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Kona 2015 - Race report - revisited

Ironman #4 - world Championships, Kona, Hawaii / 10th October 2015 

The short.......

Swim: 1:04

Bike: 4:57

Run: 3:45

For a 9:56

Hot, humid, rough swim, powerful bike, v-tough run.

The long.......(oh so very long)

Pre race

Staying at the Kona Seaside hotel meant we could eat, get an early night, I could have my pre-race breakfast (never fun - or easy), get 'body marked and prep the bike by inflating the tyres and stocking it with hydration/nutrition.

The great thing about being so local was I could dump my clothing, phone and pump etc... Back at the hotel and dress for the race, before towing the line.

Early morning routine


This was my tried and tested formula. Carb loading via an early dinner Friday night, and ensured I was well hydrated. As many carbs as I could comfortably consume at 4am, water only leading up to swim.

Bike - one 750ml carb/electrolyte drink between the arms, one 500ml carb/electrolyte concentrate behind the saddle and 2 energy bars. Water was taken to cool and hydrate every aid station (every 11 miles or 30 mins). Wanted to but couldn't pee on the bike!

Run - gel every 5 miles, water 1st half marathon, water/Coke last half.



It was a rough one

There was about 15 mins of treading water before getting under way and I positioned myself next to the pier for a direct line and about 3 rows back. With 5 mins to go, jostling for space and position really kicked in - it was just the start of things to come. When the cannon fired, it was rough for about a kilometre. I was elbowed in the face (goggles) several times and my Garmin was ripped off! (£300). This made me really angry and my swimming style instantly changed by adopting a 'the best 

Form of defence - is attack' approach. This worked pretty well and the return from the turn around buoy (or in the case of Kona - boat) was a lot cleaner albeit s lot choppier. I felt that I had finished strong but had no idea of my time / I asked the volunteers in T1, they said approx. 1:06 which I was happy with considering how much rougher than usual the swim was.



Pretty quick. Exit the sea via some carpet steps, run under some showers, swim skin off and bagged, sunscreen on, run (a long way) to bike, helmet and shades on, run to mount line, feet on pedals and GO. I saw Faye & kids on the exit which gave me a big lift!



Let's see what we've got

Once my feet were clipped into my shoes, we took a short climb up Palani, left onto Kuakini, then briefly onto the Queen K before taking the south loop on the Kuakini highway. I was immediately overtaking and without power measurement I was just going by feel and waking up the legs. Once you hit the Queen K again it's cruise control time. The drafting police were in full force and it was hard to maintain a 10m gap, especially on the uphill sections. This is where most of the penalties (5 mins) were dished out. There were at least a dozen guys / waiting out their penalties at each penalty tent. 

Towing the drafting line

Once you got the hang of obeying the distance it was pretty easy and if the motorcycle marshal pulled up beside you, it's best to stop pedalling, sit up, take a drink and demonstrate that you are not taking an unfair advantage - it worked for me. It has to be said, there were some wheel suckers out there and thankfully some of them paid the price.

I managed to catch up with fellow Kent triathlete (and runner up in this years Marshman), Mark Whitaker. We were to leap frog each other for pretty much the whole ride, arguing who would buy the beers at the end. It was great to have the company as we have similar riding styles and in the absence of a power meter, it was a great opportunity to gauge my pacing.

Crushing on the Queen K

The long drag to Kawahea went well and nutrition consumption and cooling went to plan. The climb to Hawi slowed things a little but the usual headwind that could be expected was very light and we also had a spot of rain which cooled things a little. I passed ironman legend, Ken Glah (raced on the big island for about 33 consecutive years). We exchanged small talk about the weather and wished each other good luck. The decent from Hawi was fast as expected and no doubt helped the average speed.

Time to climb

I had a near miss with someones discarded water bottle whilst on a fast descent, it somehow passed between the frame and rear wheel, thankfully they are really flimsy and caused no damage (slightly torn decal on wheel - sorry G, I will sort this) - could have easily of been game over.

Heading back to town

I kept the cranks turning at a pretty constant power surging occasionally to pass a few riders (usually on the downhill sections) and sat up to drink when I was being passed. Leap frogging continued with Mark. It was this last 30 miles where the trade winds started to influence the ride. It was not particularly strong but it was consistent and certainly hot.

