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Coach Lew - Ironman World Championships race report

Lew’s Kona Race Report

4:00 am Saturday 8th of October 2016. The time has finally arrived. Months of preparation and planning was behind me and it was time to slip into the old familiar race day routine. Race plan ready I was out the door strolling the 1.5 miles down the athlete check-in and body marking.

Body marking was the first thing that was quite different from any other race I’ve done. Athletes were queued outside the body marking area and there we patiently waited for our turn to get the ironman sticker numbers applied to our arms. My turn came and as I was sporting my race suit with sleeves down to the elbows, the number had to go onto my hairy forearms. That was never going to happen, so off to the number repair area to be cleaned up and stamped instead. Tick, tick, tick the time past but eventually I got through at about 6:20am.  It was time to put a rush on. Fortunately, I was well versed in my transition routine and set my bike up pretty swiftly. I hopped into my speed suit and brushed past a few hundred athletes which clearly decided they wanted to have a beach start or something but getting wet was not their priority!

I hit the water at around 6:45, 10 minutes before the age group men's race start and focussed on getting through a swim warmup routine. About two minutes to race start I headed over to the far left side of the swim and placed myself around 4 rows from the front as per my race plan. Knowing that at the world championship there will be a good portion of gun swimmers, I did not see the point of smashing it out in the washing machine and wasting energy. I had a big smile on my face. The big dance was about to commence and I was loving being out there. The last few weeks of continuous nerves finally transformed into adrenaline and I was pumped.

The canon sounded and we were off!

As the washing machine got going I pretty quickly realised the plan was a good one. I had good clear water, swimming off the hip of another swimmer and at no point during the swim did I feel crowded or got bashed. I swam within myself for the first half and at the turn started to gradually move up through swimmers. I hopped onto the feet of a few others and before I knew it we were turning for the swim exit. I accelerated to break free from my group and exited the water around about 10 mins faster than I thought I would – happy days.

T1 was chaos. A nice volunteer handed my bike bag to me but the change tent was small and overcrowded. I eventually found a small clear area and ripped off the speed suit and made way through the maze to my bike. It was time for the time trial.

Thanks to the good advice from Bruce, Chris and Waino at team Energy Link I managed to do essential recon of the bike course in the week prior to the race and had a good idea of what to expect, both from the course and how other athletes may react. I also went through some extensive power modelling for the bike leg, working on various predicted weather patterns. On the day before the race I verified the most likely conditions using Best Bike Split’s advanced weather function and also read through their published report on Kona course conditions. It was predicted that at the time I was going to be out cycling, we were going to spend quite some time cycling into a head wind with a lot of beautiful direct sunlight. Considering the heat and humidity, Chris and I planned for a conservative and patient approach to the bike leg and given that I have a pretty upright position on my bike, the wind was likely to affect me more than most. As per the modelling my predicted bike leg time at my desired intensity of between 0.65 and 0.7 was between 6:20 to 6:30. I was mentally prepared to be patient out there.

Being cooked from the top

and feeling the heat radiating

off the volcanic rock from the

side. I was racing in Kona. Yes

As I took off on Palani the predictions turned into truth with young, strong looking athletes powering past me on the latest and greatest technology had to offer. I focussed on being patient, staying within my zones and instead of getting sucked in, spent the time admiring the beautiful speed machines that kept on passing me. It was like being at a bike show – only better!

We finished the little town circuit and I settled in for the journey along the Queen K. As I was riding at a lower intensity than the last few events I did, I was able to consume a slightly higher level of carbohydrates and I focussed on getting into my rhythm for the rolling buffet. Up in the clear blue sky the sun was already doing its thing and I whispered a quick thanks to Waino for suggesting I get a race suit with sleeves. It was a battle. Being cooked from the top and feeling the heat radiating off the volcanic rock from the side. I was racing in Kona. Yes!

I picked up a new bottle of water at every aid station to either drink or pour over my body in an attempt to keep my core temperature down. At probably about 60 km into the ride I noticed the first signs of a bit of a head wind and was steadily being passed, now by female competitors who started 15 mins after the male age groupers. I noticed my average speed was way down to what I’m used to but stayed in my zones. I knew this would be the case so there was no point forcing it. At Kawaihae we made the turn for Hawi and having ridden the piece of road with Turia and Michael the previous Sunday, I knew what was lying ahead. I was feeling good and ready for the climb into the town.

