Kona Race Report: Dave Tallo, 10:48

Rich Strauss
This RR will be a bit different than the traditional narrative, but I’m happy to answer any questions about prep, execution and other race things that I overlook here.
You’re Soaking In It, 2011-2012.
Remember the Palmolive commercial?  With Madge, at the manicurist?  Well, that’s kind of my Kona experience.   I qualified at WI in 2011, so I have had a long time to enjoy a victory lap as a Kona Qualifier, and to assume that identity in my self-view.  I guess I’m bringing this up because the race itself was, basically, just like any other race: you swim, you bike, you run, and at the end you thank a volunteer and smile a lot. Where this was different was I have basically been “In Kona” since September 2011.  This has been such an incredible experience, and the race was just one of the moments in the whole package. Truth be told, I feel like the real point, of feeling real joy or jubilation came at qualifying and seeing my name just above the penned line on the qualifier list the day after the race.   The actual preparation for the race and execution that followed were just part of the package.
That’s where my head is now.  I’ve been on a year-plus trip, and I’m just wrapping up.  Truth be told, with it comes a little bit of melancholy that it’s over, but also, I hope, some kind of wisdom that will percolate and get distilled over time.
On to the tech stuff.
Acclimatization and heat management.  If I did it again, I’d follow the same schedule and go to Hawaii just as far in advance as I had this time around.   I arrived 16 days before the race, which permitted adequate acclimatization, where adequate in my mind was determined by whether or not heat would impair my performance in any material way (it did not).   In that 2 week prep, I tried to run and ride during the exact times of the day that I would be racing, which put me in daily work doing some training in the hottest conditions.  I also slept with the AC off and lived the patio door wide open 24/7, and believe it or not, drove around with the windows up and heat turned on in the car for the first week.    Lastly, I followed the ‘Badwater  protocol’ for 1 week before arrival in Hawaii, putting me in a sauna for between 20 and 40 mins daily.   Although there isn’t any evidence that this produces adaptations to performing in the heat, it certainly made the earlier of the sessions more bearable than if I went in … ahem … cold.      Also, ice was the hero of the day for the run, and I took about 4 cups per aid station for my hat, dumping down my shorts, packing in the little back pocket of my shorts above the tailbone, and down my jersey.  I also packed 4 instant ice packs – the kind you break open, that become cold immediately and you put on a swollen ankle or whatever – but these became warm almost instantly, and I would toss them quickly because of the added weight.
Boots on the Ground.   I did a full RR#2 on the course two days after arrival on the island.  As a first timer, this was very valuable for course exploration, but it was also excellent to get a sense of just how different this race is and what the conditions were really like.   Reading or NBC coverage can’t explain it – you just gotta do the course.  More important, it carried no cost of spillover fatigue, and delivered an enormous amount of (1) confidence and (2) input on my race strategy, and particularly reinforcing what the roles of patience and humility need to have in this race.    The last piece, which was an added bonus, was it gave a chance to really sitesee along the course.  I rode on a variety of parts of the Queen K for two weeks, and if I thought something was particularly beautiful, stirring, stark or inspiring (all of which, the course is), I could sit up out of the aerobars and take it in, or pull the car over and sit on the hood with a coffee and chilll.    Best part was it freed up any desire to do so when I needed to be on task on race day.
It is the Poor Carpenter who Blames His Tools.  Starting out in tri, I used to always pack a spare set of contact lenses in my t1 bag in case of a mishap after an early lesson learned.   The last 5 or so races and number of years, I stopped doing that.  For whatever lucky reason, when I was setting up my bike the night before check-in, I thought I would throw a set in my onboard storage just in case.  Well, sure enough, my goggles leaked so badly on the swim that I had to take breaks every 5 minutes or so to stop and adjust them, and I had so much salty water burning my eyes and sloshing around in there that one of the contacts washed out completely.  If it turned another way, I might have been doing the rest of the race squinting out of one eye – which would have been a terrible (and dangerous) day.  Instead, I just grabbed the spare when I got to my bike in t1, asked a volunteer to ‘block’ anyone from bumping me, and popped the lens in.   Good to go.
Iitpctbht, Part 2.   I’ve never blown a tire in a race.  Until Kona.   At 43 mph descending from Hawi.  I had two tubes and two c02s attached to the bike when that happened, and will never again race with anything less.  The ‘backup to the backup’ let me remain calm and treat this as a non-issue, despite otherwise feeling very frayed.   I really ought to have spilled – once it flatted, I went into the wobble – but I somehow managed to stay upright and get to the grass on the side of the road.    If I did go down at that speed, I have absolutely no doubt that it would have been race over, if not game over.
