Two years ago this upcoming August, I was in Kona for a family vacation and biked the full IM bike course. I knew that day, that I would be back in some way to race here. I loved the venerable Queen K with all of her history and legacy. It feels like you are biking vicariously through all of the past & current champions when you’re out there. These are the same windy & hilly roads that so many of us watch every fall to see who will become the Ironman World Champion. That is what led me to competing in the Hawaii 70.3 Half Ironman this past weekend!
I started racing these 70.3/half Ironman races three years ago and have caught the bug. I’ve been blessed to be able to race Vineman, Boise & Oceanside 70.3’s over those years. This year has gone well having posted a strong performance for me at Oceanside 70.3 in 5:29. That included a swim PR of 34:27. After focusing heavily on improving my run, I was excited to race here in Kona. I knew a few friends that were also racing including Brian Taylor. Brian is also coached by Jeff from PRSfit and we’ve been talking smack with each other for the past couple of months. This has helped keep us both focused on the task ahead.
Originally, my wife was going to join me for the weekend. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way and I was on my own. My travel was an adventure due to several “mechanicals” and a downsized plane. I suffered through the long day and finally made it to Kona late on Thurs night. I stayed at the Mauna Lani Hotel on the grounds of the run course and just a mile from the host Fairmont Hotel. They had a great package for racers and offered some unique events for us. One of those events was a Friday morning chat and group swim with several pro’s including fellow Trakker pro, Bree Wee. It was great to meet her and to hear some great race insights from the group that also included Matt Lieto, Luke Bell, and John Flanagan. We had an amazing group swim where we swam over a reef and saw tons of tropical fish and a few sea turtles. It was fun trying to keep up with these pro’s and take in all of the vivid surroundings. After the swim, I met up with Brian to bike along the Queen K to spin the legs. That is where I first saw his raw speed on our surges. I tend to focus more on power and endurance, so I tend to lack pure speed. I wondered how that speed/endurance would play out during the race. Coach had said that it would come down to the run between us and we did have a beer bet on the line!
Friday afternoon was the mandatory race meeting, and I was amazed that everyone seemingly was there! They asked the first timers to stand and over 90% of us stood up! They run a very smooth race and that was obvious right away. They also did a good job of lowering the bar on our expectations by scaring us to death with reports of 3-5ft waves due to storm out to sea!
Saturday morning arrived and I was surprisingly calm. We had dropped off the bikes the day before, so it was easy to get to T1. The water looked very calm and everyone was excited to get the party started! I met up with Brian and tried to give him some advice for T1 including turning off his auto-shutdown on his Garmin. It’s those small things that can really frustrate you out there. For this race you can’t have anything on the ground, so your T1 bag has to be on or hanging on your bike. There is a long run up to T1 up a hill coming out of the water that is very similar to Boise 70.3.
One of the cool things about this race is the mass start. There were 1,700 of us racers out there and we were all in the water for the start. It’s cool to be so close to the pro’s and even have the ability to try to hang, although that really didn’t happen! I was wearing my TYR Tourque swim skin for the first time and loved how it made me feel in the water. If you ever race in a non-wetsuit race, it’s worth looking into this swim skin! The cannon sounded without a countdown and we were off. I had read a few blogs and knew that you should try to stay to the edges and have a direct shot at the first buoy. They tried to warn us not to cut that corner to hard as it wasn’t a sharp right after the buoy. Given that, I stayed left and was shocked that I didn’t have to battle anyone the whole swim! That’s never happened before, and I may have swum further than most due to that, but it was worth it. I can swim a pretty straight line and just kept on cruising throughout the swim just off to the left on the swim train. It was cool to see the underwater cameras and scuba diver at that first buoy though. I’ve been feeling good about my swim lately and was confident coming in to the race. I was just unable to really find that extra gear during the swim. I had a great rhythm and was breathing smoothly though. I have to work on finding that extra gear as I didn’t feel like I was exerting enough energy on the swim. Regardless, I had an ok time of 35:21 and found myself sprinting up the hill towards T1 after the quick shower rinse that sprayed everyone down.
I knew T1(5:26) was going to take longer than usual as I wanted to put on my SLS3 compression socks. Many peeps suggested sleeves or socks to help later in the race especially on the soggy run. In the future though, I will use sleeves instead and save those valuable 2min that I gave up. Besides that, I was off and ready to tackle the famed Queen K!
For me the bike IS the course and holds the most inspiration for me. I love riding out there and was excited to let ‘er rip. We took a right off Maui Lani Drive on the Queen K for a quick 8mi before turning around and heading out to Hawi. I felt great out there and was sitting at around a 21mph avg/HR 161 around mile 11 when Brian cruised by yelling out my name with a huge grin. It was hard to miss me with my Trakkers/REV3 kit and rocking Kestrel 4000! I immediately looked down at my Garmin and stayed MY course. I wasn’t about to be baited into a battle there on the Queen K. That turned out to be the best decision I made all day! We faced a solid 10mph headwind all the way up the hilly climb to Hawii. I was feeling good and keeping my HR between 160-165 and trying to always have a higher cadence than actually felt right. My 31mi split showed an avg of 19.07mph and I knew that would grow as I worked my way back to T2. As we neared Hawi, I was surprised at how thirsty I was. I was almost done all three of my First Endurance EFS bottles and was seemingly parched! I immediately took a course provided Perform bottle and took two more waters the remaining bike. This turned out to be a very smart move later on. The downhill from Hawi was awesome. Even though there were crosswinds, it felt great to go aero and hammer away. As with most races I tend to pass on the downhill’s and get passed on the climbs. I saw a few officials out there, but was never at risk for drafting. Coming into T2, my avg was just under 20 at 19.77MPH and I felt great about my bike. I have been loving my Kestrel 4000 and she was a dream out there with my new Zipp 404’s!
