Ed Walker: Let's Go to Kona [New! Post-Race Update]

By the time you read this, over 2000 athletes will have plunged into the Pacific Ocean off Kailua-Kona, Hawaii to begin the epic journey at the Ironman World Championship. Vision Quest athlete Ed Walker, President and Chief Marketing Officer of Transamerica Direct, will have been one of those swim cap-clad triathletes muscling his way through the sea of swimmers. We interviewed Ed just days before he left for Hawaii with his wife and two children. Here is what he had to say about his road to Kona including the benefits of training with Robbie Ventura.

VQ: Well? Are you excited about Kona? Ed Walker: Yes! We head out on Tuesday. My wife and kids are coming out so it’ll be fun. I just need to get through this week of travel. That’s what Robbie and I have been dealing with. We have to make adjustments as things come up. It all works out though. It’s kind of like life: you plan and then something happens. You need to adjust.

VQ: What was the deciding factor for you to do Kona? EW: I got back into triathlons when we entered the active lifestyle space at Transamerica. I was really active in triathlon from 2004 to 2010. I did a couple of Olympics (Olympic-distance triathlons), a couple Halfs (Half-Ironman-distance triathlons) and an Ironman in 2010. I really liked the training. The races gave me a motivation to train…having a big race, a big goal. Robbie is always asking, “what is your big goal this year?” My wife is the greatest. She’s part of my team. I couldn’t do this without her support. We were talking about Kona one day around 2013 or 2014. At first it started out, “let’s go to Kona. Let’s go to the race and experience it--for a vacation.” A couple weeks later, I told her that I thought I could actually do the race. She said, “you know what? We’ve been talking about this. You’re never going to stop bugging me about it, so just do it! You’re turning 50 and this will be a great way to celebrate. And I don’t want to hear any more about it!” It was something that I wanted to do. I like to set goals. It balances out my life a little bit. You set your sights, you put your plan together and you see improvement. It’s pretty fulfilling.

VQ: What was it like working with Robbie? EW: Robbie was really great to work with. I’ve known him for a couple of years now. I’ve done this before and didn’t have a coach. Looking back on it now, I was probably over-trained. He understands where you are in the process. I am going into this race feeling really great. I have no strains or ailments. I’m feeling good.

VQ: What is your relationship like with Robbie? How often do you talk to one another? EW: I’m in Baltimore, Robbie’s in Chicago. We e-mail every day and talk on the phone. As we get closer [to the event], we talk on the phone a lot. He makes sure that I manage my stress, especially with all of the traveling. We talk a lot about nutrition and hydration--all of those things. He’s my check sheet, so I don’t have to worry about it. With my responsibilities, it was really beneficial to have him because he effectively figured out how to maximize the limited amount of time I had to get the maximum benefits. I couldn’t have done that by myself.

VQ: What is it that appeals to you about endurance sports? Why is the endurance market important to Transamerica? EW: I love the space because it’s all about people doing things that they thought they could never do before. Whether it’s Ironman or one of these epic bike rides, even if it’s someone getting off the couch to do a mini or a 5k. Regardless of what the goal is, it’s about people who are motivated to improve and push themselves. It’s about taking accountability for that. That’s why I like it. The space lines up for Transamerica. These are people who are motivated to make the right decisions. They are concerned about their health. They are good customers for Transamerica and line up with what we are trying to achieve.

VQ: One last question. What do you do when you are not swimming, biking and running? EW: I try to read, to work my mind. I spend time with my kids (daughter 16, son 12). They are both involved in sports. My daughter is a club lacrosse player. My son is a club soccer player and cross country runner. Who knows? Maybe there will be another member of the Ed Walker family participating in the iconic 140.6-mile race along the beautiful (and windy) beaches of Kona some day. For now, we will be cheering for our fellow VQer. Best of luck to Ed and to all of the Vision Quest athletes competing in this year's event. Thank you for letting us be a part of your journey.

Now that the race is finished, let's follow up with Ed to get his thoughts...

VQ: How was it? EW: It was great! Unbelievable! I was trying to sum it up in a few words...it was like an enjoyable suffer-fest. There were times when I was saying, “God, what am I doing?" At the same time I would think, “I’m so lucky to be here!”

VQ: Swim/Bike/Run? My first goal was just finish this thing. I came out of the water faster than I thought I would. I was really psyched to have a good day.

I got out on the bike course and was doing well. Then I started noticing how hot it was. On the way back, I started hitting the wind. The last 30 miles was dead into the wind and that was a downer. The hardest part of the day was that last 30 miles. The wind was just beating. It was tough physically. It’s tough to ride a bike downhill, pedaling and going only 12 miles an hour. It’s a mental thing. The marathon was not bad. It was tough to be in the lava field with nobody around. Most of the spectators are in the town, but when you get to mile ten, you are heading out of town and into 16 miles of loneliness. Other than the aid stations, there is nobody. That was hard.

VQ: Physically? EW: On the bike, I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t overheating. My heart rate was high at times and I was very aware of that. During the marathon, I didn’t have any pulls or aches or anything. At 18 miles your body is going to hurt--it’s was just normal running pain when you get into those high miles.

VQ: The Chute? EW: When I came back into town, all of the pain started to go away. I knew I had less than a mile left. I turned the corner and saw my wife and kids. It was 500 yards of euphoric emotion! You feel like a rock star! It was awesome!

VQ: Family? EW: It was great! We were staying at the King Kamehameha Hotel and it was like getting back to the old days. We were all in one room--a very together feeling. I was so happy to have them there! Not having them there would just have been draining.

VQ: Crossing the Finish Line? EW: I crossed over the finish line to “Ed Walker, you are an Ironman!” There is nothing like that! I felt great! A couple of volunteers came over and put blankets around me. There were people around who were collapsing and having a hard time walking, but I said, “I feel great!” I got my Finisher hat and medal. I took a shower, met my family and friends, had a beer, got a massage, then we went to watch the finish line at midnight. It was really cool for my family to see. The look of determination on people wanting to complete something they started--it was really awesome!

You think about that moment all year. There is such a finality to it. You work so hard to cross that finish line and then, it's done.

VQ: Would you ever do it again? EW: I would love to do it again! I would love to have the experience! It’s unbelievable!