Kona 2019 – World Ironman Championships – continued
So with the swim and transition 1 done and dusted its time to get out on the bike. If you missed part 1 – have a catch up here.
The bike route starts off pretty technical, 7 miles around town up and down Palani Hill before we get out onto the Queen K highway, once I exited the chute it was a short climb up the lower part of Palani and turn left for the first town loop, I got into my aero position early to make sure everything was working.
Immediately I was in panic mode, my gears weren’t working, or more specifically my rear derailleur wasn’t working from the base bar, I checked the battery was still there, yep, I tried it from the bar ends, it worked, I reseated the electrics into the control box, working, then it wasn’t, I obviously hadn’t cleared all the rain water out, let it pass, they work from the aero bars which is the important bit and I am sure they’ll dry. I calmed down a little.
The next bit is the no passing section down Palani Hill, its about 300 metres, you aren’t allowed to pass because its dangerous but even at 30+mph I had one guy in front slowing me but not too congested, as I took the left at the bottom my front aero bottle ejected itself from the cage and skidded across the road, BOLLOX !!
Do I stop ? I was 2 miles in and I have just lost my first hours electrolytes, I decided no, I was doing 30mph, it wasn’t carbs and I had a second bottle on the back of the bike with a double concentrate in it, this gave me enough to get to halfway point at Hawi where I had 2 frozen bottles in special needs pick up.
I saw Kelly, Adele and the girls up on the right just after this, it was great to see them for the first time since saying good bye 3 hours before, they looked great in their outfits and were cheering pretty loudly, put a smile on my face.
I got to the turn making sure not to push too hard, you see so many people charging up the hills in town and its such a waste so early on, burning matches this early was something I have learned over the years not to do. I was still thinking about the bottle, as I came to the turn at the bottom of Palani I scoured the floor for the bottle, couldn’t see it, I knew I would be fine but now I was pissed I had to pay another £50 for a new aero bottle. I have my carbs and I have more PH at the turn.
Due to my power meter not working as expected in the heat I had adjusted my target but I wanted to check my HR to see if was also in the right area, second mistake of the day followed (Paul McWhirter, I know you are loving these mistakes from a ‘professional’ !!)
As I tried to check the HR at around 8 miles I pushed the wrong button and because was running in triathlon mode it now told me I was entering transition, BOLLOX again !! I had to restart the watch from the beginning. This meant for the rest of the day I had no idea what my total bike time was or my actual elapsed time. I reconfigured the watch while riding to add time of day to the screen as a guide. I needed to finish before 5:05pm to get under 10 hours, game on.
I managed to sort out the nutritional error at the start as well by picking up a cold water from the first aid station and adding it to the litre bottle I was carrying with double strength PH (precision hydration) to give me my electrolytes until halfway, I felt better now this was sorted and hunkered down for the ride to Hawi. In Kona the aid stations are every 7 miles, your drinks are warm before you get to the next aid station, this means I was grabbing water at each station to pour on me and to wash down the Clif Blocks I was taking every 25 minutes, I felt great, power through the legs felt good, the only issue I had was I was so wet from the water that I was getting uncomfortable on the saddle due to rubbing, that might come back to bite me.
All of a sudden, WHOOSH !!! Feck me, it now felt like I was in a crit race, a full peleton of riders came crowding around me, this was what I had been warned about, instead of just pissing off up the road and leaving the few of us that were riding in a line, I found myself dragged into it, so now I was in the middle of a pack, I looked back, there must have been 20 people around me, 2 or 3 abreast. It’s the major thing that can ruin a race here, getting pinged for drafting and getting a 5 minute penalty, the draft busters here don’t take any prisoners. I needed to get out, so I played cat and mouse with this bunch for the next few miles. I can genuinely say, I felt a pang of disappointment, you could tell who in the group were blatantly cheating, and those caught up trying to get out but we don’t wear honesty badges and the marshals don’t give a shit.
