It's been 2 weeks since my big race and I finally got round to writing my Ironman World Championship Race Report. It's pretty long so you might want to get a big cup of coffee first 😂;)
Race day started reasonably calmly with a 3.45am alarm. I had slept reasonably well through the night and surprisingly, I felt well-rested and did not feel nervous. I had a breakfast (bread, butter and honey) sorted my nutrition out before heading off to the race start. It was pitch black when we got there but the place was buzzing with activity. Hundreds of volunteers everywhere and queues starting for body marking. There was a team of volunteers for cleaning my arms and then another team for applying my race number before I finally headed off to the bike to put my nutrition on.
I was slightly stressed the day before as I had left my bike shoes on the bike and there had been a torrential rain storm the afternoon before. Fortunately, I managed to dry them out using the extra pair of socks I brought along by putting them on and stepping into the shoes to ensure the insides were sufficiently dry. I did not want a DNF (did not finish) due to blisters as I’ve trained long and hard for this.
I checked my tyres and as they had sufficient pressure, I did not add more into it as I did not want to accidentally damage a valve or over-inflate them at the final hour. After adding my hydration, I headed off to find my way round to the start, and realised that I was allowed supervised access to my bike/run. We had been told we were not allowed to access the bike & run bags on race day so this was a bonus as I had forgotten to put my bike socks in the bike bag; so in it went!
This year is the first time the race did not have a mass deep water start. Instead, athletes were put into age group deep water start waves and started 5 minutes apart. My wave was the last to go at 7.30am so I had plenty time to soak up the atmosphere and even stand on the sea wall to see the pro athletes start. I wasn’t nervous even though this was a non-wetsuit race as I had a full training swim in my new swim skins the week before.
Once the pro race started at 6.30am, the time went fairly quickly and before I knew it I had to get back into the starters chute. Before I entered the water the first male pro athletes were already coming out. Josh Amberger was on his bike as I was still waiting for my race start! We swam out to the start buoy and spread ourselves out across the line. There was a current and soon we were all bunched around the nearside buoy. The water was fairly choppy. Not at all like the conditions of the previous few days when I did the training swims.
The air horn blew and we were off. I was getting battered on both sides, it was hard to find a pair of feet to get onto so I concentrated on my stroke and gradually I was swimming my way through the wave that started in front of me. I was not sure how well I was doing but I felt good and kept a lookout for the Body Glove boat as that marked the end of the out loop. Once we got to the boat, it was a little manic getting around it but less so than most races I’ve done. We swam passed the boat, round another buoy and soon we were heading back to shore. On the way back, I noticed that we were also swimming pass some of the slower swimmers from the wave 5 and 10 minutes ahead of us. I could tell as we were allocated different coloured swim caps for each wave. I drafted the swimmers ahead when I could and tried to stay focussed on taking as tight a line down the buoys and to the finish as possible. I got out the swim in 1:18 although I did not know that at that time; exactly the same as my training swim.
Reasonably quick transition to the bike and off I went. I heard Linda shout my name as I was mounting my bike and gave her a smile and wave before heading off. The route around town was quick, before I knew it I was up Palani Hill (not a hill to worry about despite all the hype) and soon I was out on the Queen K Highway. The trouble with starting at the back is that you have very few people to pace yourself with, absolutely no need to worry about drafting penalties. I was passing quite a few cyclists all the way to Hawi; and similarly, poor swimmers who were super bikers were passing me. My friend Richard who was also racing in the same wave passed me halfway between the Queen K and Hawi. He did not see me and looked like a man on a mission. I found out later that he had a mechanical issue with his bike so he was just focussed on clawing back some time.
The turnaround point at Hawi came and went. I stopped for quick pee in the portaloo and then headed off again towards town. PS: Most triathletes pee themselves on the bike in order to save time but I didn’t want to risk pee running down into my bike shoes and having to wear socks socked in pee all day long.
