Friday, October 16, 2009


Edina's Josh Riff files this report:

Kona Race Report 2009

October 10th, 2009. Bobbing up and down in Kailua bay, Kona I reflected on the last two years and drew the strength that would get me through this Ironman. I know Kona is a special race, I had done it before, however this time would be different.

This quest to Kona started in 2006. I had qualified for Kona at IM Arizona with a 9:37 and had trained while living in Tucson. I was working as an ER doc and had tons of time to train and we had our first child on the way so I thought this would be my last big dance. A week before the race I was hit by a car while on a training ride and my life changed forever. Thinking my racing was done I accepted a dream job working for Target as a medical director and moved to Minneapolis. I also started to grow a family and we had our second child a year and half later. After 2 years I began to feel the itch and decided I needed psychological closure and signed up for IM AZ. I thought this would be my last IM but I ended up qualifying for Kona with a 9:29 finish. I took the spot.

Training for Kona was interesting. In June I was promoted to be medical director of Target, I still worked in the ER Monday nights, my children were 2 years old and 6 months, and my wife, while perfectly understanding, is not a huge fan of 6 hour rides on a Saturday. Some days had me working out at 3 am to get a workout completed by 9 am. My computrainer saw a lot of action. What I underestimated, and as a doctor should have known better, was that despite getting in the training I was not getting in the recovery and about 6 weeks prior to the race developed a knee pain that would have me limping mid run. Despite aggressive physical therapy, cortisone injections, and even acupuncture it never improved. After 4 weeks of water running it still was hurting. I knew this was going to be a painful race.

Race morning was uneventful. There is an electric energy to the race in Kona and you can feel the excitement in the air. I lined up 2 rows back in the swim and without any warning the cannon went off. The first 5-10 minutes of the Kona swim is a washing machine ride full of elbows. I was able to make it through the swim relatively unscathed in 1:03. My goal was 60 minutes but such is life.

Running into transition was painful to my knee and I knew today was going to be a long day. I have a rule about never making last minute changes but on this day I decided to race with a front 303 and to use arm coolers (Thanks Kevin of Gear West). This was an awesome decision as immediately on the bike it started to heat up and dumping water on my arms was a welcome reward. The ride to Hawi was easier then I remembered and I was slingshotting along.

Normally I can bridge packs of riders pretty aggressively but knowing that I was going to have a long, painful run I decided to enjoy my time on the bike and never went all out. This was very different from my usual style of ride until I want to throw up, but hey I am an older, wiser man. The ride was completely enjoyable and before I knew it, it was over. The hard part was about to begin.

As I entered T2 I actually sat down to get ready. I really took my time and even stopped to say hi to Dan Arlandson. I decided it was time to go and started to run. OK I started to limp. My first mile was in the 8 minute range. I was in real pain but worse was the fact that I was being passed by 100s of people. It was rather demoralizing as I had great fitness (I was training for a 3:10 run) but did not have the chassis to support it. At mile 3 I saw my friend a physical therapist who shouted You look terrible, but I think you can finish. I continued to limp until mile 5 when I thought my knee could not get worse and then I picked up the pace for 100 steps, then I would slow down to ease the pain. When I hit Palani hill I got a boost of adrenaline as the Target Kona store was volunteering at the aid station and went crazy when I came by. After jogging up Palani I hit the highway and made a pact to sort of run aid station to aid station which I would walk and get ice. The aid stations were my savior.

As I entered and exited the energy lab I was beginning to feel psychologically better. I knew I would finish the race and would not be walking all night. Between mile 21 and 24 my knee really started to stiffen up and began to lock up forcing me to stretch it out. At mile 24 I was at 9:43 overall time. I debated trying to break 10 hours but decided today was not my day. After cruising through the aid station at mile 24 I saw two pro friends of mine walking and they invited me to finish with them. As tempting as it was I decide to finish this sucker as fast as I could. The last 1.2 miles of Kona are the longest 1.2 miles of your life. As I finally turned the corner on Alii drive I was getting the Looking good to which I responded I do not think so. I ran in to finish in 10:06 with a 3:46 marathon. Ouch.

Looking back I am proud of my accomplishments. While I could not execute on the race I trained for, I adapted and truly enjoyed my time racing. While I normally race for a PR or a podium finish this time I raced for personal redemption. In 10 or 20 years from now I will not remember my finish time but I will remember the feeling of flying down the Queen K highway, of crossing the line and being greeted by fellow Target team members, and of overcoming injury to finish what I started. This year made me stop and think about what racing an IM really is about and it made me reflect on the personal and professional sacrifices it takes to be competitive in an IM. When I was younger it was about pushing the body faster and further than I had before and it was about competition. This years race was a turning point. It made me realize Ironman is not about swimming, biking, and running 140.6 miles as fast as you can, it is about getting to the starting line and hopefully making it across the finish line with the respect and love of those who are special to you.

Riff, Joshua

S - 01:03:32

B - 05:09:09

R - 03:46:00