Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Kona 2014 - Reflections on the Race of a Lifetime

It's good to be back home. Rested and now finally in my off-season, I've had a chance to gather my thoughts, spend some quality time with St Pete and reflect on Kona and the experience it was.

Finishing Kona was more than just finishing another ironman.  Or finishing ironman #8.  The lasting memory is that it feels like I have come of age as a triathlete.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Kona 2014 - Ironman World Championships Race Report

The day was finally here.

Seven months ago Mike Reilly had called out my name in the Ironman New Zealand Loyalty Lottery Draw, giving me the amazing opportunity to race in Kona, at the Ironman World Championships.

This was a dream come true, and around 4 years earlier than originally planned.  As a regular age-grouper with no particular athletic talent, apart from a passion for cycling and the ability to tough it out for hours on end, I had been working towards a Kona legacy lottery slot.  That, however, was now out the window (you are ineligible for the legacy lottery if you have raced Kona before) and I couldn't be happier.

Or more scared.

The training through winter had been tough - especially the swimming.  Normally my focused training finishes in June with Ironman Cairns and I haven't tended to do much swimming over the winter months.  I couldn't get away with that this year though.  Outdoor pools in Sydney are heated for winter training but, with my reduced body fat for insulation, long sets had me suffering big time in the relative cold. Those challenges and the length of my extended training season overall this year had me more than a little nervy by the time I reached taper and at times questioning my ability to get the job done in respectable fashion.

The nerves vanished, however, as soon as we touched down in Kona.

I was in a happy place mentally and it was almost as if I had arrived where I belonged.  Coach Dave saw us at the airport, took one look at me and pronounced me ready.  And I knew he was right.  I had one goal and that was to finish.  No time expectations.  No placing expectations.

I was simply going to get out there, experience the race of a lifetime in the birthplace of ironman and get the job done.

The evening before race day, walking along Ali'i Drive, I commented to Coach Dave that there must surely be something wrong.  I had no real pre-race nerves, no butterflies in my stomach or other typical nervous symptoms.  Instead I felt calm, confident (even still a little excited) and ready to go.  I just hoped that this wasn't me being too blasé and over confident as that was surely a recipe for disaster. Nerves are a natural and common feeling leading into the start and show that you are giving the race the respect it deserves. Dave reminded me, though, that I had been meticulous and thorough in my planning and had checked everything off since we had arrived in Kona.  From his perspective, then, I was in the best place possible and as a coach he couldn't be happier about my preparation.

With those wise words then there was nothing left to do but get a good night's sleep and be ready for a long, tough day.

Saturday, 11 October 2014.  

Race Day.  

The alarm went off at 4.00am and St Pete started getting my scrambled eggs cooked while I got ready.  Breakfast done we strolled down to the pier and met up with Coach Dave and dad at dad's hotel.  Downtown Kona had meanwhile transformed into a hive of activity and people were everywhere.  Somewhere we had to find body marking and drop off my special foods bags.  These would be taken to midway points on the bike and run and we could put any food or drink we might want to have at those points.  In my bike special foods I had put three chiller packs in with a bottle of my sports drink and a container with a couple of wrapped cheese and cracker combos - some extra fat and savoury taste to contrast the sweet foods I had already loaded on the bike.  In the run special foods bag I had just put a couple of date bars in, in the unlikely event I was hanging out for some real food.  Really unlikely but best to be prepared!

Amongst the throngs of people we tried to figure out where to go and this part of the day ended up being the only aspect that could be faulted in the ironman organizational machine.  For first time Kona athletes there was no clear signage, maps or instruction provided showing where to go.  Somehow we managed to find ourselves at the wrong end of the body marking then weighing process.  I got directions to find the right spot to go to but in the process completely missed passing or seeing the vans taking in the special food bags.

I therefore went through body marking (it seems we can't be trusted to apply our own race numbers to our arms properly, unlike at IM New Zealand and IM Cairns, and so must stand in lengthy queues on race morning to first get our race number tattoo and then queue again to have it applied), weigh in and finally went through to the transition area to sort out the bike.  Prior to going through to transition I had said my farewells to St Pete and Dad as at race briefing we were told we couldn't then go back out.  It turned out that wasn't the case but I wasn't to know that at the time.  Tyres pumped up, Garmin 810 locked in and drinks loaded I headed out to the athletes' coralling area, still with my special foods bags and no idea where to drop them off.

After asking a number of volunteers and getting no useful response I finally found someone who was able to tell me that those bags were actually supposed to be handed in at the trucks situated prior to body marking.

Sigh.

Thankfully Coach Dave was with me - he had been able to come in by virtue of the media pass he held and so took my bags off me, said his goodbyes and disappeared back to the parking lot to drop them off.

That whole exercise, then, was pretty shambolic and had the potential to be unnecessarily stressful.  I wasn't too fazed by it all though - still in my happy place and just after Dave left the starting cannon went off, indicating the start of the pro men's field.  That signalled time for me to get my swim skin on and hand in my final gear bag.  A quick dip in the water and I was ready.

The race this year was started in four waves - the pro men went off first at 6.30 am, followed by the pro women, age group men and lastly the age group women would start at 7.00am.  We age group women were held on the pier to let the age group men all get out to the start line and then once they started we were able to get in and swim the 100m or so to the start.  

It was an amazing feeling to be floating in the water waiting for the starting cannon.  Here I was at the world champs, about to have the day of my life.

Boom.

And we were off.  600 or so women - the largest ever women's field and the highest percentage ever at Kona.  I started stroking, nice and easily, looking to get into a steady rhythm early on and find someone's feet to draft off.  Typically the start of an ironman swim is a bit of a bash fest and I have sometimes had to focus on not hyperventilating or getting too physically stressed at the outset.  No problems this time around.  While there were plenty of girls around me I didn't have anyone trying to swim over the top of me and didn't have to defend my position in the water.  I was feeling pretty calm and relaxed then and was able to get into a steady pace straight away.

There was a fair bit of swell out there and so things were a bit lumpy and we got thrown around a bit.  I managed to stay in close proximity to feet virtually all the way out to the Body Glove boat, which marked the turnaround point, and also managed to entertain myself with fish gazing as we went along - always a welcome distraction!

I went around the turnaround point with a couple of other girls and we started heading back to the pier together.  I ended up in the middle and we formed a single line working our way back to shore.  The girl I was following was going a little bit slower than I was able to do and every so often I'd be hitting her foot with my hand (and every so often the girl behind me would hit my feet also).  But I was feeling comfortable and decided it was more important to conserve my energy for the bike and run, and so elected to let her drag me back to the shore.  I did try a couple of times to go wide and see if I would be better to go past. However both times I ended up back on her feet as there was no one else in close proximity I could find to latch onto (probably left that run a bit too late!).

I came out of the water feeling really good - hadn't expended much energy at all and was still feeling good and fresh for the bike.  The time was 1:49:48, about 10 minutes slower than I had anticipated, however the after-race consensus seems to be that swim times were generally slower as a result of the swell.  

Ultimately though I was out of the water and so a happy camper!

I headed through the showers, grabbed my bag and ran into the changing tent.  There one of the amazing volunteers helped me out of my swim skin but in the process also pulled off my timing chip.  Because it had been safety-pinned (as recommended so we didn't risk losing it in the water) I lost about a minute while she struggled to slide it back up over my foot - but that's OK, this wasn't about getting an awesome time!

Bike shoes and sunglasses on, I ran out of the tent, got sunscreen slathered all over me by more awesome volunteers and then did the long run around the outside of the pier to where Black Beauty was waiting for me in the racks.

Helmet on and we were away, ready to face whatever the lava fields and Madame Pele had in store for us.

Before we reached the lava fields on the Queen K Highway though, there were a couple of shortish loops through town.  The first one headed to the north of town, up to the Queen K and then back down Palani Rd, a reasonably short but sharp hill which had been declared a no passing zone.  At the bottom was a 90 degree corner (called "hot corner") where we headed south along the Kuakini Highway, a gradual but consistent 3km climb back up to the Queen K again.  At that intersection we did a U-turn and came back down Kuakini to hot corner, this time taking a right and heading up Palani Rd.

Coming down Kuakini was fantastic - an exhilarating downhill and I made the most of it.  Big chainring, this is what I live for!  As I came up to hot corner I knew to drop down quickly into the little chainring and bottom gear for an easy spin up Palani.  Rounding the corner I looked up and saw St Pete on the island in the middle, looking out for me with camera at the ready.  There was a big crowd there as well and an announcer calling our names through so the atmosphere was fantastic.  I gave Pete (and the crowd) a happy fist pump and proceeded to spin my way up Palani.

At the top of Palani we turned left onto the Queen K and this is where the real work would begin.

The first stretch went really well.  I was in a good rhythm, good cadence and heart rate well under control.  It was warm but nothing I couldn't cope with and the winds hadn't arrived.

To get through the bike I had one plan to focus on.  Nutrition, Hydration, Body Temperature.  At every aid station I maintained the same routine: grab bottle of iced water.  Top up water on bike then tip the rest of the bottle all over me, making sure I drenched my helmet, head, neck, shoulders and front. If bananas were on offer then I would pick one up also and have that.  At 15min intervals my Garmin would beep and that was my cue to have a date bar or some dehydrated banana.  And in between all that I would sip on my electrolyte bottle and more water.

That would be the routine for 180km.  

At the 48km mark the wind started.  And started big time.  Madame Pele made her presence known and it was like she had saved her best for us!  We started getting headwinds that also gusted into side winds and people were hanging onto their handlebars for dear life.  At about this time we started to see the leading male pros coming back from Hawi and they would have been enjoying the tailwind that we were now battling to get through.

From the 48km mark through to Hawi (at around 100km) it was a case of keeping the bike upright and just hanging in there.  All through this I managed to stay down on my aero bars.  Others around me were up on their handlebars/top of their drops but I figured I was better to stay low and out of the wind as much as possible and I think it paid off for me in the long run.  Staying down, although freaky at times, also made me a little bit more stable as it lowered my centre of gravity if I got blown around.  All those hours of TT riding was paying off as I feel almost as confident controlling the bike on the aeros as I do on top of the drops.

