It’s been a little over one month since our trip to the Ironman World Championships. I still remember Mike Reilly jokingly saying at the Ironman Australia roll down – if you think the entry fee is expensive, wait till you get to Kona. Well he was right, we might be a little poorer from the trip but there is no doubt we are all richer for the experience, and that is something no amount of money can buy.
So where do I start. Being the World Championships, I was obviously a little more motivated than normal in the months/weeks prior. I was certainly pushing hard, family, work and training, it was harder than ever.
Shortly after qualifying for Kona, I booked a week in Cairns to acclimitise for the race. The only challenge was that I was going to continue working, albeit remotely (love technology). I was fortunate that a friend of the family was generous enough to provide me access to their house which ended up being perfect for what I needed. The local pool was within walking distance, there were plenty of running options and quiet roads to dial in my bike form.
Training at your limits comes with risk, risk of injury and risk of illness. I was looking forward to the AFL grand final long weekend, 3 days to fine tune my prep, but I had pushed my luck a little too much and found myself sick for the best part of the weekend.
For the rest of the week, I seemed to pick up, but the Friday before leaving I picked up another bug, this one really took hold, headache, aching body all the signs of the flu. The result, 3 days in bed. There was no point in stressing, it was out of my control, so all I could do was listen to my body, keep my fluids up, rest as much as possible and maintain a positive mind – thanks to my manager at work (Spencer) for sharing the Cherokee Tale of two wolves.
We departed for Kona on Tuesday, I was not great, still running a temperature, but Em and the boys were pretty excited. We arrived in Honolulu at 6:00am and made our way across the terminal to wait for our connecting flight.
This was a time for the rest of the family to get some sleep as Em was on the go for the whole flight, keeping the boys entertained with cartoons and treats.
We finally boarded our connecting flights and in no time arrived at Kona, what a nice little terminal that is. We grabbed our hire car, squashed all our gear in and made our way to our accommodation, an AIR BnB booking labelled the Treehouse.
Its funny, you can read as much as you can about an area, but until you get there, you don’t really know what the area and terrain is like. We weren’t disappointed.
We settled into our Treehouse and after a little rest, we made our way back into town to get some supplies. I still wasn’t feeling great, but felt I was getting better. At least my temperature had gone. No training, just fluids and rest.
We all had a great nights sleep, and I was feeling somewhat better. We pretty much cruised around on Wednesday, checked out the town, surprised by the number of athletes out training and roosters. We went along to race registration which was much the same as usual, sign your life away, get your race wristband, ogio bag and leave. Today, I decided to go for a light run at dusk, nothing fancy, just enough to get my legs moving which by now had done nothing but carry luggage, Fraser and walk.
Thursday was turtle spotting day and a chance to check out the bike course. But not before I made my way down to the swim course at dawn, which is apparently called ‘Dig Me Beach’. Good thing I wore my Funky Trunks! I checked my bag into the Gatorade tent and made my way out to the water. The next 45minutes was bliss, I just rolled my arms over and enjoyed the moment, floated for a bit, soaked up the view, swam a bit more.
Returning to the Treehouse, Finn and Fraser were buzzing, ready to find their turtle. So after breakfast we headed down the Queen K, eventually turning into a dusty road which led to a lovely rocky beach. After a short walk, we saw turtles, heaps of them, just rolling around in the waves. Pretty cool to see them in their natural environment, just enjoying the water, eating sea weed.
After the turtle spotting, we continued to drive the bike course. It really is an awesome course, the scenery is something else. I had read about the ride upto Hawi and yes, there is a climb, its more gradual though. I had decided that if I was only going to get one ride in before the race, it was going to be around Hawi as I wanted to experience the wind around this section of the course. Well, lets just say that I thought I was going to get blown off my bike, seriously. I kept telling myself it was the afternoon and it surely couldn’t be this windy race morning.
Friday, I decided I would get up early and go for a brief ride along the Queen K, it wasn’t far, only 45mins, but at least I was out and pedaling. I was not particularly encouraged by my power output though, I just couldn’t get upto my race pace, clearly a sign that I was not quite there.
Later in the afternoon, it was down to the bike check in, that was a pretty cool experience, people everywhere, bikes everywhere, it now felt very real. I had heard about the annual count of equipment and it was true, people with clip boards, taking count on who had what helmet, what bike they were riding, what accessories etc.
With the Race starting at 6:55am, it was late start by normal start times. I awoke early, 4:15am, going through my normal routine, grabbed some breakfast and jumped in the car making my way to town with plenty of time to spare. About 10minutes down the road, whilst checking things off in my head, I remembered my timing chip. Slight moment of panic and my relaxed start to the morning became a little more rushed. 20mins later, with my chip now fixed to my leg I was back driving towards town.
