Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Ironman World Championships Hawaii October 13th 2012

3.8km Swim  180km Bike  42km Run - Temperature 98oF

Swim 1:10:13 - T1 02:57 - Bike 05:11:09 - T2 04:01 – Run 03:21:26 Total Time 9:49:46
9th 45-49 Age Group, 258th overall
I qualified to race at Kona in July at IM UK. I had not planned to compete in Kona and so this was a relatively late stage to qualify and decide to race on the Big Island. Once I had made the decision to go, I felt I was in a race against time to recover and rebuild my fitness to be in top shape for my fifth consecutive visit to the world championships. In the days leading up to the race I was confident I had done everything I possibly could have done to be ready to race the best athletes in the world.
I stood on Digme beach contemplating the day ahead, the atmosphere electric as the adrenaline pumped hard, it was show time. The announcer urged us to enter the water as  7am approached. No time to be faint hearted, onto the front line of the swim jostling for space, no one wanting to give an inch to another competitor. Boom, we were off. Ironman becomes a contact sport for the first 500m of the swim, at the world championships it’s the first 1500m, exchanging blows, some accidental, some not. After 70 minutes I exited the water, relieved not to have conceded too much time to my fellow competitors. Now my race began.
I was swiftly through transition and out onto the bike course, head up, sucking in the energy of the cheering crowds and feeling great as we completed the loop in Kailua-Kona and out onto the Queen K. The first aid station approached, always a danger as less experienced athletes wobble across the road to grab bottles, I opted to stay wide and press on. The planned power numbers were coming easily so I didn’t dwell on them, just stuck to my nutrition plan and ensured I continued to safely pass athletes.
As I sped along I was constantly calculating pace and potential finishing time so by the time I was at Hawi I was perhaps a little too excited. I had arrived in the quickest time I had ever done, my expectations started to grow as I made the turnaround and hit the gas downhill back to Kawaihae clocking well over 60 kph at times. Up onto the Queen K and only 55km to the finish but as I made the turn I ran into a wall of wind and heat. My speed nosedived and my core temperature started to inexorably edge higher; we were in Kona and now what makes this race unique started to unfold. I was ready for this, I had a plan but I was starting to tire and the conditions slowly gnawed away at my resolve. I recalculated my finish time, once, twice, over and over as the minutes slipped through my fingers and my optimism melted away in the heat. At last the airport approached and there was only 20k remaining then suddenly, there was a loud crack from the front wheel and I came to a juddering holt. I dismounted, inspected the front wheel and there, lamely hanging from the hub was a broken spoke. I wasn’t sure if this was terminal but I slackened off the brake to minimise the rubbing, jumped on and started to contemplate how far I would need to nurse the bike before I was close enough to run in to the transition zone. K by k I made progress, and as I approached Kailua once more my spirits lifted, head up, I was back in the race and hadn’t conceded a terminal amount of time.
I laced up my shoes and eagerly set about getting to work on the run, this is what I enjoy most and I was going to take the course on, it was in my hands now. I settled into a relaxed pace and with no real effort I was running 7 minutes per mile. I took another inventory of how I felt; all was good so kept on the pace I had fallen into. I made the turnaround on Alii Drive and as I started back into town I made a mental note that there was good cloud cover and conditions might favour a fast run. No sooner had I contemplated this than the clouds cruelly melted away and the sun bore down with the full midday intensity. I made the 10 mile mark in 70 minutes just as I hit the sharp climb up Palani; I came to a grinding halt at the aid station close to the summit. Within a matter of minutes my core temperature had shot up and now I was in damage limitation mode. I had been in this situation many times in this race so the planned routine snapped into action; ice, water, coke, ice then run to the next aid station. The conditions sapped the spring from my legs and my pace crashed to over 8 minutes per mile; this is where the race can break you and what makes it special. I focussed mile by mile and made my way out to the Energy Lab, the final turnaround and headed for home. There were some dark moments as the conditions battered my body, my head and my heart but I took energy from the other athletes as we urged each other on. I pressed on, concerned that if I lost my momentum then I would come to a grinding holt out in the lava fields. Eventually I re-entered Kailua, hobbled down Palani and rounded the final corner into the cheering crowds lining the finishing chute on Alii Drive. Crossing that finishing line never loses its magic; this is a very special race.
I have been lucky enough to finish this race five times now and without doubt can attest that it is unique in every way, the course, the location, the conditions and of course the field of athletes. I plan to be back in 2014, in the next age group and ready to fulfil a dream.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Carbon, lycra and schwag

