I arrived in Kona with my highest level of bike fitness and solid confidence in my run and my run execution plan. As I noted to several other athletes here during the week, Kona is one of those races where you can’t really impose your will on the day. I take that back — I think you can but you need to be in excellent physical and mental condition, have a solid strategy and ultimately some great fortune as well.
But first my gratitude. Obviously this race is special, and getting here was the result of many weeks, months, and years of hard work. But there are a few folks who really have stepped above and beyond — you know who you are! Most importantly this race was also our 10th wedding anniversary — in 2004, a very young Maura and I traveled to Kona to watch the Ironman as newly wed tri geeks. 3 years before I would qualify for my first…but the start of the most incredible decade of my life (this far!). Thanks for EVERYTHING, baby.
My plan to arrive on Tuesday AM was thwarted by Hawaiian Airlines and some bad luck. I lost 15 hours and all of my Tuesday, landing at 10pm. This made for a slightly more stressful start than I had hoped for, but not terrible. My Wednesday busy from 7am until 9pm with three workouts and lots of admin before the Team Dinner. I was exhausted.
My strategy was to swim twice to get comfortable in the water — check. I also wanted to bike and run closer to race place with the goal of accelerating the heart adaptation. I rode 80′ on Wednesday followed by a 20′ run. Both were hot and windy but not terrible. I feel like the acclimatization was good but I didn’t recovery enough after those sessions to really reap the rewards. NOTE: Factor in more recovery time.
In the same thought, the Underwear Run proceed to be too much. It was my first time there and I had fun, but not a good idea to stand around for two hours in the heat that close to the race.
The wind and the heat were both high all week, and it was on my mind but I wasn’t particularly nervous.
The Swim — 1:12:xx
I decided to line up about 50 ft to the left of the pier. I was about 5 folks back and ready when the cannon sounded. It was about crowded at first but not too bad. I was able to swim the line quite well and was comfortable. But I think I was perhaps a little too comfortable — I was swimming smoothly but was unable to swim at a race tempi. I think the fitness was there, I am chalking it up to intimidation of the swim and the chop. Because it was wavy and choppy and not fun. I generally breathe to my left and it took me a full mile on the return to realize that I was swallowing water and should have been breathing to my right. Dowh.
I had also been working on a new breathing cycle of 2-3-2-3 count breathing and never really put that into play. Bottom line is that I just kind of cruised the swim.
No idea lb the time here but I felt pretty solid. The swim skin came off and I put on my arm coolers and put the salt pill canister in my left hip pocket. I grabbed my shoes and began jogging to my bike. A quick stop for sunscreen and I was off.
The Bike — 5:16:xx
My goal here was to ride a steady, aggressive effort. Steady in terms of VI but also focusing on not picking up the effort in the final 1.5 hours when it’s hotter and headwind-ier, which had her me in the past. Aggressive in terms of riding 260 watts, a target that I had trained at but never raced at.
Everything started off as planned with a smooth transition and a clean first 7 miles thru the Hot Corner and Palani. Out on the Queen K I settled down to get to work.
I was riding well, was on my hydration and very aero. It was crowded but no more than usual. Then suddenly I looked up from a quick glance at my computer and there was a racer right in front of me who was club 17mph to my 25mph. My only guess is that the group I was riding off the back of just went right around him — both sides — and he was spit out in front of me. In my aerobars I could only yell and serve to the right. I hit his derailleur and pushed him forward as I went down on my right side. Man, it hurt. Luckily I slid off to the shoulder where no one was riding. I popped up quickly and made sure the bike and I were OK before taking off again. For the first time in my life it appears as though I had crashed the right way. The Arm Coolers helped minimize the Arm damage so it was really just my right shoulder blade and right knee. After a few miles I felt the back of my right knee getting sticky and figured it was the blood. But after reading into my pocket for a gel I realized that all four of my gels had been sacrificed as mini airbags during my crash. 🙁 Thankfully I had backups in my special needs bag out in Hawi.
Once I was rolling again I was just out of it. I was not ready to get super aero sure to my fear and my hip was tight and the roads were crowded. I could tell my aura of invincibility was facing fast. And then the surprise headwinds started. 30-40mph where we usually have a tailwind or at least some calm. Suddenly the road was crowded again as few folks wanted to go it alone. This section alternated hard work with no work depending on your position relative to the group. Not fun and not very safe either. My biggest pet peeve was that no one wanted to pull over to the right after completing a pass — they were riding like an echelon and there’s only enough room for four folks to do that properly. The climb to Hawi certainly helped to sort things out. When I finally reached the turnaround I had to stop to grab more fuel.
The return trip was work, as expected. But after the challenging outbound section Italy was lacking mojo here. The watts weren’t bad but they weren’t what I wanted. I was the one getting passed this time instead of doing the passing. I tried to stay aero and fueled up for the run.
