Race: Ironman World Championship
Where: Kona, HI
When: October 10, 2015
- Swim – 1:13
- Bike – 5:36
- Run – 3:26
- Total – 10:25
I intended to write this race report up immediately after Kona, but once I returned home, work had other ideas. Plus, I had put off my actuarial studies in pursuit of Kona, so after finishing, it was only fair that I jump back into those as well. Here we are, two months later. Better late than never!
Ironman Boulder | The Plan
Ironman Boulder | Training Update I
Ironman Boulder | Training Update II | Ups and Downs
Ironman Boulder | Race Report | Part 1
Ironman Boulder | Race Report | Part 2
Ironman World Championship 2015 | Pre-Race Report
As I mentioned in my pre-race report, the atmosphere leading up to race day was incredible. Once race day rolled around, though, the energy felt like a normal race. A normal race with helicopters. The helicopters were cool. And by ‘normal race’ I mean a normal Ironman event. Which is to say the atmosphere was electric, but a manageable amount of electricity.
I arrived at transition about an hour and a half before the age group men were scheduled to start. I didn’t know how long it would take to get through my checklist (body marking, bag drop, sunscreen, Vaseline, pump bike tires, etc.) and didn’t want to feel rushed. No worries there, I finished my prep in about 20 minutes which left just about an hour to hang out by myself – I had to leave Danielle and my parents behind before I entered transition, and the area was pretty locked down so I couldn’t figure out a way to meet up with them. No problem. I found a patch of grass and watched the sun rise.
Tip – if you are relying on the Vaseline and sunscreen provided in transition GET TO TRANSITION EARLY. I did and got all lubed up. I went back about 40 minutes prior to the start of the race to get a little more Vaseline (I didn’t want a repeat of the chafing I endured at Ironman Boulder), and they were all out. Bummer.
Eventually, I heard the ‘boom’ announcing the start of the pro men’s race. And another one for the pro women’s race a few minutes later. This meant it was time to start making my way to the water entry. One important thing to mention here – Kona is a mass swim start and the start line is 100 yards away from shore. Mass starts are awesome to watch on TV and pretty fun to be a part of, but they can be a little intimidating. As a result, there is a bit of gamesmanship occurring at the water entry. Everybody wants to get into the water for the start of the race (you don’t want to be that guy way back at the beach when the gun goes off) but nobody wants to spend unnecessary time in the water. There was a long line of people funneling into the water and once this line hit the water there were two types of people:
- Fast swimmers. The fast swimmers would immediately start swimming out to the start line. They wanted to get into a good position for the cannon and didn’t care about treading water for a few extra minutes.
- Not Fast Swimmers (me). These folks were taking their sweet-ass time getting into the water. Play by play as follows:
- Ok, I’m on the beach. Ugh, I still have 5 minutes until the start of the race. I don’t want to tread water for that long. Let me readjust my goggles. (Readjusts goggles). Ok, 4 minutes and 45 seconds until the start of the race. Folks are queuing up behind me. I should probably go a little further into the water. (Shuffles into the water. Water at my ankles.). Stop. Ok, I’m going to stand behind this guy. This way people can’t get mad at me for holding up the line…I’m just waiting for this guy to move. (Guy moves.) Dammit! (Shuffles a bit further into the water. Water at my knees.) 4 minutes and 20 seconds until the start of the race. Another 2 minutes to kill. Oh, I know! I’ll look at my watch and pretend I’m fixing something! (Presses a few buttons on watch. Scrunches face.)…..
Now imagine 500 people playing this game. With about 3 minutes remaining, I sucked it up and swam out to the start line.
Goal – 1:11
Actual – 1:12:58
Per my pre-race report, my plan was to start near the back. I did this and got into a good groove. Per usual, the turnaround boat seemed like it would never come. My arms felt great at the turnaround, however. In my previous two Ironman swims, my arms felt heavy at the halfway point. This was a positive sign. So I started to pick it up a bit for the swim back. I was able to do this somewhat, but I kept on getting boxed in. I guess this is the drawback to the start slow and speed up strategy.
