I Love Working With the First Timers
Kailua-Kona Pier, athlete check in
From noon till 5:30 pm we have to check in about 2150 athletes. So how many times did I say, "No back packs on the pier tomorrow, new security policy, right?" Correct, a lot for sure. I spent a good portion of the afternoon with the bikes. But the privilege, really, privilege, of being an athlete escort for someone who's not done this race before, particularly one who happens to be pretty nervous, is all I could ask for. It truly makes my day. In just a few minutes, we rack a bike and two bags and then spend time on education. Where do we get in/out of the water? You know you won't be able to see the swim buoys on race day so let's get an alternative way to sight. Exactly where do you mount and dismount? Where's the medical tent...just in case? And, the big one, where are the finishers medals and shirts given out?
I think what I would really like is do get all the athletes together who feel intimidated by the swim, for any reason, and have a special session with them on Friday afternoon. I'll have to think about that for the future.
Unfortunately, as happens every year, there are many happy stories which come for this event, but more than a hand full of competitors did not achieve their desired outcome. These would range from DNS (Did Not Start) like American Andy Potts who withdrew at the last minute for what was reported as a fibular stress fracture, to those who make a valiant effort and miss one of the discipline cut offs. Those really hurt. According to the Ironman.com finishers list approximately 2125 racers are accounted for with the last person to cross the line of 1964 official finishers, being Jay Lakamp - congratulations big guy, well done - (racer numbers go up to 2197 but there can be gaps and last minute changes.) This leaves 161 athletes of whom 3 are listed as DQ, 87 as DNF and the remainder blank, perhaps illness, DNS or no-shows, etc.
From a medical perspective, although this blog is one source, so many athletes continue to overestimate their abilities and underestimate the difficulties encountered on the Big Island. We repeatedly see problems, many just secondary POOR PRIOR PLANNING. Although I first heard this from Coach Gale Bernhardt, it's probably been around for awhile and goes something like "poor prior planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine." Here are a few examples, some preventable, some not, of what brought athletes hardship on race day.
1) Hyponatremia - over consumption of fluids, water and otherwise, leading to a dilution of serum sodium. Has been fatal in extreme cases. You should understand this phenomenon.
2) Hypothermia - despite stated water temperature of 79 degrees, this does occur in the slower swimmers, who, with warm up swim, can be in the ocean for two and a half hours.
3) Flats before the first stroke has been taken - although some do not agree, it's always been my opinion that elevated pressure is not what causes most pre-race bike tire flats (The exact cause is unknown but potentially all the lowering and raising of tire pressures alters the relationship between the tire, tube and wheel a fraction and in a few isolated cases, leads to failure.) This makes the volunteers change your tube while you're swimming, leaving a little note on your steed. So if you run from the changing tent to your bike, and have bad news before you've pedaled the first rotation, it has to have at least some effect on your day.
4) Dehydration - gone are the days when the athlete simply waltzes into the Med Tent post race and orders up "My IV, please" as one would a cheeseburger and fries. That said I watched hundreds of finishers, a number of whom struggled across the pier to get to the post-race area making little sense, and even less forward progress. We took them into the back door of the Med Tent where, understandably, they were both happy and unhappy to see them. Anybody read Douglas Casa? Anybody know about how to calculate a personal hydration plan? Are we all too tough or pressed for time to arrive on the island early enough to make a stab at acclimating to both the time zone change and the heat? I can not tell you how many times I heard, "Boy, it's hot out there!" Is this some kind of surprise, some unexpected weather pattern? Or are we just too unthinking to plan for conditions?
There are various opinions/studies which address dehydration. Some noted authorities say 2% while others believe the number closer to 5% before athletic performance suffers in a major way. Maybe it's both, or a range, different in different individuals, but do we gain anything by testing the theory? I saw one finisher after the race at Splashers (Thanks for the beer, Inde) who said he'd had several glasses of fluid post-race, more to drink in the condo, two beers at Splashers - not one, two - before we started chatting. So after what amounts to nearly 100 ounces of fluid replacement, he still had no need to pee.
5) Gut issues - the GI tract works differently in the heat of Hawaii, not allowed for by many who were just plain sick.
6) Other - from cardiac issues, trauma of one kind or another, cramping, hyperthermia, etc.
So, the lesson to learn here, in my opinion, is the time tested phrase, "Mother Nature always bats last." Many an athlete has tried to beat the Big Island and faired poorly. I believe it was the great Normann Stadler, two time World Champion, who's quoted as saying, "The Island always wins." Accept it, believe it, plan for it, work with it and one day, on Alii Drive, you'll hear Mike Reilly say, "You are an Ironman!" You will.
Image 2, from The Metapicture