Today was my fourth full day in Kona. I’ve been here five days, but arrived late Sunday night after a 14 hour travel day, so really just unpacked my bike then went to bed that day. So far I would say it has been a massively valuable learning experience. This race (Ironman World Championship) is the pinnacle of the sport of Ironman racing, and so I hope to make it my A-race for the next thirteen or fourteen years. Aside from some sponsorship commitments, my main goal for this trip is to get a good feel for the idiosyncrasies of the race, so that I can take that knowledge back to my training room, and properly prepare for this race for next year.
The most unique attribute of this race is that it takes place on the Big Island in Hawaii. But, “the Big Island” isn’t that big. It only measures a couple hundred kilometers across at best, so most (all really) of the race occurs on the coast, within a kilometer or so of the ocean. I have heard through the grapevine that the winds can be atrocious; literally picking up and throwing lighter bike riders from their bikes. As well, I have heard that the humidity in Kona, as well as the heat, can be real nasty. In other words, if you don’t do well in the heat, this will be a challenging race for you. Additionally, the swim takes place in the ocean, and is ALWAYS a non-wetsuit swim, so this can pose serious issues for weaker swimmers. I’ve heard the claims, but I needed to come experience these trials and tribulations for myself. So I left my beautiful girlfriend and doggie, and hopped on a flight to Kona early Sunday morning in search of some answers.
First off, the place is beautiful. It reminds me very much of Arizona (which I love and hope to one day purchase a property there). Instead of sand, it’s lava rock. Instead of intense dry heat, it’s hot but with high humidity, making it feel really hot. It’s also almost always windy, just like in Arizona (and Windsor!!). As well, because Kona is on the leeward side of a mountain (a volcano?) it tends to be sunny most of the time. So far all of the locals I have met have been really nice, and seem to be very interested and supportive of the race. The only downside I have experienced is that it seems that almost all food is imported to the island, and so everything (including fast food) is a bit more expensive. For instance, I considered buying a three pack of bell peppers (the critics of my last blog post are getting in my head! But not that much, as I am writing this post from Burger King), but I put them back when I saw the price tag of $7.99 US! Microwaveable meat pies it is!
I figured I would delve right in to my research on my first full day on the island. What better way to gain some experience then to bike the whole bike course? I must say, this first ride of the course was a bit anti-climactic. It wasn’t that windy, and I didn’t feel that it was really that hot. I was really struck by how un-technical the course is. It’s literally a couple of turns and then straight out about 90 kilometers and straight back. Big wide shoulders, and no turns; my kind of course!! I used that ride as a workout and ended up spending about 3 hours at my Ironman bike pace. I rode the 180k in right around 4 hours 40 minutes. Afterwards, I took two hours of recovery, and then went to a local fitness centre and ran 36 kilometers in 2 hours 22 minutes and 5 seconds. Overall it was a good training day.
Tuesday was a bit more relaxed. I had a few commitments with Garneau in the morning, but before that I did a 1 hour swim on the swim course. Fortunately, it wasn’t too wavy, and I had an enjoyable swim. It was a cool experience to be in comfortably warm waters, as well as able to see the bottom the entire time (at times it must have been forty feet deep!). Afterwards I got out for a 75k ride (second of the day, first one was 40k) and then a 15k run on the run course. This was my first run out in the heat of the day. Don’t get me wrong, it was hot…when I got back I chugged 1 liter of Canada Dry, but it wasn’t nearly as hot as I was expecting. From the stories I have heard, the heat is like nothing you’ve ever experienced. Perhaps I am biased because I have done almost all of my training over the last three months in a small, hot and humid room. I also spent 2.5 months in Arizona at the start of the year.
Wednesday I decided to rest up a bit, as I planned on doing a longer workout on Thursday. I biked 40k and ran 10k on the treadmill then did a swim at a local pool. I thought it was interesting that I haven’t done much swimming over the last week, yet I was swimming at or above the level I had been swimming at during my preparation for 70.3 Worlds, when I was swimming everyday (and sometimes twice a day). It’s both reassuring and discouraging. It seems then when I practice swimming by myself, I really don’t get much better. And when I don’t practice swimming, I really don’t get much worse! Fortunately, the days of swimming alone are numbered, as I will be joining a swim club and swimming under a coaches gaze every day, starting very soon i.e. after Ironman Florida.
Thursday (today) I was scheduled to do a photo-shoot with Garneau. We decided that some action shots would be best, and so I figured I might as well bike the course again. This time round I put on a set of race wheels (Shimano C75s), my new Garneau custom aero helmet, as well my new custom race suit. I also intended on holding my Ironman wattage continuously for 4 hours. Holy cow! It was like night and day from my ride on Monday. For those of you who did Barrelman a few weeks back, the wind was exactly like that, but with stronger gusts…and for nearly 90 kilometers straight!!! With all of my gear on, I made it to Hawi (the bike course turnaround) averaging 1 kilometer per hour slower than I did on Monday, but pushing 10 watts more!! Once I turned around, I was glad to experience a very strong tailwind. Unfortunately, after about 50 kilometers, the wind began to change, and then I was experiencing a headwind once again. This was a mentally taxing ride as the speedometer was not giving any motivation. Holding 300w for four hours I averaged only 38.74kph, with all of my race gear on (except a disc wheel)! Now I have a decent sense of what moderate winds on the Big Island can feel like, and how cruel they can be (i.e. double headwind). Overall though, my view is still the same in this regard. Power is power. As long as you are decently close to the lead rider, you will likely experience the same wind, and so will be rewarded if your aerodynamics are good, and you hold a high power output.
After the bike I quickly grabbed a few calories (1 gatorade and a row of chocolate chip cookies) and then my coach Barrie Shepley gave me a quick ride down to the base of Palani Rd. From there I ran up the big hill of Palani (Pay and Save Hill, for those familiar with Ironman lore), down the Queen K, to the turnaround at the famous Energy Lab. I then ran up out of Energy Lab and another kilometer or so back down the Queen K. In total, I ran 10 miles in 59 minutes and 59 seconds. Overall, I actually felt quite good. When I made the turnaround in the Energy Lab, it was very hot, and there was little relief offered by the wind. But once out of the Energy Lab, there was a breeze again and I started to cool back down. Overall, I think I got a decent sense of what running on the course feels like, right in the heat of the day, off of a 180k bike. I will take this knowledge back to my training room, and put it to good use.
So that’s that. Overall, I am having a good time, meeting lots of new people, taking in all of the sights and sounds. It’s definitely a very unique race. I am excited for Saturday, where I will finally get to see in real life how the race unfolds. I will do another update in a few days with how my final few days of training went, as well as what experiencing the race as a spectator was like. I have a feeling come 3 p.m. Saturday, motivation will be at an all-time high.
I have to send a huge shout out to all my sponsors. A lot of people have come together to allow me to get here this year and gain the knowledge that will be very valuable for me in my preparation for this race next year. I am very thankful for everything you guys have done for me. As well, thanks to my girlfriends parents for waking up on three hours sleep (we had a wedding the night before) and giving me a ride to the airport. And of course, big thanks to my girlfriend Erin for holding down the fort while I’m gone. I miss you very much and am excited to give you and Chewy a big kiss when I get back.
Thanks for reading and following along! Expect another post next Wednesday as I have 14 hours of travel.
Also, here’s what the sunset looks like from my condo: