Just over a week has passed since the race and after an epic holiday in Kona and Maui Pre race I’ve finally found the time to pen a report of my race. It’s a long read, but the race and flight were equally long!!
On race morning, I woke to my alarm at 3.30, after the best night of sleep I’d had since arriving on the island. I had my routine pre-race breakfast of a couple of scrambled eggs, a large bowl of porridge with banana, coffee and beetroot juice. I had laid my kit out the night before and a check list of what I needed to do before heading to transition so did not feel rushed. At 4.30 I got driven down to transition with my parents and Bron. After sharing good luck hugs and a quick picture together by the finish chute, I headed into the pre-race zone to have the body marking done. A quick stop for toilet visit #1 before adding the bottles and nutrition to my bike and inflating the tyres. When I felt the bike was sorted I still had about an hour until the canon would fire. I was feeling really calm, no nerves at all for the race, except I had been having issues with my TFL, hip flexor and hamstrings being really tight in the few days leading into the race. It’s a recurring problem and my physio at home would fix it easily but despite my best attempts at self-massage and mobility exercises it hadn’t got any better. I’d said to Bron that it was feeling really bad that morning and I was worried how it would affect me on the run but there was nothing I could do at that stage. However, in the transition area, I noticed a couple of benches that people were people treated on by physical therapists. I was able to have a little bit of ART done on my TFL which really loosened it up. An hour before race start is probably not the ideal time to have some soft tissue release work done but it felt a lot better and my mind was at ease knowing that I had less restriction. If only I had known they were offering treatment in the days beforehand too I would have been able to have my hamstrings released too! Still had some time to kill which was handy to fit in toilet stops #2 and #3!! At 6.35 the canon fired for the male pro race and the pack of male age groupers started to form to enter the water for the male race to start at 7.05. Having watched the start of the race so many times at home I’d always imagined what it might feel like to enter the water by the pier preparing to race. I never thought I would feel so relaxed. I knew how well my training had gone and backed myself to be able to ride and run strongly. Thanks to the quality sessions at the Leeds masters swim group, I’ve got confidence in my swim and it helps that I’m not expecting myself to be front pack so I have no pressure to hustle myself to the front. As the group entered the water I had a final look around across the bay and out to the buoys that marked the swim course. Before entering the water, I had a moment to reflect how special a moment this was and how lucky I was to be here at this iconic race. I had set myself a number of goals for the race and wasn’t taking part just to complete it and pick up the medal. I knew the day ahead would be tough but I saviour these moments and knew that I couldn’t have prepared any better. I walked down the steps on to beach with Matt Pears, a mate from my triathlon team at home who now lives in Hong Kong. Again, a great moment to share together as we wished each other luck for the day ahead.
Matt swims like a fish so shot off to fight for a place at the front of the swim pack. I’d been told to start on the left of the field as there is less of a fight from here and more likely to find clearer water earlier. We entered the water 10 mins before the swim start and after a 5 minute warm up I paddled into the group and positioned myself about 3 guys back from the front. Maybe this approach was too conservative but I didn’t want to get swamped right at the start. As the canon went, the 2 guys directly in front of me didn’t move as they paused to start their watch. WTF. I had nowhere to go and people from behind were quickly on top of us. I kicked hard and got my elbows out to stop myself getting dunked. The next 200-300 metres were frantic and I was fighting to keep my arms turning and maintain my own space in the group. When the group finally stretched out, I slowed my pace for 30 strokes to bring my heart rate down and allow the lactic to flush from my legs! The bunch was still all around and I found a pair of feet to follow out to the first turnaround buoy and continued with a hard sustained pace. My sighting was a lot better than the training swim the week before and I was over the moon to get to the second of the turnaround buoys in 29 minutes. It was probably a mistake to look at my watch as I got excited that I could possibly get a sub 60 swim!! On the way back I was really struggling with getting a reference point to sight back to the pier. The swell and current felt stronger going back but I wasn’t sure if that was making the swim harder or I was getting tired. The group I was swimming with were drifting over to the left and I was noticing there there was a long line of swimmers over to the right of us. I wasn’t sure whether to leave my group and move across but as I was swimming on feet I decided to stick with it and continue to follow. At one point we were ushered to move right by the paddle boards so I then realised we must have been a fair bit to the left and not taking the most direct route! I was really frustrated as I’d swam the return leg really well the week before but nothing I could do now except make the most direct route to the exit point. By now the buoys were more frequent and clearer, and then the pier came into view. I exited the water and clambered up the steps into transition. My swim time was 64 minutes which was a minute slower than the week before and I’d hoped to be out in around 62.
Transition was a simple affair. I grabbed my bike bag and quickly put on my socks and cycling shoes before collecting my bike and heading out.
Swimming over the hour meant the road was congested as we headed out on the loop around town. The first stretch of road from transition is really bumpy and I noticed that the bottle on my aero bottles had worked loose and was hanging down near to my stem. Bugger! This had never happened before and despite trying to reattach it whilst moving I had to stop going up Kuakini Highway to use both hands to do up the Velcro. Two minutes later, going back down Kuakini I hit another bump and the same thing happened again! Bugger x 2! Not the way I wanted to start the ride!