After 4 hours of riding I finally completed the ride north and arrived in Hawi for the turnaround.  Unbelievably the headwind had added the best part of an hour to my bike split so far - surely I would benefit from some tailwind to go with the initial descent back to the Queen K...

Unfortunately it was not to be.

I had been warned about the tendency of the wind to turn and turn it did.

I stopped at the special needs station at Hawi and picked up my cheese snacks and swapped over my electrolyte bottle.  Scoffing one of the cheese snacks I put the other in my back pocket to have later and carried on, looking forward to getting some speed up on the downhill back to Kawaihai.

This section was another blast, like the stretch on Kuakini Highway at the beginning, but faster, longer and more fun!  It also kept me on my toes as I was still being caught by crosswinds which, at 60kmph, can throw you across the road pretty quickly if you don't have your wits about you.  I was in my big chainring, largest gear, trying to gain as much time as possible but balance that against staying upright. At times I'd have to freewheel and stand on the pedals but just hover millimeters off the seat so that my centre of gravity stayed down by the pedals but my body was still in as aero position as possible.

At Kawaihai we turned right back onto the Queen K and the long stretch through the lava fields back to Kona.  Along here the crosswinds continued to play havoc and it also seemed as though the wind had indeed turned and was still predominantly against me rather than with me.

There was nothing else to do, then, but keep my head down, keep my cadence high and stay on top of my nutrition, body temperature and hydration.

At one point I saw a road sign saying "Kona 31".  Great, I thought, just over an hour to go.  The next second I was cursing - of course it was 31 miles, so closer to 50km and 2 hours of riding!

All through that time my mind was fully entertained.  If I wasn't thinking about food and water I would be assessing my progress, running a physical stocktake in my mind and occasionally checking out the scenery.  In between those times I also had another distraction in the form of the song "Freaks" by Timmy Trumpet + Savage running on repeat inside my head.  We had been using it as our wake up alarm song each morning since our arrival in Kona and so now, on the bike, when my mind started getting quiet, the base and the tweeters would make those speakers go to war...  



I can think of worse things to have playing in my head while going to war on the Queen K!

7 hours and 21 minutes after leaving T1 I rolled into T2.  This was a good hour longer than I had anticipated, however given I had seen one girl lying on the side of the road with her bike in the ditch and had subsequently heard other reports of people getting blown off their bikes, I was well happy to have made it back in one piece and had only one thing on my mind.

The bike was later described by those with long term Kona experience as being the toughest for wind in many, many years.  But all I was thinking about now was heading out for a little run.

I was feeling good and despite the extended time out there wasn't overly tired. I had remained conservative on the bike, remained patient and didn't let the slow time get me down.  After all this was still Kona and I was on the final leg of completing this amazing event!

After changing shoes, changing headwear and putting on my race number and the Garmin 910 I jogged out to start the run course, high fiving St Pete and dad along the way.

Dad gets a high-five as I start the run
The run headed up to hot corner then took a right turn along Kuakini Highway before dropping back down to Ali'i Drive. From there we would head south along Ali'i Drive for approx 8km before turning back and retracing our steps to hot corner.  At hot corner it would be a right hand turn up Palani Road and then left onto the Queen K.  Out on the Queen K we would run north towards the airport but turn left just short of the airport and head into the Energy Lab where we would head down towards the ocean and then hang a right to the far end turnaround point.  At the turnaround point we would retrace our steps back up to the Queen K, right onto Palani, down the hill, left at hot corner before dropping back down to Ali'i Drive.  At Ali'i Drive we would turn right for the final 1km glory stretch to the finish chute and permanent glory!

My plan for this leg was all about running from aid station to aid station, staying cool and not aggravating my stomach.  At this point solid food was out and I would be aiming to take in liquids only. To stay cool the plan was to put ice inside my cap at each aid station and I had also received a tip about putting ice in the two back pockets of my Tri suit - this location keeps your kidneys cool, which also helps with keeping my thermoregulation under control.

started out nice and slow, as per the plan, and simply focused on trying to get into a good rhythm and make it to the first aid station (they were stationed every mile along the course).  I wasn't feeling too bad, however having a climb to do to get to hot corner is never my favorite thing to do in the first kilometre of a run!  In hindsight it also took me a little while to get my core body temperature down, which couldn't and didn't happen until I had passed the first aid station and loaded up with ice.

At around the 5km mark though I started to come right.  I was making steady progress, not feeling too hot and running around 7min per kilometre.  I was happy with that pace and thought if I could stay around there for the duration I'd be doing really well.

The only thing giving me a bit of grief since the start of the run were my quads.  They were giving me some sharp feedback with every step but I was used to worse (thinking back to their extreme complaints in my first marathon) so I was able to pretty much ignore that discomfort.

Finally we were heading up Palani Rd towards the Queen K and while I walked up (yes, most people did and for me it was a "coach-sanctioned" walk!) I put my mind towards the next section of the run.  The Queen K would be pretty lonely as not many spectators get out there, it was getting dark but this was the business end of the day and I was going to do this.

Not that it was getting any easier!

