Where do you start a blog about the greatest Ironman event on the planet??
For me it started 13 months ago when I qualified at Ironman Wales in 2013. Everydays training, resting and racing has been leading up to the 11th October 2014, yet here I am in the condo, eating my usual pre-race breakfast of porridge mixed nuts and banana with a strong cup of coffee to wash it down, Guess what, it all feels absolutely normal, I'm really relaxed and can't wait to get going. All the days leading to the race have gone great, I haven't got mixed up in the hype of the event and certainly haven't gone mad on the training front , something that would be really easy to do here, everybody is in tip top condition and determined to show everybody that very fact about themselves. To be quite honest I feel like a complete rookie compared to some of the people who I've seen. It's a bit similar to starting out again. Maybe that's the reason I feel like I do.
So at 05:15 I make my way to the pier to get prepared. A great thing about the condo is the location. We are right on the famous Palani Drive, part of the bike and run route and only 400m from the race start. The whole town is buzzing with anticipation and it seems that everyone has come out to support the event. There isn't a single space to be had all along the pier and surrounding beach walls, with thousands of spectators lining the swim venue. The population of the island swells by 20,000 for race week, a fact I learned from a local!!
As I get to my bike, I notice all these really great looking athletes seem to not look so great. Nerves are a wonderful thing. I giggle to myself as a number of people ask for my track pump to get air frantically into their tyres. I potter around my bike just going through the same routine I do at every other race, after all, this is just another race, 140.6 miles of swim, bike and run, do this in the most efficient and effective way possible and you will be smiling at the end, oh, and its Kona baby!!!!
All things sorted in transition and its off to say bye, bye to the Duckworth support crew, Joey, Anna, Lucy and my trusty mate Marlon. I have to say they look more nervous than me. I have to be honest this whole event feels great and I really do feel like I belong here! All the kisses and hugs in place I make my way back to the swim start and bump into a friendly face Brian Fogarty, looking as calm as me and ready to rip it up. I have to say the little chat with Brian is great, he gives me a few pointers and explains a bit about the nutrition issues we could get on the bike due to the mental winds that have appeared in the last couple of days!! We wish each other good luck and I make it back into transition just in time to hear a guy crucify the American National Anthem. I, and a suspect quite a few others are hoping for a big wave to put us all out of out misery!!
Crucifixion complete I here the cannon for the first time as the pro men get underway. I know I should be rooting for the English contingent and believe me deep down I am. But a bit of me cannot help but root for my idol Craig 'Crowie' Alexander, at the age of 41 it would be great to see him lift the title for a fourth time. Five minutes later the cannon sounds again and the pro women start their day. At this point I start to move forward from the holding area and get my first glimpse of the arena from the famous 'Dig Me Beach'. As I write this I am covered in goose bumps just recollecting the view. The sun is just coming up over Mauna Kea there is music playing, waves lapping at my feet in the clear, warm Pacific Ocean. I take my first few strokes and see tropical fish and coral reef within 25 meters, not you're everyday swim venue!!!
I've been planning the swim all week. It is going to be brutal, so, I've decided to start a little further back than normal. Today I really do have to make every breath count, wasting energy in a fight is not an option. We then here an Hawaiian Prayer as the sun breaks over the mountain, praying for calm seas, friendly winds and the courage to finish what we start on this amazing journey!!! It's quite simply fantastic and a memory I will never forget.
At 06:50 the cannon goes. I have made my first good decision of the day as the mass fight begins. By starting a little further back all I have to contend with is the large swell and the odd tap on the feet by other athletes, this I can live with. The beauty of this swim is the marine life. I find myself getting a little distracted by the things I see. I am really relaxed and just getting through the swim at my own pace. As I reach the turn round point things do get a little more tasty, but nothing I can't handle. And so it continues, with no real dramas we head back to the pier and I find myself in a group of about 10 swimmers. All of us seem to have a bit of respect for each other and no-one seems to want to fight which is good for me as I start to tire a little. The last 400 meters are the worst of the swim as the fast ladies start to catch us up and that respect thing I mentioned goes out of the window, it's fight time. I probably expend as much energy in the last 10 minutes as the rest of the swim, but I'll take the swim time all day long. 1:18 isn't a great swim but in the conditions it isn't the end of the world either.
