Kona Diaries 2015 – Race Day – Run

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

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Crossing the timing mat at the start of the marathon

Heading out onto the road for the final part of the day was a great feeling.  These races are funny – you battle and train hard to qualify and just get to the start line of this race in Hawaii.  So many people each year put in the work and don’t manage to qualify. That must be tough – real tough. I’ve been very fortunate.

Then, once the race is on you’re in a dilemma – you want to enjoy it and savour the moment, but you also want to get to the finish and stop doing this crazy exercise malarkey.  It’s the same sort of feeling I think at any race (or parkrun).  It’s hard work at the time and you want the pain to end – but at the same time you know you’re (sort of) having fun and enjoying yourself.

I pay to do this (the race entry alone was £570).  I’m not sponsored in any way and everything I’m using I’ve paid ‘proper’ shop prices for. I’m doing this for myself. I want to do my best (based on the cards dealt in training – I was dealt a bad hand!) and be proud of my result.

I know Sharon will be proud whatever happens.  She’s still shocked that I have to swim 2.4 miles in that really salty ocean.  Apparently the salt is good for the fish so we mustn’t really complain as they spend much more time in there than I do!

Back to the run…

Although potentially my body would probably throw the towel in after a few miles I wanted to just get out there, enjoy the support and put one foot in front of the other for a few miles.

I started the run at 1:59pm according to my GPS. The weather (from the airport – about seven miles away) at this time was 89 degrees and 61% humidity. The apparent temperature (heat index) was 98 degrees. So that’s what it felt like. In the shade.

Oh, there isn’t much shade on the course.

Apparently full sunshine can increase this value by up to 15 degrees. Oh, and a description I saw of a heat index of around 98 degrees is “Sunstroke, heat cramps, or heat exhaustion possible with prolonged exposure and/or physical activity.”

Sounds cosy.

“The thing about Kona is that you’re not just competing against the best triathletes in the world, you’re pitting yourself and your skills against the Island itself. And she can be a tough opponent.” Professional triathlete Tim Berkel

I don’t believe at any point I thought that it was stupidly hot out there (although some claim it was the hottest the race has been in nine years). You just get on with it. There’s ice to help cool you down and if you make use of that and the sponges available at each aid station you can do a good job of keeping cool.  We did get a little bit of hazy cloud cover later in the run but early on it was tropical blue skies up above.

Having said that I wasn’t running fast by any stretch of the imagination so my heart rate wasn’t that high.

Had I been running to my (when fit) potential things would probably be very different.

You see, there are some benefits to doing a race unfit.

After the first part of Palani and then Kuakini you head down Hualalai road down to a left turn onto Ali’i Drive.  The black arrows in the image below show the first part of the run (what I’m trying to describe here!).  The blue arrows show the return from Ali’i Drive at around 10 miles as you then head onto the Queen K and the green arrows show the route back to finish.

It’s much easier when you’ve got about a thousand odd people to follow!

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I knew that Sharon would be down on Hualalai (it’s a nice shady place to support from) and yup, she was there with the others. It was lovely to see them and by the look of things they were happy to see me.

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I turned left onto Ali’i and tried to settle into a pace. I’d done three few 7-8 mile runs over the past two weeks (other than a ‘long’ run of 10 miles in March!) at around 8 minutes per mile pace. 8 minute 45 second miling seemed more manageable.

It was. For about a mile.

20151015-057749Heading along Ali’i I found myself running alongside a chap called Doug. He said to me that he remembered me from two years ago and that I knew Steve and Mary.

In my usual (who the heck are you) way I politely said something like, “er, yes, perhaps I do know remember but I just can’t place them right now. You see, like yourself I’m a little busy at the moment.”

We chatted, it turned out that I did know the people he was referring to (met them in Kona two years ago) and we found ourselves jogging and chatting together.

He asked if I fancied some company during the run. I was fine with this as I wasn’t racing for a time (I just wanted to finish), and anything to help get through the next few hours sounded like a fine idea.

Approximately every mile during the marathon there’s an aid station. Consisting of sponges, water, ice, sports drink, energy gels, red bull, coke and the same again in reverse. Later in the evening there was hot soup available in addition to everything previously listed. It’s a pretty good spread and one that I wanted to make the most of!

