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The Final Chapter: Nath's Kona race report

Race Day; Kona World Championships

Firstly I would like to thank Roxii for the opportunity to share my journey of training for and competing in the Ironman World Championships, it has been a great experience.

Part reason I was happy to share my training and ultimately the race with the transitions community is that even after 20 plus years in the sport I still love reading all about what training people, including all of the detail of equipment, power etc. But a major reason was to open up to as many new comers and people who have never been to this kind of level before on what it takes and what goes into training for a major ironman and then ultimately racing it.

Hopefully I have provided enough detail and information to give a good insight into my training techniques, philosophy, including all of the power, pacing and nutrition details. I haven’t hidden anything and if anyone wants any more detail or information feel free to ask.

I have written this race report with all of this detail also, not hiding from my ambitions which may seem lofty and opening myself to criticism but its all there. So hopefully people who may have the ambition of one day racing Kona can get some useful information from this and others who wonder how to go about an ironman can also see what goes into it and they can dare to dream too.

Race day

I awoke prior to the alarm at around 3:30am on race morning and waited in bed preparing for the big day, my nerves were OK and I was comfortable facing what lay ahead.

I had a small solid breakfast of muesli with yoghurt and banana nice and early at around 4:15am, which allows it to settle before the race starts. If I eat solid food any later than this prior to a race, it just comes back up after the swim, so I eat nice and early and then top up the calories via an ensure liquid drink at around an hour prior to start time.

I was quite excited that after all of these years watching this event I was about to experience the race for myself, I couldn’t wait to get out there and get started!

Body marking and check in all went fairly smoothly, no surprises of forgotten gear so I set up my bike and went for a lay down on the grass. After so many triathlons I’ve got my bike setup routine fairly down pat, so I had plenty of time to chill out and enjoy the show. I had said my final goodbyes to my family before check in we agreed that they would head away from the pier to watch the swim start out of the crowds, further down from the pier so I didn’t need to look for them again, so I chilled out with a lie down.

20-30mins before start time I made my way to the swim entry point and once again had a lay down to relax. You will often find me at the start of a race laying down somewhere chilling out away from the negative stress energy of people.

Having said that, I was very nervous prior to getting in the water. I am not normally nervous before races anymore but I think with all of the effort that goes into this one and the hype around it I was being whipped with nerves by the occasion. Two helicopters overhead, the American anthem, thousands of spectators and then the pro start all made this a great experience already.

Swim

Equipment;

• Dare to try swimskin which I was given to review last season http://transitions.org.au/index.php?a=56
• Custom Team Prawn Sub 4 endurance tri suit
• Speedo goggles

After entering the water nice and early I stopped and looked back to the shore to soak it all in and this was a truly amazing experience. I knew that the triathlon world and to some degree a large chunk of the sporting world were focused on this very spot right now, so many people would love to be where I am right now.

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I positioned myself on the left side and 2-3 back to avoid the aggressive swim starters as I am not a strong swimmer and I am only one paced so can’t really explode out with the fast guys. The start was typically willing with everyone fighting for their own clear space to swim in, but nothing that I haven’t experienced in other races elsewhere. There was no aggressive behaviour such as punching, elbowing or kicking which I had expected; generally guys were just trying to get their own positions.

I breathe on my left side only so I made my way to the right hand side of the course so that I could keep an eye on guys cramping my swim and then after around 800m I was able to swim with some comfort.

My goal time for the swim was around 1:03 based on my previous non wetsuit swims and having done more swimming in this preparation than any previous races. I don’t use my garmin to track my swims but I did check the time after turning the boat at halfway and the time was 7:24am which meant that due to the 6:55am start I had done around 29mins and I was very pleased with my progress so far.

My return journey was reasonably uneventful, I had enough room to swim and I just kept telling myself the prompts “get a good catch, pull through and relax”.

I headed back to the pier aiming for the big Gatorade bottle which made for good sighting, however about 100-200 m before the pier the marker buoys turned right to the swim exit. I followed a number of swimmers towards the bottle before realizing that I should have turned right, possibly costing me a minute or two extra for the swim but I did correct myself earlier than a number of people.

My final swim time was 1:09 which was disappointing and I don’t know how I lost so much time coming back from the turnaround as I felt good throughout and as usual I’m left with the knowledge that I should swim more. But I have been saying that for years so it probably wont change!

Disappointing swim and give myself a C.

Bike

Before I start my explanation of my ride I thought I might give a full description of my bike & set up.