The drop back down Makala Bvld, Kuakini and finally Palani (the 'hot corner' for spectating and location of the Kona Seaside hotel, signalled the time to pull the feet out from my cycle shoes, they were damp from water cooling and a bit tender from the 5 hour pounding and possibly a tad too small for IM. Again no idea of time but I was confident that I had made up quite a few places.



As soon as you enter transition, your bike is taken from you and you run the long Astro turf route to the run bags and then changing tents. The first thing I noticed (other than my wooden legs) was the stench of sweat in the tent. I sat and applied socks, trainers, run cap and put my 4 gels in my pockets. I also applied plenty of sun block. As I had loads of water and was unable to pee on the bike I had to use the stand up loo in the change tent. Two things.... One, I was happy things were not too numb down there and two, boy did I need to go - think Austin Powers! Any time that I had put into Mark on the end of the bike leg was surely lost here.



Starting at a good pace

I ran out of transition, a bit wooden and soon passed a cheering Faye (funny, I can always pick her shrieking out). My legs woke up pretty quickly but the heat at this (hottest) part of the day was noticeable and shade was rare, I soon found myself craving the aid stations that were spaced a mile or so apart. So the routine (that worked so well in Frankfurt) was repeated. Walk the entire station, drink 2 cups, a third over the face, ice into sleeves (which sat on biceps) and s cup of ice in the cap. I took advantage of every local with a hose pipe and high5'ed every supporter with an outstretched arm. The 10 miles down Ali'i drive to the turn around and back went well and I felt Pretty good. I spotted Mark, who had turned around before me, confirming his pass in T2 and that he was running well. I managed to buddy up with an American (Jeff) for most of this section but stomach issued forced him to slow / however he told me that we were running about 8:15 pace which I thought was sensible for the heat. I felt I was being passed quite a bit but there were already people walking, finding the conditions hard.

I elected to walk up Palani hill. There was an aid station there in any case and speed walking wasn't that much slower than some who were running. I noticed many that did run were walking slowly by the time they had hit the Queen K and I jogged past them. It was going up Palant that the race winner, Jan Frodeno, convincingly ran the other way, some 15 miles ahead of me.

Form holding well

The 6 miles to the Energy lab was definitely hard and this was reflected in my pace. The road is wide, hot, less populated and mentally draining. I started to see most of the Pro's running towards Palani. One positive was because the road is long and straight, you could spot the next aid station albeit through the mirage created by the hot drawn out roads. 

By the time I reached the energy lab, my feet were starting to get sore. I knew they had been wet for a long time and running on the boiling hot Tarmac was just 'poaching' them. The slight breeze down to the energy lab was welcoming but with the body starting to go into survival it was difficult to appreciate. 

Running back out of the energy lab was hard, not so much because of the lack of wind or the steeper gradient, it was more the soreness of the feet and muscles. I made the decision to once again stay with a runner as I was passed. This worked for about 2 miles and served as a good distraction from the pain and effort.

So with 6 miles to go things started to fall apart (although, strangely this isn't really reflected in my pace).

First up the soles of my feet had been getting sore (felt like they were bruised, rather than abrasion). I first noticed this on the last quarter of the ride and it had been uncomfortable running bare footed through transition. Next up, my right calf that had felt a little tight thorough the run, started to cramp, I had to stop to stretch it out several times (possibly accounting for 3 mins). The best approach was to adopt more of a heel strike foot fall, which I hoped would take the emphasis off of my soleus. This of course would be at the expense of my quads and ultimately my knees, I figured it was worth the risk with only a few miles left to run - and it worked. I mentally broke down a mile for Elliot, a mile for Eve and the last one for Faye (after all, I was definitely going to hear her - even over the tremendous noise that you could hear getting louder as you closed in.

Once I got to the top of Palani, a volunteer shouted "you can make sub 10". I took no notice, I had little control over pace now. I knew it was pretty much downhill to the Ali'i finish stretch. I held on. Once again my calves and quads both started screaming for my attention - I told them both to shut up and that I would deal with them both later. Once on Ali'i drive, I started to tick off the land marks, the Banyan tree (I could smell it), the start of the sea wall then in the distance I could see the finish. As soon as I was on the carpet I could hear Faye screaming. I allowed myself a premature fist pump and seeing the runner in front of me hobbling, I sprinted for the line.

No time to star jump or cartwheel, just arms raised aloft and I have to say, it just felt BIG and important - I bloody loved it.