My legs were still complaining and so as I reached the halfway mark I gave myself a little pep talk.  Checking my progress I had taken about 2 hours 40 minutes to do 21km and if I could maintain the goal of only walking the aid stations then I could PB the marathon.  I couldn't remember completing an ironman marathon in under 6 hours and here I was on target for a split time of 5 hours something. 

So much for not having any time expectations, but at this point it was the motivation I needed.  

The other internal conversation I was having was about backing myself.  Come on, I was thinking, the faster you run, the quicker this is over and done with.  I knew I had it in me to maintain a higher intensity and so I had a go at picking up the pace with the only goal of keeping it up only until the next aid station.

By this time it was pitch black out there.  The aid stations were like brightly lit beacons in the distance and you could just make out the white line on the side of the road and the glow sticks of the runners around me.  The orange road cones were pretty much invisible until you were about a metre away from them and so it became a task in itself to trust your footstep in the dark and look out for road cones and other runners.

At each aid station I would walk and put another batch of ice in my cap and in my pockets then take in a sip of water, electrolyte, cola and/or the warm chicken broth that came out after it got dark.  And at some aid stations I took a sip of all four drink options!  As it got dark I wondered if I still needed the ice and so elected not to refill the cap. That, however turned out to be not such a good idea and by the time I got to the next aid station I was hanging out for more ice.  

I didn't make that mistake again!

There was one exception made to the no food rule when I came across an aid station in the energy lab which was serving cups of grapes.  They looked great and I took a cup only to inadvertently tip them all out on the ground 10m later while refilling my cap with ice.  Totally gutted, I turned to look back at the aid station with thoughts of going back for more, but decided against it - the turnaround was not far ahead and I could get some on my way back.  

And I did.  

And they were a great pick me up to start the journey back to the finish.  It's the simple things that count!

The turnaround in the energy lab was a real highlight.  I was in good spirits and still maintaining a good pace in between aid stations.  At 30km, rather than "hit the wall" as can be common at that point my mindset was "OK, just another 12km to go, we can do this".  My quads were still complaining but they hadn't got any worse and, in fact by this stage, it was less painful if I ran a little bit faster and the worst part was actually starting to run again after walking the aid station!

Heading up the last hill to the turn onto Palani and I was still feeling good - I might not have been running fast but I was feeling strong and totally focused on finishing.  The turn onto Palani was one of the best feelings, although it didn't last long!  It was literally all downhill from here and only around 2km to go.  However running down was really sore on the quads.  But I kept my mind on the finish and didn't let up. Turning into hot corner and then coming down to Ali'i Drive the crowds were back again and you could feel their energy. I was almost home and as I turned onto Ali'i I was able to imagine what the race winners were feeling.  

That last kilometre, the glory run, was very cool and I didn't slow down.  As I reached the start of the finish chute I started looking for St Pete and dad as they were going to have the NZ and silver fern flags for me to run in with.  The crowds were so thick, though, it was difficult to make anyone out and I remember thinking that I hoped I would find them before I reached the finish ramp - I wasn't about to stop to look for them!

About 50m from the end I saw it.

Dad was holding the silver fern flag out in the finish chute and St Pete was standing next to him.  He had the NZ flag but I didn't see it.  Instead I grabbed the silver fern flag, held it behind me with both hands in the air and did the most joyful and energetic 50m run to the finish as Mike Reilly called me over the line.

Ironman World Championships in Kona - DONE!



Thursday, October 9, 2014

Kona 2014 - Day 7 Update

Tuesday of ironman week and this would turn out to be one of the busiest days of our trip so far.  I haven't been too successful with getting some down time but wasn't stressing out too much about that just yet.

The day started out with a ride with the IMTalk taper camp crew out to the airport.  I had ridden the last 50km of the bike course back into town along the Queen K but this was an opportunity to ride the first 25km or so, which took us on a couple of loops through town before climbing Palani Rd and turning onto the Queen K.  The route would follow the highway all the way north to Hawi before turning back and returning to Kona.

Today, however we were just going as far as the airport and it was a good opportunity to check out the loops in town. 

At the airport our groupetto turned back to town and I let them carry on as I had other things to do.  Yes, virtually out in the middle of nowhere I had an appointment with a writer from Triathlon and Multisport magazine who was wanting to interview me for their Kona special.  They were looking for Aussie residents and so I was naturally happy to oblige.  We were to meet out at the Energy Lab and so I stopped there to wait.



While I was waiting I got chatting to three guys who had ridden out to the Energy Lab and were taking their photos at the entrance.  They had each done one or more ironmans themselves, although never raced in Kona, and had flown in from Alabama to volunteer for the weekend.  After establishing that their flight across actually took longer than our flight from Sydney I was even more impressed by their dedication to the cause, and told them so.  That a bunch of triathletes would travel that distance simply to volunteer is a credit to the triathlon community as a whole and yet another reason why I love this sport so much.

Interview done I headed back to the condo and St Pete and I walked down to get me registered.  This was a well oiled machine, with plenty of volunteers interested only in making any stressed athlete's day that much better.  Nothing was a problem and all went smoothly until I discovered I needed St Pete's US phone number and he hadn't been allowed to come into registration with me (to cut down on congestion I guess).  I had to go out a couple of times to try and find him (3rd time lucky) but it was sorted out pretty easily and everyone was relaxed and, it seemed, living in the land of Disney...  The lady who guided me to the registration desk was wearing a large padded Mickey Mouse glove (seriously!) and I couldn't help asking her if I had arrived in Disneyland.

