KONA DIARIES DAY 13 TO 17 INCLUDING RACE DAY
Day 13 - Thursday
Another early start for the famous Underpants run. What a weird experience! A proper head fuck if I am honest. I am pretty body conscious at the best of times and this
wasn’t helping. I just had to put it to the back of my mind and try to enjoy it. It was a fun thing to do but it will rank amongst the weirdest things I will ever do. There was one point where Rudy Project threw out some hats and the crush of heavily sweating naked bodies was just too much to take!
Allan and I had to go to a military athlete meet and greet thing after the run. Waste of time really. Ironman are totally rubbish at the military thing and it is a thinly veiled token effort at celebrating our efforts for the countries we represent. It is severely disappointing. For instance, all ‘normal’ age groups are rewarded with top 5 at the prize giving. The military guys? Well, they get first Male and Female. That isn’t first in each AG, that is first overall so the 55 year old guy is racing against a 20 year old. Disgusting, what does it cost for a trophy and a bit of good will? It doesn’t take much imagination to know that I didn’t hang around long!
That was the day for me - sit on the sofa and tick pre race jobs off. Bike clean and waxing, kit bag sorting that kind of thing. I even did all my water bottles. It is way ahead of schedule but I figured that as I was putting them straight into the freezer it wouldn’t matter when I did them. Time will tell if this was the right move! The odd thing about the kit bags here is that your helmet goes on your bike instead of in the bag and race number is only needed on the run so I have just a pair of sunglasses in mine, it is unnerving to say the least!
Day 14 - Friday. One day before race
Not much to do today but we decided on a short swim to the coffee boat as it was going to be the last opportunity. We were sitting on the floats enjoying some Kona coffee and watching not only the world go by but a pod of dolphins playing between us and the pier. We could also see the Ironman machine had been in action overnight and had
transformed the harbour area into transition and finish line. Kind of cool to see it in place and we were going to get a closer look in the afternoon during bike racking.
I was pretty keen to keep faffage to a minimum after the swim and get home for breakfast and a snooze, it almost worked!
Allen, as a relatively inexperienced athlete (this was only his second Ironman) was panicked because his allocated racking time was 11-1430 and couldn’t be convinced that they would actually let him in at any time so off he went, which meant that Leanne had to play taxi. Mary and I were planning to go later in the afternoon so we weren’t queuing up in the midday sun. She needed something or other from the expo so left the house about 1430 and I trundled down about 1500.
It was a very well run evolution with not much hanging around, bike porn everywhere and it was cool to see the bike count checkers noting what stuff was being used. No one else was running Eleven Sprocket wheels that's for sure!
On arrival at transition you are allocated a helper who takes your bike and bags for you and shows you to your rack spot - mine was pretty easy to find, centre row opposite a giant Gatorade bottle. Then on to the bag racks and very quickly you are popped out the other end. It all looked fairly simple but there wasn’t the opportunity to walk the transition etc as you would at a normal event. As it turned out on race day you couldn’t have got it wrong if you tried.
Leanne, still playing taxi had come back down to collect me and we took the time to go and get some shaved ice and two minutes to ourselves. I needed it to be honest, my head had failed me and I was imploding about my body fat, overall weight and how I looked compared to the other athletes. It was going to be the undoing of me unless I sorted myself out. I always struggle with this aspect and had worked hard to arrive quite lean and trim (in my eyes) but two weeks of the American diet had put paid to that and it’s not like I had been indulging much. Strangely, there wasn’t an element of
doubt about the race, just how I looked, felt and weighed. To be blunt, I was shitting myself about the athlete weigh in the morning and expecting to be laughed at by the volunteers noting it down or the athletes who could catch a glimpse of the scales I was on. The massive sea swim, 112 windy miles and one of the planets hardest marathons were not an issue!
Miserable and dejected I tried to put it behind me with some good old fashioned sugary snacks (why can’t Americans do sour sweets?!) and we made our way home just in time for the rain to start. Not just a sprinkle but a downpour and it lasted all night well into the morning.
