Race Report – IM World Championships Kona – 2012

The photos are all here

The dust has been settling for a few weeks now and I am still harking back to the race, Kona is still the single most exciting race I have ever done, twice now, its something I will never forget.

I’ve found a YouTube video of Ironman in Hawaii that I thought I would share, its not from the 2012 race but a few years ago. For those that don’t race it *may* put across a little of why myself and thousands of others do this, you’ll probably think we are still bonkers but at least you will have some sympathy for the obsession 🙂


Remember the last bit of the video when reading the rest of the report below. John Collins – the founder of Ironman’ once said –

‘You can quit and they don’t care, but you will always know’


Pre Race

I qualified at IMUK, I had a good race there coming 3rd in my age-group. On race day I fulfilled part one of the years targets, podium, this also meant I had fulfilled part 2, I qualified for Kona. Before the race myself and Kelly agreed I had to qualify by right or we wouldn’t entertain the idea of spending so much money going to Kona, roll down wasn’t an option this time, I was glad not to have to question that decision.

So onto Kona baby !!

I set clear goals, enjoy every moment, make sure the family were enjoying every moment, last time I was a bit too self-centred and certainly race centric …. and above all, relax, I was on holiday (apart from race day of course !)

Wednesday 10th October

Due to this being a little more laid back we decided to leave it to the Wednesday of the week of the race to fly out, that meant I was a little late to the party in terms of acclimation and sufficient rest prior to the race day, I was sure it wouldn’t be fatal. I was also carrying a cold I’d had for 2 weeks, it had started the day of my last long ride and I was worried, it wasn’t the run of the mill last minute phantom cold which I deal with very well, it was a belter. By race week it had subsided a little. Just roll with it.

We eventually landed in Kona and after picking up car and locating condo got to bed at 1am on the Thursday morning. We had been travelling for nearly 24 hours. Not ideal but when its the World Championships I didn’t care. We were on the Big Island.

Thursday 11th October

Needless to say, I was up at 6am ready for a planned swim from the famous Digme Beach with my coach Simon Ward. I also met Jeff, my great friend who had qualified with me at IMUK. We were staying about 1.5 miles from the pier and the journey to downtown in the car again was just pure child-like excitement, my senses from 3 years ago had been woken up within seconds, this place was amazing, runners streamed down Ali’i Drive, riders were out for their early bike shakedowns out of the heat of the day, the pier was buzzing even at 6.30am, and everyone was here for one reason, the race.

It felt somehow normal though, I suppose that could have been the haze of exhaustion but dolphin diving into the water and swimming away from the beach is such a smash of senses, taste the water, smell the sea and hear the waves lapping over your head mixing with your stroke. I was loving it.

Thursday turned out to be a bit of a mad day, after the swim and breakfast I had to register, painless in itself as there weren’t many people who leave it this late but I still hadn’t got my bike out of the box.

Thus followed, build bike, test bike, buy bits missing from bike, test bike again, return bought bits as they didn’t fit, look round expo for other new kit, go for a run. All this while checking in with Teya and Kelly.

The excitement was building, now I have my number and my bike is ready.

Friday 12th October

Friday was a day of rest, I don’t have a problem relaxing into a race as long as I know that I have prepared well, apart from the lack of sleep there were only a few things left to sort. I had to rack and drop all of my kit down at the pier but once again, at Kona, this is about as painless an experience as you can get in an Ironman.

Each person has their own volunteer for racking and bag hanging, they take you on each step, walk the route in transition, again if you want, help with the odd photo and then shepherd you out when you’re done. There is so much time the next morning that if you forget anything it really wouldn’t be an issue.

It was Friday afternoon that I started to have body issues, earlier in the day after my last run my back started to spasm and seize up, not being an over reactor and knowing that I was probably making it worse by worrying about it, I left it and went to sort out the transition bags and bike.

