Race day started early with a 4 am alarm followed by a very light breakfast of the tried and tested Rice Krispies. We then headed down to race start in plenty of time for body marking and final pre race bike checks. Whilst in transition, I caught up with my friend Arne from Oslo. We had met 2 years previously at Ironman Nice where he beat me by 12 seconds. Last year we raced each other again and I beat him by 9 seconds. Incredible! And here we were again, 2 good friends brought together by Ironman. On paper I was faster on the swim and bike, but Arne is a super fast runner, and if anyone was going to run me down, this Norwegian would (Beatles joke). We wished each other luck as the start approached. I said goodbye to the family and headed for Dig Me Beach.
For the first time ever, the pros were given a separate start time, with the age groupers going off some 30 minutes later at 7am. With approx 1900 starting in the ocean at 7 am, I was keen to get in the water early to avoid the scrum, and I swam out to the left hand side of the start line. Then we were off, not to the iconic bang of the start cannon that failed to go off, but to the dulcet tones of Mike Reilly shouting ‘GO GO GO’. The swim was, as always, messy and physical. However, as the turmoil played out on the surface, I looked down into the ocean and saw all the fish below. In some sort of moment of clarity I became aware of what a unique race this was and how lucky I was to now be part of it, and decided that regardless of what lay ahead, I was going to make the most of the experience and stop obsessing about times. The winds were already picking up and there was quite a swell. Every time I tried to sight, all I got was an eyeful of sky. Fortunately the feet in front of me were going in the right direction! As Kona is always a non wetsuit swim due to the water temp, my swim time was going to be slower than normal, but I was pleasantly surprised when I exited the water in 1:13:55hrs. Perhaps the swimskin that a friend had lent me had done the trick, and all those lengths logged in the pool seemed to have paid off.
As I made my way out of T1 and onto the bike, I spotted the family and gave a wave, then it was out onto the loop around town before heading out onto the main drag north on the Queen K Highway. It soon became apparent that the heat was going to play a major role in the day as my feet started cooking and energy was slowly being soaked out of me. Fortunately there are plenty of well manned feed stations en route and I was pouring water over my head and feet as often as I could. When they say you race through the lava fields, they ain’t kidding. Temperatures reflected off of the road can easily exceed 100 degrees F. Having decided not to obsess about times, I was soon checking my watch and did some quick calculations that indicated I was on for a sub 5 hour bike split. The bike route then turns off of the Queen K and heads on up towards Hawi, where the famous Ho’omumuku winds were having an angry day and blowing us all over the place. As I crawled my way along, the first of the pros started flying back down on the return leg. Oh how I yearned for that tailwind. The turn at Hawi finally came, and I was able to claw some time back before the turning onto the Queen K for the long drag back to Kailua-Kona. By now, the winds had switched round, and it was head wind back to town. With every pedal revolution I could feel the energy draining from me.
The prospect of running the marathon leg is never a pleasant one, but this was the first time that I have been concerned about being able to run through bloody transition, let alone 26.2 miles. I finally hit T2 with a bike split of 5:30:04hrs, a bit slower than I was hoping for, but all I could think about now was moving one foot in front of the other.
T2 started with a leisurely stop at the portaloos, before being helped with my run kit and a dose of sun tan lotion. The run starts with winding its way through town before heading south on Ali’i Drive
to St Peter’s Church then retracing the route back to town. I managed to maintain some momentum on this stretch and kept running. As I headed up Palani and onto the Queen K again, my family were there to cheer me on. I will remember their kind words of
encouragement for ever. ‘Man the fuck up.’ I was knackered. Fortunately there are feed stations approx every mile on the course, and my effort was focussed on reaching the next station to stock up on fluids and ice, before continuing to the next. And so it went for the rest of the run with the addition of having to stretch out cramping calves and hamstrings from mile 12 onwards. At mile 16 the course heads into the Energy Lab, an out and back loop through the solar panel fields. On my way back out I passed Arne going in. He looked how I felt and I hoped I had enough of a lead on him. As I approached the town towards the finish, the support from the spectators lifted me, and with shouts of encouragement from the crowd to break 11 hours, I lifted my pace and pushed to the finish. My family were along the finish chute and I was able to grab a union flag
from them before crossing the finish line in 10:55:34hrs
having run a painful 3:58:31hr marathon. In the end, Arne finished 12 minutes later, so it is currently England 2, Norway 1. All pain and suffering stop once over the finish line, and the culmination of all my training, hopes, and dreams, became reality. After a shower and much bonding with strangers, I met up with Debs and the kids for what has become my traditional post race meal of dead cow and beer, this time consumed in a restaurant overlooking the finish line.
We were fortunate enough to have a week after the race to enjoy some down time and we swam, we snorkelled, we visited the volcano, and relaxed. I nursed some nasty triathlete sunburn, and of course, bought as much Ironman World Champs merchandise that I could fit into the suitcase. I think I’m alright for kit for about 10 years now. Stassi added Pete Jacobs to her list of names to be dropped, and then we topped it off by getting a good half hour alone with Chrissie Wellington and Tom Lowe in the airport on the way home. Captive audience.
This race is the Holy Grail for Ironman competitors, and now I have had the privilege of being part of it. I’m not sure the smile will ever fade.
Until next time, Aloha.