Monday, 12 October 2009

kona race report 2009

There’s no feeling in the world like that in the transition area at 6am on Kaluia Kona pier on the morning of the Ironman World Championships. The air is alive with nerves, fear, excitement and pride. People don’t speak much. Most of us, despite being experienced Ironman racers, find ourselves unable to say much for choking on the electric tension. For me, this builds until the moment when I’m standing waist deep in the ocean, next to Steven and watching the pro race start.
I know it’s going to be a rough swim, windy and hot on the bike and hot on the run. I also know that it is a rare experience that I am sharing with 2000 or so people who, just like me, are ecstatic to be part of this prestigious and iconic day, helping, admiring and encouraging one another through the punishing race. In the few hours before the start I feel I would do anything to put it off for another day, week, month…but simultaneously cannot wait for it to begin. I’ve been preparing for it since last September and this race marks the end of my 2009 season and after 54 weeks, I’m ready for that!

There was a lot of debate during our pre race week regarding where to position ourselves at the swim start. My view – it didn;t matter – for us MOP swimmers (that’s MOP at Kona, which means 60-70min) its gonna be a frenzy, no matter what cunning tactics you think of, you can bet you’re not alone! So I just tread water in the middle and get on with it. I think I was reasonably lucky – a lot of contact, especially as we passed buoys and the crowd squeezes together, bringing us to a virtual stand –still on a few occaisions, no real hard punches pulls. I found a nice distinct pair of feet ( white calf compression sleeves) who was swimming a ta good pace and stuck on him. Occasionally I’d surge a bit for a set of feet ahead, to find him pulling along side and passing again few minutes later. From time to time we’d both separate in the crowd but he always seemed to be there just ahead if I found myself caught in a group of arm flappers and would put in a bit of work to reach him. It was a little choppy out on the water, making it a slightly slower swim in general, but I was pleased with my 1:06 (officially 1:07) swim.

The bike course starts with a fast and furious figure 8 sort of thing around town to make up a little distance on the straight out and back to Hawi, which is great fro the spectators. Hearing a very loud metallic ‘clunk’ about 2min into this loop I realized I’d lost a gas canister, leaving me with 2 tubes but only one shot of inflation. Still, no point in worrying about that now…the game is ON! I was feeling really strong, on the front of my saddle, passing people working at a comfortably hard race, flowing on the excitement. I was not the only one getting over excited as someone ahead managed to ‘endo’ on an uphill section, taking the rider behind him (and directly in front of me) down. I was thankful that I’d seem it in time to react. I was passed by a strong rider, not my age group, wearing Mark Allen kit – there was a lot of that out, and later in the day I joked to a couple of ‘his’ girls that it looked like they had a team out toady as there were 4 of them in a line! – I decided to stick with her. Soon we were out onto the Queen K, where we’d ride 33 miles out to kaliwahe, turn for Hawi, ride 18 miles uphill to the turnaround there and then return. A long, open, hot road shimmering in the heat that’s reflected off the black lava fields and exposed to the whipping crosswind that blow off the sea there. In those conditions there is certainly a big benefit in having a lot of riders around – and for us MOPers (again that’s MOP by Kona standards – those riding 5:20-30) there is continuous line of riders, usually 2 or even 3 wide due to various, legal, passing maneuver’s that are being undertaken at any given time. I saw nothing that I would consider unfair drafting, and was careful not to squeeze the gap closer than a catseye distance myslef, but certainly felt the benefit of this situation, and worked hard when necessary to draw up to the end of a fragment of this line if I ever found myself in the front or alone. I was riding well, and had motivation supplied to me by constant exchange of position between Mark Allen Online rider (not my AG) British girl (my AG, who I later discovered to be Edwina) and red Skinfit shorts (my AG) who all seemed to have more power on the flats but I as able to catch and pass on the grades. This, with the aid of caffeinated Powerbar gel sweets that had been handed out at the expo, kept me focused, working hard and enjoying the day. We had a few brief , friendly exchanges as we went by on the return….the Americans being very willing to offer a genuine ‘ good job’ or ‘ great riding’ as I passed and my typically British words of encouragement back ‘you’ve been killing me - keep it up, mate! With about 25 miles to go, now into a full fledged headwind, head hot and throbbing, shorts caked in salt I was re-passed by red skinfit, and Edwina, then Mark Allen Online ( who was the strongest of us all on the flat but seemed to be troubled by her back on the climbs) and lost sight of them. Stuck it out with my head down but 15mph, calculating what I needed to average for the final 15miles for my target 5:30 split. It was close if, when the terrain flattened the winds were less strong, as I’d tended to find whilst out training this course. Took a caffeine chocolate gel and hoped that’d provide me with some much needed sodium and pick me up to get me through. Gatorade at ever station from then on in, but remained reasonable strong judging by the fact that I was not passed by anyone who I could not re-pass within a few minutes, aside from who I assumed to be Dam Brooke of team Active instinct. Assume he must have punctured.

