In my first time racing Kona (a very loose use of the term, completing would be a more honest description) I was in the best run shape I’d ever been in yet I had one of my worst Ironman run performances. It would be all too easy to blame the heat and wind and humidity and difficult conditions but in all honesty the cause lay in the previous two months training. Read on for more…
In 2012 had qualified in IMUK in August with a solid bike and ok/run performance and decided that it was the run I needed to improve for Kona. I was both right and wrong but I wouldn’t discover my mistake until it was too late. I assumed that maintenance on the bike would be good enough if I put a big emphasis on my run. I looked at the bike course profile of Kona and thought that it didn’t look too bad. What I hugely underestimated was the effect the conditions would have on my race performance. I arrived in Hawaii in the best run shape I’d ever been in ready to have a strong performance. I didn’t have any illusions about my position in the pecking order in Kona, I was here for the first time to enjoy the experience but I also didn’t want to embarrass myself.
In talking to some of the most successful Ironman athletes Ireland has produced they almost all rate a strong run as being a key factor in their success and in Kona that year and the next I watched a bunch of Irish athletes who have little experience living in 40 degrees and 90% humidity managed to pull off incredibly strong runs.
I went well for the first half of the bike getting to the half way point in just over 2.5 hours leading me to believe a bike split of just over 5 hours was on the cards. I was about to have one of the most humbling experiences of my life. The wind down from the turn around point at Hawi really picked up and seemed to be gusting from all directions and control on the descent was difficult but it was only when I hit the Queen K on the way back that reality really struck home. I was struggling to hold the pace going downhill on the long drags and loosing places constantly. The wind was savage and constant and unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It took almost 50 minutes more to get back to T2 and I constantly dropped down the field despite pushing hard all the way. I was so relieved to eventually got off the bike and start the run but my legs were very, very heavy at the start. It took a couple of k’s to get moving properly but by the time I ran out and back Ali’i drive to start the long 16 mile portion on the Queen K I felt pretty good. It wasn’t to last though and I was soon walking aid stations and eventually walk/running most of the way to the finish.
This despite the fact that I went into Kona with the best run legs I’d ever had. How could it have gone so badly wrong? It would be all to easy to blame the conditions but the reality is I made a bad error in focusing on the run at the expense of the bike. Ironman and Kona in particular is a devastatingly hard bike course and it’s crucial to be strong enough that you can get through the bike in good enough shape that you can then use your run. If you’ve fried your legs like I did that time then having a run as your weapon wont work. You just wont be able to use it.
Balancing run and bike training in such a way that you are a strong enough biker that you can get through the bike section without having used up all of your bullets. Being strong for Ironman is crucial and much more important than being fast. Making sure that your training is correctly focused not only on your strengths and weaknesses but also on the course that you are going to race on is critical. If you are racing an Ironman or 70.3 that has a brutally hard bike course then you’d better be sure your bike legs are up to scratch or not only your bike split but also your run will suffer.
I have written a report examining how 5 of the most successful Irish Ironman triathletes have qualified for Kona an incredible 29 times. You can access it free here.
Please feel free to share this article.