Kona 2016 was the toughest Ironman of my life to date
Aloha. I went into this years race in the best shape of the season and possibly the best shape I've been in since I started this crazy journey into long course triathlon. I have to say that this time round Kona was totally different to the first, where ignorance was bliss. This time I knew exactly what to expect with the weather, wind, heat, humidity, seas and the incredible athletes present.
The week leading up to the race wasn't without hiccups with stomach issues early in the week which I took care of. All the training sessions had gone really well. The heart rate was a little higher than usual, but that was no surprise with the heat and humidity on the island. So, come Saturday morning, I felt great and couldn't wait to get going, the hay was in the barn all I had to do was rip it all out.
You know your in a big race when there is a CNN helicopter circling above you as you wait for the cannon to sound which it did promptly at 06:55. I had positioned myself over towards the pier this year in an attempt to swim the shortest line possible, and unlike 2014, I positioned myself a little closer to the front of the race in an attempt to find some faster feet to swim on to hopefully swim a faster time. As the cannon went I was pleasantly surprised at the orderly start, until I got my goggles kicked off. Stopping to put goggles back on, 200m into a World Championship event, isn't the easiest of things to do let me tell you, many athletes wanted me out of the way so as to get on with their day, within a few seconds I was at it again. I seemed to get in a good little group of 5 or 6 swimmers all swimming at the same pace, something that happened last time I raced in Kona. Now maybe it's because it's a single loop or me just being soft I don't know, but when you see the buoys marking out the course, it seems like an eternity to the turn round, but eventually we got to the bodyglove boat and did just that. The minute we turned it was evident that we had the tide with us, maybe this was to be a fast swim day. The rest of the swim was nice and steady until the last 200m when we all seemed to come together and other groups joined us. I had a guy in a blue suit who was terrible at sighting, one minute he was swimming away from me, the next coming across me. I decided to push him away with my left arm rather than sink him by swimming over him, the sporting thing to do, or so I thought, he didn't see it like that though and decided to give me a right old breast stroke kick in the left hip, nice!! I stuck nearby after this and we exited the water together in a time of 1:08, ten minutes faster than 2014, then this nasty little Italian started to hurl abuse at me in Italian, a complete waste of effort as I've only recently mastered the English language. I counteracted the abuse with a simple "spaghetti, tagliatelle, cannelloni, what you on about you d$%k" much to the amusement of the guys round me, note to everyone, if you don't like being hit in the water, never take up triathlon!!
T1 was super quick as all I had to do was remove a speed suit and run to the bike (only running I did all day!!) where the shoes were clipped in and the helmet was on the bars, you don't need the number in Kona till the run. And with that it was out onto the 10 mile draftfest prior to the Queen Ka'ahumanu. This can't really be helped due to the amount of bikes on the course and the size of the road. Once on the Queen K it was a case of head down, arse up and get on with it. for the first 30 miles of the bike everything was going swimmingly. With very little wind and a good swim, a PB day seemed to be on the cards. How quickly that was to change though. As we approached Waikoloa the head winds picked up, average speed dropped dramatically and the power went up significantly. By now all the nutrition I was carrying was very warm and not much fun to drink. I think this was the biggest learning opportunity of the day and something I will change should I be lucky enough to go back to Kona. I was trying to counteract this by adding cold water at the aid stations (every 7 miles) but of course this was diluting the drink somewhat. By now I had a partner in crime in the shape of Phil Wilson, a top guy from Yorkshire who I had met during the week and who was riding at a similar pace to me. The winds continued to blow as head and cross winds up to Kawaihae but as we started the ascent to Hawi they became tail winds. The winds on the Big Island are ridiculous and like nowhere else I have ever ridden. I got to the turn round in about 2:45, I was well happy with this due to the amount of wind we had on the way to Hawi, surely I would be much quicker in the way back with the downhill from Hawi and the tail winds from Kawaihae to Waikoloa and to town, surely a bike PB on the course would be on. No, no, no, no!!!!! sure enough for about 20 minutes after the turn round the course was super-fast with speeds in excess of 45mph being reached with little effort, then it happened as it often does on the big island, the wind had shifted. So, with more head and cross winds from Kawaihae to Waikoloa and pretty much back to town it was a total grind. Things started to get away from me at about 90 miles. Phil managed to continue with a great ride but I was struggling to keep the power on, I found myself grabbing Coke and Red Bull at the aid stations in a vein attempt to spark a little life back into what was a failing energy system. All I could do was manage the situation the best of my ability, but mentally it was crushing me watching athletes breeze past. I limped into T2 with a bike split of 5:35. I still thought I would smash the run though, that was until I handed my bike off and the legs refused to run round the pier to the changing tent, nice, just what I need I thought.
