Kona Race Report 2011

I’ve always conceived of Kona as more of a victory lap than an “A Race,” and even more so this year.  I stepped off the airplane into the lava fields with legs less fit than I’d ever had for an Ironman, and I decided rather than to push myself on quasi injured and unprepared legs I’d take things back a notch and turn the race into a fun run.

Which is not to say I expected to be all that slow.  One thing that most people don’t understand about Ironman is exactly HOW LITTLE time you lose by going a good bit easier in the swim and bike:
  •  For most people, swimming 4 seconds per 100 yards slower than their usual IM pace will feel ridiculously easy. The time cost?  Less than 3 minutes.
  • A decrease in power on the bike of 10% will make the bike feel tremendously easier.  If you lose that 10% by coasting more and easing off your power when your speed is above average, then you’ll lose shockingly little time.  The time cost?  Probably less than 20 minutes in my case.

So if you’re not quite in full Ironman shape and you swim easy and bike easy you might lose somewhere in the ballpark of 20 minutes but put yourself in a great position to have a strong marathon despite your limited fitness.  Based on that math, I thought there was still a (very remote) possibility I could go sub 10 at Kona (I went 9:43 last year), even if I did the swim & bike in an easy and fun way.

Not to mention that I’ve always found having a bit of a care free attitude going into an Ironman to be a great advantage.  I enjoyed race week and rather than fuss about my pre race meal we celebrated Caroline’s birthday at Huggo’s where I carb loaded on a couple of beers, a cheeseburger and 3 scoops of mac salad.  I slept like a baby.  To be honest, I was in blissful denial that I was going to have to race 140.6 miles all the way up until when the cannon boomed.  Of course, an Ironman isn’t much of a “fun run” if end up bonked, hot, and tired out in the lava fields due to carelessness, so a bit of race planning was still in order.  When we got back from Caroline’s b’day celebration I typed out a quick race plan on the TriForce Discussion Board and went to bed.

Race Morning

I woke up feeling good at 3:45.  Caroline played some tunes & got us coffee while I began the ever so important race to eat then “digest” before leaving the hotel room. I ended up being fashionably late to transition as usual, but all I needed to do was pump my tires & fill my bike bottle and I was be ready to go.

Walking To Transition

Swim

For the swim my plan was simple: start easy, look for cool fish, swim easy, and draft 100% of the time.

I nailed it on all counts!   I was so close to people’s feet that I figured out which little piggy ate roast beef (it’s the middle one).  I also saw 2 dolphins swimming below me when I was heading back in and caught the more unusual sight of a disembodied speed suit floating below.   I swam much easier than last year and wasn’t tired at all heading into T1.  Time cost versus last year when I swam much more aggressively?  2 minutes (and I was in slightly better swim shape last year too).

Caroline's View of the Swim from Our Hotel Room Balcony

Bike

Only 108 miles left until T2!

My plan was to bike super conservatively: * coast like a crazy man (any time I was over 25 mph w/ momentum) *  never feel like was was pushing at all if over 21 mph * keep my average watts w/o zeros around 190 watts (I was over 220 at IMCdA) * if I was in a legal pack not to pass unless it was ridiculously slow * keep my head low & aero * relax & have fun in the scary winds * pour water in my helmet vents to cool * and to follow my typical fueling strategy (1/6 cliff bar per 10 min & 1 bottle IM perform every 10 miles).

My main goal was not to blow up my quasi-injured quads and then have to limp in for 56 miles or so (which is what happened every time I tried to ride longer than 2 hours in my preparation!).   A healthy fear of that scenario is probably why I felt surprisingly at peace as I was passed by what felt like 100s of people in the first 10 mile section before you head up out to the legendary Queen K (the main highway you follow all the way to the top of the Island).

My placing stabilized a bit about 20 miles into the ride and my average watts gradually climbed from my planned 190 up to 203 (excluding the ample zeros where I coasted like a madman) where they stayed for the rest of the ride. Besides the extra wattage, which felt comfortable and appropriate, I followed my plan nearly perfectly (although a good legal draft proved surprisingly elusive).  I even enjoyed the ocean view frequently, sometimes getting quizzical looks as I passed someone saying “Beautiful view, huh?!”

Eating 1/6 of a cliff bar every 10 minutes when my watch beeps.

Climbing up to the turnaround at the little town of Hawi, the winds seemed to be blowing hard and I was anticipating a scary descent (last year I got blown across the rumble strip into the shoulder of the road!).   At this point my shoulders and quads were locking up and I got off my bike at the turnaround to stretch things out and chat with spectators.  My number one priority was to keep my quads from having catastrophic failure and I remembered how tired my shoulders where on the descent last year from fighting the wind, and I wrote in my Kona Fun Run Plan that if something hurt I’d stop & stretch–so that’s what I did.  I pulled over to the side at the turnaround and stretched out my shoulders and quads while chatting with spectators (who seemed confused by my stopping & chatting).

