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Ironman World Championships Race Report – Part 1

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Kona 2019 – World Ironman Championships

The road to Kona has been well planned in our house for the last few years but as explained below the best laid plans don’t always conform to your expectations when racing an Ironman. In 2016 we decided as a family (yes, really !) that if I could qualify for the 2017 championships we would go for Kelly’s 40th birthday year. The plan was to combine the race in Hawaii and then spend time in Disney afterwards and make it a holiday to remember.

I chose Mallorca as the qualification race, after doing so well in UK earlier in the year I was confident, I had also turned down a slot at UK for 2016 so this was a gamble. As it turned out, Mallorca was just a step too far that year and I bombed in 16th, even though it was goodf enough to get me under 10 hours, its just not good enough to qualify and the plans were in tatters. You really can’t just open a book, stick a pin in a race and say, I want to qualify there and then hope it all works out, lesson learnt. I wasn’t good enough on the day.

Mallorca in 2016

Kona however was in my head now. 2017 plans were readjusted, I searched for races to qualify for the 2018 edition, it may have been a year too late for Kelly’s birthday year but it was the 40th anniversary edition of the World Championships race and was certainly going to be something special. Step forward Florida in November 2017. The race report is here. It was a tough race, I needed to finished in the top 4 out of nearly 350 in my AG, I was 5th and got a roll down, QUALIFICATION !! The scene was set, we were off to Kona baby in 2018.

Kona baby – qualification letter

By qualifying a whole year ahead we could book our accommodation, flights and travel early taking some of the stress out of the whole process so I could focus on the training. I chose smaller targets during the year. Trying to hold attention until October would be a challenge for anyone. I built a run focus around a spring marathon, I was still trying to ‘fix’ my weak discipline. The London Marathon however turned out to be an early lesson in heat management and I had my backside handed to me, finishing in 3.17 would have been OK if I wasn’t aiming at sub 3. Moving on.

My triathlon build up races were Cleveland Steelman in July and the Sundowner in September. I had done both before and knew the courses. The races went well, I placed well and was 2nd in my AG in both. Just before Sundowner I had to replace my bike due to a crack in the Wilier, I was racing on a new Factor Slick, what a machine, it still needed a rider but it felt good. I had it built by Gavin at TTT and after a few tweaks by Rich Melik at Freespeed it was ready to race Kona, thanks to both I had a great set up. The last 4 week block of training went well and i was ready to race by the time we entered October. 

Bike fit looking great at Freespeed.

The Kona plan started well before the race, I wanted to get to the island fit, no alcohol for 6 weeks prior to the race, improved nutrition working with Craig Bunnell from TTT. I started to lose weight and build lean muscle so something was working. No injuries and no excuses. Kona came around way too soon and on October 6th we touched down on the big island.

OMG, Kona is amazing !!! The island was as we left it in 2012, only busier, arriving on the Saturday the buzz was already apparent, loads of people running up and down Ali’i drive. The pier was packed each morning with people swimming the course, I was in Kona baby.

enjoying the views that Ali’i drive has to offer

With the bike built pretty quickly I managed a few rides early in the week, this place is not flat, in ANY direction, it can be very testing in the heat but its essential for race day. The vibe at the pier was amazing, the sound of the water as you took your first dive, the turtles bobbing around the beach and the fish around your feet as you set off just made it a magical experience.

The build week had a few non race highlights to keep us occupied, Teya and Millie took part in the ‘Keiki Splash and Dash’ kids race on the Tuesday. It was a pleasure to watch Ironman make a massive fuss of the kids, a huge amount of effort went into this and my kids will remember this forever, it was pretty much the highlight of the week for me. A special moment to have such inclusive involvement in our selfish sport.

My princesses at their Splash and Dash race

This was then followed by the Parade of Nations, a chance to celebrate the athletes that have qualified and the countries they represent, a great feeling walking behind the GB flag down Ali’i Drive being cheered by spectators, (who, by the way where soaked in a monsoon downpour 30 mins before we started) awesome day.

Wednesday I got myself interviewed by the boys from the IMTalk podcast which was also a highlight for me, I have listened to these guys for over 10 years and eventually got on the Kona Super Specials, great to chat to guys I had only heard of on the podcast too.

When Friday came round I was ready for anything, racking was painless, I had my own helper who was lovely, we walked and talked the whole of the pier, this lady had just travelled from halfway across the US to volunteer for no other reason than she knew someone who knew someone who did the race once !!! Unbelievable .

The bike was primed, I was using specific tyres to reduce rolling resistance, the whole bike was fitted with ceramic speed bearings in the derailleurs and the bottom bracket to reduce friction on the moving parts. I even changed my chain in the week to gain another few watts. Easy choice. The new chain is only used for racing and gets about 400 miles use which meant I could use it for training in the lead up but keep the mileage down.

Bike racking done, ready to race in 12 hours.

