MICHAEL LOVATO | Professional Triathlete

 

PART BEAR. PART MAN. ALL AMERICAN

 

Ironman Hawaii

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thinking about this race report for a few days prior to writing it should have afforded me the opportunity to spill out all the details in smooth succession, with picture-perfect detail and eloquent wording. However, I am well aware that what should happen and what does happen do not always line up together.  In this case, I am going to be happy if my thoughts and emotions and the description of my day come even remotely close to how I have been hashing them out in my head the past few days.

To look at my finish time from Saturday’s race, the natural assessment would be that something went disastrously wrong: that I belly-flopped on the Big Day; that I somehow managed to mess up my pacing, my strategy, or my nutrition; or that I executed a badly run race.  The finish time was my slowest ever; the marathon was my longest yet; and the drop from 9th place in 2008 to 538th place this year was the farthest I’ve ever fallen.  This was my worst Ironman ever; however, I executed an OK race.   So what went wrong?

My season focus had been squarely set on this race.  There was no doubt about it: throughout the year everything I aimed for was to help me prepare for my ascent up the ranks in Kona.  My three ninth-place finishes proved to me that I know how to race in Hawaii; but this year was the year I upped the ante.  I was going for the podium.

My race season was strong: I competed frequently, I trained hard, and I recovered well.  I made my way to autumn with a hunger and a freshness I had not had in past years.  My assault on the Hawaii Ironman seemed to go perfectly from February to August.  I was on track and my confidence was sky high.

At the start of September my fitness was better than it had ever been when starting my IM training build. I was faster, fitter, and fresher than I had ever been.  But then I got greedy.  To look back now at the path I followed, and the choices I made, it seems obvious that I was going too far.  However, my plan was to try something new to achieve a new result, so I kept on pushing.  I was on fire in training, and I was getting hotter by the day.  And then I got a bit greedier still.  I wanted more.  Logically, if I could take an even better swim, bike, and run into the biggest race of the year, I would swim, bike and run faster than I ever had.

Midway through September, I hit my first speed bump of the entire 2009 season.  I hit the wall.  I got angry.  I got tired.  I lost my momentum.  So I took a short break to try and rebound.  After the rest, I got back on track and proceeded to follow the track laid out before me.  Mentally, I was right back where I needed to be.

In the days leading into the race, I truly believed I had dodged the bullet.  The concerns and worries I had midway through September (that I had cooked myself too much) were gone from my mind. My taper sessions were spot-on, and I was attending to every detail.  The support I got from Amanda while in Kona was incredible: she did everything possible to ensure that I was ready on race day.  I felt great and I was ready to race.

My track record in the Kona swim is not too good.  As has happened in the past, I was dropped from the group and I exited the water over two minutes down from the main contenders.  But many other top athletes were still close, so I set out to join a good group for the bike ride.  My training this year has allowed me to handle a very hard first hour of riding, with the ability to settle in and recover once I have bridged up.  I have done this multiple times in my 70.3 racing this season, and I was very comfortable with the method.   Within the first eight miles, I did everything I could to ride my way up to a competitive bunch up the road.  With company on the Queen K, the miles go by much more smoothly.   Sadly, my legs did not respond to my efforts.  I pushed the pedals, but they felt squishy and unresponsive.  My initial assessment was that I would come around later in the ride.    I kept after the pace, and I pushed and pushed, disregarding the fact that my effort was not lining up at all with my speed.

At least I had good equipment!

At least I had good equipment!

At one point–approximately fifteen miles into the ride–I found myself around  last year’s 4th, 5th, and 6th place finishers. Two of us took control at the front of our mini-group, and we encouraged one another to ride hard enough to bridge the gap.  But I could not shake the feeling that my effort was not at all in line with my pace; I was working way harder than I should have been to see those numbers.  But I put this out of my mind, and I rode as well as I could.  And all along the way, I was tending to an absolutely perfect hydration and nutritional plan.  My consumption was right on; but it did not make my legs feel any better.  Execution has let me down in the past, and I was intent not to let that happen this time around.

