Kona ’15: The Data

Well, it’s been over a week now since the big race. I’ve done a lot of thinking in that time and am finally ready to put pen to paper. Since this race is so important in the whole scheme of things, I will need to present my thoughts in three separate posts. This first one will be filled mostly with cold hard data. The second one will be on my thoughts, feelings and experiences, and the third one will be about where improvements can be made for next year.

First off, I will start with the swim. Sadly, I have to chalk this one up as the worst swim in my professional career. It was literally the largest deficit I have come out of the water with: 10 minutes and 25 seconds. My second largest deficit occurred at St. George 70.3 in 2014 where I was 5 minutes and 9 seconds back of Andy Potts, but it was only half the distance.

To add insult to injury, the swim was marred in controversy. One of my close advisors presented me the idea of finding someone to swim with during the swim. The logic behind the idea being that I normally swim solo, but all of the guys in the front have a group to swim with. From the get go, the idea did not feel right. My advisor reassured me that he had consulted with the head referee of Ironman and that not only did he say it was within the rules of the sport, but that he actually thought it was a good idea! I found out a few days after the race that this conversation actually never happened. This idea was at best a grey area in the rules.

I felt absolutely terrible. I immediately found the number for the head referee and gave him a call. I told him what happened and how I felt that I had been greatly mislead. He also felt that he had been greatly mislead and manipulated. I told him that I wanted to withdraw myself from the race, mainly because I didn’t want my peers to think that that’s how I roll. He said that while he appreciated the sentiment, he didn’t think that this particular situation warranted a voluntary withdrawal. I have taken solace in his judgement, and have since moved on. The biggest lesson learned being: Always trust your gut.

Sadly, things didn’t get much brighter after the poor swim. My power output wasn’t terribly bad. For the first 100k or so I was right inside of my goal power range at 317w. But, I wasn’t pulling back anytime whatsoever. I was biking dead even with the front of the race. This didn’t make any sense though. In just about every race I have done this year I have pulled back time from the front of the race, with only four exceptions: Ironman Mont Tremblant where I had a flat tire; Racine 70.3 where I lost time to Andrew Starykowicz, who many consider to be the best biker in the sport; Ironman Texas, where I lost 1 minute and 18 seconds to Joe Skipper who put together one of the fastest bike times in history; and Davide Giardini at Galveston 70.3.

With hindsight, I probably committed some aerodynamic atrocities. I wore a 2L camelback, high up on my back, and I ran 3 bottles (one on the down tube, one on the seat tube and one behind the seat) all of which were round. I also switched my tires from Vittoria EVO CX to Continental Grand Prix 4000S. In viewing the power files of many athletes in the front pack, it is hard to believe that I did not give up some considerable free time with these choices. Here is my power file from the ride:

Kona Bike Data

Contrast that with my power file from Ironman Texas earlier this year:


The outputs aren’t vastly different. My normalized power at Ironman Texas was 307w. My normalized power at Kona was 293w. Admittedly, I did not bike well at all on the second half of the bike in Kona, but even with the poor second half, I would have expected to ride a lot better than I did relative to the competition. The big differences between Kona and IMTX is that I wore a Camelbak and rode slower tires. Despite this, I stayed focused. I really only had one meaningful goal for this race and it was to put together a good run off the bike.

In my last two Ironmans (Mont Tremblant and Ironman Texas) I have run very poorly. Both of those races were very hot, and I believe a great deal of the poor performances were nutritional. My goal for Kona was to prove that I could run in the heat. Of course, running well starts with good nutrition on the bike. I have been working with Infinit Nutrition and they have created a custom blend for me that is very similar to my sweat. Throughout the bike and run I was basically trying to drink a solution that is very similar to my sweat, at a rate of consumption as close to my sweat rate as possible.

The run in Kona was very hot. There was very little wind and almost no cloud cover the entire time. I would say it was the toughest conditions I have ever run in. It really was a game of trying to regulate my core temperature as best as possible. For a first go, I am happy with how the run turned out. I made it to 15 miles running well. Right around 15 miles I hit the wall pretty hard, and really started to struggle, but this is considerably further than I made it in my two previous Ironmans.

All and all, it was another day of learning. I didn’t have any expectations for this race other than to give it my all. My goal was to prove that I can run well in the heat. I’m certainly not satisfied with the run, but it has given me hope that one day I will be able to put together a good 26 miles in hot and humid conditions. I was also happy with my hydration. In drug testing I was able to produce the entire sample immediately upon arrival. Contrast that with Ironman Texas where it took me 2.5 hours of chugging back every liquid in sight to produce 90mL of urine.

The race has also given me the kick in the ass I have needed to improve my swim. I have been neglecting this far too long. The one thing I have not had is a coach looking over me every day. I have had coaches look at me in passing, but never regularly. I think this is necessary for me to improve. I don’t think a 1:01 Ironman swim is anything special, so I think there is lots of room to grow.

