Between getting back into the swing of things and well, frankly not feeling great about my performance in the days and weeks immediately after the race it took me awhile to get this post together. Even now I’m still picking through parts of the race but I’ve formed an overall opinion and know what I want to do moving forward so I figured it would be good to get some of it down and possibly help me figure out the rest.
First things first. I will be back, this is not the last time I’ll race Kona.
But to talk about the future we need to rewind a bit, the summer itself was great, I had a great day at Roth considering I was still fresh off my hernia surgery and I was able to get some great training in between then and Kona. By September I had built up some really good fitness and felt that I was setting myself up for a great race day. I had two solid full distance races under my belt and quality training in the bank. While I knew it was a tough race in unforgiving conditions I felt that I was prepared (physically) for the challenge ahead.
Just before the race we had a bit of travel and I spent about ten days in the states with work and a good friend’s wedding. I had brought over my bike and kept getting the workouts in and making sure I did not slack off right at the end. This is one of the toughest things about training for an Ironman, the time…. while there are certainly hard sessions the shear volume of time that is required to be properly prepared is daunting. This constraint is amplified as I expect to perform at a certain level, you just have to put those hours in day over day. You’re always playing the long game, its tough. Not just for me, but for everyone around me that supports me in this endeavour.
The trip out to Kona was pretty easy, having qualified so far in advance we had been able to book business class tickets from London to Seattle which made the first 11 hour leg of travel much nicer. The second leg, was on an Alaska Airlines flight, which while not bad, certainly wasn’t cushy. We arrived in Kona groggy but excited for the weeks ahead.
The week before the race was spent in a mix of enjoying the island with Chris and Ashlee as well as keeping the body loose with a few swim, rides and runs. Not knowing if I’ll ever be back I wanted to try and soak up as much of the experience as possible and took part (well swam at the same time) as the swim race, and the underpants run later in the week. Also did some riding out on the Queen K and a few swim sessions at a local pool.
We used the rest of the days to explore places like the green sand beach, swimming with Manta Rays and enjoying the house the group of us had rented. Page, Jon and Thea flew in a couple days before the race and it was nice to have the company around and keep my focus on having fun and avoid getting too much into my own head.
Where is the chase and how do I cut to it?
I woke early, and Chris drove Carly and I down to the start. The check in process was straight forward and I was able to quickly make my way through body marking and the other bag drops. I made my way out the pier to check on my bike and get the bottles all ready. The nerves were starting to build and I kept on reminding myself to relax and enjoy the experience as much as possible. This was tough as I certainly had goals in mind but I knew that for many simply getting this far is the achievement of a lifetime.
Swim – 1:04:15
So after all the checks and the long walk away from the bike I met back up with Carly. I had been pretty efficient with time so mainly just tried to make myself stay hydrated and get some more food in me as well as go to the bathroom. With about thirty minutes to go I made my way into the starting area and joined the others going off in my age group wave. I filled the time with nervous stretching and race logistics.
After the pro’s were off we were called down into the water and making the short swim out to the starting buoy. In a running race I’d naturally gravitate towards the front of the starting grid but with the swim I’m just not that confident so I lined up a bit left and 3-4 swimmers back. While there were still quite a few people behind me I was certainly not at the front. I swam a 1:05(ish) at the open water ‘race’ earlier in the week and thought that in actual race conditions I could find those 4-5 minutes and come in right around where I had in Barcelona and Roth. I thought this would set me up well for the day.
The swim at Kona is unlike any other, both because your swimming through beautiful ocean water but also the ‘washing machine’ is a real thing. From the start it was bedlam and I found myself constantly getting kicked, pushed and fighting for position. With the swim as my weakness I’m not one to assert myself and usually let those pass and try to stay clear of the fray and just swim at my pace. In retrospect one of the things I need to work on is simply ‘getting into the race’ earlier, and asserting myself in the swim. I’m simply taking the easy road and not pushing myself to swim harder. I can find some valuable seconds (maybe minutes) and certainly get my mind into the fact I’m racing earlier in the day. And if I want to be an Age Group champion at Kona the race starts with the gun, I cant wait till the bike and the run, I’ve got to push my weakness.
