Ironman 140.6 World Championships in Kailua-Kona on October 14, 2017
Kailua-Kona, Saturday October 14, 2017, the alarm goes off at 4 a.m. as for all my Ironman races. Breakfast, then I put on my combat gear for the day, we do not forget the food and drink to load the bike and head to the Kailua-Kona pier where is the transition zone, the departure and the arrival for my race.
Very excited to be here but at the same time a little disappointed not to be a spectator (because this is the first time that the professional race will have many twists and turns and I will be robbed of the outcome of the race even before the finish) !
For this race the main objective is to have fun, to finish without getting into the red, to finish before sunset (which is splendid at the end of the day). In my previous Ironman, IM Lake Placid , I was so focused on the performance, the achievement and the result that I didn’t take the time to enjoy the race enough.
For Kona it’s simple level of dress, even if the weather is rotten it’s tropical temperatures so it’s minimalist as possible, no question of jacket or sleeve. And for the race on October 14th they are announcing a magnificent day as we have had all week.
I prepare my bike in a great atmosphere everyone seems calm and enthusiastic. I notice that over 90% of the athletes here wear their left ankle chip (just like me) while in other races 90% wear their right ankle chip. Small detail which is useless but which makes me realize that all the athletes present here leave nothing to chance and think of every detail. Carrying the chip on the left leaves more clearance on the bike because the chainrings / chain are on the right.
I meet my friend Billy in the transition zone, we’ve been friends since 2015 thanks to Strava, when we were preparing for the Muskoka Ironman . We were both still in the top 3 of the weekly event leaderboard and we were competing through the app long before we first met in Muskoka, then the Boston Marathon this year and finally Kona!
Waiting for departure
Professional athletes enter the water around 6 a.m. An airlock separates us from the female pros and unfortunately we cannot see the starts. I will meet Daniela Ryf, Tim Don, Frederick Van Lierde before hearing the cannon shots for the starts of the pros men and women. Once the female pros have left, the doors are opened for us to access the warm-up and start area which is in 30 minutes. So I spend 20min in the water standing up and then head to the start line to wait for the last 10 minutes by swimming in place.
The water is beautiful, warm and transparent, but also very salty! All the workouts I did this week in the ocean resulted in a horrible taste in my mouth every time, after 40min I had the feeling that my tongue was an old stale sponge forgotten for 3 weeks in the bottom of a dry sink.
a supporter who came to encourage
Gun shot, it takes off en masse, as expected, it’s a mess, a wave of slaps. Usually in mass starts the peloton stretches out and groups form quite quickly. I imagine the same effect will occur here. But there are only the elite of the athletes, so no one leaves an inch of ground, no politeness and you have the feeling that the group does not stretch during the 3800m swim. Constantly someone in front, behind, and on either side.
Catching the feet of another competitor is not complicated to draft, you still have to find the right one! I double a few pairs of feet which I find too slow and also pass 3 or 4 swimmers. I somehow manage not to go out of my comfort zone, to swim relatively well, without drinking too much water and without forcing too much.
We have the feeling of swimming in a salt aquarium, the water is so clear. From time to time we see a lone swimming cap drifting under the surface of the water like a drowned body that did not survive the battle.
White beanie = pro athlete
When I turn around halfway through the course, in the crowd of the tight turn I have my swimming cap torn off 🙁 too bad it would have been a beautiful memory this cap tagged “Ironman World Championship” to show off leaning against the wall of the municipal swimming pool.
Back to the pier
Coming out of the U-turn I noticed a little less people in front of me and I swim a few hundred meters in front of my group. Then quickly I glue another group together then replace myself in the feet of a competitor by pushing with the shoulder another athlete who was already drafting the pair of feet.
We quickly see the Kona pier that we left shortly before, last swimming efforts, I tell myself that it was long but that’s always what I think during the swimming part of an Ironman. I climb the stairs to get out of the water and look at my watch which shows me 1:05. Rather well, in view of the swimming training of these last weeks (rather nonexistent).