It’s fair to say there isn’t enough room to accommodate all of these riders in Kona but it shouldn’t stop people trying to ride legally, they were 2 or 3 abreast and making no attempt to split up. As it happened I was getting away from them on the downs and ups, so I pushed harder downhill and got space again. I could hear the motos from the draft busters a mile off and it’s the worst noise in the world when you are surrounded by these clowns. The first 45 miles played out like this, get caught, push for a few minutes, and repeat, it broke up the race but it was mentally exhausting and kind of stressful. Waikaloa came and went, we dropped down into Kawaihae and the 7 mile climb up to Hawi started, the wind was being pretty kind to us and I had the feeling this was going to be a quick day. As the pros started coming the other way I realized how far it was to the top, head down again and push on.
Hawi turn arrived, I swung round, ejected my empties and picked up my frozen bottles and extra Clif Blocks from the special needs aid station. They called my number on the way to the turn and by the time I came back the bag was being handed to me on the move. Awesome, one bottle in the rear holder, one in the front cage on the bars and the carbs in the FuelCell. The frozen bottle idea was genius, it melted at the exact rate I needed the electrolytes and was cold pretty much most of the way home.
Now the fun, the downhill to Kawaihae, the winds were favourable, my average speed here went up to above 30mph for the section. I managed a pee, this was when I realized that I had some chaffing in certain areas and I was definitely going be in trouble later, that stung (too much info !?) The field thinned and legal riding was so much easier on the way home, mostly because the cheats were up the road. The climb to the Queen K confirmed the good day we were having, in the past this section is horrendous, it was still hot but nowhere near as hard as previous years.
The rest of the ride was spent checking power and trying to work out bike splits, I kept failing to add up swim, T1 and minus it from time of day, I estimated between 5 hours and 5.30, my brain was mushing quickly. Nutrition worked well to the end and I was turning off the Queen K at just the right time, heat was building and I had had enough of sitting.
As I pulled into Palani it was amazing, the girls were exactly where we discussed, I heard them shouting. I handed my bike off to a volunteer and started the long run around the pier, I was so happy right now, I knew that would change!
I had just ridden 4:51 with over 1700m of climbing in 28 deg heat, the island was on our side on the bike, I worked out later I had done the 56miles back (which included half the Hawi climb) in 2hours 20 mins, 24mph average and negative split by 11 mins.
T2 was a little slower, on with socks, shoes, race belt, hat and glasses, then out. Pretty painless but I felt the heat as I left the pier, this is the Madame Pele’s pay off against the lack of wind, Kona is always going to be challenging, we had been lucky so far but Carlsberg don’t sponsor this race, 4:16 which included the pier and getting kitted out, can’t be disappointed with that.
Running out of T2 I was on such a high that my pace was nearly at 7’s, I grabbed some water on the way out and started up Palani where the girls were waiting, its such a lift, I passed them knowing I would be back in about an hour, the crowds were amazing all the way to Ali’i for the first out and back. Its pretty rolling along this stretch and I was trying to hold a reasonable pace but I knew as the heat rose and the air was so dry and with no cover it was going to have an effect.
I held pace for as long as I could, banking time in this race is suicidal but you had to take advantage of each downhill, I remembered Florida and how that changed so quickly and I tried to back off to 8’s, the next mile was 7.39, I was getting there, this was so much hotter than Florida but the aid stations were amazing. I was taking everything I could, I had 4 gels to use at 4 mile intervals starting at mile 3, 7, 11 etc, I would pick up more when I needed them. The water and ice they were serving was fantastic, as were the sponges, after the first aid station my feet were soaking and I was glistening in the afternoon sun. I hit the turnaround and I was already running above 8 min miles trying to stay away from slowing too much more. It was going to be longer day than planned. I tried all the techniques I could to maintain good posture, hips, standing taller, arms thrusting as if I was marching, I probably looked a right tool but I was not being passed by many and I was keeping the pace on track.
Getting to the bottom of Palani was my first target goal, it breaks up the race and I knew the girls would be here, they had a great spot and I even had time to wave and blow kisses, a few high fives and I was off marching up the hill. I shouted I would be back in a few hours, the hard part was to come and it was going to get pretty lonely.
