MICHAEL LOVATO | Professional Triathlete




2011 Hawaii Ironman

Date: 10/8/11

Location: Kona, Hawaii

Rank: 21st

Time: 8:42

It’s been nearly one week since the 2011 Hawaii Ironman, and I feel that I have finally sorted through the emotional ups and downs of my race, as well as the competitive details I remember from the lava fields.  So it’s finally time to transcribe the thoughts I’ve accumulated over these past several days. Therefore, I present to you my 12th annual Kona race report…

If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that Ironman Hawaii has a remarkable tendency to throw a curveball or two. So many athletes show up in Kona in October intent to realize their dreams, meet their time goals, exceed their expectations, and to race the race they are capable of having.  But so many of us (pretty much everyone) faces some unforeseen adversity out there. This adversity is always a part of Ironman racing, and it’s normally a good part of why we choose to race this distance.  Getting to the finish line is always goal #1, but, in my opinion, goal #2 is to handle the race day adversities with a calm, cool, and effective approach.

Race week was as smooth and stress-free as I could have possibly hoped for.  Amanda was back on the Island with me, and she took every step to ensure that my needs were met, my schedule was adhered to, and preparing for my race was top priority. The first upside to racing Kona as many times as I have is that the daunting pre-race hoopla was not too taxing; and having Amanda at my side made it downright easy.

Amanda and Michael

Another invaluable part of my support crew is “Sugar Pack” Jack Murray of Jack and Adam’s Bicycles. After I do the dirty work of the initial bike build, he sets up on the Big Island, and dials in my Super-Bad Kestrel 4000 (with matching Team Lovato Issue Zipp 808′s!).  I have suffered minor mechanical issues in the past, but not since Jack has begun making his way to Kona. I also did everything I could to ensure that I would not suffer the dreaded flat ti-yah out on the Queen K.  When race day came, I had piece of mind that equipment would not be a cause for adversity!

Bike Build

Sugar Pack Jacky Murray

Friday before the race always sneaks up on me, and this year was no different.  Before I knew it, I was putting together the gear bags and preparing myself for the Red Carpet that has evolved from pro bike check-in at the pier.  Where else do that many sets of eyes and lenses focus on your goods?!  It’s quite a build-up, one that leaves me both calm and excited – a strange buy enjoyable combination of emotions.

I awoke easily on Saturday morning, and was already semi-alert before my 3:15AM alarm beep.  I followed my usual morning routine by heading out for a short pre-dawn jog. This year I chose to soak up some old-school energy by running out toward the fabled Pit (featured in races up to the year 2000).  I felt ready, relaxed, and rested.  I was ready to have my day.

Breakfast went down easily, and before we knew it, Amanda and I were en route to the Pier.  We seemed to be carrying five thousand pounds of fluid, in part due to the brand new Pro Fluid Stations on the marathon.  I was not overly nervous, as I loaded up the rig with EFS and Liquid Shot.  Both Chrissie and Crowie gave me a bit of pre-race aloha, which seemed like a nice dose of Iron-mojo.  After setting up the transition, I set off to meet Amanda and to wait for our 6:30 start time.

By the time we entered the water, I could see that our swim conditions were going to be a bit choppier than we had seen for much of the week. I tend to like a choppy swim, as it ends up giving me a bit of shelter behind the faster swimmers. They end up doing some hard work to push through the chop, so I can stay tucked in behind the feet. The first 2000 or 2500 meters of the swim went extremely well  for me. I felt controlled and strong, and I knew my position was solid. Looking to my left I noticed Lieto, with Tissink to my right.  I had a bunch of bubbles to follow, so I began patting myself on the back for finally making that coveted front group. Sadly, I may have congratulated myself too soon, as I later lost contact with the leaders. A strange combo of circumstances caused me to drift wide, and out of the sweet spot. Outside the draft, I realized it was much more challenging to keep the pace.  However, I worked hard to close the gap back up to the leaders; and I did this two or three times.  Thankfully, I was a confident swimmer this year, and I kept the fight alive: I was intent not to get dropped!  Alas, my luck ran out. I drifted right one too many times (my own poor navigation combined with the current sweeping across), and I could not close the gap.  I watched the group pull away, and despite my efforts, there was nothing I could do.  I ended up towing a group of four or five for a while, then I gave up to lead to Cam Brown, who dragged us home to the Pier.

Out on the roads, I got a spit of 90 seconds to the main group. I knew it was a tall order to close that much time before the train began rolling down the Queen K, but I applied the pressure for the initial eight miles in/ out and in/out of town.  My output was very high, but by the time we reached the highway again, Amanda informed me that I was then 2 minutes 30 down to the leading back of 30.  Been there, done that before, so I settled into plan B.