Ah well, this is America after all...



Registration done and it was time to check out the expo, which had just opened.  Unfortunately the temperature was soaring and so it was more of a sprint rather than a wander around.  With little shelter around we tended to skip any booths that didn't immediately catch our attention or offer food or drink to sample!  We did, however, make good use of the limited time, scoring some free yurbuds, getting 3 pairs of goggles for the price of 2 and picking up a Kona 2014 limited edition bikini from Betty Designs.


By that stage it was time for the highlight of the day.  Dad was due to touch down in Kona and Dave had gone to pick him up and take him to his hotel, right by the finish line.  We therefore grabbed a bite to eat and went and sat in the relative cool of the hotel foyer to wait for him.


The day, however, was far from over!  After the excitement of seeing dad it was time to head to the Team Kiwi afternoon tea.  This has been a longstanding tradition arranged by Ironman New Zealand and they use this as an opportunity to present T-Shirts to the team which we could then wear in the Parade of Nations that evening.

First of all, though, we're talks by kiwi pros Gina Crawford, Bevan Docherty and Terenzo Bozzone and it was great to have th opportunity to talk to them afterwards and get a couple of photos taken.  Such a groupie!  We also had a team photo done and everyone was in great spirits. Proud to have made it to the island and looking forward to representing New Zealand on Saturday.


Our final event for the day was the Parade of Nations and this was a very cool experience.  We lined up in our teams in the carpark of the King Kam Hotel and then paraded down Ali'i Drive while thousands of supporters lined the streets and cheered us on.


Now I know what the Commonwealth and Olympic teams feel like - a great atmosphere and it was very humbling to be a part of ... little ol' me, given the opportunity to represent my country, is something I never thought I'd be doing a few years ago.


So, a pretty long day and severely lacking in downtime. But that's OK, things will slow down over the next couple of days so it's all good.

Kona 2014 - Day 6 Update

It's Monday of ironman week and things are starting to get noticeably busier in town.  Anyone who is in the business of selling triathlon-related products knows there is only one place to be this time of the year and they have started arriving in force.  Kona is being transformed with banners, pop up shops and various "walks of fame" celebrating previous winners or sponsored athletes.

This morning Tri Travel had their swim course orientation and so a group of around 40 of us met Shane and the rest of the crew at the pier.  Shane then jumped on a paddle board and headed out to a boat anchored around 900m from shore and we swam out to meet him.  Once there he showed everyone the best way of making some space at the start and the best land markers to sight off when coming back into shore.

Once that was finished I came back in and found St Pete and Coach Dave, with the plan being for D and I to do a light 20min run.  


Dave took me on an easy jog around to the old airport and where the free pool is - yes, free!  Great facility, although it is 25 yards so about 22m. A bit shorter than I'm used to!


That evening the ironman week kicked off properly with a cultural event welcome, Heroes of Hawaii.  It was billed as an opportunity for athletes and their families to experience the culture of Hawaii as well as see some of the legends of the sport.

It was a really relaxed evening with stalls set up for different activities that you could go around and try and/or view, such as lei making, genealogy, weaving, Hawaiian massage and tapa making.  There were also traditional dances on the stage and a finger food buffet kept everyone's hunger at bay.

One of the highlights, though, was Mike Reilly (the voice of ironman) introducing and interviewing three legends of the sport: Dave Scott, Mark Allen and Paula Newby-Fraser.


We then got to be groupies as the three of them stayed around and signed posters for us all, although my highlight of the evening was getting a fourth signature on my poster - from Mike Reilly.  As the most well known voice of ironman he has called thousands of athletes home with the famous yell "insert name here You Are An Ironman!". Mike called me in on my first ironman in New Zealand and every IMNZ finish since, and he was there to announce my Kona lottery slot and then try to get some sense out of me on stage.  So it was great to catch up with him and remind him of that night in Taupo when Leigh and I shrieked the hall down.  And he did remember!


All in all it was a great evening and a perfect way to begin ironman week.  



Monday, October 6, 2014

Kona 2014 - Day 5 Update

Whew - it's not getting any cooler here!  As we count down to Saturday, now less than a week to go, the temperature continues to be at the forefront of my mind during most activities.  As I write this at 9.00pm it is still sitting at just under 30 degrees - all fans are going but we haven't yet resorted to air conditioning and hopefully will be able to continue coping without it until I cross the finish line Saturday evening!

Today was a real cooker - a 57km bike ride into town on the bike course, organized by the Tri Travel crew.  Of course there had to be a mini-disaster along the way to keep me on my toes!

We met at 6.30am to have our bikes (carefully) loaded into trucks while we piled into a bus for a tour of the bike course.  We headed all the way out to the bike turnaround at Hawi ("ha-vee") before coming back and stopping at Kawaihae.

Enroute our tour director, Shane, regaled us with Kona history and traditions, including having us stop at Waikoloa to build stone cairns as an offering to Madame Pele for a safe journey on Saturday.


