Update on the Road to Kona

It has been a while since I posted an update.  At a high level I can tell you my journey to Kona has been quite an emotional one.  As a coach I always speak about the journey being what you will remember on race day. The fear, obstacles and struggles are what make race day so meaningful. Well, every single characteristic that will make my race day so meaningful (should I successfully toe the start line) has made it’s way into my life.  Fear of failure regarding my fundraising goal.  Fear of being able to complete the race.  Pain……I am always in pain which greatly affects my training and my psyche.  I walk around like a hobbled old man versus an athlete that is going to cover 140.6 miles.

Soon after my last post which spoke about the joy of training without pain……..pain developed and it has been a frustrating few weeks.  Having dealt with the recovery from my posterior tibial tendon surgery, this pain that developed was different.  As an example, when I had issues tied to the tendon, a toe raise was very painful.  Hopping was very painful.  Getting out of the seat on the bike was very painful.  I have not had any of that but have been extremely sensitive to touch.  When I say touch, I literally mean the material from sweat pants brushing across the ankle while walking.  That alone produced a 7-8 on a pain scale of 1-10.  I kept hoping it was some nerve issue but an MRI showed some swelling in the bone.  This was also stressful because I have done so little running.  How could there be any stress on the bone when I only run on dirt and I run extremely conservative run-walk intervals to protect the injury.  I really do not have answers which is what is the most concerning.  None of this makes sense.

This pain started approximately a month ago after one of my long rides. I immediately made an appointment with my doctor and started wearing a walking boot hoping to take some pressure off the injury with Ironman Kona 70.3 looming.  In my head, this was the only way I had a chance to complete the 70.3 which is required if I am going to race in October (i.e. I have to finish a half or full during the year).  I did not do any running on land or even in the pool.  In training, I even had to swim 100% with a buoy because the water rushing past my foot while kicking was excruciating.  On top of this, a few weeks out from the 70.3, I was in another accident while on a training ride.  In 2013, it was a car.  This time it was a cyclist which decided to stop on a dime on a bike path…….not only stopping but turning his bike perpendicular to the path so that I t-boned him.  I was sore for 2 weeks but was mainly concerned about my bike.  Thankfully the frame was okay and I just had to replace some parts that were damaged.  I did that and added an Enve wheelset and the bike was ready to race.  On a positive note, the gentleman that caused the accident was apologetic and went on to buy 6 Road to Kona t-shirts.

While I seem to have ventured to the topic of obstacles, I might as well mention one more.  This one is self induced and simply a function of trying to be there for my kids.  My daughter made the All

Star softball team which means that every weekend is softball…….all day, every day.   While folks would understand if I missed some games, I just cannot bring myself to do so.  As such, my weekend long rides start at midnight in my garage on the bike trainer.  I ride 4-6 hours, shower and then head off to games with the little one.  I definitely complete the workouts but I am suffering on sleep and perhaps some intensity as the trainer can get boring and I cannot perfectly simulate hills.  This plus everything typed above is why I have not posted in a while.  It was a little more than I could absorb and I didn’t want to appear too negative about where I was at on this crazy journey.

I will now fast forward to Kona 70.3.  I wore a walking boot on the plane to Kona and all the way to race day and immediately following the race.  My wife and I landed on Wednesday before the Saturday race start.  I did not really do any training but I got in the water on Thursday for a very short swim to see if my foot felt any less pain while kicking and was happy to report it was a little better.  I literally only swam about 200 yards and called it a day.  Back to the walking boot until Friday when I figured out the race start was 4 miles up the road from the hotel (I somehow thought the swim start was on the hotel premises but was mistaken.  The finish line was right outside our balcony but the start line was not).  Friday was bike check-in which, of course, was at the swim start.  I chose to ride my bike to the check in just to make sure there were no mechanical issues from the transport out to Kona via Tri Bike Transport.  It was all good.  After checking it in, my wife and I went down to the swim start to get in the water.  It was so choppy!!!!!!!!!!!  We swam to the first buoy which was about 200-250 yards out and it took forever.  I definitely had to kick more to work through the chop and could feel the pain in the ankle with the increased effort but it was nonetheless better than before.  What was worse than before was my confidence regarding the swim.  I was not sure I would be able to survive 1.2 miles with that chop.  I would say my swim training is behind coupled with the fact I have swam a lot more with the buoy than I otherwise would like to.  It was so windy when we swam and that wind picked up as we progressed to evening.  I went to bed on Friday night with a giant prayer for calm and amazingly woke up to silence.  The wind had calmed!!!  We woke up early to catch the first shuttle to the race start and were happy to see some friendly faces on the shuttle with us.  I went into transition and pumped up my tires………twice because I get paranoid and then I just chilled out……..or at least tried to………until my wave which was set to go off just before 7am.

