Patrick Devlin - The Ironman World Championships Race Report
Post written by Patrick Devlin - Diabetes Sports Project Athlete, KONA finisher and an all round incredible sportsman.
I’ve never really written a race report but the Ironman World Championship is a different beast. It was such a special day. Going into this day as an average Ironman, not a super-elite qualifier, I just wanted to respect the race. I wanted to do everything I could to set a new personal record which would be below 13:44 overall time.
The morning started off at 3:45am, pretty normal for an Ironman morning. Even though the race doesn’t start until 7am, there are still so many things that need to happen. The main thing is to eat a normal breakfast. For me, a race day breakfast is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, heavy on the peanut butter, and a banana. This gives me plenty of carbs with a little bit of protein to help me feel full for a long time given that I don’t plan on eating normal food for another 24 hours. The other key point of waking up early to eat is that I can take a normal insulin bolus for breakfast and the insulin will have fully processed before the starting gun.
After breakfast, it is time to visually verify everything in my bike and run special needs bags. These will be accessed at the midpoint of the bike and run. In my bike bag, I have three frozen bottles of triple concentrated BASE Hydro, spare tubes and CO2 cartridges, Clif gels, and a Clif bar. My run special needs bag only contained a lidocaine patch for my strained groin. I try to keep these bags as minimal as possible in order to be quick.
At 4:30am it was time to start walking towards transition. Part of what was special about this race was having one of my best friends, John Muse, and his family, staying with us in Kona. He and I have been racing together since 2014 and it always works out that one of us sherpas the other. Having him guide me through the morning makes a huge difference. As we started to walk towards transition, we expected the morning shuttles to drive by and pick us up. Turns out, there were not enough shuttles for the number of athletes so we walked about 2 miles before another friend picked us up. Not a bad way to work up a light sweat and get the blood flowing but overall, a little disappointed with the planning.
Race central was an absolute madhouse of athletes and spectators. It took us a few minutes of wandering around to find the special needs bag drop area by about 6am. This worked out pretty perfectly from a timing perspective because it was right on schedule to take my 2 hour bottle of UCAN. I use this product because of its slow release carbohydrates. I did a half bolus for the carbs, not wanting too many active units on board for the swim start. I also initiated my temporary basal settings on my Omnipod. For this race, I did an 85% reduction over 12 hours. At this point, this is where the emotions started to hit me. Only racers were allowed any further so I was time to say goodbye to John and the other friends that came down with us.
We went through body marking and did our last checks of the bike and transition area, the adrenaline really started to flow. I found a quiet spot on the practice beach to change clothes and relax. I don’t meditate, but slowly working through applying body glide, anti-fog spray to my goggles, and sipping water helped to slow my heart rate way down. Time to queue up for the rolling start.
Five minutes before the starting gun, I waded out into the water, peed myself, and completely took in the moment. Thousands of spectators cheering, Hawaiian drums banging, and then BOOM, the gun goes off. My whole plan for the swim was to draft as much as possible. I did not want to burn any extra energy to spot the buoys. Thankfully I found an athlete with bright green KT tape on their legs and I swam nearly the whole distance right behind him. When we reached the turnaround, I allowed myself a quick glance at the watch, 38 minutes, way ahead of schedule! My heart started to race thinking that I could get close to a PR for the swim. My best previously was 1:24. I started to push a little harder but quickly slotted back in behind Mr. KT. I kept telling myself not to go off plan. My goal was to come out of the water at 1:30 and I clicked the timing mat at 1:31. I was so happy! My least favorite event was done and I was right on schedule!
I hustled through transition as quick as I could. I showered off to make sure as little salt was left over as I had been told that once it dried, it could seriously cut you and ruin your day. I changed into my bike clothes, full cycling gear was my choice. I wanted to focus on comfort and storage. I needed to carry my phone to sync with my Dexcom and Omnipod PDM which fit best in a regular cycling jersey. Anything longer than 10 minutes in transition is a failure for me so I busted my butt and made it out in 8.
The bike course in Kailua Kona is one that can take a tremendous cyclist and leave them curled up on the side of the road, just to get out of the wind. No one knows what the weather will do on race day, forecasts are useless. You know it will be brutally hot in the lava fields, the hills will destroy your legs, and the wind will destroy your will to live. The only thing you can do is to stick to your plan. For me, I wanted to stay under 150 watts for the duration, drink 20oz of my BASE concentrate per hour (300 calories), and survive. Ideally, I would be less than 7 hours (16mph). As I started to roll down the Queen K highway I quickly realized the type of race that this was. I had an average swim time for a normal Ironman and expected to be right in the middle of large packs of bikers. This was not the case. Everyone at this race is uber-elite, they finished their swims 10-20 minutes faster than me. Effectively, I was alone for large chunks of the ride. Doesn’t matter, stick to the plan, drink, eat, pedal.
Within the first 10 minutes on the bike, my Apple Watch roared to life, potential low blood sugar approaching. As a Type 1 diabetic, tracking sugar levels during activities like this is a serious challenge. For the whole training cycle, I practiced wearing two watches, a Garmin 920xt and an Apple Watch. The whole point of the Apple Watch was to be able to see my Dexcom G6 sugar readings without having to take my eyes off the road. I could also receive texts from my wife, who had instructions to send my readings every 30 minutes. So, after getting my first alert, I took two Clif Gels and slowed my pace a bit. Turns out, I may have taken in too much nutrition too soon. At mile 25, my sugar was over 300 and rising. I had been micro-dosing ½ a unit at a time to try and bring it down. This is hard because you still have to take in nutrition for energy. Micro-dosing insulin during exercise is something that takes practice. If you take too much, your sugar levels can crash, which can be deadly. Everything started to come down as I approached the climb to Hawi. My Dexcom was still around 220 but declining, my computer had my power average at 140 watts, and my speed at 17.3 mph. Solid, but still 80+ miles of riding to go.
