This blog is written by Alan Scott, its part four of four describing his 2015 Hawaii Ironman experiences and lessons learnt. Hopefully it will prove entertaining and perhaps useful to anyone aspiring to go to Kona or simply complete an Ironman
The scene that met me in transition felt a bit like a field hospital – bodies littered the place, helpers running from person to person, athletes barking instructions and the overwhelming odor of piss and sweat. So nothing unusual for an Ironman T2 tent. I hurriedly popped on some compression calve guards which I find helps stave of cramp and stripped my speed suit to the waist putting a string vest on. (It’s a craft cycling base layer, its incredibly breathable and weighs next to nothing). The only down side to this cooling garment is when wet I would be a strong contender in any wet T-Shirt contest.
After a hasty exit from the tent I was greeted by a wall of heat. It was roughly 1pm and Kona was turned up to 11. As I ran away from transition I kept expecting to feel a slight breeze or some kind of temporary relief however nothing came – the heats intensity was suffocating and relentless. With the prospect of 42.2 kilometers of this ahead I reminded myself of something that many pros discuss when training and racing – Gwen Jorgensen is one who in particular expounds this mantra: “Racing is a process”. The idea is to treat each part of the race as a process; execute what you have done in training and the race will unfold for you. Don’t worry about positions or results, focus on processes that you can control. So with that in mind – keep running cadence at 180, maintain form, heart rate below 155 as much as possible and use the aid stations to your advantage. The aid stations were the athlete’s oasis where one could, rest, re-hydrate, fuel and cool. In my research I had discovered that many pro’s such as Jan Frodeno will actually walk though many of the aid stations in order to give the legs the briefest of respite as well as ensure that cooling and fueling is done correctly, something crucial in really hot conditions.
As a result I had trained my long runs with brief walk stops and planned to carry out this strategy at the aid stations. Added to that Ironman in Frankfurt in July had been 40 degrees during the marathon so I knew what to expect; keeping body temperature down while taking on fuel was crucial as the run progressed.
The marathon section at the Ironman World Championships is really broken down into to two parts. There is the initial out and back 10 miles which takes you along Alii Drive on the coast for 5 miles until you hit a turnaround point and run back on yourself. The second part is along the Queen K highway and into the Energy Lab – more on that later. After cresting the initial hill and passing my family and girlfriend who all seemed to be suffering in the heat I knuckled down to the strategy – cadence, form, heart rate and aid stations. All of this should give me a rough speed of 4.30 kilometer pace. This I expected to slow a little as the race progressed however it was another bit of info that I could keep tabs on. I also had some extra motivation in front of me in the form of club mates. It was by no means a plan to race them, however having carrots to aim for helps with motivation. Often during these types of endurance events any little mind tricks or strategy/incentive can help.
It was pretty soon that I came across Graeme my first club mate; nutrition on the bike had been an issue as vomiting on the bike had caused a big calorie deficit and now he was suffering. It really sucks when you see a friend who is struggling and you feel powerless to help. My words of support as I passed him seemed hollow, but he is a tough Kiwi bugger so I knew he would hang in. With about a 500m to the 5 mile turn around point I then saw Hamish running towards me, he seemed to be faring a little better.
The plan for nutrition on the run was electrolyte drink at one aid station and a Gu gel with water at the next. I planned to take on about 3 gels during the first 25-30k and then switch to Coke to see out the race. This, of course, is easier said than done, as taking on fuel in hot conditions can be tough – there is very little blood in the stomach as it is busy flowing around your muscles trying to keep you cool. However I was not overly concerned about *bonking – I was confident that I still had plenty of glycogen left in my liver and muscles, so provided I could take on nutrition in the first half of the run I should be fine to finish. I also was also conscious of not drinking too much. This may seem strange however hyponatremia is a genuine issue with hot races in particular – someone died from this at the Frankfurt IM. Because you are so hot you want to gulp down cold water by the bucket load to quench your thirst and to cool down. However too much liquid is a bad thing and I did find that in Frankfurt I got a little bloated during part of the run, so it is a fine balance to strike.
