Kona 2013…done and dusted

 I’ve been sitting on this for a couple of weeks wondering how I was going to put together a race report for my recent trip to Kona and the Ironman World Championships. So much goes into qualifying and training for the Hawaiian Ironman the old saying of "it’s about the journey, not the destination" came to mind. However on reflection and after experiencing such a great trip and race I thought it didn’t really ring true and "it’s about the journey and the destination" sounded more applicable. Kona, the lava fields and everything that went with it was a fantastic experience in more ways than one. 

 
The journey to Hawaii started months out, encompassed a lot of people and taught me a lot about myself. Getting through the months of training that included on average 15-20 hours a week of swimming, cycling and running, without an injury was a feat in itself, Holly, Oscar and I headed to Honolulu and onto the big Island of Hawaii 8 days before the race to give enough time to train on the course, acclimatize and get ready for the race. 
 

 I’ve been sitting on this for a couple of weeks wondering how I was going to put together a race report for my recent trip to Kona and the Ironman World Championships. So much goes into qualifying and training for the Hawaiian Ironman the old saying of "it’s about the journey, not the destination" came to mind. However on reflection and after experiencing such a great trip and race I thought it didn’t really ring true and "it’s about the journey and the destination" sounded more applicable. Kona, the lava fields and everything that went with it was a fantastic experience in more ways than one. 

 
The journey to Hawaii started months out, encompassed a lot of people and taught me a lot about myself. Getting through the months of training that included on average 15-20 hours a week of swimming, cycling and running, without an injury was a feat in itself, Holly, Oscar and I headed to Honolulu and onto the big Island of Hawaii 8 days before the race to give enough time to train on the course, acclimatize and get ready for the race. 
 
2013 was the 35th edition of the Hawaiian Ironman which was originally raced back in 1978 to settle a bet between members of the Mid-Pacific Road Runners and the Waikiki Swim Club as to who were the fittest athletes, swimmers, cyclist or runners. Captain John Collins, a US Navy Officer and keen open water swimmer decided the best way to settle the argument was to put together an event that comprised of three existing races, the Waikiki Rough Water Swim (3.8km), the Round Oahu Bike Race (180km) and the Honolulu Marathon (42.2km). Collins nodded to a local runner famous for his notorious workouts and said "whoever finishes first- we’ll call him the Ironman". 15 hardy souls lined up in 1978 with no idea of how to train or race for such an event. The local runner, US Navy Communications Specialist Gordon Haller crossed the line in 11 hrs 46 mins and 58 sec to become the original Ironman. In subsequent years some of the originals took longer than 24 hours to complete the event with John Collins son reading the results in the next days paper while still out on the course! The event has evolved considerably on all levels since the early days. 2013 saw 2100 competitors on the start line, all of who had to qualify at another Ironman to earn their start. Incidentally Gordon Haller and John Collin’s son Michael were competing again in 2013.
 
Having followed the sport since my early days as a triathlete the week spent training on the course was pretty special. Riding the Queen K highway early in the morning out to the bike turnaround at Hawi, seeing where the German uber bikers tore the race apart in the mid 90’s, experiencing the heat and the winds on the highway, running along Ali’i Drive, swimming in the beautiful 26 deg water in Kailua Bay with the lava bottom and abundant fish life and running through the Energy Lab and seeing where all the legends of the past have been made or dreams broken was pretty cool. Seeing all the pro’s and age groupers out training and some of the legends floating around town like Mark Allen (5 time winner) and Dave Scott (6 time winner) was very motivating. You really did feel like it was a pilgrimage that some of the fittest people on the planet make every year. The vibe was also very relaxing, part being due to the location of Hawaii itself and the other being that everyone who was there to race had earned their spot. Everyone had put the work in to training and no matter what happened on race day, the feeling was that the race itself really was just the celebration of all the hard work. The event is exceptionally well organised with 5000 volunteers assisting with everything from manning aid stations on race day to athlete registration to grabbing you when you cross the finish line about to collapse. Despite the hype and intensity I didn’t see one annoyed competitor or stressed volunteer all week.
 
As the week went on the hype in town was building. I tried to keep away from town as much as I could as it was easy to burn energy getting sucked into all the happenings. Early morning training would be accompanied by a trip to the beach or pool, some sightseeing and an afternoon nap (luxury!!) and then taking in a great Hawaiian sunset from some vantage point on the island. 
 
Before I knew it it was race day and I was up at 4am downing some calories and into town for athlete numbering and gathering at the pier to watch the pro’s start 30 min before us. Once the professional women had started we were into the water and jostling for position and treading water for 30min until the canon fired. The atmosphere in the water was electric, athletes from all over the globe, Hawaiian drums building a tempo, helicopters buzzing overhead, officials pushing us back as we crept forward and then "boom" we were off, 2100 people all swimming together in a mad frenzy. 
 
