*** many thanks to David Labouchere for this race report ***
Somewhere down near the Ocean a silent piper played an irresistible tune in the darkness. 0445. Garry and I walked quietly, alone with our thoughts in the peace of the night, drawn with a mass of fat-free type-A personalities towards the siren. Like the rats coaxed out of Hamelin, and so tragically followed by that town’s children when the price wasn’t paid, there was a maudlin mood to the purposeful crowd as they walked noiselessly downhill.
We met up with the diminutive Becky, a British Army Corporal who looks much less than her 24 years. She’s waiting silently under a spreading Banyan tree, perhaps reflecting on her second journey to the Big Island and the trial that was about to commence. Sombre.
Just as our number swelled by one, so did the flow of sportsmen and their supporters by many.
As we rounded the King Kamehameh Hotel everything changed and we were met by a disciplined and efficient machine that processed us through body-marking to weighing scales and on to the pier. Five thousand volunteers service the World Championships of Ironman and we were funneled quickly to our bikes. From pensive reflection, contemplation and quiet resolve to busy, smiling, over-happy, zealous, helpful assistance on every hand. People pushed and jostled, pulled bikes out of racks, pumped up tires, applied sunblock and chamois cream, put nutrition onto top-tubes, queued for the loo, loaded bottles into cages, attached shoes to pedals, started bike computers, rotated wheels, checked brakes, wished friends luck, eyed up the age-group opposition either side within the racking, put recovery bags into the bag check and generally got on with the process.
And then, administration complete, they all went back into the trance state that had preceded ‘the process’. Communication ceased. Now we sat or stood, or leaned on barriers or lay amongst the rapidly quieting mass. Thought, determination and visualisation: of a good swim; a perfect transition, or; a time at the finish waiting squat and unlit only 50 metres away but between 8 and 17 hours hence. The volunteers still chattered and fiddled, moved barriers and talked excitedly but the mass was now silent. The silent river that had flown so gently downhill, fed by winding tributaries, had transited the rapids and had now culminated in a calm lake atop a concrete pier. We were two thousand men and women with two thousand bikes, surrounded by the crystal clear Pacific Ocean, and dawn.
On hearing the opening bars of a bad solo male rendition of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’, we all stood and I looked to the heavens to see two sky-divers spiral earthwards. Their landing was choreographed to coincide with the slightly butchered last note of the National Anthem. Then helicopters appeared in the sky and the male professionals filtered through the waiting hoi-poloi to the steps and a short swim to the deep-water start. I clutched my hat and goggles tightly. I’d lost Garry and Becky in the crowd when we all attended to our oft-practiced and very personal pre-race routines. I wanted to be alone. And I was.
A muffled boom signaled the start of the professional race, followed five minutes later by another as the female pros struck out for glory. The sun had not quite appeared over the volcanic spine of the Big Island, but it was bright daylight now, with blue skies and a freshening wind.
Someone opened a sluice and we dropped down the steps of ‘Dig Me’ Beach and into the water. Now I looked for Garry as I had advised him to start on the left. That’s where I was heading and I hoped that he’d timed his entry well. We knew that it would take close to six minutes to get from the beach to our chosen point on the start line. We’d practiced it the day before. Enter the water too early and you’re treading water with a mass of kicking, jostling, eager, adrenaline fuelled competitors and using energy. Enter too late and you might miss the start. I swam out and was safely in position with two minutes to spare. Volunteer marshals on surf-skis, Hawaiian canoes, and stand-up paddleboards issued orders with varying levels of politeness as their instructions to ‘move back’ were studiously ignored. Looking across to the cannon and the marker buoys I could see that we were still a few metres short of the line, but they were determined that no one would get a jump at the start. A tap on the shoulder, and there was Garry. We shared a short, significant but suitably manly hug, wished each other good luck and prepared to press the button on our Garmins .
Experienced Ironman competitors will recognize the picture thus far. But in Kona it is all just a little more intense. Here the guy who looks fit probably is. And the one who looks less fit, probably isn’t [less fit]. There are very few slow racers. 90% have qualified by winning or coming close to winning their age-group in a qualifying race. A few have earned their ‘Legacy’ place by completing twelve or more full Ironman races, and a handful have won entry in a lottery draw.
