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.