Kona 2014 – Ironman Number Ten

Swim Start – the washing machine

As the sun rose on 11th October, over 2000 athletes were preparing their assault on the 140.6 miles around the Big Island in Hawaii.

I had been fortunate enough to race in Kona two years before. Without a shadow of a doubt, there was some pressure to do well here, with trying to beat my time, beat my position and beat my opposition! At the same time though, there was also familiarity and that brings a small amount of confidence.

Familiarity also meant training with Bree Wee (16th FPRO) in her training playground in Kona

I was apprehensive. My last time here had been almost an all-round perfect race – no mechanicals, no significant injuries pre race, no significant nutritional issues either and I had won my age group on the way into Kona 2012. 

This year my qualification was marred by a 4th place and a knee pain that definitely cost me a podium spot. I was working with some of the best guys in the business: Paul and Gordon from the Bosworth Clinic (this is not a shameless plug, this is an honest thank you!). We worked really hard to try and get on top of why my knee suddenly started twingeing with 12-10km to go.

Although we got to the base of the knee pain, I was experiencing a dull ache when I was running after about 30 minutes in the right hip area. So being as proactive as I could, I was doing mobility work every day, I was stretching, I was also doing three strengthening sessions each week in the lead up to the race but I knew though that the hip ache was still there and was still causing me issues. I believed (read ‘hoped’!) that I could just run through the ache. 

The swim went quite well for me. I pushed in the early stages, settled on the edge of a pack and then drafted my way to the first buoy. On the way home, a lot of people seemed to slow, so I just followed someone who was keeping a good pace. On the way back, there was a current pushing us from left to right, and whether this was a hindrance or a help it certainly meant we had to keep sighting! Although the swim was supposedly rough, I really didn’t think it was that bad. I had raced in Ironman South Africa four years previously where I didn’t want to go back in for the second loop because the waves were so big. Portugal sea swimming weekly must have helped as I really wasn’t worried about the waves. I remember breathing to the right and seeing the beautiful Pacific ocean and then breathing left and seeing the 'typical' Kona swim shot of heads, arms and legs with lots of white water!

Sneaking out of the water before Sam Baxter!

The bike was an interesting one for me, and with hindsight I didn't quite get it right. Sam Baxter (a fellow Brit abroad who went on to come 5th M30-34) and I were joking that in every race we do together I exit the water first only to see him fly by on the bike after exactly 20km. If past history is anything to go by, I would be happy to make it to 20 miles this time before I got passed! (I had come to the conclusion that as he hadn’t caught me by then he must have learnt how to swim!). The winds were very strong. I remember a couple of occasions where I sat there leaning into the wind trying to relax while the front wheel was jumping all over the place thinking: ‘I know I need to eat and drink, but right now, I am not taking my hands off these handle bars!’ As per usual, there was a headwind up to Hawi and then a motoring tailwind (and cross winds) back down again. Then with about 60km left, we turned right onto the Queen K and started rolling home. I mean rolling. After the initial bump, there is a long section which is essentially a false flat (in your favour!). I was free-wheeling at 61km/h! The only reason we were free-wheeling was because at any of the junctions (intersections) the police were shepherding cars across and we were all a bit cautious at how quickly they thought we were going! Just as I (and everyone around me) was starting to think that they were on for a world record bike split, we hit another section of headwind and our dreams were firmly dashed.
Coming through the final stretch before turning back in towards town I saw the eventual Men’s winner Sebastien Kienle running out to the Energy Lab, dancing around and was shouting very loudly in German…I can only guess that he had been told a time split and felt awesome! (Not something you regularly see at that point in the race!)

I came off the bike in about 45th place. 

My first out and back section on the run felt great, really great. Without going into details, I knew I was hydrated, I knew I was on top of my energy and I knew I was feeling strong. Better yet, I had hit the hour mark with no hip pain – result!

Not quite graceful, but hey – no pain!
I jogged/walked up the famous Palani Hill and reached the top helped by some great support from Fiona as I headed out for the part of the course I was most looking forward to.

21km in 1:33 meant I was on track for a good run – especially as it is technically net down hill to the finish. The old saying in ultra racing is, “If you feel bad, eat, if you feel good, eat!” and maybe it was me being overly optimistic, but I will never know. At 22km my hip basically built quite quickly from a pain I was aware of to a fairly significant throb. I tried to keep my stride length normal, but it hurt both to lift the knee up and to drive the leg back to the toe off of the stride. Things suddenly did not look quite so good. I finally reached the Energy Lab I have to admit there were some tears at this point. And, oh brilliant, there appeared through the heat haze was Richard Melik, from Freespeed/Tri247. He could see things weren’t looking great for me, so did what he did best and started taking some photos. Vanity struck - I couldn’t be walking could I? So I mustered a grin (grimace) and hobbled along thanking Richard for mentioning I looked strong!

Milk the finish line no matter what position you are in.
10km later and my hip is still agony and I was driving the best I could towards the line. I had made it: 9:55. Three minutes faster than two years ago. (At this rate, I should be really competitive in my age category in about 20-30 years time!)

The significance of this finish for me was that it was actually my 10th Ironman. I couldn’t help but look back on my first one and all the things I had learned after each race and indeed what racing Ironman had done to me - the paths I had chosen and the people I had been fortunate enough to meet. I was promptly brought back to reality when meeting up with others like a friend I made last time: Pablo. This was his 10th Kona finish. Dream on Philip!

For now though, it is the off–season and I do have a lot of work to do. Until that begins though, I am going to enjoy myself and gorge to excess over Christmas!

As always a huge thank you to everyone who was following me and supporting me on the day/night depending where in the world you were. It was very humbling to see so many different people who wished me luck or congratulated me, so thank you.



Off for my recovery...