A volunteer opens the zip of the swimming suit that I take off and then I go get my bike which stands almost alone in the transition zone! First time I find the bike park so empty in transition 1. Usually the park is empty when I come home from the bike but not when I start. Usually the vast majority are still in the water when I take my bike, but today the vast majority have already left!
after swimming it’s the stairs
The start of the bike course is quite narrow, many spectators are there and encourage us. I see my wife and some friends greeting us. Then we go up on the highway, the famous Queen Kaa ‘. I pass my friend Billy, I am also very surprised to pass him because he is much better swimmer and roller than me. I knew I would catch up with him on the run but didn’t expect to see him before the marathon! I ask him if it’s okay and he tells me that yes everything is ok. We discuss 30 seconds then I take the lead and do my race.
a little greenery on the bike course
On this highway no shelter. No trees, no buildings. You are exposed to the winds and the sun all the time. On the island, there is plenty of wind and sun. When the weather is hot, it is difficult to eat during the effort because the feeling of hunger is not felt, but it is still necessary to absorb calories.
In the city
My strategy is to take a cereal bar every hour. I will force myself to eat according to my plan. In the end, I ate 4 cereal bars for the first 4 hours then Cliffs gums for the last hour (so as not to have the digestion of a cereal bar on my stomach during the marathon and still have calories. to burn).
My friend Billy passes me around km 60, then I will not see him again during the whole bike part (except at the half turn km 95 where I will note that he is already a good 5min ahead of me)!
We notice a few crashes, more bike debris present on the road, sometimes glasses have more than $ 500 on the ground, helmet visors, many cans, CO2 cartridges, GPS counters, a real cheap flea market for those who deign to stop! Billy will tell me that he himself let his Garmin meter drop and that like any good competitor left him for dead on the side of the road without even looking back!
Where you have to pay special attention is during refueling. Runners swing their bottles (empty or full) to take fresh ones. We must then anticipate how the rejects will rebound and roll! A stroke of bad luck and the can of another athlete bounces against a table or trash can and hits my pedals, luckily it did not go under my front wheel which would have been much more dramatic because in addition in these areas, you only hold the bike with one hand in order to refuel with the other. In addition, you have to deal with the athletes who cannot catch a bottle and drop all those available, or the one who slows down too much and you have to pass during the refreshment zone, which makes you miss 2 or 3 chances of ‘catch bottles.
it seems to be climbing
I will find the course relatively hard, this would certainly be due to the heat, but especially to the wind. Usually I am comfortable on the climbs and I stand out clearly from the others in these portions, but it is surely the fact that there is no high percentage here and especially that only the top athletes are present, which makes me feel like I’m “average” or just in the middle of the rankings.
that reassures me, I am not the only one to have turned around!
On the way back I know that I was conservative on the bike, and I noticed that I passed km 140 in 3h58. So I have 40km left. I think if I go out of my conservative mode then I can complete the 180km just under 5 hours! 1h to pass at 40km / h. I lower my head and stop passing the small plateau. I know that I have to spend every 10 km under 15 minutes and this 4 times in a row. First 10km in 14’40 ” perfect, the pace is good and it is not untenable. I tell myself that if I perform well on the bike I will even catch up with Billy before the end and run the marathon relaxed with him. But the second 10km is done in more than 17 minutes! The last beautiful bumps will have got the better of me. And in addition, no supplies are present in the last 30 miles!
still a bit of town
In the last 5 or 10km of the bike, I meet Lionel Sanders at the head of the run, he is already on the Queen Kaa ‘in the direction of the “Energy Lab” I yell at him to encourage him and I notice the incredible lead he has over the rest of the pros, I am convinced he will be world champion as I had hoped.
A little more lava
So I relax my effort for the last 30 kilometers and tell myself that I will see Billy again on the run. I put the bike down in 5:15 am then I go back to the tent to change.
The tent is filled with water on the ground. The athletes refresh themselves by watering themselves as best they can with trash cans, filled with water and ice, placed on the edges of the tent. What puts water everywhere and the soil without a drain retains this water. I haven’t done 100m yet as my pumps are already wet (I still managed not to completely soak them).