• Bike – Chinese frame similar to a BMC (good enough to get a shirt from the BMC people at bike check in!)
• Wheels – Wheelscience Valkyrie 80/60 clincher combo
• Specialized turbo cotton tryes with vittoria latex tubes & 20ml of Stans tire sealant
• Aero bars – zipp extenstions & generic drops
• Shimano durace mechanical front & rear derailleurs
• 10 speed 36/54 front & 11/23 rear
• Shimano durace chain – shimano lube removed and treated with squirt lubricant as per friction facts recommendations
• Ceramic speed ceramic jockey wheels
• Ceramic speed ceramic bottom bracket
• Power2max power meter
• 165mm rotor compact cranks
• Shimano ultegra pedals
• Cobb JOF saddle
• Bike fit from Retul in Sydney

See below for a photo of my bike setup during the race, not the best photo sorry.

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Entering into T1 I quickly stopped and had a good drink of water from the hoses hanging down in the tents which is not something I normally do but the water in Kona was very salty!

My T1 bag only consisted of my bike shoes so I just grabbed them and was straight through transition in no time and onto the bike to put my shoes on when I got to my bike and I was away.

I was alert to being careful on the first section of the bike course around Kona with the little uphill sections and everyone fighting for positions, so I made sure I watched my power and other competitors overly excited and not watching what they were doing. I had to laugh at guys standing up while going up Palani stomping on the pedals but I was prepared for it and just let it all happen and enjoyed the show.

Out onto the Queen K I was feeling tops and ready to go to work. I am normally a long way back after the swim and today was no different, probably even worse than normal. I’ve done a lot of racing where drafting is a problem, so it was going to take all of my rat cunning to be careful and not get caught up in the drafting and get a spell in the penalty box.

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My goal power for the ride was between 200-205w NP which is my typical IM power.
I hadn’t completed an FTP test in the final 10 weeks of my training preparations which was probably not the best thing as I didn’t have an exact number for my current FTP however I was confidant in my bike fitness and assume it would be circa 260w. This would mean my target of 200w would be 77% of FTP and then if I had a 5hr ride my ride TSS would be 295 -300 which is my optimal TSS for am IM ride. If anyone wants any info on this search google for calculating TSS.

My first hour of the bike went by right on track….

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Averaging 203w and just under 40km/hr, just as I had planned so things were on track.

We had a slight tailwind so I was flying along the Queen K and I was having some trouble getting away from most of the traffic, which is unusual for me as normally I stamp some authority on the bike and reel in the swimmers. I had to just ride to my power and forget about everyone else which didn’t really faze me at all. I was chatting to a guy from Wagga who was doing well but a little stressed by the crowds and I just tried to tell him to let it be, and wait for the 140km mark where the real stuff starts.

The second hour of the bike went to plan just as the first and I had started the climb to Hawi, the part of the course I was looking forward to making gains and lifting my placing. As you can see my power was still on target and the temp was starting to rise.

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As we headed towards Hawi I noted that there were really no white caps out in the ocean so this lifted the spirits knowing we were not going to be heading into a belting headwind. However the wind was still pretty strong and made the ride challenging.

Hawi is actually slightly past the halfway point of the bike and I reached the 90km mark in 2:25hr with an average power of 206w and my cadence was 90 which was also right on target.

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Prior to reaching Hawi I took note of some guys who I knew would be leading my age group and figured that they were around 6-8 mins in front of me so I had done a nice job in catching up a lot of time to them after my poor swim.
My nutrition plan was to use 2 bidons of Infinite with each bottle containing 2hrs of my planned nutrition and supplemented with some SIS gels taped to the top tube of my bike. I was targeting just under 300cal per hour and trying to increase this slightly in the last hour of the ride. This has the double benefit of slowing me down at the start of the run plus gives me a good head start my run nutrition where it is hard to get the calories in.

Things were going nicely to plan by the turn around at Hawi so I didn’t grab special needs as I didn’t need anything from it. My special needs bag only had a spare tube, canisters and one bidon of infinite in case I dropped one.
I attacked the section from Hawi to Waikoloa like a mad man as this is where I was looking to make placing’s. I have been cycling for almost my whole life and I am very confident on the bike so descending from Hawi in the winds didn’t bother me.

Reaching speeds of 70km/hr I passed a bucket load of guys who were white knuckled and cautious down the hill with the tail wind! Some guys were sitting up, using their brakes while I was tucked down in the big dog running out of gears giving it as much as I could! My only concern was someone else with poor handling skills swinging out in front of me.

One thing which amazed me at how poorly a lot of guys paced themselves on the hills. A lot of guys would stomp on the peddles dropping me uphill and then sit up on the downhills where I would hold my 200w I would pass large numbers of people coming downhill. I cannot emphasis enough the importance of using a power meter, or a heart rate monitor at least and temper your efforts so you ride a nice consistent effort for the whole ride. Needless to say I didn’t see a lot of these guys in the final hour or so of the ride as they dropped back from the spiking in effort.

