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Out in Kona

Written October 13th, 2012 by
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Well, Kona is certainly a long way away from the UK! Three flights and 26hrs later we arrived in Kona, picked up our luggage which had thankfully all made it through to the other end of the journey with us, collected our hire car, grabbed food on the go and navigated our way to our accommodation. We had pretty much been awake for 48hrs so to arrive at our destination at 11pm was perfect to crash out for a good night’s sleep. It was stunning to wake up the next morning to glorious sunshine, the beautiful site of the sea and baking hot temperatures. A welcomed relief from the dismal, cold of the UK – woohoo!

I was fortunate to be able to come out to Kona for 11 days before the race to acclimatise to the time zone change and the hot humid conditions. I’m glad I did because I’ve settled in well and feel fully adjusted. I’ve also been able to get some good training in on the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway where the majority of the 112 mile bike course goes. It’s pretty simple – straight out for 50 miles and back again. It’s a long, straight, gently rolling course edged by fields of lava along the coast line. This is where the legendary Ho’omumuku winds blow giving Ironman athletes an added mental and physical challenge to contend with. The temperature usually extends into the 80 and 90 degrees in Hawaii but along this road it can exceed 100 degrees due to the reflected heat from the black lava fields and black road tarmac!

I’ve also been doing some run sessions along the main Ali’i Drive where much of the Kona life goes on. The run starts along this section of road but is also the last section for the finish of the race. The majority of the run course also goes along the Queen Ka’ahumanu Hiyway, but also diverts down a road past the legendary Energy Lab. Here it is said to be like running into an oven and the worst comes as you turn around to run back uphill and slog it back for another 10 miles. Bucket full’s of ice is the order of the day!
As you can imagine, this Ironman is renowned for being the ultimate test; the ultimate suffer-fest in fact!!! I can’t remember the last time I trained in baking hot conditions like this? I think it must have been some time back whilst I was rowing (a good 10 years ago!) when we used to train in Europe in very hot summers. But that would be a couple of hours at most, not for at least 11 hours solid. It is very bizarre just going outside in the heat and seeing sweat beads form on your legs – yuck! I have the confidence I’ve survived a half and full Ironman now, and I know that I prefer hot conditions to cold conditions, but I’ve no way of knowing just what it’s going to be like or how my body will react when I do it. I’ve hopefully done everything to be aware of the conditions I will be facing and have prepared to deal with them properly.

So you may have noticed I haven’t yet referenced the swim section? Having had concerns and worries earlier in the year about my swimming ability, I thought I’d finally overcome them having reached a better standard and having gained a lot more experience. My swim performance in Bolton was very hopeful. However, I feel like the swim has become my nemesis again and I feel like I’m back at square one for this Ironman. The course goes almost 2km out to sea and back again. I hate the sea. I have a phobia of the sea. It’s a very long way and every session I’ve done out here has gone badly and done nothing for my confidence at all. The surf has been up quite a lot with lots of swell and waves and I have been well out of my comfort zone and struggling. Not being a strong swimmer these conditions easily throw me off the relaxed and flowing rhythm that I need to maintain to see me through. It quickly becomes disrupted and I end up having to muscle it through. This is not good because my arms quickly blow. These are the kind of conditions where I could really do with having a good leg kick – something I haven’t yet mastered!
But hey, there really is nothing I can do about it now. I know I was having good training sessions before I left home. I had been set some challenging training sessions and been given some good technical coaching by swim coach Alan Rapley from which I had made definite improvements and become a stronger swimmer than I was. The conditions may be tougher for sure (especially because we aren’t allowed to wear wetsuits which is definitely of benefit to me) but I will make sure I draw confidence which is founded from knowing that I have a habit of rising to the challenges I face. I won’t be thinking of the bad sessions I’ve had or the worries that I won’t be able to do it. I’ll be pretending I’m in a regular swimming pool and not out in the open ocean! I’ll also be aiming to stay positive and think about how race day is always completely different to training days.