Riding the early miles of the Queen K, I found myself around a few strong riders: Cam Brown, Jan Raphael, and Matty White.  I figured that a group of four was better than a solo charge, so I did my best to conform to their rhythm.  It’s never an easy task to line up those early miles with other riders: nobody has the same strength or comfort. Some guys are great on the ups, while others excel at the down hills.  We used eight or ten miles to sort out or order, and by the time we hit the longer rollers of the first quarter of the course, we had dialed in a bit of a mini chase group.

At exactly 1 hour 22 minutes into the ride, Cam’s speed slowed ever so slightly, and I caught up to him, thus prompting a necessary pass.  I had already calculated that we were riding a bit too hard, so my goal was not to get up front at that point. However, once a pass begins – inadvertent or intentional – a pass must finish.  I moved left and stepped on the gas.  Midway through my attempted pass, Matty White chose to go around the two of us.  He must have been laying down some serious watts, as I felt I was doing quite a strong effort to get around Cam. With Matty on the charge, Cam responded by upping his pace.  My front wheel had not passed his front wheel (which indicates a pass), so I upped the ante a bit further and tried to hammer past him.  All I wanted was to get around, at which point I would have had no issue letting him come back around to chase Matty.  However, even an out-of-the-saddle 450-watt surge could not get me around that darn front wheel.  I sat down and accepted that I could not complete the pass.

And wouldn’t you know it: I earned the distinction of receiving the race’s first bike penalty.  Shit.  It was just over two hours into the race, and I had already seen two healthy doses of adversity: dropped on the swim, penalized on the bike.  Yippee.

At that point, I did my best to put the penalty behind me, but I failed in that endeavor.  I could not deal as well with the blow as I would have liked. For some reason, I chose not to keep riding with the fellows, in part because I did not want to risk another silly rule break, but in part because I was crestfallen.  I could only focus on the facdt that a 30-person group was already riding away from me, and then my little four-person group was splintered.  How could I overcome that?

When Michael Weiss and later Tom Lowe powered by, I did not have the mental energy to attempt a follow.  I knew my bike fitness was quite high for this race, but fitness without motivation is worthless.  I flopped about for the next several miles, before finally pulling into the Penalty Box to serve my four-minute sit-down.

Scarlet Letter

Due to the smaller (51 person) men’s field, I fell back to what felt like dead last on the highway.  I  knew there were still some stragglers, but I could not imagine my odds were good.  And once again, I failed to deal with my set-back with my typically positive mental outlook.  I began the ascent to Hawi, looking for every trick in the book to get me back in the game.

To continue dwelling on the penalty is this race report is boring and uninspiring, as it was on course.  And finally I realized that I needed to put the darn thing behind me. Hawaii is all about handling adversities, so I chose to deal with it and get the job done.

Entering the out-and-back section near Hawi, I noticed that some incredible dynamics were blowing the race wide open. As I guessed they would, the men were gambling on a more aggressive bike ride this year, as they always tend to do the year after someone “wins it on the bike”.  The casualties looked deep and severe already.  I knew it would only get worse, so I shifted gears from “woe is me” to “prey on the hunted”.

Coming down from Hawi, I did my best to really work that final 52 miles. I chose to ride, ride and fuel, fuel.  The marathon was predicted to be hot, and with these bike tactics, I knew that good old Kona attrition would be my ally.

Nothing noteworthy happened during the final two hours of the bike ride. I focused on my fueling and my solitude.  What struck me most was that it’s amazing to be out on the Queen K with 2000 other athletes, but to see exactly zero of them for so many minutes.  Inside of the airport (eight miles to go), I caught a few more athletes who seemed to be melting down.  I felt motivated and intent to tackle the run.

Into transition, however, I made the choice to methodically make the change to my run gear.  Rather than hastily skidaddle out of T2, I sorted out my socks, my fuel and my shoes, while a volunteer coated me up with sunscreen.  I wanted to blast the marathon, but I wanted to do so once I was fully composed.  If I could change one more thing from my race, it would be to move those legs a bit more quickly through the change tent: time is time, and I could not afford any more dawdle time at that point.




Out on the run, I found my stride immediately.  I had a spring in my step, and I felt calm and ready to roll.  I knew the time gaps were HUGE, but I knew I could keep a level head and salvage the day with a strong run.  I always tell myself that I’m not going to start racing the run until I finish my first 24-oz bottle of EFS.  However, with this year’s Pro Fluids, I knew there would be a good chance I’d be carrying a bottle for 70% of the marathon.  I was pleased we had that chance to properly hydrate, and I am actually surprised to see so many top athletes drop out on the marathon, considering they were given every chance to fuel/ hydrate better than they ever have before.  It goes to show that some folks are not willing to or capable of modifying their finish goals mid-race.

Kona Marathon

(Above is a video.)

Amanda, Jack, and countless other amazing spectators made cruising up and down Ali’i Drive surprisingly smooth.  I felt great.  And to see my friend Julie Dibens absolutely crushing the women’s field was inspiring.  I yelled something to try and motivate her, and ended up motivating myself, as I think I actually managed to give myself chills.  I was sorry to hear that she suffered some serious issues shortly thereafter, and was carted off the course in an ambulance.

