Can You Have 3 Flat Tires and Still Finish Kona? Ask Tim Johnson
“It was an epic race, but one I hope to never repeat.” It was with these cryptic words that I agreed to dine with Legacy athlete Tim Johnson from St. Louis at the finisher’s banquet the day following the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona.
Johnson was one of the folks I had the privilege of profiling for IRONMAN.com before the race so I knew much of what got him to the Kona starting line. Already a veteran of a dozen 140.6 mile efforts, he’d raced under many conditions, some pretty awful, and a host of different terrains. “Ever read the magazine know-it-alls who say that this course or that course is may be harder than this Hawaiian one? Bunk, all bunk.” This from a gent who’s raced IRONMAN Lake Placid, IRONMAN Wisconsin and (get the right name) the old St. George Utah IRONMAN. “This one beats them all.”
It didn’t help, of course, that Johnson was nursing an ailing Achilles and under chiropractic care for a recent flare up of a sore back. It’s even more sore today and here’s why. This athlete is a real student of the sport. From pre-race reading and reconnoitering he knew precisely where to line up for an excellent swim. A good T1 followed. It would be the last good thing in his day for the next 15 hours. He only made mile 4 on the bike before flatting. Then he flatted at mile 5. Now out of tubes, you guessed it, he flatted at mile 6. As he described his race preparation prior to departing St. Louis, he sounded pretty thorough with new tires and tubes a couple weeks out, several rides to make sure all was well, etc.
So he waited 20 minutes for the bike mechs, who also couldn’t explain the etiology of his situation. They gave him a new tire and tube. Including one for the road, so to speak, but not before separating the rubber off one of his brake pads. Hard way to start this race. By now, he was basically cooked. He missed the needed bike interval so he had headwinds “about 70% of the time." You read that right. The out and back Kona bike course snakes through the rugged Kawaihae region of the Big Island well known for this blowing both ways phenomenon. It didn’t help this northbound athlete to view the southbound pros, already having been to the turnaround, “about 1000 miles ahead of me.”
He made the bike cut off, although not by much. "I was spent." Able to run only the first few miles of the marathon, he had to walk the majority saving the small reserve of kindling remaining to actually run the final mile to the finish. Cramping badly, Johnson was taken to the finish line medical tent, weighed, and found to be 17 pounds down. Seventeen! Through all this he still laughed when he told me, “Yes I was at the finish line at midnight....Ha. Receiving my second bag of IV fluids in Medical.”
But if anything, Tim Johnson is a glass is half full guy. Despite his misadventures this day, he was still terribly impressed that he, Tim Johnson from Missouri, was able to watch one of the most glorious sunsets he’d ever seen as the sun plunged into the Pacific. How dark and peaceful it was there, "the stars are really something. And you know, I’m doing it in Kona. How cool is that?”