Ironman World Championship, Kona 2017

Race Date: Saturday, 14/10/2017
Race Distance: Tri - Ironman

This is going to be a long-ish race report! The first Ironman triathlon was held on Oahu Island in Hawaii in 1978 to settle a discussion about whether swimmers, cyclists or runners were the fittest (we should have a club discussion on this some time!). The race is now held in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii and has evolved into the World’s most iconic triathlon with 2,455 competitors. Most of the competitors have had to score a qualification place via Ironman’s convoluted system at another Ironman race during the preceding year.

Qualifying for Kona had been my goal for several years. Lydia and Bruce also came to Kona to watch the race and sample the range of local desserts. Their support throughout the race weekend was very much appreciated.

The atmosphere built during the days prior to the race. We were treated to freebies from various triathlon companies, including t-shirts, water bottles and nutrition products and even attended a breakfast party courtesy of my bike wheel manufacturer. Race competitors at the breakfast party nibbled on fruit, yogurt and nuts; Lydia and Bruce shamelessly tucked into the doughnuts on offer.

Race day arrived. The swim was in the warm sea by ‘Dig Me Beach’, a patch of sand measuring a few square metres which must be a contender for the World’s smallest beach. I began the swim in a mass start with the other 1,700 age-group men when the starting cannon fired at 7:05am.

Onto the bike and by 8am, it was already hot and humid with temperatures approaching 30 deg C; it would stay over 30 deg C for most of the day with no cloud cover at any time and almost no shade on the course. Cycling through the lava fields the heat radiated with additional intensity. There were times when the TV helicopters (following the pro race) hovered overhead; pretty cool!

There was a long but shallow climb up towards the halfway point on the bike course at Hawi. This was the section most exposed to gusty winds. There were a few twitchy moments on the fast decent back down from Hawi due to these gusty crosswinds. Cycling back towards Kona through the lava fields (which were even hotter by this time - late morning) it felt like my arms were on fire, which may have been the case judging by my first-degree sunburn in the days after the race.

In the bike-to-run transition on the Kona pier, I lathered myself in a thick layer of sunscreen (I must have looked ridiculous) before starting the run. Whereas on the bike the flow of passing air provided at least some cooling effect, the run was a completely different beast. I was soon having to take long walk breaks just to prevent overheating which was frustrating as my legs felt relatively good. On the run there were feed stations every mile with water, ice and cold sponges but I just couldn’t get rid of the heat effectively and my pace fell apart. Around 35k into the run (by now 5pm), the air finally cooled by a few degrees and I was finally able to pick up the pace slightly towards the finish. Former Windmiler Barry Oelofsen recognised my club vest after the race and we had a quick chat.

Patrick Lange won the male pro race in a course-record time of 8:01 with a 2:39 marathon to finish. I can’t comprehend how it’s possible to perform at that level in those conditions. After a shower and some grub, we went back to the finish area to watch the final competitors attempt to finish within the 17 hour cut-off time.

My splits... 3.8k swim: 1:02:28, 180k bike: 5:02:48, 42.2k run: 4:23:27. 753th overall and 127th/180 in the M30-34 age group.