Had an awesome time doing the Ironman 70.3 Hawai’i race a little over a week ago and wanted to share some of the experience with you.
Event: Ironman Hawai’i 70.3 (nicknamed “Honu”)
Date: June 1, 2013
Swim Start: Hapuna Beach, Kohala coast of the Big Island
First off, for those who don’t know, this is a “half-Ironman”, or a 70.3 meaning 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.2 mile run. Full IM races are double that distance. We had about 1,700 athletes start the race.
5:00 AM – wake up! We stayed at a hotel at the north end of the swim course so I would have an easy time getting to the race start, and not have to worry about parking or shuttles. Starting to get light already and I can see a couple of the swim buoys out my window.
I start eating Bonk Breakers (overpriced energy bars) and drinking Gatorade to get energy stored up for the long day. A little bit of coffee to go with that as well.
5:20 AM – Double check my equipment bags (one for my swim, the other for my bike to swim transition) and force down more food and drink.
5:45 AM – Get some sunscreen from Kirsten, hugs and kisses from everyone and head over to my bike to prepare it for the day.
6:00 AM – Inflate my tires fully, stick water bottles on the bike, final bike inspection, check that gears are correct for the hill I start on.
6:25 AM – Say hi to the kids and Kir (they came over to the transition area), and hand over a bag of things I don’t need. Eat a final energy gel and drink then head down to the beach.
6:35 AM – Beautiful day at the beach. Calm water – a wonderful day to race! Work on body position and float in the water for a couple minutes, but decided not to do warmup swim.
6:45 AM – Hawaiian state song and national anthem. About 1,500 of us competing all crowded into one little part of the beach. It was really emotional for me, as I pondered the gift of my time on the island and this opportunity to do an IM-series race on Hawaii.
6:50 AM – The pros are off, and all the age-group men file into the water for the start
6:53 AM – The cannon fires and we’re off. I waited about 45 seconds or a minute just to let the faster swimmers clear out. The far right of the course actually goes into pretty shallow water and I see about 50 people actually walking the swim. Cheaters! 🙂 I fill in around the middle and head out on the course, which is roughly an elongated rectangle.
Swim: 15 min: Everything going well – a slight bit of bumping here and there, but I’m relaxed and happy. Then I get a water patrol person hollering at me. Turns out I was headed to the wrong buoy at the far end, so I have to veer right to go around the first buoy before heading to the second. Probably added 4 to 5 min of extra swim
Swim: 20 min – all bunched up around the turn buoys. You essentially have to dog paddle for about 100 feet due to the bunching up. The women started 7 min after the min and many of them are hitting the buoy at the same time as me. Getting back on track
Swim: 30 min – look like I’m a little wide on the backstretch, which is actually kind of nice because there are only a few swimmers around me. Just passed one guy – take that!
Swim: 40 min – wind chop picks up and I occasionally get to suck down a slug of seawater. Nothing to throw me off in a big way, though, but the burn of the water isn’t fun.
Swim: 50 min – Headed into the home stretch. Seems to take quite a while, but there’s some nice coral on the bottom and I know I have plenty of time. (If you don’t finish in 1:15 or less, you get “swept” and don’t get to continue on in the race).
Swim Exit: 1:03 – woohoo, I did it and feel great! Grab a quick shower at the beach and head up the hill to bike transition.
Transition 1 (T1): This worked out to be really slow for me. Took me 14 minutes from exiting the beach to exiting the bike. The pros do it in about 2 min while age groupers like me are typically 6 to 10 minutes. I had practiced sport to sport transitions in training, but never with the full gear and considerations of a race. Double and triple checked against my checklist and finally got out of there. On the plus side, my HR had come down nicely and I didn’t overlook anything.
Bike Course: South about 4 miles to Mauna Lani turnoff, then back north, weaving up to Hawi, before returning to Mauna Lani.
Bike Strategy: Follow my heart rate monitor (HRM) and go right at my aerobic zone max for the whole race, which for me is about 142. Also, eat and drink regularly to make sure my hydration and nutrition are banked for the run. Even the back end of the bike can be rough if you’re depleted, and it’s almost impossible to catch up.
