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OLT's Hawaii Report

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The Ironman Triathlon World Championship is about more than the distance and topography of the course that snakes up and down Hawaii’s Kona Coast. It is about the wind and heat and the sheer unpredictability of both, it is about the mythology surrounding the race, the history of the Big Island and the lava fields though which the athletes pass.


Having raced in Kona in 2002 on what was a windy and brutally hot day I thought I had some idea of how bad it could get when the forces of nature combined to give everyone a taste of ‘classic Hawaii’ conditions. The 2004 Hawaii Ironman taught 1730 athletes a lesson in respect for mother nature with almost 10% of the field unable to finish – a record number of incomplete days and broken dreams.


I seem to be a magnet for tough conditions and it feels like have spent my short Ironman career carefully selecting the tough editions of every race I have entered. The exception was this years Ironman Oz where bike mechanicals allowed me the privilege of spending a half hour on the side of the road watching hundreds of others whiz past in near-perfect conditions.


It seemed therefore strange that I should be lining up for rego in what felt like near-perfect conditions behind the King Kam Hotel on October 16. The morning was cool, warm and calm. A light breeze off the ocean was all that moved the tents and the swim course moved more from boat activity than any visible current.


At 6:45am the pro’s got off 15 minutes before us and the ensuing delay in getting the remaining 1600 competitors into the water led to some confusion ending with many off us being told to jump straight from the pier onto the start line. In a light-hearted moment, I did a bomb of the pier but the humour was clearly lost on most of faces around me, already drawn into battle readiness or fear of what lay ahead.


The canon boomed and we were off in the mish-mash that is the swim start. The start confusion led to a fairly physical start and the first 200m felt like a round with Mike Tyson more than a triathlon with a lot of pretty edgy swimmers in the mix. In these situations I am happy to capitulate and give up ground, happier to go a minute slower than get a black eye or broken rib, I just looked around for some feet to chase.


After the rough start the remainder of the 3.8km swim was pretty good besides an area of choppy waves on the return trip and another section of biffo as all of the swimmers came together for the final 100m before the exit ramp. As always, it was good to get out and make the run through the new long transition out to the end of the pier.


On to the bike and we headed through a hilly, circuitous and congested 10km route through town and up Palani Road before starting the trip to Hawi on the famous Queen K Highway. If you are reading this then you have probably already heard of the windy hell ride that was the bike course of Hawaii 2004. In truth, in a lifetime of cycling and 7 Ironmans I have never done a 180km ride in such tough conditions.


We hit the first proper headwinds as the road stepped slowly out past the Airport. This early resistance built into a solid blast that kept a constant requirement on all riders and meant that you really needed to keep pedaling even downhill to keep up any appreciable speed.


The windy conditions made drafting a tempting option for many and the draftbusters were like mosquitoes in a blood bank, not needing to look very far for their next prey. The red striped race numbers of the infringing parties were de rigueur out on the Queen K, many of them still cursing like sufferers of Tourettes Syndrome. Personally, I thought the officials were doing a good job and it was pleasing to see the blatant infringers get nailed with increasing regularity.


After the 50km of headwind on the Queen K we turned upward towards Hawi and entered area where the trade winds rip around the top of the Island causing gusty sidewinds to keep everyone off their aero-bars and gripping on for safety.


This section is primarily climbing so the speeds are lower but some of the smaller riders were really getting hammered and pushed around a lot. I started passing many of the pro women like last years winner, Lori Bowden, who was looking pretty nailed, these girls all weigh under 60kg soaking wet so there is less keeping them on the ground in such volatile conditions.


Returning after the turnaround at Hawi gave us a short lived section of tailwind with gusting sidewinds added for entertainment value. While cranking on the down-hill sections at 65-70kph it was a case of balancing the desire for speed versus staying on the road.


Turning back onto the Queen K at Kawaihi for the final 50km home it was clear that everyone expected the tailwind home after battling so much headwind on this section on the way out. Sadly, the wind had gone a full 180 degrees and we were faced with more headwind and a slow ride home.


I enjoyed this part of the race the best and really felt good for the whole bike having ridden conservatively until this point. The remainder of the ride I rode faster than anyone I saw and was in a constant state of catching and passing some pretty tired riders which is a motivating state.


Coming home back to Kona after my longest IM bike split ever was partly a relief but I felt great and it was good to see the crowds again after the barren lava fields. Transition was a bit slow with a toilet stop that never seemed to end but soon enough I was out jogging past the crowds again.


Early in the run I saw Peter Reid looking sharp and Macca following 200m back looking pretty cooked (he pulled the pin a mile later). I also got a boost from seeing my wife Tiffany and baby daughter Kristin along with a huge Aussie supporter contingent in the shade of Hulalai Street.


