Ironmen regard marathon runners as effort shy individuals who only do the cool down run after the bike. Say you’ve finished Kona to an Ironman and you’ll have their respect!!!
In 1977 a group of swimmers and runners, based in Hawaii, were having an argument. Who’s the fittest, runners or swimmers? One of their number even suggested that cyclists might be the fittest. To resolve the issue it was agreed to hold a continuous race combining the longest swimming, biking and running events in Hawaii. This is why the original distances were respectively 2.4, 112 and 26 miles. The distances involved are enough to put off the faint hearted. Add in hot, humid and windy conditions and the mildly doubtful will also opt out.
The inaugural Ironman race, with fifteen competitors, took place on the 18th February 1978. This established Hawaii as both the spiritual home and the location of the Ironman world championships.
33 years later I found myself in Kona, Hawaii with 1800 others getting ready for what is always a daunting challenge. The seven days prior to the race I’d spent here acclimatizing. This involved early morning swims in a choppy Pacific, bike rides to on windy, hot road and runs on
The people of Kona could not have been more welcoming and had transformed their town into an Ironman village. The atmosphere was great with the shops supporting Sponsor and triathlon product banners
Swim training prior to the event generally took place between 06:30 and 07:00 am with the pier packed with people around this time trying to obtain the free kit/-t-shirts being handed out. I gained two swim hats, goggles and a number of t-shirts, some them technical.
Race day was an early start with a queue to be stamped on both your arms with your number, be weighed, hand in your special needs bag and then head off to check your bike. The pros start half an hour earlier at 06:30 than the age grouper. The swim start is about 40m out in a wide line with two breaks for the plinths in the water with Ford cars placed on top of them. Ford being the lead sponsor.
A firing cannon signalled the start and all hell broke loose. I was on the inside which was a big mistake. The first three buoys I got battered and came with to a halt or close to a halt as a result of the volume of people. The swim is 1.2 miles out to sea, around a boat and back. You can see the boat from far away but it never seems to get any closer. At the turn around point I got my goggles knocked, so had to stop to adjust them. They still kept leaking so I had to stop several times on the way back to adjust them. This was not good news as you are swimming against the tide on the return and hence I was going backwards each time I stopped. However, whilst swimming back a pair of dolphins swam under me which made up for my struggles. I just wish I could swim half as fast they can!
Onto the bike which consists of an eight mile rolling loop to the South followed by a rolling out and back loop to the North. I had several stops early on to rinse out my eyes which were stinging from the sea water. After the 4th attempt they finally stopped stinging.
The final eighteen miles to the Northern turn around point is mainly up hill with cross winds except for the last seven miles which are uphill into a head wind. The wind was quiet strong and I was shifted sideways on a number of occasions. Thankfully the wind was not strong in Hawaii terms otherwise I would have been off the road. It was a pleasure for the seven miles after the turn around point were you had the wind behind you and gong down hill. This was a chance to refuel and spin the legs before hitting the cross winds again and further head wind on the way back to transition.
Hydration was important as the sun reflected off the tarmac. It was very easy to overheat. By the end of the bike my head was rather hot despite being in an ordinary vented helmet. As opposed to an aero helmet which a number of people chose to use. Their heads must have been cooked from lack of cooling due to minimal vents.
Back into transition and the application of more suncream before heading out onto the run. I didn’t want to look like a lobster the next day. The run was an undulating eleven mile loop to the South prior to heading up out onto the highway and on to the energy lab for the turning around point and onto the finish. You can see a theme developing, not a lot of flat on this Ironman course, including the swim.
There were frequent aid stations offering cold sponges, water and ice. Cold sponges were stuffed down tops and ice placed in hats to keep try and keep cool. I also ran holding ice in my hands. One advantage with Kona is that the sun goes down rapidly at 6.00pm. Consequently the last hour of my race was in the dusk/dark which meant for a cooler run. This came too late for some who were collapsed by the side of the road with heat exhaustion. The last mile to the finish was mainly downhill and through the town. The level of support was great.
I crossed the finishing line in 11:59, that is hours and minutes, exhausted, but elated. The beautiful location, great atmosphere and the huge medal huge made it all worthwhile and generated big sense of satisfaction.
As the Ironman trademark says “Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life”