Kona 2007 -- Ironman World Championships
Steven Gribble

So, I got an email from Ironman race headquarters...

Aloha Lucky Athlete,

My name is xxxxx, the Athlete Liaison for the Ford Ironman World
Championship race to be held in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on October 13,
2007.  It is a pleasure to send you this special invitation to
participate in this year's race.  We are all very excited to see your
dreams fulfilled by competing in the 2007 Ford Ironman World
After many years of trying, I finally won a lottery slot to Kona! Getting to the starting line was an adventure unto itself, but with the help of my coach Jake, four months of hard work, and the patience of my wife Sunny, I did get to the starting line early Saturday morning in Kailua-Kona.

At an ironman, I often feel out of place. The two thousand athletes at the starting line are in incredible shape, and many are elite professionals. At Kona, the feeling of alienation was extreme; except for lottery winners like me, everyone who is racing has won a spot by placing in the top few in their age group in another race. The people around me are in simply phenomenal shape, and though I am in near the best shape of my life, it just isn't comparable.

Nonetheless, I'm confident, and looking forward to the race. The start area is in a cramped harbor. To get into the water, you have to run down a set of carpeted stairs; it's a bit of a funnel getting 1800 athletes down there in time for the starting gun to go off. I got in place, though, and the gun went before I even realized it...we're off!

I settled quickly into a nice swim rhythm. There weren't really any waves, the water was nice and warm, and for a good chunk of the race, I could see 20 feet down to the sand, coral, and fish at the sea bottom. I was bumping into other swimmers for much of the first half, and I was nervous, but it felt like I was going strong. At the turnaround, I poked my head up and took 10 seconds to soak it all in; the swim start was far off in the distance, and I could see the long string of swimmers coming towards and away from me. Heading back in was fun, though I was beginning to chafe from the salt in the water.

Coming into t1, I was very glad to be out of the water and onto the bike. The sun was starting to cook, so I slathered myself extra-well with sunscreen. Hopping on the bike, I saw Sunny at the transition area, and then got cranking. I was pretty fast (19mph+) for the first 30-40 miles, but then the famous Kona headwinds started blowing. As well, miles 45-55 are a slow, steady climb up to the turnaround point at Havi. Finally, that Kona sun started baking down on me, and the reflective heat from the lava fields next to the Queen K highway was the icing on the cake.

It was at this point that I realized something was going on with my feet. My bike shoes have always been a snug fit, which has led to pressure sore issues on long (multi-day) rides. But, given the heat and the huge amount of hydration and salt intake I'd been doing, I think my extremities were swelling some. The bottom of my right foot was getting very tender, to the point at which it was painful to apply power on the pedals. But, I was looking forward to the turnaround, the downhill section of the ride, and hopefully a tailwind back into Kailua-Kona.

After the turnaround, I flew down the Havi hill. But, at the bottom, I realized that I didn't have a tailwind -- in fact, it felt as though the winds had shifted and I was riding into a headwind again! Sure enough, the ride back to Kailua-Kona was just as tough as the ride out. Between the increasing pressure on my foot, a sense that I was getting fried by the sun, and the headwinds, the last 25 miles were excruciating. But, I eventually and happily rolled into t2.

When I got off my bike, I nearly fell over. I simply could not stand on my right foot, as the pain from the swelling and pressure on the bike shoes was so great. I literally hopped through the transition area, grabbed my change of clothes, and hopped into the t2 change tent. There, I managed to get the attention of a medical volunteer to look at my foot. The bottom of it was noticably bruised, and it felt like the bone itself was tender. Luckily, the medical volunteer kept me calm, gave me advil for the pain, and an icepack to apply to the bottom of the foot. While sitting there, I noticed that my bike shorts had slid up a few inches on my legs, and the newly exposed skin was blistered -- I guess I hadn't applied enough sunscreen there, and I got nicely fried.

Thirty minutes later (my longest transition ever!) I was feeling confident and my foot was less tender. The volunteer helped me pad and wrap my foot, and I hobbled out of t2 to start the final leg of the race.

I managed to run for the first five miles of the marathon, but pretty soon the pain in my foot was back, and worse, I could feel the padding and bandaging starting to cause blistering. I ended up having to walk in the final 21 miles of the marathon, and at about mile 10, I could feel the skin from the blister on the bottom of my foot separate from the flesh, and start smooshing around. (Ouch!)

The sun went down, and I found myself in pitch darkness on the Queen K, limping through the last 5 miles of the race. Finally, shortly before 11pm, I made it to Alii drive and the final hundred yards of the race! It's amazing how all the pain disappears, the muscles get fresh, and you're able to sprint the last 30 seconds of the race. Crossing the finish line felt amazing; in spite of the pain, lumps, and bumps, I'm glad I did it.