It was a great opportunity to reflect on the journey we had been on and to be thankful for the opportunity to be on the island competing in this iconic event.

Although TriTravel are an Australian-based company, Pete and I weren't the only Kiwis on tour, and I wasn't the only one sporting the Team Kiwi kit on the bus.  Richard Beamish was also with us and taking part in his first Kona race - as a winner of a spot in the general lottery. So it's been great to have a fellow Kiwi to help balance out the green and gold!


After making our peace offering we all piled back on the bus and headed up to Hawi, checked out the turnaround point of the course and then it was back down to Kawahai where we would start riding.  As we got to the carpark there was the impressive sight of around 40 TT bikes all lined up along the fence waiting for us.  Nice!


The only thing left to do, then, was ride.  And so we did.  We set off in different groups and different paces and the important thing was to get a feel for staying on top of our nutrition, adjusting to the winds and not smashing our legs.

I got into an easy pace early on - helped immensely by the fact that we started by having to climb a hill!  But throughout the ride I was able to stay on the aeros.  The section of the highway we were riding on, through the lava fields all the way back into Kona, is rolling rather than flat but nothing so steep that I had to get out of aero.


At around 25km in we reached Scenic Lookout and Tri Travel had an aid station set up here where we could refill our bottles with water and electrolyte and take a minute to enjoy the view.  It was a brilliant day and not too windy by all accounts, although there was a persistent wind all around me while riding - plenty to stop me getting bored!



The riding conditions were certainly like nothing I had ever experienced.  Apparently we had a tailwind, however I had hot air blowing in my face all the way back.  At times we'd also get blown around from crosswinds, especially after passing through a cut out. And then I also had the surreal experience of climbing at 38km/hr whereas at the next climb I was down to 19km/hr.  Again this must have been wind affected but there was no way of knowing where it was going to blow from next and so it really did just come down to putting your head down and just keep pedaling. 

Another stark contrast to deal with is the exposed nature of the course.  While courses like Taupo and Cairns have been really hot on occasion (when it's not bucketing down with rain!), the thing I've noticed with Kona is that there is absolutely no shade - no tree cover at all along the course.  So you are out there in full sun, exposed to the elements for 6 hours and then back out there in the same spot for virtually all of the run.

It's therefore going to be crucial to stay cool and make use of everything on offer at the aid stations.  Ice to go in water bottles, water over the head, ice in the cap.  If needs be I'll even stop at the bike aid stations to make sure I've picked up what I need to stay cool and hydrated.  The few seconds lost will be more important in the long run.

The last section into town went by uneventfully, until I got to the airport.  At that intersection I rode over an innocent looking manhole cover and seconds later heard the familiar sound of my Fuel Cell bouncing down the road.

What the?!

It was loaded up with spare tube, gas canister and tyre levers, so shouldn't have been bouncing around, but as I hauled on the brakes and looked back, sure enough there it was in its two pieces lying on the road with the contents nearby.  I parked the bike against a post to go back and retrieve it and looked up from the bike just in time to see a car run over the bottom (hard plastic) section of the Fuel Cell, smashing it into a thousand bits.

That's that then.

It then became a recovery mission of the contents which I was at least able to put into my back pocket to ride back to base with.  A trip to visit the Specialized boys at the expo on Tuesday will be required to sort out this problem as it's the 3rd time it's happened and I don't want to be thinking about it happening again on Saturday...

All in all, though, a great ride - 57km in 1hr 53min, and great to get a taste of the Queen K prior to race day.

On our return I was able to get the bike checked over to ensure everything had come through the flight OK and she was race ready.  Triathlon Australia and TriTravel had arranged for Anthony Moustakas of CBD Cycles in Melbourne to join the tour and be the bike mechanic for Team Australia and the TriTravel tour.  Fantastic service and much appreciated for the peace of mind it provides.

That afternoon we had our first look at the ironman merchandise, caught up with Coach Dave at Lava Java for a cold drink and then that evening we spent a couple of hours hanging out at John Newsom's condo where he was having a bit of a Q &A session for people on the IM Talk taper camp.


All in all another great day in paradise, with things definitely starting to ramp up in town.

Tomorrow a bit of a swim with the TriTravel crew.




Sunday, October 5, 2014

Kona 2014 - Day 4 Update

Less than one week to go - hopefully a week from now I will be finished, or very close to finishing, my race of a lifetime at the Ironman World Championships in Kona.

Today we got another taste of the heat I will be dealing with next week with the first of Tri Travel's organized activities - the Energy Lab Run.

The Energy Lab is actually the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii, a research centre devoted to oceanic and environmental research (http://nelha.hawaii.gov/about/) and is notable for a couple of reasons.  Firstly the ironman marathon does an out and back leg into the Energy Lab and secondly the geological features of the landscape there mean it is hotter than being out on the Queen K.

Our run today was supposedly an out and back course into the Energy Lab of up to 12km. The bus took us to a car park about 3km south of the turnoff and we would run from there, into the energy lab, down to the turnaround and then retrace our steps back to the bus.  Being an out and back meant that we could turn around at any point and do a shorter run if we wanted.

On this trip I was joined by St Pete and the bus was full as we headed out of town to the starting point.  After a quick group photo we set off, the slower ones (including me!) first with the faster guys leaving last.