When I got back to the apartment it started to really give me a lot of pain, I couldn’t lie down on my back without my whole core tensing up and then spasming. I could lower myself onto my front no problem  but the muscles I was using when I tried to lean back into an armchair were obviously engaging my core more and were really in trouble. I had seen an advert for a massage earlier that day down the road so checked in for last minute rub down. Never done this the night before the race but I needed something to try to relax me a little, it must have worked as I felt a lot better by the evening. I have no idea why it started then but maybe with the excitement and rushing around my body was trying to tell me something. Bed early after checking all of my morning gear and await the now

Saturday 13th October – Race Day

The now familiar buzz of the iPhone telling me to get up, then 10 minutes later it went off again. It was 3am and I’d had a great nights sleep, I’d moved the mattress onto the floor as the sofa bed wasn’t exactly helping my back. I was also sleeping in the living room so I could have the aircon off and the girls could sleep in the cool in the bedroom, so no worries about waking anyone. I went through my pre race breakfast, Hawaiian style, real Kona coffee, toast and honey, porridge (sure they were Scottish Oats though) and a bottle of energy drink, then more coffee.

The girls got up and we headed off at 5 to pick up Jill and drive to Jeff’s where we would leave the girls and car behind and walk the 15 minutes to the pier. Ali’i Drive was buzzing, Lava Java was already open and the coffee queue was substantial. We all walked in silence to the King K hotel and round to body marking.

You are weighed – (this is for medical later if needed), then body marked and then led out to the beach behind the pier and into transition, I had a quick interview with the IMTalk boys. When I listened back I sounded remarkably calm, I think I was, I was just excited and a little worried about my back and how my cold might affect me in the latter stages of the race.

Me and the IMTalk guys – John and Bevan.

pic:courtesy of Rich Melik @ Freespeed

I checked my bike, pumped up the tubs again and then loaded the nutrition I was using, I was benefiting from racing here before, you can run really light, a full bottle of gels in a 750ml on the frame, water to start in the aero bottle and 1/2 bottle of High 5 ‘4-in-1’. Its my normal energy drink and I knew that once I started I would be using the on course drink so I just had enough to top up the aero bottle. The aid stations are every 7 miles on the bike so I really didn’t need a lot to start. I used the gel bottle strategy in UK and it worked, no point in changing.

My strategy for nutrition was simple, I had marked the gel bottle with each gel and would take one every 30 mins with water, I would then alternate the aero bottle with water and ‘Perform’ (the course energy drink) as I felt the need. The odd banana would also break up the monotonous sugary intake. I would also then try to get as much water over me as possible once I had picked up one to drink. This is never an issue here, there are more bottles than you could ever need.

Myself, Jeff, Jill and Rebecca met on the beach just after the pro start. It was now 25 minutes to the cannon. We all wanted to enter the water together so we waited for our spot and then set off for the far left of the swim start.

On the way over I shouted to the other 3 to turn round, I hope what they saw will stay with them for the rest of their lives, its like no other start, the support is monumental, 5-10 deep all of the way around the bay, signs everywhere, the sound of the helicopters overhead and then the eerie feeling that even though you are with 5000 others (supporters, media and racers), you still feel a little alone. The start wasn’t far off.

Swim. – 1:08:50

I checked my back out a few times by warming up for about 300m to check the stroke wasn’t impaired, no issues .. we waited …..

All I heard was GO, GO, GO …………. I went, I didn’t need telling twice, the cannon had failed to fire.

It was a free for all as usual, swimming with your head up and swallowing the wake of others in front, trying not to get goggles and face kicked, I certainly didn’t want any kidney punches, the first 200m were frantic, then I got my head down and tried to swim long and slow, take the draft off anyone I could.

I breath to the left so its hard to keep a check on the field when you start on the left as well, I needn’t have worried, I obviously swim with a pull to the right and soon found myself on the far right of the course, deja vu  !!

The first time I realized how far I had moved was around 750m. We were approaching one of the main buoys, the thumping I was getting from the right side was mad, it was because I was so far over to the right with a bunch of others that I was being herded back left to get on the right side of the buoy !! In fact the first time I saw a buoy, I was underneath it, it was that frenetic.

