My Hawaii Ironman in 1987.
I was a cyclist in the 1960s and from the age of 14 dedicated myself to being a racing cyclist. When I was 15 I set off alone to France and headed for Brittany. I had been given an address for a Brit called John Geddes who was living in St Brieuc. John helped me join the local Club Olympique Briochin, which had been Tom Simpson's club before he was a pro, and I raced cadet races for the next six weeks and loved every minute of it, from then on I was a confirmed Francophile. For the next five or six years I would work during the winter saving my wages so as to be able to live in France in the summer and be a real 'coureur cycliste'.
England wasn't a hotbed of road racing like France, for most English cyclists time trialing was the event of preference. The undisputed king of the 25 miles time trial was a guy called Alf Engers. Alf won every race he entered and held competition record in something like 49 minutes. In fact, he was called The King and was revered, much as any Olympic medalist is to-day.
I got to know Alf quite well. He was a baker by trade and one time, when I found myself with nowhere to live, I slept on a mattress above his bakery. He would get me up at five in the morning to work for him, deep frying donuts then squirting them full of jam.
Many years later or paths crossed again when we were both trying to be triathletes. Alf could ride, was improving his running but his swim was a disaster, when he kicked he went backwards! Anyway, he got it in his mind that he would do the Hawaii Ironman (no qualification needed in 1987). What he needed was a training partner to make those long 20 mile runs less boring and someone else to swim with to entice the old ladies to breast stoke in another lane. He asked me and I agreed to train with him but told him he was crazy to think of doing an Ironman distance triathlon on the other side of the world.
We put in quite a few good sessions, Alf always enthusing about Hawaii. "Picture the scene" he would say, " Seven in the morning, the sun comes up and a thousand swimmers break into the warm Pacific Ocean from Digme Beach, aaah!"
I had never swum 2.4 miles, let alone in open water, I had never run any further than our training runs, I thought I could ride 112 miles if push came to shove, but anyway, I wasn't going to enter. One day Alf arrived with a big grin and his Ironman entry form - and a photo copy which he gave to me. "Come on John, picture the scene, etc etc".
I don't know why, but I sent off my entry form and a money order for $180 and a little later received my confirmation of acceptance. Alf never got his acceptance, well, he didn't send off his entry. And that is how I came to be in Hawaii in October 1987, finish the race and returned home with a nice medal and a finishers T-shirt.
What does Kona mean to me? When I think back, that first Hawaii race was one of the turning points that sent me off on a whole different life. Thanks Alf - you b******! (said with a grin).
How I Dun It The Hawaiian Ironman in 1987
(a non stop sporting event comprising three sports: Swimming (2.4 miles), Cycling (112 miles) and Running (26.2 miles)
It wasn't my intention to be an entrant in the 1987 Hawaii Ironman, I sort of got inveigled into it by my very good friend (at that time!) Alf Engers. I was meant to be his support team but got coaxed into filling out an entry form and at the last moment Alf didn't, I was out there on my own.
So. . . . . . I’ve been swimming for about 20 minutes and just taken a really good look in front. The turn boats seem miles away. A Japanese woman is just in front doing the breast stroke, she keeps zigzagging . . . or is it me?
The race started at seven a.m. just after the sun had come up over the mountain. The crowds, helicopters, film crews, not to mention over one thousand three hundred triathletes, made for a busy start. I had stood on the beach at the very back of the field, the gun went off and some sort of magnetic attraction made me move forward, following the others. In a moment there is a space to swim. There are big red buoys down the length of the course, I swim to each one, sometimes they are hidden by the swell. At least the water is nice and warm.
After 1.2 miles we come to the turn boat, I can see scuba divers underwater looking up and taking pictures. I don’t even dare to look for the finish. I wish I knew how many buoys there were, I could then mark my progress. I feel a bit isolated so I try to catch a group a few yards ahead. Then I start to panic - I get cramp in my foot. I’ve had this cramp before, normally I swim to the shallow end and stand up. Today the shallow end is quite some way away. The cramp eases and I catch the trio in front. I realise I am now going even slower but resolve just to keep with them. Time passes very slowly.