By the time I parked the car and started walking towards the transition area, it was nearly 5:30am, so I started my customary sodium load. Today, it went down surprisingly well, which was a great relief given that a). I had been sick all week and b), it was going to be warm so avoiding cramps was going to make or break the race.
What was a little different in Kona was that athletes didn’t get their race number at registration, instead numbers were provided and applied race morning. So you can guess what 2,400 athletes queuing to get a race number was like. After probably 20 minutes of waiting, I made it through, only to then have probably the worst race number application in history. The number didn’t last the swim.
I walked around to the street gear drop off and then lined up for the porta loo. Whilst waiting, the canon fired to signal the pro male start. It was now pretty exciting and I was trying to soak it all in, the crowd lining the shore lines, helicopters and drones flying above and commentators over the PA.
With pre race nerves sorted, I made my way to the race start and into the water. The competitors were spread out, so I was happy to just find a spot and wait.
The Swim (3.8km)
Before I knew it, the canon fired. Although there were a lot in the water, it was not as bad as Zell Am See last year. You can tell by the pictures how spread out the field was. I was somewhere in the bottom right of the shot I guess, 3-4 from the front. Although I had some breathing space, I still copped my fare share of hits to the head, swipes at my legs etc, but that’s expected. The goggles stayed on and I didn’t take in significant amounts of water.
As I hadn’t done any race pace swims for a couple of weeks due to illness, I pretty much just swam at a pace that felt comfortable. This enabled me to enjoy the swim, rolling the arms over and controlling my stroke, occasionally bumping into some swimmers, but generally just cruising along.
I was certainly no where near threshold, nor did I want to be given the past week, but before too long I had made it to the 2 boats at the half way mark and from there knew I had the swim covered.
The return was uneventful, finally finishing the swim in 1:01.
The Bike (180km)
As I had only ridden a very small portion of the bike course, exiting transition on the bike was a new experience. Being a World Championship and with a great crowd around, one could easily be at threshold before they knew it, so I just settled in, grabbed some fluid and followed the rest of the athletes. There were clearly some very enthuastic competitors out as I watched countless guys pass by, this all in the first 30 minutes.
Before long, I was out onto the Queen K and my second concern for the race was in play – drafting. The only problem was, I was stuck in a bunch and having come off illness, I didn’t feel confident pushing, so I just held my position and tried to ride within the rules.
Aid stations were an opportunity to grab water (sometimes to drink, other times to cool down) and electrolytes-gatorade. I had all my nutrition in my bottle so that was one less thing to worry about.
I was surprised by the numbers of riders I was surrounded by and I can’t recall when I last rode an Ironman when I spent so much time on the hoods, it wasn’t a leisurly ride, but equally it wasn’t far from it – around 240 watts.
Although the photo looks like drafting central, it was not as bad as it looked, but it made for a frustrating ride. A lot of riders passed by, riding off into the distance, but I was content to just be patient and enjoy the experience.
We passed a lot of the landmarks I had noted when we drove out to Hawi on Thursday, eventually making the turn to start the climb. Probably 10 minutes into the climb, I was still feeling ok, so I decided to up my pace. I did note a fellow Australian who was in our group before I slipped away – David Buschkuel (it was printed on his top). After leaving David and my now 10 closest friends, I was now finding the power that I had trained to deliver (280 watt-ish). It was going well, passing riders the whole time.
I maintained my nutrition and hydration routine, probably spent way to much time squirting water all over me, but at least I wasn’t overheating. In no time at all I was back on the Queen K and charging back towards town. Passing riders is so motivating although it didn’t matter how many riders I had passed, there was a never ending line of them in front. Oh well, when in doubt push on, maybe I should have applied that mantra a couple of hours earlier.
Passing the airport, I knew I had made some solid progress so I dialed the power back a little and started to prepare myself for the run. Passing the local swimming pool (still don’t believe its free entry), the ride was almost complete, a couple more minutes and I had extracted my feet from my shoes and made the final turn into transition. Entering the disembark zone, I handed my bike over and commenced that awkward ride/run transition.
Bike complete – Time 5:07
My new friend David Buschkuel finished in 5:35 – a solid ride but I’m glad I moved when I did)
My Kona Bike Ride
The Run (42.2km)
I made my way through transition, stopped off for a toilet stop and then proceeded to grab my run bag and enter the change tent. It was a hive of activity, athletes everywhere. Body Glide and socks on, P20 sunscreen applied and finally my race number. I grabbed a quick cup of water and eventually made my way out of the tent. Time – 8min (that’s longer than my coffee breaks at work!).
