As I got onto my bike the first thing you do is head up a little incline and then turn left onto the Kuakini Highway. The turn is called ‘hot corner’ - riders can be seen/supported three times from here early on in the bike course so it was rammed with spectators. I remember getting a shout (one of many today) from good friend Tom Williams (who’d popped over from England to Hawaii for the weekend… as you do!) as I turned left.
At the first turn on the bike - within the first 45 seconds of the ride.
Bike course - the first few miles
It’s really important early on to ride carefully. You’re surrounded by other riders. You’re all pumped with adrenaline (it’s the World Championship after all) and there’s people screaming and shouting. Just be careful. Don’t do anything stupid. It’s so important to ride your own race. It’s a long day.
After a couple of minutes or so it gets quiet on the course, you head up Makala Boulevard and then turn right onto the Queen K Highway, turn right onto Palani Road and then hit a fast downhill to hot corner (at about 2.4 miles into the race). This downhill is a no-passing zone. Best not to upset the referees early on in the race. You turn left and then head along Kuakini until just under five miles, then turn back towards hot corner.
As I came out of the left turn I saw Sharon, Andy and Emma cheering me on. Thanks. I think they were happy to see that I’d had an excellent swim and hadn’t been bitten by any sharks.
Turning from Palani Road onto the Kuakini Highway at ‘hot corner’
Heading up to the little turnaround on Kuakini was crazy. It’s a very slight climb (about 2%) for just over two miles. As there were 650 odd people up the road ahead of me it was busy with riders coming back down towards me. It was a constant stream of riders. So so busy. Dom H. was the first familiar face I saw. He caught up with me, asked how I was doing and then headed off up the road. I averaged 17.5mph going up here to the little turnaround. Coming back down to hot corner I was doing just over 30mph. I remember as I slowed to the turnaround a cyclist in front of me pulling over and asking a spectator to take his swimskin - he’d forgotten to take it off in transition one. Oops. (I saw someone else with their swimskin round their waist later during the ride as well - I guess the adrenaline sometimes gets the better of people).
Heading towards the Kuakini Highway turnaround
Returning to hot corner, about to turn up Palani and then onto the Queen K.
After all the early excitement at about 8.5 miles you turn onto the Queen K. The crowds then go and it’s just you and a bloody long long line of bikes ahead of you as far as the eye can see. The next time you need to use your brakes is at the 60 mile point. Yes, you just put your head down and pedal for 52.5 miles. It’s that exciting!!
I’ve written a bit about bike course before on the blog so won’t go into too much detail about the course.
With so many bikes on the course (at least where I was - in the 60-70 minute swimmer group) the main thing you need to worry about is drafting. You need to keep four bike lengths between you and the bike in front. If you start to overtake a cyclist (i.e., are less than four bike lengths away from the rider in front) you have to pass them whether you want to or not. You have 20 seconds to do so. Once you pass them you can move back in front of them. If there’s less than four bike lengths then to the next rider you need to pass them to… and so on. In the professional race (that’s about 45 minutes up the road ahead of me) when there’s a line of riders if the one at the back wants to overtake someone they pretty much have to overtake everyone in the line otherwise they’ll get a penalty.
The rules are simple but you need to do your best not to break them. Sometimes you can find yourself in a bad position through no (real) fault of your own and get penalised. If you are penalised you have to stop at one of the handful of ‘Penalty Tents’ on the course you get a four minute penalty. There are motorbikes with referees driving up and down the course looking for riders breaking any of the rules.
I remember passing the first penalty tent on the bike and seeing about four riders in there serving penalties. If you get a time penalty the rule is that you’re given a stopwatch when you get to the tent. You can hand it back when it says four minutes are up. Four bloody long minutes I’d guess.
Early whilst on the Queen K Highway heading towards Kawaihae I felt that I just didn’t seem to be able to push as hard as I wanted to. I have a power meter on my bike - this is a device that tells me (via the bike computer) how much force I’m pushing on the pedals. It doesn’t care about uphills, downhills, headwinds or tailwinds. It just tells you the facts as they are. The numbers (in watts) were not what I wanted to see. They were low and I didn’t feel that I was able to push much harder.
Early miles on the bike (I can tell as I haven’t yet swapped my yellow water bottle for one of the ones at the aid stations)
I was probably less than an hour into the bike ride at this point and had been taking nutrition on board quite happily and drinking plenty. The temperature was 81 degrees (just over 27 degrees celsius) according to the observation data from Kona airport at the time (you cycle past the airport after 14 miles). I just didn’t know why I couldn’t push the wattage that I wanted to.
I knew that my training had been hugely impacted over recent weeks and I guess today was time to pay the price for it! I’d ridden well since I’d got to Kona (well, apart from the first longish ride I did a couple of days after arriving three weeks ago) but today it just wasn’t happening.
Perhaps it was my body telling me that I had to run a marathon later off of no long runs and it was trying to preserve energy for that great unknown - I just don’t know.
Anyway, I decided early (well, to be fair I had no choice) that I wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) try to kill myself by pedalling as hard as I really wanted to. I knew I was nowhere near my Ironman UK level of bike fitness but I was hoping to have a bit more strength. Oh well.
I decided on a more conservative power number (or effort level) to aim for and just did my best to stick to it.
I got to Kawaihae (41.5 miles) after 1 hour 45 minutes. The winds had been favourable so far at this point and my power averaged at 220 watts. This was OK (at least for today). At Ironman UK in August I averaged 251 watts for the entire 112 mile ride.
At this point you’re just under 18 miles away from the bike turnaround at Hawi. The course is a bit rolling but the last few miles there’s a steady climb. I was looking forward to this part of the course - partly because it’s a bit prettier than the Queen K and also because here I was expecting to see the professional race coming down towards me at some point.