One fun note – Probably 2/3rds of the way back, I was passed by a woman (easily identified by her pink swim cap…guys had blue swim caps). The age-group women started 15 minutes after the age-group men so she was at least 15 minutes faster than me. Since I am a slower swimmer, I was expecting to get passed by several women, but man…..she was SO FAST. She was like a human submarine. It reminded me of the one time I was biking up Cottonwood Pass near Buena Vista and I was passed by an older couple (probably in their 60’s) riding electric bikes. Here I was, biking at a hard effort and they zoom by me without breaking a sweat. The fact that they had electric bikes made it less of a mental blow, but the feeling was the same…how is it possible to go that fast?!
I exited the water in a hair under 1:13. A little slower than the time I wanted, but I was happy with it.
T1 was crowded. I took my time to make sure I had extra sunscreen on. Then it was out to the bike course.
Goal – 5:35
Actual – 5:36:30
The first few miles of the bike course meander through the town. You go this way, then back that way, then down here and back up there, and then, finally, out onto the Queen K. Holy traffic. Good luck staying draft legal for the first 5 miles. There are so many bikers! Mostly they were zooming around me though I would pass a person every now and then.
After the first 5 miles, the rest of the course is an out-and-back along the Queen K highway. On any other day, the bike course would be a stunning ride. To your left – the ocean! So blue! To your right – pitch black lava fields. And a mountain. I mean, come on. It is gorgeous. On this day, however, I didn’t really care about the views. Not that I didn’t care, but more that I was concentrating on other factors – nutrition, water, staying draft legal, keeping my power in check, etc. Plus, I had already driven the course with my family so I had seen it all before (I know, I know, poor Sam forced to endure another day in paradise).
Eventually, I saw the pro men heading back towards Kona. The pro women were just behind. I had been following the pro fields closely leading up to race day, so it was fun to see which pros were in the lead pack if only for a few seconds.
The first 60 miles were fast. I looked at my watch at the turnaround in Hawi and thought…I’m on pace to go sub 5:20. As I mentioned in my pre-race report, I knew my bike endurance was a bit less than before Boulder and I could definitely feel my legs were heavy by the time I hit Hawi. I knew the way back was going to be a little slower, but I was still optimistic that I could go sub 5:20.
That is, I was optimistic until I got back down from Hawi and then…HELLO WIND. Anything you read about the Kona bike course begins and ends with the impact wind has on the race. I knew this. I was expecting it. But I was also hoping that maybe this year was different. Maybe I would have the wind at my back. Maybe I would be the exception.
The wind showed up at mile 80. As advertised. The last 30 miles of the ride were into a headwind. It wasn’t even that bad of a headwind…I want to say 10-15 mph. But from miles 80-110…not cool. It was hot too. But the heat isn’t what I’ll remember from the race…I’ll remember the wind. I only know it was hot because other people told me it was hot and because I got a nasty sunburn on my back. That wind though.
Either way, over the last 30 miles a bunch of people passed me. I was starting to feel my lack of bike endurance combined with the fact that I probably went out a little too fast in the beginning. I also got quite uncomfortable on my bike with 20 miles to go. Staying aero got difficult. This is most likely due to not spending enough time on my bike prior to the event.
With around 10 miles to go in the ride, I turned it around mentally and ended up finishing pretty strong. Overall, I was happy with my bike time. My nutrition was spot-on (1600 calories!), and I was able to fight through some mental lows to finish strong. Small victories.
When I was biking past the Energy Lab, Jan Frodeno (the eventual men’s champion) was just about to turn into the Energy Lab – i.e. he was at mile 17-ish of the marathon. Pretty cool to see.
