So, race day went by and I had to drop out after developing some intense low back pain on the second half of the bike course. I was actually hoping to write a different kind of race report but this time it just didn't work out... Now, I have to think about what happened, why it happened and how to go from there. Here are a few first thoughts.
1) Did I push too hard on the bike?
I would say that this wasn't the case per se. My quads felt good and my nutrition went perfectly well. I ingested about 1600 calories of CarboPro, had one bottle of water on every aid station and another bottle so spray on my arms, legs and through my wicked water hole in my aero helmet :) Energy-wise I was ready to go. The weak point this time was obviously my lower left back which couldn't handle the force and therefore in a way I did push too hard. In this situation I had to decide whether I want to keep on pushing and stay on schedule, or just roll back into town and give my back some rest. I then asked myself why am I here? The answer was clear, I wanted to place top 5 in my age group and not just finish another Ironman. So, I decided to push it and see how things will turn out during the run. After I came into transition, my back was very sore and I had hard times putting on my runners while bending over. I ran out still hoping the problem will resolve but the pain just didn't want to stop. Then, after the first eight miles or so, I felt a decision and stopped running and dropped out of the race. It was a strange and new feeling for me to not finish a race. That's my first DNF, however, in some way it also feels like a valuable experience since it clearly showed my limits and what has to be improved.
So, what to do? I certainly won't stop doing long distance endurance events, BUT I have to accept that I need to take more care of my back, core and other stabilizing muscles. I actually did feel the same issue at the Great White North triathlon (2km/90km/21km) but not as severe and it disappeared after the first couple minutes into the run. I also had the same experience on a few longer training rides, but again it resolved by itself. It may sound silly but all this tells me I am reaching an age at which I have to take more care of my back and core muscles or else I won't be able to keep on performing at these levels of intensity. Unfortunately, I just cannot jump on my bike anymore and hammer it out. SO, for the next season I will spend some time in the gym strengthen my back and core on a regular basis.
2) Maybe it just wasn't the right time to accomplish such a goal?!
Since I also became a father to a wonderful son (August 23), plus finished and defended my PhD in the same time period (September 7), plus spending time training with only a few hours of sleep (all the moms and dads out there will know), I should have decreased my expectations and rather adjust my goal than push through it. In the end that would have probably been the smartest move given the situation. However, I decided the way I did and this DNF is a result for which I am fully responsible and which cannot be blamed to anyone/anything else.
3) Miscellaneous (or things that shouldn't have happened)
a) I decided that for my next salt water swim I will just swim in my speedo and not risk chafing on my neck. I severely chafed and this in combination with sweat, sunscreen and the Hawaiian sun was not a great feeling. I guess the time you lose by swapping your speedo with a trisuit in the transiton tent is marginal if there is a difference at all. Or, alternatively, if you have the luxury to live at the sea test it and find stuff that works for you in the ocean.
b) Don't forget to put a towel in your T2 bag! It's an open water swim and it's on a beach (not in the local pool at home) - so chances are high that the transition tent is wet and full of sand (a severe case of baby brain ... haha).
c) Make sure your googles are tight enough so that they not fill up with water all the time. Again, it's not a pool swim at your local pool, it's a mass start and feels like a washing machine (again, a case of baby brain?!)
d) Take your Garmin off the bike before running out of T2, or else you are running in no man's land. Then you better have a good gut feeling about pacing --- if you are still able to pace at all at that point.
4) Okay and finally some impression from the race:
a) I did find a good spot before the swim start and was very happy. At that point I thought it will be a good day. Then the canon went of and the first couple hundred metres were still okay up until my goggles started to fill up with water. I had to stop a few times to fix that and right away people are swimming right over you. "Stupid idiot why is he seeding himself in the front and then starts breaststroking" :) Not even half way through the swim I could feel that my neck is experiencing some serious chafing. One good thing was that the turn around came pretty fast, or at least it felt that way. On the way back things slowed a little, possibly due to the current, but more likely due to the fact that I couldn't properly recover my arm anymore in order to minimize chafing. Finally the shore came closer and the last 100 metres were the hardest because the surf always pulled me back a little bit. I wonder if other people also felt this way... so if you did the race and read this please comment!
b) I went out of the water, hosed off a little with fresh water, grabbed my bag and headed into the transition tent. It took me a while to organize myself but made it out found my bike ride away and left T1 at about 1h:10min into the race. On my way up Palani road I could hear Sanja yelling and screaming "Stefan Go Go Go!!!" We first looped through the city and then we were off to Hawi. The first 60 km flew by and we had the wind mostly in our back. The climb up to Hawi was then a bit more challenging and things slowed significantly. I wore my cool wings again and they definitely helped me stay relatively cool, but most importantly also saved my skin from sunburn. After the turnaround I was expecting crazy gusts of crosswinds but it wasn't as bad as I remembered from two years ago and I was able to stay in my aerobars all the time. Then during the last 60 km my low-back pain flared up and intensified all the way back to town. I had to stretch and change the angle of my pelvis about every 10 minutes which interrupted the flow of pedalling. As mentioned above I decided to keep the speed where it was at and not back-off, hoping the pain will disappear during the run. I finished the bike leg in just above 5 hours.
c) I handed my bike to the volunteer, forgot my Garmin on the bike (which I realized about 10 min later), grabbed my run gear and tried to get my shoes on, which pretty hurt because of my sore back (see above). I ran out of transition and was in severe pain. I saw Darren who took pictures and giving me some info on times and placing in my age group, but at that point I wasn't able to say anything. I kept on running still hoping things would get better. After the first turn around point on Alii drive, I decided I will stop any second now. However, I still kept on running almost till I was back at transition. I just couldn't stand the fact people looking at me while I was walking home. Then I saw Andrea taking pictures of me. That's the point when I started walking. I didn't want to have any documentation of my misery. Of course she didn't know what was happening to me but I was so grateful that both Darren and Andrea also joined us to come here to Kona and help us out! Thanks guys!!! Andrea and I walked back to transition where we could see Pete Jacobs finishing. She told me also that Sanja was at the King Kam hotel, and after officially dropping out, grabbing a piece of pizza and ice cream, I found Sanja nursing our little Sean under a tree. Her back was towards me and I just sat down beside her and told her I dropped out. We both understood each other without a lot of words and I was really happy that this burden is off my shoulders now. Now I can finally start enjoying our little family 100% :)