Hitting the top of Palani signals about 8 miles done, it was stupidly hot now and the body was telling me it had had enough, I was trying to run between aid stations but I decided I needed a walk to tell myself this :-), I would allow myself 15 seconds per walk if I needed one and no more, the pace really starts to plummet when you walk for too long. The aid stations weren’t going to help with this either, not only are they oasis of pure joy when it’s this hot, loads of water and ice, coke, sponges and entertainment by the volunteers but they can really suck the time out of the race.
The miles from 9 to 12 really took their toll, I wanted to walk so badly, it was all unraveling too quickly, the pace was dropping like a stone and mentally walking was the answer, the next 15 miles would have been so long but it was better than the suffering trying to run, the road just looked so long out to the end of the Queen K section and I was sure my feet were sticking to the floor, I imagined it was because the heat was melting my shoes but with the amount of water sloshing in them that was unlikely. I ate a salt tablet as I entered the 12 mile aid station, I was pretty low now, it was survival, this aid station was make or break, the volunteers were offering ‘showers’ of ice water now, they were pouring from cut open 5 litre bottles straight over your head. Bliss, as you ran in, they shouted ‘shower ?’ HELL YES !! BAM, 2-3 litres of ice cold water poured straight on top of you, it was pretty much the best feeling in the world right then, It must have woke me up along with the salt tablet.
My aim from the beginning of the race was to get under 10 hours, it had taken me 12 miles of the run to realise what I needed to achieve my goal, I still couldn’t believe it could be possible after running so slowly for the last few miles and I still didn’t know how quick my bike had been. I had 14 miles to go and I calculated based on the time of day that I needed to do 9 minute miles to get under 10 hours.
My head said this was now possible and my body invigorated by the cold shower seemed to follow suit. I realise that the salt tablet was probably having some effect as well although it seemed too quick so I went with ice 🙂
I didn’t come all this way to give up, 14 miles might be a long way right now but I just needed to move, relentless forward progression was the mantra I had given to my athletes all year, I needed to comply with my own philosophy, its doable. Left foot, right foot, get my pace down to low to mid 8’s which would afford me a short walk through the aid stations and I could do this. I had been sent a few mantras by friends, athletes, coaches and every single one of you is responsible for what few seconds I found in each mile for the next 14 !
The energy lab was coming up but we had to run past it this year, wow, that mentally sucked if you had done this race before, I could see the new entrance at the top of the next hill a whole km away. Mile 15 signaled the start of the energy lab section, in the energy lab you run 2 miles downhill towards the sea, turn around a chair and then run back up, the last 3 miles I had banked time getting down to 8.20’s so if I struggled up the hill I would be still in credit.
As we turned onto the downhill – Clif, one of the sponsors, was handing out towels dunked in ice water to wrap around your neck, I just kept grabbing them, the ice was a shock to the system each time as my body was so warm but it was awesome, they weren’t scrimping on handing them out either, I got 3 on my neck and 1 in the hat, I looked ridiculous, like an extra from Lawrence of Arabia, well I told myself that, I really looked like a character from ‘One flew over the Cuckoos nest !!’ Idiot ! but I didn’t care, I was cool again, for about ……………… well, 2 minutes, then the towels were hot again.
At the turn around in the energy lab was the run special needs, I had put a pack of clif blocks and some sodium tablets, I still had enough tablets for the way home and I couldn’t think of anything worse than boiled jelly sweets right now. I ignored it and carried on.
Just after the turn around Joe Spraggins, the energizer bunny, caught me, he was running well (running well is a term certainly using a different scale of measurement at this point), we had a quick chat, he was still buzzing the same he had been all week which was great to see and we both agreed that we had calculated exactly the same target, 9 min miles was going to get the job done and to crack on, he pulled away while I went back to ‘left foot, right foot’.
The last mile of the energy lab was up hill and I nudged over 9’s, I decided right there it was the last one I afford. Officially, there were 8 miles to go but in my head it was only 6, the last 2 were back in to the crowds and effectively a procession to the finish line, I was mentally already picturing this, anything to take my mind off the pain in my legs, the heat all over my body and the stinging everywhere that was rubbing (which was basically anything that that was moving) the tarmac was baking hot, I had no towels left now, it was supposed to be downhill from here but I think that’s in my head as well. I popped another salt tablet, that should work.
