some quick math as I was heading out on the run and realized that if I did run a sub 3:30 marathon, I should end up around the 10 hour mark.
The first mile was a bit faster than I wanted as I planned to head out a 7:45- 8 min pace, but my heart rate was where I wanted it to be and I felt pretty good for the first few miles. It is obviously very hot, but running along Ali’i. is awesome. I was able to see Gabriel and give my wife a kiss before leaving town, which was great.
I seemed to hold it together quite well till the turnaround point of Ali’i. However, as I headed back into town, I could feel my current pace being a bit of a struggle. I backed off a bit to ensure I didn’t let my heart rate get too high. I focused on getting my fluids and food in trying to enjoy the experience. I was happy to see Gabe and my wife again.
This year, I made the strategic decision beforehand that I would speed walk up the Palani Dr. hill. It’s a pretty substantial climb and a very easy way to really spike your heart rate if you’re not super fit and have a very strong run fitness level. I stuck to my plan and I am very glad I did so. Despite doing so and having my heart rate relatively low, I can’t say I was super motivated to head out on the Queen K to run another 16 miles. The Queen K is extremely challenging as there is no crowd support, its wide open with literally zero ground cover, and you’re starting to fatigue.
Within a mile or so of running on the Queen K, I met up with my soon to be new friend Mikael Nelker. Mikael appeared to be going into the Ironman shuffle as well and we started chatting. He had a bit of an accent, but he spoke English well and we both seemed to be in the same mental state and both had families. He seemed to be running a bit slower than I was so I tried to motivate him to keep on going. This worked well and we drudged along for a few miles running about an 8-8:15 pace. We both knew this wasn’t going to be our best race on the island, he was racing for the 3rd time, and just wanted to get through it.
As we approached the energy lab, I really started to fade. Come to find out, I really hadn’t taken in any gels or chews for nearly an hour! I am quite embarrassed that I managed to be so stupid, but I was in a different state than I normal am at this point in an Ironman. Normally at this point I am passing people and feeling strong. That was not the case today and it turned into more of a battle for completion.
As we headed out of the energy lab, I really started to fade. We started walking the aid stations and the tables had turned to where now Mikael was significantly helping me and I was now the one trying to hold onto him. He even handed me a few things at the aid stations and pushed me to get back to running between the aid stations.
The run back on the Queen K was rough to say the least. I didn’t really even want to run, but kept pushing through. We start taking a bit longer walks at the aid stations, but we’re running from aid station to aid station. My hips were getting extremely tight, but thanks to Mikael, I kept shuffling along at about an 8-8:15 pace. There were a few points when I would get a second wind and try to run a bit faster, but my heart rate would shoot up very quickly and I knew I would be in trouble if I tried to push the envelope there.
I did manage to get it together as we headed down the hill on Palani Dr. There is still about 1.5 miles to go, but you’re very close and you know Ali’i Drive is only minutes away. This is part of the course has people running that just started the marathon and people that are just about finished. Just before I got to Ali’i I ran past Hector Picard. Hector is an incredible man and fellow Ceepo rider that I met a couple days before the race that is completing missing one arm and only has a stub on the other side. When I met him before, he had told me how he did not make it last year as he was not able to complete the bike. He obviously still had a long way to go, but I slowed down to talk with him and congratulate him on completing the ride. It really pumped me up and I knew he would get the job done today.
I really took my time coming down Ali’i. I recognized that I have no idea when I may have the opportunity to do this again so I really wanted to enjoy it and try to soak it all in. It really is a magical few minutes that still feel a bit surreal even when its your fourth time doing it. I was able to find Kristen and it was great to see her and Gabe for heading down the chute. I gave a lot of high fives and walked across the line to appreciate what I had just done.
My final time was 10:17. Not my best on the island by any means, but not my worst either. Given the summer I had, I was content with my effort and results.
After the race, I met up with Kristen and we got something to eat. We then went back to the hotel and took a nap. I woke up around 9 and headed back out in town to join in the festivities. I ate some more and just enjoyed being at the greatest triathlon in the world. At around 11pm, I went back to the finisher area and got a massage. This worked out very well as there were not many people there so the gal worked on me for 30 minutes or so. I then headed back to the finish line to watch the final finishers come in.
The trip home was one that I will probably never forget nor hopefully have to replicate. I needed to be in DC for work by Tuesday morning so we headed out on an 11am flight the day after the race. This flight got us to Seattle at 8pm local time, we took off on the redeye and landed at 7:20am Monday morning. I did get a little sleep on the plane and lucky Gabe was incredible on the flight again although that was mainly because of his amazing mother. We drove home and arrived about 9am where the grandma’s were waiting for us with Calvin and Eli. It was so great to see them and we spent a little time catching up. However, that was short lived as I had to hop in the truck at about noon and head back to Logan for another fight to DC. With the 6 hour time difference, it was a challenging week.
I need to send a HUGE thank you to all my supporters. I can honestly say I would not have got it done if it wasn’t for all of you. First and foremost, thank you to my amazing wife and my boys for allowing me to follow and live my dreams. Thank you to all my clients and coaches with Peak Triathlon Coaching as well as NorthEast MultiSport. You guys inspire me every day! I’d also like to thank my support crew: Kurt Perham, Jack and the Velo Resource, CEEPO, Cobb Cycling, Zoot, Glukos, BKool, Smith, Bicycle MakeOver
So now that Kona is complete, its time for some changes. I’ve recognized that its not really sustainable for me to continue going 100 mph 24-7. Physically I’ve been able to handle it pretty well, but it has started to wear on me a bit mentally. With the growing family, work, coaching, and training, something has to give. At this point, I’ve decided that training is what will be minimized. This does NOT mean by any means that I am retiring from triathlon, but it does mean I will not be training as much and I will not be doing any Ironmans for the foreseeable future. I am proud that being a provider and my family come first. So, we’ll see what the future brings exactly, but when I am training, I am planning to focus on some different style events. I intend to focus on off course (Xterra) triathlons for now. The races are shorter and I am excited to mix it up a bit. Oh and did a mention the Xterra world championships are in Hawaii (Maui) too? Bring on the new challenges! I’ll just leave it at that! 🙂