Blogging every day (even with the occasional double day) is really hard work. Definite respect to those who do it regularly – I found it onerous enough to fit into taper training and tourism, let alone a job. So that’s my excuse for taking so long to write about the actual race. This was my second time at Kona, and when I raced there in 2013, this website didn’t exist, so I never wrote a report, but in general I am a fan of doing so as a means of reflecting on what went well and what didn’t, and as an aide memoire for the future.
Things had been going really well in the run up, until Tuesday of race week, when I woke up with a sore throat. Over the next few days, things progressed into sneezing, a slightly blocked nose and a fatigue that even 10 hours of sleep wasn’t killing. Thankfully never turned into a full on snot-fest but we didn’t go to the Underpants Run, as I didn’t think it was fair to spread those germs around everyone else too, and instead put in some concerted sofa time, hit the Vitamin C and paracetamol and just hoped like hell that things would be okay on the day. People told me when I woke up on race morning I would feel okay and to an extent they were right, in that on race morning there is so much else to do which takes your mind off the tickle in your throat.
Standing in the queue for the increasingly smelly portaloos, I heard a familiar-sounding voice and turned around to see Dirk Bockel who was with some sponsors or VIPs and pointing out to them various sights from the pier. I smiled and he wished me luck, commenting that right then he would happily change places with any one of us, but that come 2pm, when he had a beer in hand and was watching us all suffer, it would be easier to accept the sting of not racing!
With the women going off last, we had ample time to watch the parachutes, the pro starts and the AG men before they started herding us down the steps. I hung back a bit, as last time I ended up treading water for ages waiting for the cannon. This time was better, but I still think they made us get in too quickly. I found my spot on the left hand side and we were all nicely spread out when the officials on the pier started pushing those on the right side of the start line over in our direction, squashing us all up. What they’d forgotten is that with the women’s start a full 45 minutes after the pro men, the leaders would be coming back right as we were heading out. A lot of girls weren’t too happy about us being squashed together though.
I got a good start and was on some nice feet. Things went okay for about 500m and then I could feel my swim cap start to move backwards. I didn’t want to stop and pull it back on, because I’d lose the good draft I was in, but in hindsight, I definitely should have done because over the course of the next hour or so, my hair slowly knotted itself into a single large, dense dreadlock and the hairband started to rub the back of my neck. I also discovered that goggle straps don’t grip particularly well on top of hair, and that when the strap doesn’t grip, the goggles will leak. From long before the Bodyglide boat, I was pretty miserable. I could barely see through an eyeful of sea water, so half the time I just shut my eyes anyway. Every now and then I would stop and empty the water out and try to make some kind of seal on my goggles, but within 50 strokes I was sloshing around in an eyebath again. I harnessed the annoyance, irritation and loathing of this particular swim into trying to swim hard, which may or may not have been at all successful. Needless to say, I lost those feet really early on.
AG position: 55
On the face of it, that looks like a terrible swim time. However, conditions this year were slow and the Kona swim is notoriously long (closer to 4.2 than 3.8km). I came out approximately half way down my AG, so all things considered, it wasn’t that bad of a swim as the time would initially suggest. It could certainly do with a lot of improvement though!
The good thing about coming into T2 behind the main rush of decent swimmers is that there are more available helper’s hands. I was able to recruit a couple to help me into my Cool Wings, which isn’t the easiest thing to do in a rush with wet arms, although it became considerably easier when I realized I probably shouldn’t try to don my gloves at the same time. Once again my bike wasn’t exactly hard to find, but I was out of the water, cycling in the sunshine and in Hawaii, so I was happy.
The first loop around town my heart rate was pretty high. This is sort of normal what with the change from swim to bike, the crowds cheering, your general happienss plus Palani to ride up. It usually takes 10 minutes or so to dial in to the right sort of effort, so I didn’t worry too much, although I thought it seemed a little bit higher than usual at this stage. By the time I got onto the Queen K, I knew it was more than just initial excitement and I had to ease off a lot. My legs were telling me the pace was ridiculously easy; my HR was telling me this was race effort. I went with HR. After all, I figured, worst case I’ll have ridden a bit conservatively, and I was passing people. A camera bike pulled up alongside and filmed me for about a minute, about a second of which they use in the video below at 4:19ish. I’m obviously quite photogenic inside that helmet…
At every aid station I dumped water over my arms and upper back. On the climb up to Hawi, it started raining – proper torrential, soak-you-to-the-skin rain. The irony of this was not lost on me, and I had to smile as 2015’s general trend of being drenched whilst on my bike continued. The difference, of course, was being bone dry again well before Kawaihae. The Cool Wings are excellent by the way – not only did they prevent any sunburn, but they definitely help to reduce your core temperature.