It’s been really exciting over the last week as more and more athletes have been arriving and Kona town has got busier and full of the world’s best tanned, ripped, tiny triathletes. Believe me, there is not one of those definitions I fulfil!! It’s great to watch everyone going to and fro on their bikes, on a run or out for a swim and it really is an honour to be part of this event and experience another world championship in another sport. Gradually over the week Kona has been taken over by the Ironman with signs, merchandise tents, expos, product branding, product stands, transition areas being built up and yesterday the finish area and stands being set up in the street. Things really ramped up last night where several thousand people (athletes, athlete’s supporters, Ironman organisers etc) gathered for a welcome banquet where the whole vibe of Hawaii and the history of the location and this Ironman world championship which has taken place every year since 1978 came to life for everyone.

Today I did a last little spin on my bike and a quick transition into a short run to loosen my legs, then went to check in my bike and both my run and bike transition bags. Having done this a couple of times now it’s all automatic and I know what I’m doing. It was nice to not feel like a complete novice for the first time in triathlon! I was taken round the transition area by a volunteer and shown exactly where to go and what I will need to do tomorrow morning. So, for the rest of the evening there was not much else to do other then prepare a few final bits for the morning, eat a good meal, do some stretching to be in tip top condition and finish off with this quick blog. Now it’s time to hit the sack and see if I can get some sleep before a 3:30am wake up!

My goal for tomorrow is quite simply to do my best. That’s all it comes down to. I’m excited and apprehensive all at the same time, but once the cannon fires at the start of the swim at 7am I will fall into race mode and it will happen. I’d like to string together a good race like I did in Bolton (with fingers crossed that no bad luck things happen) and see if I can get a quicker time. It’s another race and another challenge where I will apply my training, my learning and experience and hopefully cross that finish line saying I could have done no more.

I will leave you with this year’s Kona Ironman motto “Aa Na Maka O Na Aa” (The sparking eyes of my roots) which is about remembering where you have came from and drawing strength from that to guide you on your path forward. This is exactly what I will be doing tomorrow – remembering the successes and over coming’s I’ve had in the past and knowing I am stronger and better for approaching new ones. Never be afraid.

Kona Build Up

Written October 7th, 2012 by
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In my previous blog I spoke about my dilemma in accepting my slot for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.  I’ve been reprimanded by many for such inexcusable despondency towards that opportunity!  But get to the finish line of a 2.4mile swim, 112mile bike ride and 26mile run and immediately be told you’ve got to repeat that all over again in less than three months time; I think I can be forgiven for the lack of enthusiasm.  Even more so when the following morning, signing up and handing over £500 for the pleasure of doing another Ironman is accompanied by an inability to navigate movement without excruciating pain in much of your body. There is a particularly harsh process with Kona qualification of having a one hour time slot the following morning after your race, to turn up and accept your place or it gets rolled down to the next person.  I was told that many had succumbed to these justified and common sense thoughts and feelings and turned down their places, only to regret it later on.  If there is one thing I don’t like to do, that is put myself in a position where I will feel regret.  So I staggered and winced my way to the signing up desk and crossed my fingers that my current pain, discomfort and memories of the worst parts of the Ironman would fade away pretty quickly!

If I’m really honest about my first Ironman, I thought that I’d been granted some kind of miracle to actually make it to the finish line.  With that stroke of luck I wanted to quit whilst I was ahead and not tempt fate by doing it again.  Next time I wouldn’t be so lucky, all the things I thought could or would go wrong would surely happen the next time?  But I have a habit of saying that about every success I’ve had in my sporting career.  I’ve never quite been able to say that my win was because of my hard work or simply because of being good.  I always say it must have been luck.  Maybe that’s why I keep throwing myself into new challenges – to test myself again and again.  However, I think that the allure of new challenges for me is probably more to do with testing my failure point rather than testing my run of luck.  I’m not afraid to set out to do something then find out I can’t.  I’m ecstatic that I achieved what was a very tough target in doing the Bolton Ironman, but now the bar has been lifted and I’ve chosen to accept this new challenge.

I’m not in this Ironman event with a chance of winning, so I have to look at other areas I can identify which will be my own personal winning markers.   I’ve assessed the challenges of the Kona Ironman and set some personal goals for the event.  I want to see if I can repeat my previous accomplishment – get across the finish line and become a 2 x Ironman finisher.  This time the challenge will be intensified as I will have to deal with the notoriously harsh environmental conditions in Hawaii – intense heat, high humidity and strong winds.  I want to execute a good race having prepared well and I want to execute a good race strategy to deal with these intensified conditions.  I will need to have tolerance and control to overcome them rather than be overcome by them.

