Jamestown Native Completes Ironman Kona 2016 In Hawaii
EDITOR’S NOTE: Mark Cardinale is a Jamestown native and a 1987 Jamestown High School graduate, who recently competed in and successfully completed the Ironman Kona 2016 in Hawaii. Cardinale, who lives with his wife Amy and their children, Lucas and Sophia, in Parker, Colorado, works in compliance for Keysight Technologies, a manufacturer of electronic test equipment. A veteran of five Ironman competitions, the 47-year-old Cardinale writes of his experiences last month at Kona, which was his second successful attempt there.
By Mark Cardinale
Coming into the 2016 Ironman World Championship, the goals I set for myself were as follows:
¯ Carry myself with a sense of gratitude for being afforded another opportunity to participate in this race.
¯ Through my actions, honor the race and the island of Hawaii.
¯ Race to my potential while maintaining a sense of perspective.
Yes, these goals were all ambiguous, but putting a time goal on this race is not my style and is so difficult because the conditions of the day play a tremendous part in terms of what your times will be for swim, bike and run. In short, my plan was to have fun, race well and carry myself with a sense of respect and gratitude. That started upon arrival at the island. I made a conscious effort to not get stressed out about things like traffic or other minor annoyances. Yes, it can take 30 minutes to travel the 5 miles from the condo to the pier, but I just accepted that reality and either left earlier or accepted the fact that I was going to be late. Problem solved!
My family and I arrived on the Sunday before the race. The days leading up to the race were a mix of easy training in the morning, wrapping up shortly after noon, and then spending time with the family at the pool or at the beach and then going out to dinner at one of the local restaurants for some form of seafood for my wife and I, and a tropical drink for my daughter Sophia.
On the Tuesday prior to the race, after swimming in the bay in the early morning, my plan was to do a 90- to 120-minute ride from somewhere around the scenic overlook to just past Waikaloa. I am always a little bit amazed when I put my bike back together and it actually works, but I wanted to use this as a shakeout ride to ensure everything was working as intended. For the first hour everything was great, other than the heat and the wind. Actually, it was good to experience both. Despite the wind from both Madam Pele and the many trucks driving by at high speed, I was able to maintain control of the bike with no problems. I was feeling very good about my decision to ride a shallower front wheel this year vs. 2014. However, the heat was relentless. Of course I knew the heat is a major factor out on the Queen K, but I had forgotten just how hot, hot can be so it was very good to get a true taste for the searing heat prior to the race. About an hour in, I started hearing this knocking sound coming from my bottom bracket. This annoying sound continued for the rest of the ride and it was the same sound I remember hearing toward the end of the bike at Ironman Texas earlier this year. After my ride, I brought my bike to Bike Works and left it with them overnight to have a look. When I picked it up the next day, the shop said they took the bottom bracket apart and rebuilt everything, but did not see anything wrong. Shortly after I started my ride, the same knocking sound returned. I then decided to bring my bike to the Felt tent in the expo. The Felt mechanics were able to look at my bike the same day and the diagnosis was that I was missing a shim, but they didn’t have the proper shim so they rebuilt it again and told me it was fine to ride, but the sound could possibly return. The good news was they at least were able to stop the knocking sound. As it turned out, my bike ended up being fine on race day with no strange sounds. What has been very strange is that my bike shop pulled the bottom bracket apart and confirmed the shim is there. I’m wondering if the root cause doesn’t have something to do with the heat and humidity because the only times I have ever heard this noise was when riding in Texas and Kona.
Same drill as usual prior to Ironman. Up at 3:30 for applesauce and whey protein. Worked through my morning checklist and was out the door by 4:30. My wife dropped me off at the hot corner and I made my way to body marking. I was in line early enough that I was able to get in and out in about 10 minutes. Funny thing is I actually exited body marking right next to Rinny (Mirinda Carfrae – 3-time Ironman World Champ) and considered for half a second wishing her good luck, but I took one look at the expression on her face and could tell she was not interested in talking to anyone. She and I stepped on the scales right next to each other for weigh-in and I was curious about her weight, but couldn’t quite hear the number from the volunteers. After this, I made my way to transition, aired up my tires and set up my bike, and hoped that some of Rinny’s greatness had rubbed off on me!