The headwind picked up on the last 40km of the Queen K. This is another disadvantage to the women starting so much later, and another reason to work on my swimming – the earlier you can get south of Kawaihae, the milder those winds are. I was still feeling underpowered, but I just put it down to the heat and the psychosis of racing and I was having a pretty good time. There weren’t any significant cross winds, and I love seeing the pros coming the other way – at the point he passed me, Tim O’Donnell was off the front of the speedy front men’s pack, which was interesting and not what most people had predicted pre-race!
AG position: 22
Again, slower than I could do with my fitness, but generally biking on the conservative side is a good idea, if it allows you to run to your potential….
Back at T2, I was lacing up my running shoes when a volunteer asked if I wanted any suncream. The back of my neck was feeling hot, and I worried I was burning, so I asked her to put it there. As she did, I screamed in pain – it felt like a chemical burn, and I enquired not all that politely what it was that she’d just attacked me with. She assured me it was suncream but that if it hurt that badly, I must have burnt to the point I already had blisters. She looked and confirmed this was the case. As I found out afterwards, she was wrong, these were the friction rubs from the swim, but she wasn’t to know. She really worried me though, so I took the cold towel with me and at aid stations wrapped ice in it and kept it round my neck.
You never exactly feel great at the start of the marathon, but I felt worse than usual; not my legs, but the general effort of running. Not a problem, I told myself, push on and you’ll come right. I stayed running easy but I was struggling to get a full breath. I backed off even more, but even 2 miles into the run, my HR was through the roof and each intake of breath hurt, up inside my ribcage. Walking it is then. I haven’t had to walk like that in a marathon for any of the last 6 IMs I’ve done and it hit me pretty hard. Every time I tried running, I would get about 600m before the feeling of constriction came back and 50m further I would run out of oxygen and have to walk. By 3 miles, I was feeling wretched. I couldn’t see how I was going to able to run and I thought I would have to walk the whole way. During this time, I was pretty bloody miserable and if I saw you at that point on the run, I apologise for my lack of cheer! For about 2 minutes, I seriously considered the walking option but I could not reconcile to what felt like giving up. So I would walk till the pain eased, get my breath back and try again, slower. Eventually, I discovered a speed I could sustain based on the air I was able to get in. It was slow – I felt like I was jogging – but I was moving and bit by bit my mood also improved. I made decent progress on the way back north along Ali’i Drive and it was nice to see James and Alan at Hot Corner and get a shout out from Paul Kaye who was there when I qualified at Austria.
Things got infinitely better once I was back on the Queen K. I was moving no faster, and I refused to look at any of the depressing numbers on my Garmin, but I felt better about it. I was back to doing the best I could at the time with what I had, and that’s always all I ask of myself. Yes, I was fit enough to run faster, but my lungs would not let me sustain that effort level so I was moving as quick as I could under the circumstances.. I didn’t feel that hot, I was eating fine and I was no longer insular and inward-looking. I loved running in the Energy Lab and the longer I ran (well, jogged) for, the happier I felt and I really enjoyed the final 6 miles, soaking in the atmosphere and banking the memories.
Way below what I was capable of, but not the time heamorrhage I’d feared.
I crossed the line very happy to have finished. Yes, a part of me was disappointed; I had the fitness to perform much better than I did and I could (or should) have been competitive, not just participated. But on the other hand, when I think back to Ali’i Drive and facing down the possibility of having to walk the whole marathon, I am proud of my refusal to accept that option and the way I kept looking for a better one, however small the improvement. I didn’t do awfully; I just haven’t raced to my potential in Kona yet.
So, will I go back? I would say probably. Not immediately – I’m still giving away way too much in the swim and I want a decent crack at reducing that deficit. From a practical point of view, Kona is expensive too – we had a brilliant time seeing the other islands as I hope you got a feel for from my daily blogs and if we do go back, we want to continue to explore the state, so a bit of time to save up again would be a good idea. I don’t feel I need to prove myself in Kona, and it’s not how I measure my worth as a person, but I do enjoy the race.
Total time: 11:15:47
AG placing: 34