I hopped back on my bike and grit my teeth anticipating a scary, “hold on for my life” windy descent and found that it was pretty peaceful and not scary at all!  What luck!  Probably due to the lack of winds, I hit mile 70 and did a little math and realized that if I could hold 20-21 mph for the rest of the bike ride I’d have a strong shot at breaking 10 hours.  At that point my Kona “Fun Run” was over, since I had to give it a shot to extend my perfect record of sub 10 Ironman races to 6 in a row!

"Fun Run" Finished

The last 20 miles of the bike were pretty miserable, as they should be with such limited preparation (if my legs felt strong then life just wouldn’t be fair!).  I thought there was a nasty head wind, but when I mentioned it to some of my buddies the day after the race they didn’t seem to notice, which says alot about how I was feeling!  My shoulders were dead tired & in knots, probably due to being deconditioned from doing so little riding in the TT position during my buildup.  My quads and knees were also starting to lock up.  I was getting out of the aero position to stretch quite frequently.  At one point I unclipped one leg at a time to to stretch my quads while coasting.  When I resumed pedaling the tendons on both knees were screaming with pain.  I thought this could be the end of my race, but the pain subsided as quickly as it arrived and I was able to grind my way back to T2.

What did all my ridiculous coasting, stopping & stretching, and going easy cost me versus last year? 15 minutes (although last year was much more windy so it’s not quite an apples to apples comparison).

Run.

Finish 3/4 Liter of IM Perform / 4 aid stations = Bonk Proof

The Kona run is a hot, nasty beast.  The fact that I knew what to expect from last year  was a HUGE help.  Heading out on the run my severely impaired brain calculated that I needed to average about 7:40 per mile to break 10 hours.  This seemed very reasonable until I realized that it takes me at least 20 seconds to go through each aid station to put ice in my hat and shorts and to squeeze sponges on my head or refill my bottle.

The first 10 miles consists of 5 miles out and back along Ali’i Drive- the main strip in town.  This part of the race is hot, but exciting and fun since it’s lined with spectators and there is plenty to see.  It’s also notorious for racers getting overly excited and blasting along at a suicidal pace.   During this part of the race I relaxed and enjoyed myself and focused on “cooling and fueling.”  I stopped to kiss Caroline and tell her I loved her and I had the energy to chat with some various FOTFs whose path I crossed.

Ali'i Drive- the "fun" part of the course (2 cups of ice under my hat)

My mantra was “just jog to Palani hill” (the steep hill that takes you up to the highway).
I did a serious race walk up the lower part of Palani (which takes restraint since the hill is lined with screaming spectators) then jogged up the rest of the hill.  Palani takes you back up to the Queen K for a miserable interminable 5 miles out to the Natural Energy Lab.  My first mantra was “just jog to the half way point,” then my mantra was “jog to the energy lab.”  As you look down the Queen K it’s just a bleak big closed highway surrounded by lava fields and it’s impossible to get a true sense of distance as you look down the road.   It was a MASSIVE help that I remembered just how long these miles felt (mentally) last year. I expected the mile markers to seem about an hour apart, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Although this didn’t help the pain (which is physical), it helped a great deal to reduce the suffering (which is mental).  At this point tried to skip ice at one aid station because I thought the weather was cooling.  Big mistake!  That was the last time I skipped ice until I was 3 miles from the finish.
After the long five miles on the Queen K, you make a right turn into the Natural Energy Lab and gradually head downhill toward the ocean, make a right, then turn around and come back up hill.  For some reason I find this 4 mile detour on the course to be enjoyable, maybe because on the way down you get to see the ocean and on the way back up you know you’re finally heading toward the finish.   I hit mile 16 down in the energy lab which made the math easy enough for me to figure out that I could average just slightly faster than 8 minutes per mile for the last 10 miles and still break 10 hours.   Which again is not as easy as it sounds given the 20+ seconds per mile I was spending cooling down at aid stations!
Out of the energy lab you turn back on the Queen K for one last miserable hot 5 mile grind back through the lava fields back to the top of Palani hill.   As expected, the miles felt slower than ever. But I could smell the finish at this point and I wasn’t going to miss out on my 6th consecutive sub 10 finish by slowing down now!   With 3 miles left I ditched my bottle, which for me always symbolizes that it’s time to forget fueling, cooling and pacing and to think of nothing else but pushing home!  Finally I reached the blessed top of Palani and cruised down the hill and back into town.
You finish back on on Ali’i Drive with one of the greatest finish line parties in all of sport.  I was so happy to be finished that I ran down the finishing chute slapping hands and making ridiculous funny faces.

Yippee!

I finished in 9:58 knowing that in more than any other race I earned this one with my brains and veteran wileyness.  For the 6th time in 6 Ironman races I have the satisfaction of knowing that I raced smart and got a result that was very close to the best I could have possibly gotten, which is an amazing feeling.

9:58:32- The Thrill!

9:58:36- The Agony

The Misery

 

And the Thrill Again

About Coady

Lucky to be coaching some really awesome & fun people!
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