As I exit the swim I get a great surprise. The transition is still really full of bikes. Not what I expected and a real boost as my day does get better and better from this point normally. Lets hope for the same today!! Now, I've raced at Roth in Germany and Solarburg Hill takes some beating, but I have to say the ride out of transition and up Palani Road is a thing of beauty!! The first 10 miles of the ride are in the town and really is a bit of a draft fest, as people try to find their rhythm. This isn't intentional, but with this many athletes on the road and not a lot of space it is inevitable. The trick is not to worry about the situation but to deal with it, things will get better on the Queen K. So with that in mind I sit on the aerobars keep the Heart rate down and get into the nutrition plan. The good thing about not being a good swimmer is the fact that you pass people all day on the bike. Will this be the same today though. Well, I'm happy to report that yes it will!! As we exit town I am steadily climbing the placings.
Once we hit the Queen K the fun really starts. The main thing for me is not to get to excited, remember the heart rate zones and hydrate, eat, hydrate, eat, hydrate, eat. For the first 25 miles of the bike things are going great, then, from nowhere the winds start. These are the same tail winds we have had for the last 15 miles. What will kill you though is that I am traveling in the same direction!! they hit you in the face and from both sides. I have to say they are unique, something I have never experienced before anywhere I have ridden. The next two hours up to Hawi are a white knuckle ride, one minute I am flying at nearly 45 mph, the next (in the same direction) I'm struggling to make 15 mph. At one point another athlete comes along side me laughing . 'I've never had to work so hard going downhill', how true, even down hill is hard. I nearly come a cropper on a couple of descents as the crosswind hits the Zipp 808 wheel. A piece of advice for anyone lucky enough to qualify. 808 rear wheel OK 808 front wheel not OK. Go with the 404 or even a 303, much safer!!! That said the aid stations on the bike are brilliant. They come every 7 miles, are about 100 meters long and are loaded with nutrition and volunteers. I get 2 bottles of water at each one and later in the ride go for the Powerbar drink. I have to say I am real glad to turn at Hawi after a 10 mile climb in a head wind. The time is good at 2:40 so my sub 5:30 bike split is on. I start to descend with the tailwind at the rate of Knotts. then, you guessed it, the tailwind becomes a cross / headwind. Give it a rest!!!!
The struggle in the wind is broken up with a little chat to a race referee on a motorbike. "Who's winning mate' I had seen the pro men and women on the opposite side of the road prior to the turn round point, but struggled to see who was in front. 'I have no idea buddy, they went by to fast' I laughed at this. 'hows your day going'. My reply was simple, 'Great mate, I've already won. Look where I am'. The ref smiled, 'That's a great way to look at it buddy, you be safe'.
The rest of the ride is more of the same, great tailwinds and dangerous cross and headwinds. As I approach town I get a glimpse of the male pro's, Kienle leading and I think Van Lierde was second (I could be wrong) the fact is they are at mile 15 on the marathon and running like the superb athletes they are!! I am starting to think about the run leg, my strongest discipline. I've seen a lot of people breaking during the last 20 miles of the bike, I on the other hand am feeling as if I might have paced the race correctly for me. With that in mind I hit T2 in a time of 5:25 for the bike leg, I'm hoping for a good run, But you never really know!!
T2 at the Worlds is unreal. there are more helpers than you can shake a stick at!! I have my bag given to me, a man runs with me as I sit down he fills my pockets with gels, gets all my kit out and covers me in sun screen. I actually look over my shoulder as I have a Whiz just in-case he tries to hold the little fella!! thankfully, I do this myself. Having a Whiz makes me smile. No dehydration for young Duckworth today!!
Again the journey up Palani Drive for the first part of the run is epic. Call Americans excitable of whatever you like, but they are great supporters. 'Go Joe buddy, you go this' , Fantastic. Then there they are, a real sight for sore eyes and the first time I've seen them for nearly 7 hours, team Duckworth, complete with St Georges and Union flags, screaming louder than everyone n that's only Marlon!! there are hi fives a plenty. I have a lofty plan to run 7:20 to 7:30 pace, not normally a problem, but these conditions aren't normal!! the idea is to stay wet and therefore cool at every aid station. These are at 1 mile intervals. The biggest issue I could have is drinking to much Coke. The plan is simple, 1 Salt Stick and a gel every 30 minutes, soak with water and drink 1 Coke every aid station and finally hold as much ice as possible for the entire marathon. A little word on this and please do not take it as gospel. I do not know the biological reason for this, or even if there is one, but, holding ice really does keep me cool in general. I've raced 3 times in really hot humid conditions and it has worked every time, food for thought!!