It’s also meant to be kept dry !!!! After racking on Friday the most almighty tropical storm basically pissed those 4 watts away by soaking the bike. 

Anyway, I got home and set up all my nutrition for the next day, 2 bottles of PH in the freezer for special needs bike bag, 2 bottles of XE Fuel5, one for now and one for the morning breakfast and all my shots and sodium in the morning bag. Then bed. 

Race Day

I had a good nights sleep and morning came around quickly, the rain was still coming down, that’s a good 6 hours, the dry chain was well and truly wet ! Arse !

I was up before the alarm went off at 3.30am. Breakfast was porridge, banana and honey, washed down with XE Fuel5 and a 2 strong coffees. I wanted to get out of the house by 5am to get to transition with plenty of time to sort the bike after the downpour but we are not known for punctuality in our family and I settled for 5.15am which by our standards was pretty good.

The prep was the same as any other race, except I knew I had to check my electronic gearing on the bike was fully working after all that rain. The buzz, however, is always unique on the way to the pier, walking into body marking, getting weighed, drop the special needs bags, it’s all so efficient, then onto the pier.

I already had my shoes and helmet on the bike so just needed to sort nutrition into the right places, pump up the tyres and calibrate the power meter, all done in about 15 minutes, which included faffing. I did stop to watching people around me, there is no panic here, no looking for help, no fuss, each person just getting themselves ready and leaving the pier to chill. The chilling would normally be done on the pier but the whole place is carpeted and it was drenched, you might as well have sat in the sea so everyone made for the beach behind the King K hotel. I spent a good 10-15 minutes just sitting, watching and thinking about the day, then I dropped my morning clothes bag and queued for the loo, it was around 20 mins or so but with no wetsuit to put on there was no panic to get this done. I heard the pros go while we were queuing inside, the roar gave me goosebumps. The women followed the men a few minutes later. Then it was time for us to get in, it was really here.

If anyone ever asks about Kona tips, one is to swim out to the start and then turn around to take in the view of the spectators all around the wall of the bay, it’s phenomenal to see, 6 deep and no spare space anywhere, all here to cheer us on. I took it all in, then made my way to the swim pack treading water, about 6 rows back and far left. I knew I was to aim straight left on the gun to avoid veering across to the inside line again. We waited.

Pretty busy on the wall surrounding the swim start

Swim

There is no getting away from it, the mass start in Ironman is one of the sports iconic images, even with the field reduced to just AG men we had 1700 starting at the same time. It can lead to a bit of physical contact but I kept my head above water for the first 100-200m and found clear water. I picked a line that opened and got my head down, I found a set of feet to follow once I found my stroke. It was so peaceful I thought I had gone off course, the pack had separated and I was in loads of space, I aimed for the buoys, determined not to head to the right too soon, we would all merge in about 1600m so I stayed left, I kept thinking this was the start of the day and to take time to sort out my body for the next 9-10 hours, swim long, stretch the arms and kick gently to warm everything up.

A small section of the mens AG start

After my practice swims I decided to roll the top half of my trisuit down under my swim skin to prevent chaffing under the arms then pull it on while I ran around transition saving a bit of time, this was working well so far and one less thing to worry about. I felt so peaceful, based on previous years this was really odd.

I got to the turnaround in just under 29 mins. It’s not quite halfway so I didn’t get too excited it was over 2000m back to the pier. The turn area was pretty physical, people just lost all concept of personal space, and in all honesty I expected more of this so I was relieved it was such a short section this happened. I realized that just after the turn I hadn’t seen the bottom of the sea as I had spent so long looking for feet, I nearly missed the divers on the way back and the shoals of fish. I did have a few second chill to remember where I was.

I could hear the cheering on the pier and I knew the day was only just starting. As I approached the pier it got really packed around me, it was time to make an effort to avoid being dunked ! I hit sand, feet down and wade to the pier steps, even though the marshals shouted to warn us, 3 of us fell in a huge sand hole just below the steps, recover, and run up, 1.05 on the watch, over the moon, 3 minute PB, already on the gold time !

Swim done

Reality check !!! In the grand scheme of things though, that time only got me 117th in my AG!

T1 – 3.17

Swim skin down, through the showers, by the time I got to the tent the skin was by my knees, whip it off and with goggles and hat they went into the empty T1 bag, someone smothered me in suntan cream and I was off, trying to slide my soaking wet race suit up over my wet shoulders. We all have to run the full perimeter of the pier until you get to your bike lane and then you can cut in to get your bike, I was just getting the suit on as I got to my bike, perfect, I had walked transition the day before so knew exactly my lane, helmet on, say hi to the guy right next to me which passed the 10 seconds or so as we grabbed bikes, then off.

I pushed my bike past the mount line and kept running for at least 20 metres, get past the carnage and then flying start, perfect running jump. I was off.

to be continued – very quickly hopefully !!!

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