Some days later a surf boarder tells us it’s not far to go. We come round the pier and along a roped-off lane to be grabbed and pulled out. I am amazed and bemused to have done it - 2.4 miles! It's 8:45 at night back home in Swindon where the time difference is 12 hour. My mate Trevor is coming out of the pub, he looks at his watch and says "John should be coming out of the water about now" - he was right!
Under the shower, down the alley, bag in hand (somehow). Sit down in the changing area and very quickly dress. Shorts rolled up ready to slide on, tug at vest and away. People are still sitting and towelling themselves dry. I’m off. Out in the open I’m given food, sun-block and put on my bike, 138.2 miles to go.
In bottom gear I spin up the first hill, pass the cheering crowds then out onto the Queen Kaahumanu Highway. I’m moving well, passing people. I settle in, change up to a high gear, In fact I’m flying. This is OK, I'm riding a low-pro bike with light wheels, aero-rims and thin racing tyres, they feel good as I whoosh along. The road is wide and rolling, as far as I can see there are riders dotted up the road. I concentrate on hauling in the next rider. I pass a large number of very small Japanese women.
Every five minutes there is a feeding station. Throw out empty bottles, catch more water, Exceed sports drink and iced sponges. If I’m quick I can get two sponges. It's very hot and there is no shade. The volunteers are very helpful, they hold up food and drink. I try to calculate how many plastic bottles are needed, must be nearly ten thousand. At one feeding station I pass a one armed rider, how does he take a drink? he must have to keep stopping.
The scenery is unchanging, black road, black lava, bright blue sky. I’m now having problems, my feet have swollen in my tight Italian cycling shoes. Every time I get out of the saddle a shooting pain goes through each foot. At the next feed station I take a sponge for each foot. The sudden cold water hurts, however it’s not getting any worse.
Nearly 50 miles gone and the long climb to the turn at Hawi takes an age. Then the turn. I roll top gear 52 x 12 back down the hill, but a strong side wind stops any real speed. The return is desolate. I’m moving like I’m on a long training ride - slowly. There are no landmarks to relate to. I grind on.
Then I see life, in the distance is the run turn, the runners also come out on this part of the bike course. As I ride by I see a few oncoming runners. I continue and catch a runner accompanied by a TV van, cameras and motorbikes, no mistaking The Man, Dave Scott, I decide against offering him my bike and carry on past. Within minutes I see Mark Allen also with his entourage, he is breathing hard but has a good lead. Only five or six miles to go for him, he must win.
I ride on, pass through the town of Kona which is the start and finish, and on a further six miles. The road runs by the sea and at last has some shade. It ends at the Kona Surf Hotel which is the bike/run transition. Up the last short sharp hill and a shout from my wife, Sally. Descend into the hotel grounds, through the car park and across the line. My bike is taken. Luckily I have thought to take my sore feet out of my shoes as I rode in, I didn’t want to have to twist them hard to get them out of the pedals.
I’m sort of dazed. “Would you like a shower?” No thanks, I’m led into the changing area. Sit down, on with the running kit, loosely pull lace locks. Stand up. The loudspeaker announces “Dave Scott has just taken the lead". He is nearly finished, I’ve got twenty six miles to run.
I’m OK. I jog out but walk the first hill, this is OK as I’ve already decided that would be my plan. There is Sally, I give her a wave. The feed stations are every mile, I walk through each one, drink half a cup of water, then a cup of Exceed, take a sponge and them continue running.
I’m not at all worried by the distance, in fact I’m quite happy. I try to husband my strength but at the same time feel very alert. I pass even more Japanese people, in fact I’m passing quite a few runners. We come to the outskirts of Kona, Dave Scott is probably relaxing and having his afternoon cup of tea. I follow the course out of town and once again on to the Queen K Highway.