Somewhere between Kawaihae and Hawi, I realized I was dragging a long line of guys up the hill.  I figured that was a good sign, even if I was losing ground to the others up the road.  I kept pushing, and I hoped that I’d be strong enough to handle the infamous Hawi winds.  Finally, I did have a brief glimpse of strength as I closed in on the turnaround in Hawi. As I pedaled toward the turn, the seemingly ever-present headwinds in that segment were mild or nonexistent.

Approaching the turn in Hawi, I saw that I was way behind the leaders.  There were also a lot more guys ahead of me than there typically are, which was a testament to the great field we had assembled.  I did what came naturally, which was to shake it off. I knew I could ride that last 50 miles pretty hard, and I’d do my best to keep myself in the game.

On my way back home I started to feel worse and worse about the effort I was having to put into the ride.  I had felt that way once before, in 2004, when I was giving everything I had to ride fast, but nothing was working.  My hydration and nutritional plans seemed to be working, as I was alert, present and peeing.  However, the mental toll the subpar ride was taking on my spirits was hard to ignore.

I managed to suffer through all the sections of the race I normally find extra challenging; however, I was finding it hard to tackle the sections I normally crush.  Right now it is difficult to describe how frustrating this was, but I am well aware that many of you reading have experienced this sensation before.   Some days you have it, and some days you do not.  By my nature, I do not give up, and I continued expecting things would come around.

Finishing the bike ride, I was faced with a larger deficit than normal, but I am fairly comfortable with facing long odds in T2.  I know this race very well, and I know my competitors equally well.  The top step of the podium is won by the athlete who is strongest, smartest, and toughest; whereas many of the other top spots are won by those who win the war of attrition.  I normally hold up pretty well in that regard.   So I started the run with every intention of running my way to the top twenty or beyond.

Still trying to make it happen!Early in the run, all signs pointed to another strong marathon.  I was hydrated, I was coherent, and I was freshly motivated.  The splits I received were bad, but undeterred, I was ready to turn things around.  Miles one and two were quick and comfortable.  Mile three was moderate.  But by mile four I found myself facing a challenge I had never had before: mentally I was drained.  Looking back I can now see that I had used nearly every ounce of motivation in me, nearly every mental trick I had, and nearly every race tactic to merely survive the bike ride.  I had drained the pot, and I still had over two hours of running ahead of me.  I looked to my deepest reserves to see if I could race this race with a depleted supply of physical and mental energy.   My initial answer was that yes, I could.

By mile six I realized that I was wrong.  I was running down Ali’i; I was getting incredible support from my friends, my family, and other spectators along the road; but I was dreading the task at hand.  I was empty.

I used the cheers and screams and shouts for another four miles.  I knew they would carry me to the top of Palani.  Crowd support in Kona is unreal.  However, I realized that I could not finish a race on external motivation alone.  And my internal drive was gone.

I crested the hill and turned onto the Queen K.  Ironically, just at the point where I normally begin to reel in the competition and unload a full-fledged attack, I opted to walk and jog my way to the finish.  I was not prepared to give up, but I was finally giving in to the fact that my body and mind did not have what I needed to keep racing, and I would need to cruise my way to the finish.

Shortly thereafter, from the side of the road, Amanda reminded me how much I love this race, and she told me to find the joy and fun in being out there.  It was a great thing to hear, as I suddenly realized that throughout the draining and powerless bike ride, I had not only sapped my mojo, but I had not enjoyed any part of the race (something that is very uncharacteristic of me).  I started the next fifteen miles with the goal of figuring out a way to enjoy my 10th finish in Kona, and finally, after a few miles, I managed to realize that goal.

Looking back at the whole 2009 Kona experience, I can see many errors in my ways.  I can see that I did not really need to change everything to achieve goal to finish top-three.  I can see clearly that I already knew how to prepare for this event, and that rewriting the book was unnecessary.  However, I can also say that I have no regrets about how I approached the year. I changed things up, I raced hard, and I went for it.  Along the way, I had a great season of racing, and I gave it an honest go in Hawaii.  It just so happened that my body needed to race this event on a different day.

And it is safe to say that I will be back next year with sound preparation and a fresh pot of mental energy, and I will have another honest go at the podium.  Without question or doubt, I will be back.

37 Comment(s)

Larry McKeogh on 10/15/09 said:

It was a tough day out there. I applaud your willingness to tinker with the formula. Stupidity is sometimes defined as doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. Frequently you learn the most from the worst experiences.