Side tracking a bit I would say another challenge for this race was accepting the fact I was out to finish and not push hard.  I had to accept walking the 13.1 miles versus going all out in the spirit of protecting October.  Don’t get me wrong, October is about finishing as well but I hope to be in a healthier place.  Being at a race with so many amazing athletes knowing I could not give it my all had me feeling a bit dejected.  I was feeling like I did not belong.

My swim start was approaching so I joined my age group athletes in red caps.  Knowing my swim would be horrible I went right to the back of the line.  There is no need to make anyone swim around me.  Four athletes were released to the water at a time.  My group finally made it to our turn and off we went.  I got in the water and did my best.  My plan was not to kick to protect the ankle and that was what I did for a very slow 50 minutes.  I thought I would come in at 45 but the lack of kicking coupled with poor sighting had me off even my projected slow swim time.  I will definitely work on sighting a lot more between now and October for many reasons.  First of all so that I swim straight.  Second of all to develop those muscles in my neck.  When I got on the bike the first thing I noticed was how uncomfortable the aero position was which I figured out was from how stiff my neck was due to the sighting.  The second thing I noticed………also stored for October……..is that I need to take the time to use body glide out of the water.  Anyway, off I went and other than aero being uncomfortable and sitting being uncomfortable, all was well.  This was the only part of the race I could push even the slightest.  A funny side note about the bike: fairly early into the ride I looked down and noticed my watch was clocking my speed at 29 and then I noticed I was already at what I thought was mile 10.  I was killing it when a little while later I looked closer to see my Garmin had somehow switched to kilometers.  I was NOT killing it!!  It was so windy I did not dare try to change my watch setting so the rest of the journey had me converting kilometers to miles.  I actually felt fairly strong on the bike.  I pushed on the flats and uphill as best as I could and took it easy on the downhill to rest my ankle.  People blew past me on the downhill like I was standing still but it was okay.  The closer we got to Hawi the more the winds picked.  They were crazy.  I was already uncomfortable in aero tied to my neck but the winds certainly pushed me to get out of aero. When a gust came I would literally swerve 2-3 feet so I moved to a death grip to avoid a crash.  I had already passed one ambulance on the way to Hawi and I did not want to be the second.  Once the winds were at their strongest, my pace definitely was impacted but I pushed forward knowing I was getting close to the turn.  Once I did turn, the ride was unbelievable as it was mainly downhill.  I still had the death grip going but I was able to ease up on my ankle.  In a healthier state, this would be where I would haul to the bike finish.  On the way down the hill I saw another ambulance.  Based on what I could tell, I really think two riders collided due to a wind gust but I am not 100% certain.  The path back was great except about 15 miles out while climbing a hill I went to get out of my seat and there was a lot of pain in my right foot and calf.  While some of it was the same injury there was a new intense pain on the outside of my lower leg that radiated into my foot.  As I sit to write this post 12 days later, the pain is getting better but certainly still present.  I believe this new development was tied to pushing hard on a calf that had been underutilized in the walking boot for the prior 3 weeks.  Either way, I did not feel pain when seated so in a genius move I stayed seated.  When I saw the cones marking the turn back into the resort I pushed a little bit feeling excited I had survived.  I pulled into the bike stop, dismounted, put my right foot down and almost fell to the ground.  That radiating pain I discussed above made it difficult to put any weight on the right foot.  I went from excited at a strong bike ride which left plenty of time to walk the half marathon to some concern over how I would walk 13.1 miles as slow as I was having to walk to T2.  I just figured I would sit down, put on my running shoes and hope to exit T2 pain free.

No such luck. I hobbled out of transition to see Crea standing at the exit.  Fifteen minutes earlier I had imagined seeing my wife with elation at my bike ride (don’t get me wrong, my bike was no record setting event but for a windy day on a hurt foot I was excited).  Now I was feeling a bit dejected.  I wanted to run so she could get a decent picture but I was struggling just to walk. I think I covered the first mile in 15-16 minutes.  It was horrible physically and mentally.  I was really struggling as athletes passed me by.  I wanted to explain my story.  I wanted them to know I was not giving up and succumbing to exhaustion.  I did not feel like I belonged in the race but I kept moving forward.  I tried to push through the pain and tried to exaggerate the push off my right foot on the walk to see if I could work out the pain by forcing movement.  Slowly I started to feel some relief.  I decided I would try a one minute run and I survived.  The run was more like a fast walk but it eased my concern of missing any cutoff.  I set my watch to a very short run walk interval and I managed to survive the first half of the run.  I had some friends on the course.  It was awesome to see friendly faces even though I was not competing at a standard I would like them to see.  They reminded me I was supposed to be walking because every time I seemed to pass someone, I was on that one minute run.  I let folks know it was only a short run but over time I came to realize I needed to protect October so I simply cut out the run interval.  I felt completely fine aerobically and moved my efforts to try and entertain those around me that were struggling.  Some were in good spirits and some were really having a tough time.  One of the things I love about this sport is the support for each other out on the course.  Everyone is out for their own time but you always want the best for those around you.  The rest of the run was uneventful except for 2 things.  At one spot on the course I came across hundreds of goats.  It was amazing to see.  There was a small lake on the golf course and apparently they came here to drink.  The second thing had to do with cramps.  Holy crap you would think walking would not be an issue but the cramps set in which will take me back to T2.  I had a HotShot in my transition bag but a volunteer had tied my gear bag in such a way that I could not get my bag open.  I, of course, had to get into the bag as my shoes were inside so I had to rip it open.  My frustration resulted in my failure to actually bring the HotShot with me to the run.  I was in such pain at the beginning of the run (walk in my case) that I did not dare go back.  This was a learning experience and one I will not get wrong in October.  That is really about it…….13.1 miles later I found the finish line.  I didn’t even make the effort to run across it tied to everything I have already talked about.  This finish line was to grant me access to October.  Despite not being able to compete at a level I would like, I got it done and the bonus was definitely learning some things that will be useful the next time I visit Kona.