Sharing the finish line with 3 others

I wobbled down off the raised finish arch knowing that I had raced perhaps my smartest and hardest. I felt that my heart and lungs still have something left but my legs had nothing, hardly a step left in them. The soles of my feet felt like they had lost a few layers and I wasn't too keen to investigate - so I let the euphoria of finishing hide the pain. 

Such a great feeling

Instantly, I was greeted by two volunteers (Peter and his wife from the UK), they placed a towel around my shoulders, handed me a cup of Coke and  chaperoned me through to the race finishers area where there was more food and drink than you would ever need. 

I honestly had absolutely no idea how fast I had swam, biked or ran, let alone my overall time until Peter told me. I was honestly surprised. The run had felt so slow.

Awesome volunteer 

I must say, volunteers at ironman races are amazing. At Kona it's a whole different level. It's not just the kids handing out ice, the registration, bike check-in and after race care, it's so much more. The whole community comes together for this race (this week). Restaurants, shops and hotels live and breathe ironman here.

I made every effort to high5 and thank these people all around the course, added up, it may even have cost valuable seconds but the lift it gives more than outweighs this.

Post race I made sure I got my picture taken with a volunteer as this was a memory I didn't want to forget.

Here are my world championship stats:-

Overall: 284/2300ish

M40-44 Age group: 47/440ish

25th Brit overall

The good

There are 40 or so Ironman races around the world. On average, the top 2% of each agegroup qualifies for the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. It's a totally different make up of athlete. Everyone is in great shape, wearing and using the latest gear an seemingly training hard every day leading up to the race. It's extremely hard not to be impressed and a little bit intimidated. I focused on believing in my ability, my training and set about planning and delivering 'my' race. I raced fair, strong and dug deep. I am satisfied that I raced smart!

Race accommodation was a great move

Swim skin performed well - lots of Vaseline prevented neck chaffing

Dealt with swim setbacks well and just dug in

No penalties, drafting or littering on the bike (many did).

Embrace the karma! Help a 'damsel in distress' on day one - no puncture on race day (many did). Fresh tyres and correct pressure choice (105psi) probably helped. Also was given a gift package to say thanks (replacement tube, Co2 canister, a bottle of red and a nice card).

No bonking - nutrition was sound and cooling strategies worked well 

Paced bike and ran well without 'gadgets'.

Dealt with cramps without panicking

Enjoyed the moment

The bad

Swim was aggressive - I did position myself 'in the mix' do perhaps this shouldn't be too much of a surprise

Detachable Garmin cannot handle swimmers who like to 'grab' during the swim.

Bike shoes definitely not 100% comfortable. May size up.

Run shoes. Still the best I have found but they just can't handle 26.2 miles with soggy feet - perhaps no shoe can.

Granny feet (90 mins post race)

Following Frankfurt in July, I felt I was about a month short of really hitting peak fitness in time for Kona. Reducing my run training may have hampered my long distance run strength and the calves/quads suffered accordingly. 

Now something I have been really looking forward to:-

I've been competing in triathlons now since 2008 and have built from local sprints right up to this Ironman World Championships. It's been a steady progression and has taken a lot of time, money, personal and family sacrifice and of course selfishness and dog eared determination. In that time I have had the pleasure of training with many of you and you have all made a positive contribution to my development - that has climaxed in this race. You probably have no idea how much either.I'm very grateful for this and the friendships it has cemented along the way.

Faye, Elliot and Eve have suffered my absence (more than a family should have to), my grumpiness when things aren't going well and I really feel that I selfishly demand far more attention than any one member of this family is entitled to. Guys, you have been such a positive driver for me, there is absolutely no way that I could do this without you - you make it easy, fun and I want you to understand the role you play.

We worked hard, we got here and we got it done!

Well according to Elliot & Eve 

Thank you.

(Btw, it's not over yet, there's more to come!!!)

Now, I had intended on thanking everyone who has helped, supported or trained with me - individually. I would much rather do this personally. Besides you all know who you are. You probably believe it's a one way street, when we swim, bike, run, stretch or just talk shop - in that I'm 'coaching' you, but I learn so much in return and I have become better for it. Let's keep this relationship going and grow it!

I remember recovering after my first sprint Tri, thinking I was a broken man. Challenges grow with us and we adapt to them. I think we really underestimate our potential and I would love to play a part in helping you realise yours. 

What now?

Has the Kona experience changed things and