The Complete Ironman® Hawaii Breakdown

Coach Patrick at Ironman Hawaii

Endurance Nation Kona Race Week Camp: 10/2 to 10/12/2015
Join Coach Patrick for the ultimate pre-Kona race build up! Patrick has raced in Hawaii six times, and will be your personal guide to make the most of your trip to the World Championships. The camp is open to racers and spectators alike — there’s nothing like Kona Week on The Big Island!

>> Learn More & Make a Deposit Here

What is the swim like?

The one-loop, non-wetsuit ocean swim in Kona is one of the toughest in the sport. The ever-present swells and chances of choppy water can really wreak havoc with your stroke. Don’t forget the tidal current that typically pulls swimmers out, leading to a fast first half and slow second half of the swim. You should be prepared for multiple pace changes and the need to finish strong against a potential current. Don’t fight the water, however, as that will make for a long day…just swim your swim.
I’ve heard the Kona bike is tough…how tough?

The bike course is a combination of two out-and-backs portions. The first is very short and steep in town, mainly admin miles. Be cautious here, however, as it’s tempting to ride aggressively and the roads get clogged quickly. The second out and back is the real deal to Hawi. For the most part you should have a slight tail wind out to Waikoloa, when the crosswinds kick in just before the road starts to kick up at you head to the turn in Hawi. Enjoy the free speed and do your best to eat and hydrate well…both become extremely hard to do when you are holding on to your bike in 25-mph gusting crosswind.

Due to the course layout, your halfway point isn’t actually in Hawi…making a physically challenging ride very mentally tough as well. Add to that the fact that the winds increase late morning, making that gentle tailwind you had out into a nice headwind on the way back. Suddenly all these hills appear you never noticed on the way out. Kona, just like any other Ironman course, rewards the smart, patient, and disciplined cyclist. Strength can be a liability on this course, if you don’t know how to use properly. We highly recommend you read our “Climbing Smart on RaceDay” article. It’s helped thousands of athletes have great races on hilly courses.

Knowing that the latter half of the bike is significantly harder will enable you to pace yourself properly. It’s very tempting to chase the competition early on, but remember that there’s a very tough marathon still on the schedule…and that’s where the true potential of your race will be realized.
I’ve heard the Kona transition is crazy? Something about astroturf!?

While they do cover the pier with astroturf, it’s nothing special. Know that transition is laid out so that everyone has to run pretty much the same distance to all of the bikes…there are no short cuts! Coming off the bike, know that the aid station inside transition is the only one for 1 to 1.5 miles…if you neglect to stop here you’ll have a very long (and hot) first mile. In fact the hardest part about transition is checking in, as every competitor is accompanied by a volunteer and you really have only one quick shot to drop your stuff and get your bearings.

Ok, what is the run like?

The run course in Kona is a tale of two courses. You have the incredibly humid 5 miles out / 5 miles back stretch along Alii drive, and then the hot and hilly 8 miles out / 8 miles back on the Queen K to the Energy Lab. This one-two punch is usually just enough to finish off all but the most prepared.

Without a doubt, being able to manage the heat is what will make or break your run. Dress appropriately and know what you need to do to stay cool both in the humidity and in the direct heat of the lava fields. Keeping your core body temperature and heart rate down in the early stages of the run will ensure you’ll have something left for the end when it matters.

Once you have suffered up Palani, you leave the relative comfort of Kailua and the spectators for a solitary mind-bending run through the lava fields of the Queen K and into the Natural Energy Lab. There is quite possibly no single flat part on this latter segment, with rolling terrain that defies your mind’s efforts to ascertain where you are…and how much you have left in the tank.

Once you make the descent down Palani, however, adrenaline takes over and there’s little else to do but cruise in and soak up one of the longest (and coolest) finishing chutes in all of triathlon.

What Can My Family Do on Race Day?

If they want to see you on the bike, the quick out and back is nice. For the adventurous, there is a shuttle out on the Queen K, but most folks stay in town and swim at the beach / relax. There’s a jumbo TV downtown broadcasting the Pro race and plenty of places to eat. Some might even enjoy swimming. Everyone will want to be on the course early for the run (about 12:30pm) as the Pros start ripping the course up with elite Age Groupers not too far behind.

In fact, if you look at the run map, you’ll see that your family can station themselves near the bottom of the hill on Palani and can catch you coming and going many times before dashing to the finish line to see you wrap up your day!

What’s the Biggest Mistake I Could Make?

Course aside, it’s racing outside of your ability. Not respecting the race for what it is — a collection of the world’s best triathletes on one of the toughest courses anywhere — is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. We highly recommend that you commit yourself to cruising the swim and bike until you are descending from Hawi. At that point you can dial things up to Steady and begin your day or racing. Coach Rich rode a 5:12 and qualified for Kona in 2002 at Ironman Wisconsin doing just this: a 72 mile bike ride after a 40 mile warmup.

What is the Temperature Like on Race Day?

Temps for KONA have historically been in the mid- to upper-80s. This is compounded by the humidity and the radiant heat off of the asphalt and lava. Your best bet is to be ready for a very hot day, both gear-wise and nutritionally speaking. At the end of the day, everyone else has to race under the same conditions!
As you approach race day, remember to relax and enjoy the journey. There are few times in our lives when we can honestly say, on this day, in this sport, I competed against the best in the world. Don’t ruin the next few weeks – and race day – by crushing yourself. Focus on what matters and save all the hard core training for your run at qualification next year.


Coach P

All stories by: Coach P

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