Anyone who has any interest in triathlon will know of the lure and the mystique surrounding the story of the famous inaugural Ironman triathlon, that was held in 1978 in Hawaii. A challenge to include the 3.8km Waikiki Roughwater swim race, the 185km Around-Oahu Bike Race (originally a two-day event) and the Honolulu marathon!
Today Kona is the home of the Ironman World triathlon championships, and is considered to be one of the toughest one day races around. Qualification to race at Kona is a dream of many, but achieved by only a few.
This year two Sportstest coached athletes made it to the start line in Kona (as well as several other clients and friends). Ed Bales was kind enough to put together a race report and some tips for those others that may be looking to qualify:
Ed’s Road to Ironman Kona 2015
The Build Up
It all started with a phone call to Garry Palmer of Sportstest back in December last year to give me the kick in the backside necessary to get back training and racing. I had previously completed three Ironman events, but had two years off due to exams and it was starting to show.
When I spoke to Garry we discussed numerous challenges and decided on the goal of attempting to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. Whilst I had already completed a few Ironman events, I thought qualifying for Kona had previously been out of my reach, but Garry convinced me I should just go for it.
After a month of structured training I booked in a Sportstest with Garry to see what shape I was in and work out what we needed to focus on over the coming months. As predicted my endurance level was way off where it needed to be and my body fat level was less than ideal! Garry therefore prescribed lots of low intensity long sessions for the first few months before we started to work on some more power specific sessions.
After hundreds of hours of training from January through to July, I raced at a wet and cold Ironman UK in Bolton. I managed to finish in 10 hours 10 minutes, which placed me 5th in my age group (25-29). There were four slots available in my age group and when one athlete decided not to take his slot I knew I was going to be packing my bags for the World Championships! This ecstatic feeling was short lived when I realised I was going to be racing again in only 12 weeks against the best in the world in the legendary Kona heat, humidity and winds.
The following months were spent training and researching all the necessary additional equipment required for racing on the other side of the world. I owe a massive thanks to my employer Prime Retail Property Consultants who helped by paying for my flights and Hubb and Rudy Projects who generously provided discounts on equipment for Kona Qualifiers.
On Garry’s advice I also treated myself to a power meter to help pace the bike leg, as heart rate is not so accurate with the heat. This meant another trip to the pain cave (Sportstest Lab) and this time the results were looking more positive.
— Sportstest (@Sportstest) August 15, 2015
When I landed in Hawaii the heat and humidity certainly lived up to its reputation and the pre race week was spent learning to survive in the heat, training and enjoying the pre race build up.
As I knew I wasn’t going to be pushing for a top finish I really just tried to focus on enjoying the build up and atmosphere with all my amazing family and friends who had made the effort to travel halfway across the world just to watch me race. Thanks guys I couldn’t have done it without all your support and encouragement
At 6.55 am the men’s age group cannon fired and we all started the 2.4 mile swim. I knew it was going to be especially aggressive due to the calibre of athletes. I focused on just keeping moving forward and trying to draft where I could and managed to exit the water in the middle of the pack with a time of 1 hour 7 minutes. In hindsight if I could have got out of the start faster I think I may have had a more clear water but that’s something to work on for next time.
The transition all went smoothly and before I knew it I was out on the bike heading out to the airport, having completed the short loop in town, and managed to see my family and friends. They say that in the first quarter of the bike its hard not to draft and now I understand why. The shear volume of people exiting T1 together means it’s almost impossible not to, however the marshals were out in force. The first half of the bike went well and I just focused on sticking to my power / HR, which Garry and I worked on in the build up, as everyone blew past me. I knew this would happen and just let them go, hoping I would catch them on the run in the heat. On the way back into town I just focused on keeping the fluids and nutrition going in and staying as aero as possible, especially into the last 50 km of head winds. I finished the bike in 5 hours 19 minutes, which I worked out with some basic maths could set me up for a sub 10 hour finish provided I could run well off the bike.