Here if you travel from as far away as Dubai, you will spend at least a week in the town prior to the race. You have to get over jet-lag for a start. With my budget ticket I spent forty-nine hours aloft or in Dubai Airport, Dulles Airport (Washington DC), Los Angeles Airport, San Francisco Airport and finally Kona-Kailua. And you suffer too from the time change with Dubai being 14 hours ahead.
The week is spent training on the course, and building and rebuilding your bike which inevitably develops some minor fault either as a result of the journey or just because the more important the race the more likely you are to have an issue. Sods law. Kona has good bike shops that will help you out. And the major training routes have sponsors tents set up on them, so when you swim you might see a large sign anchored to the ocean floor, twenty metres below you, with an arrow: “Kona Coffee this way”. Follow its direction and you will swim up to a wooden catamaran dispensing espressos to water treading swimmers. On the run route ‘GU’ has a tent. At times it is manned by the great and the good, and your mid training run nutrition, all free of charge, might be proffered by Chrissy Wellington. And on the bike, if you have a problem you are likely to attract the attention of a roving van with “Bike Works” emblazoned on it’s flank, dispensing mobile technical support to the unfortunate; a Kona version of the AA or RAC for triathletes.
You wake up in the middle of the night, and struggle to avoid the old-mans half hour snooze most afternoons. If you don’t have a car and don’t want to eat out for every meal, you will walk a long way clutching stereotypical US brown paper grocery bags full of sustenance designed to preload muscle glycogen while avoiding putting on extra weight. No one wants to gain anything extra to carry around any Ironman course, let alone at Kona where athletes are at such a peak that performance can be influenced by the tiniest factor.
Ali’i Drive, and the narrow streets that feed it, consists of a mixture of slightly jaded post-colonial structures and more modern concrete tourist accommodation. There are parts of Kona that verge on the shanty, and those buildings erected recently are still relatively small, particularly by Dubai standards. The tallest building in town is the King Kamehameh Hotel at six stories. It is the official race hotel and stands, squat and sixties unattractive, close to the pier – transition. At night the sounds are punctuated by the clattering thump of unsilenced ‘fully dressed’ Harley Davidsons, ridden by bearded, leather-wrapped men with tattoos, or women of exactly the same description. You pass doorways where the homeless have set up temporary residence. Five or six contented dogs on a selection of old mattresses and cardboard lie scattered in the hard sodium light of a second-hand clothes store doorway. Their master, hair matted and trousers loose over bare feet, sweeps the next-door stoop. Is this payment for his temporary abode? The smell of ‘herbal’ smoke hangs in patches in the tropical air. Tattoo parlours proliferate. Ink is part of the US culture and is particularly prevalent in Kona. Shop fronts are tidy, hand-painted and haphazard. But like the almost impressive facades of the old west ‘Main Street’, if you view any of the buildings from an unexpected direction you find amateur practical plumbing, tin roofs, bare electrical wires and half finished studwork.
By day, there are some wonderful places to sit and watch the fitness parade. Bicycle pornography and shirtless runners in training pass, posing, on Ali’i Drive. The Ironman contenders almost always sport a heart rate strap, and any others are just not the same shape. Sebastien Kienle, days away from being crowned Champion, sits next to a seventy year old female competitor on the communal coffee tables of Lava Java. Faris Al Sultan talks to friends old and new near the swim start. Rebecca Joyce perches on the sea wall and watches the sunset.
Accommodation and hire cars are at a premium for these ten days every October. I booked my accommodation before leaving Kona in 2013 and even then I had to settle for my second choice. Auto rental is impossible unless you have pre-ordered and without a car you are denied the myriad of Big Island Hawaiian experiences that lie more than a walk away from the town. If you are marooned by financial constraint or lack of transport the options are limited. US Television is not entertaining. Even popular TV shows are punctuated by endless tasteless advertisements for variety packs of do-it-yourself catheters, cures for erectile dysfunction, cheap loans and wheelchair mechanics pandering to the terminally fat. You can flick between thirty channels without finding any programming at all. Even the News is a dramatic sensationalization (an American word) of what is happening in the world. Ebola dominated the week’s current affairs, and degenerated quickly into a racist argument over whether the first victim to die on US soil would have succumbed had he been a white man. I note that more Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died from Ebola – just saying! It is very difficult to respect the editorial choices and production values of American media.
Luckily, if you are out and about, the local people will embrace your being in their hometown. The fat, sick and nearly dead will congratulate you on what you are doing. Any sense of irony is lost.