T2. T2 was memorable for two reasons. First, I sat next to the urinal trough. Tip – never do this. A temporary urinal trough located in a triathlon transition tent in 90+ degree weather after 1000+ athletes have been through this transition tent…It singed the nostrils a bit if you know what I mean. I guess it made for quicker transition time. Second, it was CROWDED. In my Ironman Boulder race report I commented on how empty the T2 transition tent was (#humblebrag), but at the world championships, holy cow. Lots of people.
Goal – 3:35
Actual – 3:26:29
The run is a single loop course composed of two separate out and backs. The first 10 miles are along Ali’I drive. 5 out. 5 back. The next 16 are along the Queen K highway – out to the energy lab and back. Spoiler – the Queen K section is brutal. Actually, brutal isn’t an adequate description. The Queen K section is cruel. Cruel is better.
I made a decision not to change out of my damp socks before I started the run. I figured my feet were going to be soaked anyway. Spoiler – my feet were sopping wet with before mile marker one. Tons of folks were out with hoses ablazin’ along Alli’l. I ran through every single one. No regrets – it was insanely hot.
Running along Alli’i drive was fun. People out cheering. Ocean views. Good times. Right before I left town to start the Queen K section, however, I could tell my fastest miles were behind me. My legs were already tired. They felt full, that’s the best way to describe it. I wasn’t too worried, though. Heading into the race, I knew my running fitness was much lower than Boulder so I wasn’t expecting to feel great for the last half of the run (just keep moving).
But damn…the last 16 miles were cruel (see above). Once you get to the Queen K, the crowd support completely drys up. It is just you and an endless stretch of blacktop. Oh, and it is still hot. The crazy thing is that I was incredibly fortunate to have the sun hiding behind clouds for almost the entire 16 miles I was on the Queen K.
Growing up, I remember watching the Kona NBC specials and I distinctly remember hearing about ‘The Energy Lab’. It is one of the iconic parts of Kona. So, as soon as I got onto the Queen K I had it my mind that I just had to make it to the Energy Lab. Just make it to the Energy Lab, Sam. One thing they don’t mention on TV…to get to the energy lab you need to run eight miles on the Queen K. Eight miles on a highway, in the heat, through lava fields with no crowd support. Longest 20 miles of my life (see what I did there).
After what felt like 40 days of running, I FINALLY saw the solar panels located at the entrance of the energy lab. At first I was excited – the energy lab! I can finally turnaround! But then I looked at my watch and realized I still had another eight miles to run. Cue despair. I have never wanted to walk as bad as when I was running(ish) through the energy lab. In fact, I was *this* close to walking when I thought to myself, ‘Danielle wouldn’t quit’. It was one of those moments where I was preparing the speech I would give to Danielle when I got done about why I had started walking. “It was just so hot! I was mentally drained. This isn’t a goal race.” Blah, blah, blah. The more I thought through my speech, the more I realized how lame it was. So I kept on moving and eventually pulled through the low patch.
The energy lab to the finish was long, hot, and uneventful. Two folks passed me and I probably passed a handful of folks. Other than that, it was a long line of tired athletes. Fortunately, the temperatures started to fall making things a bit more bearable.
Let’s be real through, getting off of the Queen K was amazing. Best right hand turn of my life (except for the right hand turn I made when I walked down the aisle a couple of years ago #browniepoints). I was so ready to be done with that road. The last mile, running through town, was amazing. Mostly because I wasn’t on the Queen K anymore, but also because it had a lot of downhill and the crowds were out in full force. And then the finisher’s chute! I was done! With Kona! Ahhhhhh!
- By far, the best I have felt after an Ironman – the day of.
- By far, the best I have slept before an Ironman. I slept a solid 7 hours.
- Blisters. Terrible blisters. I couldn’t walk normally until a week later.
- I lost my first toenail as a result of running! I feel like this is a rite of passage for endurance athletes.
So this leads to the inevitable question – What’s next? Well, the answer to that is deserving of a separate blog post. I’ll just say, I’ve heard Southeast Asia is amazing this time of year.