  • Sighting: I definitely need to build sighting into my swim training.
  • Ocean swimming: I need to get with the OC Team in Training chapter and swim in rough waters. I am greatly impacted by the chop and need to get stronger.
  • Hydration on the bike: It is so windy on the bike I did not feel comfortable reaching behind my seat to grab my bottles. I exited the bike having only drank 2 of 3 bottles of my hydration.  Each bottle had 600mg of sodium so every bottle is important.  In October, I might change the bottle placement or I will just stop for 30 seconds to make sure I refill my XLab Torpedo on my aero bars
  • Hot Shots: I learned that sodium will not prevent cramping nor will one HotShot.  In talking with my coach, Gareth Thomas, my issue is nerve contractions and moving forward I will be taking in one HotShot every 90 minutes.  I will report back as to the results of this modification.
  • Running: I am going to revert back to ultra conservative run-walk intervals and a very slow mileage ramp. I have to work my way through mileage increases slowly to avoid any stress fractures.  I will also be icing after every run.
  • Lastly, I will spend a lot more time in the heat. Up until now my long rides start at the crack of dawn.  For a few weeks, including this weekend, my long rides are on a trainer in my garage.  As I mentioned, my daughter made All Stars for softball and while I have a good excuse, I just cannot miss such a big experience for her.  The second softball is over, however, I will swim early on the weekend and start the bike so that I am on the road for the hottest part of the day.

This post is much longer than I anticipated so I will cut off the training aspect of this post and switch over to fundraising.  As of typing this very second, if you include some employer matches that have yet to post, we are within $600 of $40,000.  It has been a little slower for the past few weeks but that is expected.  Every once in a while I open up my email and am surprised by another donation.  I appreciate every single one of them whether they are $5 or $1,000 or anywhere in between.  These past two weeks I have had some very special people in my life make very generous donations.  One of these folks is a survivor that had her health take a turn for the worse a few years ago. I went to what was a ‘going away’ or a ‘stay strong’ party as her outcome was not looking great.  Today she is doing well and with us so this donation was extra special.  The other donation was from someone that was at my daughter Isabella’s memorial.  He and his family have been so supportive over the years and have always backed my crazy adventures.  There are so many people like him that give time and time again.  It is very humbling to have people in your life like this.

Beyond these random donations that came in, I finally appeared in the local magazine where I live.  The title they gave the article was a little off calling it the Ironman Marathon but I am grateful nonetheless and had some donations come in as a result.  From here to race day, I believe the key to reaching my goal ties to the following:

  • t-shirt sales. They are $25 each and are really nice. I know everyone selling a shirt says their shirt is great but this one really is awesome.  The quality of the shirt is amazing and I, albeit biased, I love the design.
  • Road to Kona 5K: we are holding a 5K on September 9th in Venice, CA and we have a virtual option as well. If you want a shirt, this might be a great option with only a small financial upgrade. For just a little more you get an amazing medal in addition to the shirt and, if you are joining us for the live event you get all you can drink mimosa and Bloody Mary’s.
  • Community Team: a great friend Javier Rivera is helping to lead our Community Team. You can have your very own web page and raise money however you choose. Run a race. Have a lemonade stand.  Have a garage sale………..whatever works for you works for us.  There is no minimum and, if you raise $300, you get an entry to our virtual or live 5K.
  • Legendary Bingo on August 20th. This will be a great time and we are working on some great prizes. My birthday is the week before but we can use this day to celebrate my old age.
  • ManvBar: great friends and friends of Team in Training started this event years ago. It involves a lot of drinking and a lot of charity. We are finalizing the date but this will be a great event.

That is about it for now.  Thank you for your time and generosity!!

Christopher D Wilno