The Kona WTC Ironman World Championships is so much more than just a race; it’s getting to the race that’s the biggest challenge for most. I’ve covered that before but the time leading up to the race has been fabulous. A fantastic break, amazing location, meeting up (albeit briefly) with people you’ve only conversed with via social media and the fact the whole place turns into a triathlon mecca for a week. To be honest, the race itself was secondary to the whole spectacle and I’ve never been so relaxed going into any event – if someone had told me the night before that the race was cancelled I’d not have been too upset and possibly even a bit relieved!
As it was more than likely that the race would happen, should I be wishing for it to be a tough day? Would Madame Pele unleash the legendary winds and swell or would it be another “relatively” calm year? People talk of feeling cheated when conditions are favourable but I’m sure no-one complains at the time!
With no special needs or clunky wetsuit I found that there was very little to prepare for the race. What this event doesn’t lack are volunteers. There are people whose job, it would seem, is purely to escort you to the next person who’s there to help you.
So whilst hanging around and posing for pictures with Adam, the cannon goes off and the pro guys head into the distance. When the women’s cannon fires, it’s time to zip up the swimskin and head into the water – that’s when I find I’ve been walking around for 30 minutes with it on back to front – much to Adam’s amusement.
The plan was always to head to the left hand side to avoid any agro and as Adam and I tread water, I think to myself I’m a little close to the front for comfort so expect a few frantic minutes when people start before everyone seeds themselves appropriately. At this point I remember Nick telling me to look back at the pier and Ali’i Drive to see the spectators and I’m so glad I did. I even signalled for Adam to do the same. It was 5 deep with people and just then it became suddenly real – the whole occasion, knowing that no matter how blasé I was feeling there were a few thousand triathletes who would swap places in the blink of an eye to be in this water, right this second, to do this race.
All calm, all civilised but then spookily quiet, which meant either 1899 other athletes had all gone the wrong way or I had done my usual and swum off to the left (the reason I love an anti-clockwise course, which this sadly isn’t). So after a mouthful of ocean water and 5 minutes solo I decided to re-enter the melee and found it still to be pretty relaxed; maybe all the eager boys were long gone? Very quickly I found a great set of feet to latch on to:
- Pace was solid and easy for me but matching a decent effort solo
- The kick was minimal with few bubbles and very little scissoring
- He was swimming straight and staying out of trouble
That was it, I had my draft for the race. The mission was to hold it at all costs and not piss him off so much that he tried to lose me. I never saw a buoy on the entire course and to be honest once I’d latched onto my draft I had no intention of sighting. I did see the boat at the turnaround and the next time I looked up was when Super-draft decided to breaststroke kick and look around with 300 or so metres to go. By this time I thought I was safe enough to be left to my own devices so promptly swam off to the left and took my second mouthful of ocean water.
All in all, a very uneventful swim. Once I had my draft I was swimming very comfortably and it was just a case of concentrating on following feet. With a super draft I like to get my nose up close to the feet and use the legs as a guide as to where to put my hands in the water – it makes the swim very easy and coming out I felt I’d done practically nothing.
Despite the lack of effort, it’s a long way and pretty boring following feet and I was glad to see the helpers at the swim exit.
“Mind the step!” – face plant – oh, that step?
Into the transition tent to get my bike bag and I shout out “1137”. Blank looks but that’s OK, it’s on the left near the start, I remember that from when I hung it up… funny, it’s not there. Continue down until I find 1137 down the bottom of the rack, spot the water bottle (excellent!), start taking a drink, that’s funny, water, I’m sure I put OSMO sports drink in my T1 bottle, in fact I’m pretty sure I just put it on the bike. As I sit down and look into the bag I see a brown stripey towel – Oh f&*k! I’m 1173 – what a bloody arse. I re-pack the bag, put the ¾ drunk water bottle back in and head back to the hooks hoping to not find some confused guy wondering where the hell his bag was.
Now not only am I trying to re-hang his bag but I’m also going against the traffic of rather annoyed athletes funnelling down the corridor heading for the changing tent. I find my bag, exactly where it was supposed to be.
- When you’ve mentally walked through transition in your head and then find that the whole thing has been turned around during the swim – it hasn’t – you’ve just messed up!
- Trust your judgement – no one is going to go to the trouble of moving and relabeling all the pegs overnight!