Once I finished setting up transition, I made my way through the King Kam to the front of the hotel for our Endurance Nation Team picture. It was great to see everyone on the team and for sure it helped ease some of the pre-race butterflies. After we took the picture, I wished everyone good luck and made my way back to the athlete’s area behind the King Kam. Unlike 2014, I wanted to get in a warm-up swim so I made my way to the hotel beach about the same time the pro men were starting. I did a couple laps in the warm up area; enough to get a feel for my swim stroke and for the temperature of the water. After my warm-up I drank a 3-ounce bottle of Hot Shot (a drink designed to prevent muscle cramps) and positioned myself in line to get into the water so I could make my way out to the swim start.
Prior to coming to Kona I reviewed the footage of the swim start at the 2014 and 2015 race. In both years, I noticed large groups of people lined up on the inside, outside and the middle. However, there seemed to be open space at about the midway point between the Roka sign and the pier and this is where I decided to line up. As I floated in the water, I made small adjustments to my location so I always had some space in front of me. Mike Reilly kept giving the countdown – 5 minutes, then 2 minutes, then 60 seconds. At this point the nervousness was gone and I was just so thankful to be wading in the water waiting to start this amazing race. I could not have been more grateful to be in that water.
When the cannon sounded I started my Garmin and put my head down and started to swim. I was amazed by the lack of contact. I swam for probably a minute before I even felt anyone to my side. There was some bumping and contact, but nothing unusual. I don’t remember if it was the first or second buoy, but when I looked up I was heading straight for one of the yellow buoys and I made the decision to cut right and swim inside the buoy. I continued on this path along with a handful of others all the way out to the turnaround. I really didn’t need to sight much, but rather just made sure I was swimming alongside the general flow of traffic and this worked out well. I didn’t really have feet to follow, but I tried to swim off the hip of the person swimming directly to my left.
For open water swims, I have my Garmin set to vibrate every 15 minutes and it buzzed for the second time just before I arrived at the turn around. I felt very comfortable and in control the entire swim up to this point and I seemed to have settled into a group where we were all swimming approximately the same speed. It felt as though I was having a good swim and to be at the turnaround just over the 30-minute mark confirmed what I was feeling. From completing this swim in 2014, I remember the return trip feeling like it went on forever so I think this year I was mentally prepared that the back half was likely to be more challenging than the front. It took me a buoy or two after the turnaround to lock in on the right direction and by this time I was no longer inside the buoy line. I was a bit all over the place on the way back, but I would occasionally find feet to follow and that was helpful to not only catch a draft, but to also give me something to take my mind off how much time was left. Slowly, but surely, I passed the jet ski island, then I could see the shore, then the pier, and when the coral on the bottom of the bay started to come into focus, I knew I was almost done. When I finally stood up I checked my watch and it said 1 hour and 11 minutes. This was my best Ironman swim by 5 minutes, including wetsuit swims. The best part of this was I finished the swim feeling fresh and I never felt like I was running out of gas. When I looked at my Garmin file it showed a pretty consistent swim – not fast by any means, but at least I was consistent and that was a big part of my swim focus this year. Mission No. 1 accomplished.
In 2014, my race fell apart for me on the bike. The winds on that day were unlike anything I had ever experienced before, so I was very focused on not letting that situation repeat itself. This year I made the decision to go very conservative with my wheel choice. I went with a Zipp 808 in the rear and a 202 upfront. My thought process was that by being confident enough to remain aero I would more than make up for any benefit I would have received by going deeper upfront.
The first part of the bike is all a bit of a blur. I remember it was really fun blasting down Palani before heading to the out and back on Kuakini. From there it was a climb back up Palani where it is very tempting to throw out a ton of watts as everyone is crowding the streets and cheering Tour de France style. Once out on the Queen K., that is where I started to settle in and really focused on rehydrating after the swim. The winds were calm and my legs felt really good. The focus for me in these early miles was to strike the balance between keeping my power steady, but at the same time looking for opportunities to go easy and conserve energy. That is part of what makes this course so challenging. It forces you to make choices and, inevitably, there are consequences to those choices.
At around miles 28-36, I hit my first section of cross wind. Despite the wind, I was able to easily stay in the aero bars and this gave me confidence heading toward the turnaround where I knew the winds would pick up. As I passed the Hapuna Beach turn off I could see the ocean looked fairly calm and I knew that meant relatively mild winds. I used the 7-mile climb to Hawi as an opportunity to stand up on the pedals and stretch and then get back down in the aero bars. The wind was howling, but it was manageable and I just tried to count down the miles until the turnaround. Eventually, I hit the town of Hawi, flipped it, and could immediately feel the tailwind. I did not stop at special needs so I just got low and started pedaling and was quite literally flying through this section. At times there was a strong crosswind, but to me it seemed steady and I did not feel the surprise gusts like I did in 2014. I had periods of being hard on the gas and periods of just soft pedaling all the way down. This section of the course was really fun and I remember looking to my right and seeing the beautiful blue ocean and thinking how lucky I was to be here. For sure this section of the course was one of the highlights of my day.