In an Ironman I find that the swim seems to take forever and is never ending. Probably because I’m not a very good swimmer and don’t train enough for it.

The bike is never ending as well. 112 miles on a push bike is daft. Really daft.

The run, although 26.2 miles is a crazy thing to do, I don’t find so daunting. With an aid station every mile or so and a planned run/walk strategy in place I could run (jog) between aid stations, walk through and get replenished, then jog to the next station – about 10 minutes or so away.

Break the marathon down into these small manageable chunks and before long you’re at the finish. That’s the idea.

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We ran, walked the aid stations, ran some more. In the early miles on Ali’i Drive there were a few houses where people were outside with hosepipes offering to spray you as you pass.

I politely declined the water jets as I didn’t fancy the shoe squelching ‘fun’ I had in 2013 – although Doug was happily being drenched at every opportunity.

I didn’t wear a running visor but opted to wear a running cap – one that I was given at Epic Camp in Canada last year. At each aid station I’d take a cup of ice, stick it in my cap and put it back on my head. It was a great way of helping to keep cool. I never thought my head would actually feel cold in this heat!

The out and back element of Ali’i Drive is good to get an update on how friends are doing. I remember seeing some of the Team Freespeed and BlackLineLondon – most of which were having good (if not great) days today. I remember getting a good cheer from Michelle (who was at Epic Camp last year), Nico’s wife Luzelle and also from the human foghorn that is Steven Lord amongst others. Thanks.

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A little while after the turnaround on Ali’i Drive I saw Elaine (fellow ‘pirate’) and she gave me a thumbs down. She obviously wasn’t in a good place. In the race that is. Hawaii is a good place. Running a marathon when things aren’t going quite to plan isn’t a good place.

But Hawaii is a good place.

It’s so nice to be at a race, especially one on the other side of the world and know people. Bizarre.

As we turned up from Ali’i and onto Hualalai I got some more lovely support from Sharon, Andy and Emma and then headed off into the distance. Slowly.

Now when I say support, the only thing Andy said to me was the following:

“Michelle [Vesterby] is in fourth place!”

To be fair, if anything is going to cheer me up then hearing this news (about my favourite Danish professional triathlete) was spot on! I was delighted for her. She was quoted post race as saying:

Before the race I said to my husband ‘If I could give my right hand for a fifth place, I would do that’. Post race she said ‘Well I have both my hands and finished fourth – a win win situation.’

I remember seeing Rachel Joyce over the other side of the road running down Hualalai heading in to finish in second place. Another fine result for the Brit.

I walked up Palani Road up to the Queen K. Many people (including pros) walk this hill. It’s called being sensible. I can be pretty good at that. During a race.

Up onto the Queen K the crowds quieten right down. It’s now a lot more mental. There’s no shade, you’re running along a highway and it just seems endless. There’s six miles of the undulating Queen K to run along before you get to the infamous Energy Lab. Early on at the Queen K I walked a bit after going through an aid station. Doug drifted into the distance. Seeing him slowly disappear encouraged me to get my act together and get moving again.

In addition to the official race aid stations (which are absolutely amazing – all down to the volunteers who just keep smiling and doing everything they can to help) I recall running along towards what can only be described as a party on the course. It was the German triathlon tour company ‘Hannes Hawaii Tours’ and the only aid they were offering was loud music, dancing and high-fives. They were great.

Getting to the turning to the Energy Lab takes what seems to be a bloody long time. It took me an hour to run the six miles (in 2013 it took me just over 51 minutes). I was blasting out an average of 10 minutes 25 seconds per mile at this point! This includes walking through the aid stations. Between aid stations I was going at about 9:30-9:45 miling pace. Just a little bit off of my desired 8:45 pace!

This is a quiet part of the course and no spectators on bicycles are allowed in this area. You can get off of your bike and walk further down the course but hardly anybody does.  Apart from Leah, Andrew (both from Epic Camp) and Anna (a friend of theirs who raced here in 2013).

