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Chad Albright of Roanoke qualified and competed in the spotlight of the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.
Photo courtesy of Albright family
Roanoke eye surgeon Chad Albright rides the bike leg of the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, on Oct. 12.
Photo courtesy of Albright family
Roanoke eye surgeon Chad Albright runs toward the finish line at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, on Oct. 12.
Photo courtesy of Albright family
Parker Albright poses for a picture with former Ironman world champion Chrissie Wellington while in Hawaii to watch her father, Roanoke eye surgeon Chad Albright, participate in the race.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Seventeen miles into the marathon.
That’s when the hours of swimming, biking and running finally caught up with Chad Albright.
He had been at it since shortly after dawn, first swimming 2.4 miles in the choppy Pacific Ocean, then riding his bike 112 miles on the sun-scorched pavement of Hawaii’s Big Island.
Then came the marathon, 26.2 miles of running in stifling heat and humidity.
After two hours of running, dehydration and exhaustion finally won.
“I thought I was going to pass out,” said Albright, a Roanoke eye surgeon who was competing in the Ironman World Championship on Oct. 12 in Kona.
Albright slowed to a walk, but he kept moving.
Quitting wasn’t an option.
It never has been for Albright, a relative newcomer to triathlons who took a somewhat improbable path to his first Ironman World Championship.
Just getting to Kona is no small feat.
For Albright, it happened sooner than he could have ever hoped for, and despite a bike-related fiasco in his qualifying race.
Ironman offers a few Kona slots to age group athletes chosen through a random lottery and, through its Legacy program, to athletes who have completed in at least 12 previous Ironman races and meet other eligibility requirements.
Race organizers also offer slots to entrants who can help bring mainstream media attention to the race. That’s how former NFL player Hines Ward and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay got into this year’s race.
The vast majority of entrants can get there only one way: by qualifying.
Albright earned his position with a remarkable race this summer at Ironman Mont-Tremblant.
It was a rapid ascension for Albright, whose triathlon debut came in 2010.
Back then was just looking for an interesting physical challenge.
He didn’t start small, either.
Albright’s first race was the Kinetic half-Ironman distance race at Lake Anna.
A naturally strong runner, Albright still struggled through the half marathon in 2:01:08, his overall time of 5:26:48 good for just 31st place in his age group.
Time to rethink his choice of sports? Nope.
Albright vowed to be back.
The next year he capped Kinetic with a 1:34:29 run to finish in 4:45:38, earning seventh in his age group.
That September Albright finished high at the Savageman, a half-Iron distance event in Maryland known for its mountainous bike course. His Ironman debut came in Arizona in November in a solid 11:15.21.
The next August, Albright’s 10:17:12 at Ironman Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, was good for 26th place out of 433 in his 40-44 age group.
Albright’s coach, Michael Harlow of Richmond-based Endorphin Fitness, was especially pleased to see Albright taking big chunks off his swim and bike, areas that needed the most improvement.
“Chad is extremely committed and never misses a workout, despite a busy work and family schedule — success follows this type of commitment,” Harlow said in an email. “But he does not do this at the expense of his family.
“He gets up and gets it done when they are not up, he bikes to and from baseball tournaments, and he works out with his kids. He is committed to his priorities, and that life balance plays off big in his sport.”
Despite the improvement Albright was still well away from a Kona slot, and was thinking that his best hope would be to continue to improve, then possibly get a spot during his first year in the 45-49 age group.
When he arrived at Mont-Tremblant for this year’s race, Albright was just hoping to break the 10-hour mark.
But that goal seemed torpedoed even before the race started.
While dropping off his bike at the race site the day before the event, Albright discovered that his electronic shifting system wasn’t working.
He took the bike to an on-site mechanic, who dug in.
“Every time I would go back to check, he’d have another part off the bike,” Albright recalled. “After two hours he finally said that not only was he not going to be able to fix it, he probably wasn’t going to be able to put the bike back together.”
“That’s when I started my mad dash through Quebec trying to find another bike,” he laughed.
Several hours later, at a small shop outside Montreal, Albright found a Specialized Shiv triathlon bike in his size.