The most challenging part of the ride was from the 120 -160km section where the heat, rolling hills and winds made it a real dead zone where you just have to put your head down and get the job done. I was feeling the pinch and things were getting tough at around the 110km mark and at this point I knew that I just needed to hide from the wind as much as possible and get through the next 30km with as little effort as possible and keep on top of my nutrition. By this stage there were no longer big groups, only single riders or the odd small group of a couple of guys so I just worked off whoever was in my area to sit back on the legal distance and hide as much as possible.

During this section I did notice a number of guys getting busted for drafting so concentration was required so that I played the rules correctly, but getting as much help as I could when I could.

By the time I reached the 160km mark I was feeling good and on top of things so I just needed to nail the final 20k’s to secure a nice sub 5hr ride. I was provided with a nice set of wheels from Pete Coombe from Wheelscience wheels and I wanted to make sure that I returned the favour and put his wheels to good use which would help him to promote his fledgling business. For a long part of the ride I was looking at my garmin thinking that sub 4:50 was definitely on the cards, however the headwinds from 140km to 170km really knocked my speeds down.

Approaching T2 I was happy with my ride and felt in good condition, ready to take on the run and things were heating up nicely which was just as I like it.

The final details of the ride were just as I had planned and I was very happy with 4:55hr and average power 199w. My training peaks file has the ride at 335TSS and 83% intensity; however this has an old FTP figure which I didn’t update as I got fitter over the final 10 weeks of the preparation.

Overall happy with my efforts and couldn’t really have done too much better so I’d rate it an A.

Bike file
http://tpks.ws/7CiE

Run

The run through T2 is a quite a long one in Kona as you have to run all of the way around the pier and as I sat down I had 2 guys straight into helping me, one placing a wet towel over me which was nice.

My run equipment consisted of;
• On – Cloudsurfers
• Full trisuit worn all day
• Fuel belt with 3 SIS gels and 6 no doze tablets

The run traverses along Ali’I drive from the pier for 8km to St Michaels church and back which was absolutely fantastic, with loads of support and distractions.

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My plan was to run the first 5km at around 4:30-4:40 min/k’s and then hold around 4:30’s for the next 5-10km, with an overall target of around 3:20hr.

As I went along Ali’I I was now starting to pass a few of the female pro athletes and the odd male pro who had exploded and I was now getting to the pointy end of the race, so I was really starting to enjoy myself now. I passed poor Merideth Kessler on the bike just before T2 and she was not in a happy place, she just can’t seem to crack this race.

Running along the first 5km I had to focus quite closely to keep my pace under control as I was constantly seeing 4:00 – 4:15min/km pace on my Garmin as I ran along feeling good.

I passed through 5km right on track…

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As I approached the turnaround I good get a gauge of where the lead age groupers where and saw Ben Bell leading my age group and looked for a time check to find I was only about 2-3 mins down. Around this point I passed Sam Gyde, who has been the first age group athlete in Kona and won our age group a number of times, so I was quite chuffed with how things were going.

After turning I passed a European pro male who had exploded and had a few of his crew moving along with him to keep him going, but he wasn’t alone as there were more explosions starting to appear now.

The conditions were very hot now and I chose to walk through every aid station to keep cool and get enough nutrition. My normal routine was to drop ice down the front and rear of my tri suit, have some coke and water then resume running to the next aid station. This approach was working well and I didn’t feel like things were getting away from me, I was on top of everything and my plan was still holding together nicely.

After I you finish the Ali’I drive section you then head through hot corner and up Palani hill which is a killer, however I was prepared and just went up it with a combination of power walking and running. With another 24km still to run there is no point in attacking it too hard and cramping up or exploding. It was here that you see more explosions and shattered athletes who have been on the limit for 6hrs or so and Palani had escalated the unraveling.

For me I considered the most frightening part of the run was going to be the 10km section from when you turn out of Kona town and head along the Queen K highway to the Energy lab section. I was not concerned about the Energy lab as this is only about 2.5km down to the turn around and then back out and is so famous that I didn’t care what is was like I wanted to take it on.

I went through the halfway point of the marathon as I headed out along the Queen K and things were still fairly well on track…..although things were getting somewhat tough now.

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The run along the Queen K has a general uphill gradient, is hot and you can see for hundreds of meters in front of you up the road so it can be soul destroying if you are not mentally prepared and tough. This image from my Garmin file shows the elevation along this section of the run.

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You can also see the drops in the lines every few km’s where I was walking through the aid stations, but apart from that my pace was still relatively consistent.

