Kona Diaries 2015 – Race Day – Bike

This is the third of a number of posts describing my day at the 2015 Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.  Previous parts are pre-race and the swim.

I got on the bike and started the mass bike procession around town.

The 112 mile ride at the Ironman World Championship isn’t a difficult ride in terms of gradients etc.  It is however tough in a number of other ways.  Some of these were summed up pretty well shortly before the race by a number of professional triathletes.  Here’s a couple of example quotes:

  • “It’s not the bike course that is tough itself, it’s about how fast you want to go. At the Ironman Hawaii, you have the best competition of the season, everybody is at the highest fitness level and many are willing to risk everything. This is why the bike course is hard – everybody wants to go fast.” Marino Vanhoenacker
  • “You don’t turn left or right. You just stay down on your aero bars, pushing as hard as you can on the pedals! There is no entertainment, it’s just you and the road.” Cyril Viennot

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As soon as you head out of transition there’s a slight uphill section and then a left turn at ‘Hot Corner’ (which is a couple of minutes walk from the pier).  They call it this as there’s loud music, commentary and the athletes go past it many times during the day.  Nothing related to the temperature.  It’s hot all bloody day everywhere on the course.

After turning at hot corner you then loop around for a mile or so and end up back at the same spot (arriving from a different direction).

Once back (at hot corner) you turn left and head up the Kuakini Highway for about two and a quarter miles, turn around and race back to hot corner, turn right and head up Palani Road (which is about 400 meters long at a relatively steep grade) and then head onto the Queen Ka’ahumanu (Queen K) highway in the direction of Kawahae and then Hawi.

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Busy busy busy on the Kuakini Highway

I saw Sharon, Andy and Emma a couple of times near hot corner. I was keeping an eye out and it was great to see them. I think they were probably glad to see that I’d made it out of the swim and onto the bike. I know I was.

My plan for the bike was to take it easy. Well, try and take it easy. I’m not quite sure what easy is but aim for the same sort of power that I did in the race here in 2013. I’m a stone heavier so this would mean slightly slower overall but that didn’t matter to me one bit.

I just want to get through this day with a smile on my face.

As we headed up Palani and I watched all the lighter riders (probably 95% of the overall field!) fly past me one chap came past me very slowly and said something like “at least some of us are taking this sensibly.”

I think that’s about right. This is my plan for the day. Be sensible.

Onto the Queen K the crowds filter out and its just bikes. Then an aid station every few miles, then more cycling.

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The aid stations are huge. Bigger than anything I’ve ever seen in my life. They go on for probably 200m or so. The volunteers are the best. You slow down a little, gesture or shout to what you want (e.g., water, sports drink) and who you’re looking at and just collect it from them. Some will run alongside you if you look like you’re going fast.

They’re awesome. They stand in the heat for hours on end getting empty bottles and gel wrappers thrown at them and then with a smile on their face give you new bottles to throw away at their colleagues a few miles up the road.

Without the attitude of the volunteers this race would be so different. So much worse.  Here’s a link to a great video on YouTube about the volunteers at Kona this year.

There were a lot of bikes around but I didn’t really see any bad drafting. You have to be careful not to get too close to the bike in front (and if you do you have to overtake them – they then have to drop back and leave a gap so that they are not drafting you) but today it seemed pretty well civilised where I was.

Heading up to Kawaihae (which at about 40 miles in) I noticed that we had a slight headwind. There were some little supporters messages painted onto what looked like pillowcases and attached to some road signs. They were good indicators of a slight headwind.

Could this mean a tailwind on the final 30 or so miles back to town later. Probably not knowing this place!

Just outside of Kawaihae I got some great support from Leah and Anna from New Zealand.

The skies were still clear and as we dropped into Kawaihae and then started the 18 mile ‘climb’ to Hawi (the first 12 miles are rolling, it’s really the last six or so that it’s more constant). Before long in the distance I saw a helicopter and one moment I was looking forward to. The pro men rolling back down the mountain towards us.

There’s a few support vehicles and then a little Mini car (probably the smallest car ever seen in Hawaii) with a timing clock its roof.

Shortly behind the car a lone cyclist flew past (American Timothy O’Donnell who finished third overall) and a few seconds back was the first pack of riders. A few lone riders then came past, then another pack, then another few, and then the pro women. Shortly after that the masses of cyclists start heading back.

There were a lot of them. And going pretty damn quick as well.

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There was a slight crosswind but nothing to worry about during the climb. Probably about four or five miles from Hawi some clouds were forming and a little spit of rain was felt. This sounded a bit like my ride a couple of weeks ago where it started to rain, then rained good and proper.

Today was exactly like two weeks ago (but not windy). As we got closer to the turnaround at Hawi the heavens opened. It was bucketing down. Absolutely hammering it. Apart from not being able to see more than about 20 feet in front of you the temperature was quite pleasant for a change.