Day 15 - Saturday. Race Day!!!
I had actually slept pretty well and if it hadn’t been before 4am I would have woken quite refreshed. I was probably the calmest I have ever been pre race and there were no nerves at all, I just knew I had a hard day out but was confident I could finish it. I went about my race morning routine, put suncream on (not on arms due to body marking still to be done) and packed my bag ready to go to the start. I had already pre made my drinks and breakfast so I felt on top of things.
Once arrived at the transition entrance Allan broke off to go to the toilet so I made my way through body marking (tattoos) and onto the hardest part of the week - weigh in. I jumped on and off the scales so fast I was surprised the volunteer saw the number, surely no one else had? I certainly didn’t see but heard the volunteer round it up and announce to the recorder ‘call it 175lbs’. That meant nothing to me, so as soon as I was out of the tent I was onto google to convert it to kg. Ok, so it was a couple of kilo increase to when I left the UK but it wasn’t disastrous and I was fully clothed in shoes and well hydrated. I relaxed a little but still couldn’t persuade my head to forget about the slightly squashy edges and bulges about to be revealed in my tri suit..
Bottles on, Garmin working, pump tyres, chat to people either side of me (two very fast looking Australians), vaseline the important bits, suit on, suncream the arms now I’ve been marked, er wait…...where is the suncream? Balls, I had left it at the house. Leanne will have some for sure, I’ll get it the other side.
In the middle of the thousands of people hanging around I found Leanne and a place to sit, remarkable. We just watched the quiet chaos around us until it was time for me to get into the starting pen. One last thing though, suncream and body glide. Negative on the suncream, it’s ok, there will be suncream in T1 after the swim…..
Waiting in the pen to go into the water I was abnormally calm, taking in the atmosphere and thinking how flipping lucky I was and how far I had come in the years I had been involved in triathlon.
Down the steps onto Dig Me Beach, this was really happening! I’ve watched this moment on TV so many times, how cool is this?!
There were about 600 people in my swim start, so not the traditional Kona start but enough to make it a scrum all the way around the swim, there was simply no chance to relax. I hadn’t appreciated how wavy the sea was until I got towards the turn around and the boat was disappearing in the swell. It seemed to take an age to get to the turn around and when I did and got to the homeward leg it seemed like I was swimming on the spot into the tide. Everytime I sighted all I could see was people swimming at 45 degrees trying to stem the current.
Hold on hold on, there was the pier! Swim swim swim! Up the steps, glance at the race timer and through into the showers. Not quite as quick as I would have liked but post race chat was that it was some of the worst swim conditions for a few years and actually it was only a fraction slower than a wetsuit swim for me.
Pick my bag with my glasses in after a small delay because a helper stood blocking it so I couldn’t see the numbers. Swim skin off, glasses on and I am out of the change tent. I shout to a helper ‘where is the suncream?’ ‘It’s back in the tent, you can’t go back’. Bollocks, that's an error. Only 5 hours in the baking sun, how bad can it be? Oh look, the two Austalians either side of me are still out swimming.
As it turns out, a bit of sunburn was going to be the least of my concerns. Having never done a swimskin to bike evolution I had not even thought about the fact that any vaseline or chamois cream that I put on pre swim would have washed off unlike during a wetsuit swim. By ten miles in I was chafed to ribbons. Not only that but the suncream and body glide on my neck had not done their job and it was starting to sting. It resulted not in a bit of sunburn on my neck but a full on de-skinning.
35 miles in and my speed was good, 23mph average and I was feeling great. There were loads of drafting cheats coming by and I refused to get involved and found myself burning matches to maintain my integrity.
As I got to the point where you can look across the sea to the section up to Hawi I noted that it was once again full of white horses. Soon after that, the headwind hit me and it was a grind up to Hawi and the turnaround. It was head down and get on with it apart from a momentary glance to see Frodeno and Brownlee flash past on the other side. Where on earth is this turnaround?