The photo below of the guys riding along the Queen K gives an idea of what you can see as you trudge along, and if you are not in good shape this would be a soul destroying view!

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Halfway along this section of the race the helicopter and numerous motor bikes started coming back the opposite direction as the race leaders were headed home. This was a nice distraction and I was able to get a good look at the best in the world in action as I competed against them.

After what felt like an eternity I finally made it to the Energy lab turn and headed down the hill into the most famous part of road in triathlon, only 15km to go!

I took 2 no doze tablets at the bottom aid station in the Energy lab to prepare myself for the trip home and uphill section out of the lab as I was feeling fatigued by now. I was now starting to find it hard to hold my pace below 5min/km and the early signs of cramps starting to appear in my legs.

We now had some cloud cover and conditions were quite nice so I took my hat off washed my face and head with a cup of water to freshen up ready for the final 10km where I was going to need all of my strength.

I was passed by Matty Harris just as we were about to leave the Energy lab and had a quick chat but he was looking good and his pace was too hot for me so I had to let him go.

Around 7km from the finish I was hurting pretty badly and just hanging onto 5:00 – 5:15min/km and doing my best to not change anything as I was now on the brink of a cramp in one of any number of muscles of my legs, when a minor problem occurred.

I was running along and felt a pop and then pain in my left calf, where I had obviously suffered a small tear in my calf. At first I thought I had torn my Achilles as I felt the pain and contraction from that region and up into my calf. I had to stop for a short while as I assessed what had happened and what I could do to carry on. While doing this I started to cramp in my hamstrings and quads so things had gone off plan for the first time today.

I walked along for a few hundred meters basically on my heel so that I didn’t engage the calf muscle and try to get to the finish line. I was now pissed off that my planned 9:30 was blown out of the water, but at least I was able to finish.

I then tried to raise a jog, once again on my heel so I was minimizing the use of my calf which seemed to be working and I was able to hold around 5:30min/km. The show below shows the point at which I had to stop and then the yellow line shows my slower pace for the final 6km just above the previous pace.

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Once I made it back to Kona and was about 2km from the finish the adrenalin kicked in and I was starting to get emotional at completing a race which I had dreamed about for so many years, my calf issue dissolved from my mind.
The crowd support at this point was awesome, I was starting to tear up and I was so ecstatic with things I was high fiving people and loving it.

Then turning onto Ali’I drive in the crowds with all of the excitement and cheering it was as though this was my first ever Ironman or triathlon all over again! I have never felt as excited or happy finishing a race and the emotions were amazing.

Running down the finishing chute I found my wife and kids and stopped for a big kiss and hug, then went through the finish line totally over the moon.

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For information here is my run file;

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http://tpks.ws/gMbu

After finishing Kona you only receive a towel and are then taken out to the recovery area where there are tables with volunteers who give you your official finisher’s towel, shirt and medal. Receiving these was quite emotional for me as there has been so much invested in getting here and dreaming about this moment, I was hugging and hand shaking all of the volunteers as I was so excited.

So there you have it the journey has completed and I achieved my goal of racing the Kona work championships and I couldn’t be happier! Overall the race went very close to plan apart from a minor derail at 7km to go which I was able to manage and it only cost me an extra 5-10mins in time.

My final result was 9:44hrs, placing me 21st in the M40-44 age group and 171st overall in the race field of 2300 athletes.

I would probably score the result as a B+ as I didn’t execute totally to plan and I was a touch conservative to make sure that I finished it as this was my first time in Kona. If it was my 3rd or 4th time there, I would probably been a little more aggressive in parts and tried to go with the lead guys in the age group for the first half of the run to see if I could challenge them rather than just hold a pace I knew I could handle comfortably for the marathon.

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Finally I would like to thank the people who have kindly supported me and our rag tag bunch of mates, Team Prawn, their sponsorship is greatly appreciated and hopefully reciprocated by us promoting your great businesses.

I’d like to extend my thanks to;

• Sweetbean Café in New Lambton, Newcastle. A great place which is the place to go for a brew and chat for Newcastle athletes
• The Premier Hotel, another great place to go for a brew of another kind!
• Wheelscience Wheels, who provided me with a nice set of race wheels for Kona when I was looking for some new clinchers. They are doing great things for age group athletes and I encourage people to check them out for a good deal on race wheels.
• Mill Creek Wines, how good is it to be supported by a vineyard!
• Macquarie Physio, thanks to Bevan and staff who have looked after a number of the Prawnies to keep them on the road
• UpNAdam Personal Training with great programs for us runners and the place to go if you need to build your body up for the rigors of long course racing

Images Supplied

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