When we rounded the boat (just under halfway) I glanced at my watch and it was just under 30 minutes. To me this was promising, while I knew that I simply couldn’t double the time it was a good indication that I was on target. Swimming back the pier came back into view and I glanced at my watch as I drew near, sixty minutes with a few hundred meters to go. I was disappointed but wasn’t going to let a few minutes in an otherwise decent swim get me down. I’ve got a lot of racing ahead of me in areas I’m much stronger in, just keep pushing and get out of the water. I made it to the ladder and steps out of the water, up and out, picked up my bag and into the changing tents…
Helmet on, swim skin off, and pulled my tri suit up and over my arms, socks on and I was out the door. my rack spot was easy to remember and well placed just at the end of the transition chute so grabbed the bike and a quick run out of T1. Looking at transition times after the race I was pretty much on par with the times of the top AG racers for the day so no time lost there.
Bike – 5:06:55
The bike has a quick out and back loop before taking you through town and out on to the Queen K for the majority of the ride. I heard Carly and crew cheering for me and was feeling psyched as I headed out. However, from the start of the bike I just couldn’t seem to find a good rhythm and get my power numbers going. I felt sluggish and just didn’t have the pep (physically or mentally) I otherwise would have had at the start of the bike. My Garmin set to lap every 10k so I gave myself the first out and back with the hills as a shake out and decided to reset once on the highway where I’d find my groove.
I kept to my schedule for drinking and eating and overall was able to get most of my nutrition in during the bike as planned. I had biked a good bit of the first section of the course on my own earlier in the week so the road was familiar and I had a good idea for some of the landmarks as I made my way out away from town.
I was both passing (and being passed) early on in the bike which is pretty typical. As I typically have a faster bike split than many of the swimmers I exit with I’ll find myself moving through the pack with a few overzealous riders hammering the first 20-30k. I typically see them again…
However, as the miles stacked up I simply wasn’t hitting the power numbers I wanted and I started to have doubts about my day. In retrospect I think the physical issue was heat adaptation. Looking back on all my preparation that was something I did not embrace to the degree (ha) required. Sure, I did a number of bikes with the heat turned on in the bike room but simply not enough and never with running and no post swim sauna sessions.
As the miles ticked on and though I was still moving along ‘well’ I was no where near my goal wattage so more doubt crept in. It is a very, very tough thing to be both fighting the race and yourself for 100 miles. The wind is blowing twenty to thirty miles an hour, its ninety plus degrees and you’re just well…. fucking over being on a bike. The ride back got progressively hotter and I could feel myself beginning to roast. I was taking water at each aid station, taking half of it and dumping it on my head through my helmet and then drinking the second half. Each time was a few moments of bliss. Next time… cooler helmet.
As I coasted back into town I checked my watch once more and was just over 5 hours. Way off, but in the scheme of things Kona is a tough race and I’ve completed the swim and bike in just over six hours. I’ve turned in two three and change marathons in my last races so I geared up to attack the run. I knew I’d be off the podium but running a good marathon would give me a crackin time on the day.
Run – 3:32:32
Yeah…… so into T2, I had planned a full gear change into a running singlet and shorts. Again, didn’t take long to make the change so no time ‘lost’ here and I think I made the right call for the race (and the day). I grabbed a water bottle from my T2 bag and was off. As Carly describes it, she knew immediately on seeing me coming out of T2 that I was in a bad way. I was certainly less enthusiastic but as an eternal optimist I saw that I’m on the run, I shine on the run, and at this point there is nothing that will keep me from finishing this race.
I ran ‘well’ for the first three or four miles, taking water and ice from the aid stations even getting a few ‘GO HOKIES!!’ The VT running singlet (which was already paying dividends versus a tight tri suit). I knew I was digging a bit deeper than I should this early in the run as I made my way back through town and up the hill and out on to the Queen K and by the time I was on the highway I was squarely in ‘survival’ mode. I began walking each aid station, refilling my hat with ice, taking on coke, water, any of it, all of it. Nothing was getting the engine going, I was just flat, and mad. I was mad that I wasn’t having the day I wanted and that the course had gotten the best of me.
