This is the first of a number of posts describing my day at the 2013 Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
I slept fairly well for the night before the biggest race of my life. Perhaps it was because the pressure is off – I’m unfortunately nowhere near full fitness at the moment because of the problems I’ve had with my left foot (a separate post will follow with a bit more detail as to the training that got me to the start line of the race) so the main plan is to get to the finish but do the best I can and make sure I finish with a smile on my face. Surely I can do that.
I was out of bed just before 3am (transition opens at 4:45am and race start is 7am) and had my previously tested tub of rice pudding with some 100% Kona Coffee – it’s got to be 100%. You can buy ‘Kona Coffee’ but that normally just means its 10% Kona and 90% elsewhere. If coffee is 100% Kona then it will says so in great big letters on the front of the packet. We’ve been on the good stuff ever since arriving here on the Big Island.
A few other lights could seen around the condo block turning on at this unearthly hour as there were a few competitors staying at the same place. I got dressed, covered myself in factor 50 waterproof ‘P50’ suncream and put my electronic timing chip around my left ankle. We closed the door on the apartment just before 4am and strolled up to the condo car park entrance where we met Andy and Emma. After I qualified for the race in early August they decided to fly all the way from London to Hawaii for a long weekend to have a holiday and support the race – the first Ironman they’ve ever been to. Nice choice.
The four of us then strolled the approx 1.7 miles to the start/finish area. There were only a few people sat on the ocean wall along Ali’i Drive by the finish area at this time (4:35am). We took a couple of photos – one of me in my lucky wooly hat. I’m not sure when it became my lucky hat. It was given to be my some friends in London (Mikee and Louise) many years ago and it just seems to follow me round to races. This was the first (and last) time that I wore this wooly hat the entire time I’ve been here. Strange that!
I then left Sharon, Andy and Emma to go and establish a spot on ‘the wall’ whilst I headed to transition. I said my goodbyes and said that I’d see them on the course. You then walk around the King Kamehameha hotel to the entrance to transition. The queue was pretty big but in under 10 minutes I was walking through to the first part of race day – body marking. Under a huge marquee you find the area for your number and then a lovely volunteer wipes any suncream off of your arms with some sort of alcohol wipe and then applies a ‘temporary number tattoo’ to both arms.
After being ‘branded’ you head through to an area when you walk over a timing mat, confirm that your name is on a computer screen (meaning that your chip works) and then get yourself weighed (although I was partially clothed and had my shoes on). I was 180lbs (12st 12lb), which is 81.6kg. I needed a huge wee as well at this point so that must be about 20lbs, surely!
After weigh-in you walk round to bike transition. You walk along the path right beside the beach at the King Kamehameha Hotel along to the pier where your wristband is checked again (athletes only) and then you’re onto the pier. It was pretty dark, but of course there were little illuminated Ironman ‘M-Dot’ signs to follow!
I found my bike, filled its drink bottles with lovely sports drink, attached handfuls of energy gels to the bike and then checked the pressure and pumped up my tires (there are track pumps available at the ends of each line of bikes).
The chap parked up next to my bike was about 5 foot tall so we agreed not to cycle off on the wrong bike depending on who got to their bike first after the swim!
I made a couple of toilet stops and walked the transition area a couple of times to help visualise where my bike would be when I was looking for it after the swim. I took a short video on my phone where I talked a little about where I was and what the day entails. Halfway through the video I started getting quite emotional thinking about what lay ahead of me. I’ve watched so many hours of videos of this race from over the years. For many years I’ve wanted to watch the race in person but no, on my first visit to Hawaii I’m here in the transition area, my bike is a few meters away, I’m wearing an athlete wristband and it is 60 minutes before something huge, something f***ing huge. This is the Hawaii Ironman. Nothing else is like it. Anywhere.
I then checked my swim-to-bike and bike-to-run bags to ensure they were as I had left them during racking on Friday. They were. Once again there was a one-to-one volunteer to competitor ratio as I was personally escorted to my bags to check. Literally wherever you look there are volunteers ready to help.
Everything looked good, I headed towards the pre-swim bag drop off area. Passing by the professional athlete racking area I saw defending champion Pete Jacobs getting his bike ready and being filmed for the award winning NBC race broadcast TV show that will be aired in November.