The pounding stayed like this until the turn at 1.2 miles, I never got into a rhythm the whole first half, I was punched, grabbed, swam over, pushed and scratched. I have never been in such a brutal swim, people have always said the World Champs is the worst swim due to the density of athletes in the same 15-20 minutes of water but this was middle of the packers seemingly thinking they had a chance of winning, and they weren’t taking prisoners !

I got to the turn in 36-37 minutes, I know this as I was using a Garmin 910XT and took a sneaky glimpse just as I rounded the last buoy to turn back, I wish I hadn’t, it really pissed me off. I was now probably on for a 1.20 as I knew I was going to slow. I swore under my breath for even thinking about getting annoyed, you really don’t know how bad it is in the swim until AFTER the race, I should know this. I decided to focus for the whole way back, take really long strokes and pick a good draft, don’t get caught up in racing as I know my stroke will deteriorate. It worked, I felt good all of the way back, and couldn’t believe it when the clock said 1.08. My day just got soooooooo much better. I was ahead of my last time. Gold !

T1 – 3:46

There is no getting away from it, the transition here is long, you have to run all the way around the pier, they do this to make it fair for everyone, including the pros. I took time to get compression socks on and grabbed my glasses, that was it, the rest of my kit was already on the bike.

Bike – 5:29:23

I felt like I was ready for the bike, it is my strongest discipline over the 3 and with experience I knew if I started steady I could build. Haha, out of transition its like a steam train of uber bikers. I was determined to get my HR down out of T1 but the little loop around town is there to deceive, its lumpy, its fast and its technical, its also very well supported, none of which encourages calmness.

The noise is amazing on hot corner, we pass it 3 times in the first 8 miles of the bike. We hit Kuakini to climb to the first turn, I sat in and span, I wasn’t here to burn out in the first few miles. I was passed by Tim Bishop on his way to a sub 10 hour race, it was good to say hi, and this is the point for me, this sport is ace in terms of the people you meet, halfway around the world and racing with friends, I was like a pig in shit at this point. I was determined to smile all day.

Out onto the Queen K the wind was being kind, from the top of Palani to Waikaloa I averaged nearly 23mph, there were a lot of hills on the way but the downs were outweighing the ups at this point. Then the winds changed a little, as I got to Hapuna the side winds started, at one point I must have shouted out in frustration so loud the guy nearly 200m in front of me turned round, it was a struggle staying upright as I was leaning into the wind hoping that it wouldn’t suddenly stop blowing or I would have ended up on my ass.

Because the wind was coming from the volcano side I knew the minute we turned at Kawaihae we would have a blistering downhill with the wind behind, I wasn’t wrong, 50mph, the love returned. I knew we would pay for it on the return.

My average before we turned to climb to Hawi was 21.8mph, my aim was to keep it from going below 20mph. Its the hardest part of the course, rolling and lumpy but always up, its about 10 miles to the turn. Its a balancing act, I had to push hard enough not to lose time but not too much to burn matches I didn’t have. So I pushed, I knew I was working.

The pros started to come the other way when I was on the way up to Hawi, I passed Kienle on the side of the road trying to fix his puncture, I was trying to work out who they all were, taking my mind off the climbing if only for a short while. I only averaged 15mph up here, the crosswinds weren’t so bad now but the last 3 miles were straight into the wind, it was hard to stay down in the bars and push a decent gear, I couldn’t wait for the turn, I really wanted to go the other way …. pleeease.

The crowds start to build again and you know you are cresting the last rise, passing the special needs on the other side means it was nearly time to put the after burners on. By the time I got here my average was 20.5mph, mission accomplished.

I know I keep going on about averages on the bike but this was how I was gauging each section, other than the HR which is being affected by the temperature and adrenaline it was the only thing I could really focus on to keep the concentration. Its like a game, it certainly affects your mood and in someways later in the ride, not in a good way but it became an obsession. It wasn’t even one of my fixed read outs on the bike computer, I actually had to turn my wrist to read it on the 910XT.