The road near Hawi is a little rutted which wasn’t ideal when you can’t see the road surface for the rain.

I took it very cautiously at the turnaround. I really didn’t fancy falling off at this point. Actually I didn’t fancy falling off at ‘any’ point.

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Being cautious just after the turnaround

Heading back down was amusing as the first few miles the roads were wet and before long the rain stopped, the road dried out and it was blazing sunshine once again.

The descent from Hawi was surely going to be in my favour. I’d got a few extra kg’s of weight on me so surely I’d drop like a stone. Any cross winds would surely bounce off of me as well.

I did alright I think. I just didn’t want to push too hard on the descent as I remember how tough the final 30 miles of the ride were two years ago where my tired body battled a nasty headwind. Today was all about getting through the day.

I remember going past Alison Rowatt at the start of the descent. Later on when the main descent stops and it turns into rolling terrain down to Kawaihae she went past me. She went on to finish as the third fastest non professional female athlete overall. She was flying.

There’s a one mile climb from Kawaihae back to the Queen K. This is a notorious ‘dead spot’ – it’s hot. There’s little or no wind. It’s energy sapping.

I just took it slow and steady. Seeing Mark P. from Epic Camp cheering on near the top was good.

Once at the top you hang a right onto the Queen K and try and take a quick glance at the flag at the junction to see what the winds might be doing. Things didn’t look too promising.

Back on the main highway for the ride back to town. This is just over 33.5 miles away. I felt OK.

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The sun was blazing and those little painted pillowcase things that I saw a couple of hours ago were now flapping in the other direction. Quickly.

Yup, a headwind.

Well, it turned out that it wasn’t that bad. The winds seemed a little side-on and weren’t relentless. Maybe as I had a little strength in my legs to get me through made this easier compared with last time.

The number of bikes seemed to have thinned out a bit more at this point and I just put my head down and pedalled. Everyone now and then you’d be overtaken or catch up with someone and you’d have to either overtake or drop back to avoid drafting.

Everyone around me seemed very well behaved on the bike with regard to the rules.

Once we got close to Kona airport and with about 10 miles to go I had one of those ‘I’m bored of cycling, I’d like to go for a run now’ type feelings. I felt alright, I picked off a few riders up ahead of me and headed back to transition.

As I cycled close to the entrance to the Natural Energy Lab (which is part of the run course) I could see a helicopter down there hovering low. This was my indication that the male leader of the race was there. Somewhere between 16 and 19 miles into his marathon. Lucky bugger.

Heading further into town I could see some of the professional men heading towards the Energy Lab. It’s so cool to be sharing the course on the same day as the best in the world. You try and spot who the different people are to try and give you an idea of what’s going on in the race a couple of hours ahead of you.

I saw UK athlete Tim Don walking. Oh dear. Actually he said post race that he walked for about 1km. I guess that’s when I saw him. He finished 15th in his first trip to the Big Island.

The bike is always a worry for me (and Sharon) as this is where mechanical problems and other people (i.e., crashing) can easily stop your day.

I’d got to the end in one piece.

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For anyone wondering – nutrition wise on the bike I had an energy gel every 20 minutes. From the moment I ran around the pier in transition 1 to my bike until now I was having gels every 20 minutes. I then drank a combination of the Gatorade sports drink and water. I just had whatever I fancied at the time.

There’s no magic formula for me when it comes to race nutrition. Other than my gel routine.

  • Bike time 5:42:51
  • 1,118th overall after the bike (1,015th male)
  • 200th male aged 40-44 after the bike

All things considering I think I did alright on the bike.  It’s not a great bike time for a pretty fast course like Kona and I’d love to be able to put in a decent ride here one day.  On a good day (with favourable weather) I should be much closer to five hours (I rode 5:23 in 2013 and didn’t have a great ride at all that day).

Anyway, moving on…

Heading into transition I got my feet out of my shoes and was signalled towards one of the huge number of ‘bike catchers’ they have at the bike dismount point. I stopped the bike, handed it over to the volunteer catcher and set off on a little jog around the pier.

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As you run towards the swim-to-bike bag racks someone yells out your race number and by the time you get to your bag someone has taken it off of the hook and handed it to you.

You really are treated well at this race.

In the change tent I just had to put my bike helmet away, put some socks and shoes on, grab my race number belt and get moving.

I was offered a cold towel in transition. Well, just as I saw down the chap next to me was given one. I cheekily asked where mine was and within about 10 seconds I was presented with a nice cold towel.

The temptation to take it, put it over my head and lie in the corner was strong. But I was stronger.

My transition time from bike to run was 3 minutes 47 seconds (3:38 in 2013).  That’s more like it.

Right, just the small matter of 26.2 miles ahead of me now.

Let’s do this.

Posted in David, Kona Diaries 2015
One comment on “Kona Diaries 2015 – Race Day – Bike
  1. Grant says:

    These blog posts are excellent. Thank you for taking the time to write them up and share them.

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