IronMan World Championships
Arriving in Kona on Tuesday, you are welcomed at the airport by the hot winds, humidity and tons of people walking around in compression and spandex. My family and I went to the hotel to get settled in and take in all of the surroundings. One thing I did not do very well was drink enough water and get re-hydrated when I first got there. With the long flight over there, you get dehydrated quickly. Compounding that was the heat and humidity of the Hawaiian Islands. I noticed this on my first run on the Island on Wednesday which started off well enough but was a struggle a few miles in.
IronMan events in general are very well organized and well run. The World Championships take that to an entirely new level. Everything was meticulously planned and staged and the entire area is geared for the event. It is awesome to see individuals everywhere riding their bikes, running and swimming in the bay. There are vendors everywhere handing out free stuff and it seems that everyone is catering to the athletes in and around Kona. There are tons of posters, flags and memorials honoring the past champions and volunteers throughout the area. The early mornings are highlighted with a crowd gathering around the Bay Wall watching competitors including 3-time Kona Champion Craig Alexander swim in the Bay. 100’s of competitors are in the water around 6:00 am every morning and it continues that way through mid-morning. The hotel lobby is filled with who’s who in the sport and I got a chance to speak to Rinny (eventual 2014 champ) about the upcoming race and she remembered racing with us at the Multi-sport event in March. Out on Ali’i Drive, I picked up plenty of free gear and ran alongside guys such as Jan Frodeno who was wearing his red race singlet. Trying to figure out what to say to someone who runs a 1:09 70.3 run split, is an Olympic champion, took 2nd at the 70.3 World Championships a few weeks earlier and would take 3rd at Kona in his debut, I mustered, “How is it going?”
It wasn’t until I checked in my bike, run and gear bags on Friday afternoon that I caught up in the enormity of the event. I walked down Ali’I drive trying to soak it all in and prepare myself for the day ahead. I knew I belonged there and just needed to execute the plan.
Race Morning – I woke up at 3:00 am on race morning and had a fairly good night sleep. Staying in the King K hotel is super convenient (not to mention having your own personal bathroom only a few minutes away). I went downstairs through the body marking, scale weigh-ins and got last minute things prepped on bike including pumping up tires and putting nutrition on the bike. The organization and flow of everything was amazing. After all final preparations had been made we had a fly over with parachute jumpers and the gun goes off for the Pro men at 6:25 am, followed 5 minutes later by the Pro females. The male Age Groupers were 20 minutes after that and it takes that long to get all of us in the water. I lined up a few rows back in the middle. I knew it was going to be a competitive swim, but this isn’t for the faint of heart. It truly is a meat grinder (especially given my swim pace). I was literally on top (or under) people for the entire 2.4 miles. All of the wonderful sea life that had been very visible during the practice swims was no longer visible and ocean was noticeably choppier than on previous days (although not much different than the Choptank River back in Cambridge – just warmer, and much more clear). As I come into the finish of the swim, I have delusions that I had fairly good swim time, only to look down and see a 1:11 on my watch – 2 min slower than IMMD. Turns out that most of the Age Group swims were 4 – 5 minutes slower than the previous year, but even with that, I was just barely in the top 1,000 coming out of the water – 998th overall. Time to get to work.
The bike does a loop through Kailua-Kona before it hits the Queen K on an out and back. I had ridden about 25 miles of the course out of town on my Thursday training ride. Out past the airport is where it gets interesting. We had a little bit of a tailwind and I started to get into my groove and my power kept increasing. Anyone who thinks that the Kona Bike Course is flat, hasn’t ridden it. The course has 4600 feet of elevation gain which can be found throughout the ride. The biggest percentage climb on the ride is 6%, so nothing steep, but continuous rollers. 4600 feet over 112 miles isn’t that bad, it is the wind that is killer out there. Apparently this was the toughest wind in at least the last 15 years according to multiple competitors. The only certainty on the course is that it will be hot and windy, since everyone is dealing with the same conditions, you can either embrace them or complain about them. I was embracing the wind, although staying upright on my bike was a bit tricky a number of times. The bike course required complete concentration and awareness throughout. The winds would change direction and if you were not ready, they would knock you off your bike. At a few points it felt like we riding in a wind tunnel – not moving, just pedaling. After about 45 minutes into the ride, I really picked up the wattage into the wind and was passing large groups of people. Numerous individuals were getting penalized for drafting.
