Saturday, October 31, 2015

Sean Astin's Ironman World Championship Triathlon Race Report

Submitted by Sean Astin @SeanAstin

Beyond Victory: The DNA of an Endurance Everyman.
A tough look at the guts, gristle and mechanics of my drive to do more.

Ok, that's a bit of a heavy opener, but I've been dragging my heels on posting a race report for my epic Ironman Championship Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii on October 10th, 2015.

Why? Well, I've been incredibly focused on the minutia and often esoteric athletic details in my mind and spirit. It will seem silly to many that the impression I give focuses on my feelings about the physical stuff, when I should be happy with having achieved something wonderful regardless of where I "stack up" in the 2000+ field of participants (for the record, at the very bottom—no matter, I FINISHED yaaayyy!!!), or anyone in the sport for that matter. But in a real way, I want to honor the fact that I've earned my way into a legitimate conversation on the topic, and therefore it does matter to me.

So, for those of you interested in wading into the deep recesses of my post race analysis, please understand that I am forever grateful for all of the joy, health and success that I experienced. My desire to offer encouragement to others, particularly those who don't have athletic ambitions beyond perhaps common sense fitness is in no way diminished. In fact, I hope that people at any phase of health in their life can appreciate that I wish to explore my "failings" (of course they aren't actual failures). I shudder to think that sharing any of my "harsh" self analysis might be construed as anything other that a celebration of my limitations and my earnest desire to understand them better. In the final analysis, I will triumphantly return to my more enlightened modality. I trust that I will gracefully transition into a perspective that understands the context of my experience within a broader social and cultural reality. Meaning, most people don't and won't do Triathlons, and I have much more in common with "normal" exercisers than I do with disciplined and regular endurance athletes. It's all relative, and I promise I have no intention of going too far down the rabbit hole and obsessing needlessly about my performance or consigning my future to a more ludicrous ambition than I or my supportive wife and children think is healthy.

Without further ado, I hereby stream some consciousness flowing from the first few weeks after becoming an Ironman!

It takes a lot of heart to complete an Ironman triathlon. I know, because I left most of mine strewn across the Queen K. highway at the 2015 Kona Championship. Throughout the 26.2 mile Marathon run, a conservative mathematical estimate would allow for 28,800 beats of my 44 year old cardiac pump. In the interest of full disclosure, my heart rate did not beat in a sustained manner as I moved along the run portion of the event. Rather, I would accelerate to an occasional sprint or more often trot, and decelerate to a brisk walk or more often sluggish shuffle every 30 seconds. This pattern truly represented my absolute best effort that afternoon and night. Having run 10 full marathons in my adult life, it is curious that I couldn’t manage a more durable athletic production. The obvious factors affecting this compromised performance include age, weight, nutrition and training. I emphasize this aspect of my journey, because it is the best prism through which to honestly analyze and fairly celebrate the impressive nature of my accomplishment.

Race week was typically thrilling and nerve wracking. Race day was pure magic. I either met or exceeded the lion's share of own expectations. In particular, I bravely faced my genuine terror of the open water, posting a swim time that no one would have predicted based on my 3 time trials. I accidentally turned in a cycling time that was vastly better than I considered likely or even possible. The run sucked. My finish time for the 140.6 mile challenge was 15:30:31. This is 15 minutes faster than the range I quoted to most people who asked what time I was shooting for (15:45-16:15). Yet, it’s at least an hour slower than I should have been able to finish given my level of fitness at the time of the race. Who cares? What does it matter? Finishing 90 minutes before the 17 hour cut off time places me at the very bottom of the finishers list. I was not just slower than almost everyone in my age group, I was in fact slower than almost everyone, including amputees and other challenged athletes, including a racer who was running with a transplanted heart. No joke. Talk about inspiring!!!