The cannon smoke preceded the boom by half a second and, with the Garmin button pressed, my lead arm struck for the catch as the sound reverberated over the start line. We were off. I quickly got into a racing rhythm, breathing right to avoid the glare of the sun that had finally crested the ridge and now bathed the race in warm, tropical sunshine. Starting on the left meant a gradual bias to the right on a tangent that would bring me to the line of buoys at just under the two kilometer point. I was not alone with this tactic and from the start, with the girls afforded their own start ten minutes later, the age group men were in full contact mode. Stronger swimmers can get out of trouble with an early surge to clear the mass, but the workaday splashers like me are always going to have to fight to get round. In Kona the spread of competitor ability is much narrower than in qualifying races and the whole one thousand four hundred strong male age group pack was separated by only about fifteen minutes in the swim. Thus, I never found space. I sighted for the turn buoy only very occasionally, relying instead on shadowing the main body of swimmers to my right. It’s an effective tactic that resulted in a very straight Garmin track. But I took a pasting and probably gave as good as I got. Sadly when you are bashing into bodies rather than gripping large armfuls of water, your forward progress is always going to be less rapid.
Garry is a stronger swimmer than me and I assumed that he was long gone. I did not see him again until over fifty kilometers into the bike. But he did see me. At the three thousand meter point he somehow recognized my stroke in the maelstrom that continued to the bitter end. We were swimming within twenty meters of each other for the whole leg.
Garry Whyte is an Oilman ex matelot who has been a lynchpin of TRIbe Racing since he moved to Dubai in 2012 from Abu Dhabi. Last year he slipped quietly into the forty plus bracket, and then achieved fourth in age at the European Championships in Alanya, Turkey – with the second fastest bike leg of the day. He then qualified for Kona with me in April 2014 at Ironman South Africa with a second place in age. Over the Summer, on promotion to ‘Oil Baron First Class’, he had relocated his family to Houston in Texas where he purchased a home called South Fork and settled Claire and Sophie into the Lone Star State.
Our reunion in Kona was bittersweet. While reveling in a deep and enduring friendship founded on shared interests and experience, we were both very saddened by the exclusion of Chris Knight, the third member of TRIbe’s most experienced Ironman racing team. (Chris has completed nine full distance Ironman branded races, more than anyone else (I believe) in the UAE except Faris Al Sultan). His employers would not stand his absence for two weeks in October and had disqualified him. Thus, only four weeks before the race, having raced both South Africa and UK Ironman (Bolton) in order to qualify, he had to pull out. Both Garry and I felt his absence keenly in the lead up to the race.
Garry had been travelling for the three weeks prior to Kona and had completed significantly less training than I had. My assumption that he would be far ahead of me on the swim was based on past performance. He has hair the colour of Hawaiian Oak and skin to match. After a morning out in the sun he tends to look like a badly creosoted fence and for this race he was wrapped up in a new, covered-shoulder Fusion speed suit, under a slick HUUB swimskin, in preparation for a hot day on the bike and run. The jury is out on whether it helped in the water. He was perhaps a little bit undercooked on his swim and bike, but had managed some high-quality run training. He was, is and probably always will be the fastest Ironman Athlete in TRIbe and on reflection over the last four years I cannot think of a more capable UAE based age-grouper.
I dispensed with T1 quickly and was out and onto my bike in less than three minutes despite the long run to the end of the Kona pier and back that evens out the distance for whatever bike rack position you are allocated. As usual, even amongst the seasoned Kona veterans, there were those who went off on the bike as if this was the local sprint event. Going through town on the convoluted route that guarantees maximum spectator access, I was overtaken by bike after bike piloted by balding or shaven headed maniacs, veins popping on foreheads, putting out in excess of four hundred watts of power through the pedals. This was suicidal riding for an Ironman and I concentrated on maintaining my race plan, which called for a meager two hundred and twenty watts. I knew that I would see the speedsters again, if not on the bike, then on the run. The key message here or in a qualifying race, is to have a plan and stick to it.