Tri Travel had everything well organized.  At around each 2.5km they had an aid station set up with water and electrolyte available plus at the end there were Power Bars to munch on.  First we had to get to the end though!

We set out at a nice easy pace and my plan was to take it easy and steady. The important thing was to just keep the legs ticking over and get a feel for running in the heat.  At the first aid station I was feeling pretty good and took a cup of electrolyte. I then grabbed a cup of water and tipped it over my head and carried on running.

Big mistake.

About 3 steps on I realized that 90% of the water had bounced straight off me and my head was now feeling pretty toasty.  However I didn't want to stop so toughed it out to the next aid station, at the turn off into the Energy Lab.  At this point I actually took my cap off and poured the water into the cap, completely drenching it and then taking a second cup of water and pouring that over me more deliberately, so that 90% of it actually hit me rather than missed.

This strategy was much better and lesson was learnt for the remaining aid stations.

The run to the turnaround took a bit longer than anticipated - instead of getting to the turnaround at 6km the Garmin claimed we were at 7.3km. Nothing like a 1300m discrepancy to induce a debate about the relative quality of GPS watches!  However St Pete's Nike watch agreed with the longer distance and one of the other guys also showed over 7km on his Garmin as well so we weren't buying Shane's story that we had only done 6km!



Debate over it was time to start heading back and this involved a bit of a climb back to the Queen K highway.  The climb itself wasn't so bad but the stifling heat was.  It was completely still and the heat really made for a challenging test - and it was only 9.30am!  I wasn't about to start speculating what it would be like later on in the day when I'm likely to be out there.

Turning onto the Queen K, though, was infinitely better - instantly we found a breeze again and even though it was a hot breeze it was still easier to deal with than the stillness.  Apparently the topography of the Energy Lab is such that the breeze we could feel on the Queen K skims about 10 feet off the ground in the Lab, missing us completely and turning the bottom 10 feet into a greenhouse, and it therefore is legendary as a particularly tough and epic part of the course.

We finally got to the bus, just under 15km and around 95 minutes later. I was really happy with the session - nice steady pace all the way, no walking (stops only at aid stations) and easily could have continued.  And those chocolate Power Bars at the end tasted really good!

Back to our accommodation and it was time for a quick shower and then out for another pick up for the group shopping trip.  There we got to pick up supplies at Bike Works and then a grocery run at Safeway.

We then had a couple of hours spare so caught up with Coach Dave at Lava Java (I think he's got a permanent table with his name on it!) before getting ready for the TriTravel dinner at Humpy's.  This was a great buffet meal with lots of fresh salad options, fish, chicken and meatballs as well as a pasta station.  After my experience at Cairns I stayed well away from the pasta!


At the dinner we sat with a fellow Team Kiwi member, Richard, who had also gained his slot via the (general) lottery and so was fulfilling the dream of a lifetime.  We also managed to rub shoulders with Pro, Tim van Berkel, who is racing Kona for the first time and came along to the dinner.



All in all a great day, albeit a very hot one!

Tomorrow we meet up early for a reconnaissance of the bike course and then a 50km ride back into town.  Looking forward to it!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Kona 2014 - Day 3 Update

Turtle power!

Today's update is brought to you by turtles.  Yes, I know we had the excitement of seeing them from the shoreline yesterday. But today was different, and infinitely better.

Today a turtle came and joined my swim, making it the best swim ever - I'm easily entertained.

It was another early start to the day, alarm off at 5.30 to have a leisurely breakfast of eggs, prepared by the one and only St Pete, and then an easy stroll down to the pier in time for a 7.00am swim.  The pier was noticeably busier today and for the first time an Ironman information gazebo was up with water and electrolyte on offer for anyone to have before or after their swim.

My instructions were to do an easy 30 minutes in the water and then a 60 minute ride out to the airport and back.  I jumped into the water and again had a nice cruisy swim out along the buoy line enjoying the fish life below. At around 700m I turned around and started heading back in, this time making sure I stayed REALLY wide of the buoys - wasn't keen on getting head butted two days in a row!

About halfway back I saw him.  An adult Hawksbill Sea Turtle came cruising the other way and stopped me in my tracks. I turned to watch him and at the same time noticed a guy on a paddle board slowly making his way toward me with a GoPro trained on a swimmer alongside him. I alerted them to the turtle and the chick swimming also stopped and we spent around 30 seconds checking out the turtle before he decided he had had enough of us and scooted away.

Swim over we headed back to the condo and I headed out on the bike for my first proper experience of the Queen K and the lava fields.  


As I was heading out of town, up Palani Rd I caught up to a group of guys and followed them onto the Queen K.  They were doing around the same speed as I wanted to do, fractionally slower, but we were humming along at around 34km/hr and so it wasn't worth trying to get past them - this was supposed to be an easy spin after all! So I sat on the back and stayed with them until a couple of kilometers past the airport when the time was showing 34 minutes and time for me to turn around.

