Today on the Doc On The Run Podcast, we’re talking about how pneumonia made my Kona dream come true.
It’s no secret that I really enjoyed doing Ironman triathlons. I did 15 of them, and the last one I did was the Ironman World Championships. That doesn’t mean I’m fast. It just means I’m stubborn. But when I was a kid, I actually really wanted to do Ironman Hawaii. And I really clearly remember sitting on the floor on shag carpet watching the Wide World of Sports, which they had the Ironman triathlons on at that time.
I remember watching Dave Scott and Mark Allen, and I remember just sitting there enthralled as a kid, literally sitting there on the floor eating Cheerios, watching this thing. And they were talking about how they’re treading water off of the Kona pier and looking out into the Pacific Ocean, and that they would swim 1.2 miles straight out into the ocean and turn around in a buoy and come back, and they get on their bikes and ride 112 miles through the lava fields, and then do a marathon in scorching heat on the Queen K Highway.
I decided that I was going to do Ironman Hawaii and I remember as a kid sitting there thinking, “I wonder what it must be like to tread water in the ocean, looking out to sea, thinking, “Can I do this or not?”” Well, fast-forward a long, long, long, long time, and after many, many years, I actually qualified for Hawaii. I will tell you that as a kid, I didn’t actually know they didn’t let kids do the Hawaii Ironman. So I actually would go and I would try to swim across the lake. Sometimes, my grandfather would follow me in a sailboat or a canoe. Sometimes with the ski boat. And actually he would follow me when I’d swim back and forth across the lake. I started running a lot, I started riding a bike. And I really dreamed of doing Ironman Hawaii way before I could have even attempted it, let alone completed it.
It took me a long time to qualify. Well, once I signed up for my first Ironman, I didn’t know if I could do the race. I had never done that, and I really didn’t know how it would go. And then I started doing them and I started doing a lot of them. And one year, I even did four of them. I did a marathon and four Ironmans in one year. And so I was training a lot and I had it dialed. I had a routine down and it was never, at least in those later years, a question of whether or not I could finish. ‘Cause I knew for sure I knew the routine. I knew what to do, I knew how to pace myself. I knew what to eat, what to not eat, et cetera and it was never really a question if I was going to finish. Until Ironman Hawaii.
Then a lot of stuff happened. Long story short, the day before I was going to leave for Hawaii, literally the day before I was getting on the plane, I was in my doctor’s office, he had his hands on his head leaning on his desk, and he just goes, “Oh, Chris. This is a horrible, horrible idea. You have pneumonia. You cannot possibly do Ironman Hawaii.” And I’d just gotten a chest x-ray. I’d been sick. I’d been sick for a while, it was getting worse. And I basically was on one of my last bike rides, and I literally almost passed out and ran off the road on my time trial bike. Not a good four-wheel drive vehicle, that thing.
But I didn’t crash luckily, but I knew this was serious because I literally almost passed out while I was just out on a training ride. And my doctor’s like, “This is really dangerous. If we give you prednisone to try to control the inflammation to your lungs, that could cause these adrenal issues. This is really, really dangerous.” And I said, “Yes, and we both know I’m going, and it is your job to get me to the starting line of Ironman Hawaii and hopefully across the finish line. But I’d rather die on the Queen K Highway than spend another nine years trying to get a slot for Hawaii. So we both know I’m going, and that’s that. You tell me what to take, you tell me what to do, and I’ll do my best.”
My doctor actually said, “Chris, just promise you’ll be smart. No wait, you don’t know how to do that. Just be safe.” So interestingly, when I was there, I was talking to Dave Scott and he was like, “Oh, wow. Yeah, you’re taking prednisone, you have pneumonia. This is really dangerous.” I was like, “Yeah, I already know that. Thanks dude. Appreciate the advice. But you’re right, it is dangerous.” So I got to meet some of the heroes of the Ironman world, including Dave Scott, and it was really great. But the thing was is that at the point leading up to that, I actually could not have had the experience I always wanted. But what happened was I literally was sick. I was really sick. I had a fever the day of the race. I had not really been training as much as I should have.
It is Ironman Hawaii. It’s not an easy race and the morning of the race, I got in the water and I was treading water off the Kona pier. And I was literally sitting there and I thought, “I have no idea if I can actually do this or not.” And it suddenly clicked. It was the exact thing I had always dreamed of doing, of sitting there treading water off the Kona pier wondering, “Can I actually do this today? Is it possible for me to actually do this and cross the finish line before midnight?” And so even though it was one of my slowest races ever, it was one of the most meaningful. And so you never know what kind of events will transpire to actually help you have the experience you need. So I wouldn’t wish that you get pneumonia right before you go do Ironman Hawaii.
But it turned into the perfect experience for me because it actually allowed me to test myself in a way I never could have, given that it was my 15th Ironman. So you never know where your injury’s going to take you. You never know what you’re going to get from the thing that you’re going through right now with your running injury. But maybe it’ll help you one day and maybe that experience will be something you can use to help somebody like you along the way, in their journey too.
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