The swim was more physical than I thought and I spent at least the first half jostling and hustling for clear water. I was going to be happy with anything under an hour for a non-wetsuit swim and came out in 59:40 and jumped on the bike. After training out in the lava fields during the week where the ambient temperature had been up to 37 degrees my mantra for the day was "deal with the now". I knew that if I stayed in the moment, dealt with the hydration, nutrition and cooling to keep the body temp down I would be OK. Let my mind wander when I started to feel heat stress and start worrying about how far I had to go and I knew that I’d soon end up in trouble. I had broken the course down into sections and knew that if I rode tactically smart and didn’t get sucked into racing anyone on the bike my legs would be good for the run. I managed to stick to my heart rate zones on the bike, got plenty of nutrition on board and avoided any stomach issues and was pouring cold water over myself at every aid station. Riding back into town I knew that I’d had a good ride and got off the bike in 4:57:31. I made the 300m run through transition and at this point you start to get an idea of how your legs are going to feel on the marathon. So far no issues with the cramping that had plagued me in the past so looking good. Shoes on, Garmin set and out I went onto the road for the business end of the race. The plan was to run at 4.30km pace, run all the aid stations and try to lift the pace over the last 12km home from the Energy Lab if there was anything left in the tank. All good in theory but in a race like this anything can happen. The bottom can fall out, the wheels can fall off, you have no team mates or no dance partner. It’s up to you to make all the decisions and often in a murky haze of fatigue. I got through the first 15km on the run along Ali’i Drive in reasonable shape, I didn’t feel great but I didn’t feel bad and was sitting on the pace I wanted and picking people off. The support along this part of the course was fantastic, people were lining the streets the whole way and they were knowledgeable about the sport and race. At this point you start drawing energy from the crowd to help keep you going. 
 
They say that the half way point in an Ironman is somewhere around the half way point on the run so about 7 and three quarter hours in for me. This is where things can start getting funky. It’s also where the course in Kona starts getting hard. You run up Palani Hill, not overly steep or long but at this point in the race it feels tough. Then it gets lonely. 10km away from town on the Queen K Highway, descend down into the Energy Lab, climb back out again and head back into town. This is how I’d broken it down and I was starting to feel good. It was almost as if I’d been waiting for things to get tough and I was looking forward to it. The Energy Lab took forever to get to and the 3km climb out of it even longer. I knew that if I made it out there in good head space and in control of the situation I’d be Ok and hopefully be able to pick the pace up in the final 10km home on the highway. Thankfully this is what happened. I’d managed to control my body temperature well, 2 cups of ice down the pants at every aid station was the recipe along with icy sponges, gatorade, coke and water. Back out on the Queen K I managed to put in some 4.20 ks and passed a lot of people. Reeling people in late in the race is a great feeling. The support through the aid stations was awesome, Lady Gaga choreographed dance moves by one crew of volunteers seems to ring a bell but by now you are in a semi trance like state drawing on the energy that you can hear coming from the crowd in town pulling you home. Last effort up Mark and Dave Hill, a right turn into Palani Road with an effort to try and sprint down the hill, quads starting to cramp before the last 1500m loop along Ali’i Drive and into the finishing chute. The atmosphere along here was electric, the crowd was buzzing and cheering you home and Mike Reilly’s well known voice is on the microphone calling you in. 
 
I managed to cross the line completely exhausted in 9:18:27 and ran a 3:14:57 marathon which I was pleased with on this course. Although placings don’t really matter, to run up to 23rd in my age group and cross the line in 134th position overall was an amazing feeling in only my second Ironman. I was beat up, blistered, sunburned, chaffed and completely exhausted but over the moon. Letting go of all the emotions that you carry with you through the months of training and the race was a relief and leaves you in a euphoric state of mind. Hawaii was an awesome experience on many levels, one that I’d thoroughly recommend to anyone thinking about qualifying and an experience that you’ll have with you forever.
 
Of course there are many people to thank and despite triathlon being an individual sport on the day it doesn’t happen without surrounding yourself with a great team of people. My team and the people that I’d like to thank for all their help, love and support to make it all happen are:
 
Holly and Oscar- for the motivation, support and never ending help in every possible way. Everything from a shove to get myself out the door to train when I’ve been so fatigued I didn’t think I could go again, to the endless food, piles of washing and sorry for falling asleep whenever we tried to watch a movie! 
 
Grandma Helen- thanks for all the babysitting.
 
Mum, Dad and Karen for making the trip over and all your help in race week.
 
Coach John- for putting it all together and giving me a plan. Luke and James for being great riding mates. Narelle Simpson for being a great swim coach and pushing me every session. Christine D for getting me on the straight and narrow with the diet. Danny at The Fixed Wheel for tolerating my OCD tendencies towards bike set up and Brent at Footpoint for the shoes. Sarah Newman and Ben Matwijow for all their help in setting up the Help Seti Walk fundraiser.
 
Additionally what made my Kona experience even more rewarding was being able to raise $5130 for Seti Tafua with the Help Seti Walk campaign. To everyone that donated to the cause, THANK YOU. Committing to preparing for a race like this was made all the easier when you have someone like Seti in your corner who is dealing with a whole lot more than most of us will ever have to. Thanks Seti for the motivation and the realisation that we are all very lucky to get to do what we do. I hope the money goes to good use and we’d do it all again without hesitation. 30km into the marathon when the going got tough and I was deep in the hurt locker I was thinking of you. Stay strong brother.
 
Check out some pictures of Kona 2013 at our SquareOne Facebook page.