Out on the Queen K highway, I got the Kohala winds that are part of the Ironman legend. Crosswinds of about 20-30 mph regularly and a couple gusts near 40. Early on in the bike I was passing a number of people, then settled into a pack of 8-10 that I would hang with the entire race. You can’t draft in Ironman, so it was really a collection of familiar faces spread out over half a mile or so and we’d take turns passing each other depending on uphills, downhills, aid stations, etc.
About 8 miles in, I noticed that my speed was a little off from what I expected. Wasn’t sure if that was due simply to the swim preceding it, the winds, or a mechanical issue. I’d had a new derailleur put on that week and it was a little noisy on my big cog. Don’t think that was the issue, but who knows.
After another 20 minutes, I hit the turn at Kawaihae and headed up to Hawi. This is probably my favorite stretch of the ride because you’re not going fast while starting the ascent and can admire the ocean a bit.
Again, I had to ride lower gears than expected, but otherwise felt good out there. At the 20 mile aid station I added a bit of air to my tires, which seemed to perk up my bike a bit, but I’m starting to realize that it’s just me that’s slow.
Mile 23-30: 7 mile climb of about 800 feet to Hawi. Frankly, the hill isn’t that bad, but what was hard was the stiff headwind the last 3 to 4 miles. Instead of a normal 17-18 mph, I’m down to about 8. So is everyone else, though. In theory, the tailwind benefits you coming back, but because it’s downhill, your gears max out and can only move you so fast.
At the Hawi turnaround, I restocked my food, took a little potty break and got excited to fly back down the mountain. Even with the breaks from the aid station and the descent, I could tell my legs were a little short of their normal energy.
Fairly uneventful descent until I got to within about 10 min of Kawaihae and my feet started to get really sore. That’s pretty typical for me – about every 45 min to an hour my feet swell up and it helps to get off the bike for a minute. This time they just get getting sore. By the time I was 30 min out from transition, I was already at the time I’d expected for the full race, my feet hurt, and my hamstrings were both starting to bark pretty good.
Going up the 2 mile hill from Kawaihae to Queen K I saw about 5 people walking their bikes. I was getting tired and sore, but it’s always nice to see that going on and think “well, at least I’m not doing that bad!”
Once on Queen K’s rolling hills, I backed off to about 135 bpm mostly because it was painful to push full bore, not because of energy levels. Felt good otherwise, just sore. I rarely look forward to ending a session, but I was REALLY looking forward to T2.
T2: 4 hours later, here I am! Again, I’m one of the last so it was easy to spot Kirsten and the kids. Kir was worried about me since I’d been so slow and there’s a long stretch in the middle of the race where you don’t get splits on the racers. I was a little concerned about my feet and hamstrings affecting the run, but both were ok once I got out of my bike shoes. Again, my transition was kind of leisurely, but I knew I had about 3 hrs to complete the run, which was plenty if I ran my race, but not if I messed something up.
Run Course: It’s half on roads, half going through a golf course near the resort, mixed back and forth between them throughout. Miles 10-13 go out on this service road that is supposed to be quite hot. At mid-day, the sun can be brutal no matter where you are.
Run Strategy: First off, pray for clouds (no luck there!). Again, my plan was to run to my HR (150 for the run), avoid any spikes/overheating, and stay hydrated and fed. There are aid stations every mile and I was to drink Gatorade and water at each, eat at every other station, and add ice to my hat at every station. Eating at this point pretty much means the gels. Solid food wouldn’t be fun. I planned to run the entire time, except for the aid stations and any of the hills on the golf course that could spike my HR
Right out of T2, I felt great and saw that 90% of people were walking. I passed several people the first mile and that never stopped throughout. Clocked my first mile around 11:00 and that turned out to be my same pace throughout. Aid stations usually added about 1 minute per mile.