If you're going to have a flat in the race, 2 km from the top of a 10 km climb is probably the best spot to have it. Anyway that’s what I thought as I felt my rear wheel hit rim on tarmac. The tech support van was in around my vicinity all the way along the Queen K so I hopefully looked around to see if they could lend a hand. They were nowhere to be found so I calmly dismounted and went about the routine of fixing the flat. I always wondered what I would do if I get a flat in a race and this being my 15th Ironman event I was probably due one. Anyway, it was disappointingly boring. It’s kind of the same as getting one on a long ride, accept your riding buddies don't hang around to give you a hand.

As I turned in Hawi, which was around the 95 km mark, I reassessed the race. I still felt strong and was ready for the journey home. The section down the hill from Hawi is probably the most enjoyable part of the course and I flew down the hill with a big smile on my face. As we went around the bend of the island the wind smacked into us from the side, but fortunately wasn't as bad as the week before. Then we turned back onto the Queen K, into a headwind. My smile might have changed to a grimace...

In endurance events you can always expect some kind of mental challenge – mine has arrived. Since coming down the hill at Hawi a few things happened. Firstly, I passed a female athlete whose race suit left part of her back exposed and she had two huge blisters. That really mentally emphasised the heat and direct sunlight. Secondly, the weather prediction was right, the wind has turned and it was going to be a headwind all the way home. Any hope of me gaining some time on the way back was out of the window. Then I went through the third aid station in a row that had no water left and I was running dry.

So we’re racing in Kona. It’s windy and hot – no surprises there – but no water! Are you for real! C’mon! I know I’m slow but do you have to rub it in!

Given that I had no water to take with my gels it was time to adjust. Fortunately, in my prep I checked out the on-course nutrition and hydration fairly closely and knew how much carbs were in a bottle of Gatorade. In place of the water I took on two bottles of Gatorade and went about adjusting my nutrition plan until I was able to pick up some water at the next aid station.

 At this point I also made the decision to start dialling up the intensity. I felt good and knew I was losing too much time with my upright position in the wind for me to reap the benefit of a faster run. I pushed my intensity up to 0.85 for the remainder of the bike and arrived at T2 around about 8 hours into the race. This was on target as per my race plan and for the first time for as long as I can remember - no cramps!

I made a quick pit stop in T2, picked up my run bag from another friendly volunteer and I went through the change tent which was significantly emptier than it was for T1…

I received some much needed encouragement from Niki and the kids as I left T2 and saw Derek as I was running down towards Ali’i drive – and of course, just to rub it in, he appeared from nowhere ahead of me in Ali’i drive again. Never mind, I loved the support.

Prior to the race I expected to finish between 12 and 13 hours and thought that a 12-hour result would be amazing for me and sub 13 hours very satisfying. I had 4 hours left to finish the run. It was time to get on with it.

As I turned onto Ali’I, focussing on my form and rhythm, I started to do some mental arithmetic. I just had to do the marathon. 24 miles, 4 hours, that's 24 miles in 240 min. I got it – 10 min miles and I’m home – it was time to catch a dream!

As per my pre-race plan I walked the aid stations, apart from a few which was on a descend, to ensure I keep my core temperature down. Although the temperature by Kona’s standard was mild by the time I got to the run, it was still hotter and more humid than a winter day in Sydney.

Ali’i drive was great to run along with heaps of people encouraging the athletes and a number of shady spots to run through. I manage to keep a steady pace but noticed I was dropping off the 10 mins per mile pace. I focused on running with good form and had plenty of chalk pictures on the road to remind me to blossom!

I survived Palani hill with a short walk through the middle section and loved the pumping music as we headed out on the Queen K for the meaty part of the run. Life was a ball!

During the run leg there is a mile distance marker at every mile, and then for those of us use to the metric system there is a km marker at every 5 km. I was coming up to the 12-mile marker, halfway! Hang on, I haven't seen the 20 km marker yet. Huh? Yeah – it was a great time to remember that Ironman starts halfway through the run and halfway through the run is 13.1 miles, you peanut! 26.2 miles not 24 miles! So I carried on blossoming.

Running along the Queen K I had to really force myself to focus on just the next mile. Let's face it – it’s a long boring road and all you want to see on the horizon is the Energy lab. One mile at a time I eventually got there. I turned into the Energy lab, the sun was setting on the horizon and I was running straight into it. It was a good feeling. It was a mild evening in Kona and a cool breeze came off the water so I didn't have to deal with the heat in the lab. I just ran and enjoyed the experiences being in an iconic environment. I made the run turn and headed back to town. I was pretty stuffed by then but knew at this stage that I’m good. As I headed back out onto the Queen K I started to lengthen my stride a bit and settled into a rhythm I could hold.

The last 5 miles seemed to last forever but I managed to keep going and I eventually turned the corner and ran up to the finish chute. Then I walked. Experiencing the ultimate Ironman finish. The finish chute of the Ironman World Championships – Anything is possible!


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