I saw Leah first (thanks for the photo), then Andrew (who said some motivational nonsense along the lines of “Looking good mate. Great cadence.”

You’re a damn good fibber Andrew. I nearly believed you.

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The little white things on the road are wet sponges – provided at the aid stations

A little further up the road I saw Anna. She was in a dream world (obviously from watching an endless stream of athletic bodies running past) and didn’t see me. Well, until I coughed rather loudly! That worked. Thanks for the support.

I caught up and walked/jogged with another Brit – Tim. I’ve not met him before but communicated on Twitter etc. over the years. Nice to meet you in real life. Sorry we couldn’t share a beer at the time.

You eventually get to the turning into the Energy Lab. This is a three mile section of the course (1.5 miles in, 1.5 miles out) and despite the folklore around it (probably more that it’s at a point in the race where many people struggle – 16-19 miles) it’s more enjoyable than the Queen K. You head down a slight gradient towards the ocean (which looked lovely), hang a right, go through an aid station, then head to the far turnaround about half a mile away. And come back.

At this point you’re on the return to town and the finish line. The only downside is that the finish line is 8.5 miles away!

Towards the far end of the road I walked for a bit. The soles of my feet were killing me. They’d been hurting for about 10 miles or so. As if the balls of my feet were burning and on fire. Must be a lovely couple of blisters building up nicely then. Oh the joy.

I noticed one of the photographers down here and rather than start running and pretending that I was feeling good I smiled and just continued walking. This is just how it was.

20151026-energylabI’m smiling in the photo because apart from my legs being shot to bits from next to no run training and my feet killing me I’m here doing the Hawaii Ironman. The ‘Big Dance’ as some like to call it. I’m so so fortunate to be here. I’m also 18 miles into the marathon and just about every step I make now is getting me closer to the finish and a big fat medal. This is awesome. I was loving it.

I think.

Heading back uphill (it’s only a slight incline but just at the wrong time!) towards the exit of the Energy Lab and it’s junction with the Queen K many people were walking. I walked a little bit. Not too much. Coming the other way and chasing me down I saw Shannon (from Epic Camp) and Claire (who either blew me a kiss or was flicking a mosquito away from her face! I’m not sure!).

The sun was rapidly falling out of the sky directly behind me and I know that there’s always a few lovely silhouette photos taken here with the sun setting in the background. I could see a couple of photographers and videographers (no doubt for the award winning NBC television broadcast to be shown in a few weeks time) getting setup for ‘the shot.’ Unfortunately I was probably 10 minutes too soon!

As you turn back onto the Queen K the aid station at the entrance to the Energy Lab was like a disco. Both sides of the road and noisy. Really uplifting. It’s hard not to smile.

Just what you need as you head back out onto the highway.

Along this stretch of road I remember fellow pirate Elaine come past me. She didn’t have a great day but she ran 45 minutes quicker than me. I didn’t have time to wave at her before she was long gone.

I saw Declan (from Team FreeSpeed). He loves Kona and keeps coming back year after year. Kona doesn’t seem to like him though and he suffers really shitty luck most years. He was walking. He still finished the race.

I also saw Meredith Kessler. She’s a female professional triathlete who finished 7th in 2013. Today she was having a bad day. Many pro’s choose to throw in the towel when their day isn’t going to plan (as they need to save themselves for another race which will help put food on the table) but Meredith was walking. Like many others.

She finished the race (in 12 hours 26 minutes). She’s hard as nails.

The final few miles back to town just ticked over. Slowly.

I wasn’t really concerned about times – although it looked like I should be safely at the finish in a little under 12 hours. That would be a good thing.

Ideally I’d like to finish in daylight. Sunset was just after 6pm. I’d missed that already. If I’m lucky it won’t be too dark when I finish. Actually, it doesn’t really matter one bit.

Night-time finishing photos from Kona look pretty cool. There’s normally quite a few shown in the magazines. These aren’t really slow people – they’re just people who finish any time after about 11 and a half hours. 1184 people finished in under 11:30 today. 955 finished after that time. I would be one of the 955.

Aid stations were now starting to server up hot soup. I didn’t have any.