The section down to Kawaihae was the last time I think I enjoyed myself, it was fast, it was windy but it was relief. I knew the hardest part was to come but I had a blast for 18 miles, 26mph average and brought the overall up, result. The scenery here is vastly different to the main Queen K, its green, its lush and the views over to Maui are spectacular, I was lapping it all up and taking it all in. The gusting wind bringing me back to reality on a regular basis though.

Then the island gods started the torment, it was 40 miles home and it started with the climb out of Kawaihae, the wind was straight into your face and it was a 10 percent ish climb for a mile or so, I was in my easiest gear, spinning and my HR was hitting numbers I needed to keep below, turning onto the Queen K didn’t help, the road flattened out but I knew it was now wind in your face all the way home and my back was starting to ache.

I had 4 things to do, keep cool, hydrate, feed regularly and turn the pedals, 3 out of 4 were easy 🙂 it was draining, I knew others were going to be feeling crap but it didn’t make me feel better, I really thought I had taken it easy but the wind was pushing my HR to my FTP limits on the uphills, yet I was struggling to hold it to my race HR on the flats. Mentally I started to feel the strain, the average speed checking was entering the ‘not really helping’ phase of the ride and my back ache was starting to affect my aero position. This is not a good thing with a head wind and dropping energy levels, every 2 or 3 miles I had to get out of the saddle to stretch my back out by pushing my groin to the stem on both sides, this did help but it wiped out any momentum I had built up. This was counter productive as I was having to push harder to get to speed again, I knew though, if I didn’t keep my back loose I was going to have problems later.

I wasn’t feeling the love for this camera man at this point either. Maybe one of the few times the smile went …. ? There was more to come.

My mood picked up significantly as I came into the last 5 miles – funny that ! I had been trying to calculate my time for the last 20 miles and from the bad moments of thinking I was going to end up near 6 hours I was very happy to see a sub 5.30. Another good result but I knew I had pushed too hard to get this. I also knew at this point that I wasn’t firing on all cylinders, I shouldn’t be struggling so badly, thoughts of my cold and acclimation started to appear in my head, I didn’t need excuses in my head – something I would really struggle with later but I needed to get on with it. The run could be interesting.

T2 – 4:39

Once again, a long run all the way round transition, got inside and decided I needed a pee, so wasted a few seconds but it was all I wanted to sit down right there and just take my time to chill, I knew I couldn’t but each distraction meant a bit more rest, the next one was suntan cream, did I want some ? yes please. I must have felt guilty at this point as I started moving as he was putting it on. Then I was gone.

Run – 3:53:54

Coming out of T2 I felt fine, it was hot but we were still on the pier so I knew that would change.

My aims were simple, break 3.30 or at least be faster than last time which was 3.40. And don’t walk between aid stations. Nutrition was pre determined too, I didn’t have any of my gels left so I was using the course GU gels, grab a few so you could get the caffeine ones, hammer the water, in and over me, and abuse the coke from the start, I was going to need it.

The first mile is up and around 3 streets, Palani, Kuakini and Hualalai, dropping back onto Ali’i drive near the expo and then heading a further 4 miles out to the turnaround. It was damn hot, humid, no wind and lumpy, no other description but I was doing well, HR was down to 155 and I was cruising.

Still looking pretty spritely after 1.5 miles.

I was feeling the love again, the supporters were ace, I had been in to see the guys at K-Town Tattoo the day before and said hi, they did my tattoo in 2009 and I told them what I was wearing the next day and they were out in force, the pirate shouts were awesome.

Then I saw Kelly, Teya and Julie, Teya had made a support card, I nearly choked right there, it made me really smile.

The aid stations were every mile, on a good day I would run through every other one, but today, they were like little oasis’s sent from Madame Pele herself, it was so tempting to dawdle through, I tried to jog through them while collecting what I could, the heat was building and having iced water, coke, ice and then sponges was heaven.

