October 14th, 2017 – Men’s 40-44 AG
I wish I had the time and skills to put together a written masterpiece. Sadly, this is not the case so I would recommend that you treat David Labouchere’s 2014 Kona race report, and perhaps also an article written recently by Pedro Gomez titled “dealing with frustration” as supplements to the below. David, oh so eloquently, describes the build-up, the event and what it means to be there whilst Pedro does a great job of describing the frustration of failing to achieve a target when you have invested so much time and effort. I will focus more on getting to Kona and my own suffer-fest on race day!
My 2016/17 quest for Kona and the changes that got me there
I competed in three full-distance Ironman branded races (qualifiers) in the summer of 2016, Texas in May, Bolton (UK) in July and Taiwan in August. Texas went OK, but 17th AG wasn’t even close to being enough, Bolton went better but 9th AG and 44th overall again wasn’t enough. The less said about Taiwan the better but let’s just say it was ridiculous to think I could cope with that sort of heat after a summer of indoor training…. I pulled out of that one-half way into the bike when every muscle in my body started cramping...
In January 2017 I switched coaches. I’d done great under the first but sometimes you just need a change. One of my new coach’s first comments after going through my previous buildup training was “you’ve done some great quality training but I do more cycling than you and I don’t race Ironman”. So, pretty much ever since then I have been cycling….a lot….. Not to say that I haven’t been doing the other important stuff. I still do heavy strength work, a fair bit of swimming, and my running volume picks up significantly towards the end of a race preparation block but the bike leg is where races are won and lost over this distance.
I qualified for Kona on a hot day in Port Elizabeth at Ironman South Africa. A swim of 54 minutes, a bike of 5 hours 8 minutes, a run of 3 hours 22 minutes and a total race time of 9 hours 31 minutes. Job was done!
1. There are lots of phenomenal athletes racing full ironman distance racing. Far more so than any other distance racing in my opinion, and every one of them pushing for a Kona slot……
2. Unless you are hugely talented, the real challenge is in qualifying and I doubt there is anything more satisfying in triathlon that doing so in a large full distance race.
3. Training indoors is fine but there is nothing like training outside, especially if you are going to race in the intense heat. Doing so in the Dubai summer, however, is a challenge!
4. Volume is key, not just intensity. Whilst I was doing well up to 70.3 distance (several podiums and a decent performance at the 70.3 World Champs), I wasn’t where I needed to be at the full distance and this had been largely due to the fact I wasn’t putting in enough time.
5. No need to over-think day-to-day diet but a solid tried and tested race nutrition and hydration plan is essential. This also needs to take into consideration the conditions on race day.
The buildup for the race went really well despite the summer heat. I did almost all training outside. Most of my longer bike rides were done in the hills at Hatta (I was there almost every weekend) and I managed to do a great deal my running outside also. Week-day rides were done on the indoor trainer and all swimming was done at the Hamdan aquatics center. I ran as much as I could outdoors which was hard going and I had to split some of the very long runs into two sessions….
I capped out at around 18 hours of quality training per week, around 10 hours of which was cycling. Run volume picked up considerably toward the end and swim/strength training was pretty constant throughout.
Swim: A mass start, non-wetsuit, ~4km swim in crystal clear ocean. Just awesome.
Bike: Similar to South Africa. Around 1650m of ascent, mainly rolling but with one or two short steep climbs. Windy with hard gusts in the open sections and hot!
Run: Far more undulating than the profile would suggest. A couple of cheeky climbs in the town. Hot and humid!
The race plan:
Swim plan: Go out hard, find some feet and hold sub-1:30 pace for the duration. The target was simply to go sub 1 hour.
Bike plan: ~230 NP, pushing a little harder on the ascents and under AP on the flats and downhill. Nutrition would be a combo of Hammer Perpetuem and Power Bars (4). Plenty of water. Best Bike Split estimated bike time was ~5:20, weather depending.
Run plan: Start at 5m/km reducing to 4.30-4.40 pace once the legs got into gear. Walk the aid stations if necessary, keep cool, stay properly hydrated and try to get one gel (SIS) down me every 5-6km. Energy drinks as required. Put everything into the last 5km. Finish under 3h30.
Swim (Actual time): 57 Minutes 42 Seconds
I started close to the front and as planned, found some feet and a good line quickly. Feet were lost then found again repeatedly but I managed to hold a good line despite the congestion. At one point (at the far turn) I had to stop and punch my way out of being used as an anchor for someone to get around the turn.
After the turn at the half-way mark, things opened up and I found that holding a line and only drafting off the feet/hip of others when they hit that same line worked really well. I kept checking my average pace on my watch and it was pretty consistent throughout at 1.28/100.
Finishing in under an hour meant I could chill a little in T1, get the HR down a little and make sure I was in good shape for the bike.
Very happy with the swim – so far, so good!
Bike (Actual time): 5 hours 17 minutes
Transition (which took just over 3 minutes) was pretty slick. I wasn’t in a burning rush to get through as I would normally be. I just wanted to play it safe and steady.
