Before Kona

Reflections of Kona and the preparation. It’s been a week and a bit since my best day out in Triathlon. I am already longing to return Kona. When I qualified, I had no idea of the magic, beauty, quality, or how unbelievably great the Ironman World Championships in Kona Hawaii are. Having lived walking distance to it all for 10 days was a lifetime opportunity. I now understand why so many go back, often.

Fresh after qualifying in November last year I took it easy. Then easier on vacation for 3 weeks gaining weight on my mothers cooking. Come early January I tipped the scales at 76 kg. At Kona a dipped into the sea at 70kg. This is the second time I have achieved race weight with a reduction of 6 kg over many months.

In early January training resumed. Two weeks into training I badly hurt my left knee playing football with my son, then one late Saturday night in March my hip flexors, and all muscles around the right hip, locked up! About 12 days later, 3 painful massage sessions and 2 osteopath visits and back at it!

First race was 70.3 Putrajaya. DNF. The hip was not ready! I told myself bigger things later and remained focused on Kona Hawaii. A side from some recovery from Putrajaya, training was very consistent and good through to and including late July. In this period I averaged about 14 hours a week. It was 3 sessions in each sport plus a functional strength. I also started in June a weekly Pilates class on the reformer board. This was great. It works the stability muscles around the joints so well and this I needed.

It should be noted, I do 70% of my training on a bike. Why, I love it. My longest run on the year was 2.5 hours and it was conducted with additional 2% body weight at zone 2 heart rates. With so much bike training, my swim and run are about equal at 13% with 1 hour a week in this period doing Pilates. I did no functional strength in this period opting to use the stability aspect of Pilates as the best way to condition my system over functional strength. I also use weights for my run training, adding 1% body weight gradually peaking at 6%. However, all workouts were the same. Same intervals, distances and speed.

With the disappointment of Putrajaya behind me, the next fitness test was in Cebu at the 70.3 Ironman Asia Pacific Championships. In the days leading up the race, I felt flat and slow for some reason. I focused on rest the last 2 days before the race. Fortunately, race morning I woke feeling well.

Much to my surprise, I won my age group with a 4:51! I ran 1:40 in the heat of Cebu. Nutrition on the day was not perfect but good enough. The biggest lesson this day was pacing. A little harder into the wind and up hills and a little easier on the down and tail wind. Nutrition wise, I believe a little too much salt upset my stomach. It made for a stressful run.

I had 5 weeks between my next fitness test, Challenge Nha Trang Half, then 4 weeks to Kona. Longer distances beckoned! Training volume increased and in no time it was Challenge Nha Trang! I averaged 19 hours with a peak one week of 24 hours training thanks to some extra long rides.

For Challenge Nha Trang, I chose not to taper. In fact I did 18 hours on the week prior to the race. To my pleasant surprise, I felt tremendous all race, ran in 1h34 and won my age group, 6th amateur. Nutrition, the 4th discipline was excellent. After the race, no lingering affects stayed with me so recovery was a day off and back at it.

The month leading into the World Championships went well. Kona minus 4 weeks was a big one, as well as Kona less 3 weeks. In this period 2 weeks I had some of the best swimming, biking and running I have ever had. Then I began to taper, 3 weeks on run by decreasing volume, 2 weeks on bike and 1 week on swim. Effectively, I swam a lot in weeks Kona less 3 and 2.

Arrive in Kona

We arrived in Kona!

I arrived in Kona a week in advance of the big show! My partner and infant son accompanied me. We stayed walking distance to the expo, swim start, finish line and King K. Great spot! Lots of restaurants, shops and coffee shops too. I was warned, and headed the advice from my good mate Bang Trinh, “stay off your feet and don’t go ragged running around Kona race week”. Arriving with a few days to settle in prior to the crowds was great. We chilled and enjoyed. Taking in some nice relaxing coffees and meals. A few practice swims, runs and bike rides to do. By Tuesday the feel of Kona was in full Ironman mode, lots of people and excitement.

My first swim on the course went like this! I stripped down and walked the steps to the tiny beach and Into the sea. Many other athletes were there. Kona this time of year can be described as a convention of the fittest people on the planet!. I turned to see 6 packs galore, a few 8 packs and that was on the women! Immediately I felt insecure, do I belong! Well on to swim and away I went! Within 200m I passed many a 6 pack. Maybe they were being nice to me in an unknown way. Or just maybe I said, I belong here!

With my reinforced confidence, I went running with my charity kit. Again I felt like I was being watched. Maybe it was the bright yellow, the Vietnam flag and writing, or maybe it was the comfortable 4:20 pace at 3 in the afternoon heat! Once again I knew I belonged! I can achieve my goals.

The events on the week were great to be a part of. The second event, Thursday at 730 am was the Kona Underpants run. This is a charity family run walk up and down Ali’i. It started as a protest to the many skimpy clad participants who would not cover up when shopping. It has since grown into an annual event of fun for charity. I suspect about 3,000 people in underwear paraded through the street. With my entry I received socks, appropriate items for the day.