My run nutrition was an energy gel every 20-25 minutes and then whatever else I fancied. Mostly water and sports drink. I did have quite a few cups of coke. They were bloody lovely. I may have had a little Red Bull at one point but the coke was much much nicer.

As I neared the top of the final climb on the undulating Queen K I remember someone shouting to me from the side of the road saying something along the lines of “You see that [pointing] – that’s it, the top of the hill. It’s all downhill to the finish from here. You’ve got this!”

Indeed I have got this. You’re bloody right.

At 25 miles into the marathon I turned onto Palani Road for the downhill. I’m not running this as fast as I can (like I did in 2013 to squeeze under 10 and a half hours) – I’m just jogging home to the finish, smiling.

I’m not on for a personal best time. I’m on for a personal worst time for an Ironman race (this is my 10th Ironman distance race). I’ve already got that personal worst time as I’ve never gone slower than 11 hours before now.

I am however doing bloody well to be here (at the turn onto Palani) after about 11 and a half hours as someone who’s probably had one of the worst, inconsistent and minimal training records over the past 12 months.

I was chuffed to bits but not wanting to hurt myself any more by running hard (to be fair I don’t think I’d have been able to anyway) for the final mile or so.

I wanted to enjoy the moment.

It was pretty much dark at this point. Just after the turn (at ‘hot corner’) onto the Kuakini Highway I saw a chap with a sign that said “Smile if you peed during the swim.”

I smiled. He said “Oh yeah!” and smiled back.

I turned down onto Hualalai Road and this little downhill then turns onto Ali’i Drive for hands down the best finishing straight line in Ironman.

There’s no barriers beside the road – the spectators just leave a gap and you run down the middle of it. You’re just following your way down Ali’i until you hit the finishing chute.

At this point the excitement and the moment really gets to you. People are giving you the biggest cheers and support imaginable.  You’re treated as if you’ve won the race.

You smile, you wave, you give a little back.

Whatever you give back you get plenty more in return from the supporters. It’s awesome.

Heading past the Hulihe’e Palace I was looking out for Sharon. She recalls me looking around trying to spot her. I then saw her. She was jumping around trying to get my attention. It worked.

I ran to her. Stopped. Gave her a sweaty old kiss and a hug. The last time I stopped near the finish of a race was in 2009 just before the finish of my first Ironman – in Switzerland. I gave her my soggy wet running cap and sunglasses (no use for them in the dark!) and headed towards the finish line.

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I’m not racing here. I’m just completing. I’m enjoying the moment. I’m high-fiving people down the finishing chute.

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I’m also thinking about a nice clean finish line photo to savour. I have no intention of crossing the line alongside someone else.

I slowed down to let at least one (or maybe two) people overtake me on the finishing chute carpet.

Two years ago I made a rather feeble leap over the finishing line (it looked pretty good in the photos I got). I had no plans (or energy) to do the same.

My finish was low(ish) key and that sat perfectly fine with me.

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Heck I’ve just finished the Hawaii Ironman. For the second time.

How awesome is that?

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After crossing the line I was met by a volunteer who presents you with a lei and then two ‘catchers’ carefully escort you away from the finish line area. Their job is to make sure that you’re alright and also to keep the finish area clear. There’s a little small talk between us – they ask if you’re ok. If you collapse then you’ll no doubt be escorted rather quickly to the medical tent – there’s medical staff on hand right by the finish just in case.

I was fine. If a little tired!

  • Run time 4:36:29
  • Overall finish time 11:41:21
  • 1,266th overall (1,044th male)
  • 211st male aged 40-44 overall
Posted in David, Kona Diaries 2015
2 comments on “Kona Diaries 2015 – Race Day – Run
  1. Symes says:

    Congratulations on a fantastic PW a lot of us would be happy to have as a PB! Look forward to your return to Kona for a proper assault on the race, and of course the blog. Now, when are we going to read the thoughts of the IronWife?

  2. Vera Darlington says:

    I’ve only now got round to reading this and phew I’m worn out! You did brilliantly and we are very proud of you. Thank you for all the write ups and I now look forward to reading the final report. You’re the champion in my eyes. Auntie Vera xx

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