At 3 miles I saw Dr Tamsin Lewis, a pro athlete from GB but in Hawaii to help in the medical area. We had chatted earlier in the week about my cold and she had advised a clove of garlic to chew on, picture comedy mouth burning and a lot of washing out with toothpaste and water but it certainly took my mind off my cold. Anyway, she cycled alongside for a few minutes chatting and told me to make sure that any ice found its way to my groin, whatever happens, keep that area cool, ‘yes doctor, thanks’. And with that she was off.

I got to the turn around, the first 5 miles were 7:23, 8:00, 8:09, 8:09, 8:39. I was starting to feel the heat, the times were consistent but the last one was heading in the wrong direction.

I was starting to look a little heavier in my stride on the way down Ali’i Drive, this is at  4.5 miles


I knew it was still a long way but the plan for staying at 8 minute miles was slipping away, it was only the last mile that was slower but I already knew the best miles were behind me on a day like this.

The turn around came and went, I saw Jeff after about 5 minutes coming the other way, plenty of encouragement, I already knew in my head it was going to be tough to slog this one out and I knew it was going to be tougher keeping in front of Jeff seeing as he was so close.

The next 5 miles were 8:30, 8:49, 8:33, 8:35, 9:04. Definitely slowing.

As I got to 9 miles I repassed Kelly and Teya. My lovely wifes supportive shout ?

‘Where have you been ?’ I laughed to myself, I knew what she meant, that she meant well and I also knew where the comment was borne from, the girls didn’t realize how far that first section was, it is almost 10 miles and she expected me a lot sooner. I did remark that I was screwed and was really feeling it, but mentally I think that was the first of the excuses and Kelly was the only person listening.

The only other person was me and I can play some bloody good mental games, today was building up to be a corker.

Iiiiiiiin the strong corner, never give up attitude, desire to succeed at everything, will to win and got to finish.

Iiiiiiiin the weak corner, you’ve got a sore back, my cold is really flu and finally, the ‘if you walk now, you’ll still finish, no-one will say anything bad !’ argument.

Like hell !! This was NOT going to be the end of my run.

I walked up Palani Hill, the only time I allowed myself the pleasure without a drink in my hand all day, and I marched up, I didn’t dawdle. That mile was 10:07, enough already. I needed to have the talk with myself that had to end in a win for the strong corner.

The little voices were talking. I could walk from here, yes, it would be a long walk, 16 miles to be precise and maybe I would still break 12 hours. And I have just come for a holiday this time, its all about the family right ? I have got here, its all about qualifying isn’t it, the race here is just the icing on top of the cake ?

WRONG ! Its race day and I didn’t come here to walk home, and who gives a shit if no-one says anything, I will know I walked home and I gave up. Sore back ? It wasn’t affecting me running or walking, sure it was sore but so were my legs and feet, get over it. As for the cold, yes, I knew at this point I wasn’t going to miraculously start to knock out 8 minute miles but if I could get running, lean forward and don’t walk til the next aid station then I would be able to do this.

It took 2 miles of this talking to myself while I shuffled forward – 9:38, then 9:53 were the next mile splits.

Then I knew I had it, I won, I had a pain level I could carry for the next 12 miles, I changed the watch to read pace instead of HR, no more 10 minute miles, that was the deal, and then when I got to see 9:xx’s try to get to 8:xx’s

At some point around here I saw the women leaders, Caroline Steffen was coming the other way with Leanda Cave just behind her, I shouted at Leanda, ‘Go on Leanda, you can catch her !’ I think I was really shouting at myself. Awesome finish by her. The excitement of the womens cavalcade made me forget about my own pain for a while.

The next aid station came, all I pictured was a clip from one of the NBC broadcasts of the ironman that I have watched many, many times in training in the garage, I think it was about Chris McCormack, he was struggling at the time in a previous Kona race, as Macca passes through the aid station the commentator says,

‘What ever they’re selling, he’s buying !!’