At that point I stopped to take a couple of photos and take in the landscape. It was hot and very exposed but the road conditions were fantastic - super smooth bitumen, wide shoulders so plenty of room to ride without annoying cars and trucks and rolling terrain



The ride back, then, was solo and gave me a perfect preview of what to expect on race day. Although the grasses didn't seem to be moving there were plenty of side winds to stop me from getting bored and the heat made me so glad to be wearing my Specialized Evade helmet rather than the old Giro aero helmet I had. I don't know how anyone with a full aero helmet copes in these conditions - they must cook!

It was good to get back and I was happy with how it all went.

Training over for the day and it was time for a walk and an ocean paddle 
and then a yummy lunch of Oneo Salad and grilled fish at Lava on the Rocks before heading back to the pier where we spent a couple of hours on the front lawn of the King Kam hotel having a swim (watching more fish!) and having a generally relaxing time.


A coffee at Lava Java on our way back home finished off the day nicely and my final job to complete was to add a bit of bling to Black Beauty in honour of today's find.


Tomorrow the Tri Travel activities start - with a run at the Energy Lab.  Oh yeah baby!



Friday, October 3, 2014

Kona 2014 - Day 2 Update

Well Kona certainly is a great part of the world to be in right now. 

It was a pretty easy day - coach had instructed just a light swim to do and so we met Dave down at the Pier at 7.00am. I had been experiencing more mental issues with the swim than usual over the past couple of weeks and so this morning was the opportunity to put them to rest and get happy in the water again.  Swimming (/freezing) in an outdoor pool over winter probably didn't help and so this morning's swim was the perfect tonic.





A row of orange buoys had been set out along the course and so we headed out, enjoying the warm water and being entertained by the fish below us.  At around 750m there was a white marker post indicating the turnaround for a 1500m swim and so we turned there and started heading back for shore.

The return trip was potentially hazardous as it turns out, as we suddenly found ourselves swimming back towards athletes still swimming out.  

Think two-way traffic on a single lane road.  

Here we were in the middle of an ocean and everyone wants to swim (both ways) in a strip of water around 1m wide!  I realized the problem after about 50m of swimming back when the first person swam over the top of me in the opposite direction.  After that I swam wid(er) but still had to sight often to make sure no one was making a beeline for me and still ended up having to take evasive action a couple of times.

Anyway, we made it back to shore, stopping enroute to chat to one of the volunteers sitting on a kayak watching us.  Well actually Dave stopped to chat to one of the volunteers sitting on a kayak while he waited for Irongirl to catch up!  Turns out WTC arranges for volunteers to do a 3 hour stint in kayaks each morning from now until race day to ensure everyone's safety in the water. Evidently we'd be surprised how many people turn up to the world championships having never swum in the ocean before...

After our swim we headed to Lava Java for breakfast, devouring a plate of grilled fish, scrambled eggs and fresh fruit while watching the world go by.   Oh, and the coffee wasn't too bad either.

Breakfast done we headed back to our condo to get changed and then it was out the door again and a trek to the closest supermarket, about 30mins walk away.  There we stocked up on supplies for the next few days and I bemoaned the lack of decent yoghurt available. Everything was low fat, high sugar - no wonder America has an obesity problem. Yuk!

With fully laden packs we made our way back to the condo - think 30 degrees, 70% humidity by then, stopping briefly at a fresh fruit market not far from where we are.  Fresh pineapple, papaya, avocados were there to tempt us and I figured we should make the most of it!



By the time we got back it was time for lunch so a quick bite to eat then it was back down the road to meet Jody, a fellow athlete from Melbourne who I had met through Facebook. We sat down and had a cold drink with her and again watched the world go by, this time with the added attraction of dolphins playing in the ocean right beside us. 

The rest of the afternoon we took the opportunity to explore the downtown area of Kona, checking out the shops and generally trying to get adjusted to the temperature and humidity. A highlight of the wander was a small detour to the waterfront where we were entranced by several turtles in the shallow water having a good feed of something.  They were engrossed in their dinner, occasionally popping a head out of the water for a second to have a look around but generally it was just the top of their shells or a flipper that we saw poking above water level.  Didn't matter though, just seeing them potter around in the shallows was enchanting enough.


We finished off the day in the pool back at the condo - a cooling dip was in order and then a dinner of freshly cooked tuna and salad. St Pete is back in the kitchen!

Tomorrow - another swim and a bike in paradise.







Thursday, October 2, 2014

Kona 2014 - Day 1 Update

We have arrived!  A pretty uneventful flight but glad to finally touchdown in Kona this afternoon.

First impression as we flew in - desolation!  The lava fields create a surreal landscape around the airport and the palm trees surrounding the terminal seemed almost artificially tropical against the backdrop of Madam Pele's outbursts.  Outstanding to see and to think we will be riding through this in 10 days' time - an exciting thought.  

Coach Dave was at the airport meeting others off the same flight so it was great to see him briefly before we headed to our accommodation with the TriTravel crowd. 





Then it was straight into unpacking the bike and heading out with Dave for a quick ride to shake out the legs and make sure all was in working order.

And it was!


Weather is great - depending on your definition of great... Balmy temperatures - but high humidity!  Very glad to have 10 days to get used to this :)

Tomorrow's plan, an early swim then stock up on supplies and then some relaxation.  More updates tomorrow.

Aloha.