I awoke at 3:45am and crept out of the bedroom leaving Cindy to sleep a little longer. After taking in some water, I poured my first cup of coffee and put my bagel in the toaster. I took my time consuming it (which I had spread with banana, honey and peanut butter) and continued to sip on water. I checked email and then began to get ready to leave the house. Cindy was now up and we debated about which areas we could sunscreen without annoying the body markers and have our numbers smear and come straight off upon hitting the salty water at Hapuna. I like to be at the venue for around 5:30am for a 7am race start, earlier if it works. This way I have time to remedy any major issues such as flat tubular, forgetting something (still time to go back), and I also give myself plenty of time to warm up, review the entry and exit to transition and check out the swim course to pick the best line (it was only put out the morning before race day). As it was a split transition we had already dropped off our run bags the day before so could not check these before we got to T2.
All went smoothly with the exception of me leaving one of my drink bottles in the fridge, this bottle contained a concentrated electrolyte solution composed of Gatorlytes and ELoad (totaled about 2000mg sodium/potassium/magnesium). It was not a disaster as I had brought enough extra endurolytes to empty a few into a bottle, combined with some Eload Cindy was kind enough to share from her super concentrated bottle, thanks my love!
T1 was going to be a little different for me as I had elected (due to concerns about burning the soles of my feet in T2) to put my socks on then instead of wait for T2, this seemed prudent given the experience of Steve Bailey and Rocky Ursino when they did the race in previous years, both of whom burnt their feet on the asphalt in T2! I later found out that T2 was now grass covered, however not a deal breaker. Happy that I had everything sorted out Cindy and I ran around the parking lot for five minutes by way of a light aerobic warm up. I would have ran more but felt the already very clear, hot and humid conditions would make this counter productive for a pale Englishman. More sunscreen, applied bodyglide, grabbed swim stuff and headed down to the beach.
The field was big for a 70.3 and somewhat unique for a half distance race was the mass start (normally these races have wave starts), this was a little daunting as there were 1400 people signed up so I expected some contact and traffic jams. I had a secret weapon for the swim, the TYR Sayonara Swim Skin. After a decent length swim warm up which included a few accelerations I felt good, now it was choosing where to position myself. I ended up lining up on the front towards the left of the start line, this seemed like a decent spot, a direct line to the first buoy which was about 300 meters off shore. Some of the swimmers around me were talking expected swim times and I heard some 28’s, and 29’s in there so I thought this was a decent spot and justified my front line starting position. It also meant I expected some company for the opening section. The gun fired and off we went. The swim was very smooth, I had clear water to the first buoy where I met a small amount of congestion but nothing serious. There really was little to no contact despite being in a pack for most of the swim. I looked for a draft where one presented itself but was otherwise content breaking my own water, always conscious that the size of our group meant the water was less ‘thick’ anyway and quicker than being alone. Navigation was very good amongst our group but I was never really sure how fast we were swimming, I was very comfortable and my stroke felt good but I could not be sure what this would result in time wise. Exiting the water I immediately tried to get my swim skin off, problem number one, it was stuck! Amazing what a little adrenalin can do as I ripped the zipper clean off and wrestled the suit off my shoulders and torso, no big deal (other than a damaged garment). Swim time 28:02, very solid for a non wetsuit swim. My T1 was smooth and methodical as usual, suit off, helmet on, shoes on, fanny pack on (with my nutrition, a can of pitstop and my electrolytes in it) and headed out of transition to the mount line. It was a decent climb immediately out of T1 and so not leaving my shoes clipped on the pedals was smart, many people struggled here and were as usual over geared. Once on the bike I started my Garmin (which was ready to go as I had left it on my aerobars) and settled into a rhythm. My goal was to ride at 150bpm, a HR average I figured would yield something around a 2:30 bike split on this course given average wind and thereby leave me in contention with most of the other fast AG’ers.
I settled into the ride keeping a constant eye on my HR to ensure I was not over working or being lazy. The plan worked well. I geared down for all the climbs to keep the HR in check and worked hard on flat sections and descents. Typically a lot of overly aggressive guys rode by me on all of the early climbs only for me to pass them all back on the descents and some of the flatter sections. There were a couple of occasions where I had to ride a fraction harder than I would have liked to avoid blocking and/or drafting violations but these were not significant enough to be detrimental. There was some wind on the climb up to Havi, which was the toughest part of the course. It is here that Rae Shaw passed me, the ego in me wanted to ride with her (could not have a local girl beating me even if it is was the fastest AG cyclist at Kona last year!) but wanting to have a good run and manage my day in the heat (did I say it was very hot with clear skies and zero shade???) was far more important. I let her go and proceeded to the turnaround. Approaching the turnaround I hit a small bump in the road and felt my saddle come loose, not good! I told myself that provided I stayed seated my weight would keep it in position. It was a worrying moment. The return was fast, there was a five mile section after the turn where I averaged 30.5 mph!
I focused on keeping on top of my nutrition, managing my HR, and staying aero. There were one or two occasions on the return I let my mind wander and lo and behold my HR dropped a few beats, staying on task and in the moment is such a critical race day skill, I advise you all to work on it at every opportunity (the Race Rehearsal workouts I performed leading up to this race were critical in helping me with this) the remainder of the bike had me crossing my fingers my saddle did not fall off and keeping my HR where it needed to be (note, no power meter on my race wheels but I have done enough riding this year in race rehearsal workouts to know exactly how hard I could ride with respect to HR in order to have the run I know I am capable of).
