Monday, 31 October 2011

Ironman Hawaii 2011

Four days later (or 3 weeks!) and it's time to write up the experience, maybe make some notes for next time, or at least offer some thoughts for other first time Kona athletes.

For me qualifying for Kona was the really tough part.  Since before I started training for IM Arizona  in 2008 I have been dreaming of getting to the Big Island.  Qualification this March in New Zealand (Taupo) was one of the most satisfying days of my life.  To an extent it felt like the job was done.

In preparing for the race I was eager to be as fit as possible, but didn't have any expectation around time, or finish position. I was always going to be mid-pack, at best I could hope to be towards the front of the middle!   The goal was to get through the experience without any painful blow up on the run and be fit enough that I could enjoy the experience.

Largely I achieved these goals.  Racing in the heat of Hawaii, especially coming from the cool New Zealand winter, added uncertainty to the race planning as there was a large unknown around my reaction to the heat and humidity.

Coming into the race I've not had the long specific training period of some of my other Ironamn efforts,  I had a very good base.  I was fit for Taupo in March and ran consistently through to April when I ran 100k.  Late April I had just a few weeks rest and then got back onto it in May training for Gold Coast marathon in July.

The plan was to have a good 12 week block of IM Prep, post marathon, through July - September.   This was going to plan until early August when I was hit with a nasty winter(man)  flu.  I ended up not training for 16 days and really August was a month standing still, it took the second half of August to get lost fitness back.

Excuses, excuses..!  From Mid August to race day I had faultless training. I was swimming (in the pool) as well as I ever have and although I had some concerns about missing bike volume the bike felt strong.   My run at Gold Coast was disappointing, but I knew I wasn't going to be be running at the same pace as Taupo out here.

My biggest unknown coming out here was the heat.  Being a heavier guy (80kg or just under)I knew the heat would impact me, especially on the run, so I had to moderate effort and do whatever else possible to keep my my core body temperature down.    I did some great, albeit tough, sessions on the wind trainer to simulate the heat, which I'm sure helped; 30-35 degrees, with no air flow for 2hrs+ certainly got me used to the heat.

Getting out 10 days before race day also undoubtedly helped.  The first run I did in Kona my HR was elevate by 20-30bpm compared to a similar run in Wellington 48hrs before.  However, by day 7 or 8 my HR was almost normal and although it would rise quicker if I pushed the effort I knew by race day I was relatively well acclimatise.

I decided to ride the bike leg in a short sleeve jersey and white arm protectors, fully covered up and with air flow the bike was a lot easier than I thought it would be, I never felt hot or uncomfortable.   Tests in the days before the race, in Kona, I knew I could maintain the intensity I needed for a reasonable time at a sustainable heart rate, however, I also knew that pushing on the bike, even a little, would very quickly elevate my heart rate.  I also found that once my HR was up it took a lot longer to moderate again. All to be expected with the conditions.

Similarly, in the days proceeding the race my heart rate on the run settled and I got a good gauge of what I was going to be able to do and importantly what would cause effort to spike too high.

Going into the race I made a clear plan for the day.  The swim course in Kona is incredible, the water is crystal clear, full of fish and warm like a swimming pool.  Watching the race in previous years I knew the start was narrow and was nervous of the 1000+ athletes who would be swimming 56-70 minutes. I planned to start on the left of the start, perhaps swimming a few extra metres, but getting cleaner water whilst still having the chance for decent feet.  Considering how I've been swimming in the pool I was confident I could get close to, or ideally just under, the hour.

I checked out the bike course over the days before the race and, conditions apart, it really isn't that tough; 10k looping around the town/village of Kona, then onto the Queen K all the way out and up to Hawi.  The road up to Havi is long, 25k+, but the actual discernible climb is only the last 10k to the top, where the prevailing wind seems to be on on your nose and the gradient ramps.  Once you get to the top of the climb you're at 60miles and have an 18mile decent ahead of you, mentally a great place to be.  A two mile climb and from 80miles you're back on the rollers to town, there are a couple of reasonable drags and the wind seemed to be all over, shifting from cross head to cross tail as you get closer to town.