After hearing it was the hottest race day in the last 8 years I threw as much ice down my tri suit as possible in T2 and then headed out onto the run course. The support over the first 16 km out and back along Ali’i Drive was amazing, with crowds of people cheering everyone on. At every aid station I focused on getting my fluid / nutrition in and ice down my tri suit in places ice should never normally go! I felt strong on this section and passed lots of competitors, making sure I resisted the temptation to run above 13.5 km per hour as I knew I would pay for it later in the heat.
Once I ran back through the crowded town and out onto the Queen K for the second section of the run I knew the race was really starting. Temperatures were rumoured to be into the low forties in parts, so I just tried to focus on staying as cool as possible and keeping my heart rate at a sensible level. I was passing more and more people, which psychologically helped massively, however the lack of crowds does make it feel a little more lonely. On the plus side I did get to see the pros come flying past on the other way and give them each a cheer. It sounds sad but as a massive fan of the sport it’s amazing to be able to compete on the same stage as the best in the world, and also see so many Brits do so well.
The Energy Lab certainly lived up to its reputation with people walking left, right and centre. A number of seasoned Kona age groupers and even pro Pete Jacobs told me before the race to just focus on moving forward through this section run, walk or crawl. Once I reached the turn around I just concentrated on getting myself out of the Energy Lab and back onto the Queen K for the last 10km stretch home. I struggled with this last section as my stride shortening and my pace dropped. I tried to think of it as just a short training run, but I could tell my body was starting to shut down and I was pleased I had paced myself up to this point.
This all changed though as I dropped down into town as suddenly I could hear the crowds and knew it was a mater of minutes to the finish. After unnecessarily racing down the finish chute in past events, I decided this time to make sure I savoured the once in a lifetime moment of running down Ali’i Drive as the atmosphere was truly electric. I made sure I found my family and friends in the crowd who had been out supporting me all day and gave them high fives and hugs before crossing the line in a time of 9 hours 53 minuets with a marathon of 3 hours 18 minutes.
This was a new PB and good enough for me to place 257th overall, including pros, 32nd in my age group and 19th overall from Great Britain. For my first race in Kona I honestly never thought this would have been achievable, especially considering I only started training again back in January. It just shows that with the help of a great coach, the right sort of preparation and supportive family and friends, you can achieve far more than you ever think.
Before heading out to Kona Garry gave me loads of tips and I spent hours researching YouTube, Blogs and websites for top advice for the race, so I thought I would share a few key ones that really helped me:
- If it’s your first time try and focus on enjoying the experience. You will likely have a much better time by not putting any pressure on yourself and saving your ‘need to smash it’ attitude for your second trip.
- Enjoy race week and make sure you get involved in the parade of nations and underpants run. They really are good fun and it’s a great way to get your family and friends involved. Also make sure you get down to the pier early in the mornings for some training swims and celeb spotting.
- If you’re from the UK make sure you get out on the bike / run course during the week before and make sure you experience the course conditions first hand. They really are unique and it helps prepare you for the day itself.
- Whilst the swim is a simple out and back, the return leg takes longer (6 minutes for me) due to the currents, so don’t panic if the way back feels slow.
- Don’t go crazy in the first hour of the bike. You will have plenty of time to pass people the second half of the bike and on the run, which psychologically helps enormously.
- Get used to being down on the bars for long periods of time in training as the bike course and head winds reward athletes who can stay aero for long periods.
- On the run, pace yourself up to the Energy Lab and make sure you are getting enough fluid, nutrition and ice at each aid station. You may feel like you are wasting time but this years winner Jan Frodeno walked through each station and still managed a crazy 2 hour 52 minute marathon!
Both Ed and Matt performed excellently in Kona and did themselves proud. Hard work and dedication paid off, and it was a pleasure to work with them.
So, if you are thinking of getting to Kona, or even just completing your first triathlon, contact us, and we will do our best to get you to the start in the best possible shape.
We look forward to hearing from you