It’s time to feature another story from a Minnesotan who qualified for and raced in the Ironman World Championship just over a week ago. Alex Hooke (Rochester) just celebrated his second finish in Kona. Here’s his race report and photos:
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Racing in Kona for the Ironman World Championships is a very amazing, yet humbling experience. Last week I had the privilege of racing there for the second time. A substantial support crew of my wife, parents, sister and her husband, wife’s parents, and wife’s brother made the trip out. Having them there combined with knowing lots of other Minnesotans out there made for a great time.
In the days leading up to the race I was able to take in the spectacle that is race week in Kona. I spent some time hitting up the expo to see all the latest gadgetry and collect some freebies including a necklace with ionic power from “medical grade magnets” (as opposed to those paltry “regular” grade magnets). I ran in the Underpants Run, which seemed to have a bigger fan turn out than the actual Ironman race. Immediately afterward introduced myself to one my my favorite pros, Xterra champ Conrad Stoltz, while still in my underwear. We also took a family snorkeling trip the day before the race and ended up swimming with a pod of 30+ dolphins that came close enough to touch. Having been a serious dolphin/whale/shark/aquatic creature fan/nerd since childhood (I challenge anyone to shark trivia!) this was a dream come true. You can watch a video of the event my wife put together here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ac6-Ziw-0a8
On to race day! I got up on race morning around 4am and had a my top-secret race fuel for breakfast: Peanut Butter Panda Puffs, an Ultragen Shake and some coffee. Somehow I got a little delayed on race morning and didn’t get down to the pier until about 5:30, about half an hour later than planned. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but given the events that follow things became quite stressful. During gear check in I forgot to add socks to my bike gear bag. When I went to add them race morning I looked in my bike bag to discover all of my run gear. Crap! Fortunately I discovered this before the race started and was able to get things straightened out. Crisis 1 averted. Next I went to set up my bike only to realize that my drink bottles and gels were in the refrigerator back at the house. Crap! Somehow my mom, dad, and brother-in-law were able to form an amazing relay to go back to the house, get the stuff, and get it back to me by 6:35ish. Crisis 2 averted. With everything set I spent my remaining time maneuvering my way threw a crowd of fiercely anxious swimmers to get on the front line.
Swim! Being a strong swimmer, I have previously been able to largely escape the brutality that is an Ironman start. This time, not so lucky. I was kicked, punched, grabbed, and got a sizable scratch on my face. After what seemed like forever and after swallowing several gallons of salt water, I found some space and got into a rhythm. Unfortunately, my early squabbles left me out of the lead swim pack I’d hoped to be in. After trying to bridge up for a few buoys and making no progress, I decided to just settle in, cruise the swim at an easy pace and save energy. I came out in 57 minutes and had a smooth transition.
Bike! The start of the bike was massively crowded over the first 10 miles through downtown Kona. Everyone is so amped up and its like no one told them them how long the race is. I held back and rode nice and easy through the first section as people blew past by the dozen. When we got up to the highway started to try and get into my groove but felt really sick from swallowing so much salt water and felt pretty weak. I mostly just tried to hang in there and enjoy myself best I could as riders steadily went by me. When we hit the climb to Hawi there was a massive head wind with gusting side winds. I started felling a little better and was able to pass a few people back. After making the turn around, I started the descent from Hawi, aka the death zone. At the top I had to pick aerobars or drop bars because I am too afraid to switch once I start. I picked aerobars and proceeded to pedal as fast I could the whole way down at 40+ mph. Despite having the crosswinds push me all over the place, I was able to keep both wheels on the road and pass a lot of people. From there until the end I started feeling way better and re-passed all the crazies that had escaped me in the early miles. I finished the ride in 5:07 and feeling much stronger than at the start of the ride.
Run! Overall I felt better on the run this year than ever before. A big part of that is that I had a nutrition plan that consisted of more than “grab stuff at aid stations.” Many thanks to Brian Shea at Personal Best Nutrition for helping develop the nutrition plan. I got to see my family at about mile 1 for the first time since the start of the bike which always provides a good energy boost. All through the first 10 miles I was cruising and feeling good. I learned that if I smiled, people would cheer, causing me to smile more and them to cheer more. This was a great cycle to be in! There were lots of Minnesotans out in this part, both racing and not racing, to provide motivation. At mile 10 I passed my family again for the last time until the finish as the course leaves town and all the fans that come with it. My goal here was to try to hold the pace I set early on best I could and was largely unsuccessful. I managed to push through with the only really rough patch being the last mile out of the Energy Lab. Before I knew it I was back in town and pushing the pace best I could. For the last bit down Alii drive I slowed down to savor the moment and and give some high fives before crossing the line with a 3:17 run.
Overall I am very happy with the result of 9:30:09 and 18th in my division. Even though it seemed like it just wasn’t my day up through mile 60-70 on the bike, I was able to rally and put together my strongest Ironman race ever. I’d like to thank Hed Cycling for keeping me rolling fast (and in this case on the road) as well as TC Running Co. for making sure I have the equipment to survive a marathon through a sweltering moonscape. Last but not least, many thanks to my family and friends who continue to be infinitely supportive, especially my wife, Jenn, who lovingly supports my crazy antics more than any spouse should have to.
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Wow! A 9:30 finish in Kona is something amazing! Congrats Alex! (And it’s great to hear the people so speedy still have “brain farts” leading up to their important races… I’m glad all your emergencies were avoided, Alex!)
Check out Alex’s photos below.
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