A very public apology
Dear Rob Chaplin – I’m sorry for drinking your water; I am stupid and if we ever meet I owe you a beer. Hopefully you weren’t wondering all bike ride who the hell drank your water or how most of it either spilled or evaporated without wetting anything in your bag.
What’s most amusing is that Rob is from the UK so he’s more likely than not to be pointed in the direction of this blog post and now knows the identity of his bag thief. Thankfully Rob had a worse swim than me, so I’m hoping the bag was waiting there for him (still swinging on its peg) when he got there.
So that, my friends, explains why I had long enough in transition to have done 3 full kit changes and boil an egg or two.
The plan was to take things steady and that’s exactly what I did. Despite this, on the first town section I was passing loads of people when I expected everyone to be whizzing by me. I was also trying to keep an eye out for Adam wondering how much time he’d put on me, which I’d then added 5 minutes to with my transition clusterf**k! No Adam in the out and back – he was going to be putting some serious time into me today – ho hum – about time too, he deserves a good race.
Up on to the Queen K and here the most hallowed, revered, mystical and damn right boring bike course starts. It’s soooo dull. Immediately into a light headwind but great – that means a tailwind home, right?!
Unless you’re at the very front of the race, anyone who says they didn’t draft, intentionally or not, is talking bullshit. The packs are large, even when there’s space on the Queen K to make the spacing legit. Add to this a 7m draft zone – one touch of the brakes or if the guy sits up / stops pedalling then you’re on their wheel.
- Don’t overtake and choose to fall back – you’re drafting
- Take longer than 20 seconds for the pass – you’re drafting / blocking
Basically, I spent lots of time drafting, not through intentional wheel-sucking but from intentionally not falling back every time I was swallowed up by a pack or overtaken by someone that decided to then coast (my personal annoyance).
Saying this, I did actually spend a great deal of time sitting on my own away from anyone and thankfully the draft busters passed at these times. There were quite a lot of draft busters and they were pretty lenient as far as I could tell, but every penalty box I passed had a few people camped out. Either they were just unlucky or being pretty blatant – like most races there was probably a mix of both.
Hot, hot, hot – Wind, wind, wind
It would appear Madame Pele had decided that today was going to be a tough day on the bike. The headwind strengthened, then swept round to be a blustery crosswind. It didn’t trouble me much but it did add to the attraction of not falling back 7m as quickly as I should have sometimes and if I was climbing at the time, that would just go out of the window – I’m not bloody coasting uphill into a headwind for anyone!
But it was the heat that was doing the damage – quickly I could tell the nutrition I was getting in wasn’t being absorbed; I was starting to bloat. I didn’t need to pee despite the huge amount of water I was drinking (along with 3 times that volume being sprayed over myself) and eventually I just couldn’t take any more gels or sports drink. Not because I didn’t want to, there just didn’t seem to be the space. Whether or not the ocean water contributed to this I’m not sure, but my theory is that the stomach was just shut down as a non-essential item when the brain was more concerned with keeping cool. All blood to the skin please, screw the digestion!
I’d spent a couple of weeks training on the turbo or running wearing half my winter wardrobe but what I’d never done in these hour long sessions was try to down a shedload of gels. This meant I wasn’t particularly well acclimatised for endurance activities, more like a jog to the shops.
Still hadn’t seen Adam when I got to the turnaround at Hawi.
Turn around and it’s downhill with a tailwind and I was passing so many people coasting down the hill and starting to spin out of the 53/11 – the fun ended quickly as the tailwind turned into a stiff crosswind and I watched a guy in front of me get blown off the road.
Someone shouts my name from the other side of the road – could it be Adam? – naaah, way to far back, surely? I didn’t get a chance to look, it’s head down, bum up and pedal for home.
Still hot, still windy, still not getting the nutrition down, still don’t want to pee.
Last stretch home and the straw from my Nathan AP Pro shoots out and I have to stop and fetch it. Five minutes later when I’ve repassed those who sail by, I drop my chain going into the small ring for the climb to Scenic Point. I’ve stupidly got a chain catcher fitted – why it’s still on my bike after the trouble it gave me during Epic Camp I don’t know, but needless to say it did exactly the same thing, not catching the chain but preventing it from coming back up. Five minutes and some scraped knuckles later, I was back into the big ring for the climb up to Scenic and once again I repass the same people.
The aid stations on the bike course are pretty frequent and very long but there’s quite a gap coming back into town and some speedy chick passed asking for any spares. By now it had started to cloud over a bit so I was able to give her half a bottle of water and I hoped it helped her have a better race than I was having.
