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I went to bed Monday at 8:00 p.m. and woke up Tuesday at 5:00 a.m. Monday was one of the best days of my life. I took my first bike ride on the Queen K Highway. Margy and I had a nice day together capped with a fantastic meal. All was right with the world. I felt relaxed, happy and excited to be here.

When I opened my eyes Tuesday morning, all of that peaceful, easy feeling had vanished and I was nearly panicked. For whatever reason, I felt dreadfully apprehensive. I got my running gear on and went out into the humid darkness. I turned north on the Queen K. Tuesday, though, it was not so novel, just unremitting.

I got back at daybreak, put on my helmet and bike shoes, then rode for about half an hour. Better. My bike felt fast and the wind from passing semis did not buffet me so much.

Breakfast outside looking out onto the ocean was great. Still, though, I felt unprepared.

Margy staked out a spot at the pool. I called the fabulous Jared Berg to consult on workouts. He agreed that I might benefit from an hour walk out in the heat. So I walked and ran and it was really, really hot. Scary hot. Even so, the breeze blew enough to make Saturday seem like it might be possible. Barely possible, mind you, but possible.

I returned to the pool area and walked toward Margy. A man just getting his chair ready had an athlete wristband that showed he had gone to registration which opened Tuesday morning. The guy was completely chiseled; he had an unbelievable physique. I had chosen not to go to registration 26 miles away in Kona so that I would avoid the 1.5 hour round trip but was curious about how registration had gone. I asked if registration had been crowded. He said that it had not.

We struck up a conversation. It turned out that he had qualified for Kona for the first time last year at Wisconsin. I asked him what age group.

“50-54,” he replied.

“Me, too,” I said.

“I was fourth,” he said. “I got the last slot in our age group.”

“You should look familiar,” I said, “but you don’t.”

“I needed to get back home, so I registered for Kona early – about 8:45 – and left for home early that next day. I did not have a chance to go to the awards banquet.”

Turns out that we probably registered for Kona at exactly the same time.

We talked at some length. His name was John Rady and he was from Ohio. It turned out that John and I had a lot in common. Both of us train alone in the early morning. Both of us had tried for years to qualify and both of us finally qualified at IMW 2011. Neither of us viewed racing as a reward for training. We both love training. More training is the reward for training. Here I had thought I was the only one to feel that way.

John said that he didn’t care if he finishes dead last in our age group so long as he finishes. He said he just wants to enjoy the day. I said that I had a hard time not caring about finish place but had to admit that being in one of the older age groups and having finished in the latter half of our age group at Wisconsin, it was unlikely that I would finish in the top half of all finishers, maybe even in the top 75%, maybe lower. We also agreed that the wind and heat here change the game. It was no use to think that we should finish in a certain time or in a certain finishing place. Finishing had to be the goal and the rest of it would take care of itself.

Somehow I felt better. John had The Look in spades but once I talked to him, I realized that he was just a really nice guy, not some sort of hard-edged, twitchy, competitive, self-centered person that so many triathletes appear to be. John taught me a lot during our conversation and helped provide a level set: It’s going to be all right. Finish, get the hat, tee shirt and  medal and head home. I had not adopted that philosophy at an Ironman for a long time but, in Kona, getting the hat, tee shirt and medal seems just fine.

Sounds like a plan.

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