John Arneson | graphic designer
KONA '14 RACE REPORT
It's official! I crossed the finish line in Kona for my fourth Ironman. Cliffs Notes version if you're short on time or need to stay awake — The swim: felt fast, but was just hard due to conditions. The bike: one flat tire, new saddle the day before, and felt like a hot wind tunnel with very little tailwind. The run: a long run in the sun was thankfully interrupted by clouds at mile 10, felt 'fine'. Overall: incredible race, and I now understand why people try to come back every year. Awesome day, great experience, must go back!
And now, the rest of the story.
Nothing new on race day
On Friday, the reality that tomorrow was race day hit me. After a morning workout, I was feeling strong and ready to race. But when my wife, Alissa, and I went to drop off my bike that afternoon, I was surprised to see the saddle shell had broken sometime after my ride — a late side effect of a bike accident three weeks earlier it seems. We quickly packed everything up and headed to the bike shop. When we arrived, the Specialized rep, Hugo, explained my options and quickly fit me to a new Specialized Sitero (my current saddle was out of production). Luckily Hugo was a fit instructor and adjusted the positioning and fit like a pro. It was a drastically different concept — a shorter nose and wider mid-section but a lot more sit bone contact, which was nice. I rode a half mile ride to bike check-in and the saddle felt fine.
Tri-Tip v. Sitero
Friday bike check-in
There were dozens of athletes and hundreds of spectators taking it all in, when I arrived at bike check-in. Unlike typical Ironman races, manufacturer reps lined the entry, keeping track of how their product use ranks amongst the competition and handing out freebies to athletes using their products. After pictures were taken of my bike I was guided by Lisa, a lighthearted volunteer, around the transition area to rack the bike and stow my transition bags. Afterward, Alissa and I ran a few errands before getting back to the condo to relax, eat supper (brown rice and chicken) and fall asleep by 10:00 p.m.
Saturday race morning
I woke up before the alarm went off at 4:00 a.m. I ate about half of my breakfast (uncooked oats with nuts and berries) and drank some beet juice, then headed to the race start. Check-in was hidden around the back of the hotel, but went quickly once I found it. I weighed in and had temporary tattoo numbers applied before heading to the transition area.
I was there early ‘just in case’ and got to see the pros getting ready for the day. I loaded two water bottles of carbohydrate electrolyte drink (with caffeine) on my bike and filled the internal bladder with plain water. Double checking the tire pressure, I couldn't get either wheel to take air. After finding and failing with three different pumps, I tracked down one of the mechanics for help. He gave it a shot, accidentally broke the valve extension and had to replace the tube and extender. I decided the rear tire was fine and made my way to where other athletes were stretching behind King Kamehameha hotel near the beach.
I stretched for a while and found my zen before getting a second coat of sunscreen applied by a volunteer. I had a quick swim warm-up, and headed to the start 15 minutes before our wave would take off. I tread water for 10 minutes, but it felt like only a few moments before the canon went off.
The start was hectic but not as bad as I’d expected. I didn’t get swam over and the hard contact was minimal. I followed along with a huge pack before joining another group closer to the course route on my right. This was one of the few times I had clear water below and took the opportunity to observe the sea life, no dolphins.
I spent most of the swim drafting feet in groups of about 5-15 people. I maintained a strong, efficient stroke and hopped ahead to faster groups until I felt like I questioned my sanity, then settled in with a quick group. I felt like I’d pushed hard and had a great swim. When I saw 1:14 on the clock, I wasn’t bothered that it was nine minutes slower than I optimistically expected. I knew I had done all I could and enjoyed every stroke (I would later learn conditions were pretty tough)!
After climbing the carpeted stairs out, I peeled off my borrowed swim skin and rinsed off the salt in the garden hose showers. Grabbing my bike transition bag, I ran to the changing tent, put on my shoes and stuffed my ride essentials in my back pocket (honey stinger chews, salt tabs, sunscreen packets). The volunteers helped to get me out quickly and applied sunscreen to my arms. I left the tent, and headed the 200 meters around the perimeter to my bike where I put on my helmet and sunglasses.
I crossed the timing mat on two wheels and felt beyond excited to get riding. Cruising through town was awesome, the major intersections were absolutely packed with spectators. For the first time though, I was getting passed by cyclists and decided to put in more effort than I'd planned. As we rounded the corner onto the hill at Palani road around mile nine, I was stoked to hear my support crew cheering! I felt INCREDIBLE and quickly settled into a climbing pace for a block before realizing my front tire was slowly going flat.
I pulled over and changed tubes in about five minutes. The whole time, local people were encouraging me and reminding me of the small impact the repair was having on overall time. It was such a kind gesture with so many athletes flying by! ;)
Soon enough I was cruising down the Queen K with no plans to make up for lost time. I had an upset stomach from ingesting sea water but as that began to clear, I was able to enjoy the passing lane. The temperature was manageable and the sun's intensity was low with a mixed head and side wind.