I trained alongside professionals and age groupers who finished nearly twice as fast as me. What does that say about me? Well, it says many things. I do not have any triathlon experience. I am not a high caliber athlete. The amount of time that I trained was substandard. Everything about my output was substandard. My capacity to absorb information and translate what knowledge I did have into quality training was substandard. I wanted to lose 2 lbs per week over the course of 18 weeks. I failed. Instead of losing 36 pounds by race day, I was only 14 pounds lighter than when I started. Given the countless hours of running, cycling and swimming, it seems impossible not to have shed more weight. I made a concerted effort to improve my nutrition. The weak link in that endeavor was refined sugar. Dammit. How could I let that happen? Why wasn’t I more disciplined? What self destructive streak in my nature compromised my commitment? Serious sugar addiction? Inexplicable incapacity for eating restraint? Recurring loss of focus? All of those reasons, some of those reasons, none of those reasons and more, clearly account for my qualified "readiness" on race day. According to my coach, I was ready in terms of my stated goal of successfully completing the event in the allotted 17 hours. I most certainly was not ready to compete anywhere near what I am capable of.

Who cares? I never intend to become a professional triathlete. I will never win my age group at an Ironman event of any length. For that matter, I may never participate in another triathlon again. So, why focus on all of these critical aspects of my experience? Why belittle what I did? Why give voice to any disappointment? Because, given all of these inadequacies, I am still incredibly proud of myself. The joy and thrill I have at finishing means even more when placed in the context of my own sober understanding of just how objectively badly I did compared to virtually everyone else in the race, certainly in light of how much better we know I could have done.

Did I do what I am capable of? No. I know that my potential is so much greater. Does this fact diminish the nature of my accomplishment? Of course not. I did something that most people on planet earth will never attempt. People are impressed beyond words at what I did. That is fun and feels pretty great. But, being honest with myself and you, it's not completely satisfying. People who know me well understand my determined nature, but becoming an Ironman captures their imagination on a whole new level. But I know that I’m better. I know that I’m a stronger athlete and a more effective person than this effort shows. The fact that this is how I feel means something important. I am one of them. I’m not just a member of the Ironman club because I finished, I’m a part of the endurance community because in the pit of my stomach, I know that it’s right to demand more of myself.

I was given every advantage this year. Quintana Roo gave me two fantastic bikes. Roka gave me wetsuits, goggles and other product. The Rudy Project gave me helmets and glasses and other great stuff. The world class training organization Exos did a complete physiological and body composition breakdown. They designed a great strength and resistance regime. Most importantly, I was provided with the most expert coaching team imaginable in Purplepatch. Founder Matt Dixon dedicated his full attention to designing my training schedule. He coached me in the pool. He created the opportunity for me to train with the storied swim club Tower 26 and the legendary Gerry Rodriguez. The incomparable Paul Buick worked tirelessly to impart his lifetime of experience and wisdom in cycling. Sarah Piampiano was a generous source of guidance and support. My trainer Eli was a constant companion and resource throughout my training. Zen Foods delivered meals to my home in accordance with the Exos prescribed diet parameters. My wife and children were perpetually supportive and helpful every step of the way. The Ironman organization was constantly available with information, contacts, resources and help of all kinds. Dave McGillivray was a benevolent and generous source of guidance and support. Many other friends, colleagues and people in the community offered sustained support and aide all along the way.

The public’s support of my ‪#‎Run3rd‬ charity provided an incalculable amount of inspiration and motivation. Kris and Mindy Przeor's steadfast support of the "Run3rd" charitable mission provided a steady reminder of the immediacy of our efforts to impact the lives of middle schoolers, their lives, dreams and futures. Remove any single piece of this elaborate and overwhelming team of helpers, and the odds of my completing the triathlon in Kona would have been greatly reduced.

An unforgettable week leading up to the race. One hour and forty five minutes of heart pounding, fear challenging time in the open ocean. Just over seven hours of high temperature, gusty winds on the bike. A brutal 6 hours and six minutes of a blister laden painful run. I never wanted to quit, but I did did seriously consider the possibility at miles 3, 9, 12, 16 & 19 of the marathon. Every step of the run after mile 2 sent sharp, shooting pains up my legs. I kept a smile on my face and didn't let on to anyone that I was suffering in this particular way until 20 minutes after the race, when I sat down and finally removed my soaking wet shoes and socks. The skin on the bottom of my feet had been drenched and soggy for almost 16 hours. The nerve endings were exposed and even the slightest puff of wind had me clenching my fists, my entire body actually. Three days later, I took a trip to the emergency room because the right foot was swelling in a disconcerting manner, and my right leg was bruising up to the calf. I'm proud of what a super tough hombre I am because at each moment, I would look at my girls and smile with the constant refrain, "totally worth it."