But I never stopped, while I was walking each aid station I forced myself to run between each and gave myself little carrots and played little games and (in retrospect) keeping an ok pace as the sun baked down. ”God damn its hot” I just kept thinking… It’s just so hot. Turning down into the Energy lab I once again tried for a reset. I had heard about the stories that the energy lab eithers sucks it out or gives it back and I knew that I needed a positive attitude as I made my way through this block. It also helped that our special needs bags could be found here which I was desperately looking forward to.
Coming into the aid station I grab my bag and tore it open. Brad had (wisely, so freakin wisely) told me to stash my special needs as frozen bottles in a freezer bag so that by the time you get there it will still be cold. I grabbed my icy bottle and was elated. ‘I can do this, I will do this’ I immediately thought.
30 seconds later I wanted absolutely nothing to do with this icy boat anchor. It was heavy and I was tired and I couldn’t drink it quick enough to lighten the load. It was promptly tossed at the next aid station. F*%k me.
Heading out of the Energy Lab back to the Queen K it had somehow gotten hotter. I continued to take fluids at every aid station and continued to dump ice into my hat at every opportunity to try and keep myself moving. Somehow, the top of my head was freezing but the rest of my body… a hot mess. Now I was mad about that too. I counted the miles off, 18-20-21 miles…. By the time I got to 23 miles I started to perk up. I knew the end was in sight, you’ve run 3 miles thousands of times, you can do this. Just. keep. moving. Keep pushing forward.
As I rounded the corner and headed down the hill back into town I let my legs run out and opened my stride a bit. ‘Fuck it’ i thought, I might be having a crap day but I’m going to cross that line running. I made the final circuit around the town and back down to the bay and as I rounded the last bend I could see the finish line ahead. I sucked it up and gathered my form, not wanting to appear as defeated as I felt, pushing across the line, drained. Completely drained.
I walked back through the crowds to the recovery area and gathered myself for a little while. I waffled between being happy with my time, happy that I kept myself in the race and thankful for the experience while also completely disappointed in my performance. I had trained so hard and well for this day and laid an egg.
Though I knew I couldn’t (and didn’t) want to sit there and stew in self pity. I wanted to go and find Carly, and my friends and be with them. I made my way back through the hotel and found the group patiently waiting. It was awesome to be surrounded by them and my spirits were immediately lifted. It was fun to hear about their day, the sightseeing, the fun they had while I was racing.
After a bit of recovery and relaxing by the pool at the house we made our way back down to the finish line that evening to cheer along the athletes still finishing late at night. The finish line atmosphere is always amazing, it is truly inspiring to see the people who have been out there for hours upon hours finishing. The emotion of their accomplishment made me even more aware that while I wasn’t happy with my race I couldn’t be disappointed with the experience.
The remainder of the holiday was spent relaxing with Carly on Maui for a much needed break. We enjoyed sunset sails, lounging by the pool and some great Mai Tai’s. I was sad when it came to an end and we returned to London.
From the moment the first seed of doubt crept in during the swim I knew I had to go back. But there was another part of me that looked at the race and thought, it is so far from London, it is such a commitment to go back to this place for a single reason and there are so many other things I want to do, places I want to see, experiences I want to share with Carly, is it worth it. Do I really want that?
But the more I thought about the day, and the more time I took I realized that I wouldn’t, couldn’t be happy with myself with a ‘finish’ at Kona. A finish alone is not my style, it is not what gets me up in the morning. I am going to use that first trip as a learning experience so that next time I can walk away completely sure that I left everything out on the Queen K, with no excuses, no doubts.
I will go back to Kona and race to be a World Champion.
Though all of this is not possible without Carly’s unwavering support. Throughout all of the long training blocks, crazy race schedules, and me just generally being a crazy person she has been amazing. She encourages me, supports me and lifts me up when I need it most.
I also have to make a special thanks Chris and Ashlee. Beyond arranging shirts and flags to make my race a mini event for us all you’re my best friends. I loved sharing the day and the vacation with you both.
And another thanks to Page, Jon and Thea who came out to Kona and shared their holiday (and in Jon and Thea’s case honeymoon) with us. It meant the world to me to have my friends on the course and cheering me along. When I was at my lowest during the race I thought of you and it helped get me through the race.