The wind started to pick up as soon as I left the sheltered village of Hawi into the more exposed roads towards the Queen K. As I train a lot in Lanzarote I was really comfortable with the cross winds and my bike handling skills meant I was passing cyclists slowing down and obviously struggling a bit with the conditions. There were hardly any supporters on the route and very few cyclists in sight. Once I hit the Queen K, I could feel the full force of the headwind, I tucked myself into as aero position as I could and worked my back to town. I kept on top of my nutrition well but after about 5 hours I started to feel cramps in my left quad and then my right quad another five minutes later. I still had about 30 miles to go at this point so I eased off the pedals, spun my legs to try and freshen them up which seemed to work. I was looking at a 5.30 hour ride before but realised it was no longer possible in those conditions. As I turned off the Queen K highway an made my way back to transition I started to prepare myself mentally for the run ahead. Linda was waiting at the last turn around point to take some pictures. I was glad to get off my bike in 6 hours 11 mins knowing that I would finish this race.
Transition was full of bikes, loads of people on the run already which is a bit demoralising but given my start was much later there is not much you can do about it but just carry on. The first six miles the streets were filled with supporters as we ran around town, up and down the famous Ali’i drive. The heat was intense and you could see athletes suffering but I was feeling okay and putting in a half decent pace, running and only walking at aid stations. After six miles you hit Palani Hill. I walked up the hill to save my legs. I said hi to Matty and Dawn who were supporting Richard and gave Linda a kiss before hitting the long road out to the Energy Lab. As I rounded up the top of Palani Hill and hit the Queen K, I felt the full effect of the sun and heat and total absence of any shade. It was hotter than Lanzarote conditions but I was doing fine on the first mile on the Queen K before I felt the effects.
The route along the highway is long and you could see runners for as long as the eye could see. It felt like a long steady uphill climb and I slogged it out just running from aid station to aid station. Finally, I saw the entrance to the Energy Lab which I knew was going to be a fast three miles downhill. I had run it in training and I felt good all the way in to the turn around point. Coming out I knew it was going to be a slog but I found a pair of feet to follow and just hung on to the end. The sun was starting to set at this point. I was offered a glow stick which I put round my cap. There were still loads of runners coming towards me as passed the 19 mile marker and stepped out of the Energy Lab back onto the Queen K.
Once on the Queen K heading back to town, I was determined to get back as quickly as I could. I started to pick up my pace and skip every other aid station and focussed on getting to the next mile marker and back to the top of Palani Hill. I passed a number of runners along the way but soon it was totally dark and I found myself running along a white line and was surprised to see quick a few glow sticks heading towards me and towards the Energy Lab. At one point I dropped my glow stick and was staring at it for a couple of seconds trying to figure out how to pick it up. I eventually gave up and ran on.
My body was tired but I was on a mission get home. I continued running, occasionally passing other runners and trying to keep pace with anyone that passed me. Eventually, I could see the bright lights of Kailua-Kona and start to hear the music from the top of Palani Hill. I was almost there. I ran and I ran. I was down Palani Hill and knowing I just a little loop to go spurred me on. Soon I was down the finishers chute, high fiving supporters along the way in and just enjoying the atmosphere. I ran through the chute just behind Ken Glah, a man who has completed this race 36 times. I did not know what time I was on for but Linda told me at the end she was willing me to a sub 12 finish.
Mike Reilly called me over the finish line and my time flashed up as 11 hours 59 minutes and 09 seconds, only 51 seconds to spare!
After years of training and completing 16 ironman races, it was the best feeling to cross that finish line. I’ve dreamed of doing this race for the last 27 years and it was a dream come true! A finisher towel was placed around my shoulders and then I had two volunteers take me to the rest area where there was a medal collection area and an area where we could eat and rest.
I hit the food first of course but quickly realised that I could not stomach anything. I had two glasses of water and then proceeded to collect my medal. I was out of transition with my bike and bags within about 20 mins of crossing the line as they were not serving any beer and I badly needed one.
I completed the race in in 237 position out of 307 in my age group, and an overall position of 1585 out of 2446. The race was everything I had hoped for and more. And not having to return all the stuff I had bought from the Ironman Store was a huge bonus! I would love to have the opportunity to do this race again, but I will have to train harder the next time in order to qualify on time!
It’s nearly 10 days after the race and I’m still wearing my Kona Athlete Band. I’m not sure when I’ll be taking it off but before I finish, I would like to say that as cheesy as you may think it is the Ironman motto Anything Is Possible is true. You only have to want and dream it enough to make it a reality. During this race, I ran passed a girl running with one bladed foot. Yeah, she was ahead of me for most of the day. There was also a double leg amputee that finished the race as well. Incredible. if he can do it, so can you!
Dream big. Start small.