Iitpctbht, Part 3.  I rented a rear PT 808 wheel which I tested and validated against my PT wired mavic on three pre-race rides, on three different pre-race days across on-course terrain of three different types.    But when I got out on the bike, the numbers just seemed off.   Then I started to pay more attention:  when I was coasting, it was registering 65 watts.  And when I was soft pedaling downhill, I was putting out 100%FTP.  However, it took a while to finally confirm this, as I was having an internal dialogue for the first 10 miles to determine if I was just uberstrong because of the taper, or particularly  off in my RPE, or any number of alternate explanations.     Anyhow, at least I still had the Joule staring me in the face with mph and HR, I thought.   Until that crapped out as well. A pretty screen of zeros    So, on to plan b: I’m wearing my Garmin 310, and I seem to remember that it’s a power meter.  But that’s the extent of knowledge I have. So, there I am, riding along the Queen K, trying to (a) keep aero, and (b) program my Garmin to register the powertap, set up and choose fields on the watch display, make sure that it registers bike mode instead of run mode, and so forth.   These are pretty easy things to figure out when you’re sitting at your desk with a pdf of the manual in front of you.  At 24mph, not so much.  Anyhow,  get the bike mode and fields, but I fail to get the Garmin to display power, so I decide to say ‘screw it’ (it took me long enough to figure out that Garmin uses the term “watts” instead of “power” in the watch field chooser, so I’m not about to go all helpdesk for the rest of the ride).   Plan C, then, is ride this puppy out by HR, so I just keep staring at the Joule – now giving me speed and HR, but ignoring the erroneous power numbers it’s displaying, and holding back.    This was also an interesting dialogue, because I had to establish what my HR zones were going to be for the next few hours … something I hadn’t really counted on.    Thinking back to the summer, where I did a LOT of ABP work in long rides, I remember these (a) typically out me in the 140bpms, and (b) were really tough to run afterwards.  So, I sat at 139bmp for the rest of the ride.
The bike postscript to this: according WKO+, my TSS was 350-something.    Riiiiight.    Lesson: buy, don’t rent.  And when your B and C contingencies hit the rocks, roll with it.
In good news, however, I was VERY low for the entire bike, and kept an aggressively tucked head for pretty much the entire ride, including climbs, with the exception of 2 hills near the Vet’s Cemetery and Airport on the return. This position was definitely made easier from the very very low TSS I was putting out, but it was a powerful reminder of how important maintaining that position is in a race situation.
Fig A: Glamourpuss Vanity Shot

Fig Aa: A Subtle Reminder
Fig Ab: What my ‘All Day Position’ Wants to be When it Grows Up
And yet more.    I have a post it note on my computer at work that has been there for at least 6 years.  I look at it every day.  It reminds me:
1.       Don’t get sick.
2.       Don’t get injured.
I got sick the morning before Kona.
What makes this such a great race overall also makes it a great place to catch something.   There’s a very long flight, putting a lot of immune-suppressed athletes in a tube and shipping them over to an island at exactly the time that the first round of bugs are starting to go around in schools.  Then you get there, and it’s like a HS reunion on speed, where you’re seeing everyone you’ve ever known, shaking hands with every expo vendor you’ve ever wanted to score a free “Kona 2012” headsweat visor from, and going shoulder-to-shoulder at the dinner, underpants run, etc etc etc with 2000 of your besties.  In other words, there is no way you cannot get sick before this event, unless you are the bubble boy.  Stats:  I went through four bottles of purel in the two weeks prerace, and it still wasn’t enough.
Anyhow, back to the race. After getting off the bike, I had to stand in t2 re-reprogramming my watch to get it off of bike mode and on run mode (again, I’ve never done this before, so there was a lot of patient pushing of buttons), and then I’m off.    I hate to say this, but the run was actually very easy.  Because I underperformed on the bike, I was running on fresh-plus legs, so  I was seeing a very low heart rate and had a low RPE.  I remember thinking, at about the 5 mile mark on Ali’i, “this must be the coldest day since I got here.”  In reality, it was actually one of the hottest.
Maintained a very conservative pace, and ran it by the plan using HR as the single metric.  At mile 18, I decided my one thing was “count how many bibs I can get.”  I started with a goal of 50, lost count in the 60s (I think this was at about mile 22), and I would ballpark that I regained 250 places between miles 18 and 26.2.  I had spent the better part of the year (if not many years) worrying about running the heat in HI, but it actually turned out to be one of my faster IM marathons, coming in at 3:34:something.