10km is a piece of cake isn’t it ? It struck me that all the men around me running in the same direction were athletes all trying to get under 10 hours in the world champs (any women around me were 15 minutes faster and flying), I passed a few guys starting to walk, I encouraged them with the ‘just 10km to go dude, come on, sub 10 waiting !’ Some responded, others sank deeper into the tarmac. It was hard to watch but with some throwing up and others just looking spaced out there wasn’t much I could say to encourage that extra effort out of anyone but myself.
Then it was REALLY 10km to go, the miles were ticking off, I had pulled back 45 seconds in the last 2 miles, I was speeding up, Ruth Purbrook went past me at mile 23 onto the podium, she looked pretty spritely and was moving well. I knew I had a sub 10 now, it was how far under it I could get.
The last 2 miles of Kona for me is the most memorable and iconic stretch of road that I have ever raced on, I use a mental image any time I am suffering in any training session or race, just close my eyes and I can imagine the uphill where there has been a handful of 1 on 1 battles over the years, past the massive cheers of the Hannes supporters, then dropping into and down Palani hill for the last time, it’s a painful descent by now but overcome with elation the pain seems to subside, I knew I was on for a decent time so I savored the downhill and didn’t push for fear of cramping. It always surprises me how long the next bit is before you turn down the final small hill to Ali’i Drive. It’s so hard to see other people still going the other way with 17 miles to do!
I took a right onto Ali’i this time and had 0.3 miles to go, OMG, the noise was spectacular, both sides of the road rammed, the barriers ended and the crowd gathered closer like it was a Tour de France mountain climb, brilliant, 2 miles ago I was so tired, so hot, wishing the miles away, now I was hoping it wouldn’t end, the road narrowed and the crowds got bigger, I knew now I was under 10 hours and I just wanted to savour this, I ran under the banyan tree and into the chute, I was still overtaking people, I zipped up the tri suit for the finish line – always the professional 😉 and milked the last 50m.
I heard the girls off to the right and saw them just as I passed under the finish gantry, I was shouting but I wasn’t sure what, I didn’t care, then I was screwed ! The helpers came to catch me as all the adrenalin dissipated immediately over the line. I wanted to stop and shout to Kelly and girls, they had been great support all day and seen all the race as we planned. This year was my gold time, sub 10, and I loved every minute now it was over – 3:46 marathon, not my best but have to be happy with it in the heat.
There are so many people that contribute to getting you to the start line of a race like this, ultimately you have to get yourself to the finish line but it’s so much a team effort, especially in my case, I have a young family, a very supportive wife and none of the training I do could be put together without their support so thanks Kelly and the kids. Thanks also to Adele for coming to Kona with us this year, great help especially on race day and I think the main reason Kelly actually got to see most of the race this time.
My coach, Chris Standidge, extremely experienced, we plan out my year, he points me in the right direction and I do it, I hope to continue under his guidance as I have more to learn, whats great is I am getting faster even though I am getting older, so it’s definitely working, thanks Chris.
I am an ambassador for Xendurance, they support me brilliantly and I use their products all year round and fuel during races and training with the Fuel 5 drink which suits the sport so well and the XE tablets that help me recover to train harder, thanks to Jim and team at Xendurance and I hope to continue with them for a whole lot longer.
I also am an ambassador for Bikmo Cycle Insurance, they have helped me over the years and in 2018 have proved how great they are when I had to have a replacement frame 8 weeks from Kona, superb team and all passionate about cycling in one form or another. Thanks to David and his team for their continued support.
Friends support and local club support in 2018 has been off the scale, including those that stayed up in the UK to watch into the early hours, everyone who sent messages of support before and after the race you are ace, there were many times in the race I used the power of positivity sent through messages to get round that middle section of the run. What an awesome experience this year was and I am sure I will one day want to return but for now, time to chill and regain the fitness lost in the last few weeks drinking beer and enjoying my wonderful family.