In truth, I felt absolutely perfect in the days after. My legs felt fresh and I was good enough to take a red-eye and head directly to work on a film 36 hours later. Hobbling and wincing each step made it look pretty gnarly, but it was just the blisters, nothing else. I was mostly fine four days later. As of this writing though, my right foot has grown a minor cluster of blisters in the center of the foot pad, making it completely inadvisable for me to run in the New York City Marathon on November 1. BUMMER. I pray that I'll be able to participate in that Classic event in a year's time.

For anyone curious about the lead up to my preparation for the Ironman Championship in Kona 2015, here’s the background. I trained very diligently, if not properly, for four months in advance of the Marine Corps Marathon in October of 2014. I went into that event with serious inflammation of both achilles tendons. In an ill advised and impulsive gesture, I flew across the country three weeks later and ran the Rock N’ Roll Marathon in Las Vegas. My achilles/calf issue had been exacerbated during training in the ice cold conditions in Alabama during the Woodlawn movie shoot (FYI it's in theaters right now).

Despite this injury status, I “did the Dopey” RunDisney event at Disney World in Orlando in January (5k, 10k, 1/2 Marathon & Full Marathon in 4 days) followed a few days later by the 3 day test at Disneyland California (5k, 10k & 1/2 Marathon). My weight/nutrition and achilles issues were a constant impediment to quality training. I had a dead February. Preparing for the Boston Marathon in April was plagued with these recurring health issues. That said, just as with my Marine Corps Marathon experience last October, my Boston Marathon experience was profound, heart warming and among the greatest privileges of my life. Regardless, my conditioning was terrible and the time result was quite poor relative to my other 8 Marathon experiences to date (including Los Angeles 4 times, San Francisco, Chicago & Disney World).

This was the state of affairs leading into the 5 months of training for Kona. Many miles of low quality training and passionate but diminished athletic status left me nervous about further injuries and skeptical of my own capabilities. I speak to many audiences about my love of running and the bliss I experienced throughout this period. My health and fitness challenges are profound obstacles. On a great note, when I share my approach to dealing with these problems, the best qualities of my personality and character are revealed. The frustrating reality is that I constantly fail to show sustained improvement regarding the basic foundation of my nutrition and training. I’m a busy guy with a loving family and exciting work and travel demands. Finding balance in life should always be the goal. In that regard, I have many miles to go to achieve that dream. The allure of Marathons will likely never be far from my heart. I've declared a goal to run a full Marathon in all 50 states and 7 continents. I only 43 more states and 6 continents to go. At age 44, I have more than enough time to get it all done. Of course, I may not get anything else done if I proceed on this course, but for a lot of reasons, I like having impossible goals.

That was my year leading up to Kona. It was fun. It was hectic. It was sometimes painful and fraught with worry. But, ya know what... I did it. Many dynamics threatened my success, but I did it.

There is so much more to share, but (until I write a book about this stuff) I'm struggling for a way to share the details of the event that isn't purely chronological. So, in the interest of clearing the barrels and leaving as much of it out there for people's consumption for the time being, here is a list of some of the seminal moments in my journey to Kona starting in May, just 6 months before the event, and impressions of my hellaciously wonderful competition day as well.

In May, on my own, I pedaled my 2 year old Trek Madone 112 miles from one end of Los Angeles to the other (San Pedro) and back again. It took 11 hours. I got a bad sunburn and the confidence that I could survive the miles required.

In the weeks before the Vineman 70.3 (Half Triathlon in July in Sonoma, CA), I had a training breakthrough one night (in Calabasas, my home town). I did a swim, then a good 20-ish mile ride followed by a 5k. It was the first mini-triathlon that I’d done and my legs felt awful throughout the run. I was defeated and feeling terrible at the end, but I decided that was unacceptable. I spontaneously added a second 5k. I pushed through the pain and emerged feeling excited and triumphant. I missed being with my family because of the extra half hour. This dynamic happened a lot. Because I would be working during the days, often my training started in the afternoons. The sessions would last 3-7 hours. When we talk about how much our families sacrifice, this is the kind of thing we mean.

I completed the Vineman 70.3 in, for me, a great time of 7:25.

I did the swim in a wetsuit that I had only tried on once the day before. The gross neck rash was no big deal compared with the claustrophobic panic attack that I suffered at the start of the race.