T2 was quick and I loved how THEY just take your bike and hand you your running bag. A volunteer dumped out my bag and took away my bike gear. I wish every 70.3 had that type of T2(1:56)!
And I was off and running. My garmin took a bit to pick up the satellite, but that was ok. I still started it and just hit the lap button at the first mile marker. My goal was to keep my HR under 165 and to try to knock out as many 8:30 or 9min miles as I could to start. I found that a 9min pace worked well. I was just cruising and not feeling stressed at all. I was hot, but with my bike hydration I felt under control. I was guessing that Brian had a good 5-6min lead on me going into the run based on where he was at the Hawi bike turnaround. I was also confident that he couldn’t have gained much more on me on the way back to town. Near the end of mile two I was just cruising along and saw Brian suffering in the heat. I tried to urge him on, as I know it better to have a running partner out there. I stayed with him for a mile and a half and then picked up the pace. I found myself stuck at 9:30ish pace, but under control. The run course is out on an open golf course and you’re either running on the spongy grass or on the surprisingly hilly golf cart paths. They did a great job at the aid stations with tons of water, perform, ice, cola & icy cold sponges! The best run advice came from Luke Bell at that talk/swim clinic the day before. He talked about how the run course undulates and that it’s too easy to get frustrated with pace. He suggested going by HR or exertion level to prevent those frustrations. I took that advice and focused solely on HR and kept it under 170 most of the run. I was frustrated that I was in the mid-9’s, but I was passing a ton of people! I felt almost robotic in clicking off the miles and just cruising. I had mixed some First Endurance Liquid shot with water in my two fuel belt flasks and they helped my energy levels stay constant. I also used tons of ice and water to try to keep my core down. My goal was to drop down into the low 8’s for the last 5mi. I just wasn’t able to find that extra gear to get in the 8’s and just kept plodding along at low 9’s. I knew at that point that a PR was gone and was just cruising along trying to slowly increase my pace. Those last five miles are interesting, as you have a 3.5mi out and back that is meant to replicate the famed energy lab. It starts with a downhill and I felt good on the decent. This is where I started with the icy cold cola and I was amazed at the help it gave me. The trick was to dump the cola into the ice cup! Not only did it energize me, the caffeine helped me focus and come out of my fog! At the bottom of the hill I decided to push my pace into a great cool breeze up the hill. I saw Brian at the very top and cheered him on to embrace the downhill! At the top I knew there was only 1.6mi left and I started picking people off. I was still only going high eights, but it felt good to be moving so much faster than everyone else. I didn’t feel maxed, but I should have started this effort earlier. That last half a mile was great and the crowd was awesome once you turned the corner and saw the beach and finish line! My adjusted goal was to finish under 5:40 and that’s what drove me from that turn around at the mini-energy lab. I was psyched to see my time at 5:39:29! Not a PR, but I was proud of my efforts and psyched to have conquered the heat of Kona!!!
This was the hardest 70.3 race I’ve completed in, even more that that brutal Boise race for me last year. I had a great swim/bike and just survived the run. I learned a ton about patience and myself out there and I’m more focused than ever to improve for my next race. I’m very confident that just like last year I will have a breakthrough race this summer. I have the inaugural REV3 Portland Half coming up on July 10th followed that next week by my home course Vineman 70.3 that next week!
I would highly recommend this race for anyone and it should be a must race on everyone’s bucket list!
Congrats to Brian for completing his first 70.3 race in one of hardest races out there. I was excited to be able to have a cold beer waiting for him in the finish line chute. It was a pleasure meeting and racing with you. Have a great vacation with your beautiful family and enjoy your time in paradise. I’m sure that we shall meet again on the battlefield! Something tells me you learned a ton about yourself out there and you will be a force to be reckoned with very soon my friend!
Lastly, I wanted to comment on the whole awards/roll down experience. I wasn’t in contention for anything and was just there to soak it all in. This was the first time I waited around and I was amazed at all of these great athletes and their commitment. You always hear about some lucky racer that rolled way down. The Kona spots were all taken by the top 2 or 3 peeps in every division. The Vegas 70.3 roll down in my 35-39 AG went to the 12th place guy who finished in 4:40! I did have an issue with people taking BOTH a Kona slot and a Vegas slot. I understand you earned the privilege of racing in a Championship, but I feel that you should have to choose. That would allow others to experience that Championship they fought hard to qualify for. I’m sure most people would choose Kona first and then if you’re that good, grab your Vegas spot in your next race. This is just my opinion, but I feel it’s very fair to everyone.
Thanks for reading and Cheers till next time!