Because of the heat I will be adapting a nutrition and hydration strategy to cope.  For example, in the heat the body uses more carbohydrates but conversely, in the heat it is harder to digest and absorb carbohydrates.  Also, the increased heat will lead to an increased sweat rate and a necessity to stay adequately hydrated with sufficient electrolyte replacement.  To be successful this is something I can’t afford to get wrong but it has been made difficult because I haven’t had any opportunities to trial nutrition and hydration strategies in similar conditions.  Other aspects of Kona Ironman that will be an amplified challenge include the swim and the bike discipline.  In my previous Ironman event the swim section went better than I’d hoped.  This time however, the challenge will be taken to another level because the swim takes place in the sea and no wet-suits are allowed.  This will be really testing for a weaker swimmer like me and also made especially harder as this is a World Championships with the standard of the entire field being so much higher.  I will have to make sure I execute the swim at my own pace following my own plan and not get caught up in the pace of or be intimidated by faster swimmers.

Although the bike section thankfully doesn’t have the steep climbs that Bolton had, it is going to be a long draggy type out and back course. This means it will be about staying in the aero position for a long time with no technical sections to break things up and will be a fairly relentless grind along a bleak road for 56miles and back again.  With the sun beating down hard, the heat rising off the lava fields and an impending marathon in the same conditions, I will be keeping my fingers crossed that the wind isn’t blowing too hard as this would significantly increase the physical and mental demand of the whole race.

So how have the last few months shaped up?  After Bolton I took almost three weeks off.  Amongst other things, I spent time catching up on some MSc work, had some time away in London enjoying the Olympic Games and also started making progress on some work projects and events.  As well as having a busy life to get on with, I also needed to rest my body for quite a while.  For starters, it was over a week till I could put proper shoes on my feet because both big toe nails had come off from the pounding I’d given them in the marathon!  Ideally I would have carried on training so as to make improvements in my fitness and not lose anything but I was pretty tired and it took a while to feel normal again.  It was important to make sure I was fully recovered before embarking on another Ironman push.

When I got back into training again it was tough.  Fitness takes a while to gain but is quickly lost and it was apparent straight away that I’d slipped back a fair bit.  With Kona not far away I quite quickly began to feel a little stressed by it.  I didn’t just want to be maintaining form from Bolton; I at least wanted to make some progress, especially because the Kona Ironman is a World Class event with the best Ironman triathletes in the world.  This time it was more serious and I was frustrated that I faced so little time to do be able to do much about raising my standard.  This coupled with many other distractions that I had going on meant I didn’t have a great start to things.  I muddled my way through to the end of August but eventually acknowledged that this wasn’t quite the way things should be.  I wanted to be better for Kona, but wasn’t going about things the right way.  I know the drill to fix things like this – write a detailed plan, stick to it and knuckle down to some hard work! It’s simple but should be the basis upon which any goal you’re working towards should be set.  It establishes your intentions making them tangible rather than abstract and avoidable. I wrote out a life plan for the whole of September stipulating training sessions, work time, focused recovery time and a very small amount of social time!  I put down exact timings for everything each day and aimed to stick to them as rigidly as I could.

Having this plan made me more organised and focused and it was a lot easier to go about life and fit everything in.  I’ll probably not get this opportunity to race at Kona again so I want to make the most of it.  I want to take this opportunity to learn more about the sport, learn more about myself as an athlete and push my boundaries some more.  If I can avoid finding my failure point but instead achieve this new set of targets I’ve given myself, cross the finish line and maybe knock some time off my previous Ironman time, it will be a win for me.  The Kona Ironman is a historic, epic event and an immense athletic challenge.  Watch any video montage clip of the annual race and it fills you with a buzz of excitement, anticipation and wonder. I don’t know quite why this is but I’m honored to be in the position to find out the answer first hand!


* I have been supported by Science In Sport through my rowing and cycling careers and am now proud to represent SiS in Kona in my third sport World Championships.




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