Sunday, October 7, 2012

Kona

The word "Kona," much like "Boston," "Leadville," "Badwater," "Western States," or "RAAM" carries a lot of weight in the amateur endurance sporting community.  Over the last several weeks, when I have told runners, cyclists, or triathletes that my next race is Kona, I haven't really had to explain to them what Kona is or what it means that I get to race there.  Even when I tell folks who are not endurance athletes that I'll be racing an Ironman in Hawaii, I've gotten comments like, "Oh, you're doing the original Ironman," or "You're doing the real one" (as if iron-distance races in Florida, Kentucky, Penticton, Coeur d'Alene, California, New York, or anywhere else are somehow fake).

While qualifying to compete in Kona was my goal as soon as I quit cycling full-time to become a triathlete, I realized a few weeks after qualifying at Ironman Coeur d'Alene that Kona's reputation had me spooked.  I was feeling the pressure, and I even, at times, dreaded the race.  As soon as I started getting back in shape, though, I began to get excited about what was ahead.  Now, with only six days until the big show, I'm excited for the start.  

Tracking Information!


The race starts at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 13.  (Yes, Saturday.  Most Ironman races are on Sunday, but the World Championships are on Saturday.)  Kona time is six hours behind eastern time, so I won't be starting until it's 1:00 p.m. in Atlanta.  (And yes, adjusting to that time difference in only a couple of days before the race has me a bit nervous.)  I'll be wearing number 1375.      

You can track me at Ironmanlive.com. They will have streaming video of the race, but it will be focused on the pros at the front who will start twenty minutes before me.  There will also be television coverage of the race broadcast in a month or so, but it too will be mostly focused on Craig Alexander, Chrissie Wellington, and their ilk.    

I appreciate it when people follow along online.  I think of it every time I pass over a timing mat.  Of course, if you do follow along and if you see that 1500 out of the 1900 people competing are in front of me coming out of the water, don't sweat it: the swim ain't my thing.  Normally, I expect to be in the middle of the pack on the swim, but the middle of the pack in Kona last year was 1:13.  (The middle of my age group was 1:09.)  At this point in my triathlon career, it would take a miracle for me to swim that fast.  I'll be spotting the middle of the pack a good five to ten minutes at Kona.  

Speaking of My Expectations for the Race . . . 

I decided that I had better play it safe going into this race both in terms of what I expect from myself and what I tell other people.  Ahead of Coeur d'Alene, I matter-of-factly said that I figured I would be a middle-of-the-pack swimmer, one of the fastest cyclists, and one of the very fastest runners.  That's what happened.  In retrospect, though, I realize that my writing that in my blog was a bit brash.  I have too much respect for Kona and for my competitors there to write or say anything that could be construed as cocky.   

That being said, the first goal is to make it to the start.  This is always the first goal in our family.  Barring anything catastrophic, I should be at the pier on Saturday morning, waiting for the cannon to fire.  The second goal is to finish.  The third and fourth goals, though, I'm going to keep to myself.  As you can see from last year's results, even if I swim well, I can't expect to be mowing people down on the bike:  


The average bike split last year was 5:56.  In my age group last year, it was a much snappier 5:19.  If things go well, I should be able to go a bit faster than my age group average, but not a whole, whole lot faster.  The average run split in the race was a 4:15, while in my age group, it was 3:50.  My qualifying run split in Coeur d'Alene was nearly an hour faster than this.  In other words, if I remain patient and execute my race plan, the run is where I should be able make up the most ground.     

That's as much as I'm going to talk about my goals, though.  I'm confident in my capabilities based on my buildup (see below), but I don't want to come off as overconfident.  More importantly, I don't want to BE overconfident, and acting humbly is a good way for me to insure that I remain humble . . . at least until it's time to dig deep in the late stages of the race.  At that point, I become everything that I try not to be when I'm not racing: judgmental, superficial, self-aggrandizing, and downright mean.  If you're tracking me and you see that I'm passing a lot of people on the run, you will know that I'm mentally trash-talking every one of them as I go by.  

The Weather!

Much is made of the weather in Kona.  Specifically, people talk of the wind and the heat.  Wind is not my friend, and I don't relish having to fight the legendary mumuku winds.  Here's the forecast for the days that we'll be in Kona:

(This is like the weather-report version of a metronome.)

Of course, they don't predict any abnormal wind on race day, but we'll see.  Having been a cyclist, I'm confident about my ability to handle my bike if I get blown hard off my line, but I'm hoping not to have to test myself against any 60 mile-per-hour crosswinds.  I'm torn, though, as to whether I want a totally calm day.  Wind is not the same for everyone.  I'm a strong cyclist, which would suggest that I might want a tougher day.  But I'm also a lighter cyclist without the very latest cutting-edge aero gear, which means that I'm more susceptible to getting blown around.  Of course, regardless of what I want, I will have no control over the wind, and any stressing I do about it is probably wasted energy.      