While on some levels this may not have been ideal glad you were able to settle in and enjoy the experience. There will be another chance next year. This year just makes you tougher.

Good job!

wendy mader on 10/15/09 said:

Hey Michael, great jop finishing. I can relate and understand what you went though. I finished first amatear last year 9:53 and this year walked the entire marathon finishing in 12:37, quite humbling. Great to read your report.

Wendy Mader

jimmy the noodle on 10/15/09 said:

dude i’ve been on the course with you at imcda 07 and 08. to say you crushed that course is an understatement …you said it yourself we all have good days and bad ..you’ll crush kona next year …i met you and amanda at cda ..big fan ..attitude is 90%of this stuff 10 %hard work while having a good attitude …til next time ..jimmy

Linda Cotter on 10/15/09 said:

This is the most honest, genuine race report to ever written by any professional.
It is by far, the best report I’ve seen to date.
I applaud you for finishing a race where most would have given up.
And I admire you for putting it all out there for those of us to read.
You admitted to what most tend to ignore.
Congratulations.
See you next year in Kona:)
L

Rita on 10/16/09 said:

ML,
You rock. Your positive attitude is such an inspiration. I was so glad my daughters got to meet you because you are the essence of a true competitor, and there are not nearly enough athletes and role models with your class and grace.

Hope you enjoy the rest of your time in Hawaii….and hope that every October for the next 10 years you find yourself in the place you love….

aloha and mahalo,
Rita

Leslie Fedon on 10/16/09 said:

This is the best race recap blog I have ever read. Thank you for sharing your thoughts to the world! It will help me and may others.

leslie fedon

Leslie Fedon on 10/16/09 said:

 

Amanda on 10/16/09 said:

Wow…all I can say is wow! You have such a positive attitude Michael, it truly is inspiring. Myself and BRC were cheering you on and were so happy to see the fnish line picture with you smiling. You have such a love for the sport and I am glad that you were able to enjoy the spirit of that race, I cannot imagine what it must feel like to be a competitor on that line! Enjoy your holiday time off and I look forward to cheering you on in 2010,

:-) Amanda

Marge Burley on 10/16/09 said:

Michael,

You are a true professional in every sense of the word and a true gentleman. The fact that you stayed out there and enjoyed the race proves it. You and Amanda are so good together and you can tell your love and respect for each other and the sport of triathlon keeps you strong.

You both made quite an impression on my family and friends and I’m honored to know you.

Love,

Marge

Jim on 10/16/09 said:

Michael – No doubt this is one of your most inspiring blog entries. As an amateur Ironman athlete I appreciate your honesty, candor and willingness to share information about your experience. Thank you for being a great example and role model for other athletes to follow. You are a class act and I know there is much success in your future. Have a great off season. We’ll be watching you next year with great anticipation.

Jim
Salt Lake City, Utah

Ashley on 10/16/09 said:

Awesome race report Michael!
Your preserverance in finishing the race speaks volumes about your passion and respect for the sport!!!! I was cheering for you all day and am proud that you finished =)

I too am struggling with the mental aspect in my build for IMAZ. I’m running low on mental strength in building for my 4th straight Ironman. Any advice that you can give me now so that I do not have a melt down on race day?

Ashley

SEBASTIAN BLANCO on 10/16/09 said:

you are the best!!!

Kate on 10/16/09 said:

No other race report better matches the one that I wrote after IM Lake Placid this year… returning there for a second year after a great race in 2008, I was (as I thought) better prepared, stronger, and ready to throw down a big PR, only to experience everything that you have noted about your own race in Kona. No regrets though, I too had a great season leading up to my big race, setting other PRs and reaching new benchmarks, and learned much to bring into my next race. Thanks for sharing your race….

justin on 10/16/09 said:

Dude…you needed some green and red chili! On race morning, put down a green chili breakfast burrito with some bacon…and like magic…you’re on the podium!

I’m so envious of your finishing 10 Kona Ironmans…I can’t even qualify. You should get a belt buckle for the big 10.