Alii Drive

Once I hit the Queen K, I knew it was time to start pouncing on some more prey. I had moved up significantly since starting the run, but there were still so many guys ahead!  I was showing no signs of slowing – minus the dreaded and stifling climb up Palani. I kept the gas pedal down, and I did my best to find that top twenty.

Queen K

Seeing Crowie at the tail end of a beautifully executed race was yet another inspirational moment for me.  As much as I would have preferred to be deeper in the trenches battling these top-ten men, I took what I could from seeing Craig and company crush those runs.

The Energy Lab tends to give and take Hawaiian mana. It has been kind to me in the past, and I fully anticipated a boost from that section. Entering and running down to the coast, I felt great. I made a couple more passes, and my hopes were still high. Leaving the Lab, I faced my first real struggle. Climbing the gradual grade back to the Queen K, I slowed dramatically.  I knew the temperatures were soaring, as I had no trouble sucking down 24 ounces of fluid in a mile or two. I chose to shuffle that climb to the highway, regrouping and getting ready for a final 7-mile assault. (Note: the choice was really not so much of a choice, as my body overrode my mind’s will for that mile.)

This regrouping worked, as I was able to practically sprint the opening section of that final 11KM; however, I cost myself some valuable time in my chase back to the top 15.  Back on pace on the highway, I focused on doing what I could to close out the day.  Outbound age groupers and women pros – including a gut-checking Chrisse – gave me verbal or non-verbal motivation. I sucked up some energy and went for broke.

One or two men submitted to the toll of a tough day, and I collected a few more places.  I wanted to keep some goals in mind, and making top-20 at that point seemed reasonable.  The crushing yet uplifting bomb down Palani was as painful as ever: so close and with so many fans cheering!

I rounded the hot corner at Hualalai and Ali’i for the 12th time in my triathlon career. We’ve all see the dramatic images of PN-F stopped short at that very point, so my inner Yoda told me to focus, focus, focus.  Getting there was not a given, and I while I did want to soak up as much Finish Aloha as I could, I wanted to be smart – and I wanted not to be passed!

Alii Finish

Even if they have no idea who you are, or what place you’re in, the crowds on Ali’i make you believe they love and know and need you.  There is no way to describe that finish without cliche: nothing is quite like the Kona finish line.

Without reaching my goal of  another top ten, and without being in the race as I wanted to do, I can truly say I was not satisfied with my performance. But with another Ironman finish under my belt – and with a proud tally of zero DNF’s – I can honestly say that I handled the Kona adversity with gusto. I did what I needed to do to readjust my goals and to carry on. We do this sport because we can, but we do this sport because we sometimes think we cannot. On the start line, I am like all Ironman hopefuls in that my default goal is always to finish the race.

It’s somewhat surprising to say that I’ve finished this race 12 times since 1999; but it’s not surprising to say that I was true to myself, and I chose to never, ever, ever give up!



10 Comment(s)

Greg Nilges on 10/14/11 said:

Great race report Michael, it was great seeing you out there, our CDA crew was volunteering at the hot corner. A job well done !!!

Megan on 10/14/11 said:

Great race, Michael, and great mantra:
“We do this sport because we can, but we do this sport because we sometimes think we cannot.”

Marion on 10/14/11 said:

Great race report, Michael. I always love reading about your thoughts about your races, and I am inspired by your strength and positive attitude. Mahalo nui loa.

angie toriggino on 10/14/11 said:

Great race Lovato!! it was awesome to cheer you on once again! I have some good pics of you that I will email. You make Austin Texas and all of us that know you proud! :)

Austen Trimble on 10/14/11 said:


Bravo sir, you showed how to race with heart and guts. Proud to know you and have the opportunity to watch you race in Kona. It would have been easy to be deflated by that penalty, I know I would have, but you pushed through. Thanks for uplifting the sport and always bringing your A game.

Michael Hutto on 10/14/11 said:

Congrats on a brave effort out there. We all run into adversity out there competing and its inspirational to hear how you overcame that! Going from 34th off the bike to finish 21st is awesome, congrats! Go Team Trakkers/Rev3!

Kelly on 10/14/11 said:

Great report, Michael! Congrats on your 12th Kona finish!! It is so nice to hear pros like yourself talk about the challenges of racing in a very real and honest way. Thanks for sharing your day with us!

Frank Lee on 10/15/11 said:

Great report. Congratulations form Texas

Alan on 10/16/11 said:


Congrats on #12!!! Your post race report was truly inspirational as I prep for IM Fla. Thank’s for your devotion to the sport of triathlon.

Patrick on 10/17/11 said:

Way to gut it out…you really held on for a solid finish, many others packed it in!

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