Pretty smooth – here I decided to leave Rob’s bag alone and go straight to mine, which funnily was in the same place I’d left it the night before. I took a drink out of my bottle which I’d left that morning frozen and headed for the first out and back, past where we were staying on Ali’i Drive. But I knew I was completely baked by the heat.
Something completely new to me was coming into T2 and seeing it full of bikes; despite knowing where I was it still took me by surprise!
Usually the run is my strength but straight away I knew this was going to be a long day – my stomach was now cramping and just sloshing full of undigested God-knows-what. I couldn’t face gels and would only try sports drink or coke every second or third aid station but I did find a new pleasure – ice! Quickly I realised one cup wasn’t enough, neither was two, in fact the magic number was 5. Two down the front of the trisuit, 2 sponges and a cup down the back and 2 ice cups in the hat. After I saw Ella and just after the turnaround the ice was doing its magic, my body temperature was coming down and my shuffle (at least it seemed to me) was turning back into a run – woot! woot! And we’re off!
Back up Palani with an easy jog and on to the Queen K and into a routine: run to aid station, sponge, water, ice and maybe some sports drink, run on. I even stopped attempting to do the ice myself – I just held open the front of my suit and said “2” turned round, pointed and said “1”, presented cap, “2”, then off. The best response was a guy who said to another aid station volunteer “Just fill the f**ker” when she offer me a single cup!
At around mile 11 the pace started to fade – nutrition was being topped up, I still hadn’t peed and the cramps, bloating and wind were getting pretty bad.
When I met Scott (my coach) on the Queen K I knew a bowel evacuation was imminent. He asked me how I was feeling but my eyes were on the prize – a lone portaloo at the side of the road. He told me Adam had DNF’d and my heart sank. For Adam to DNF would mean he was in incredible pain with his back; I knew it would have to mean unable to turn the pedals pain, not just a dodgy stomach like I had. Adam is a real stubborn son of a bitch and he would take all 17 hours to get round this course and if that wasn’t enough they’d have to physically pull him of the course for him not to finish regardless of what Mike Reilly did or didn’t call him.
I put in my best 20 metre split only to find out the portaloo was occupied but just to be sure I gave that door a bloody good shake – the poor woman who came out a minute later was lucky not to be head to foot in faeces after the shaking I gave that thing!
A brief relief but I was still not getting any decent nutrition down. Then the blessed cloud cover disappeared between miles 13 and 15 just on the approach to the energy lab – it looked like I was going to face this fabled stretch in the full heat, when just as I started the run down the hill, it began to rain!
Madame Pele obviously knew I was cooked through. I don’t know what I was expecting down there but it was a smelly out and back that was instantly forgettable besides a few walking wounded.
The run home was just a slow gut ache. My legs were fine, my motivation good but my stomach muscles had had enough of the contortions and cramping and there wasn’t the fuel to do anything with the pace, so it was accept 2nd gear was better than walking and I trundled on down for the final stretch… and there was Adam! “Back in the game” I shouted and gave him a very heterosexual man hug. It appears that I’d been given some misinformation by Scott, and Adam was just having a shocker. I was delighted! Not that Adam was having a shocker, but that he was going to get around this thing and get the medal. I was so relieved that a mile later I even managed a pee!
So down to Ali’i drive and a little tear as this is the most famous of finishing stretches. Ella was waiting just before the chute, stop for a quick kiss and then across the line in a less than impressive 10:44.
I can see why people come back year after year. You’re treated like a rock star at the expo, the whole town is taken over and everyone is aware of the race – even “Mayor Billy” completed the race. You’re racing against some of the best triathletes in the world and that’s pretty cool for a “who can pee the highest competition”. I won’t be aiming to come back, the investment and sacrifice is just too much and I and my family can no longer afford to pay that price.
The next morning I received the following in an email from Scott “The Terminator” Molina entitled “Got there”:
You beat 1/2 the males there.
Never mind they were the older 1/2 there!
Good to see you got across that f… n finish line as it’s another lifetime (or more) to wait for the chance to do it again, should you lose your mind completely and want to do it again.
- Age: 42
- Age Group: M40-44
- Occupation: Consultant
- Previous Race(s): 3
Overall Rank 803 / 2187 Group Rank 163 / 288 Gender Rank 728 / 1566
Thanks to Petro, Scott and Melik for the photos