The first hour on the run was typical Hawaii heat and humidity and I kept up a routine at each aid station of taking a water, a Gatorade, a cup ice on the head and 2 cold sponges with another cup of water for the road. I ended up running with Shane Gibbs, another Aussie who was running as slow as me, the company was good and light hearted and as my pace occasionally slowed, having Shane there would pick me up.


After passing the Aussie cheer squad again an hour later we came to the steep uphill of Palani Road which sits around the 16km mark. I had secretly been promising myself a walk up Palani for the prior 10 minutes but Shane kept running so I felt morally obliged to do the same. Once I caught him again on the Queen K I told him that if you ran Palani Road you were required to run the entire marathon so we came to an agreement to whack each other around the head if either of us tried to walk.


As we ran out towards the Energy Lab, the clouds started to move in and took some of the edge off the heat that had been so evident in the first hour of the run. I struggled with some tummy discomfort and dropped off Shane a few times but always managed to come back but just before the Energy Lab he hit a slow patch and told me to go on ahead, I figured he would catch me again anyway and departed with another Aussie.


Running down into the Energy Lab, I was passed by the fleet footsteps of Aussie Ultra-runner Dave Criniti who was bouncing along after what must have been a long day on the bike. During the down and back of the Lab I also saw many of the other Aussies from the Tri Travel group and was amazed to see how close we all were.


Ultimately, the run course was tough but not as tough as I had expected. After the first hour where the heat really cranked, for the remainder of the run the clouds came and went offering some relief and welcome change from the persecution we had all felt on the bike. The final 10km were a consistent 5min/km and I probably felt as good as I ever have in the latter stages of an Ironman, I simply lacked any appreciable leg speed in the run.


The finish line on Alii drive was magical and is in now way diluted the second time around. I picked up my young daughter Kristin and just walked the last 50m with her in my arms thanking the crowd for their support. Mike Rielly’s voice boomed over the speakers and Kristin started pointing at herself on the massive screen at the finish which got the crowd going mad again.


A huge day that kept going and going, friends in medical, others just happy to be there and many family and friends clearly touched by the insanity and magic of Ironman. It is incredible just standing at the finish line marveling at the endurance of the human body and spirit.


I started to fade later in the night but got my last bonus by seeing Aussie legend Bob Southwell come home in a record time at the tender age of 75. Thus ended a day that can only be summed up as ‘pleasure and pain’ on an Island that can be beautiful and brutal at the same time.


Thank you Kona, til next time.



Edited by onlinetriathlon
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Yes ,great report. Nice race, well paced.


Know what, given those conditions I would have put money that Tracey R.(IronmanCF) would have gone outside the cut-off, yet she was well inside. Makes hers a remarkable performance.

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Know what, given those conditions I would have put money that Tracey R.(IronmanCF) would have gone outside the cut-off, yet she was well inside. Makes hers a remarkable performance.

Tracey was the only NZ IMNZ competitor to go faster (by close to half an hour) than her time at IMNZ.


Great report OLT, on what was a tough, tough day.



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Well done OLT. One of the few reports I have read where the athlete maximised hi/her fitness in dreadful conditions. You had a conservative plan and stuck to it - very professional. Nothwithstanding how uncomfortable you would have felt at times during the race, it does provide a contrast to the fear emanating from many other reports.






PS Can I just ask, do you manage to squeeze two spare (tubular) tyres into your rear Profile Design bottle cage or just the one?

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... draftbusters were like mosquitoes in a blood bank, not needing to look very far for their next prey. The red striped race numbers of the infringing parties were de rigueur out on the Queen K, many of them still cursing like sufferers of Tourettes Syndrome.

Well done OLT, sounds like you had a good race and your report was a good read.

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Did having the pro women 15min ahead make any difference to the faster AG Men? Eg Were they going a little quicker, trying to reel them in.

Don't think it changed any of the AGers races but it certainly made the Pro women work a lot harder in the first hour or so before they had wheels to sit on. I won't get into my stance on pro women and drafting but needless to say Fernanda Keller was a shocker and sat on a wheel for the entire time I saw her in the final 15km.


Obviously the womens times were slower than previous years but it is interesting to see how the order changed with the new rules. I would also suggest that many of the pro men who normally get towed back to the front by strong AGers after slower swims really suffered as a result of the 15 minute rule.


PS Can I just ask, do you manage to squeeze two spare (tubular) tyres into your rear Profile Design bottle cage or just the one?

Actually, I had one in a cut bottle in the cage and a second one attached by velcro straps, but I can get two in one cage if required.

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