The run is broken into 4 parts for me. Part 1 is the run south past White Sands and Turtle Beach for 5 miles then 5 miles back to town. Part 2 the run to the Natural Energy Lab, 6 miles, part 3 the Energy Lab, 4 miles, part 4, the return leg to town, 6 miles. This keeps me sane. So part 1 is going great I'm passing people for fun and feeling great. in fact, the biggest problem is not running to fast. Then enter the Salt stick incident. I pop a gel open then try to get Salt Stick from the dispenser. This is the same dispenser that Marlons rape comment came from (if you have read the diary), only the Salt wasn't for coming out. So there I am swearing at the dispenser as I bang it on the floor. Enter the concerned American 'Piece of shit hey buddy', 'It's not that F@ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£$%n good is my response' as a salt stick bounces across the road. I apply the 3 second rule and eat the salt. 'Keep the salt going in buddy, it'll save your life out here'. After this the dispenser decides to behave itself!!
As I reach town and 10 miles things are going great, the nutrition is spot on and I'm still feeling good and passing people. I approach team Duck and they ask how I'm feeling. Joey, as always, looks a little concerned. She doesn't need to be today. Apart from a couple of small blisters I'm good. so much so that I tell them, 'Ive smashed this run'. I run up Palani Drive passing a top guy I've met Paul Deen. Paul sorted out T-shirts for all The GB Kona qualifiers for free. Top man. I am one of the very few who run up Palani, a massive boost. I hook a left onto the long drag that is the Queen K Highway, only its not a drag. All I see are targets, each one looking a lot worse than me. So apart from the usual blisters the legs are great. Then the bit of the run that everyone talks about, The Energy Lab. You can enter in good shape and leave a broken athlete, it's hotter than hell. I soak myself at the top and go through the aid station ritual that has been serving me well. '30 minutes of your life, 30 minutes of your life' I just keep repeating this over and over again. About 400 meters in I see someone I really didn't expect to see, Lucy Gossage, walking and looking a little broken. As you do I offer Lucy a few words of encouragement. 'Keep going your running strong' is Lucy's response. She's right, the run form was holding. If I get through this in one piece I'm home dry. At the turn round point I'm still in good shape, but coming out of 'The Lab' is where things can change. The wind and sun are on your back making it feel 20 degrees hotter than on the way in and its uphill!!! on the way up the hill I get treat from the Ducks support crew. The running company Newton had a recording booth in the Athletes village in the days leading up to the race. The Ducks had recorded a message for me. The recording activated via your timing chip, so, as I climb out of the Energy Lab, my chip activates the recording and there they are on a big screen, screaming encouragement. I laugh my head off, so much so that the Newton guys are laughing at me, brilliant, and another memory to treasure. With that I exit the Lab and head back down the Queen K to town. Some cheeky Aussie tries to hang on commenting on my pace and asking if I mind him sitting behind me in the head wind. I say no, but really have no intentions of carrying him back to town, so at this point I decide to empty the tanks. I've always said I didn't want anything left at the end of the day and so be it. I push for the remainder of the run. The run down Palani is painful to say the least. I'm still passing athletes, in fact no-one has passed me for the whole run. As I turn right onto Ali'i Drive its a struggle to keep it together both physically and mentally. All the hard work has paid off, the spectators are amazing and I have a good bit of space to soak the Black carpet up. 'Welcome home 1163 Joe Duckworth a firefighter from Great Britain, Joe you are an Ironman' Does it get any better than that!!!! NO!!
I completed the run in 3:16 for a total time of 10:08:58. In better conditions I'm sure I could have broken 10 hours, but I can honestly say I gave it everything. 2 catchers have to help me to the recovery tent, I don't think I could have made it alone!!
So that was Kona, the greatest day in my sporting life. I have a few people to thank, David, Rick and Jo at Lantec for the great website and the backing form David with kit. First Rate Credit Union for the Bike box, Andy, Heather and Dave at Summit Physio for keeping me in working order, all the lads at work for putting up with the angry little man!! Marlon who made the first week of the trip and kept me grounded, Ian Murphy IMTC for coaching me and trying his best to break me, your gonna have to try harder mate, I'm coming back for more !!! all my training buddies for all the support and encouragement over the year, can't wait to get back to it boys n girls!! and finally my long suffering family who make it all worth while. We're currently enjoying Honolulu and getting some very important family time before I start training for Ironman Lanzarote in May.
I hope you've enjoyed the read, I enjoyed writing it and thanks if you have read the other blogs. I try and inform if I can and I wtite them brutally honestly. I hope you all have a restful off season and enjoy the base training in the good old English weather. I'm off for a Mai Tai!!!!!!!
Take it easy