Kona 2012 Race Report
Ever since my 2009 effort at the Ironman World Championships, I have felt like there was some unfinished business that needed to be tended to. I desperately wanted to place in my age group and earn a spot in the top 10 for all amateurs. My physical fitness did not match my ambition, and over the past three years, one of my main sporting goals has been to come back and accomplish what I could not initially.
Based on my 2009 experience, I knew the biggest thing that I needed to improve was my cycling. It is demoralizing for even the best runner to have to overcome 300 places in the run. I incorporated more intensity into my weekly rides, especially in my long rides. I purchased a new, more aerodynamic frame, I went to bike fit specialist Dave Luscan to help get my position as efficient as possible, and I incorporated more structured indoor trainer rides into my weekly program. The hope was that I would not necessarily be the fastest cyclist out on the Queen K, but I would be within reach and ready to run like an animal once I got off the bike.
Katie Thomas, a super fast triathlete from Winchester, VA, was racing her third Hawaii Ironman. I was very fortunate to have a friend racing, and we went into the ocean together and waited for the cannon. With so many people in the water, and with such a monumental task in front of you, it is comforting to have a friend there with you before it gets going.
Oddly enough, the cannon was malfunctioning, so with a less climactic “go go go!” from Rick Reilly, everyone was off. Of course the first few moments of the swim were hectic, but fortunately for me, they were not nearly as harrowing as what I remembered from my first trip. I was able to find some space almost instantly and get into a rhythm. There was some swell in the ocean, and it seemed like it took forever to get to the turnaround boat. I would move from one pack to another, and almost every time, I would hook up with the back of the pack, and the effort would be way too easy. I knew that my overall time would not be super, as I was catching groups of swimmers that I could easily break off from and bridge to the next group. With about half a mile to go, I sighted up to a group about 50 meters in the distance, and I decided to put my head down and close the gap. I had one other guy to help me in this task, and before we knew it, we were on them. I worked through about half of the group before we reached the end of the swim and I got on my land legs. Swim was a bit slower than I was hoping for/expecting, but all in all, I was in ok position.
The bike in Kona is really unlike anything you can try to recreate in Virginia. The mix of hills, heat, and wind is unique and presents an extremely challenging ride. I was aiming to ride the first 35 miles with an average 255 watts, then increase to 270-275 on the climb up to Hawi before descending and spinning out going down the climb. Then I was going to get back on the 255 watt rhythm and finish out. The first 30 miles out of town was fast with a tailwind, but even though I was just over my goal watts, I was still getting passed by a ton of cyclists. There is a steady downhill right before the start to the climb, and it just so happened the wind was directly behind us going downhill. I reached a new personal record for speed on my TT bike, maxing out of my gears and reaching 52 mph. Scared the you know what out of me. Props to the cyclists who can go even faster down mountains!
However, once the climb started, the tailwind became a thing of the past. For more than half the climb the winds were something fierce. I have never been in anyting like it. It felt like I was riding my bike through a tornado. Apparently the weather said there were gusts of 35-40 mph, and guys were just sailing across the road, succombing to the pressure of the intense crosswinds. I ended up averaging 295 watts for 15 minutes in this section, and I averaged 14 mph. It was a little rough. Luckily when we turned around, the wind was almost completely at our backs, so the descent was not too sketchy. I still felt really good, and I was now passing many of the cyclists who had gone out way too fast in the first 40 miles. Confidence was up, body felt good, everything was going great.
Then I got my first ever penalty. A rider passed me going down the climb, and it is my responsibility to drop back four bike lengths after being passed. So once the rider overtook me, I stopped pedaling and sat up, got a bottle to drink and stretched out for a bit. Next thing I know, a motorcycle pulls up to me and the course marshall tells me it took me too long to fall back to the legal distance, so I got a red card and had to stop at the penalty tent for 4:00. While I agree it was a fairly applied penalty, I do think it’s silly that in order to not break the drafting rule, I would have had to apply my brakes. Lesson learned, I guess. As it turned out, I was able to use the penalty effectively, stocking up on fluid at an aid station right before the tent, drinking two bottles of fluid and stretching while I was in there. Once my time was up, I was feeling refreshed and ready to go. For the remainder of the ride, I stuck to my race plan, averaged right at 255 watts, and finished the bike feeling strong, ready to start running.