The further I got into the race, the more people I saw as I caught up to the rest of the field. About 3 miles in, I was feeling pretty good and was curious about whether I could hold it for the whole race or if something would eventually give. On parts of the golf course, I could see the ocean and really got emotional both about what a gift it is to do this race, but also about saying farewell to my beloved island. Then I got a big smile on my face and trucked on.
Around mile 5, people were looking pretty rough. On the golf course sections, the long line of haggard people stretched out into the distance looked like refugees fleeing oppression. Still feeling strong and passing something like 10 people per mile is really motivating for continuing.
At mile 7 it was nice to be over halfway. This is were some temptation also hit. Had a moment of fatigue, but realized that if I walked, I’d probably never run again. Also, they hadn’t announced that Coke would be on the course. It really looked tempting, but I was doing well and hadn’t trained with it, so I laid off. Did take a bite of a peanut butter sandwich at an aid station – it was really nice to get a tiny bit of substance. Ooh, I’m such a glutton!
At mile 9, I reached my longest run I’d trained, so beyond this was uncharted territory. Still, feeling good and staying to the plan. Drinking the sport drink has gotten REALLY old, but I’m sticking to what’s working. Also, my shoes were super-soggy due to meltwater, plus at one aid station, I held my hat over my foot and when the ice got dumped in, the water went thru the cap and deluged my shoe. Still, no significant pain or blisters – just had to hope that would continue.
People were really beaten on the service road. It’s long, hot, and is extends out of sight in one stretch, so you feel like you could be walking forever. I knew it couldn’t be too far, but it did seem kind of eternal at one point. Once you hit the turnaround out there, it’s slightly uphill coming back and you’re just looking forward to hitting the golf course for the last mile in.
Once I hit mile 12, a few of the zombies reanimated and started to run again. I hadn’t been passed since mile 3, but all of the sudden got passed 2 or 3 times in the final mile.
As you get close to the finish you can hear the race announcer calling the finisher names and it gets very exciting. Still, I was really conservative in keeping my pace and even getting ice at the last aid station, only 1/4 mile from the finish. People can collapse just short and I was taking no chances.
Finally came down the finish chute and saw Kirsten and the kids. Success!! Felt great crossing the finish and went to the side to give some love to the fam. They were all so excited for me and gave me hugs, even though I was quite disgusting.
After the race, I mostly hung out in the shade and took in water, and just enjoyed the energy of the experience. There were food and shade tents over the lawn and finishers were still coming in. Finally went to get my finisher t-shirt and also found I got a medal. Not just a medal, but the coolest medal I’ve ever seen, apart from the Olympics. Gorgeous Honu design and really heavy. Hey, maybe it was worth doing this after all!
Finally, it was time to go and it was pretty sad. Been looking forward to this race for months and now it was over and that meant it was time to face leaving Hawaii as well. Still, I can’t imagine a better way to cap off my 2 years here. The chance to do an Ironman branded race in Hawaii was just incredible and it was really fantastic doing in partnership with Kirsten. She accommodated all my training, gave me massages when needed along the way, and was the catalyst for signing up in the first place.
Recovery went pretty well. Took about a day and a half to feel like my hydration and electrolytes were back to normal and I had sore, tight quads that made stairs tough for a few days. Other than that, I felt great and as I write this one week later, I feel normal. I’m so grateful for all that’s gone right.
Had a lot of questions about doing it again or doing a full Ironman. Short answer is that I’d love to, but the training is an awfully big commitment. With the move to Thailand upcoming, I’ll probably have to take a break for a while. Still, I’m already rehashing the race and thinking about how to do better the next time around. I’ve got the bug and just need to find the right circumstances to go at it again.
Thanks to everyone who made it possible.
- Kirsten and the kids for dealing with my training schedule and preoccupied brain
- Family and friends for all their cheering and support
- The community of athletes here who shared their experience
- Coach Bruno, who gave valuable tips and assured me I would be prepared
- The thousands of race volunteers who created an incredible experience
- Hawaii Island, whose beauty and challenges touched my soul
Mara’s Medal for me. Hard to read on the scan, but it says “You Are an Irondad 2013”