Once out on the Queen K Highway I settled into the right cadence and the right power and started to fuel my body for the rest of the race. From the moment we left the relative shelter of the town, it was clear that today was not going to be as quick as the previous year. The trade winds battered the coastline, swirling back from the volcanoes with no discernable pattern. (Locals, asked to describe the wind on a scale of one to ten, rated the winds for this race as ‘eleven’). With the omnipresent marshals draft-busting with gay abandon, the racing riders separated and mostly maintained the requisite seven-metre gap. The zealots on the motor bikes still had a field day, flourishing red cards to cheats and the unwary, and it was heartening to see the penalty tents full of guilty transgressors declaring their innocence. The winds built and I spent more and more time in the little ring. Speeds dropped drastically but the key factor, power, was spot on. I was riding to plan and would reap the benefits on the run.
Seeing the familiar riding style of Garry up ahead at about the fifty kilometer point, I assumed that I was either having a very good day, or he was having a very bad one, for surely he had exited the water several minutes before I emerged, coughing and spluttering from the furor. I passed him and he smiled, happy in his work. I smiled too, happy to see him; not my Chrissy smile, designed mostly, along with a closed mouth, to intimidate other opposition with the ease of my overtaking manoeuvre. From that moment forward we were almost always within about a kilometer of each other, focused on our own goals, but gaining support from our proximity. We probably overtook each other more than half a dozen times and often shared a couple of words of encouragement. As the gap widened I would forget who was ahead. More than once I was surprised to find myself overtaking a Garry who I thought was behind me. There is so much of consequence to concentrate on: cadence, power, nutrition, bladder voiding, cheat avoiding, balance in the wind, aid station self-harmers cutting suddenly across your path, and so on. Garry was the least of my concerns but at the same time, I knew he was always wishing me well, and I him.
We turned at Hawi, the halfway point, and briefly both wind and hill were in our favour. I hammered down the incline, fixed in the aerobars, overtaking tens of athletes who had less confidence in their ability to keep the bike between themselves and the road, or worse, the lava fields. There were bigger ‘moments’ than last year, the wind would catch the P5 and lift it and me two metres to the left or right, and I’d grit my teeth a little. Due to the wind danger, no one is allowed to use a disk in Kona. I was running Zipp wheels with the deepest rim permissible, and I was glad, if only for these moments, to be a heavier athlete, for I could anchor the flapping sail of carbon that bucked and fought me as I flew down the mountain at eighty kilometres an hour. I have that stone-faced stalwart of the Dubai Tri scene, Clint Covey, to thank for the loan of the beautiful Zipps. His generosity with his Firecrest 808s meant that I was using the most advanced wheel weaponry available. Lance said ‘it’s not about the bike’, but irony aside, for me it is. At least if I believe that I have the best kit it is one less issue to think about during the race.
There was another brief period on the long drag home through the lava fields when the wind blew well from behind. Only the long distance cyclist or a racing Ironman really knows the sound of good and bad wind. A following wind is a good wind and makes a pleasure of listening to the woody resonance of carbon wheels revolving at speed. The rhythmical hum becomes a soothing accompaniment to the sights as nature lays out her bounty ahead and on either side. But with the pleasure comes the understanding that sometime much too soon you will transform from a great professional cyclist to an amateur in crisis. Just as what goes up must come down, so those that ride with the wind, must at some point pay nature back for their free speed. Ironman triathletes spend many often lonely hours training on their bikes on the road and most dread the turnaround. With a change of direction, the pleasurable, efficient soundtrack of carbon, rubber and road transforms into a cyclonic roar of air being forced through and around the vents in your helmet. The turbulence is so close to your ears that everything else is excluded. Riding into wind creates ‘white noise’ and as your sense of hearing is overwhelmed to the point of almost absolute deafness, you have to rely much more on sight, touch and the balance of the inner ear. So just as quickly as the following wind had been given, it was taken away. It felt so unfair that I was still going in the same direction – towards home – but that the assistance had been turned off and replaced with a gale of a headwind. Over the course of about five hundred metres my speed dropped from a potential PB delivering sixty-five kilometers an hour in top gear to a soul-destroying twenty-two in the little ring. And the wind refused to turn again. Deaf and battered I caught a whiff of avgas and looked to my right to see the airport a couple of kilometers off my right flank – fifteen minutes to T2!