Tech stuff. I rented 808 firecrests, front and rear. The front was a bit too much for race day, and there was a lot of steering twitchiness that put me out of my confort zone on the descents.      If I do it again, I will actually use my H3 that I use for every other race up front, and buy a 1080, h90, or Blackwell/planet X 100 for the rear, and build it on to the PT hub I normally use. No surprises.
I also ran – successfully – a few minor tweaks on the frame (see pics), and the modified profile bottle. This modified jobbie was fantastic, kept everything invisible, and accomplished the “tidy up the wind” issue by filling the space between the elbow pads very fully. I had actually created an articulated piece to the bottle itself that extended it back to the headtube – kind of a prorotype nosecone – but this was where I stored my contact lenses and c02, and I had to tear off the cover (it was attached by Velcro) in t1, and I never got to use it. Anyhow, I’ll build this out more fully to extend and wrap all the way back to the headtube before AZ. I had a short conversation with John Cobb at the expo, who had done tests on this very bike in exploring a variety of hydrations options, and presented his findings in a 2005 ST article. This article points out that he found the profile bottle on the QR Tiphoon actually improved the bike’s aerodynamics (largely because it was an improvement on the bulbous head tube) 9edited.
Fig. B: Frankenbottle
Other gear: I used a Desoto heat jersey and armcoolers all day. Both were great and performed admirably, and the Desoto top was perfect for 3 clifs in the pockets – set it and forget it in t1. I also enjoyed the Craft shorts, and particularly the back mesh pockets above the tailbone for ice storage on the run – this area gets very sore in certain races coming off the bike, and being able to attack it aggressively with something cold is great.
Also ran with a Zoot skin cooler hat with the long cape-thing off the back. Great idea, and it kept me quite cool on the ali’i stretch of the run, but as soon as it gets in the wind, it’s blowing and billowing around, and drove me crazy enough to just tuck it underneath the cap. I’ll probably sew female Velcro to the bottom of the cape, and male Velcro to the top of the jersey, to mate them and keep it from flapping.   Run shoes were Asics DS racers, which have much greater drainage than predecessor models.
Inputs were as normal. At least 2 bottles of water per hour, 1 bottle of Powerbar drink per hour, 1 clif per hour, and 2 salt tabs per hour. Switched to gels instead of clifs at 4h, and continued salt tabs through run.   I’ll carry individual gel packs instead of the big flask in the future, though … there’s a big weight penalty there. On the run, took nutrition at every aid station, alternating between gel and water, and powerade.   Peed every hour on the bike, so I felt like I was on top of hydration, which was my greatest fear.   Used 3 hydration features on my bike on race day – a customized profile bottle, a downtube bottle, and a behind-the-saddle bottle, and I always had a full bottle of something on hand.    With the frequency and size of aid stations at Kona, I will use a profile bottle and behind the saddle setup only next time.
I had the oldest bike (a 2006 Quintana Roo TiPhoon) in the field, I think. I was amazed by how many racers were on brand-new current model year rides. I had some feelings of doubt about my bike being outdated and costing me time in races against today’s superbikes, but I’m past that, and the love has returned. We look forward to coming back to the Big Island together.
Fig 3: Tennessee Stud (See link for inspiration)  
Highlights and energy boosts of the day were seeing Pat, Al T and Natasha Badman on course. Each one lifted my spirits in very different ways and at exactly the right times.
I had a great time, and raced based on the strategy I established. Patience and Humility carried the day, and got me to the finish line with a smile and on two feet. I’m still struggling a lot with the technical time-grabbers during the race, and the time underperformance, though: I had identified a sub 10 goal in the Macro thread early in the year, and had really been training to this. However, I’m reminded again and again that this is Kona, and it takes a long time to get right.
Also, a knock-on from the race is I have never recovered so quickly and been ready to train -not just do exercise, but really train – so soon after an event. I’ve been trying to keep this in check against what I know is a drive to push on, but I am shocked at how fresh I have felt in the runs and swims with week.
Looking Ahead.  The next race is AZ, and I’ll be soliciting advice and input on my strategy in a separate thread.   Something that has started to coalesce in the last few days, though, is a new mindset – namely, if I thought I was motivated to get to Kona before, this experience has made me even hungrier to return. P and I had a short chat post race, and talked about the mental shift to thinking of a Kona slot as being rightfully yours, and something that your AG competition are going to have to take away from you in the future.   I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that happen.

Go here to listen to Dave’s report interview with Coach Patrick




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