Now I can see all the runners coming back towards me, some are walking. I see another Brit, Sarah Springman, I call out “Turned out nice again . . .” I don’t think she heard me. At one feeding station a women tells me “You look real strong, not like some of those young guys.” Is this a compliment I ask myself? By the time I’ve mulled this over I’ve reached the far turn, about nine miles to go. It’s cool and getting dark. I pick up a fluorescent light stick because suddenly the sun has gone and it’s very dark.
One good thing about the pitch black, you can’t see the hills. The light sticks off in the distance look like glow-worms. Thinks . . . If a glow-worm had its tail cut off would it be de-lighted? I see a runner still going out, he has a sort of buffalo on his head. Apart from going through two feed stations that each said five miles to go I’m still moving and thinking OK.
I’ve now passed nearly three hundred runner and suddenly back in Kona. Crowds are cheering, even on the outskirts they are still lining the streets. Alf told me to sing Land of Hope and Glory down the last mile but this is all forgotten as I run in, searching for the bright lights of the finish. There it is! Unbelievable! All of a sudden I’ve stopped. I’ve finished! I’m given a Lei (a garland of tropical flowers) for which I murmur “Thanks” and being supported by two volunteers, Sally is shouting at me and trying to take photos. I try to tell her there is not enough light. I can still think!
I’m shattered and euphoric at the same time. I’m led to the Labman tent to be weighed. I’ve lost only three pounds, I reckon to have drunk 32 pints during the day (and only two pit stops). I also collect a dark blue T-shirt and a medal. I spend the next twenty five minutes being massaged by a man who doesn't speak English. I don’t mind, by then neither can I.
With some assistance I leave the massage area, there are still people finishing - What a day. Alf, you certainly missed something special, but thanks for the idea anyway.
Today I finished 776th in place in a time of 12:46:09
|Apparently in some Eastern countries it is rude to show the soles of your feet, so if you are from that part of the world, look away now.|
I came back home after finishing the '87 Hawaii Ironman vowing that that was it. I was never going back. Once was enough. It was too painful. The day after the race I had to come down stairs backwards I was so stiff. My legs were not human they felt like solid lumps of concrete. Enough, already!
However, as I knew I wasn't coming back I had gone into the Iroman store and bought just about every item of Ironman branded clothing in my size. Once back in training with the rest of my mates in the Total Fitness Triathlon Club I would appear at the pool each morning with a different Ironman shirt, maybe Ironman socks, Ironman cap, even an Ironman fanny pack. I didn't realise that my presence each morning in all my Iron manliness was like a personal affront to the rest of the guys. One day my best mates Kevin and Trevor took me aside and announced that they were so fed up with me being an Ironman poseur that they were going to Hawaii the next year and I was required to accompany them as I obviously knew how to get to the Big Island and which cinnamon buns were the best for them. Oh.
|John, Trev, Kev. We are standing by the canal which was the swim course in 1988|
The race went ok, swimming up and down a canal was a lot less traumatic than the big wide ocean, the bike route pretty fast and the run up and down the canal path very flat. I remember being handed up a cup of chicken soup near the end, it was delicious! I had a pretty good race, swim & bike in 7 hours and ran in a shade under 4 hours to do 10:57. I think I was 8th or 9th in my age group so qualified for Hawaii. Kev also was easily in his top 10 but poor old Trev, who was in a much bigger and more competitive group didn't make his top 10 - disaster.
The race over we had to go immediately and sign up and pay our Hawaii entry fees. Trev, who is normally Mr Bubbly didn't want to come and hang around with us qualifiers. I, on the other hand, insisted he come, thinking it can't do any harm and there might be a way in . . . . . .
There was; after waiting several hours it seemed that everyone who was going to sign up had signed up. In Trev's age group there was still a place and yes, it could be rolled down, and yes he could enter, sign here, pay here. Hurray!
And that is how the three of us went to Hawaii in 1988 and the consequences of that race and the lack of race coverage and results in Triathlete Magazine tripped me into starting our own British triathlon magazine which we called 220.