The shop owner agreed to loan the Shiv to Albright, who got a quick fit on the bike.
The next day Albright rode the Mont-Tremblant course in 5:19:29, three minutes faster than he had the previous year.
Albright, who subsequently bought the SHIV frame, capped his race with a 3:33 marathon for a total time of 10:05:42.
He placed 18th of 409 in the 40-44 age group.
Because the race was the designated North America Ironman championship, there were more Kona slots than normal available. Even so, only 12 athletes from the age group would get to go to Hawaii.
Albright went to the awards ceremony the next morning thinking there was little chance that six athletes who beat him would pass on Kona.
He and wife Cathy watched in stunned anticipation as a surprising number of qualifiers declined to take the slots. When the so-called roll down reached 18th place, there was still a spot left.
Cathy burst into tears of joy.
With Kona just six weeks away, Albright was realistic about his expectations.
He knew that he likely wouldn’t be fully recovered.
The race conditions at Kona are also known to be horrendous.
“There was a ton of uncertainty,” he admitted.
One thing that was certain is that he wanted to make the trip fun.
The family entourage numbered 12 in all, including Cathy and their two kids, Albright’s sister, brother-in-law and their two children, and his parents and aunt.
Rather than taking it easy in the days before the race, the family got out and about.
“When you’re in Hawaii, you don’t want to just sit around,” he said. “The week leading up to the race was awesome.”
In the days prior to the race, Albright’s 11-year-old daughter Parker was in heaven. Already an accomplished triathlete, Parker was thrilled to meet pro athletes including Leanda Cave and Chrissie Wellington.
“By the end of the week, Chrissie was calling Parker ‘Parker,’ ” Albright said. “She probably had more fun than anyone.”
Racing with the best
The race turned out to be worthy of the hype.
While swimmers often spread out during regular Ironman races due to varying abilities, nearly all Kona athletes are fast in the water and stay bunched up after the mass start.
“There probably weren’t 10 minutes total during the swim when I wasn’t touching someone on a stroke, or being touched,” said Albright, who said he emerged from the water with at least 20 fingernail scratches.
The bike ride got off to an inauspicious start.
Three miles in, Albright got a flat tire.
The repair took just eight minutes.
“But during those eight minutes I got passed by 400 people, including 59 in my age group,” he said.
While the course is known for heavy winds, many Kona veterans were saying that the race conditions were quite mild.
“They say it wasn’t as windy as it normally is, which is a really scary thought,” said Albright, who said he struggled to eat and drink the last 25 miles. “I was just trying to keep my bike on the road.”
During the run Albright felt dehydration coming on.
“I couldn’t drink enough,” said Albright, who said he didn’t have to empty his bladder for 26 hours after finishing.
At mile 18, runners got access to special needs bags they had set out in case they needed something. Albright changed socks and his shirt, and drank a Red Bull energy drink. That helped him recover enough to finish relatively strong.
His time was just over 11:03, which is about what he was expecting based on looking at how other Mont-Tremblant qualifiers have fared at Kona.
He was 217th of 305 in his age group.
Since returning from Hawaii, Albright has faced different feedback from friends.
His triathlete buddies are in awe.
From those not as familiar with the sport he’s been getting something more like sympathy. Seeing his placing they wonder what went wrong.
“It’s an entirely different level of people out there,” chuckled Albright, one of the top triathletes in his age group in Virginia. “I felt a little bit like the Jamaican bobsled team with how I got there.”
Having reached Kona, Albright now faces the task of evaluating his goals moving forward.
He’s already registered to race the Ironman at Mont-Tremblant next August.
His goal for that race is get under the 10-hour mark. Even if he garners a Kona slot he’s doubtful he’d take it.
“Savageman was probably the hardest race I’ve done, but it was fun,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t do Kona again unless I had a year to get ready for it,” he said, confirming the short recovery time after his qualifying race had an impact on his race.
Considering how rapidly he went from a middle-of-the-packer to a World Championship qualifier, it seems that if Albright decides he wants to get back to Kona, there’s a good chance he’ll figure out how to make it happen.
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