Hit transition after 5:32 riding. And what an atmosphere there was in town now!! The male pros were already running up the Queen K as I finished my ride and the race crowd were PUMPED. Very speedy transition with wet towels, shot of magnesium and a warning that if I needed to pee I should use the portaloo. Err…yes. Thanks. Actually I was planning to pee as I ran and how would they know. Why should they mind? was it against the rules?? Sprinting out of transition in pursuit of red Skins, Edwina, Mark Allen online and as many others as possible I gave a massive shout of ‘LETS GO!!!” to the crowed and assembled volunteers and got an awesome reaction in return. I was having a great race and this was my territory now….

The highway was lined with spectators, al pleased to see someone running so quickly and smiling as broadly as I was. The fist mile took me onto Alii drive and took 6:53. Fast, but felt good. Didn’t really feel I was pushing it, though knew that was nearly a minute faster than target pace. Yes, I’ve been here before, but, hey I’ve done plenty training and this is a key race and there is work to be done, I’m loving the support from the crowd – I’m clearly looking good and that means they’re not seeing many other grls up ahead moving at this pace. That’s what I wanted to know. My sister an mum are out on that road, telling me I’m 14th AG woman. Shit – that’s a lot, but I’m tickingthem off. Mile splits slowed to more sensible pace after the little rise on Alli drive -around 7:30’s. I’m building a cushion which I am sure I will need. The 5 miles to the turn around seems quite a long way. By about mile 8 I really need the loo and am glad of that cushion as I dive into a porta potty. I can see that I lost a place to Edwina (who I just passed, and also Nick Rose) but make it back up in a minute or two. This does feel a like an effort now though. Well, that’s what I have been expecting of this race, so dig in. Passing my sister for the second time, she tells me I’m 8th in my AG. At this point its starting to feel a bit of an effort , but I’ve been expecting this to be a hard run and dig in. Up Palini – running of course – and that gets the crowd cheering, including Jim and Gaelle. Steven is at the top, apparently turning in circles but of course he’s looking back to see me and give me a shout. I give him a hug, or try to do so without breaking my stride…its the gesture that counts. I’m proud to see him up there and know hat he’s gonna have a tough afternoon, but will get there. I feel slightly jealous of him walking and eating M&M from special needs bag. There are a lot of hills on the queen K that can really hurt a hot, weary runner with sore feet, and I feel my mood dip. I’m trying to take on fluids but without slowing down at aid stations and this, or perhaps just salt loss or deydrtaion is causing a severe stitch in my right side. I used to suffer this a lot when doing Olympic races and reminded myself of strategies for relieving it - breathing patterns and coordinating with foot strikes. Poking my abs with my fingers isn’t helping, but that’ swhat instinct is telling me to do, aside from stopping running, of course. Ahead is another girl I recognize, pass her, and another and another two in sight just up the hill. We are about mile 14. There is an aid station ahead and I cave into my body’s cry to ease off. I’m really only running about 8:30 min miles by now anyway -but I’s fast enough that I’m gaining ground on those in my line of vision. If I stop, walk, stretch and take in some fluids I know I’ll loose them , but will feel better and re catch them.