At 8 miles Ispotted Hamish in front and gradually closed up to him. We had a brief chat, bitching about the heat, and I pushed on. Hamish had only been in Hawaii a few days and was really the feeling the heat and all things considered was coping well. I felt a little deflated after passing Hamish and found the next few miles the toughest part of the race. I had no friends up ahead to aim for and was only 10 miles in. Added to this I was starting the climb up Palani Hill which is a pretty steep 500m climb onto the Queen K. This was tough, really tough. Everyone will have a low point in the race, this was mine. 16 miles still to go, arguably the toughest section of the race to come (the energy lab), I was digging deep. Cresting the hill I tried to get my heavy legs back up to their cadence while simultaneously lowering my heart rate a little by relaxing into my stride – running never felt so tough. Fortunately this passed after a few minutes and my spirits were lifted by the Erdinger support crew blasting out some top tunes which really had a big impact on me. It’s amazing what a bit of Kenny Logins: Danger Zone can do for morale. The music came at the perfect time and I smiled as I passed the guys and felt a little strength returning. It was also at this point that the top pros started running back towards me. This is one of the great aspects of Ironman racing; you are in the same race as the world’s best and sharing in their experiences. Cheering them on seeing their determination as I ran the same course really inspired me to push on!
Running out the 6 miles or so to the start of the energy lab was hot work however by then I had found a rhythm and my energy levels felt good. I am lucky, running is my strongest leg and I was buoyed by the fact that I was constantly passing folk, a great motivator! The heat did not seem to be getting any worse so provided I went through my icing/cooling routine (ice in the cap, down the pants, down the top and ice cold sponges on the shoulders under my vest) at each stop I could maintain a steady rhythm. Having this routine and break at each aid station really helps to break up the marathon in to small bite-size sections and make the whole thing much more manageable. Even hitting the notorious Energy Lab seemed ok, there was even a little wind and a touch of cloud covering the sun at points which made all the difference. When it’s that hot you will take any kind of respite in any form. At the turn around point of the energy lab it was homewards bound and again I took a huge positive, as every step was one step closer to the finish!! By now I had switched to iced Coke on the run as my stomach, as expected, had shut up shop by about mile 16 for everything except for Coke and water. Coke contains high fructose corn syrup, fructose is a sugar that gets alarmingly fast into the blood stream. It’s something to be avoided in 99% of life situations however at the business end of an Ironman it is acceptable. You are grateful for any kind of boost, especially if it’s laced with a bit of caffeine! All of this helped to make the last 10 miles of the Ironman surprisingly bearable and although my pace dropped off a little, I ran strong, feeling good and attempting to take in the day as it unfolded around me. After getting back onto the Queen K from the Energy Lab it was the case of counting down the miles and kilometers. I broke the race down to a 5 mile run, then a 5k run, then 3k before finally a mile. Before you know it you are back at Palani Hill and the crowds.
In the final kilometer of the race you head down another small hill which joins back onto Ali Drive. Its then the noise really starts to hit you as the crowds build. By the time you ‘hanga’ right onto Ali Drive it’s a mass of cheering smiling faces and no matter how you feel I defy anyone not to gain the spring back into their stride. It felt a bit as if I was a Tour De France rider ridding through the walls of crazy supporters. The hairs lifts on the back of your neck, chest pumps out, I loved every second of that last 400m. Then finally as you hit the finish chute you hear the legend that is *Mike Reilly echo the immortal, if not a little cheesy words, “You are an Ironman!!”
It’s hard not to introduce too much emotion when recounting the run leg. You’re laying down all the hard work you’ve done, testing your mental toughness, all against the world’s best. Getting to Kona is a long journey, one that for 99% of us starts years before when we do our first triathlon. This eventually leads to our first Ironman, only then do you fully appreciate the enormity of task lying ahead, knowing what you’re going to have to do to actually qualify. Finally after years more training, improving, sometimes failing and always learning will you perhaps be lucky enough to experience The Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
If you are reading this and aspire to qualify for Kona then depending on what level you’re currently at it might be a long journey. That is not to say it wont be a lot of fun along the way. Ironman racing is about gradually improving your fitness, racing smart, learning how to maximize every aspect of your training, racing, nutrition, recovery and equipment #MarginalGains. All this will help you develop year on year so if you do finally make it to Kona and cross the finish line your achievement will feel that much more special!*Bonking: In endurance sports such as cycling and running, hitting the wall or the bonk describes a condition caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, which manifests itself by sudden fatigue and loss of energy
*Mike Reilly: Known as the Voice of IRONMAN, Reilly has arguably become the most loved public figure associated with the sport. To some athletes, hearing Reilly say those four, iconic words is just about as important as making it to the finish line. When his voice booms, “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” over that microphone, lifelong dreams are realized. Originally from: http://www.ironman.com/triathlon-news/articles/2012/07/mike-reilly-24-years-of-bringing-in-the-best.aspx#ixzz434mEakhu
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