Road to Kona
Note – I didn’t write this race report until 2017. It is, however, based on a few pages of raw notes I made with the intention of writing one. I’ll try not to editorialize too much 🙂 – Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy.
I qualified for Kona at Ironman Canada 2013, just 7 weeks before. Looking back, I realize how incredibly fortunate I was to qualify. There were of course elements in my control (good fitness, good execution, great coaching), but it was also a lot of dumb luck (100 Kona slots, less-deep field in my AG, cool weather).
Just as I was starting to recover from Canada, I ended up injured. I won’t go into detail, I’ll just let your minds jump to whatever conclusion is goriest. Suffice to say, what should have been 2-3 weeks of solid training and race focus turned into PT and downtime.
So here I was: a year in the sport, going to a race I couldn’t even comprehend. I was fortunate to have family along for the ride, with my mother, father, sister, and fiance (now husband) on board. You can imagine getting flights & accommodations to a fully-booked island just 6 weeks ahead of time can be a bit of a challenge, and I don’t think I’d have made it without the logistical (and emotional) support.
It’s tough to describe the atmosphere in the town of Kona race week, but I’ll give it a shot.
- You have all these incredibly fit, type-A, elite athletes in taper mode (and me, pretending to be one), but at the time same it’s like a big beach party.
- The expo is giant, with a most tri-specific companies unloading a good chunk of their marketing dollars. This of course means a ton of free swag!
- Swimming in the bay was the highlight. The water is 80°, crystal clear, and there’s a coffee boat a few hundred yards out.
- Not much competes with hanging on to a boat sipping coffee mid-swim, fish swimming below you all while watching the sun rise over Mauna Loa
- Chrissie Wellington was just hanging out on Ali’i drive one day
Fun side-note: Somehow I ended up as “Bruce A. Deakyne” in registration. My middle initial is “C”. Despite assurance via email that it would be fixed, my name on banners, t-shirts, and my bib was “Bruce A.”. So that’s my name now.
Race Morning: Saturday
It’s still dark at 4am, but the whole town is up and buzzing. My bike and bags were already racked from check in on Friday, so there wasn’t much left to do.
I did put on sunblock upon waking up, which you’re not supposed to do before they apply the race number tattoos race morning. This would come back to bite me in T1.
I like to get in a solid warm up for the swim, but was too anxious and swam straight out to the line. In hindsight, I should have taken my time to warm up, then squeezed my way up there. Instead, I tread water for 25 minutes.
Swim: 51:06, 1st AG, 2nd amateur
The swim start at Kona is probably the most iconic in the sport. If you ever need a boost of motivation, just watch the surge as the cannon booms. There are dozens of kayakers and paddleboarders constantly pushing back the masses from creeping forward. I like to call it “combat treading”.
Like in the video, it was beautiful chaotic as the cannon sounded. Actually, it was chaotic about 2 seconds before the cannon, which caught me off guard a bit.
I settled into about 3rd in a line until everyone else realized they’re not going to hold 1:10/100m pace for the next 45 minutes. When I’m having a great day in the water (like at IM Canada), my stroke is smooth, powerful, and effortless. Today wasn’t one of those days; don’t get me wrong, I felt good, but I was going to have to work for it.
At that point, I could see a lone swimmer about 15 yards out in front. Despite chasing hard, he was slipping away.
The water felt a little choppier than training swims, possibly just due to the boat traffic out there. I had waves break over me and swallowed water a few times.
About 3/4 of the way in, the swim skin was cutting into my neck and my stroke was getting shorter, so I just worked to keep it strong and smooth. I eased up a bit knowing I wouldn’t catch the leader and it was stupid to burn all this energy with 10 hours to go. At one point, I saw an underwater photographer and made a funny face. Never found the photo though 🙁
In the race coverage, they showed dolphins escorting the pros; quite a cool shot but I didn’t get to see any. Guess I’ll have to go back one day!
I’ll admit it, I over-swam. Upon entering T1 I was a bit… flustered. Guess all the blood was in my muscles and not in my brain.
Remember the sunblock you’re not supposed to apply until after the race number? Well, you could no longer see my race number. The volunteers (and there’s a lot of them at this point with not much to do) are asking me “what’s your number?”. How the hell should I know? Oh, right, that’s kind of my job. “2089 maybe?”
So they bring me my T1 bag and of course, it’s the wrong one. Because I can’t remember a 4 digit number. Thankfully, Ben advised me pre-race to double check the bag before the changing tent (this I remember, but not 4 digits I’ve been staring at the past 3 days). I run to where the bags are hung and finally find mine after peaking in more than I care to admit. 2098. Doh!
I missed a critical step in the T1 process of visiting the sunblock station.
I was eerily alone for the start of the bike (and almost took a few wrong turns), but eventually the strong riders started flying by up Kuakini.
It took some easy riding to bring my HR down, and I should note my post-swim HR was the highest of the day. Oops.
The Queen K is quite the experience. You’re riding in the middle of a lava field with nothing else around, sun beating down, and millions of dollars worth of carbon whizzing past you. Other than that, the first part of the course is rather unremarkable; rolling hills and even a tailwind that put me on pace for a 5:00 split (I knew this was too good to be true, but maybe going back won’t be so bad… WRONG).