We are all suffering. I have never witnessed so many fit looking athletes, professionals included, walking back from the energy lab. The course, the heat, the competition has destroyed them…but they are smiling, happy to have given it their all – more than their all - and submit to the legendary power of this environment. I’m taking a few moments to regroup, in a sort of despair, when I see Rachel coming back down the hill on her return to the finish. She looks very strong and is in a great position. This embarrasses me sufficiently to get moving again, and happily the stitch has eased up a lot. Now its just the sore legs and feet and mental battles to contend with. I’m running at little more than an ‘easy run’ pace, but its enough that I’m moving gradually past people. Catch Edwina (who must be sick of the sight of me going back and fourth by now) in the energy lab. She looks like I feel, and I try to encourage her –as well as myself. Out of the energy lab and it’s only 10km to go. Steven has posted an electronic message for me ‘ push now!’ – that’s right – this is where I should be closing them down to the finish. Ok, lets give it a go. But the pain required to increase the pace just a little seems disproportionate to the gains I was making on an unseen quarry. I’ll leave it until I have someone in sight, I decide. Then I see Steven – ‘There’s hardly anyone ahead, this is where you have to decide now if you want it, Jo’. Yes, I want it. I’m going for it. That’s when the cramp hit my calf, and I realized that no mater how much I wanted it, or how much I’d promised myself I’d suffer for this, I simply could not run through this cramp. I could limp, and then jog and then resume my ‘easy running’ - which was about the same pace as the ‘flow’ of competitors willing themselves through those last 5 miles of the day. My mind switched from competition to reflection of the day and the feelings an comfort that awaited my just 40 minutes, then 30 minutes, then 24 minutes away…..taking in the scene, the sea the amazing support an energy from the volunteers and my sister shouting from the raod side! ‘how did u get so far out?’ I was amazed. She ran along side of me with encouragement and was even kind enough to say that she was getting tired doing so …that I was looking great and I could do it. Well, theer was no question of that, just not quite in the style that I’d hoped for as I set off 24 miles earlier all hot headed and hot heeled.

That last mile, which brings you down Palini ( owch!) and onto Alii drive is lined with crowds loudly reflecting the elation that you feel at the end of this race. My face was one huge smile – I could not help it, I thought my cheeks would cramp!! My legs even found a bit of life to run like an athlete down that shute, high fiving as I went. I’d given all that I could, managed a PB on the course, on a tough day, and I was done. I coulda, woulda, shoulda raced that run a bit smarter…but that’s easy to say. I might not have fallen apart and coulda run a 3:10 marathon. You never know, and there’s just one way to find out.

swim: 1:07.46
bike: 5:32.19
finish: 10:19.25

6th in age group.


H said...

Great race report Jo I'm smiling with you, what a day! We loved watching from home, hopefully next year Tom will be there and I can scream you all on by the road side :) Happy recovery x

Ironman said...

Well done Jo. I know how hard you trained for this race and you looked in great shape. I think you will go from strength to strength once you find your perfect training regime, sessions. It is always a pleasure to see you race as you are chilled and fun to be around.

I am very pleased to have finished at Hawaii as that was my main aim. Now i have a finish in the bag I can crash or burn next year. I was probably a bit too relaxed about things including training but it was a dream to race here and I took a lot of positives from the race. My weekly run mileage of 20-25 miles was clearly not enough but I know that for next year ;) You looked good on the road and I saw quite a few girls ahead of you sitting on some wheels including mine but that is tricky to control.

Have a good holiday and very well done. Keep striving forward.

David Rowe said...

Awesome report. Can't wait to write my own in two weeks time xx

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