All things considered, I actually felt OK as I ran out of transition, I downed the first of my gels and made my way out onto Palani Drive. As I hadn’t run the run course, every step was new which was something to look forward to.
Apart from maintaining a consistent pace, I wanted to make sure I remained hydrated and cool, so the aid stations became my mini goals. I had read about the sponges, but never used these, so at the first aid station, I went for a bit of everything, sponges (one behind my neck and another in front) a drink of water and my customary cup of ice. Not too bad although I walked the entire length.
Ali’i Drive was great though, lots of people out on the street, plenty of cheering and distractions. My visits to the aid stations pretty much followed the first which in hind sight was a mistake. Its funny once you allow your mind to settle on something (i.e walking), it just becomes the norm, this approach, although ensured I was cool and hydrated definitely cost me time and looking back now is a little frustrating.
As I do most races, I had written on the Race Program my expected times along the course. For the run, my sister managed an apartment along the race course (and the most popular beach in town), so that was the first chance to see my family and certainly something I was looking forward to. As I had the hire car, Em and the boys had arranged to come down from our accommodation to meet up with the rest of the family.
I had remained pretty much true to my time, arriving at the apartment where I saw my family but Em and the boys were not to be scene. Apparently they hadn’t arrived as yet so you can guess how I went from that point. Lets just say I had to deal with some emotions and then mentally bring myself back to the task at hand, dealing only with what I was in control of, holding my run form, keeping cool and remaining positive.
I reached the Ali’i Drive turn around, knowing that I would soon be passing my family again, maybe Em and the boys would be there now, but it was not to be. I felt bad for my family (Mum, Dad, Alan and Leisl) as I am sure I did not appear appreciative of their support at the time, being more concerned about Em, Finn and Fras. At least I ran off in a better emotional state.
It’s a funny point of the race really, you move from a small road with constant support, onto the Queen K, which being an open HWY was just a long stretch of road. Visibility was so good you could see from aid station to aid station which was something different.
Approaching the Energy Lab, you can see the giant Cliff Bar gantry from the Queen K, but the road bends away from it so you never seem to get any closer to it. However, as you continue to chip away, you eventually reach the turn off, passing the band and reaching yet another aid station. I must say, the red sponges on offer by Cliff were the coolest all day.
Returning out of the energy lab, the uphill did feel a little tough, no doubt the heat, delay in nutrition and fatigue starting to take there toll.
Returning back to the Queen K, it was pretty much the same as previous, run, aid station, run. I was checking off the landmarks on the return, the Marina on the right, Costco on the left. I even started to count the number of street lights. Next landmark, the Target store and I knew once I made it there I had this run covered. Although I had one last hill to run over, the one where Mark ‘the Grip’ Allen made his winning move in 1989, I can’t say I made any move as I ran up it.
Turning into Palini Drive felt pretty good, but after 100m, I suddenly saw my family, Mum, Dad, Alan and Leisl, but even more exciting was Em, Finn and Fraser. I don’t know how, but they had made it and I must say seeing them there more than made up for missing them earlier on.
I was not going to run through this time. I stopped, we embraced and I shared a couple of brief words before I trundled off, now feeling my race experience was complete. With 1km to go, all my aches seemed to disappear, my feet felt lighter and the realisation my ow n project40 had come to pass.
I absorbed every moment as I turned into Palini Drive, the crowd lining the streets, passing under the large Banyan trees and entering the finish chute. This was a moment to savour and I couldn’t help but hold back a smile..
Run complete – Time 3:41
I have had plenty of time to reflect on my journey to Kona and I am humbled to have had the opportunity to participate in the race. Kona really is an amazing course and the race is something I will never forget. I now understand those that refer to it as a spiritual experience.
For me, its really been the months and years preceding that made it mean so much. Everyone has a story, a challenge they overcame, injury that left them sidelined or a race that left them disillusioned. Its the journey that make the moment.
My journey to Kona started when Finn was born a little over 5 years ago and next year Finn will commence his own journey by starting school as a prep. I wanted my Ironman journey to not only make me a better person but also promote a healthy balanced lifestyle, to my family, friends and colleagues.
As Finn enters school, Fraser progresses to Kinder and Em continues to balance being a Mum, wife and professional, I look forward to the journey that lay ahead and the many projects we will share. Who knows, we may return to the Big Island for another dance sooner rather than later.
In closing, the photo below really tells a story. As Parents, we are active in the present but also looking forward, but our children are in the now so make every moment count.