Learning on the job about the complexity of transitions was harrowing. My transition times were impressive, in the wrong way.

I was forced to apply the lesson I learned on that 2nd 5k during the 1/2 Marathon. I felt great at the end. Serious confidence builder.

I ran a ton of 1/2 Marathons: Annapolis MD, Tobbacco Road NC, other states and even Niagara Falls in Canada. Each run was a risk to my achilles, but helped a little with my weight and gave me confidence that I was moving in the right direction.

Matt Dixon of Purplepatch started downloading all kinds of information about triathlons: tips, best practices and the beginnings of instruction. I instantly trusted him and the confidence in his expertise of telling me what, when and how to do training was a relief.

The Exos body composition revealed that I was critically dehydrated. The gallon of water per day order changed the complexion of my days and nights. The strength and conditioning program instantly started transforming my body from fragile to strong. In the 6 weeks leading up to the event, I stopped following the program, which was self destructive. Time consuming, but essential. Big mistake to omit it from my routine.

Matt threatened me at one point about the need for restorative sleep. I give myself a B- at responding to his mandate. The only harsh text he sent was in the 10 days before the event when I wanted to lengthen the duration of a couple of the exercises. He had warned me that every athlete, feeling strong because the miles would be a little reduced, feels unprepared and wants to increase the load. This is a big mistake. He told me he'd fire me if I didn't listen. Of course I did. He smiles at the recounting, I shudder.

Training with Gerry in the pool in Pacific Palisades opened my eyes to what was possible and just how terrible a swimmer I am. The other swimmers were incredibly gracious, sharing tips and trying to reassure me, in particular about the big bad open water, and also about the curious and impossible to grasp clock management in the pool. Seriously, coaches must be pretty bored and a little masochistic in how they command attention to the seconds.

Quintana Roo’s training bike takes my cycling to a new level.

Training in the pool with Matt in San Francisco lurched my progress forward.

Eli, my trainer, massage guy, all purpose bike and equipment wrangle and super-aid and I try to learn the Exos method. My balance goes from appalling to passable in 2 weeks.

I create an auto-reply on my email account announcing to all that I was in training. Important statement of purpose and prioritization.

Matt proscribes much swimming and cycling and little running in an effort to prevent injury. The plan works. I arrive at Kona injury free. In 4.5 months, this was the best we could do.

Gerry finally tells me that I’m ready for open water swimming with the Wednesday group. I begin my deteriorating confidence about the ocean. Panic attacks and literally sleepless nights ensued.

Low water mark, I fail to make it past the waves on open water day. I was nearly reduced to tears and anger at my fear and inability. Gerry makes a rare phone call to warn that I was way too far behind and that my ability to finish the swim at Kona was in great peril. He doesn’t say I can’t do it. He calls Matt. Matt commands a huge infusion of swimming in my program.

Eli rents a kayak. With a wetsuit, I force myself into the ocean in Malibu. A triumphant moment. The next week, I make it out into the Pacific in Santa Monica. Gerry’s confidence improves.

I sustain an foot injury running. The miles had been increased and my typical pattern of injury returned. I got an MRI. Results were negative. I got a foot brace and ran carefully every subsequent run, continuing through the race.

Eli ups the stretching and massage regime. Eventually, we'd fall off on that score and I'm sure it cost us.

I fail for the 2nd time in the water in Santa Monica. But, in the biggest swim accomplishment to date, later that day, I go with Eli in a Kayak, to swim a full time trial, without a wetsuit in Malibu. For the record, Eli and I did the kayak routine several times. I never actually touched the kayak, but the psychological impact of knowing he was close made the difference.

On the day of the last open water trial, we are prohibited by the lifeguards from swimming because an 8 foot hammerhead shark was observed that hour under the pier. My panic attacks resumed. These episodes were characterized by shortness of breath and headaches with sweating palms and forehead. No joke, these were full blown panic attacks.

The high water mark was a trip to Hawaii to train with Paul. This was a journey that Matt near insisted that I take. Paul and I spent 4 days of professional caliber training. My cycling was alternately poor and impressive. I certainly gained the confidence to do well on the race those days. The running in the 110 degree heat was ok but not impressive. I panicked during the swims, quitting from fear twice. All in though, take away those four days, I probably don’t finish the event in time.