After the turnaround, the descent from Hawi is known for it’s killer crosswinds (and the reason Kona is one of the few courses where disc wheels are banned). Thankfully, the crosswinds weren’t too bad this year. The headwinds returning to Kona on the other hand… those hurt more mentally than physically.
I rolled in with a 5:30 bike split, 10 minutes faster than Whistler, grateful to be off the bike.
No flying dismount – I wasn’t prepared to run across the scorching blacktop in bare feet.
I also didn’t rush T2 – at this point, it was better to not miss anything than save 60 seconds. I found the sunblock this time, but the damage had been done on the bike.
(Note: My Garmin corrupted the run file, so no Strava. Thanks for nothing, Garmin)
My greatest accomplishment during the race was learning to pee while running. As I was well hydrated, I saved a lot of time! Running up Palani I saw a teammate cheering and all I said was (with a big smile) “I’m peeing right now!!”. Triathletes are gross.
The aid stations were amazing! Every product appeared twice and was clearly labeled by a large sign above. This ruined me for future races, now I actually have to listen to people to know what’s in their cup.
The first mile was a little rough; I felt light-headed with heavy legs. I started to come around 2 miles in, enjoying the packed roadside and ocean breeze along Ali’i drive. At this point, even running 8:15-8:20 pace, on pace for a PR! I continued cruising along the Queen K; around mile 16, just before the turnoff to the Energy Lab, there’s a slight hill. My pace slowed, but I figured no big deal, I’m going up hill. Then the road started to descend, but pace did not. The legend of the Energy Lab, where the energy is sucked right out of athletes, lives on. The sun came out, my stomach turned sour, and a slight tailwind made for dead air.
I made the choice to keep running, no matter how slow it was (also, if I stopped now, I might not get started again). At this point, I didn’t even want to walk. I wanted to stop and lay down and cry. The only way I can describe it is that I lacked the ability to lift my legs. It didn’t feel like a bonk and my HR was nice and low. It was more like running with a terrible hangover and jeans made of lead. This was the longest 6 miles of my life (the joke is anyone can run a 10k! Ha! Also, editorial note, I think miles 19-25 of Chattanooga were longer). Finding inspiration usually comes easy for me – I can at least let my mind wander and my body does the work. That wasn’t the case here: my own personal hell that never seemed to end. But it finally did. (So I’ll stop whining about it now)
We made the turn on Palani. Pushing it, I was still over 9:00 pace down the hill and through Kona. I put on a nice little sprint the last .2 miles and finally finished in 10:37:20. My family was volunteering as catchers and quickly escorted me away. I missed my post-weight race (though I don’t think I was severely dehydrated). Thank goodness there were fresh donuts (many were consumed) and chocolate milk in the athletes area. My headache was pretty bad at this point and I got some Tylenol.
At Whistler, I sat in a chair for 15-20mins before I was good to go. I was between the ground and a chair at Kona for well over an hour before I considered getting up.
Result: 10:37:20, 32nd AG
It was an honor to race at Kona and I am very glad I had the opportunity.
- Between the taper for Canada, recovery from it, and getting in the accident, I lost significant conditioning.
- The race was very well organized. I have heard in previous years they had ice towels, which would have been great to put on my neck during the run; there were sponges but no towels.
- We really did have great weather. The headwind sucked, but it was just payback for the tailwind on the way out. The sun was covered by a light to heavy cloud cover most of the day. It was warm, but not brutally hot.
- The course was not overly difficult but it was a really rough day, both mentally and physically.
- I stuck around Kona for the midnight finish line; it was really an amazing and inspirational party. It was cool to see Mirinda there and I was surprised Fredrick didn’t show up.
- Despite the fatigue, I was up fairly early the next day (legs were too sore to sleep) and went into Kona for Lava Java coffee and pastry. I also enjoyed a Kona Brewery chocolate cookie bacon pie: delicious.
- The banquet of champions was a good experience, though it was a bit long (especially one of the speeches).
- I ended up with terrible sunburn (blistering badly, extremely painful, and visited the doctor fo it). Sunblock is most effective when it had a chance to soak in (i.e. put on before the race). However, WTC says no sunblock before or after putting on your numbers. Sure, you can get some slapped on at transition (if you remember) but at what point will WTC find a new method of numbering that allows sunblock? (2017 editorial – like Norseman which provides tattoos to apply the night before)
I would love to do this race again, but not next year. Since I’m out of the 18-24AG, it will be harder to qualify, so I have some work to do. Here are some things I would do differently:
- I’ll pick a qualifying race that is much earlier so Kona can be a real focus. There just wasn’t enough time to recover from Canada and have a good race here. (2017 editorial – yeah, how’d that work out for ya in Chattanooga, Bruce? At least Canada is a month earlier now…)
- Depending on where my swim is, I would either go for the win (if I’m still in the same swim shape) or take it super easy (hopefully still coming in sub-55) (2017 editorial – who am I kidding, if I make Kona again, I’ll be swimming hard)
- I will have my own sunblock in both transition bags and take the 1 minute to coat myself. (2017 editorial – a sleeved Castelli Stealth Top works wonders too)
- The next few seasons will provide great opportunities to work on things like: flying mounts/dismounts (save 1-2minutes in T1/2 running not with bike shoes), aggressive aero position (flexibility and core), race wheels (bike handling), and better mental prep for sustained power (2017 editorial – mission accomplished)