The last event of the week was the welcome dinner, or as in Hawaii a large La’au. We learned more about the magic of the big island. Kupa’a, remain steadfast, have the strength to stand firm, believe in and be loyal to yourself and surroundings. Regardless of the result, honor yourself, your family, the race history, and this island with your best effort. These words remained with me. Friday before the race these thoughts filled my mind. A restless sleep ahead.

Race day

Race morning, hugs and love from family who walked with me at 4.30 am for body marking! How great is that. They wanted to share in this great day from start to finish.

On to set up T1. No drama or issues at T1. I spoke with another age grouper who appeared super relaxed. After some chit chat he said something I felt profound. “We qualified, we are here, and this is our victory lap. One long lap!”. I could not agree more.

A while later, not expecting to see anyone I know, I hear “hey Todd”. To my surprise it was Lance Watson. Ironman Master coach, whom I met at 70.3 Ironman Danang and again in Cebu. Waiting for the swim start I relaxed by sitting down and used a barrier to lean against. I was lined up along many. Tim Reed, 2016 70.3 World Champion was warming up right in front of me. I met him in Danang and he recognized me. We had a brief chat exchanging warm wishes for a great day.

The deep water swim start was tremendous. I had done this 2 times before but not in pristine clear sea water. Hearing the cannon go off for the pro men at 6.20am, then women at 6.30am, only raised the excitement. I was not worried about treading water for 20 minutes to wait for our men only start at 6.55am. I just enjoyed the atmosphere.

 

The canon went for the men’s start. This was the most peaceful swim I had ever had. None of the grabbing, kicking and I have even been punched, as some other races go. At 1h07 I was happy with my non wetsuit swim.

A quick transition and onto the bike. Well relatively quick T1. During the long run to the bike I consumed a gel and some water. Even at World Championship, many of the guys around me stopped to mount their bikes. I guess the practice of a flying mount worked for me, a few places gained. Onto the bike, the first 10km are a short out and back through town. This is required for the 8-10% 700m long Pelani climb up to the queen K. It was in this section that I saw my family twice, albeit briefly!

Once on the Queen K it’s closed roads, and spectacular views. Race morning was clear skies. For the first 1-1.5 hours on the Queen K I was really enjoying the ride. The view of volcanoes, lava flows, rolling hills and the sea made this a pleasurable start! Then the wind hit! Then the 15km long rolling up false flat up to Hawi. Finally at 95 km the turn around in Hawi.

I began to realize on the ascent into Hawi how many people went out too hard. I passed dozens of riders on the up hill head wind section. Then the return was quick! Tail winds until veterans memorial cemetery! Then the head wind again, all the way to T2.

Along the way I received my drafting penalty at 142 km, 200m before an aid station. Really annoying. Guys are slowing to get ready for the station. I got passed, as I had to slow too but could not pull out to pass. The gap closed and a Marshall says drafting! Rubbish in my mind.

Into T2 with a potty stop. Out in 3min20. Not bad considering the stop! This to me was a good sign of taking good care of myself.

I had my pace decided prior to the race, 4:47/km. At 1 km I saw my family again. What a boost that was. All the negative energy left me! Running up Pelani was the slowest KM I did, 5:38! I was wishing I had a bike! However once on the queen K it’s gentle down for +/-2km and made the seconds back quickly!

Turning into the famed energy Lab I was a few seconds over my plan! But it’s down hill into a gentle head wind. I made some time up. But the return trip felt like a long time, 5:24, my second slowest km. On exiting the Energy Lab, concerns were in my mind of getting the planned run and a sub 10. Running back on the queen K, my legs would not let me gain time back on the down hills. I feared the wheels were coming off this wagon!

Then I ran through the Hotshot tent. At the Hotshot tent they were yelling opened or closed. I responded open. A guy turns around to give me an open Hotshot. It was none other than Craig Alexander! 5x world champion. He says, “here ya go mate, you look great!”

By the time I was 5 km from the finish, I had a 1.5km up hill slope and then down of Pelani and Hauwalua. I pushed as hard as I could up hill but km 37-40 were 15-20 seconds each behind goal pace!

Then I turned down Pelani! A 4:10/km sprint almost, a bit of flat running past my family! I was so wasted I could not wave, just run! Then 4:24 for km 41. I was there. No runner was near me. I turned onto Ali’i drive and kept running hard. I wanted 3:20 for the marathon. I wanted sub 10 for the day. Then I saw the big clock. Then slowed and calculated. I saw 9:56:ticking away. Sub 10 was mine! Shear relief that a goal started 7 years ago was reality! I believed, I trained and I finally delivered!

The pain subsided after 5-6 days, but I am still smiling. My run at 3:21:07 was 115 overall. Not the 3:20 I hoped, but bloody good enough. I passed dozens of people and feel I paced and fed my race perfectly! I do not think I could have done much better on the day.

Next, like any engineer or triathlete, figure out how to go faster! Then deliver it again!

Engineer and  avid triathlete, 2x Ironman World Championship qualifier, father of 3 boys. A strong supporter of NewBorns Vietnam and Heartbeat Vietnam. Using Triathlon to raise funds plus awareness for these two great causes. They do tremendous work, with no overhead.


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