Well my first Kona experience certainly wasn’t what I had hoped for, however I have come away knowing it’s certainly a course I can conquer!
I’ve always maintained throughout the transition from short course to long that Swim, Bike, Run comes naturally, it’s the nutrition that’s going to be the real test. In an olympic distance ITU race sometimes you slap a bottle on just for ‘looks’ and if you’re feeling like treating yourself you may even tape a gel to your frame. It seems to get exponentially more complex the longer the race gets! By this stage I think I have a pretty good Half Ironman plan in place, however my Ironman inexperience certainly shows.
The year on a whole has been a great one, consistently at the sharp end of the field and on several occasions racing out of my comfort zone off the front and making the race mine! In fact it seemed like the only time I didn’t have a good race was when I was fighting the flu passed on from my kids!
I’ve made some great gains on the bike and it’s certainly been a massive advantage having SPECIALIZED as a main sponsor located only a 40min drive away. I was the first to admit my position wasn’t the greatest at the start of the year and it still isn’t perfect, however over the course of 8 months it’s come a very long way. I’ve had to hold myself back at ‘trolls’ commenting on pics they would see online, thinking a few simple adjustments are going to make the difference. These people probably have time on their hands to troll because they’re injured! Good things take time and working with various teams at SPECIALIZED we were able to slowly improve my position without a loss in power or injury.
The lead up to Kona was pretty good as well, unfortunately Vegas was smack-bang in the middle of some pretty intense training but once my body accepted its punishment things started to come together nicely at the right time. Looking back on my build-up I wouldn’t have changed much, the training is some of the best here in Santa Cruz and the weather was even behaving. Maybe next year I’ll head over for a small 5 day block about 4-5 weeks out, however you are very limited for running in Kona and it seems like a great recipe for injury!
Kona, or should I say Kona Ironman week, it’s a little nuts! This is where the hardcore triathletes come to play and it’s very hard to distinguish AGers from pros, or even supporters from competitors! The week is heaven for an endurance sport junkie with the perfect mixture of festivities, compression wear, carbon, electrolyte, testosterone and coffee with probably a little too much flesh, panic training and traffic!
Leading into this race I was feeling very confident, training had been going really well and at the end of the day I had nothing to lose. Historically a lot of athletes had failed miserably on their first crack at the Big Island, however I had no reason or excuse in my books.
Even for the biggest race of the year the vibe is far more relaxed than any ITU race I’ve done, maybe it’s the island mojo or maybe being surrounded by thousands of other athletes who have more excitement than nerves, rubs off on you.
The race started without issue and I quickly got into my work, sitting close to the front but mindful that it was a big day ahead and tried to be patient. The pace wasn’t that fast out there, in fact -dare I say – a little slow making it a harder swim. Let me explain; in a fast swim it’s more spread out therefore you have clear water and are able to swim your natural stroke, however on a slower swim you end up fighting and working hard to hold your ground.
I came out in a large front group and we all headed out on the bike. From what I understand about this race positioning on the bike is crucial, especially with such a large group. This is a non drafting event however with only a 12m spacing there is still a small advantage and you want to be placed near the front when the breaks start to happen. The only problem with that is everyone else wants to be there as well and you constantly find yourself fending off others cutting in front of you, needless to say it got quite heated out there and at times a little physical!
About 50km into the bike things started going a little wrong, every time I took a drink some of it didn’t want to stay down. I wasn’t vomiting, more just having small amount repeat back up. Not too much cause for concern but I could tell that my system wasn’t processing things properly. As the race went on this small lack of nutrition began to affect my performance and when the telling breaks started to happen on the way up to Hawi I wasn’t able to go with it.
From that point on it was a matter of hope. I was hoping that my stomach and system would just click and start feeding my muscles properly. In an event like this and certainly under conditions like this it’s very hard to rebound. I was able to make it back to Kona still positioned relatively well, however I certainly wasn’t in the competitive condition I had hoped for.
Out on the run and I knew it was going to be a battle, initially the only reason I was holding pace was because I was so fit. By now barely any food was flowing through my system, however instead of repeating on me it just sat in my gut as I got more and more bloated.
Finally at about the 20km mark on the run everything came out! In a way it was good as it relieved a lot of the pressure on my stomach, but on the other hand it showed how much my body was missing out on. From that point on it was a case of trying to find what my body wouldn’t reject; bananas, gels, coke, anything I tried just came straight back up! I tried this for about another 5km but nothing as the positions just slipped further back. My day was DONE!
Needless to say I was devastated, I’d come to the Big Island in fantastic shape full of confidence; I have to say I’m more frustrated than disappointed – frustrated about the lost opportunity over something in my mind that could be a simple fix.
I’m always an optimistic type of guy and try to look for the positives in everything; certainly the best way to learn is through your mistakes and I have a lot to learn from this experience, I’ve run over multiple scenarios that may have caused these stomach issues and feel I have a good grasp of what caused it and certainly how to prevent it in the future.
I’ve also come away from the island with enthusiasm; even though I had a disastrous race I still thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I love the course and what it offers, I love the elements and how they slowly beat you down, finally I love the atmosphere and how passionate both the athletes and spectators are about the event.
Sign me up for next year!