While the run course isn't overly hilly - it's probably similar to Ironman NZ in terms of topography - the issue is the heat and exposure.  The first 16k, out and back on Ali'i drive is hot, although there is a little shade.  It's the remainder that's really tough.  A one k loop and climb through town and then you're back on Queen K highway for the 25/26k out and back to the Energy Lab.  Out here it's rolling highway with no shade and only a little wind.  This is where they talk about the 100 degrees+ reflected heat. 

The Race.

As normal I set myself and early alarm (3:30am) to get some brekka and go back to sleep before leaving for the start at 5am.  Unfortunately I set the alarm for 3:30PM so slept straight through to my second alarm at 4:30am.  I was a little pissed to have not eaten as planned but pleased to have got a decent sleep.  The local knowledge of our fantastic host Drew meant there were no worries about getting to the start, he efficiently got me down to the pier for soon after 5am, I got numbered, pumped the tyres and milled about with the masses.  We watched the Pro's get off and everyone headed for the water, there was a bit of a bottle neck but I had no trouble getting into the water by 6:45 for a decent warm up.  I'd opted for comfort rather than transition speed and was swimming in retro Hawaii speedo style!!

I stuck to my plan and lined up on the left on the front of only about 4 rows of people.  We had a 3 minute warning and before I knew it the canon went off.  I felt fantastic.  I'd spent a lot of anxious hours thinking about this swim and it was awesome.  I had clear water for 10 minutes, got some feet and we slowly drifted to the right and the main field.  By about 20mins I was at the buoys and I continued to swim well to the turnaround, a peek at the watch and it clicked over 32mins. Not too bad.  Unfortunately the return swim wasn't so great.  I struggled a little to maintain focus, dropped off some good feet and the last few hundred, as we battled a bit of current / swell off the harbour wall, was a pain. I wasn't too upset to exit the water in 67 mins, a personal worst IM swim (well since 2005), but it was under my 70min worst case target.

I wasn't going to win any transition prizes but Drew the local legend was there to assist again and helped me cruise through a complete change in just 4 mins and I was onto the bike in 71 mins.  All good.

The bike plan was to ride super, super easy keeping the HR at 135-140bpm, I'd estimate that with moderate conditions this should equate to a 5:10-5:20 split.  Compared to previous IM bike legs this was low intensity (IM Switz and Taupo 2011 where 145+), but hopefully it would lave me better able to run well.  It's hard going so easy when everyone was going mad in the first loops about town and onto Queen K with a tail wind, even though I was rolling at a good pace I was still going back through the field.  But I stuck to the plan, ate and drank plenty, poured water over me to keep cool and started to feel good again.

The bottom of Hawi came quickly, not having ridden this section I stuck to my 150bpm HR cap and started to roll.  As we gently climbed and drifted to the East the wind came on our noses and the gradient increased.  The last 10k to Hawi the wind was rouring and the lightweight whippets and girls were struggling. Here the 80kg rouler comes into his element!   I was easily keeping my HR were I wanted and cruising through the field.  I must have taken 100 places in 10k. At Hawi I turned in great spiritis, picked up all the fluids I could and rocketed down with tailwinds, the first 10k off the turn I averaged over 50kph, there were minutes of spinning out at 70kph+.  The lower slopes turn away from the tail wind, but it's still basically a descent all the way to 78miles, I hit 80miles at about 5:20 pace and thought I'd just keep that up.  Which is what I did. The HR was still low, I was feeling good and I was rolling through the field.  I went past all those that had gone past me at the start and another 50.  Bike split 5:19 and an average HR of 138bpm. Job Done.

Another 4 minute transition and I jogged out onto the run at a total time of 6:35 on the clock.  A 3:25 marathon and I could still sneak under 10hrs.