And then there's the heat.  I know that it will be hot--particularly in the lava fields during the last hour or so of the run--but I feel that I'm well-prepared.  Here's the weather forecast for Atlanta for the time that we're going to be in Kona:

While our fall mornings are a bit cooler, the high temperatures are roughly the same.  I've been training in the 80s (and above) since July, and as the temperature cooled in the last few weeks, I've saved my outdoor workouts for the warmest part of the day (which was normally right about 80 degrees).  This is not to say that I'll thrive in the heat, but I do think that I'll be better prepared for it than someone coming from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, North Dakota, or even Colorado, all of which had snow this weekend.  I grew up in the South; I know heat.  

My Buildup!    
   
I pay close attention to my training in the last eight weeks leading up to an Ironman, and I pay particularly close attention to the last five weeks.  Having had a successful race at Coeur d'Alene, I feel like I know what works: a lot of cycling including some hard work and climbing mixed in, mostly longer runs with some fast workouts mixed in, and some long swims.  (My coach and I going to re-examine this formula before Ironman Wisconsin next September, but I'll write more about that later.  I haven't even discussed it with him yet.  Oh, by the way, I'm doing Ironman Wisconsin next September.)  This week, I looked back at my buildup to Coeur d'Alene between eight weeks to go and my taper week, and I compared that to the training I've done in my buildup to Kona between eight weeks to go and my taper week (i.e. right now).  I was expecting to see that I had actually done a bit less ahead of Kona, but I was pleasantly surprised.  In fact, my overall training hours were almost identical.  

I was further bolstered when I broke it down by sport.  The number of bike rides I did in each buildup was roughly the same (16 leading up to CdA and 15 leading up to Kona), and the number of hours on the bike (61) was exactly the same.  In addition, I spent seven days riding in the mountains ahead of Kona, while I only spent four days riding in the mountains leading up to Coeur d'Alene.  Ahead of Coeur d'Alene, I raced twice: at the Rev3 Half-Rev in Knoxville and the Rev3 Half-Rev Aquabike in Quassy.  Ahead of Kona, I haven't raced, but I have done several cycling events (i.e. organized centuries).  Ahead of Coeur d'Alene, I did a seven-hour ride and an eight-hour ride.  Ahead of Kona, I did a seven-and-a-half-hour ride.  All in all, I'd say I'm in a good place cycling-wise.  Last weekend, I set a personal record for the difficult Hogpen Gap climb in North Georgia during the renowned Six Gap Century.  That's obviously a good sign.  My last long ride on Wednesday had some good power numbers and a low heartrate average.  That's a winning combo.  

If I compare my running over the same period, I find that I'm actually in a much better place now.  Ahead of CdA, I did 17 runs for a total of 199 miles.  Amongst those runs were two 20+ mile runs, 1 brick, 1 race (Rev3 Knoxville Half-Rev), and three traditional track workouts that I did on the dirt oval in the park across from out house.

(If the field looks familiar, you must have seen"What to Expect When You're Expecting." )

Ahead of Kona, I've done twenty runs for a total of 227 miles.  Amongst those were two 20+ mile runs, two bricks, five track workouts on the dirt, and no races.  While I'm happy that the raw numbers are higher, I put more stock in the fact that my workouts are actually stronger if I compare them one-to-one.  Three weeks out from CdA, I did an 80-mile bike ride with climbing, and then ran a hilly eight miles in 51:52.  Three weeks out from Kona, I did a 60-mile bike ride with climbing, and then ran a hilly eight miles in 49:08. My best track workout ahead of CdA was a 6x800 workout where I averaged 2:34 (5:08 mile pace).  My best track workout ahead of Kona was a 4x1200 workout where I averaged 3:48 (5:04 mile pace).  In my last twelve-mile run on trails one week out from CdA, I ran 1:20:12.  Yesterday, I did the same twelve-mile run in 1:17:53.  

Swimming?  Yes, I've done a lot of swimming.  A friend recently told me that I'm such a bad swimmer relative to my cycling and running that she figured that I must never swim.  In fact, I do plenty of swimming . . . I'm just not very good at it yet.  Granted, I don't swim as much as I do the other two sports, but I'm working on it.  In the seven weeks leading up to the CdA taper week, I did ten swims, including one workout and two races.  In the last seven weeks leading up to my Kona taper week, I've done twelve swims, including three workouts and no races.  I also swam a great deal more in period between twelve-weeks-to-go-to-Kona and eight-weeks-to-go-to-Kona than I did in the period between twelve-weeks-to-go-to-CdA and eight-weeks-to-go-to-CdA.  Thus, it stands to reason that I'm in a better place going into Kona than I was going into CdA.  Do I sound uncertain?  I am.  Swimming continues to baffle me.  I can hardly tell from one day to the next whether I'm going to swim 1:50 per hundred or 2:07 per hundred.  