My long long rides on Pacific Coast Highway from Malibu to Camarillo were a strain, but also fantastic accomplishments as I put my Kona training into action…

As I said, many of my training days went into the night. My wife rescued me in the mountains a few times. On one event I had a double tire blow out. These rides were dangerous on a number of other levels, not the least of which was traffic.

Some days were great “training nutrition” days, some were terrible. By race day, I was still unsure of what to eat. But Matt’s instructions on the nutrition timing during the event were clearly the difference between finishing, and dropping out and possibly needing the medical tent.

In the weeks leading up to the race, I was plagued with a series of 5 trips for appearances and other work related obligations that compromised my ability to follow the training plan. In various cities I found aquatic centers or pools. Some were perfect others were disastrous. One hotel roof top pool was particularly absurd in terms of the families sharing the space with drunken incursions into my lanes, etc…

My foot injury and achilles concerns persisted until the end. The “taper” days/relaxed miles did allow for a moderate improvement with those problems.

My nutrition during travel was terrible.

Occasionally, I would find time to put in 14+ hours of sleep at a stretch. Those coma times usually meant missing out on group swimming sessions or family time, but I remember feeling restored by them.

Press opportunities and responsibilities in the lead up to race week and during race week created a mixture of emotions. As a contracted “ambassador” for the Ironman event, I had certain press requirements. I was thrilled to share my training results and begin to feel like a pseudo expert relating my story. I had learned enough during my process, both as a longtime fan of the Kona broadcast, but also as a newly immersed competitor, that I also felt squeamish holding myself as in some way more worthy of being singled out than the 2,000 competitors who legitimately earned their coveted spot on the starting line by winning their age group in some Ironman qualifier. I felt a little better about having been invited to have a so called “celebrity” slot when I understood that some people had won their place in a lottery. I determined to always express my respect for the sport, its history and all of the competitors who were so gifted and so dedicated to their efforts. So, I got the best of the world of celebrated participant and the worst of not being able to hide from the attention when it felt awkward. Ultimately, I believe that my inclusion in the event is “good for the sport” because some people may become interested in triathlons who might not otherwise pay attention to it. For sure people will watch the NBC broadcast in November, if only to see if the Hobbit made it up another couple of volcanoes. Mt. Doom, they say was nothing, surely he can conquer the Big Island. People chanted Rudy all along the route. They held up Goonies signs, made 50 1st Dates jokes and yelled out encouragement. All of the competitors have our names on the bibs, making it easy for people cheering to be specific. I had done a couple of local interviews to offer my respect to the people, the land and the unique Aloha magic on the Island. Lots of people yelled out how much they appreciated the words. After awhile, I was too tired to offer more than a light flick of a finger in grateful reply. It would have taken 8 hours to finish the run if I made eye contact and waved appropriately. Anyhow, I expect to bring a few new eyeballs to the telecast. People will be stunned, thrilled and amazed to see what Kona means. The various stories are so compelling, it takes your breath away. Like I said, with the right amount of humility, I think it was good that I participated. Thank you all Ironman and the Tri-community for accepting me!

Race week started with the flight. My wife and two of our three daughters landed in Kona with a rush of excitement and appreciation for the beauty of the island. They reveled in their time at the Four Seasons Hotel. It was expensive but totally worth it. They snorkeled and swam and did wonderful activities, the Hula, making jewelry and other great stuff. They also learned just what all of Dad’s training was all about. They were genuinely impressed when they saw the distances and weather elements we would face. That feeling of capturing their imagination was the most satisfying part of the whole thing.

I loved participating in the Expo. I bought stuff, I was given things, I enjoyed my sponsors and preparing the rest of my equipment etc… I did ‘overdo’ it during the week a few times. The advice was always to relax, but I had lots to do and found other fun. I did train during the week.
Matt Dixon from Purplepatch held a team meeting at the house the night before the event. I was with 20 other competitors. Most had earned their slots, I believe a couple got in by lottery. I was the token Celebrity non-triathlon guy. Being on a team made the whole thing worth it. Thanks everyone from Purplepatch!!!!! Matt, you are a steely eyed warrior with a gentle spirit and brain sharpened to perfection. Thanks mate.

As for the race, the biggest issue was the swim. I had been obsessing about the duration of the 2.4
mile journey and endured several more bona fide panic attacks. On two of the mornings, I went out and pushed myself to swim alone. The first day I held onto floating markers. The second day, I found myself panicking all alone a mile out to sea. I recovered from it and pressed backed to shore.

