864th of 2187 Athletes
172nd of 288 Athletes in M40-44
During the week there had been a lot of pre-race activities that helped build the excitement leading to the race. The parade of nations, Guinness World Record Attempt for an Underpants run, the banquet, and swimming with dolphins.
There was still plenty of relaxation though spent with Jason Wilkes and his family and Dean Edwards at their super cool pad on Ali’i Drive. Some of this time was spent watching Kona’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Replace stars in the pavement with the world’s best triathletes in the flesh running down Ali’i Drive. Rinny, Rachel, Frederik, Crowie, et al.
Going into the race, I was determined to be amongst the top 5 Ironman (IM) athletes in my age group in the world and win an Umeke (aka a wooden fruit bowl) given to the best of the best. This group make Top Gun look ordinary ; )
Ha ha. Rewind. Perhaps I set my sights too low. In reality, in my first Kona, it was just a privilege to be amongst some truly great athletes.
My goals were:
1. Have a smile on my face all day
2. Sub 10, if not finish in the light, if not finish and get a medal
I came perilously close to not completing one of my previous 6 IM races. Nothing is ever guaranteed. This is IM.
So onto the day of the race, I was fully awake by 3am after a decent six hours sleep. There was loads of time before transition duties even with the 30 minute coastal road to Ali’i Drive so it was an easy and laid back start to the day.
It did not seem long before we were stood on the pier at 6.30 waiting to go down the steps of Dig Me Beach. The beautifully warm waters awaited and an easy 400m swim to the end of the pier whilst taking in the fish on the bottom of the ocean.
The pier was lined, several deep, with supporters and volunteers alike each trying to get a view of the biggest spectacle in ironman racing, the swim start. Only this is different. This is Kona. This is the World Champs. Helicopters circled overhead.
And I am part of it. My teeth were probably visible from a mile, so broad was my smile. I chat briefly to the guy next to me whilst pinching myself. Mike Reilly shouts over the microphone, ‘whose going to be an ironman today’. We both shout back, ‘I am’.
And then, BOOM. Canon goes off. Propelled forward by the surging masses. Swim or get swum over. The fish disturbed by the mass of white surf as we propel ourselves forward. The Hawaiian drums beating in the background.
Self seeded too far back, it was a bun fight until the turnaround boat. On the way back, I took a straight line via the buoys rather than stay with the pack which had wandered slightly. Mostly clear waters. That was until the final few hundred metres when everyone joined again into a scrum. A one legged guy gave out more than he was taking as he weaved through the masses. It made me smile. Go on son, get in there !
Out of the water within a whisker of Deano. 1hr 10. The slowest swims of our lives. Non wetsuit. Most consider it long.
T1 and for someone who is normally fairly rapid thorough transition, it appears I must have stopped for tea and biscuits. That or extra lashings of factor 50!
After the initial 10k around town where everyone is settling down and trying to get some rhythm, the bike course is a classic out and back that demands patience due to the volcano created trade winds.
Out of town, you hit the coastal road, Queen K. For large sections of the course, you look out across the lava fields into the ocean. Advance warning of each windy section is noticeable by the increasing chop in the beautiful turquoise waters. These invited thoughts of a quick dash and splash rather than facing the fierce headwinds that start to kick-in as you reach Waikoloa.
The next key point is the climb to the halfway point at Hawi. Ordinarily the climb would be ok. When the winds kick in though, it quickly feels like you are being dragged back by a 20 stone beer boy!
At the turnaround, it is time to have some fun. Underworld kicks into my head. 45mph. Lager, lager, lager. Andrenaline rushes. There is a god after all. And he is an adrenaline drunkie!
A little while later the hangover kicks in. Headwind again. Yes, again! And there is 30 miles still to go. 10mph. Give me a break. Yeah, right. You wanted this buddy!
Sub 10 was off. Sub 11.15 or so was needed to finish in the light. Surely that was never in doubt.
Coming into town, you are treated to the men’s front runners heading towards the Energy Lab. Already 12 miles into the marathon. You remind yourself that they started a good 20 minutes beforehand. You still feel like a snail although are on a buzz witnessing the scene in front of you.
Kienle followed by Van Lierde. The race was most definitely on.
Meanwhile I was finally getting into town for my slowest ever IM bike of 5.44. Not overly surprising as my power has been way down since racing IM Boulder. It was the first time I had felt like a bullet train on a bike though. 40+mph on the flats with ease. It was also the first time I have done 10mph on a downhill feeling like a moped pulling a caravan.
The latter happened more than once. The former unfortunately just the once.
As I was recalling my nutrition on the ride (16 gels, 2 bananas, 10 bottles of electrolyte water), Jason went past me without any acknowledgment. I quickly caught him again to tell him how rude!
As evidenced by the race photos, I felt good in the first 10k on the out and back along Alii Drive. Deano and I had exchanged high 5’s. I had resisted the temptation to get in my car and drive off as I passed it sat in Jason’s drive. My constant ice baths at each aid station were also clearly keeping the hot, humid sauna-esque conditions at bay.
Up Palani and big shouts from Jason’s family. All was good as Miranda Carfrae, the eventual women’s winner, went past in the opposite direction like a Duracell bunny hunting down current 1st place Daniella Ryf. I gave a big cheer although saved more for 3rd place Rachel Joyce….our current ultimate Brit Iron.
Chrissie Wellington followed closely on a bike and gave me a shout of encouragement. Perhaps she knew what was about to happen!
Then followed the quietness of the energy lab. This is the only part of the course closed to all but competitors. There is an eerie silence broken only by running shoes hitting the tarmac.
Coming out of the energy lab, although it was now overcast, I was too cooked to take advantage on the slowing rising uphill section of the next few miles. Despite taking plenty of nutrition on the run (12 gels / packets of chomp chews and lots of fluids), I was low on energy. It was hard to tell what had gone wrong.
Before I could get down, a guy with a prosthetic leg started his run into the Energy Lab. Agony on his face, it was a reminder to pull my mind together and suck it up. Although not able to go quickly, I made sure I was not walking.
Then finally that right turn down Palani. Time to chat with a New Zealander and rejoice the efforts that had got us there in the first place. Pulling out the sponges from my top, I can hear Mike Reilly. I let those few people past me who don’t wish to saviour the moment. That finish line will be all mine. A Union Jack flag from Jason’s family and high fiving the spectators. Finishing does not get better than this.
Anyone would have thought I had won. Unashamedly lording it at the finish line! Self coached over the last five years, it has been a great journey from overweight smoker and drinker to Ironman Kona. It was a sweet moment.
It turns out I had finished in 10 hours 50, one minute slower than the fastest IM athlete on the planet, Andreas Raelert. His day had clearly been way tougher than mine!
Volunteers walk you into the post race amphitheatre to check you do not need the med tent. It is time to lie on the grass and soak it all in whilst chatting and reminiscing with all the other athletes. .
I am an Ironman again. For the 7th time. This time a Kona Ironman. It will live with me forever.
That said, I will be back in a few years when the time is right. It was that good. I need to make at least one more visit with Vicki when my little girl is old enough to remember.