All i needed was 4:50k's.  After a few k's a little fast I settled into 4:45's and got into a routine of taking cool sponges and putting them into my race suit every aid station, sipping a little water and getting the gel down.  8k turnaround on Ali'i drive and I was on pace, I nipped for a loo stop and lost a minute. However, as I got going again on the return to town I slipped to 5min k's.  They felt comfortable and it kept my HR low (under 150), which I was very conscious of keeping down as I didn't want to get the core heat too high. 

Uber support camped at Lava Java all day
 The first 10k I went through in just under 50mins, and coming back through town at 16/17k was fantastic, all my wonderful supporters were at Lava Java (air horns blazing) and I felt fantastic.  If I could keep to 5 min k's until 30k I might be able to do something special in the last 10k (Of course i was dreaming!).  Through town and onto the Queen K it's another story, a miserable battle of will. The second 10k went by in just under 51mins, I was slowing but not badly.   By 24k I couldn't get the gels down I forced a few energy shotz down and promised myself coke from 32k.  I hadn't checked out the Energy Lab out and back and couldn't believe how far it seemed, but it was good to see Wellington athlete Deano Gaskin as I went onto this section, he was only about 20mins up on me. Maybe I could claw him back with that fast last 10k!!

The Queen K road is not a nice road for running on.  It's bleak.  A rolling highway through bare black lava fields, there are no land marks, nothing to aim for but the next aid station, a few new cool sponges and then the same again.  I've no idea how hot it was on the day, probably not worse than any other year, but compared to Wellington it was insane.  Thankfully at about 30k it clouded over a little, for the first time in 9 hours I rolled my arm coolers down, and although I felt terrible I started to believe I wasn't going to blow up and I could finish respectably.  the third 10k went past in 52:30, slower again but no catastrophe.   

Long way to come to break a foot!
There was no way I was going to get back those minutes and sneak under 10hrs now but I could still be close.  I hit the Cokes, which as always tasted so good, and I plodded on.  Around 38k I overtook someone who seemed to be struggling, as I went past he picked up his pace and got on my shoulder.
"you're just what I needed" he said.
"no problem" I said "aren't you Ken Glah?"
"what's left of him!...never do this race without training"
I told him I was planning on walking the next aid station and then running it home.  He was up for it so that's what we did.  Some coke, new sponges, and we started to jog out of the station.  15secs later he turned to me and said to go on, immediately he was bent double turning himself inside out.  Must have done him some good though as in the end he was only a few mins behind me.

I'd run the fourth 10k in 56mins, the last few k are a bit of a blur, getting back into town and hearing the crowds and Mike Reilly hollering in the distance was a awesome but the filthy dog leg they take you on away from the finish is just rude.  Crossing the finish line in 10:12: 54 I just felt relief. I didn't race Kona I survived it, I had a plan that I thought would get me around, I stuck to it and it worked.  I certainly could have pushed the bike a little more, 5:05-5:10 would have been easy enough, but who knows what it would have done to my run split.  I'm proud to have got to Kona and I'm pleased with a sensible, controlled, effort on the day. Seven years of your advise has obviously taught me something Dave.

Could I have done more this day? Who knows, probably not much.
Can I go faster? Undoubtedly.
Do I want to try? Yes, but maybe not next year.

I've some ideas for what i'll do next year but I've had a few weeks of holiday and non-triathlon life and now isn't the time to rush into any plans.  Mel has been incredible in her support but I'm not sure I can ask her to do it again.  That said if she gets another 2.5weeks in Hawaii afterwards it may be more tolerable!!

I had so many kind wishes and messages, leading up to, during, and after this event.  I do realise how lucky I am to have had this experience and thank everyone for their support, every bit of encouragement helped me to the line.

If you are on the Kona qualification brink, like I was for several years, don't give up and if you get the chance to go this race grab it.  It is an experience I will never forget.

Sorry for another digest. Back to work. Laurence

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Where are the pre-race pics ?
Heard there where some great shots of you in the underpants run ?
A pleasure to welcome you and Mel to our Ohana....

Andrew & Sunny Pope