I had a clean dismount and enjoyed a nice pee (also peed once on the bike) before heading into the tent. My second transition had a lot of moving parts. I feel like I did the best I could but there’s probably some solid free speed to be had there.
The Run — 3:33:xx
I had no idea what to expect when I started the run. After my pity party on the bike and then the subsequent 2.5 hours of suck,the run was going to be interesting. I resolved to take it one mile at a time and see what happened.
My race plan had me running my bike HR — or as close as I could — for the first ten miles along Ali’i Drive. After that I would ramp it up to start running. Things started just fine — my HR was in a good place and I could run and eat. While I wasn’t concerned about actually racing at this point, my pace seemed to put me right in the middle of those coming and going. I wasn’t surprised to see more than a few walkers even this early.
The out and back went by pretty quickly and it was great to see so many friends out there. By the mile 5 point I had settled on forcing my arm coolers and adjusted my tri top for maximum cooling. But I was running into another issue — Aid station pacing.
I knew it was bad when Dave Tallo almost knocked me over at mile 7. Basically I was out running folks between aid stations but I was talking so long to get fluids and ice that they would put another 250m on me before I started running again. This was an issue that plagued me all day on the run. So I am super happy with how well Iran across the entire marathon…but I am bummed that I ran a 3:32(?) but stopped at 24 aid stations that added up to at least 10 minutes!
But back to the race… I ran up Palani for the first time ever and it was awesome. I continued rolling out the Queen K and while it was long, I was strong through the Energy Lab. There was a slight tailwind out — making it very hot — tapering nice cross in/out on the Lab and a slight headwind back. Combined with the cloud cover, it was hot but not mercilessly so.
At the turn around there I used the Porta John to lay down some very-not-yellow pee…and proceeded to drop my FuelBelt three times. Ugh.
The return to Kona was tough but I had no cramps or nausea or dizziness. I was able to eat at almost every aid station and could even put down two 7:30 minute miles at the end!
Man, I was pumped to finish and it showed on my face! This race is something special and the finish vibe really captures it. I made my kit adjustments and planned out a few hand signs for the folks watching at home — no gang sign this time. I took a few high five and crossed in just over 10:12.
Not my fastest or my alway but certainly a race I am proud of. Afterwards I felt a little off and used a few minutes to walk around and chat people up. I felt surprisingly good given my crash because I was smart on the run and really are and drank well. In fact while I kept drinking all night, I only had two very small slices of pizza around 11p. Contrast that with IMLP 2009 when I ate a while pizza at the finish!!!
Positive Lessons Learned
Thanks to my teammates for helping me continue to question the status quo and improve.
1) Arm Coolers Better on the Bike
John With row mentioned it and I definitely felt this one the race. The Arm Coolers helped keep the sun off and held the water I sprayed. Super! On the run though, I didn’t feel any positive effects. They were just heavy and warm so I dropped them at mile 9.
2. Trucker Hat Too Hot?
I love having the shade and the ice depository, but I think that the heart cost here in Kona is too much. I ran with the hat thru mile 19 and then ditched it.
3) Modified Tri Bibs
Given the heat and sun I was having doubts regarding my DeSoto tri bib shorts. Al Truscott recommended that I pull the bib shorts straps down our my arms but under my tri top — this kept my shorts on but allowed me to pull the fabric down around my waist. Epic.
Room to Improve
While I am not here to win anything, I am interested in having a great race. Here are my thoughts on improvement from easiest to most challenging:
1. Improved Body Composition — I probably won’t ever get two weeks to acclimate to the heat here, so the best way to reduce the effects of the heat is reducing the mass I carry. Target would be 175 lbs.
2. Swim Fitness — I was swimming better but not long enough to be ready. I needed some longer swim sets with mixed in intervals to help me maintain a complete swim focus.
3. Serious Sunscreen — Once again my right side is pretty fried. This despite the separate applications of sunscreen. I think I’ll go for the Bullfrog stuff next time and put it on with help before the swim start over my entire back before putting on my tri top. I might also consider a tanning booth for a few visits to prepare my skin for the sun.
4. Kona Specific Gear — I am not sure I can wear my tri bibs in the future; as I was warm under my swim skin as well as the rest of the day. While it’s my preferred gear, I think the heart rate cost might be too high.
I am also curious about the thick headbands written by some of the Pros. Wonder if that would allow me to feel cooler VS a cap.
In the same been as weight costs, I might consider ditching the FuelBelt with my sodium solution and just staying setting with salt pulls and the occasional packet of Gatorlytes as needed. I can carry all of that in my pockets and use a racebelt to hold my gels, for example.
Finally, I think I might have to consider a return to the cooling towel. Perhaps not the full deal but even just a bandana around the neck. Might have to talk to Dave Tallo about his ice pack solution as well since my bibs, even if modified, have a rear pocket that could hold it.
If you are still reading, thanks. I hope my report has she’d some light on the day as well as stage relentless quest for improvement that is my triathlon journey. Hope to see you on the island sometime soon!