This time I was able to re-do the velcro without stopping and made a conscience effort to hold the bottle going over any bumps after that! Fortunately the Queen K is much smoother tarmac and I didn’t fall off again. About 20 minutes out of town I was feeling really uncomfortable on the bike as my lower back had tightened up and staying in the aero position didn’t feel right. I knew this was caused by my hamstrings that had become really tight but there was nothing I could do to easily fix it. The first 30km out along the Queen K are rolling so I had some sections downhill where I could stand out of the saddle and stretch out. It helped relieve some pain but my lower back was till aching when in aero position for the rest of the way out to Hawi. I was riding conservatively and easily within the power limits I’d set myself. I wasn’t losing ground to anybody around me and felt at ease with the pace I was going at.
I’d been warned about the drafting packs but the size of the groups was ridiculous. With the volume of bikes, it was impossible for groups not to form across the road and as much as the majority of people were doing their best to sit a legal distance back and pass safely on the left, there were a small number of complete idiots who were riding so dangerously; undertaking and cutting up people left right and centre. I said a few unrepeatable words to a couple of blatant drafters and I was pleased to see one of them in the penalty box later on up the road. My plan for the bike was to ride conservatively out to the turnaround point at Hawi and then push harder on the way back. A highlight of the ride was hearing the helicopters following the pro race approach and then seeing the pro males and females shooting past heading back to town. As I got onto the climb to Hawi I picked up my effort and rode hard for the 10km to the turnaround point moving past a large chunk of riders going up the climb. I say climb, but at 6-7% it’s not really a climb relative to the roads around Yorkshire. I was in the 54 front Q ring all the way up and moved in and out of aero position to give my body a chance to stretch out. The special needs aid station was at the turnaround point and I stopped here to pick up my extra nutrition bottle and some food. However, the organisation here was a shambles, they couldn’t find my bag and then when they did, the volunteer spilled the contents of my bag in the road. I turned to see my bottle roll across to the other side of the road and I decided to leave it and rely on the aid stations on the way back. This wasn’t ideal as my bottle had about 700 calories of the vitargo and carb mix I make for myself and that I’d been training with. I also lost the treat of the snickers bar that I’d had in the freezer over night! Hey-ho, things go wrong in Ironman racing so I had to make do with what I could. I must have been stopped for about a minute and it took me a while to re-pass the guys I’d just overtaken going up the hill. I was flying down the road from Hawi. This bit of the course is normally made really tough by cross winds but the wind was friendly today. I was spinning out in the 54-11 and sitting on the top tube to gain as much free speed as possible. My plan was to raise my effort in the second half of the ride and gain time on those who started out too hard. I was finding it easy to maintain a good pace and continued to pass long lines of riders as the road flattened out.
I think a combination of standing off the bike at the special needs aid station and spending some time climbing out of the saddle on the road up the Hawi had helped my back to loosen off and I felt no discomfort on the ride back from Hawi. However, my frustrations continued. After one long stretch of passing people, I slowed up slightly to eat a gel and someone moved in front of me and slowed right up. As I was eating I wasn’t concentrating and wasn’t as diligent as I should have been in braking and a referee instantly appeared from behind me and carded me for drafting. It was one of the most frustrating moments of any race. I’d been passing people for over an hour and then I got carded for drafting which was ridiculous. As far as I saw across the bike course, the refereeing was very inconsistent with not a single referee being seen in the first hour of the ride. Unfortunately there is no way I could appeal so I had to pull over and take my 5 minute penalty in the next penalty box. From here I had about 40km back to transition and I decided to make the most of the last section of the ride whilst I was feeling good. I calculated that I could still be on for a 4h45 ride which was my pre-race goal. I drilled it back along the Queen K with no further issue. I was reeling people in who had passed me early in the ride and I was delighted to roll into transition with a 4h43 ride. For data geeks, I produced a negative split the ride and my average power the second half was 35W higher than the first half. Comparing my splits, I was matching the times of the top male pro’s (+Daniela) for the second half of the ride so my pacing strategy was correct and my training had paid off as I’d done a lot of hard intervals to be strong in the back end of the ride. I got off the bike feeling relatively fresh and had a good mindset to run well.
I hopped off the bike at the dismount line and handed the bike over to a volunteer who would then rack the bike in transition. This is such a novelty for the world championships that isn’t at any other race I’ve done. The route through transition follows the outer edge of the pier. Even after almost 6 hours of racing, this section was congested with other racers and I was pleased that my legs felt good running off the bike. I swiftly grabbed my run bag and found a seat in the change tent. A change of socks, I slipped on my run shoes, grabbed my hat and drink bottles and I was out of there. Leaving the change tent I grabbed a wet, ice cold towel from a bucket and stuffed it into my suit. I hadn’t really felt the heat whilst on the bike but I knew the towel would help keep me cool on the run in the heat of the day. The run starts with a short loop around the town and then heads out along Ali’i drive for a 10km out and back stretch. I felt good running this first section at my goal pace and I was comfortably moving along at 4.20min km’s and not slowing through the aid stations. This was the same pace as I’d ran at Nice in June so I knew it wasn’t out of reach. I also saw my family and Bron along Ali’i Drive and it really helped to have their support. By now the sun was blazing and I was making the most of every aid station to try and stay cool (wet sponges, fresh dunk of the towel, ice down my suit and face fulls of water). It didn’t look pretty but needs must to try and stay cool!