After the turnaround is where the wind is supposed to take over. On this day, we were blessed. Overall temperatures were mild, slight cross/tailwind, and occasional cloud cover. There is a point at about mile 80 where the steep climbs are done and everyone says that at this point, the bike course is over. I looked down at my numbers, solid blood sugar, average power 135 watts, and an average speed of nearly 18 mph! I knew it was too soon for me to celebrate but I couldn’t help daydream about setting a new bike split PR on one of the hardest courses. Doesn’t matter, stick to the plan, drink, eat, pedal.
I hit transition and clicked stop on the computer, 18.1 miles per hour. A new PR by 16 minutes! No time to celebrate. I still had to change clothes and run a marathon. Again, I busted my butt through transition in 9 minutes and set out, one thing on my mind, “I get to see my wife and son at mile 3.”
The marathon at Kona is where dreams go to die. There is no shade, about 2,000feet of elevation gain, and there are no spectators between mile 7 and 24. I started off the run feeling okay. My stomach was a little turned but that isn’t unusual for me coming off the bike. I took some coke cup hand-ups at the first aid station and kept moving. Seeing my wife and 2-year-old son at the 3-mile mark was amazing. He screamed and ran to me for the best hug of my life, though I think he quickly regretted it given my sogginess and smells. I told my wife that I was going to try to hang on to an 11 min per mile pace for as long as I could. As I trotted away, I knew that wouldn’t be too long.
At mile 4, my stomach gave in. I had to make two unscheduled porta potty stops over the next two miles before things calmed down. At mile 7, you leave Kona and head out on the Queen K highway. To explain my collapse on the run, we must jump back on the bike. In order to save as much time as possible part of my plan was to pee on the bike. I executed this perfectly three times which probably saved me 5 minutes or more overall. The downside to this is the necessity to hose off every time. Basically, both feet were completely soaked for 80+ miles. I didn’t think this would be a problem until I settled into those final 20 miles of running. To put it plainly, I had the worst case of trench foot possible. No blisters, thankfully, but running was hugely painful. I was doingeverything I could do to shuffle at a 15 minute per mile pace before bailing on that entirely as well. For 15+ miles, I walked as fast as possible, alone, in pitch black. It was hard to enjoy the beauty of the sunset or the clearness of the stars. I had the opportunity of a lifetime. A normal marathon for me would be about 5 hours long and if I had been able to execute that, I would have been under 13 hours overall. Instead, I was just trying to limit the damage.
With three miles to go and the city lights back in sight, I tried to shuffle again. I was able to bring my pace down a bit which was encouraging. I set a short-term goal of being under 6 hours for the marathon. Now, throughout the run I was extremely thirsty, more so than normal. I didn’t think much on it but more on that later. As I turned into town I saw John, who gave me the scoop on how our other friend was doing before pushing me on my way towards the last half mile. I knew I would not be allowed to walk across the finish line so I picked my trot up, separated myself from the other athletes around me, and listened for Mike Reilly to call my name. Coming across the finish line was exhausting with somany emotions. Because of my inclusion with the Ironman Foundation race team, my wife and son were allowed to put my medal on me. It was too bad that I took so long to finish because my son fell asleep inour hiking backpack and missed Mike calling him a girl! I know for sure that he would have said, No, No, No!
Fourteen hours and four minutes. Final blood sugar of 110, perfect. It wasn’t the race that I wanted, but I felt like at the end of the day, I respected it and gave it everything I had. To be 20 minutes away from an overall PR and achieve a huge PR on the bikewas amazing. In reality, things were just getting interesting.
After crossing the finish line, kissing my wife and son, I made my way through the finisher area to get my gear, try to eat, and hopefully, go home. None of that went to plan. One of the highlights of this race was that a dear friend of mine, Paul Erneweinand his wife, both volunteered in the finisher chute to ensure that they would be the ones to shuttle me through the post-race activities. This became critical because after sitting down, I realized that things weren’t right. I was dizzy and nauseous. We laid there and chatted for a few minutes before I had to go to the bathroom. After that, we got my bags and walked through transition to get my gear. During this walk I kept sipping on water and trying to eat a single pretzel. Something wasn’t right.
We approached the final checkpoint to verify I had the right bags and the wheels came off. I doubled over and threw up 5 times, all water, and all over Paul and my shoes. He called for medical and they came and wheeled me into their tent. The nurse weighed me and found that I had gained 4 pounds during the race – this wasn’t good.The doctor came over and we discussed hyponatremia. Basically, my sodium levels were way too low and I wasn’t processing water correctly. Because of being a diabetic as well, they wanted to keep an eye on me while forcing me to drink chicken broth. I took a little nap and was awoken by Paul telling me that my wife would prefer me to nap at home. We had a little laugh at this and got her on the phone to fill her in. Thankfully, they let her back into the medical area, we gathered my things and made our way back to the condo. Thankfully there were no other issues that night.
All in all, it was anunbelievable experience. One that I will remember for my whole life. I could not have done it without the support of my family, friends, coworkers, and Diabetes Sports Project. They connected me with Sansego for coaching, who had me as prepared as I ever have been. Another DSP Champion, Amy McKinnon, had me prepared on the nutrition side. I entered the race at my goal weight of 165 and executed my nutrition plan perfectly…until the run. Bolus and Barbells founder and DSP Champion Rodney Miller had my functional strength built up to where I had no lower back issues on the bike. And finally, Oceaneering International, where I work, supported me completely during the 6-month training cycle. They allowed me the flexibility to train and race as much as possible to ensure I was prepared.
Lastly, I am sorry this is so long. I think I ended up writing it for myself more than anything