By race morning, somehow, probably based on the favorable weather conditions, I knew I was ready. I wasn’t nervous. I didn’t panic. I had developed a strategy that was doable and within my control.

The crazy thing about the bike ride was not that we had massive heat and a strong headwind in both directions of the 112 mile journey. I was pouring ice water on my legs like they were overheated pistons through each station. No, through the sweat, water and wind, I couldn't accurately see (I wear 20 dollar cheaters from Rite Aide) the small hour digit on the right bottom corner of my Garmin computer. I thought I was moving at a 8 hour 30 minute pace. That would have put me dangerously close to missing the 5:30pm bike cut-off time. Matt had given the team explicit instructions that when we saw the airport come into view, to back off a little, stretch, hydrate and start preparing our minds for the Marathon run we would be about to commence. BUT, he looked at me specifically and said, unless you are faced with a cut-off issue Sean... then that goes out the window and you pedal for as fast a time trial race as you've ever done in your life. That was plan B. When the airport came into
view, I misread my clock. I panicked and put plan B into action. I pedaled my heart out. I was head down into the strong 30+ mile per hour head wind. I was passing people going up hill. As I raced through the transition, just behind a blind competitor on a tandem bike, I struggled to pull my Garmin computer off and replace it on my watch (neat toy). I unclipped from the pedals and handed the bike to a volunteer. I started running in my bike shoes, even though I knew it could enflame my achilles, because I wasn't sure where the LINE was saying you'd made the cut off. Someone said, relax it's 4 o'clock. Holy Crap!!! I crushed the ride. Holy Crap!!! I've destroyed myself for the marathon. A classic rookie mistake to make, usually based on hubris and a lack of respect for the course. Nope. I just couldn't tell time.

While my first transition was 9 minutes (1 minute slower than prescribed by Matt), the transition to the run took 17 interminable minutes. The guys in the changing area were so nice. They kept pulling towels out of ice water filled trash cans and draped them over me. My core temperature was way too high. I went to the bathroom. I never wanted to leave it. It should be the faster transition, there are no gloves, bike shoes, helmet etc... to put on... just shoes, a belt and go... or I don't know what and go. I swear I didn't order a pizza. Anyhow, I felt pretty good my the time I left the tent. I didn't realize that in 20 minutes, the blister agony would kick in.

Christine, Elizabeth and Bella were waiting with signs on the right side of the road. I stopped for 45 minutes to visit with them. Ok, it was more like 4, but I also never wanted to leave. Bella had written something on her sign about me being an IronDad. Eli gave me a strong Bear Bro hug. He knew I was in deep doodoo... I saw Kevin Downes, my friend and producer of the Woodlawn movie. Did I mention it's in theatres now? He had flown the whole way, with his cousin to support me. Wicked awesome cool. Laura, one of the truest fans an actor can have, came out too. She was representing the broader "Run3rd" community. Did I mention we have the 2nd annual Run3rd5k coming up in April? Even if you can't come in person, you can do the virtual run. Those entrance fees will help some kids.

Throughout the run, Paul would ride up on his moped and offer some encouraging demands. How you doing? Great! We both knew I wasn't great, but he admired the moxie. Actually, Matt rode up too several times. His word, the Purplepatch word is "gumption." He says I have it. After reading all of this, what do you think? You're dang right I have gumption.

I should mention that I had to wear an electronic leash for the event. This was NBC's way of tracking me so they could send out their field team to record me. I was one of several people in this category. I think they sat at the computer and waited to see my pace wane. Knowing this meant I was suffering, they dispatched a crew. This happened a couple times during the cycle and then a couple times during the run. I was a pretty good actor for the first few. I gave up trying later. It's good TV I thought. Crap. I hope they use the most flattering looking suffering. I actually can't believe when I see pics and tape just how bloated and fat I look. I don't think it's representative of my true body image right now. I keep thinking, well if people see that a short fatty can do it, maybe they'll feel encouraged. I just hate it. We couldn't focus on weight loss in such a short time. If we did really seriously prioritize it, then I would surely have been injured during the long miles. We sacrificed weightloss for endurance training. Matt says that if we had a year, which would be much more appropriate for the gargantuan task we were attempting, the first four to five months would be weightloss. I did add the water weight so I wouldn't be dehydrated, and I did put on a ton of muscle. But, the fat looks so fat. So so fat. No matter... we come to the finish.