After reaching town again at 11km, the run route heads up Palani Hill onto the Queen K Highway. I didn’t want to spike my heart rate going up Palani so I dropped my pace and walked stretches of it to take on extra fuel at the aid station. Onto the Queen K and very quickly it was feeling harder to maintain my pace. My heart rate wasn’t high and my legs felt OK still but they had no zip to run. It felt like my energy was taken away from me. My constant running had now eroded to running between the aid stations and walking through them to consume as much fluids and nutrition as possible. Cups of coke and red bull were the order of the day. I figured that I was now suffering from my bottle of nutrition that I had dropped on the bike as I had to resort to Gatorade which didn’t sit well, nor contain the amount of calories that I needed. The stretch of the Queen K up to the energy lab seemed to be never ending and a constant uphill! To put it in perspective, as I rode into town off the bike I saw the male pro’s heading out on the run up the Queen K and they still hadn’t returned when I was 15km into the run! There is very little support along the Queen K and it was pretty solitary for the majority of the run. I was still taking on as much nutrition as I could at the aid stations but I was also being sick inbetween and the fluids wouldn’t stay down. Running down into the energy lab actually felt good and I was able to run for longer periods and was reducing the walking breaks. The pro plus must have kicked in by now!! I’d ran the section through the energy lab earlier in the week so knew what was to come. My running pace had slowed down to 4.45min km’s and as much as I tried I couldn’t move any faster. I just focused on maintaining this and only walking the aid stations. By now I’d seen the leading age groupers go past in the opposite direction (about 45 minutes ahead). I knew my chance of a good position was well out of the window but there was still a chance I could go sub 9h30 or even beat my current IM PB if I could pick up the pace back into town. The uphill from the energy lab back to the Queen K was a drag but I knew that the Queen K was mostly downhill back into town. Mentally this made it easier but running downhill has never felt so hard! My feet were really sore and my toes were throbbing but by now I was starting to catch and pass age groupers and female pro’s who had blown up and were walking large chunks. As long as I stuck to just walking the aid stations I knew I could force myself to maintain a fairly decent run pace in between. With about 4kms to go I was passed by someone running really well. I decided that I would try and stick with them and use them to pace off. I actually managed to hold on to their heels for the final stretch down Palani and into town. I knew that once I was into town where all of the supporters were, there was no way I could walk. The final 1.5km felt like eternity but as soon as I turned on to Ali’i Drive I knew the Banyon Tree and finish line were just around the corner. My sprint finish was woefully slow and I savoured crossing the line and hearing the 4 iconic words from Mike Reilly – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN! The traditional Hawaiian Lei was put round my neck and each finisher has their own volunteer helper to steer/guide/shepherd them through the post race area!!
I’d completed the run in 3h26 and my overall finish time was 9h24. I was somewhat outside what I wanted to achieve and what I thought was possible coming into the race but I’ll forever cherish the chance to compete in such a special race.
If I was told at the start of the year that I’d qualify for Kona and finish there with a time of 9 hours 24 minutes I’d have been stoked and taken it right there. However, I am tinged with a sense of what if… I am really happy with the performance that I put in and there are so many positives to take from it but there were also a lot of things on the day that didn’t go my way.
The race experience was everything that I’d expected it to. Swimming with the masses at Dig Me Beach in the days building up to the race. Sitting with the pro’s eating breakfast and drinking coffee around town. Riding along the Queen K and hammering the pedals down the hill from Hawi. Sweltering in the energy lab and finally running past the Banyan Tree on Alii Drive on the approach to the finish line. Kona is a very special place and a superb race. I feel very fortunate that I had the chance to race here once and that my family could be here to support me. I said it would be a one time trip but I’d love to come back one day to have another go at racing the very best and putting an even better performance together. Taking a much needed rest this week before returning home and planning for the next season.
Thank you to all family and friends for heir support from home. Also further thank you to:
Dr Andy King and Sarah Whitehead at Leeds Beckett University for their support and guidance in running the sessions in the environment chamber.
Gary Simpson for supplying me with the Fekd salts that stopped me cramping all day.
All the guys at Woodrups Cycles for servicing and maintaining the bike.
Rich Knell Moore for accompanying me on many long rides.
Leeds Masters swim squad.
David and Kathy for their generous contribution towards me making the trip to race.
Finally, my parents, Owen, Jen and Bron for dragging themselves all the way to Hawaii and enduring 2 weeks there – aswell as coping with my stresses in race week!“
Lastly, Chapeau to Patrick Lange for another phenomenal performance but not only did he take away the Jeep that Bron had promised me if I beat him, but he also stole my thunder in proposing to his girlfriend at the finish line, when he pre-empted my proposal to Bron in the days after the race! It was a holiday to remember and hopefully I’ll have the chance to race there again in the future.