Part of the reason why I enjoyed that section so much was knowing that what remained was going to be a physical and mental grind. In the build-up to this race, one of my main areas of focus on my long rides was to remain in aero as much as possible between miles 70 and 100. On race day the winds were very favorable in this section. The winds were coming from the side and as long as I could maintain a certain speed it felt like I was getting a push. Again, comparing to 2014 it was not the same relentless headwind that I had experienced in that race. By now the field had thinned out and I found myself riding with the same group of 5 or 6 people. It was very much cat-and-mouse style, but even at the world championships, people would pass me on the uphills and I would scoot by them going down the other side. I was very happy with how I rode this section and never felt like I wanted off the bike. That was up until mile 100 or somewhere near the airport. I somehow forgot about this section or mentally checked out, but those last 12 miles were a struggle and this was the only part of day that turned into a grind. I think I was so ready for the section from Waikaloa back to the airport that I may have overlooked the airport back to T2.
I started the run eating a banana and this helped to keep me controlled coming out of T2. About a half mile in I checked my stats and saw my heart rate to be in the low 130’s (normal), but my pace was somewhere around 8:20, which is about 45 seconds to a minute slower than normal. RPE seemed about where I needed to be. Typically, I need to dial my pace back, but on this day I could tell early on that I would need to forget about pace and let RPE and HR be my guide. From mile 1 on, the mindset I used was to play defense on run, only running as fast as my HR and RPE could support. I saw Coach P. just past mile 1 as I was walking through the first aid station and he asked about HR, and I was at 118 at the time.
I focused on staying cool and refilled by zip lock bag with ice water at every aid station. After finishing the banana coming out of T2 my plan was to take in 3 additional gels over the first 6 miles, but the thought of having a gel did not sit well with me so instead I ate half a banana at every other aid station until the turnaround and had 1 cliff block. I figured that was close enough. The first 10 miles were all in the 8-8:30/mile range. I felt that I was running OK, but I knew I was taking a lot of time going through the aid stations. Those first 10 miles were just plain hot and I needed the time to settle down, cool off, and refill my ice bag. I maintained a slow jog going up Palani and it felt good to be up on the Queen K where there was a slight breeze. The good news was every time I would look at my HR it was locked at 130. My pace was all over the place, given the ups and downs on the Queen K and the amount of walking I was doing through the aid stations, but my HR was very steady. I knew if I could keep this up I would be in good shape. The section out on the Queen K in both directions is just plain hard. Running into the energy lab, I felt good that there was a little downhill, but after I flipped it, coming back out was tough and I even considered walking some, but I knew that once I started walking, that’s the end of my race so I pushed hard and did my best to somewhat run out of the energy lab. From the top of the energy lab to the top of Palani was quite simply about the next step. I think it was Coach Rich who said if you keep your time horizon as small as possible the pain you are feeling isn’t quite so painful. While every step still hurt, it was much easier thinking about the next step than the 50 minutes I still had until the finish line. When I finally made it to the top of Palani, it was only then that I knew I would make it. I took the right hand turn on Alii drive and while you can feel the energy all I could think about was getting to the finish line so I could stop running. I saw my family just as I was passing by them close to the finish and as I crossed the line I was too tired to even put my arms up. One of my goals was to smile coming down Alii drive, but I just didn’t have it in me to force a smile.
As I write this report now 2 weeks removed from the race, I can’t help but feel so grateful for the opportunity to once again be able to take part in this event. Whereas 2 years ago I let my race get away from me, this year I was able to stay much more in the moment and not let the ebbs and flows of the day take me off my game plan. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I dictated my day, but I do feel I managed my day well and, for the most part, I made good decisions at key moments in the race. Additionally, I felt a much greater sense of respect and connection to the island that I am certain played a role in my performance on the day. My swim was a PR, my bike we 40 minutes better than 2014 and while my run was 13 minutes slower than 2014, I feel like I executed the best possible run I had in me on that day. I am very proud of my finishing time of 10:24 and finishing in the top 70th percentile for my age group in the world and I am even more proud with how I executed on the day. I have absolutely zero complaints.