The Ironman intimidated me. Intimidating is something with the potential for complete disaster. Ironman in Hawaii has that potential. It can come from anywhere. In 1982 a broken derailleur forced me out. Dream dashed. In 1984 I was reduced to a dehydrated mess walking like a staggering drunk most of the last ten miles of the marathon. It was a crushing memory.
It could happen. The competition? Dave Scott swooped in and made his mark regardless of what anyone threw at him. I had no intension of doing Ironman in 1986, but at the last second things changed.
My focus swung to other races that year. Most notable was the Nice International Triathlon, which in 1986 took place only two weeks before the Ironman in Hawaii. I would do Nice then go to Kona, but as a spectator. The atmosphere around Kona during race week was magical and even though I wasn’t going to race, I looked forward to being there.
The Nice International Triathlon had become my territory, much like the Ironman was Dave Scott’s turf. By the time I set foot in Kona that year I’d won my fifth consecutive title in Nice. And with only two weeks between the two great races I had to decide which it would be. France took precedent. I flew straight from Nice to Kauai where I planned a week just recovering before going on to Kona. By the end of that week I was feeling surprisingly good! An idea began to percolate. Maybe I should race in Kona a week later. I did a two-hour run with the intention of testing my legs the weekend before Kona. They felt solid enough to tip the scales in favor of racing. I called up the pro coordinator and was in. The Ironman in Hawaii is about the last race on the planet anyone should decide to do at the last minute but I was there, I was feeling well recovered, so why not!
There was also this background fantasy in my head saying that maybe since I had absolutely no pressure on me I might be able to pull off a miracle and beat Dave Scott. That was a naïve fantasy though. I didn’t intimidate Scott even when I was in peak shape for Kona. Doing it on a lark did even less to make him shake in his boots. Well, we can all have our fantasy days in our minds at least!
Dave Scott was out of the water seven seconds ahead of me, which is small but I could tell he was just toying with me. He outsplit me on the bike by just under a minute, again with the feeling like he had no concern that I was close. His run was over six minutes faster than mine.
It may as well have been an hour faster because there was absolutely nothing special in my legs that gave me a whisper of a hope of holding his pace or closing the gap. I was more tired from Nice than I had been willing to admit before the day started.
I did finish though. I was second, my highest placing ever in Hawaii at that point. But I had never been a true contender for the crown. This may sound odd, but I’m still not sure if it was a wise move to do the race. Indeed it was my highest finish ever, even without having Hawaii be my main focus for the season. But I still couldn’t tell what might happen if real pressure was put on Scott. I still didn’t know where the upper boundary on going hard was for me before it would become too much and I’d blow up. 1986 was a solid effort, but a tired one. No outer limits were tested.I knew it was important for me to try to learn how to do that race better under the most extreme competitive conditions. This year didn’t teach me that. But it did reignite the idea that maybe I could be the champion. Second place in a race that I did as a second thought seemed to point the needle in that direction. But I knew I still needed to learn how to really race the Ironman. Not survive it. Not just finish it. But race it