I think it was near Waikoloa Village that I rode into an oven! The wind was pumping and it felt like the temps rose about 20 degrees seemingly out of nowhere. I had a good gut check and turned down the intensity slightly. I continued to focus on nutrition and began spraying myself down with water regularly which helped a ton — should have done that earlier. For the next hour, there were a few long hills and mixed terrain. The temperature became bearable along the climb up Hawi due to the (massive) headwind. I rode this uphill section at a painfully slow pace, white knuckled on the handlebars for about ten miles. It was hard to eat or drink from a bottle for fear of getting blown over. I was very glad to have a built in hydration system, and I just rode and drank from the hose for long periods of time.
At the turn-around in Hawi, I was VERY excited to scream downhill with a tailwind! Before the descent, I loaded two Perform electrolyte drinks, chugged a Red Bull, ate some food and applied sunscreen. After my little picnic, I began a proper hammering downhill, spinning out my largest gears around 45mph. Occasional side gusts were blowing riders all over the road, and I heard later that some smaller folks crashed because of it.
The next 40 miles I ping ponged back and forth with a guy on a S-Works Shiv, and we seemingly kept each other honest through our own physical/mental hard spots. Sweat was visibly streaming off me so I continued to water myself at every opportunity. Any bottle that would be sacrificed at the next aid station was getting sprayed on my head and race kit. We hit a fast tailwind section near Mauna Kea Golf Course. I was feeling great and very optimistic there’d be more of that on the return. Instead, we were treated with a strong side-wind most of the way and hill descents weren’t much faster than ascents. With no rest it was hard going until about the last half hour of the ride.
Coming back into town the men pros were nearing mile 10 on the run. I saw Sebastian Kienle, the eventual race winner, way off the front. Coming into T2, the dismount went smoothly but volunteers fumbled up taking my bike right away. It felt like a very long run in my bike shoes around the perimeter. Transition volunteers had my bag ready for me on the way into the tent and I sat down to shed my bike shoes and sunglasses and put on socks, running shoes, more sunscreen and hat.
It felt pretty magical leaving the transition area. This was it - THE run. The whole chute was lined with people for several miles to come. I was very excited to give a hearty high five to Kent around the first corner. I really felt good straight out of the gate, cruising at 7-7:30 miles for the first three miles — a minute faster than the goal. At mile five, I filled my hat and jersey with ice to cool down and had settled in to what seemed like a reasonable pace. At about mile 10 the clouds started to roll in, which was SWEET relief.
The wind in town was low but out on the course it picked up a bit, which felt nice. It wasn't long heading out of town before the crowd support dwindled down. The adrenaline turned to watching the women pros race for the podium, followed by some of the pro men wrapping up less than ideal days. This was a good distraction for about a half hour, then I pushed through a couple of tough spots before heading into the Energy Lab. Fortunately the heat felt bearable once there, cooler than my previous mid-afternoon training run, anyway. There were lots of aid stations and supporters and the Newton #RunForIt fan screen played a lovely message when I ran by on the way out — mine was ridiculous, thanks Adam!
From there it was 'just' a 10k back, and for a few miles I hung with a group at a decent pace, chatting with a dude from South Africa. I was feeling good mentally, the sore quads were setting in though and a little while later I was experiencing tightness in my core for the first time...possibly from hanging on to the bike so intently. There were a couple of slow aid stations before town came into view. 1.5 miles out from the finish, the dance music tent pumped me up and I descended quickly down Palani and it was over the top joy on Ali'i drive to the finish line. The finish line chute was awesome with thousands of spectators cheering. I was slapping hands and ‘flying' like a plane onto final descent on the red carpet finish line.
After the race, I was very excited and glad to be done! I hung out for a while with other athletes at the finish before making my way back to the athlete area for food and a recovery massage before meeting up with family and friends. We watched the finish line for a while before grabbing food and drinks. I made it back to the finish area before midnight and cheered the final athletes in. Love those finish line smiles!
Love the journey
It's been a great year, one that I have cherished along the way and will never forget. Big thanks to Alissa (acting as Sherpa, chef, agent, dietitian, errand runner extraordinaire and self appointed 'laundry wench'), I couldn't do it without you! I am grateful to share the training suffering with Casey, Craig, Josie, Todd and the Blazers Masters crew. Race week was made extra special with family and friends flying in from all over, muchas gracias!
The entire race experience was heightened by the tremendous support I received from family and friends for the World Bike Relief fundraiser. It's amazing to complete an Ironman and even better when you feel like you've won before starting the race! It was great to finally meet the WBR crew and an honor to join them riding Buffalo Bikes during the Parade of Nations. Check out their race week recap here.
After from the race, Alissa and I had a great vacation. Here are some photos.
Up next on the race schedule, Ironman Coeur d'Alene on June 28th with the training crew. I am hoping to have fun and push to the next level, working to earn another Kona qualifying slot!
Thank you for your continued support throughout this journey!
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