It’s hard not to get carried away over the first 10-15km of the bike in any race, let alone Kona. Aside from the excitement, there are lots of people on tight sections of road, all trying to get further up the field. I normally find myself on open road after a swim but with so many great athletes, this wasn’t the case. I would love to say I stuck with the plan but did find myself pushing way too much over the first Kona town stretch.
Once on the Queen K Highway after around 15km, I found it a little easier to stick with the plan. The problem, however, was the number of people hitting roughly the same pace. It is very hard to maintain a consistent power as you are constantly either overtaking or being overtaken. For the first 75km of the race, I was vying for position whilst trying to stay within the rules. It was almost impossible to avoid being in a draft zone as if you dropped back, someone just jumped in front, then another, then another…..
There was a lot of drafting going on and lots of people were penalized. Working 100% within the rules was impossible at times. I wasn’t penalized but definitely got a draft advantage from being at the pointy end of the race. At the 75km point though (pretty much the start of the long climb to Hawi), things started to open up. There was a steady headwind but nothing too horrendous. By the time we reached Hawi, it was starting to get pretty hot.
After the turn, there is a fantastic runout back down the hill with a solid back wind and occasional hard cross-win blasts. This section favors the brave, stupid or heavier athlete. Me being the latter two, I tucked in and hammered it down there. It felt great to cover so much ground in such a short period of time. It was however short lived as soon, the direction of travel and wind would change (as it does every year) and we would have a steady headwind all the way back through the lava-fields to T2. Oh yeah, and it was HOT HOT HOT out there!
Bike done, slightly under NP target. Feeling good.
Run (Actual time): 4 Hours 18 Minutes….
T2 was pretty slick (just over 3 mins). Bike gear off, run gear on and off we go.
Out on to the run and I felt great. There is a small climb out of transition and I felt really light on my feet. It was really hot and humid though. It had rained very heavily the night before and the result was clear open skies and intense sun over sodden ground. Not quite a steam room, but very unpleasant.
I maintained around 5 minute average for the first 10km, high-fiving Jo, Claire (Andy Mac’s fiancée), Rory Buck and other supporters from Dubai on the course. I was hot but I had been putting ice under my cap and down my top to keep my body temperature down and this seemed to be working fine. My heart rate was low and everything was on track.
At 11km, just after the turn at the bottom of Ali’I Drive however, things took a turn for the worse.
My body felt fine, legs felt great, but I felt a stitch coming. First one side, then the other, then the middle. I’d faced this before in my first Ironman race on a hot, humid day in Texas in 2015 and knew that I was in trouble if it didn’t pass quickly.
I tried everything to shake off the stomach cramps and vomiting over the next 20km. Water, electrolyte drinks, even that god-awful HotShot shit (which, by the way, should come with a warning label) but nothing worked. All I could do was focus on running between 3 and 5 traffic cones then walking the pain off.
Coming out of the Energy Lab at around the 30km point I saw Andy Mac coming in the opposite direction. I thought at the time he was a long way behind me having a hard time but he quickly caught me. We had a chat and with his raceway off track (he had a bad swim and bike) we (he) agreed to run back in together.
This was just the kick up the ass I needed. 3-5 cones became 8-10 and we even picked up the pace (and held it) for the last 2-3km through the town to finish on a high. Andy, thanks again and sorry if I puked on you!
I went into this race hoping (even expecting) to finish well under the 10-hour mark and thought I had played it safe enough on the bike to do so. An actual time of 10 hours 41 minutes was some way off this, but crossing that line in the sunshine, with all that support (including my wife and friends) felt fantastic anyway!
I think anyone reading this knows what it takes to get to Kona. Racing it is exactly what you would expect. The whole experience is just awesome, from arriving to leaving and everything that happens in between. It is worth the time, effort and persistence to get there.
Starting out in triathlon a few years back, I had Kona as a target and completely underestimated what it would take for me to get there. The thing is though, it’s the fact it’s so hard to get there which makes doing the race such an experience, such an achievement. I loved it, and not getting the time/place I wanted gives me an excuse to go back. But not for a few years as Jo might divorce me!
Just a quick one on what went right and what went wrong:
I had a solid race plan which was tried and tested; I had prepared for the heat and was in the best shape of my life. Sometimes, however, your body just doesn’t want to play. That’s just Ironman racing for you…. I thought I did everything right, but if I had to change one thing it would be my nutrition plan. I think, as a bigger guy, my body just struggles to cope with digestion whilst also trying to cool itself in the heat. For hot full-distance races in the future, I will try some different, easier to digest products. I just started trialing Stealth products so let’s see what happens with that.
And back to the important stuff:
Jo, thanks for being patient with me. Nick, Didge, Bondy – I’ve loved training with you this past year and am a better athlete as a result of doing so. Andy Mac, thanks for dragging me the last few km.
Well done to all the others who raced. Great to see some familiar faces on the course! Finn, Sam, Nick, it was great having you as house-mates for the week prior to the race although your love of peanut butter is borderline concerning!
To TriDubai and Tribe Racing Team, I would just like to say “thanks” for all the support prior to, during and after the race. I am a very proud member of quite probably, the best Tri Club in the world.