Tuesday, 14 October 2014

October 11th 2014 Ironman World Championships, Kona, Hawaii

3.8km Swim 180km Bike 42km Run - Temperature 90oF
Swim 1:13:14 - T1 03:57 - Bike 05:17:48 - T2 03:16 – Run 03:15:33 Total Time 9:53:48
8th 50-54 Age Group, 341st overall
The Ironman World Champs in Kona is the big dance, the blue ribbon event in the triathlon calendar and the race that I have been pointing myself at all year. Moving up an age category this year, I figured it was a real opportunity to get closer to the podium. I had a great set of results this year and I was ready to complete the season with a strong showing on the Big Island.
Rolling up to race day had been like clockwork. Having done the race five times before, familiarity with many of the organisational issues meant that even when small things went awry I was unfazed and on track for the big day.
We left the hotel at 0500 and headed down to transition for body marking. The waves seemed to be breaking a little bigger than normal on the rocks but didn’t seem too troublesome; the sky was clear and winds appeared light. As race day approaches near hysteria envelopes the conversations at race ground zero as athletes speculate on conditions, tactics and the depth of the competition. In the last day or two I kept clear of the masses, conditions will be as they will, I had a race plan and the field will be deep as the best athletes in the sport converge on this race with their A game.
This year they split the male and female starts to reduce congestion in the swim and out on the bike course. When we entered the water at Dig Me beach it was clear they had narrowed the start line and therefore the usual carnage was bound to ensue. I had planned a very conservative swim, steering clear of the mass of bodies exchanging blows as they clawed their way forwards. The cannon boomed and I quickly found myself outside the arrow head of swimmers, pretty
much unimpeded as I made my way to the turn buoy at 1.2miles. I arrived in a reasonable time and turned for home but the growing height of the waves meant sighting the buoys marking the route was only possible as each wave crested. As I swam back to the pier it started to feel slow but I was still clear of the argy bargee so kept my head down and concentrated on swimming with a strong stroke. Eventually the exit came and I glanced up at the clock, I had prepared for a slow time but it was a personal worst! My heart sank as I was sure I had given an extra ten minute advantage to my competitors and you simply cannot do that in this race and recover, every second counts at the pointy end and I wasn’t there to make up the numbers (it later transpired that it was a slower day all-round).
I was quickly out on the bike and aiming to work to the power cap I had planned except, for the first time ever, the power meter wasn’t working. I had a heart rate plan so I switched to that, not terminal but nonetheless very distracting and certainly sub-optimal. I headed out on the Queen K knowing I had to ride a little harder than planned to get me back in contention. I was above my heart rate cap but feeling good and therefore resolved to take a few risks with my pacing. By 40k I was ahead of target but then we rode into a wall of wind bringing the speed down to a relative crawl, still passing people I kept working and tried to stay calm as the packs starting to form and the draft cheats sheltered from the wind. The referees did penalise a few but seemed to be content to break up the pelotons by simply making their presence known rather than bust people, shame.

As we turned up the hill to Hawi the side winds were starting to gust and in the course of the day a number of athletes would be knocked to the ground and end up in medical. If you are inexperienced or a light athlete the on/off battering of the wind can be very intimidating, the tone of the ride was set. On the way down the head wind turned into a side/tail wind but as is the way of the island, it ultimately swung round to become a head wind. It was clearly a day for the strong bikers and the final ride times were testament to it being a vintage tough year.
I actually felt pretty reasonable throughout the ride with the nutrition plan clicking into place and the higher heart rate not coming back later on to drain me on the last hot, windy 50k along the Queen k. My time was respectable but again I was certain I had gifted more time to my competitors. I was going to have to really nail the run to salvage a top 20 at the very least.
I set off down Alii Drive aiming to work to a strict heart rate, having suffered badly before when setting off too fast. I passed Mary and she shouted I was in 24th – wow, didn’t reckon I would be in the top 30 – game on, I was sure I could run down at least a dozen in the next 26 miles. I cracked on with renewed purpose trying to keep a firm pace but no matter how much I slowed the heart rate would not come under my cap. Bugger it, run on feel and concentrate on keeping a steady pace, I was clearly not sufficiently acclimatised to the Kona heat and humidity.
I made the turn by St Peter’s church and came back past Mary at the 9 mile mark – 14th she shouted. I braced myself for the toughest part of the course, out onto the furnace of the Queen K, on to the Energy lab and back. This is where the race is won or lost, it’s brutal with the heat reflected off the black top and nowhere to hide from the sun’s midday intensity. The legs felt good, the miles were clicking off and the pace was very consistent (I had thrown the heart rate strap away by this stage). I didn’t seem to be passing anyone in my age group and I didn’t allow myself to scan the bib numbers of the athletes coming back towards me on the home leg. I focussed on what I was doing and maintaining my best pace, the race would take care of itself if I gave it everything. In and out of the Energy lab and I passed three guys in my age group in quick succession, ok, must be in the top ten now. I was certain my pace would give me some additional scalps before the finish line. Boom, at 11km left I got a searing quad cramp but fortunately it was only a 100m walk to the aid station. I retrieved some salt tabs I was carrying, iced the offending muscle, altered my gait and headed off, praying the cramp wouldn’t kick in again. After 9 hours of racing the finish I had worked for looked like it could be snatched away at the last minute and all I would be left with would be hollow excuses. So unfair but that’s the nature of this race, don’t come here and expect fairness from the conditions, the brutality is what makes this race special and unlike any other.
I continued towards the finish line, carefully taking time to cool and feed at each aid station and keep a consistent pace. Finally I was propelling myself down Palani, along Kuakini Highway and then turning into Alii Drive and the emotionally suffocating roar of the crowds. It’s a rare athlete that can keep a lid on their emotions crossing the line on Alii Drive. I was ecstatic with my result having spent a good deal of the race thinking I was out the game. A great end to the season in my fiftieth year, now for some R and R.
As for next year’s plans, the campaign starts at IMSA in March and I have booked my hotel for October 10th……

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