Nutrition at this stage was going to plan. I ate and drank regularly, and always picked up water or fuel in each aid-station. In transition I had seen one carbon framed superbike with thirty BonkBreaker bars stuck to the top tube. No, not in packets stuck on with tape but applied loose to the expensive frame with the sticky gelatinous sugar of the recipe. Brown blobs of pre-chewed puppy poo in a long line from stem to seatpost. The rider was a German man and serial cheat who spent most of the bike leg just behind someone else and must have suffered a stiff neck later from looking over his shoulder to try to spot the quick draw marshals before they saw him. A drafter. Scourge of our sport. With turds on his bike. Each time I saw him, always close up behind a sporting competitor, he had a few less brownies to work through. It didn’t help that his bike was the colour of mustard, and his dirty yellow cut off racing top bared his fake-tanned midrif of much the same colour. Even his wheels included decals in new-baby-nappy yellow. His hair was a spiky dirty bottle blond a la Rod Stewart in the eighties. A complete study in burnt umber.
Carrying all your nutrition on the bike strikes me as counter-productive. In Kona you ride uphill for about thirty kilometers to the Hawi turnaround and the whole bike course is ‘rolling’ in the extreme. Uphill, weight is the biggest handicap. We buy bikes that are super light. We buy wheels that almost float in the air and act like sails in the wind. We are happy to pay hundreds of dirhams to save two or three hundred grams on a seat or tribars, and then we plaster sweet biscuits or gels to our bikes, fill three water-bottles with liquids and strap them to our super slick, wind cheating steeds. (The cheapest route to a better power to weight ratio lies in a balanced diet and carrying no unproductive weight physically, rather than through Wolfi’s Bike Shop. Although it's a lot more fun to take the Wolfi's option). A combined additional load of three thousand grams represents a fifty percent increase in the weight of a good racing bike. It doesn’t make sense. So I rode with one half-full Tri-Dubai water bottle in a minimalist carbon cage in the wind shadow behind my Adamo seat and an emergency supply of three gels tucked into a ‘Pocket 200’ faring behind the stem. Combined weight three hundred grams. Estimated aero drag less than fifteen grams. I was thus insured against a missed aid station. But still very light.
Garry was gone. At that time I didn’t know if he was in front of or behind me but I rode into T2 expecting him to have a slight lead. And so it transpired.
It’s a personal thing, but the support of family and friends underpins my life and the lifestyle choice that is Ironman Racing. An outstanding Ironman finisher in his own right, Hasan Itani is the sort of friend who, absent any expectation of quid pro quo, represents a rock on which to build. He travelled to Hawaii to be with Lynette Warn, also a fantastic age-group athlete. She has three times qualified and twice raced Kona. She has fourteen thousand freefall jumps behind her, and, like Garry and me, in Kona she had Hasan. He drove us to buy groceries (there was a danger that I wouldn’t eat enough in the lead up to the race due to logistics of walking damp paper bags of food from supermarket to kitchen fridge) and to a health food store so that Garry and I could imbibe fresh juiced beetroot in the three days leading up to the race. He took us to the bike shop, and to various ‘parties’ thrown by Triathlon suppliers in race week. (The lure of free good food cooked by someone else was very strong. Can’t cook, won’t cook). He was on the wall at the swim start, cheering us on. He was there again as we got out of the water, and in the crowd as we mounted our bikes. At ‘hot corner’ he shouted us up Palani hill both on the bike and later on the run. Finally, after we had finished, he was there at the exit of the athletes-only area, to help tired friends carry bags and push bikes. At every turn, Hasan was there for the Dubai team, with a huge smile and palpable good wishes. Dubai, and TriDubai as the premier triathlon club are very lucky to have him in their ranks. A week later he was awarded the Roy Nasr Trophy, in recognition for his contribution to the sport in Dubai. Never more deserved.
Herr Rod Stewart, the cheat, was in deep trouble on the run. Just as my legs finally started to function, about fourteen kilometers into the marathon (I’m a very slow starter on the run leg), I saw him staggering out of an aid station. I enjoyed a moment of Schadenfreude. Moments later Hasan ‘high-fived’ me and with that double injection of encouragement, I felt set for a strong run.
I walked briefly at every aid station and fueled religiously. As per my plan I walked Palani Hill and then overtook those who had run up it. I saw friends, including Garry at each turnaround. Garry was gently but consistently increasing the gap between us. He’s probably a 2:45 standalone marathoner, and off the bike he’s capable of 3:10 or better. He claimed later that he was in a dark place when we saw each other in the Natural Energy Lab (which sounds like a stark place of test tubes and white coats but is in fact a five kilometer long corporately owned road to a scruffy beach near the airport) with twelve kilometres to go. While he looked a bit miserable, he was still running, from my perspective, very quickly.
