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.