With the wind conditions, people were really getting bunched out there and I just kept my head down and rolled through them. For just under 2 hours, my Normalized Power was 273 watts and average was 268 watts with an average heart rate of 160 and cadence of 83. On the climb to Hawi, I saw Apollo Ohno and was surprised that he was that far up. Turns out he had me in the swim by 11 minutes. On the way back down from Hawi, I ran out of gears (I am going to ride a bigger chain ring next year – I had a 53/39 with a 11/25 cassette this year) and had a 6 mile section where I averaged 36 mph. On the way back, I was still passing people, but not as frequently as I had been on the way out. There were times I was struggling and beginning to feel the effects of having done an IronMan 3 weeks previously. I kept pushing, but my average wattage dropped. Getting back on the Queen K, we had a wonderful tailwind again around Waikoloa and I thought we might have this tailwind all the way home – figuring I would average 35 mph the entire way home – I was ecstatic. Of course, that didn’t last long and the wonderful tailwind quickly turned into a cross wind and then head wind. The last hour, I had to really push even though my wattage was dropping. I also got some serious cramps in my toes and stomach during the last hour of the ride. I ended up with a Normalized Power of 256 watts for the ride and 245 watts average, HR average of 157 and Cadence of 84. The cadence was a little lower due to the few times where I ran out of gears and just tucked in aero. I was 10 watts less than at Maryland, but I was also out on the course for 25 more minutes, so the load (TSS) was slightly higher. I ended up with the 6th fastest bike split in my Age Group and passed 825 people overall on the bike! Given that these were the best triathletes in the world, I was very pleased with that.
Coming into transition, I was 173rd overall and 37th in my Age Group. I had a terrible cramp in my left toes that really caused me to struggle running through T2 (which you have to run around the entire pier). Sitting down in the changing booth, I drank 4 glasses of water / perform, put on my run gear and ran out. My cramp quickly worked its way out in my shoes and I was able to settle into a more comfortable stride. I didn’t really have any lower back pain and my feet (other than the cramp) were not bothering me. Success! While I was feeling better in the areas where I was limited in my previous races, my legs were much more tired however, and a few miles into the run, I knew it was going to be a long run and I had mentally resigned to just finishing and no longer worrying about my time or who passed me. I was certainly struggling on the run and had to walk through many of the aid stations. For whatever reason, my run data was lost on my watch, so I do not have HR / Cadence and mile splits, but generally my HR was in the mid to high 150’s and even 160’s.
Right before I made the turn to go up Palani, I saw my family, turned around and gave them a hug and a kiss. I needed the inspiration from them and wanted to thank them for all the sacrifices that they had made for me. As I ran up Palani Drive (that hill is no joke 11 miles into the run), I saw Sebastian Kienle coming down and realized he would win. A few minutes later I spotted Ben Hoffman, Jan, Andy Potts, Fredrick and Crowie who was having some hamstring cramping. A mile or 2 down the road I saw Tim O’Donnell walking. For these guys, it is podium or bust. Rinny hadn’t passed Ryf yet, but was gaining on her and I knew it was going to be a close finish.
Running down the Queen K, I started feeling a little better (realized on the way back it was a nice tail wind that I was experiencing at the time). I also looked at my watch for the first time for the overall race time and calculated that I needed to run Sub 9’s for the remainder of the race to break 10 hours. Normally, I would think that this would be easy, but I was physically spent. I was able to pick up the pace and ran roughly 7:30 – 8:00 /mile leading up to and down the Energy Lab (nice downhill). I hit the turnaround and thought I had sub 10 in the bag and was going to start really pushing it. Then the headwind started and the 1 mile+ climb out of the energy lab. This portion of the race is where you have serious self-doubts and I questioned if I could break 10 hours. I thought, just get to the top of this hill and it is net downhill for the next 10K – just need to get to the top. I turned the corner after climbing the hill and expected my speed to pick up dramatically. I looked down at my watch and was surprised at my pace which was hovering around 9:00 / mile. How could this be, I was running downhill? That tailwind on the way out that gave me that nice shot of energy, was now laughing at me, sapping what strength I had left. I was yo-yoing throughout this section where my pace would get better, and then would slip back. I was going to run the next few aid stations and not slow down (I didn’t walk any part of the course except for the aid stations). I was able to do this until the last climb before Palani. I took in some fluids, took a deep breath and told myself to suck it up. From this point on, it was all mental. I wasn’t passed by anyone else and was the one doing the passing. I pushed up the hill, hit the downhill on Palani and knew I just needed to keep my legs underneath me. I hit the 25 mile mark and wasn’t going to let up. The crowds kept building and they were 3 and 4 deep. When I hit Ali’i Drive, it was completely blocked off you felt like you were in a Tour de France finish line. There was music and 1,000’s of people screaming. I was able to spot my family as I was running down the chute, but unlike 16 miles earlier, I had business to attend to. I was going to pick off everyone I could and finished the only way I knew how. I gave it everything I had and probably passed a good 10 – 15 people in the last ½ mile. I crossed the line in 9:52:44, 326th place overall and 67th in my Age Group.
Overall, I was pleased with my race having broken 10 hours given my body of work over the past five weeks. Shaving 10 minutes off of my time would have moved me up over 100 places overall. Shaving 20 minutes off of my time would have put me in top 150 overall and top 35 in my Age Group. With another year under my belt and many more lessons learned, I have high expectations for next year. Having the experience of racing in Kona this year, my focus will be on placing very high in my Age Group next year. Working with Shelly and my teammates on Team FeXY, I think that is an achievable goal. I am going to improve my swim this off season, do a lot of power work to improve my bike, have a more focused training year (without going off the reservation) and look to continue to improve my run form and efficiency. I am definitely thirsty for more and looking forward to seeing what I can do.
You need to follow your heart in this sport and have a strong support team. I very thankful for everyone who has and continues to help me along my journey to see how far I can push myself.