JMD

Z on 10/16/09 said:

Michael – VERY good report and it was great cheering you one at the start of the run. Timmy, Shane and I were there and you seemed to smile as we cheered and you started the run. About 5 min. later, Chrissy can into T2 and we all talked about you have to run fast for be “chicked” by Chrissy! I bet on Chrissy – I know – what are friends for!:)

See yiou in IM Florida! Z

Alex on 10/16/09 said:

What happened to the idea that finishing an Ironman was a big deal? No matter your physical level, finishing an ironman is a tough endeavor. Any day you cross the finish line in an Ironman is a successful day. That finish is a result of months and months of hard training and dedication.

How refreshing to see such a candid recount of your race. It is awesome to know that when your race did not go according to plan, that you found a way to allow yourself to enjoy your race. You worked hard for it and deserved to enjoy it. Congratulations on another Ironman finish!

patrick jordan on 10/16/09 said:

Michael
Such a privilege and pleasure to share in your challenges ..thanks for your example of incredible mental fortitude and discipline in finishing the race. Your inspiration will be a reminder for most of us in less adverse life situations. No doubt you will gather strength and renewal to be back in optimal form next year.

Rich Poley on 10/16/09 said:

OK, it’s agreed this year you won the race report. Next year you win the race! Very nice piece of writing! You got me out there on that course with you feeling those feelings. Everyone has been there but few write so well about it.You captured it perfectly, and seem to have bounded up over it stronger and better than ever. I expect to see you on the podium next year for sure. Great job!

Carole D. on 10/16/09 said:

Hey Michael,
Thanks for the email reply, as always! Your insight into your prep, race and consequential result is great. It’s so amazing how challenging this sport is even after so many years of experience and racing! It certainly can be one thing that keeps the fires burning. Enjoy some playtime and congratulations, again, for being a true champ.
Carole

Adeline Khoo on 10/16/09 said:

Michael,

For those of us who have also had bad days in an ironman, it’s such a pleasure to read such an honest race report. Especially from a pro.

It was great talking to you before the race and you looked just as prepared and ready as you were for the other races that we’ve met you at all year. I know it didn’t turn out the way you wanted but I just wanted to say I yelled out for u a couple of times on the run and all those times, although your run looked laboured and you clearly looked like you were in a world of hurt and pain (sorry!!) ever single time you managed to muster up a smile/wave/nod to the crowd when you heard someone yelling out your name and that says ALOT about you as a person. The only other person I’ve seen consistently doing that is Chrissy. Thanks for always appreciating the spectators and people out on course cheering. :-)

It was pure concidence that I was also one of the volunteers who
caught you at the finish line and while it was clear that you were mentally and physically exhausted, had a bad bad day and the last thing you wanted to do was talk to anyone, you managed to say hi to me and I know you personally thanked all of us
who helped you out to the back. After 8 hours of catching people at the finish line on Saturday, I can tell you I’m sure everyone thought about it but not everyone had the pressence of mind to say thank you. It was a very nice thing to hear after a long day.

There is definitely a glory in pushing through the way you did and FINISHING what you set out to do even if things didn’t happen to go your way. You could have easily quit but you didn’t.

I know you will be back for a greater 2010 with all that you’ve learnt from 2009! See you out there!

Adeline

Charisa Wernick on 10/16/09 said:

I absolutely love that you did not throw in the towel and you stuck it out. There are so many pros who would have just saved their legs for another day and when racing is your job, it is even understandable for them to save their legs. I admire your desire to make the rest of the race enjoyable and fun – even though I am certain there were times out there on that run when it was anything but. Thanks for sharing your race!

Jen on 10/16/09 said:

Michael,
Great race report…it is so raw and real. And to come from a pro who is willing to share your day with us is even more amazing! Not only did you share the great moments, but you shared the low points of your day…and those to me say more about your character and determination! You’re human and that is what comes through in your race report. Thank you. I love how Amanda was there when you needed that pick me up and for her to tell you to ‘find the joy and fun it all.’ Go give that girl a hug, kiss, and a smack on the ass, cause she’s an awesome wife.

Congrats on your race! You will kick some major ass next year in Kona! I think it will be you and Leito – the 2 American’s chasing each other for the line!
You are truly an amazing athlete and are such an inspiration to all of us!
Jen

Kevin Dolan on 10/16/09 said:

Michael.