Matt, Paul & some Purplepatch teammates found me at mile 20. My Garmin had quit around mile 17. A fully charged watch had died. Sucks. I was doing the 30/30. The watch would chime every 30 seconds, cuing me to walk then run etc... Now, I had to do what Matt had been instructing. Puzzles. Find ways to keep the mind invested. Don't think of the macro or you'll stop. How ya doing? he asked at 20. I'm playing the line game. Walk one yellow painted lane line on the highway and run 2. Or walk 2 lines and run 4. I liked the doubling concept. He encouraged me to take advantage of downhills. I did, but it messed up my brain's little game. He and Paul were starting to lighten up. They knew I'd made it. I remember in little league, in high school on the jv baseball team and on the cross country team the distinct feeling of joy that comes from making your coach proud. Matt shook my hand from the moped as I made the second to last turn before the finish. A compact fulfilled.

Bryanna from Quintana Roo was waiting on the last little downhill before the final turn onto Alihi drive. She was so proud. I walked much longer at that point. I was conserving energy for the finish chute. I knew I had an hour and a half to spare and I wanted to make the last few hundred yards count. Everyone talked about what a special feeling it was. I think I saw Ryan Dolan from Roka or was it Devin Johnson from the Rudy Project...maybe I saw both of them, it was a blur. I know I saw Sarah Piampiano my friend and pro Purplepatch teammate... I think I gave her a hug. I had asked Paul how she did when I saw him on his moped for the first time at mile two of the marathon. I wanted her to win so badly. She came in 7th I think. I yelled out SEVENTH to her and pumped my fists... She looked so fresh, like she hadn't even competed yet.

Then I opened up the throttle. I had been teasing everyone when I talked about my "finish" moment... that I would just slow across the line as I do in every run 5k to Marathon and click my watch. This did not make my Ironman hosts happy. They wanted a SPRINT or a CRAWL or stopping to shake hands or turn around and salute the 140.6 miles that I had just finished. There is this idea of treading water at the start and looking into the beyond and then turning at the end to say back through the miles, I see you, I traversed your every challenge... the book ends... But no, I determined that I would have a strong run at the finish, fist or fists in the air. I thought I'd have a confident and relaxed look on my face. It's funny, because if you have taken 15 and a half hours to get there, you clearly were not running at your hundred yard dash pace at the finish. At that pace, you would have set a course record. But, it's a trope of the finish line to muster whatever you've got left to put on a great show for the spectators that have been screaming and yelling for 15 hours straight.

Here's the thing about Ironman Kona. Mike Riley coined the phrase, many years ago at, I believe, the inaugural Ironman event right at the birthplace here in Kona... in his distinctive way, he yells.. for each and every single competitor who makes it across before midnight and not 1 second after, no exception... CONGRATULATIONS (NAME) YOU ARE AN IRONMAN. If you've ever heard him say it, you'll never forget the exact manner of his delivery. It's like "Let's get ready to rumble" in boxing or "Are you ready for some football?" in the NFL.

Something about me. I LOVE finisher medals. If I compete in any race without a finishers medal, I feel bummed. In preparation for certain events, like the LA Marathon in 2010, I'll print out a picture of the medal or make it my screensaver. I literally run towards the medal. It becomes my focal point. I have a gorgeous collection of finisher medals at home. I will leave them to my children when I die. That's how much they mean to me.

When it came to competing in the Ironman Championship in KONA, I didn't think about it once except for a fleeting thought not more than twice, that thought, hmm, I haven't thought about the medal, I have no idea what it looks like.

In fact, I never saw a picture of it and I had no idea what it looked like until they put it around my neck.

