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My relationship with the Big Island and IM

Posted By: KP
Date: Monday, 8 October 2007, at 1:14 a.m.

There is no place I would rather be than on the big island of Hawaii in October. My love affair with this place started suddenly in 1992; a mix of (1) a very old dream to do the Hawaii Ironman and (2) a chance 1992 meeting with the IM race while on vacation in Kona. The old dream began in 1980. I had a buddy in professional school (Chiropractic) who was training for Ironman and I’d tag along, running in my Converse canvas basketball shoes when he did his easy runs through Griffith Park in Los Angeles. I wanted to go over and give it a go. I was a lifeguard during summers in Santa Barbara county and I rode my bike 20-25 miles each day that summer prior to taking my spot in the tower. They paid me to run on the beach during work so I logged about 5 miles a day barefoot in the sand. Back then, at 25, I ran easy at about a 7min/mile pace. No qualification was necessary then, but I had no money, was taking 25 units of anatomy, neurology, physiology, labs, etc and no way or time to get to Hawaii so I filed IM away as a future dream. However, my inspiration in chiro school, Bill McKean, was a 12 year navy SEAL team member and some of his SEAL pals did very well over there in the first couple races. Bill was (and is) one tough dude. He finished 9th OA on his first attempt at IM. Later that year he was 2nd in the Western States 100 in 18:52. Bill is an excellent doc up near Auburn above Sacramento.

So, my Hawaii IM dream was on hold. I graduated, was licensed, open a chiropractic practice in 1982 in San Diego and am still there. I watched IM from afar. I saw Moss crawl, bought Scott Tinley clothing and recall Scott Molina laying down what, at the time, was the 3rd fastest Kona finish on record (8:31) and first place. I gained 40lbs and did zero aerobic training. In October 1992 a friend offered me a package to Kona for vacation. I didn’t know IM was held there in October. That was about to change.

During my vacation we stayed in some blue roofed condos down by the old bike to run transition, The Kona Surf. On the trip, I didn't do much walking. I got around in a golf cart. I drove the little car everywhere, even over short distances. Always one handed as I had a mai tai or beer in the other. One day, cruising through the blue roofed properties while in route to get a newspaper in the hotel next door, I came to a roadside crossing where I had to stop for a long line of runners. I watched them go by. As an ex athlete who competed at a high level in basketball, I had respect for anyone who was able to do what it takes. But in '92, at 230, running wasn't for me! I had no aerobic fitness and was way too heavy to be interested.

That is where my head was at this day as I watched the runners file by. They all appeared focused and in some degree of discomfort. I asked an elderly lady what the hell they were doing. As she moved past me, she let me know that she had just gotten off her bike (silly man!). Then she growled back over her shoulder in a voice that sounded to me like something off a Black Sabbath album, “IRONMAN”. I said to myself, no shit! By accident I had stumbled upon the race I had admired from a million miles away since 1980. I got a vicarious rush that ran throughout my body. I immediately attempted to follow what was left of the 'race'.

It was the back of the pack that found me that afternoon. These athletes are tough and often deal with levels of pain that go with less than perfectly working bodies. I related immediately to the struggle. Had I seen race leaders and eventual winners (Mark Allen and PNF) glide past me I may never had ‘seen’ that this race was possible for me. The cart was parked and I made my way by foot, back to the finish line as the sun went down. I saw all shapes, sizes and ages of athletes as the back half of the field made their way to the finish anyway they could. They limped, hobbled grunted and groaned. By the time I reached earshot of the finish area I was totally ROCKED by what I was watching. It was all glow sticks and guts. My adrenaline started to flow as I hurried on toward the finish line. I was drawn like Richard Dreyfuss to the Devil’s Peak in Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of The Third Kind”.

When I arrived it got even better. Each athlete that finished was physically wasted – but ecstatic. The announcer called them out by name. He gave their ages and hometowns. The crowd was loud and my eyes misted. My throat ached. I was so happy for the finishers. I can’t explain how moving this was; standing there watching for hours. That night, and I vowed to do the race.

It took me six more years to begin _any_ training in 1998. I was unable to muster the strength to make changes that would support getting fit. Finally, I realized that I had to give up part of myself to be whole. As a 230lb weight lifter it never entered my mind that I had an unusual body for an endurance athlete. In university, as a basketball player, I was used to being one of the smallest people on the court and still saw myself that way. I never considered being unable to finish IM Hawaii – and I thought (wrongly) soon. I borrowed my brother’s bike and started riding and running in an old pair of Asics and swimming in a 20 yard indoor pool each morning at 3:00am before work.

The chance meeting at the blue roofed condos and the Ironman changed my life and my families. I dropped weight (down to 180lbs) and once again became fascinated by health. I studied our sport, listened and sought mentors. In 2003, eleven years after my vacation encounter and 22 years after Bill McKean’s finish, I raced IM Hawaii for the first time. I raced with a fractured wrist and broken ribs sustained 13 days before start day. The wrist was surgically repaired when I got home.

I don’t think my story is unique. I get a special feeling in and around IM, specifically the Hawaii IM here on Kona. My gut tells me that there are many athletes here this week, and in past years, with all kinds of crazy stories that might make me shake my head or smile with understanding. I am not racing this year and am looking forward to being frisky enough to stay late, just like I did in 1992.

Do it like I know you can!

coach KP

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