PETOSKEY — Ben McMurray's second attempt at the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona, Hawaii just over a week ago brought about mixed emotions.
McMurray, a Petoskey resident, improved his overall time — and his time in all three facets of the triathlon — from his performance in 2010. He also had a better overall finish and finished higher in his age group. But McMurray had set lofty goals for himself and had hoped to get a spot on the podium for his age group — which would have required a top five finish.
McMurray ended up completing the world-renowed endurance event in 9 hours, 21 minutes and 3 seconds, an improvement of more than 30 minutes from 2010, earning a 148th-place overall finish and 18th in the 25-29 age group. Last time McMurray was in the 19-24 age group and was 14th within that division and 360th overall.
"With Ironman racing it's just one of those things where you put all the pieces together and in that run sometimes it all works and sometimes it doesn't go quite as planned," said McMurray, who qualified for the World Championships this summer in Lake Placid, N.Y. "I got to about the halfway point of the marathon and it wasn't going how I hoped so that was that. I finished and was happy. It wasn't a disappointment, but it wasn't what I was hoping for. At the same time, you can't expect to have a fantastic, out-of-this-world performance every time you step to the plate."
McMurray completed the swim in 1:04:24, the bike race in 4:54:22 and the run — his strongest part of the event — in 3:16. He improved by three minutes in the swim, 14 minutes in the bike and 13 minutes in the run.
The biggest difference between the first trip and the second was experience, which allowed McMurray to be better prepared for the conditions of Kona, where wind and high 80-degree heat make the triathlon as much a mental challenge as a physical one. He also felt he took better care of himself during the race, getting a proper caloric intake, staying cool at aid stations and keeping hydrated.
"Coming into the specific preparations for the race, as far as training for the heat, I was running around in a rain jacket and long underwear just trying to simulate that hot temperature. I definitely prepared for that more than I did the first time," said McMurray. "It was a pretty different experience, it being the second time out there. The whole time just kind of knowing what to expect that I was getting myself into. I was definitely focused on doing well, putting my best out there, but at the same time, I just took more of it in during the race than I did before.
"I think being a northern boy the colder the race the better. I think some people have a more difficult time with it. I remember in 2010 when I got there it seemed brutal, like the hottest thing I'd ever experienced. This time it didn't seem quite as hot. I think it was a cooler day. There was some cloud cover. I think a lot of it, too, was knowing it was going to be hot and just mentally preparing myself for that."
What McMurray wasn't really prepared for was feeling a bit under the weather for the race. Though he never got sick, McMurray felt less than stellar for most of the day.
"It was mostly my stomach didn't feel receptive to consuming calories," he said. "You like to show up and feel ready to rock and feel awesome all day. Sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn't. Part of the nature of racing is just being able to roll with the punches. When I was riding my bike and my stomach felt like crap I was kind of like, 'well, that's just one more thing I have to deal with today.' I don't think it affected my performance because I wasn't throwing up or anything. I just kept with it."
McMurray is taking some time to regroup from the grueling Ironman race and the training that goes with it. When he gets back to competing next year, he said he'll likely focus on shorter events, like half-marathons or Olympic distance races.
"Having a little bit of a different focus is good to keep yourself fresh and keep improving," said McMurray. "I'm sure I'll do another Ironman or two in the future, but it might be another couple years."
In fact, McMurray still hasn't given up on the idea of reaching the podium at the World Championships, which could ultimately be the lure that gets him back to Kona down the road.
"(It's) kind of something I'd like to do," he said of getting a top five finish in his age group. "I'd like to get back there. I have lots of racing ahead of me. I don't feel like I'm in a rush. (Right now) I'm taking a month to chill out, then I'll reassess where things are."