Every year Endurance Nation is fortunate to have representation on the Ironman® world stage. 2011 is no different with twelve athletes competing against the best in the world. But racing Kona is more than just another event; the location, history, and personal significance combine to create one of the most arduous tests of individual endurance on the planet.
We have already written about Kona on this blog. Our first article was for beginners attempting the race for their first time, and gives excellent insight and perspective on how to handle your first (and perhaps only!) attempt at the race. The second article was more nuts and bolts, looking specifically at how to execute your Ironman® Kona for the best possible result.
In this third article, I’d like to focus on the specific challenges to racing on the Big Island in October. You can solve them as you see fit; my goal is only to make you aware of what the day will throw at you. If you are looking for further details, you can.
The following issues are things you’ll face in the days and hours leading up to the event. Your preparation at this point is more mental than physical, as there’s little else you can do…but knowing these challenges are to come should help you maintain perspective.
#1 — Personal Legitimacy: The running joke is that on Ironman® race week, Kailua Kona is the fittest place on the planet. Not only is your competition fit, so is their spouse and even their children look like they run 15 miles daily before breakfast. This is your first glimpse into the total commitment required to make it to the ultimate level in our sport. But know that everyone else feels the same way about themselves — you ARE here, you ARE going to race, you DON’T need these thoughts in your head!
#2 — Pre-Race Training: Kailua-Kona isn’t that big, and finding safe places to ride and run isn’t the easiest task. Sure you can swim at Dig Me Beach or the local pool, but getting some time in on the road is required as well. Save the runs for close to your lodging and keep them short. As for the bike, I suggest you drive out past the airport and do a ride or two out there on the course so you can feel the wind.
#1 — The Swells: Few triathletes have done a true ocean swim for 2.4 miles. It’s the equivalent of a “rolling” long run, the net being there’s just as much up and down as there is forward progress. Learn to find the rhythm of the waves so you can integrate your stroke instead of fighting the water.
#2 — The Surfboards: They don’t move for you…you have to stay outside the buoys and swim a proper race. The volunteers on the surfboards are fanatical about this; just plan on cooperating!
#3 — The Current on the Return Leg: Swimming back to the King K Hotels is one of the longest stretches in Ironman. It’s long enough on it’s own, but add in a pretty solid current and you’ll really be suffering out there if you don’t have the strength and skills to swim stronger in the second half of your day!
#1 — Holding Back Early: The strongest bikers in the world are here, and at times the start of the race will look more like an Olympic distance event than an Ironman. You might be doing 24 miles an hour in the tailwind before the Airport, but the competition will be doing 28 or 30…ignore them and focus on what you need to ride so that you can be strong on the return trip (see below).
#2 — The Tradewinds out to/back from Hawi: As if the 12 mile climb to Hawi wasn’t hard enough, the island gods have conspired to let super strong tradewinds blow you around the road. I am not exaggerating when I say that you will see people blown six to eight feet in one fell swoop. You will need to figure out how to not only eat and drink with these winds, but how to remain on the road. Note that you can usually judge the effect of the oncoming wind by watching the riders in front of you.
#3 — The Steep Hills on the Return Trip: It’s not just about getting to Hawi and then you are safe. The first is just after you descend from Hawi as you head up to the Queen K. No one remembers this hill and it’s crazy hard. The second is the scenic overlook hill, before you hit the airport. Both are very steep and very hot — the slower you go, the hotter it is. Have adequate gearing and be very smart on your pacing so you can remain steady here.
#4 — The Return Headwind: The last 20 miles bring you back to the tailwind that pushed you out at the start…only now it’s in your face. Being able to remain aero through these miles is critical, as is having the strength to continue being steady.
#1 — Keeping Your Feet Dry: That’s right. The first 10 miles are so hot compared to the bike, that you’ll feel as if combustion is imminent. Your natural instinct is to get cool, but complete immersion will set you up for a miserable 26.2 miles, filled with blisters. Figure out your cooling strategy early on so you can maintain your heart rate and effort and run comfortably.
#2 — Pacing Through (and UP) Palani: The Hawaii run course has two distinct segments. The 10 miles before Palani, and the 16 after. Your second 16 miles really depends on how smartly you can run the first 10. It’s tempting with all the fans to let’er rip, but know that you’ll probably never survive the glute-crushing climb up to the Queen K!
#3 — Running on the Moon: This is not a typo! Running out on the Queen K puts you in the middle of nowhere. No fans. Few buildings. Increasingly distant aid stations. Heat shimmering off the roads. All of this combines to make you feel like the race will never end and that you are doomed. Count the miles, stay focused on what you can control and know that it’s only twenty six point two miles…just like any other marathon!
Making it to the finish line is one of the biggest individual athletic accomplishments in a triathlete’s career. How you get there is up to you. Note the challenges above and start formulating your strategy.. Leave no stone unturned, after all, who knows if you’ll ever make it back! Good luck!