I actually had a better swim at Ironman Cozumel (1:20:35) than I had at Coeur d'Alene (1:22:55).  If I compare the buildup to Cozumel to my current buildup, I find that I swam more leading up to Cozumel, but I did no workouts.  In addition, I was swimming more slowly overall at that point in my swimming career.  In my mind, I've been comparing the Kona swim conditions (warm, sunny, clear saltwater) to the Cozumel swim conditions (warm, sunny, clear saltwater).  I hope to get out of the water in Kona and be as pleasantly surprised by my time as I was when I got out of the water in Cozumel.    

Of course, the buildup hasn't been perfect.  In particular, I've struggled to get enough sleep.  Transitioning to a new job has messed with my schedule, and I had very few weeks where I didn't have at least one night of very bad sleep.  My morning pulse rate has been a few beats higher than it was during the CdA buildup in part because I haven't been able to rest well.  As a result, we're doing a slightly longer taper than what I did ahead of CdA.  I've also struggled with achieving and maintaining my race weight.  Even though I hit my target weight a couple of weeks ago, I don't feel as lean as I did ahead of Coeur d'Alene.  Then again, in the past week, I've PR'd on a steep climb and run my fastest workout in years.  I must not be too terribly portly.  Finally, I've missed a few swims in the last few weeks.  It seems that whenever life interfered with training in September and October, it always tended to interfere with swimming.  I said the same thing about cycling in the month before Cozumel.  Will missing a few swims have a significant effect on my outcome at Kona in the same way that missing some cycling sessions had a significant effect on my outcome at Cozumel?  I hope not, and to be honest, I don't think so.  We'll see.

Am I Ready?  

This week, the World Triathlon Corporation sent all of the Kona competitors an email with "last minute instructions." Putting aside that nine days out is not "last minute," the email led with this picture:


As if I wasn't nervous enough already!?!?  Thanks, WTC!  Actually, as I look at the picture, the only thing that makes me nervous is the long line of buoys stretching out in front of the swimmers.  That's a long way to go.  [Deep breath.]

We leave on Wednesday.  My mom, my dad, our friend Anne, my wife Kacie, and I will all be making the trip.  I wish that it was a longer trip; after the race on Saturday, we head back on Sunday night.  In fact, as I write this, I realize that this time next week, I'll be done with the race and preparing to fly home.  That's really hard to believe.

Our time in Hawaii will be harried.  We arrive on Wednesday and go to the Slowtwitch.com party on Wednesday evening.  On Thursday, we will check in, swim a bit, pick up the bike, and go to the athletes dinner and meeting.  On Friday, Kacie and Anne are going to learn to paddle board while I get my bike checked in and rest.  On Saturday, I race.  On Sunday, we'll eat at about four different restaurants, take a tour on a fast boat, and fly out.  We only settled the itinerary this week, and that's what made it feel real.  

Am I ready?  Yes, I am.  My last long swim was today.  I'll have a massage tomorrow, and then I'll visit the chiropractor on Tuesday.  Somewhere in there, I will finish up some work and squeeze in a bike ride.  My goals for the next few days involve getting lots of sleep and eating the right foods.  Reflecting on the work I have done, I can confidently say that I've put in the necessary time and effort to compete well at the Ironman World Championships.  It's go time!           






12 comments:

  1. Good luck! I'll be following you on Saturday!

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    1. Thanks, Alan! I'll think of you when I cross over a timing mat!

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  2. I love how you watch all your data and have it down to a science. Jason can't even recall what workouts he did a week ago, let alone keep any record of his swims or PR's. :)

    You're SO READY! I am very excited for you!

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    1. Keeping all the data can be a bit overwhelming at times. I've thrown away the log a few times in my career. But it comes in really handy when I want to compare my current training block to some previous block (such as I did in such maddening detail above!). Having that record can really soothe taper-heightened nerves.

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  3. I love the data... you are so incredibly ready. Remember... it's Kona. Most people only dream of being there so soak it all in for those of us that won't qualify until we're well into our 80's! :) Can't wait to see you guys when you come back and hear how amazing it was!!!

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    1. I look forward to it! See you when we get back!

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  4. Good Luck George!! I too will be following you on Saturday!

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    1. Thanks, Greg! I appreciate the support!

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  5. So excited for you! Can't wait to follow along on Saturday. In all your trash-talking and tearing down, try to take a small moment and look around and enjoy the process..;)

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    1. Don't worry: I'll have plenty of mental space left to enjoy the view. Looking forward to it!

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  6. Hey George, it's Tony..
    My favorite line was " when you see that I'm passing a lot of people on the run, you will know that I'm mentally trash-talking every one of them as I go by"
    Hahaa.. were you doing that to me on those 1200's?

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    1. I don't think so, but I don't remember. So . . . maybe. ;-) I was definitely trash-talking that dude that shoulder-blocked me on the second one!

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