Sunday, October 23, 2016

Ironman World Championships 2016 Race Report

Kona : Adventures in Disneyland with Super Grannies

One of the Bill Boards on Ali'i Drive on the History of the Race
Anna , Carrie , Dave Scott , myself and Mark Allen at the Legacy Reception

The race is done . Finished in 14.59 and probably my slowest bike time ever .Not the fastest and certainly not my best but I finished and more importantly I enjoyed the experience. The build to Ironman had been difficult with the cold and wet winter and the flu but I think overall I had as good a prep but the legs were just not as battled hardened for the tough conditions of Kona and I knew that. After 14 races the spirit to put in the volume needed particularly in winter was  hard and my motivation despite it being Kona a little thin. I am glad I had no expectation for a target time .It would have been deeply disappointing otherwise and with only one chance it was far better to go out and enjoy the event as best I could and remain relaxed and focused on just competing and finishing. Actually Kona surprisingly was one of the most relaxed races I ever had .I actually slept well the night before the race and despite some soreness I felt pretty good the day after which probably had more to do with the fact that I did not really push as hard.

What I take with me are good memories of the race and the taper week and Hawaii. I arrived with my wife and son on the 25 September a good 13 days before the race with the intention of acclimatizing to the heat and humidity.The first 6 days were spent in Honolulu and I ran or swam everyday and felt a lot better at the end of the week in the heat.

The week before the race was spent in Kona and it being my first trip to Kona I got down to  Alii drive and had a good run around the town on the first day. I actually did a 16 km run ..On Sunday I rode the great Queen K or at least past the airport and back .There was wind but nothing I could not handle. The legs felt good. There were lots of athletes  riding the Queen K  and they were all fast. For the  week I enjoyed the Expo , the 2XU talk with Anja Beranek, Craig Alexander and Terrence Bozzone imparting words of wisdom about racing Kona. As a legacy participant it really didn't matter but one piece of advice was simply as a first timer don't have any expectations. Kona is tough. Attending the Legacy reception and pictures with Mark Allen, Dave Scott and Julie Moss the highlight .

As it turns out the weather was not as bad but I found the winds hard and my legs were pretty dead for the bike . My output through the bike leg was pretty low and whilst it was windy I think I just did not perform as well as I would have expected . I did take a lot more salt directly and in the nutrition and had no issues of cramping and no gut issues fortunately.I found the climb to Hawi difficult even though it was not steep but more rolling and whilst there were gusts of winds they were manageable.

The return  was just as hard and made tolerable with the beauty of the course , the black lava fields and the green layered mountain with the peak hidden by clouds and on the other side the ocean with the white tops as the wind blew . I was passed by loads of riders and many much older participants but it being a world championship and there is no shame in that.

The great memories will be the swim course and the stretch starting from the pier out to the bay .The water wasn't crystal clear but there were lots of fish and the water was warm . The fast sleek bodies torpedoing past  me , the coffee from the coffee boat anchored on the swim course and the hundreds of triathletes parading each morning around the town , Alii drive and Digme Beach of course.

I will remember the long queues for body marking , getting into the water and taking the time to look around me before the start. It was a race where I strangely had no nerves. I started from the left and managed to find feet quickly .the odds were that anyone I stuck to was faster than me and after about 800m I jumped on to another swimmers feet and remained with that swimmer till the end .After about 300 to 500 meters after the turnaround the lead age group women passed us and I came out of the swim at 1.24 hr which was a great swim for me .

Memories on the course  :
The blind triathlete and guide climbing towards Hawi as I head back and Agar and his son in a specially made cart climbing that same stretch , unfortunately failing to make the cut off.
My very first puncture a km from leaving T1 .A real shock but I just knuckled down and changed it and the fix lasted 180kms . The big bunches of bikes on the Queen K returning to Kona with no Marshall in sight . They were probably monitoring the pros closely. The strange episode of 3 aid stations after Hawi running out of water completely stuffing up my nutrition plan as I had no water to dilute my tailwind concentrate. I turned to taking some Gatorade with concentrated tailwind for the next 20 miles and whilst the gut did not collapse it wasn't great.

As I get back into town in the late afternoon , triathletes are finishing and I am just starting the run. Its here that everyone digs deep , the back end of the race is where I like to think the backbone of the sport lies , we are the ones that make the elites look even better  .There is no first in a race of one but there is a first in a race of many . Here the atmosphere is more lets enjoy the suffering together ,we are not competing we are helping each other finish. There is time to exchange words of encouragement and cheer each other on.  The crowd is still around Ali'i drive and the first 16km is in town before swinging out onto Queen K and the famed Energy lab. By now it is dark and I have my own small head lamp . There are fewer triathletes on the course and it takes a quiet slow death march feel. At the start the music is blaring and then it is quiet and then as I approach another aid station there is activity and music. The Cliff Bar camp were stationed at the turnaround at the Energy lab and after that it was another 8 miles or 14 kms to the finish line . Throughout the race I was taking salt over and above the salt in the tailwind. I had managed to drink the Gatorade every other station and take some tailwind till the 20km mark before moving onto the coke. By the end of 15 miles I was also having some chicken soup which made a change. The pace was slow but steady .I ran and only walked the aid stations. Still was one of the slower runs but surprisingly , the legs were not hurting just dead.
The last stretch winds through the town before hitting  Ali'i drive and the stands built along the drive for the finish .After 42 kms I did have a cramp but a minute of stretching sorts that out .The course is nothing fancy other than that history of 35 years on the big island. My son Jonathan catches me  200m before the end . His first words are, "Dad do you know how many Grannies have passed you" . But they are super Grannies. After all it is the best in the world. For the many finishing hours earlier it is a passion and a life of tireless hours of training and probably some talent in endurance sports for which I have none . I understand the devotion it takes to reach such a pinnacle in the sport and to get to Kona. There are those who are repeat offenders because they can .For many it was hard work and single minded desire and some talent. For us mere mortals it is the enjoyable experience of a lifetime it was meant to be and the philosophy of Commander John Collins to allow a small group of “average” triathletes to compete in Kona..

Terrence Bozzone Myself and Craig Alexander

As Craig Alexander in the 2XU talk said Kona is like Disneyland for triathletes and he is correct .The best in the world in Endurance triathlon sport is here , the major sponsors the elite professionals Triathletes  and some serious age groupers  For me it did feel  like Disneyland ..

A more comprehensive race report by others are:

Turia Pitt : Kona becomes reality

Beau Waters Ironman: If you tip over the edge there’s no coming back