Kona 2018 Race Report
Aloha from the Big Island!
The alarm went off at 4am – not that I was asleep anyway (…) – and as the saying goes, never change anything come race day. So I had my usual breakfast of yogurt, fruit and granola, washed down with a good old cuppa (can’t beat PG Tips) and we set off for the pier with loads of time to spare, as the men’s age group didn’t start until 7.05 am.
As we got to Dig Me beach I said my good-byes to my wife Carol so she could bag a good viewing spot on the wall and carried on to the transition area. First up, number marking, followed by the usual routine of pumping up the tires, attaching the bike shoes to my pedals, sorting nutrition and all the other faff making sure my trusted old TT rig was ready to roll.
With the pro start drawing closer you couldn’t but help feel the rising tension in the air with the helicopters buzzing overhead and everyone walking around with their race face on (aka the thousand mile stare). It’s definitely a privilege to be part of it all.
Having done the race once before, back in 2010, I was dreading the 5-10 mins before the swim start itself. The fight to stay near the front and everyone else wanting to get near the front is definitely no picnic. You are constantly getting kicked and elbowed as you tread water trying to hold position. Then the gun goes and you are off. The first 100 meters were a bit rough (which has got to be expected – it’s the Ironman World Champs after all!) but it settled down pretty quickly and I could find a good rhythm.
The remainder of the swim was actually quite uneventful for me. I seemed to be swimming with a reasonably big pack for most of it, generally sitting on someone’s feet and trying to keep to the sides so I didn’t get sandwiched (not a nice experience). The time seemed to drag on the way back in, but I was reasonably happy with my effort, just dipping under the hour mark in 59 mins.
Into T1, swim skin off, I grabbed my 2 ‘emergency gels’, sunnies and salt solution before the long run around the pier to my bike. Being an old man nowadays, I stopped doing flying mounts a few years back – for good reason as mine were never great in first place. But I decided that I’d freshen up my skills just for Kona, as T1 is a bit far to be running on cleats all the way. The last thing you want is to break a cleat while running (it does happen), and yes you guessed it, my mount was it’s usual – a p…. poor effort, but I managed to get away ok.
My plan for the bike never changes really; ride sensibly for the first half, evaluate how you are feeling at the halfway point and then (if good) push on. Feeling pretty good on the bike, I made the decision to push on after the turnaround at Hawi and the ride back to Kona was just crazy fast. Pretty much perfect conditions with a light cross tail wind more or less all the way, had me wishing for a bigger chain ring. Nevertheless, running a 55 on the day, meant I hardly dropped my speed below 45 kph on the flats.
I seemed to be picking off riders ahead of me at regular intervals as they were falling off their pace and about half way back to Kona I was overtaken by no other than Vinokerov. An ex pro cyclist from the dark days of cycling, and one of my favorites from that era, Vino flew past me and I couldn’t help myself but follow him. Sadly I quickly realized that this was a bad idea with my watts heading north of 300 in no time so I settled back into my rhythm and carried on with the upcoming run in mind. About 20k from T2 I rolled up on another guy and decided to check before going past, at that very moment a draft buster came by and gave me a drafting penalty. WTF! Only one person comes past me the whole way back from Hawi I get done for drafting, what a joke!! I was not happy.
In saying that, on the way out to Hawi, drafting is pretty much unavoidable. My thoughts on drafting at Kona and what to do about it are probably best left for another blog. But……the short version – when you get half the field swimming around the 1-hour mark and capable of riding 4.50- 5.10 (in normal Kona conditions), plus a good portion of male ego thrown into the mix, with all that in mind it’s pretty much impossible to ride away from anyone. If you try, someone follows, then someone follows them and so on. Then you come to a hill and you get everyone bunching up like some sort of road race. It pretty much stays like that until the turnaround at Hawi. From there onwards, helped by the pace down from Hawi, the short climb out of Kawaihae and plus general fatigue setting in, things start to break up – but that’s after a good 120k into the race!
In all honesty I think most of the guys would rather have a clean race, but like me, are not prepared to give up position in the line up. But this means you run the risk of getting busted for drafting. If you don’t and you do let a group ride through, then you are on the brakes and it won’t be long before the next group comes through before the same thing happens again. Bottom line, you will be on the brakes a whole lot of the time.
My ride time 4:36. Average Power 240W (Strava)
Back to the race – I took my 5 min penalty just before T2. Into T2 and no dramas, run kit on and I was off. The plan was to go out at 4.30ks and see how I felt. Sadly not good, my hip flexors were super tight and I felt like my stride length was coming up a lot shorter than normal; it was going to be a long day!
The Ali’i drive section of the run is a nice out and back section along the coast with loads of support and I was glad to see Carol twice on this section for a bit of extra motivation. Once you make the turn up Palani and on to the Queen K highway, things start getting tough. The Queen K is a pretty soul destroying place to run, especially in the blazing heat with no one around except yourself and your thoughts, which in my case were pretty negative at this stage! Never good when you still have 30K to run.
One of my mantras in a race is don’t THINK, just DO. The classic ‘stay in the moment’ attitude – just relax, breathe and move. As much as I tried I just couldn’t get into that mindset. By the time I got to the Energy Lab turn, I felt like my legs were hardly moving. So much for breathe and move. I managed to shuffle in and out of the Energy Lab at about 6 min ks. It was quickly becoming a death march.
Once out and on the Queen K again, I wasn’t moving much faster than walking pace so made the call to walk it in. Something I very rarely do, but on this occasion I just couldn’t see the point. I was way off what I wanted out of the race, so to me it made no odds if I went under 10hrs or not. So on I walked most of the Queen K back into town and then summoned all my strength to jog the last couple of ks into the finish. My marathon was only slightly quicker than my bike in 4.28
Total race time 10.18.
I have certainly learnt a lot about the race and what I will do differently next time round. All being well I’ll be back for a go at the podium in 2020 as I move up to the ripe old age of 50.
All the best with your racing and thanks for reading,