Your passion for the sport and your perspective of keeping things fun and positive and fighting through difficulties is inspiring. Especially, when you compare the attitudes of entiitlement that sometimes shows up from some of our more prominent professional athletes from other professional sports( usually team sports). Your honest description of your race day efforts and your feelings is something that every athlete can learn from , we are lucky have you share your insight on the sport and your race .

Pantani (also in Colorado) on 10/16/09 said:

Hats off to you Michael. Not many guys would have written so candidly.

Doug Hartman on 10/17/09 said:

Thanks so much for sharing this. You are good for the sport.

David Criswell on 10/17/09 said:

Great report Michael. I followed your race on Ironman.com and it was great to see you finish despite the difficulties. You are a first class athlete.

Mark Sortino on 10/17/09 said:

Michael,

Fantastic report. This was my first time at Kona, and I had a similar day. Not only are you funny as sh!t, you’re honest and write from the heart. Speaking for Age-Groupers everywhere, we are lucky to have you in this wonderful sport and way of life.

Thank you!
Mark

Pensacola, FL

Carole D. on 10/18/09 said:

Ten pounds in one week!! Way to go, ML!!! :-)

mike greer on 10/18/09 said:

Michael, you are and have always been a truly first class act. You are the same guy that refused to give up at Buffalo Springs Ironman 70.3 a few years ago, after a bad bike crash, and finished with great class.

We missed you this year and hope to see you return to the canyons of the Llano Estacado in West Texas.

Mike Greer

Jamie on 10/19/09 said:

I remember how pumped you were about your new plan for Kona at the pre-Rev3 Trakkers dinner this year, so I was sending you tons of good vibes all day.

It was hard seeing you suffer out there, but glad you are taking it all in stride and keeping the focus on 2010!

Spokane Al on 10/20/09 said:

Thanks for your honest, thorough race report. There are lessons in your experience for all of us. I always enjoy reading the stuff of both you and Amanda and will continue to cheer you both as you recover to carry on the battle once again. You always come through with your joy of racing, training, life and living. Keep rocking buddy.

P.S. No aero helmet – was this because of the heat or just a personal preference?

Andy on 10/20/09 said:

Wow, Michael. What a great report. So glad you finished, sorry it didn’t go as well as hoped. Turn the page and set your sights on next year. As always, I’ll be rooting for ya and hope to share a course or two with you next season. Happy belated Birthday too!

Nick Rose on 10/21/09 said:

ML, what a superb report, I have followed you on Twitter for a while now, love the attitude in the race, love the fact that you pushed and pushed and the honesty in the RR is very refreshing. Glad you had the time to enjoy the race as well. I am sure you will be back for it better next year.

Ironrosey

Robert on 10/21/09 said:

Michael,
We are proud to work with you and Amanda both. You are class acts and big talents. Its great to read that you keep your head up high following a disappointing performance in Kona. That great fitness you took into Kona will no doubt show in an Ironman or two next season.

peter west on 10/25/09 said:

michael u have the essence of a champion, fundamentally that is all that really matters, good luck next year. peter

Adrienne on 10/28/09 said:

Hi Michael,
I saw you on the run out there in Kona and I remember thinking to myself, is Michael Lovato really walking? At that point in my race, I was down in the same mental lull that you found yourself in (now that I read your blog). It took me 2 weeks to publish my race report because I was in such a funk after the race trying to figure out what it was that was so bummy about it all. This being my first time at Kona, I had no idea really what to expect, but it was comforting to read that an athlete of your caliber went through an almost identical wave of emotions at the race that was supposed to be the race of your year. Thank you for publishing such a great race report – regardless of whether the race was the greatest, your attitude about it captures the inspirational person that you are.

Oh, and just an fyi….I captured an awesome pic of you and Amanda at the underwear run…. in an non-stalker sort of way, I wanted to capture the awesomeness of the fun run and pics of both your butts happen to be on my blog. Hahaha. Happy vacation, happy training and here is to an amazing 2010!
~Adrienne

Ted on 10/29/09 said:

I think you summarized it best in your last paragraph. As athletes, too often we forget to sit back and say…”wait a minute, I am doing this because I want to.” We have tunnel vision and forget the beauty passing by around us. The routine (training, work, or otherwise) wears on us all, you are only human.

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