Walking through aid stations is my solution to the cramps that afflicted me on a couple of less successful Ironman races. I always assumed that muscular cramping was the body indicating a lack of salts, but for me, it seems that it is just an indication that I have run out of fuel. By walking I can get nutrition into my body rather than plaster and splash it liberally to the outside, as is the case when I try to eat or drink and run. Also, I am easily distracted when running and on more than one occasion in the past I’ve tried to drink the ice while putting flat coke down the front of my race suit. The intended ‘goolie-cooling’ fails miserably and running with sticky sugar and molasses around your undercarriage is less than comfortable.
But this plan backfired this time. The aid stations came up every kilometer or at worst every mile and while I found it easy to accelerate back into a run having iced my head (put it under your hat), my back (but be prepared for a cube to slip down and sit disconcertingly close to an exit orifice) and my front (this works well as the ice sits above the race belt and slowly releases cold water to the nether regions), I was using up a lot of time. In each aid station I would guzzle half a banana, a cup of coke, a GU gel and a cup of ‘energy drink’. I would pour a cup of water over my head and swap out the rapidly warming sponges from the shoulders of my race suit for new, cooler ones. This was a full pit stop every five to eight minutes and if they’d offered a massage and asked me to fill out a questionnaire from the local telecom company I’d have probably have done that too. So while I got my money’s worth from IM Corp, I spent at least a minute in every ten walking and thanking volunteers in each station. Mistake! A conservative estimate would put my intake for the marathon at fifteen bananas, ten GUs, four litres of warm coke and about the same of energy drink. Of course I shot out of each station as if it was the start of the day, running at 04:30 minutes per kilometre or better and feeling happy, healthy and fresh. It’s a great way to complete an Ironman, but a poor approach to competing.
Had I managed to press the right buttons on my Garmin I might have been given a cue, earlier in the run, that I was averaging a much slower pace than I’d intended. But I didn’t and my one kilometer splits were not coming up to tell me that I was well over a five minute pace, the worst case scenario in my plan. With the long uphill drag to the top of Palani Hill in sight, I realized that I was not going to have a physical crisis on this run. I was going faster and faster between stations and there was no hint of discomfort in the system (apart from some minor ice-burn around my naval, where the ice was sitting). Too late I realized that I was fitter than I had ever been and that I had been too cautious with my strategy. With this blinding flash of the obvious I opened the sluices and emptied my tanks with about five kilometers to go. With much crowd encouragement and the prospect of the last four kilometers being mostly flat or downhill, I pegged it for home. I threw my legs out in front of me, and the crest came and went in a blur. Down Palani I was probably out of control and every runner will recognize that abandonment of caution when you are stretching your stride longer and longer, stamping down hard with huge jarring shocks on a steep downhill. You start to hope for a bit of flat before you fall on your face. The crowd were full of frenzied “Good Jaarb!” and “Way to Go!” and “Awrsome!” and “Finish Hard, Man!” (plus various other Colonial abuses of the English language). But despite the lingual butchery I was inspired and continued to pick up the pace. I think dispatching those last five kilometers in a little fewer than nineteen minutes might be a new personal best. And while it’s always nice to run a ‘PB’ this was not the place or time that I should have been delivering it.
With fifty metres to go, the chute narrowed and the crowd was almost close enough to touch you from both sides. The noise was intense. And wonderful. Two runners ahead of me were recording their finishes for prosperity and rather than have a group photo for my memories, I zipped up my tri-suit, removed my hat and glasses and slowed to a walk so that I could have the line to myself. Ten hours and twenty seven minutes on the clock. But home. And safe.
The catchers seemed disappointed when, with my HR rapidly dropping from flat out to resting, I pointed out that I was in good order and would make it to the Pizza and Ice-cream without assistance.
Lynette, Paul, Becky
Dubai is blessed with some outstanding Ironman athletes. Lynette Warn is an inspirational figure. She races in my age-group and has qualified and gone to Kona for the last two years. A hugely talented swim coach, she has time for everyone and anyone and is kind and generous. In the week before the race she and Hasan looked after us. Lynette raced for the UAE (and the Kiwis) this year, repaying the magnanimity of her sponsor, Crown Prince Hamdan. With the toughest bike leg in recent memory, she came home in twelve hours and eighteen minutes. Seventeenth fastest athlete in her Division, in the World!