Coming into T2 I relaxed a little and stretched out my calves, low back, hip flexors and shoulders. I had a swift T2 as I already had my socks on and simply needed to rack my bike, put on my running shoes and hat (no visor, will tell you why later) and grab my nuun tube filled with endurolytes. I had a lot of confidence in my running off the bike until I arrived in Kona the Sunday before the race. The heat and humidity compromises the body’s ability to work hard aerobically whilst maintaining core temperature at a somewhat normal level. The lack of evaporation of sweat off the body dramatically impedes the body’s ability to keep itself cool and as a result it needs to work harder on this process whilst still delivering oxygenated blood at a rate required to run the pace you ask of it. This meant that for a speed I was running comfortably off the bike in RR workouts in Seattle was yielding a HR 8-10bpm higher than it should have been. I had thought long and hard about this during race week and hoped I would adjust at least a little otherwise I would be running a 7:20-7:30 pace for a HR that resulted in a 6:30-6:40 pace in Seattle. I read and read papers on the effects of racing in the heat, spoke to Chris Whyte and several other athletes and coaches about it and concluded that I would probably be running 30-40 seconds per mile slower here in order to keep the HR in check and give my body a fighting chance at not overheating.
I headed out of T2 at a very conservative pace and was reassured by a bunch of fast AG athletes charging off into the distance, I was confident they would come back to me! At most of the aid stations I would take water, Gatorade and lots of ice. The ice went under my hat (can’t do this with a visor), down my vest and into my shorts. This was a great tactic to help ensure my body stayed somewhat cool given the 85-90 degree heat with very high humidity. I clocked off the first couple of miles at 7:20 pace then started to catch runners who were ahead of me. I stayed very focused and tried to keep my HR around 160. This was clearly not going to happen and I told myself provided it did not go above 165 and I felt good (a relative term) then running it a little high would be fine (highest average HR for a given mile on the run was 164, highest max was 172). I found some semblance of rhythm, which was difficult given the nature of the course. The run course was multi-terrain on a wide variety of surfaces, uphills, downhills, sharp turns, dead turns, concrete, asphalt, grass, lava rock, a real experience. I concentrated on short strides on the climbs, and relaxing on the descents. I ran the course well and continued to pass other runners, in fact I was passing quite a lot of fast AG athletes. I finally saw a guy who I thought was likely to win my AG on the long out and back part of the course (Dennis Meeker, 9:15 in Kona and now a member of Team Timex), around mile nine, he was walking! I asked if he was okay and he said he had shut down. I was excited at seeing him walking although knew I was still a mile or so behind him. I nearly got carried away and started picking up the pace only to remind myself that I might need this for later in the race. As Dennis was walking and I was still running something in the region of 7:20’s I quickly caught him, I gave him a tap on the butt and asked him to run with me, he reiterated how he was spent and I pushed on. The next person I passed was Sam McGlone who I had been gaining on for the last several miles. Wow I thought if the women’s run course record holder is struggling then it must truly be a tough day out here. Now at mile 10.5 or so I had no real idea where I was in the field, I was getting no feedback from people on the course only some support from people I knew including Rae’s boyfriend Lang Reynolds. I saw a lot of Lang as he was shadowing Rae who I had passed on the run at around mile three, she looked strong and would go on to place third female overall! I guessed I was up there and knew I was getting back more places overall even though I could not tell which AG they were in (note: AG’s were not marked on calves for this event, a trend I think will be common going forward). I had passed a couple of pro men and pro women so knew I was having a decent race but was really not sure about the overall.
Anyhow back to the race. I had been feeling some twinges of cramp in my calves from around mile eight and as a result had shortened my stride a little, no big deal I thought as long as I held off full blown cramp and was not forced to stretch it out. The last three miles were crazy, more grass, some crazy sharp descents on concrete golf paths and a lot of turns. Low and behold at about mile 11 I get my first full on hamstring cramp in my left leg. I had to stop and stretch it. Sam re passed me. I got going as soon as I could and shortened my stride even further. I made it another mile or so and had a recurrence of the full blown cramp, stretched again, some other dude passed me who I had earlier run down. More coke, Gatorade and ice and I pushed on for the last mile. Perhaps 500 meters from the finish I got a third and final cramp, stopped and stretched it, looked over my shoulder and saw two guys who I had earlier run down gaining on me. I said a little prayer, held it together and finished strong without any further cramping. Whew, what a race! I was greeted by Amanda Balding (Luke McKenzie’s girlfriend) who did not finish the race (mechanical problems) and she said there were very few people in front of me. I walked over to the results board and they had already posted the first page. I finished 27th overall and was 3rd in my AG (the biggest AG in the race). The two guys in front of me were both Hawaiian residents meaning they were eligible for the Big Island and Hawaiian Island Kona spots. I grabbed a guy (one of the two who finished right behind me, both from Oahu) and asked him what the deal was with big island slots and he seemed to think they were obligated to take the Hawaiian resident slots. If this was the case then I was 1st non Hawaiian in my AG and would get a Hawaii slot, wow! As it turned out I did indeed get an automatic slot, no roll down stress, what a bonus. I tell myself due to my heavy sweat rate that I am not good in the heat, after this performance I do have a few things to work on but am confident that I can put together a race to justify my fitness come October 10th! Watch this space……..
I would like to say a special thank you to my wife Cindy who put up with me over the course of the week and tolerated my paranoia over my elevated HR during race week workouts. Thanks to Kirk and Marne Sall for letting us share their apartment and being cool with us following our own agenda. Also thank you to Ryan Dolan from TYR who very generously gave Sayonara swim skins to Marne, Kevin Steinbuch, Steve Bailey and Rae Shaw. He also took Cindy and I out to a fabulous dinner with his wife Shawn at Huggo’s on the Sunday evening after the race. Finally thanks to Deb Rubens, Kevin Steinbuch, and Win Van Pelt, all of whom carried the Vo2Multisport flag proudly on race day wearing their team kit with pride and all having solid results (Deb did not race but was a most enthusiastic supporter).