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Novice Triathlete Finishes Race on the Longest Day

Diary of a Triathlete: Last in a series on a novice's preparations for and participation in the Ironman World Triathlon Championships.

October 20, 1987|GLENN F. BUNTING

KAILUA-KONA, HAWAII — After six months of training for the Ironman Triathlon World Championship and wondering whether I was in over my head, Race Day finally arrived on Oct. 10. Looking back, I prefer to call it The Longest Day:

3:12 a.m. I rise slowly out of bed after realizing that the alarm clock I set for 3 a.m. isn't going to ring. Not to worry. I knew there was little chance of missing the 7 a.m. start because pre-race jitters would prevent me from getting much sleep. As I take a warm shower, eat a hearty breakfast and stretch out on the living room floor of our condominium, the excitement is beginning to build. The wait is finally over.

5:30 a.m. Nearly 1,400 triathletes--all dressed in skimpy Speedos and carrying caps and goggles--stand in long lines to get race numbers marked on their bodies and stop at portable toilets before tackling the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and 26.2-mile run. I try to relieve some of the tension by walking around the pier wearing a World War II aviator hat and goggles to fend off sharks. While several triathletes chuckle at the outfit, many are too engrossed in the race ahead to even notice. Press photographers, particularly the Japanese, keep asking me to pose for photographs.

6 a.m. As the sun begins to climb over the hills, not a single cloud can be seen in the sky. Weather conditions the past two days had been perfect--overcast with a slight breeze, low humidity and temperatures in the mid-80s. But from the looks of the sky above, today is going to be a scorcher.

6:45 a.m. I enter the water to warm up before positioning myself at the tail end of the field. After getting kicked and thrashed at the start of last month's triathlon in Solana Beach, I decided to take it easy at the start and not get caught in the frenzy of aggressive swimmers flailing at one another. I'm not the only one who plans to start at the rear. Triathletes already are lined up two-deep against the sea wall to make sure no one sneaks behind them. Even after the starting gun sounded, they remained against the wall until there was plenty of room ahead. I decide to take off slowly and ease my way into the field. But as the pack bunches around the first buoy, I get kicked in the face and my goggles come off.

7:45 a.m. Several minutes after passing the boat that marked the half-way point of the 2.4-mile swim, I look at my stopwatch to see how I am doing. It says 37 minutes flat. I can't believe my time. I know I feel good, but not this good. At this rate, I'll finish at least 10 minutes ahead of my goal of 1 hour, 20 minutes. A few minutes later, I check my watch again. It says 37 minutes flat. The damn thing stopped. So much for setting any personal records.

8:22 a.m. I walk with wobbly legs up the boat ramp, feeling great about my time of 1 hour, 22 minutes. As I make my way into the changing area, I can't believe how good I feel after nearly an hour and a half in the ocean. No headaches. No sore muscles. No shivering limbs. I'm on Cloud Nine.

8:35 a.m. As I head out of town up a steep hill on the bike, I pass my family cheering from the roadside. I can't contain my enthusiasm. I thrust my fist into the air and shout, "I feel good!" That line produced a round of laughs and some teasing that I'm still hearing today.

10:30 a.m. About 30 miles into the bike leg and the heat is unbelievable. The sun is roasting the top of my shoulders. Now I know what it feels like to be a marshmallow on an open fire. My feet are beginning to kill me and I haven't even hit the lava fields yet. It's going to be a long 112 miles.

11 a.m. I pull off the side of the road to urinate. I haven't been on the bike three hours and I've had to make three pit stops already. Before the race, doctors held a pre-race meeting to warn triathletes about the effects of dehydration. If you don't drink enough water, they said, the Ironman can kill you. They said you know you're drinking enough water if you have to urinate. I've been following my plans of taking fluids at every opportunity. I had never considered the possibility of drinking too much water. Since my head and body feel fine and the only things burning up are my feet, I'm going to keep on drinking. By the end of the bike leg, I would drink 31 pints of fluid and eat a dozen bananas and 10 fig bars. I would have to get off the bike to urinate 9 times.

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