The changing tent was hotter than the surface of hell and full of broken athletes, when you consider that we are talking about 10 hour Ironmen at this point, it should give you an indication of the severity of the conditions. The volunteers covered me in ice towels while I got the running kit on, this felt great, but I couldn't sit there for ever. So out I went, my god it was hot!! the run was crap to be honest. I limped up Palani Drive and turned right onto Kuakina where I passed Joey. I told her to re-adjust my timings. I thought I would get round the 10 mile loop and back to her in about 70 to 75 minutes, this was adjusted to 90 minutes based on how bad I was feeling. To be honest I've never been so close to handing in the timing chip as I was at this moment, 26 miles didn't feel possible. Somehow I managed to hang in there, and once she was out of site I though just make it to the aid station get the ice, coke and sponges and see how it goes. The honest truth was I thought after a couple of these the core temperature would start to drop, the gels, coke and salt sticks would work their magic and I would be passing people. I couldn't have been more wrong. I had to revert to walking the aid stations to ensure I got ice in my tri suit, cap and generally soaked myself in cold water. This was only helping for maybe 400 to 600 meters then I was burning up again. This pattern continued for the first 10 miles. When I saw Joey again I had got my head round the potential of a 4 hour marathon, something i haven't experienced before. She looked worried sick, I didn't help matters as all I could do was tap hands with her, I couldn't even utter I'm OK to her, I would have been lying if I had said that anyway, I was completely on my arse!! Up to now I had bits of shade to dive into but that all stopped when I got back on the Queen K, there is nowhere to hide from the sun. The final kick in the bits was the breeze I was looking forward to up there had gone. By now I had volunteers putting cups of ice down my back and tipping full 2 litre bottle of ice water over my head. This was slowing me down considerably as I was spending up to 1:30 minutes in every aid station, but I honestly believe that if I had missed one I wouldn't have finished the race. At mile 16 I entered the Natural Energy Lab, I have to say this was my favorite bit of the marathon, I class this as holy ground, so many massive names have entered and failed in there, and it was the one place I was passing lots of athletes, again these are sub 10 hour Ironmen walking!! once out of the Lab the run back to town was pretty much more of the same. I had a blister on my left foot which was the least of my issues, which decided to pop on the way down Palani Drive which was a bit funky to say the least. As I ran down Kuakina and onto Ali'i Drive the crowds were amazing, I don't care how bad you feel, these crowds will make you move quicker and smile. I saw Joey just as I entered the finishing chute, she looked worried sick but glad to see me in one piece I think. I crossed the line in a time of 10:40 and a marathon spit of 3:50 way off where I wanted to be. When Joey met me after the race I was in a pretty bad way and had definitely left it all out there, she summed it up perfectly "thank god that's over".
So what do you take from a day like that. Well firstly, although I am very disappointed with the result, I am really proud to say I worked my arse off just to finish the run, I could have pulled the plug numerous times but stuck to the task and managed a pretty dire situation to the best of my ability.
On the bike I need to revise the way I store my liquid nutrition when I race in hot countries, something I am already working on.
From a swim point of view I need to learn Italian so I dish a bit of shit out where and when required.
The overview is simple. I am lucky enough to have raced Kona twice, I would love to go every year but just qualifying is a mammoth task and unfortunately its something I cant afford every year. I will be trying to go back again, its the most amazing place I have ever visited with the bonus of holding quite simply the biggest triathlon on the planet, the people are amazing as are the volunteers
As always I have people to thank. Firstly my girls for putting up with me for another season, without thier support I wouldn't even be racing. Ian Murphy for the training program and for being a good friend too. Dave and Janet at Lantec, Graham Bilsborough at GB3, First Rate Credit Union, without you guys I wouldn't have even been able to get to the big Island this year, so a massive thanks and love to you all, I'm sorry I didn't get it right after the faith you put in me. All my friends who have trained with me this year and the guys I compete against, thank you for inspiring me to train harder and get better, its always an honour sharing these experiences with you all
And thats another season gone. I'm taking time off until the end of November with no plan, just gonna swim bike or run when I feel like it just to reset and remember what I love about sport.
Have a great christmas and new year everybody