At last, a little respite downhill into Hawi and the turnaround. A short pitstop at the special needs station and then time for a tailwind sleigh ride back to Kona. Only the wind had once again done a 180 and I was having to pedal downhill. Even worse was the 8% climb from sea level back up to the Queen K. I think I was doing 7mph and totally maxed out. Surely the wind would relent on the Queen K? Nope. All the way back home it was horrific. Now the drafters had turned into groups doing through and off. Coming past so fast you couldn’t jump onto them even if you wanted to. My watts were falling rapidly, I was paying the price for not cheating and it was torture. Jesus it was hot! The airport, I can see the airport, what a relief! Nearly there. Cramp cramp cramp. Not nearly there at all, this is hard. I must be doing less than 100w and making next to no progress here. Finally a decent down into Kona and I undo my shoes. Making the turn onto Palini Drive I have my feet out like a pro ready for a stylish dismount. There is the dismount line and I am going for it, my foot touches the floor and instantly cramps followed by the other leg. Fortunately I had slowed down enough for the bike
catcher to catch me AND the bike. I gingerly run into transition, it’s more like a stumble/hobble but its forward progress. There are thousands of bikes already racked, was I really that slow? It didn’t seem like that many people had overtaken.
I take a seat and a big deep breath in the changing tent, I can barely reach my feet to put my socks and shoes on but I look around me and I am not the only one struggling to complete this simple task. At last I get some suncream, a little late but better than nothing.
Out of the changing tent and straight into a climb up Palini Drive before turning right and doing the out and back along Ali’i Drive. I was actually feeling good and running well. I was running to the targets discussed pre race, I can do this! After the shocker of the bike I was passing people with ease. I quickly got carried away and started recalculating a finish time, I had just seen Leanne who told me I had given a comfortable 4.5hrs to finish before my backstop goal of sunset but I was quietly thinking I could pull this back to a time closer to the magical ten hours. At the first turn around I was still going well and said hi to a few people I had recognised
through the week. It was warm but not unbearable, well actually it was quite hot but I was coping! I took the wise decision to walk up Palini Drive despite others running past me. Halfway up was an aid station where a volunteer poured a bucket of icy water over my head. This was one of the highlights of my day - it felt great on my sunburnt body and as I had just peed myself in public it was a well timed wash down! Back on the Queen K heading towards the airport was pretty dull, it was like a treadmill session but with less music and less ventilation. That road seems to go on forever! At around 12 miles the first bout of sickness became all consuming as I bent double and threw up on the roadside without breaking step, this was not a good sign. I hadn’t been able to take on any nutrition at all so far during the run and I was nearing empty as it was. A girl I knew came steaming past and I asked her where the one guy I was really racing was (the one who beat me in qualifying, just a personal battle!) ‘Way way back, you’re safe’ was the reply so I congratulated myself and relaxed a little. About 5 minutes later as I made the turn in to the Energy Lab the main competition came past - balls, not that safe then. I stuck with him and kept constantly passing him when he slowed only for him to go through again every time I stopped to throw up. He was struggling but clearly not as much as me as after a particularly violent episode I had to call off the chase. My spirit was broken and my body was giving up for me, the race had slipped from my grasp. The time calculations still had a finish that started with a 10 if only I could hang on. My toes were in agony, my arms and neck were sunburnt and stinging, my throat was sore from being sick, I would quit now if I wasn’t already pointed in the direction of the finish. I plodded on punctuating my progress with ice down my front, sponges over my neck, swill some water, throw it back up again, try and get to the next aid station. It was slow and I could see pretty much the entire road home, all 10km of it. Finally I was at the top of Palini Drive and I knew it was just over 2km home from here. Running downhill was agony, toenails are overrated anyway. I could hear the finish line but cruelly they send you away in the opposite direction but I was on a fruitless charge to sneak under 11hrs. It felt like I was sprinting but a quick glance to the side and there was a woman in flip flops going faster than I was. Nearly there, nearly there, just soak it all up and make some memories Sammy I told myself. That’s exactly what I did. There is no way the TV coverage can prepare you for the sights and sounds of running down this particular finish line, it will stay with me forever. I have no idea if I was called across the line as I was only loosely hanging onto consciousness and fell into
the arms of the waiting volunteers. I had one under each arm as they frog marched me to the medical tent. I was weighed again
standing in soaking wet tri suit and trainers full of water. Despite the added extras I had lost over 12lbs. As the doctors were debating what to do with me fate forced their hand as I projectile vomited all over them, the bed I was on, the floor, quite literally everywhere. Five seconds later they were putting IV fluids into me and making sure I stayed awake. I came back to the real world after about an hour in a blind panic that I had crossed the line and had no medal! Did anyone else have one? I can’t see well enough. WHERE THE HECK IS MY MEDAL???!! Full on meltdown!
