Glenda does Kona
I was lucky enough to qualify for the World Ironman Championship in Kona, Hawaii by winning my age group in Ironman Nice back in June. This is the race that every long distance triathlete has on their bucket list as it's where it all started and is legendary for the experience they give all the participants. I always said I would never go as it's everything I hate - a no wetsuit sea swim, hot and windy on the bike and hot and humid on the run. However, I was slowly convinced by others that it is an unmissable experience so I took my slot, trained as hard as my achilles injuries allowed and headed off for Kona. The week before the race allowed me to check the courses and try to get used to the heat of around 33c and 90% humidity. The problem in these conditions is that you sweat heavily but the sweat stays on your skin so there's no cooling effect and your core temperature rises.
Kailua Kona is a pretty beach resort on the big island of Hawaii. Over the days coming up to the race, it starts to fill with triathletes from around the world. The atmosphere is electric and you can't move for people swimming, biking and running.
In the week before the race, the sea was flat and the winds gentle. At the pre race briefing we were warned that the trade winds were returning and the race would be the traditional Kona battle against the elements.
The swim start must be one of the most beautiful in the world Set against the tropical backdrop of palm trees and Kailua village, you start in clear blue (but distinctly choppy) sea. Tropical fish swim in shoals under you as you head straight out for 1.2 miles before turing around a boat and heading back. No wetsuit is a big disadvantage for me but I quite enjoyed the swim and swam with a group of other girls making it slightly easier. On the way back in, we were being thrown around by the currents and it was difficult to stay straight. My Garmin showed that I swam 2.68 miles rather than the 2.4 which was a careless mistake to make early in the day. However when I entered T1 there were lots of bikes still there so I tried to put this behind me and focus on riding well.
The first 2 miles whizzed past and I was overtaking lots of people. It was incredibly hot as we headed out across the lava fields but at least the bike movement and a little wind kept you reasonably comfortable. Then suddenly we hit headwinds on the Queen K Highway. It was like hitting a brick wall and from averaging around 18mph I was riding at about 5 mph! We battled like this right up to the turn around point at Hawi and it was a relief to turn and have the wind behind for a while. As we started to descend though the wind started to batter us from the side. This is the legendary Ho'omumuku wind that can gust up to 60mph. I saw people being blown across the road towards the lava fields and was grateful I hadn't ridden with a deep section front wheel as these were causing the worst problems. So the last 40 miles were a constant battle with heat and wind. I tried to control my pace by heart rate and to keep drinking and eating and finally arrived back in T2.
So out onto the run course and already feeling totally hammered by the bike leg plus the fact that I only started running 6 weeks ago post injury. It was never going to be pretty and it was still pretty hot. By this point I was purely in survival mode and determination to finish so I adopted a strategy of trying to run 2 - 3 miles, walk through an aid station and then run again. The runs became shorter and the walks longer. After around 10 miles the sun was setting over the ocean so we were given light sticks to run with. At least it was a little cooler by now and the volunteers at the aid stations were fantastic, giving out so much energy as well as food and drink. Finally, I was running off the Queen K, down Palani Hill and into the finish chute on Ali'i Drive. My finishing time of 14:13 was much slower than I have done in the last 2 years but I was still proud to get across that line.
I have never been so exhausted after a race but this was a common experience. The island had given us a tough day but amazingly 93.9% of people finished. It wasn't the race I wanted but it was the best I could do on the day and in some ways I felt I had achieved more by simply finishing. The race is everything it is held up to be, a stunning setting, demanding course, superb atmosphere, immaculate organisation and incredible volunteers. Definitely one worth doing.