After a while I could see up in the distance a couple of helicopters. Yeah, I’m in the Ironman World Championship, taking part and up ahead of me at the helicopters broadcasting live footage onto the internet and recording for the award winning video that will be broadcast in November on US television. You then see a few vehicles coming towards you, then motorbikes and then the first cyclist…. then the second… then the third, and so on. It was really bloody exciting. I couldn’t easily make out who the riders were (they were absolutely flying). As I got closer to the turnaround the number of riders coming back down steadily increased. It was crazy busy.
The turnaround had some great support - for all of a minute or so. Then you were back on your way on the home straight. I got to the turnaround after just under 2 hours 40 of cycling. The renowned winds on this part of the course hadn’t really materialised. The descent from Hawi often has crazy crosswinds doing whatever they can to push you off your bike. Not today - we were having a good day.
When I say home straight - I mean only about 53 miles to go! Then you can worry about going for a run, but not yet.
Because of the lack of crosswinds the downhill was fast and fun. I kept to my nutrition strategy and drunk lots of water/sports drink to keep hydrated and fuelled. The aid stations on the bike course were superb. Every few miles you came across one and it was quick and easy to get drink refills whilst on the move.
On the way back to Kawaihae I was overtaken by Nico. We had a few words and he told me that Paul wasn’t too far behind. I think the three of us when fit are at pretty similar levels of bike fitness. I watched Nico ride up the road.
When you get onto the Queen K you really are on the final straight - just 35 miles left! The trouble was that a lovely headwind had developed. To be fair we’d been really lucky with the conditions so far - it was hot and sunny but not windy. Now it was payback time. A headwind all the way back to Kona.
At this point I was getting a bit tired and the lack of bike fitness was coming back to haunt me. You want to sit up every now and then to stretch your back out but sitting up into a headwind is just a stupid thing to do (unless of course you want to grind to a halt!). It was tough going.
On the Queen K Highway riding back towards Kona
If you’ve read my Ironman Lanzarote race report I said that I felt so good on the bike I could have kept riding all day. At Ironman UK I put some ‘real’ effort into the bike and although it wasn’t easy I felt strong throughout the entire ride. The last 35 miles of the bike here in Kona wasn’t my favourite two hours of riding that’s for sure.
At about 90 miles in (my partner in crimes against swimming trunks) Paul caught up with me. We exchanged a few words and then he went and had a wee. I’m hoping it wasn’t anything I’d said. He then rode off up the road.
In fact - I hardly overtook anyone in the second half the bike course. I did however watch endless people overtake me. I was really having bad ride today. I didn’t have any stomach or nutritional issues, I just didn’t seem to have any strength in my legs. I did get to see lots of very fit people in lycra cycle past me wiggling their bottoms. Many of them weren’t just men either so it wasn’t all bad!
Heading back towards Kona I saw a few of the motorcycle referees heading back towards us in the other direction - I guess they’d followed the course back to town and then turned round to look out for bad behaviour further back on the course. Good to see that they were trying to police the entire race and not just the pointy end of the field - although there’s always packs of riders blatantly cheating that seemingly get away with it.
Heading into town was a huge relief. I was really looking forward to getting off of the bike. I’d had no mechanical issues which was great as these can occasionally force people to retire from the race. If I could get onto the run then surely I would be able to finish this race. In my build up I’d said many times that all I needed to do was GET THAT MEDAL. This was a big positive step (or ride) in the right direction.
Bike shoes are loosened and I’m about to take my feet out before returning to transition.
Just before transition the crowds were out in force (as this is part of the run course as well) so it was great to hear some solid support rather than the very few ‘pockets of support’ whilst out on the bike.
I got my feet out of my shoes and rode towards the bike dismount line. I jumped off of my bike, handed it to a ‘catcher’ (another lovely volunteer that would safely rack my bike for me to collect later) and then started to jog around the entire edge of the pier to the bike-to-run transition bags.
- Bike time: 5:23:24
- 919th overall after the bike
- 182nd male aged 40-44 after the bike
Interestingly, this is my seventh Ironman race and although I didn’t have the best of bike rides it was still my quickest bike split in an Ironman race. It really is a fast course (if the winds are favourable - which for about 80 miles they were).
Quickly for the people who like power data, my TSS was 200 (based off of my FTP used for the Ironman UK figures where my TSS that day was 297). My NP for the ride was 208 watts (251 at IMUK). W/Kg was 2.43 (3.04 at IMUK). IF was 0.64 (0.71 at IMUK). From the numbers it’s clear to see that I wasn’t quite on form today! My cycle computer recorded exactly 112 miles and my average speed was 20.8 miles per hour.
At the time it didn’t matter that I hadn’t had a great ride. There was nothing I could do about it. I’ve got more important things to worry about. Just the matter of 26.2 miles running (walking or crawling). I’ve survived the 112 miles which is a huge bonus. I’m not last, the sun hasn’t set and I’m not exhausted. This is all good.
Here’s a graph showing my overall position and also in my age group slowly dropping during the bike ride. 273 people overtook me. I’ll occasionally use a graph in my race reports if it shows me doing well, but it’s only fair to put one in when I’m not doing so well!
After running round the pier you collect your run bag and go into the transition tent. My bag contained my running shoes, a pair of socks, a visor, my running number (you don’t need your number attached to you during the bike segment) and a little bag with some vaseline, suncream and immodium tablets to take during the run. Whilst putting my shoes and socks on a volunteer put some suncream on my shoulders. I don’t believe I wasted any time in transition.
- Transition time: 3 minutes 38 seconds (fastest was 1:25, slowest was 1 hour 20! Over 100 people took more than 10 minutes. Over 500 people took between 3 and 4 minutes.)
- 594th fastest transition
I ran out of the changing tent and headed into the unknown (with a smile on my face)…