Apparently you get it at the recovery tent when you pick up your finishers T-Shirt, how was I meant to know that?! It was my cue to leave and a very nice lady escorted me across to medal collection and then fetched me pretty much anything I wanted in the recovery zone. I am sure if I had asked for a steak cooked rare with some wholegrain mustard it would have appeared but I knew Leanne would be concerned that I hadn’t materialised for a long time after finishing. I didn’t need to worry, she was quite relaxed and had expected me to have gone to the medical tent based on the way I looked coming down the chute!
We hung around for Allan and Mary to finish and got our bikes out of transition back to the house before heading down to see the final finishers. I was feeling great, those fluids really do the trick! Some real heroes crossing the line towards the end, I have no idea how you complete that race after passing your 80th birthday.
Day 16 - Sunday
The kit faff begins! How can a race that you wear the same bit of clothing for all day generate so much laundry? My bike also needed a bit of a wipe down, I always pity the helper who takes my bike off me on race day! With the minor admin sorted everyone wanted to head down into town for a coffee and a last visit to the merchandise store. There were people queuing to get in to part with more money to Ironman, of course we all joined them and dutifully handed over our cash for an overpriced t-shirt that says ‘finisher’ on it. Incredibly they were also selling the normal race stuff at discounted rates which would really annoy you if you had paid full price for it during the week. I preferred to steer clear of Ironman own brand attire but did manage to find some Compressport with discreet branding on it, if nothing else at least it will last without falling apart.
With our wallets empty we headed to A Bay once again to chill out at Lava Lava Beach Club drinking cocktails, nothing else was required or physically possible.
Day 17 - Monday
Moving day once again. Allan and Mary were heading back to the UK but Leanne and I were heading up the coast for a few days so crammed our overflowing bags into the car and said our goodbyes. A private beach, a comfortable sunbed and several Mai Tais later and the race dissection could begin. The swim conditions were poor so actually I was happy with my time. The bike, I reckon I spent myself trying to avoid drafters and the wind was a lot stronger than anticipated. I also don’t think I got my nutrition quite right despite having trained with exactly the same quantities back home so will do some research over winter and keep working until it's right. The run I fell into the trap of walking the aid stations which adds about 30 minutes to your race time.
Sure, I needed to walk through some but not all of them. Had I got my nutrition right on the bike with more solids then perhaps I wouldn’t have been so sick but who knows. I wasn’t the only one being sick and apparently it's pretty common in the heat of the afternoon sun on the Queen K. I was a bit disappointed with my finish time, I’ve never met a triathlete who was completely happy with a finish time but I knew I hadn’t done myself justice. To add insult to injury, I looked up the time of the guy I wanted to beat - he was less than 2 minutes ahead of me. I could have done that with stronger will power! It will haunt me, I am sure of it. The only way to rectify it is to come back stronger and better prepared. Yes, I have actually just said that. After all the pain of race day, the long hours of training and the seemingly endless amounts of
money poured into chasing this dream - I want to do it again. Not for a few years but I will be back on that start line in the future.