Paul Miles, with the dedicated close support of Heather MacKenzie, ran in strongly for a ten hour forty-eight finish. He had qualified solidly on his first attempt at the Ironman in South Africa and then executed a perfect race in Kona, his second full-distance race. He’s normally known as one of the elite ‘Frankies’ team cyclists but this performance demonstrates the great depth of his multisport ability.
Becky Hoare (her UK official address starts with ‘The Hoare House’ – you have to love soldier humour!) had lost her father and training partner only six weeks prior to the race and was racing alone for the first time in her life. She is tiny (her bike is just like a tri-bike only smaller, and Orange), but unbelievably tough and determined. She was far from finished with mourning the untimely and sudden loss of her beloved father and mentor. She overcame a full dose of man-flu in race week too. Last year she competed in Kona and come seventh in her category. This year she was sixth. She quickly became an integral and hugely valued member of the Dubai contingent. And with any luck we will persuade her to come to Dubai to train and race at some point. She will be an honorary TRIbe member.
It is not normal to finish an Ironman, particularly Kona, wishing that you had put a little more effort in. I attribute this strange state of affairs to the quality of my preparation, and for that I thank the brilliant Nick Tipper who is starting out on a path to coaching stardom. His new business, Nick Tipper Coaching, looks after a very small group of very capable age-groupers and professionals. For those of us who are lucky enough to have been in at the start of his coaching career, and are retained more through his loyalty than for our ability, we thank goodness that he puts an equal effort into both the rapidly aging amateur and the future greats of our sport. So lesson one is: get a good coach and follow his advice. If you can execute a consistent, scientifically based training plan in the run up to an Ironman, you might find that you finish too strongly. It’s a great place to be.
I offer four pieces of training wisdom by which I live. Readers should remember that none of my ideas are original, I just can’t remember where I picked some up, and so they are now mine…
- You cannot over-train, but you can under-recover. Recovery is where the body adapts. No amount of training will deliver improvement if you don’t get the right sort of rest and recovery.
- Be consistent. A little training every day is much better than a smashfest once in a while with Brunches in between.
- If you smile, you will go faster. OK, Chrissie Wellington does this, but she got it from me.
- Don’t disassociate – staying focused on what you are doing, what your body is saying to you, and analyzing constantly in training and racing, is key. You cannot do this with earphones in.
The second lesson is, even if you cannot take your nearest and dearest to be a physically present support crew for the race, surround yourself with friends. With modern communications and athlete tracking, they are there all the time, virtually. This was vital for me. And they all know who they are and how much I attribute my limited successes to their unquestioning support. They deliver me to my races in the right frame of mind and physically ready for anything. I race for them, and they carry me forward.
Now, for this race I have no regrets. Despite my fast finish, there is no certainty that, had I gone faster earlier the race, I would not have broken down at some point. Ironman racing is a matter of diligently identifying and executing the correct paces for each discipline and the execution of the fourth discipline: nutrition. However, it’s not an exact science. Race conditions are different every time. Preparation is subtly different for each race. Mental states ebb and flow. And you will never find the same formula to apply on each occasion. If you have a perfect race (and I got close to this the previous year) then that is as much a matter of luck as anything else.
My aim of being one of the top ten in the world is still alive. It might take until the others have all fallen off their perches, and a lot of luck, but this is endurance racing and I plan to endure for a few more years. As for the dream of World Champion, well if I keep going until I am in the eighty plus age group, I’ll just have to get round the course before they shut the finish!
I love Ironman racing and the privilege of doing it in Kona is a pinnacle. I am already looking forward to the call of the piper on 10 October 2015. I’ve booked my accommodation. There will be many obstacles to overcome if I am to run up to the World Championship finish line in three hundred and fifty or so days. The first problem is to build a plan to balance family, job and my addiction. Then I must recover properly and not succumb to the temptation to train too hard too early. I must learn to swim more quickly, for my adolescent bison imitation is not good enough. Then I must qualify; I have lined up a target race, and a spare, and a spare spare in case it takes a few to get the ticket. And in all this I have to stay healthy. But I suspect that with a smile and your continued support I will be there.
Thank you all.