In my next post I will describe in more detail the emotion leading up to, during and after the race.

Thanks for reading!

17 thoughts on “Kona ’15: The Data

  1. Lionel you are a true gentleman of the sport!

    Just a thought, but why not mix your infinit in high concentrate and store in an aero bottle on your frame and just use it to top up your aero bottle on your bars, and top up with water as you go. I just bought a XLAB aero bottle/carbon cage you can have…my racing days just came to a sudden end. I’d be happy to send it to you if you want to try it out.

    Thanks for sharing, all the best in your recovery.


  2. How do bottle hand offs work for the pros at Kona? Could you have put extra bottles of Infinit in special needs?

    I’m just thinking that with the first half of the bike being mostly uphill from what I can tell you probably carried at least an extra 2kg using the camelback.

    Either way great race. It was cool cheering on a local pro and good luck next year.

  3. You are so amazing. I think you did fantastic, it was a thrill to follow you on line. What an amazing year you have had be proud! Can’t wait for 2016.

  4. Thanks for sharing! There is only one way for you – up and up in standings, just keep pressing on and stay healthy! Can’t wait for part 2 and 3.

  5. Your older posts on swimming prompted me to start following your exploits several months ago, and I’ve been anxious to hear how you’ve improved your swimming so dramatically in 1 or 2 years’ time. Perhaps you have some way to go, but your swim has improved impressively–give yourself some credit! I hope you’ll use your third installment to describe in some detail what you’ve done to make the improvements you’ve made … and to reflect upon how you’ll continue to improve, since the swim seems to be the most likely area for future improvement. You will be unstoppable someday soon. And I’ll be able to say I was a fan long before you became super famous!

  6. Great race Lionel, you might want to try using an extremely concentrated bottle (aero one, like xlab or torhans vr), mix in 6 servings of infinit, then mark the bottle with 6 marks, squeeze one sixth of it into your BTA bottle before each aid station. Then just take water and add to the cocktail. That said, make sure you can stomach the on course nutrition in case.

  7. Who was your advisor? So unacceptable that someone would put you in that situation and potentially jeopardize your career, your reputation, and your character as a person. Sorry to hear of this story, but displays your true character – in spite of your advisor – in contacting the head race referee.

  8. Let’s see…you shit the bed on the swim…carried extra weight in an aero disaster on the bike…hit the wall at mile 15 on the run…and you still FINSHED 14th. Be sure to give yourself at least a little pat on the back. Yes, it’s a learning experience, but you are damn talented. Always remember that.

    Thanks for sharing.

  9. Swim first thing in the morning everyday with a good swim squad, get your bike sponsor or someone to help you with your aerodynadimics (wind tunnel- look at frodeno this year and the time he spent doing this and how much he improved) and you can win this thing

  10. Lionel,

    You had an excellent race and will only get better. I know you will work on your swim and get faster. As others have said, if you can get to a wind tunnel on the bike and better optimize your water bottles (and perhaps tires) you will be more of a beast. But congrats on a great race – you are a gifted athlete.

  11. Great post, Lionel. You really impressed us all with this excellent performance, you have what it takes to be one of the greatest. We’ll keep on following you.

    Thanks for your generosity in sharing these thoughts.

  12. Why no heart rate on the bike?

    Power seems to drop off as Temp goes up. Although HR is more of an output measure, in hot climates it serves as an extra data point from which you can make adjustments both during the race as well as post race analysis.

    I live in a Kona like environment and depending on heat / humidity the relation of pwr:hr varies significantly even if RPE is somewhat the same.

    Just food for thought.


  13. Thanks for sharing some insight and information on the race. Have been rooting for you and will continue to be a fan! Great job out there!

  14. Great report. Personally think swim drafting is a whole lot of nothing you are apologizing for.

    Swim and run draft is underused & very legal part of Tri, bike drafting is super common and totally illegal part of Tri. The shady sportsmanship seen on the bike drives me nuts.

    Looking forward to the next chapter of this race, and future races. BTW: a Freshii just opened in my hood👍 will hit it to support the colonel

  15. Hey Lionel,

    Great report so far. I am looking forward to the next 2 reports. I followed the race live and was checking out ST on the day. As far as your bike, one thing I noticed when I was following the race was during the updates the top 12-15 guys were consistently 2 sec apart which to me means they are legal drafting, but obviously getting an advantage. I actually think this is BS as the spirit of the sport is suppose to be an individual sport. I think that is part of the reason you didn’t make up time. Maybe the rules for pros should change to 20 metres?

  16. 317 watts halfway on the bike and not pulling back time indicates to me that you should visit ERO or a wind tunnel. Will that happen before next season? The camelback probably didnt help. How does that Work? Did you refill it underway or was it just dead weight once emptied? 2 liters is just like one hour worth of fluid for you, right?

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