After a swim that I felt was a bit lackluster and a bike that saw me on the receiving end of my first penalty, my competitive spirit was tinkering on the edge. It’s a bit intimidating when you have high goals for yourself, and with only the run portion left, you have over 140 people in front of you. Fortunately, there are 26 miles to run, so there was plenty of time to get over feeling sorry for myself and move on to reeling people in.
Usually the first few miles of an Ironman feel downright miserable, and I can loosen up and get into a rhythm after 10-15 minutes. This time around, I felt great pretty much out of transition. My first mile was 6:22 followed by a 6:08. I decided I’d rather not walk the last 10 miles, so the next 3 were done at a more manageable 19:56, followed by 3 more at 19:44. It was certainly encouaging to be passing so many athletes who were struggling in the heat.
When I got to Palani, I braced myself for what was to come – a long stretch of hot, desolate road with few spectators. Surprisingly when I got up there, there was a nice breeze coming off the ocean that I hadn’t felt down on Ali’i Drive.
Around mile 13 I started cramping up a bit, and as I was running and working out a side stitch with my right arm, a competitor who I was passing offered me two salt tabs. Though he spoke limited English, he could obviously tell through my body language that I was hurting. I thought it was a great show of sportsmanship, and I wish I could have talked to him after the race.
After about a mile, the cramps subsided, and I got back to it and continued to gain time on the field in front of me. At the turnaround at the Energy Lab, I counted that I was the 18th amateur, so I knew I was close! I still felt good and continued running steady and as effortlessly as I could. Back up on the Queen K, I had moved to 15th with a couple guys in the distance. So at mile 23, I decided to commit to the end, and I changed my cadence and started a long kick to Ali’i Drive. I actually felt great after doing this. I felt strong, and I started really catching guys in front of me. I was making up huge time, and by the time I hit the top of Palani, I was 10th amateur with 9th in sight. I caught him at the bottom, put in a huge surge to make sure he wouldn’t get any crazy ideas of coming with me, and then I carried it all the way to the end.
I am very pleased with my race, but my one regret is that I didn’t start racing to the finish earlier. I have seen tremendous progression in my IM runs. In my first in 2007, I bonked around mile 17 and walked/jogged to the end. In 2008, I ran the entire way but slowed considerably in the last third. In 2009 in Kona, I had a nice race where I was able to run without slowing in the last 10k. This year in Texas, I PR’d and averaged sub 7:00/mile for the marathon. My recent race in Kona was the first IM run where I have maintained sub 7:00/mi pace, then was able to race in the last 10k. I finished strong and knew I had left something out on the course. I know now that I should have gone at least 3 or 4 miles earlier. So that is disappointing, but I know I can do it now, and next time out, I’ll have the confidence to go earlier, knowing I won’t blow up.
I finished 38th overall in 9:12:38. I placed 3rd in the 30-34 age group, and I was the 9th amatuer overall. So when all was said and done, I accomplished the goals I had for myself. I no longer feel that I have unfinished business on the Big Island, and I am ready to move on to some new challenges. I will apply to race as a professional triathlete in 2013, and I will hopefully continue to progress and grow as an athlete, a teacher and a husband with this new opportunity.
Big thanks to my wife Tori, my parents, 3Sports, CORE Fitness, First Endurance, Richmond Multisports, SetUp Events-VTS, Bikes Unlimited, Dan Ballin, the swim group at the JCC Rec center, Richmond Velosport, and all of my friends and family who continue to support my athletic journey.