It’s now Wednesday and there’s a real buzz in the air. Nearly all the competitors are in town now and everywhere you turn there’s carbon and lycra. Registration opened yesterday and after the initial mêlée of type ‘A’ individuals needing to be first in line, things eased off as the volunteers moved athletes through smoothly.  Many people come to Kona year after year simply to volunteer and be part of the Big Dance, the consequence of which is that this has to be one of the most experienced crews on the M-dot circuit.

I swam the course for the final time yesterday morning sans dolphins and whilst the swell was up. There were relatively few athletes on the course as we had set off at 6:30 am so it was a relaxed swim finding some nice rhythm. By the time we exited at DigMe beach those going out were shoulder to shoulder and it wasn’t even race day! It becomes a massive schwag fest by the pier as manufacturers compete to hand out branded swim caps and the like and once again, those high net worth Kona athletes compete fiercely for a $2 hat. It’s definitely not the taking part that matters.
The sun was up by lunchtime so I took the opportunity to have my last proper run to help acclimatise and loosen off the legs. I had run for 90 minutes on Sunday and whilst the pace was fine, my legs felt heavy as I struggled to hit my normal high cadence. I passed Lava Java on Alii Drive then hit race pace out to the turnaround, the ks passed by, bang on pace and with some spring in the legs at last. I certainly wasn’t skipping along but I am happy now that come race day the legs will be in top shape and ready to unload out of T2.
The parade of nations took part later in the afternoon, its great fun and gives you the chance to catch up with the other GB athletes. I am always amazed at how few GB athletes do in fact come along; there must have been no more than half our number. Chrissie was in the car at the front and as a consequence we probably received way more press attention than we deserved. All done, more schwag at the expo, which opens at the end of the parade, then off to the Canoe Club for supper.
Today was the usual routine, a brief swim, principally out to the Coffees Of Hawaii boat for a deep water espresso,  back in to shore and off to the Active Release Therapy (ART) marquee for a massage. All straightened out we met up at Splashers for the usual veggie omelette and banter whilst watching the bun fight at the pier.
My last session of the week was to do a couple of race pace efforts on the bike to finally tune up the legs for the race. Off up the Queen K then turn on the power to see what comes and how it feels – the numbers were promising. It seems to take at least a week for the jet lag to wear off and to start to feel fresher. This, coupled with coming off a final big block of training, makes the content of the taper a bit of a tightrope. Freshen up for the race, keep reminding your body what it needs to do, acclimatise for the conditions and normalise the body clock. You never really know until race day if you have done it well, so, let’s see!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Routine is your Friend

It’s the rhythm of the days that I enjoy most in Hawaii, swim at 7am then a leisurely breakfast watching the good and the great of triathlon go by. Friday saw Emma Cranfield arrive at the pier, her first trip to the Big Island having qualified at IMUK, first female amateur. As her coach I feel an extra pressure in making this an unforgettable experience for her but actually that’s not hard to achieve out here. Saturday the breakfast club grew again as second timers Mel Dowell and Brett Hedges pitched up for swimming and breakfast banter.

Bike Works serviced my bike Friday so I could get out on the Queen K Saturday for the last decent bike session and an opportunity to ride with Emma on a recce of the course. We did the short 10k loop in Kailua before tackling the climb up Palani, passing a couple of old codgers on equally old bikes. As we arrived at the top the lights turned red so the old boys pulled up behind us. I turned round and casually asked if they were doing the race (thinking that at their age it was fairly improbable, but hey, I was being polite). Yes, one of them volunteered so I asked if he had done it before – twenty two times he chimed back. Feeling a little silly I struck back with ‘have you ever won it?’ (Of course he hadn’t doh), ten times he said without not so much as a note of smugness. Thank goodness the lights changed before I could embarrass myself any further. It’s moments like this that make the race week so special.

