MICHAEL LOVATO | Professional Triathlete




Ironman World Championships

Date: 10/21/06

Location: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

Rank: 18th

Time: 8:39:00

I’m finally back home in Boulder, and I’ve finally found my way to the computer, so I thought I’d send out the initial race report… who am I kidding? As long as I’m reporting, I might as well give the blow-by-blow version. Sit back and grab some popcorn, ’cause here I go:

They said the swim was rough; they said it was slow. I can look at the times and realize that the fastest folks were about four minutes off what they normally swim. I can look at my deficit to those top swimmers and say that this was my best ever Hawaii swim. With the goal of coming out with the main group, I positioned myself right behind Cam Brown, a guy I have swum with in the past, but never in Hawaii. He is always in a desirable spot, so I joined him. Well, for a little while anyway. I got edged off his feet as we were joined by a larger group of little fishies. I settled for another set (and ultimately another couple sets) of feet, and rode the wave to the turnaround. I am pretty sure that those up front faced a pretty mean current coming home, so this would explain why, on the hardest swim day in recent years, I felt very relaxed.

I zipped through T1, intent to catch or maintain contact with whomever had beaten me out. I did a good job, as I ended up passing some pretty fast swimmers very early on the bike. Things were looking good, and my legs were feeling great.

I made my way to the front of the chasing group, by the time we left town and hit the Queen K. By the airport, my charge found my at the very front, as I anticipated reacahing the leaders. Early on two things became evident: there was no wind to slow us down, and I was not catching any leaders!

As I made my way out, under an uncharacteristically overcast sky, I began to wonder if I had gone out too hard. My plan was to ride pretty darn fast for the first ten to fifteen miles, but then to settle into a steady pace, perhaps with a group. What I had not anticipated was how angry and agitated I would become with other riders packed so closely around me. I made several attempts to bridge up to the lead group, while dropping those around me. Each time I would find myself alone for several minutes, but ultimately being caught back up by the groups behind me.

After fifty miles of this cat-and-mouse (cat-and-mice) riding, I began to feel the effects of my surges: my quads were really starting to ache. I made my way up the rollers toward Hawi, at which point I was swallowed up by the front end of a very, very large group: probably 30+ guys. I patiently waited for the final uphill push toward Hawi: seven miles into a typically stiff headwind. On the day there was no headwind, but I still managed to break away one final time. I charged ahead, with only one other rider in tow. Entering Hawi and approaching the turn, I was confident that I could finally make the break stick.

On the return trip back down to Kawaihae, I really hit a solid brick wall. I felt nowhere near as good as I had anticipated feeling, and was forced to let a small group of six ride away from me. I figured that with a slight break, I could catch them back up with a strong push over the final thirty miles. However, the quads were very achey, and they never seemed to come around, as they tend to do around mile 80. I was in for it!

For the next thirty minutes or so, I continued to question myself: why did I let other athletes and what they were doing draw me out of my race plan; why did I get so angry at their riding tactics and strategies; why did I not stay within and race my race; why did I not just sit in, as the other athletes had no problem doing? These questions kept plaguing me; in fact, the fact that I was dwelling on these questions was plaguing me. For the first time in recent memory, my mental strength of staying within the moment, and racing positively in my own race had let me down.

With about fifteen miles to go, I found a second wind (or should I say my quads found a second wind), and I finished well: I even picked up a few folks who had blown as well.

Starting the run, I was a few spaces out of the top twenty: a place I had begun the marathon before. I was confident that I could overturn my mental and physical let-down from the bike, and run my way into the top ten: a revised goal for me.

Knowing very well that many folks never make it out of the Alii Drive out-and-back, I bided my time for the first ten miles. I found a groove, and held several comfortable 6:20′s, waiting until the Queen K to increase the pressure. I knew, just knew, that once the sun came out, I would be right there to pick up the pieces of those before me who had gone out hard.

I waited for the sun to come out. I waited for that perfect moment to begin my push. I waited for the carnage that typifies the Kona Coast marathon. I waited and waited. I needed that brutal heat.

I have to say that I am still a bit shocked that the suffering never happened: the heat never hit us, and the flies never dropped. The top fifteen to twenty guys seemed to hold steady, in the same order throughout. I did move up a handful of spots, and lost one spot along the way; however, the normal attrition rate on the Queen K was strangely absent. Just as the bike ride was strangely windless, the marathon gave us little to no sunshine, and very mild conditions.

To top things off, the damage I had done myself on the bike was preventing me from running fast. I pushed and pushed; built and built, but I gained very little ground, as I anticipated doing. I was stuck in a no-man’s land. I had ridden myself out of contention.

In 2005 I truly found out what it was like to have a bad race. Being forced to walk, and finishing 395th was a humbling experience. And now to finish back in the top twenty, and to do so with my second-fastest time on the course, I can only be pleased with the result. Even still, I must say that I am a bit disappointed to fall so far short of my goals; however, the race taught me a very valuable lesson, one that will surely aid me in next year’s quest for a top finish.

After two years with mild conditions out on the Big Island, I can only assume that next year will be a brutal one. In a strange way, I look forward to this, as I have no doubt that with the normal wind and heat, this year’s outcome would have been very different for a lot of people.

Michael Lovato

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