Tales From The Big Island 2012

shapeimage_2It’s a very exciting time of year in our world, with the Hawaiian Festival of Ironman AKA the Ironman World Championships taking place on the Big Island of Kona. The chance to be part of this iconic race is a dream for many triathletes, requiring years of dedication to the process of gaining qualification through exceptional performance in an Ironman race during the season.  It has been a great pleasure to coach Mel through this process for the second time, and she has kindly allowed us to publish her race report about her 7th place finish in age group F45-49.

Kona 2012 Race Report 

Having had a good season leading up to Kona and more importantly not been cold water acclimatising this year, I approached this race with more confidence that I would be able to cope with the wind, heat and humidity which makes Kona so challenging.

I arrived in Hawaii a week before race day but inexplicably felt very flat all week and wondered if I would be able to find my ‘race head’ in time. I kept telling myself how lucky I was to be here as so many athletes strive for years to qualify. It didn’t seem to help though, possibly because I knew what was in store from last year.

I attended a Women’s Masters Breakfast meeting hosted by Julie Moss and Kathleen McCarthy. They had previously raced 30 years before and became famous when Julie collapsed towards the finish line and Kathleen took the win. They were back this year, both competing again. Their talk was inspiring and I took away a mantra ‘just breathe ’for when times got tough.

Race day arrived and my first thoughts were rather negative so I just hoped that when the cannon went off I would be able to respond. I took myself to body marking and weigh-in, pumped my tyres up and returned to my hotel room to contemplate the day. It was great to be staying so close to the start as I could hear the announcer from my bed. I wasn’t at all nervous but just didn’t want to be surrounded by 2000 athletes. Eventually I returned to race site and sat on some grass in a quiet area. To my surprise I looked up and found myself sitting next to Caroline Steffan, the pre race female pro favourite. She was busy being filmed continuously whilst putting body glide on etc. It seemed pretty intense and intrusive for her so I was glad to just be me.

Before long the pros were set off and then it was our turn. I entered the water approximately 20 mins before the start in order to get a good position on the front line. Treading water, whilst trying to keep warm and maintain a reasonable position isn’t a great start to such a difficult day.

And then we were off. It was just as chaotic as I remembered from last year. The first 500 metres were just a fight with swimmers clambering over each other. I seemed to find some clearer water after about 20 min and momentarily relaxed. This was a big mistake as suddenly two packs came together and I had swimmers on either side leaning on my shoulders and a swimmer behind on my legs, pushing me under. I had to fight to get back to the surface, horrible. Eventually I got to the turn buoy and found myself on the inside line with a decent pair of legs to draft from. From then on I enjoyed the rest of the swim and exited feeling as though it had been a better swim than last year. It turned out I was second out in my age group and approx 90 seconds ahead of last year.

Onto the bike course and I deliberately held it back for the first part until we reached the airport. The temperature started to climb and I just concentrated on trying to get into a steady rhythm. It was frustrating to see so many riders in packs and I spent a large proportion of the bike course having to back off to retain the draft zone whist being passed. There seemed to be a lot of cheating going on and it seemed that there were just too many in the race to make it honest. I was pleased to see the first penalty box was overflowing with riders queuing up for their 4 min penalties.

My stomach started to become uncomfortable after having only one gel and one bar. I can only assume it was due to all the sea water I drank.

Eventually I started the 18 mile climb to the turnaround at Havi. Despite battling strong crosswinds and headwinds I do enjoy this section as it is greener and slightly cooler. Again the penalty box at the turnaround was overflowing. The decent back down was exhilarating and needed concentration to cope with the gusting crosswinds.

I started to work harder on the way back and concentrated on taking water at the aid stations to both drink and pour over myself. It was getting pretty hot. My stomach was still complaining so I forced one more gel and an energy bar very slowly. This was probably only half the nutrition I had intended to eat.

At 80 miles you feel you are almost home but the last section was into a headwind and seemed to take forever and require more power. I was pleased to roll into transition approximately 10 minutes ahead of my bike split from last year, especially as it had been windier.

After a quick stop in the portaloo in T2, I was off onto the run course. I felt hugely better at this point than last year, (not overcooked), despite my stomach acting like a volcano. I wasn’t really bothered by the mile markers and just concentrated on watching for athletes I knew running back towards me from the first turnaround point. I didn’t feel I was moving particularly fast but at least I didn’t feel I needed to walk. I got into a routine for the aid stations, ice down front, water on head, a few gulps of coke, washed down with water, then ice at the end, under my cap. It became a bit of a ritual. I found it difficult to pick up the pace and during periods of nausea and cramping just told myself ‘to breathe’. Was happy to reach the energy lab and had a quick sit down in ‘special needs’ to find some tablets in my bag to try to sort out my stomach. Managed to then run/plod uphill out of the energy lab to get to the final 10km.  Finally got into a better running rhythm and despite feeling very nauseous has the company of another runner also trying to push on. At this point I asked him the time. My watch had stopped ( 6 mins into the race!). He didn’t tell me the time, just that if we kept up the pace we could finish within 11 hours. This spurred me on and I enjoyed pushing the last 3km.

I was very happy to reach the finish line in under 11 hours, a significant 22 minute chunk off last year’s time, in what felt like tougher conditions.

Feeling rather dizzy and dry retching I was taken to the medical tent for my customary 2 IV drips.

During race and post race thoughts were that I definitely didn’t want to return to Kona 2013. I had achieved my unspoken personal aim of sub 11 hours and a top 10 finish. However maybe I have some ‘unfinished business’ as the top 5 podium slots in my age group don’t look too far away to be attainable……..

Image 5Having attended the EverydayTraining Camp Lanzarote in April 2012, Roger Canham and Brett Hedges also had great racing seasons and gained Kona slots.

Here’s a link to Roger’s race report on Tri 247.com


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