I was buying everything, I left each aid station carrying enough cups to set up my own stall ! It was getting comical, take gel, grab water, wash down gel, grab more water, grab coke, mix the two, add ice, pour ice down shorts, damn that was coke, pour ‘ice’ down shorts, grab more coke, say thanks to the volunteers, then start running again. And repeat. I was losing at least 45 secs per mile in the aid stations, and maybe this was a weakness creeping in but I needed to keep moving, and this was my way of doing it, reward.

The next 5 miles I felt like I was getting faster but in reality I just wasn’t slowing down, mentally its the same,  down to the Energy Lab was hot but it’s still downhill, I decided to push a little harder as I knew I would lose a bit of time coming back out.

9:35, 9:33, 9:15, 9:06, 9:16

There is a turnaround at the bottom of the energy lab, I saw Jeff again coming the other way, I wanted to see a friendly face so much, I wanted to tell someone how much it hurt but I knew I wouldn’t, he would be feeling the same, everyone was, all people want to hear is encouragement, we shouted to each other, Hi5’d and I was smiling again. The climb out of the energy lab was made that little bit easier. I knew when I turned onto the Queen K I had 6 miles to get home, that was all, 6 measly miles, put one foot in front of the other and don’t stop.

The uphills affected the splits but I saw it coming – 9:43, then 9:37.

Its so funny what you think of during an IM in your head, I just thought it was me having a shit day, you really don’t have a clue about others, its a lonely me, me, me existence in the race. So now I made sure that I told myself, everyone else was now having a bad day and I wasn’t.

I needed to see sub 9 min miles – this was the first point since about mile 3 that people stopped passing me and I started passing people again, it made me go even faster, well in my head anyway, I told myself, ‘see that person, don’t stop til you catch them !’ When I passed them, I went for the next person.

9:15, 8:48, 8:56, 8:57 – I was actually speeding up, I was winning, the end was close, it becomes infinitely easier at this point.

Dropping down Palani Hill it excruciating and wrongly pleasurable at the same time, the pain is immediately replaced with endorphins from somewhere, I need to make sure I do everything right from here to the finish, I will not get this chance again, look everyone in the eye, smile and lap up every step, I was practically sprinting from 2 miles out.

9:02 – OK, maybe not sprinting.

The last mile is A-MAZ-ING, down Haulalai and Paula Newby Fraser corner where she collapsed all those years ago and then onto Ali’i Drive, I was looking for my family, there is no crowd control here, no barriers, everyone is so close and cheering anyone just for being in the race and finishing. This naturally funnels you to the actual finish chute. I saw Kelly and Teya, I knew what to do, Teya just wanted a Hi 5. Kelly got the kiss. Then I was off to zig zag down the last 300metres of Ali’i Drive.

I could hear Mike Reilly already, I started weaving back and forth to smack hands with as many people as I could.

That last 1.2 miles – 7.44 !! Ha, YES

All I could think of over the line was do something, so I did the mobot ! lol, corny but distinctly British in 2012. And then blow a kiss to one of the pirates at home as part of a promise a few months previous.

10:40 was my time, and I earned every minute, I am very proud of what I achieved when the crap hit the fan, I think more because its never happened before and it took 2 miles to work it out, it feels like a lifetime in the middle of the race, but the distance of IM allows for you to rethink and regroup your thoughts so you can recover and still have an OK race.

I have a lot of love for my supporters and I think part of my day was rescued thinking about them watching. I decided on their behalf that they wouldn’t have been happy either if I had finished and not given everything. I certainly wouldn’t have.

I wanted to have my best race this year as I knew it was probably my last time on the island, I don’t believe that I will ever have this chance again.

Firstly, qualifying is the primary concern and you don’t get to pick and choose, secondly, its bloody expensive, and I mean ridiculously from the UK, in all I think this year was touching £6k and lastly, it might be my mecca but I have a lovely young family and its not ‘their’ priority.

I will however be back to long distance somewhere next year, it will just be a lot closer to home.


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