I hate it running in wet socks. I know that the majority of runners like to water themselves as much as possible and I understand that, but I always do my best to prevent water from running into the socks, if I get my head or chest wet.
The heat is felt much more than on a bicycle once the race has started, I immediately feel the sun hitting my neck. I start at a very good pace 4min / km. I know this is too fast and that I should rather consider a speed of 4’15 ” / km but my goal is to catch up with Billy to finish at his pace, which will be much more relaxed for me. So the faster I run now the sooner I can recover.
Focused on my stride
We run on Alii Drive a round trip of 17km which seems endless! I see Daniela Ryf alone in the lead, and there are a lot of supporters on the side of the road, which helps a lot to run fast. At this rate I overtake hundreds of competitors and no one hangs on. I know I’m going way too fast and I’m already feeling some difficulty and discomfort, at km 6 I’m even starting to wonder where Billy is. Suddenly I see him coming back in the opposite direction, and telling him that he’s too fast for me, and he replies “oh no already, you’re going to crush me!” However, I still do not see the U-turn which is at the exit of a refueling. So in the end Billy is 1min or 1min30 from me. I know in less than a mile I’ll be by these sides.
at 4min / km (15km / h) on Ali’i Drive
The spectators have taken out their hoses to cool the competitors, and whether you like it or not they are spraying you from head to toe. So I’m completely soaked in spite of myself, hello blisters! Finally at km 12 I catch up with Billy and I cut my effort! FINALLY ! At this point I’m really happy to be jogging at 5min / km!
With Billy we meet our spouses who encourage us and who jog a 100m with us, I ask them if Lionel is world champion and they inform me that it is Patrick Lange! Quite disappointed with the news, I told myself that the race should still be exciting to follow because of the many twists and turns.
We continue to jog while discussing, we meet again Daniela Ryf who is in her last 5 kilometers, I congratulate her on her future 3rd coronation. Then a few minutes later we meet Jan Frodeno who also greets us. Very astonished at his poor performance, we realize that even the best athlete in the world can fail.
The race pace is good, it oscillates between 4’40 ” and 5’30 per kilo, I am really comfortable, and will be able to last a full day at this pace. We cross the “energy Lab”, and retrace our steps for the last 10km.
I will take all the resources available on each ravito, to try to cool my body. The first 12 km really did damage and I will not find good condition until km 16 or 18 but will decide to stay with Billy until the end. It’s not 20 or 40 grappled spots that will change anything, I might as well stay in my comfort zone and enjoy the experience.
Billy is holding his GPS watch in his hand, a habit apparently, he doesn’t like having it around his wrist. During a refueling while coming out of the energy lab, when he gets rid of a sponge or a cup he cries vulgarly and throws himself on the trash. I immediately understand that with the waste he threw his watch in the trash! As he begins to empty it, I tell the volunteer what has just happened and the latter helps Billy who this time stopped for his GPS. They both empty the trash one by one from the huge trash can until Billy realizes he’s had his watch between his teeth from the start of the scene! I explode with laughter, Billy red with shame or by the sun apologizes, we start again,
I’m missing a piece of my left calf!
We count the miles and also the kilometers 1 by 1 because Billy is really in the hard! Finally arrives the last mile in the descent of Palini (descent that hurts the toes and blisters) then the last kilometer, Billy feels himself growing wings and we will run the last 1000m at a good pace.
We cross the line together euphoric, in 10:07. He will thank me several hundred times, for not letting it go and pushing it all the way through because otherwise he would certainly have finished after sunset.
Mike Reilly must have been on a break during our arrival!
We are welcomed by volunteers, the one who accompanies me is an unconditional fan of triathlon, so quickly becomes my best friend and he explains the race of professional men athletes. Then finish photo shoot with medals, pizzas, burgers (USA oblige), massages and life picks up where it left off a few hours before experiencing these 10 hours of strong emotions!
Best Support and Hawaiian Sunset Team
the Brits got more sunburned than me!