As we set off down the Queen K I was feeling good for the first time since we had arrived, the watts were coming easily and the tail wind made it super fast.  I love riding down the Queen K, every athlete cranes his neck as you pass and you crane back to check out who is out there, star spotting. Quickly we came across three of the Abu Dhabi team including Faris then a few ks further there was Rasmus and four of his buddies. Of course as we passed I felt obliged to put the power down, I always feel a bit silly just inching past people then not really making ground.  Across the other side of the highway was another pro I didn’t recognise being motor paced. We carried on to the end of the Queen K then turned to head back to Kailua. This is the hardest part of the bike course on race day, 140k into the ride and you are faced with a head wind and the heat of the day. I wanted to practise this part of the course so I pushed at race pace and looked out for landmarks to tick off, Manu Lani, Waikoloa, scenic point, veterans’ cemetery, donkey crossing, airport then just 10 miles home. Breaking it down into manageable chunks really worked, I found it much easier to focus one section at a time.

Saturday had been the first day I was beginning to feel a little fresher and the jet lag start to subside. It will take a few more days to feel properly rested but it’s starting to come. Now for the routine of dinner and some more tri-craic !

Friday, 5 October 2012

Too good to miss

The plan for this season wasn’t to come to Kona but to have fun racing with friends and focus on building a better swim/bike leg for 2014, the year I plan to go back to Kona in the next age group. But, perhaps because of that more relaxed seasonal plan, I had some great races, nailing PBs and a number of wins, the most significant of which was at IMUK. A trip to Kona was too good to pass up.

As the taxi approached Kailua-Kona, after some 27hrs of travelling, we went up a slight rise – this was Mark and Dave hill or what might perhaps now be known as Chris and Andi hill. I felt like a small child on Christmas Eve, how could I have even contemplated not coming? This year we were stopping at the Kona Seaside Hotel, right in the thick of the action, the finish line visible from the room’s balcony. Making such a last minute decision to come meant my usual hotel, the Royal Kona Resort, was fully booked, in fact just about everywhere was fully booked!

By 4am Thursday morning I had given up trying to sleep in, my body totally confused as to what time of day it was. I got up, put the coffee on and set about assembling the bike. I managed to drag out a few more bits of admin until first light then took the 5 minute walk down to the pier. When I first made the trip out here, in 2008, there were no more than half a dozen athletes turning up for the swim the week before the race but things are very different now. It’s not as chaotic as the actual week of the race but there must have been at least a hundred athletes swimming the course or some variant of that route. It’s very organised now, a rack to drop your bag off, volunteers on hand with water and Perform plus canoeists and paddleboards out on the course directing swimmers.

By 7am I was stood on DigMe beach, warm water washing around my ankles, wow, this is it. In 10 days time I would be standing on that very spot with 1800 other athletes and the adrenaline pumping hard. I set off, planning to swim to the 1.2m turnaround buoy, just off the Royal Kona beach. As soon as my head went in the water I could see the tropical fish darting around the coral, I have even caught myself in the race temporarily mesmerised by them. I paused to watch for a brief moment then got into an easy stroke. With the shelter of the pier, the first few hundred meters are always easy but then clear of the pier, the swell starts to hit you. The date of the race is always determined by the timing of the first full moon in October and the tide was fully in by 7am, the time the race will start.

I swam along the line of buoys leading along the course and then passed the new 1500m buoy, seems the Americans discovered meters at last!  As I approached the 1.2m mile buoy I noticed it looked a little odd – after umpteen years bobbing up and down, it had been pulled out of service and a shiny new one plopped in – is nothing sacred?? No sooner had I arrived at the buoy then a very familiar and exciting sound greeted my ears, the high pitched squeaking of a pod of Dolphins. Within seconds I was amongst them, swimming all around me, seemingly oblivious to my presence, shepherding the pups and occasionally jumping in the air, simultaneously spinning round. I hung around until hey had disappeared then set off back to DigMe beach.

Quick shower at the pier then off for brekkie – love it.