I put my shoes and phone in my pre-swim bag and handed it in. It was now just after 6am. The pro men start at 6:30 and were starting to get into the water to warm-up before the biggest and most famous race in the triathlon calendar.
Walking through transition a chap saw me weaering my pirate kit and asks if I know Nick Rose. Nick is a two time racer at Kona and I know him fairly well. His Ironman UK race report from 2012 encouraged me to enter Bolton and without my race there in August of this year I wouldn’t be here today.
The wall alongside the ocean was filling up nicely at this point with spectators.
An American lady at one point stopped me and asked where the bike mechanics were (they were stationed all around the pier). She then asked if I was the guy from England writing the daily blog. Yes, that’s me! I’m being recognised now. This must be what Andy Holgate (the ‘pirate who wrote that book’) gets at races! It was touching to talk to a complete stranger who knew far more (and probably far too much) about me than I knew about them.
I found a lovely volunteer lady who zipped up my swimskin and put some extra bodyglide (it’s like vaseline) around the areas where it would rub. She was helping in transition but also supporting her 70 year old husband who was racing. Wow.
I had planned to get into the water fairly early so I could get into position near the far left of the course (hoping for a bit of space) and as I waited close to the swim entrance I saw Elaine and Claire. We chatted a little. The day was brightening up and at about 6:25am I hear this sound in the distance.
A helicopter suddenly appeared above. Polynesian drums were beating really really loudly from a small group of performers stood on the wall right by the race finish line. It was emotional to say the least.
This is it. This is the big dance.
First to set off are the professional men at approximately 6:30am to the sound of an almighty cannon shot. It was so loud. This and the drumming sounds made this a very very emotional time.
The women then prepare to start five minutes later. Another cannon shot (for the professional women to start) and then the age-groupers (that’s me) are allowed into the water to warm up and make their way to the start.
Walking down the steps to the water and standing on the beach is strange. You are one of a number of privileged people who have found themselves on the start line of the Ironman World Championship. I got there through hard work, an amazingly well executed race at Ironman UK and a few hundred pounds made out to Ironman to pay for entry!
People dream of being here. I’ve dreamt of being here. I am here. It was surreal.
I was in the water at 6:36am. I know this because Sharon took a photo of the age groupers getting into the water and I can be seen in the picture!
I got into the water, the ocean was a clear as ever, there were fish everywhere and I started to swim a wide route round to the far end of the start line.
As I swum parallel to the ocean wall I was looking out for Sharon, Andy and Emma as they were there early enough to get a good spot. They were. I saw a yellow t-shirt, and the next thing I saw was a large union flag. Yay. I was in pretty clear water, it wasn’t very noisy so I raised my arms, and waved. I think they saw me!
I swam a little way back out to sea then realised that it was only 6:40am and so so many people weren’t in the water.
So I turned around and swum back towards them.
The water was fairly shallow and I saw a large rock beneath me. I stood up, which lifted me out of the water to just above my waist and shouted “Kona Baby!”
It was amazing. So so cool. Andy and Emma had decorated a flag so that it said ‘Go Rowe-Bot’ (Rowe-bot is a bit of a nickname that I’ve been called a few times due to my often metronomic run pacing at Bushy parkrun and also some races, such as the London Marathon earlier this year).
We chatted from a distance (almost like the scene at the end of Crocodile Dundee in the subway station… sort of!) and then I swam off with just under 20 minutes to go to the start.
I don’t think I was particularly nervous, it was emotional don’t get me wrong but nervous, not really. I’d had a good swim at the training race a week ago and hoped that if I could do something close to 1 hour 10 minutes I’d be really happy with that for a non-wetsuit swim.
As I got close to the start line I saw Paul, Nico and Tom. We shook hands, agreed (hoped) that starting here was probably a good thing and treaded water waiting for the start.
I didn’t put myself right on the front row as that’s ‘reserved’ for people who swim fast or like being swum over from the go. I kept myself a few ‘rows’ back.
There were tens of stand up paddle-boarders (SUPs) and canoes in the water, all doing their best to keep the swimmers behind the line. The SUPs paddle up and down the start line in an anti-clockwise circle doing their best to keep people back. As we neared 7am I could feel everyone was slowly moving forwards. It was surely about to happen.
The next thing I heard was BOOM!