No. What mattered to me, was hearing Mike say those words. At one point, David Cooper sent me a quick video of him saying it, to inspire me. I instantly started crying and that was four months before the race. If I tried to explain to someone about it, I couldn't get through it, because I'd start crying. It sounds stupid, it probably is stupid. But, if you've never been terrified of going hundreds of yards out to sea and done it anyway. If you've never been alone for 11 hours as you get sunburned and lost and having your tires explode from glass on the road. If you've never felt a pain in your foot so sharp that it stopped you cold in your tracks 11 miles from your parked car. If you've never doubted that you could do something, even after you've told everyone you love and know that you could. If you never tried to lose weight and failed. If you've never risked your life in pursuit of a dream, than you might have no concept of what I'm talking about. Those two words, Iron...reserved fore people like Iron Mike Tyson, or steel workers or soldiers... and Man, it's a conundrum for the organization as women are becoming increasingly dominant in the sport... but for ME... what does it mean to be a Man? To be a man for my wife and children. To be a man as we are expected to manage tragedy and gallantry in equal measure... To be an IRONMAN... it's just the name of a company... it's a marketing term... but just as my father taught me about a hundred dollar bill. It's just a piece of paper. No, it's what stands behind it. IRONMAN. What stands behind it is everything I've said and so much more that is unsayable.

I decided early in the race, that if and when I crossed the line, I would NOT cry. I know it makes for solid television, but I pride myself on always questing for authenticity. To sob would be predictable. Plus, if I started crying, I might not be able to stop.

The picture of my finish here shows the fleeting second where I just about lost it. But, I didn't. I executed my plan, my way.


I made a fun collapse on Mike's shoulder. He had to move to his next athlete. Christine, Elizabeth and Bella were there for an embrace and some pics.

I couldn't see Matt where he was supposed to be.

They ushered me along. They hung the medal around my neck. HUGE and impressive. It was not specific to the year, but the neck ribbon is. Such a wonderful treasure.

Eli and I connected. Man I couldn't have done it without him.

Kevin was there.

More pics.

Shoes came off and the story of the blisters came out.

The next day was spent poolside with my FINISHERS Hat on proud display.

24 hours later, we were on a red-eye home. As I said, I had work monday morning. Thank goodness I was playing a chopper pilot who is sitting the whole time.

And that's it. That's all the news that's fit to print and a bunch more that would be wasted ink and paper.

If you've read this far you deserve a medal. It means so much to me that you have taken an interest in my Kona adventure.

As time passes now, I expect a return to normalcy... ha!

I wish you all GODSPEED with your dreams and triumphs. If anything, I've spent so much time thinking about my dream and working towards it and achieving it... everyone I know gets told about it... the conversations always focuses on what I've done. Because it feels so good and because I don't want to be too selfish, the lesson I take is that dreams are worth having, worth working for, worth realizing. I've got another one under my belt. Now you go get yours!!!!!

Much love, respect and gratitude,

First published on Sean Astin's Facebook page


  1. Way to go Sean. What an inspiring account. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you for telling us your story for the Kona race. Sean you are in inspiration to all the age groupers of the Ironman races. Congrats on finishing the Ironman! I have also completed my 1st Ironman in Boulder in 2015 in 16:42hr at age 53. The Ironman races in my opinion are probably more mentally than physical as you know. During the race you're in trance just trying to make the cut off times. I like you will never podium and will have to do 12 Ironman's before I will can try to make the lottery for Kona. Congrats Again!

  3. I met Sean in Glasgow, Scotland on the 21st August 2016 at Comicon. I had read this account of the Iron Man Challenge in 2015 and it changed my life. I'm 55 and it spurred me on to get back to the gym and run.
    It's inspirational and amazing that someone's life journey can touch someone thousands of miles away. It was an amazing experience meeting Sean, he has made a difference to so many people and he touched the life of myself thousands of miles away.

    It was a real privilege reading about your experience and sharing this fantastic achievement.
    Thanks Sean :)

    1. Hi Robert, that's cool you met Sean this weekend, and awesome that his Ironman story got you back in the gym! If you're on Facebook, I invite you to join the Run3rd group: It's a support group for runners, walkers and others based on the run3rd principles. Hope to see you there!

  4. I don't normally post comments, but this article by Sean is easily one of the most inspirational accounts of what "Joe Average" has to go through to finish such a challenging event. I am going to attempt my first Ironman soon and I am very apprehensive about how it will go. I remember Apollo Ohno & Sean competing and felt I could relate to Sean's experience. So, I stumbled onto this blog via the Google and man, am I glad I did. Nothing but respect for being so transparent about the struggles and emotions and all of this under the media spotlight. As is evident with my comments 6 years after the race, your blog continues to have an impact. Thank you and best wishes for your future endeavors.