October is here and that means Kona time. The race I saw on TV in the lobby of the 1960 dorm at the University of Miami back in 1980. I saw the swimmers in the ocean and I thought it looked like fun and something I could see myself doing. Forward 10 years to 1990 and there I was lining up in Kailua Bay. Since then I have now done the race 7 times and helped hundreds qualify and compete at this iconic race. I am going to give you some tips on how to mentally break up the race and some recommendations on sections to pay close attention to.
Swim. The Kona swim is basically a very long and thin rectangle but I treat it like an out and back. There can be some currents and often it takes longer to go one way than the other. This year we have one additional wave to the start. The pro men and woman have their own start and the age group men and women have their own start too. This will benefit the age group women the most as they do not have a hugely congested swim but the faster ladies will have to pass many men but I do think it will minimize danger. The age group men will still be very congested. Your time will more than likely be faster if you can get with a fast group and draft but this will be at the risk of more swim contact. If you are prepared to have contact then by all means try it. It can work nicely. Prior to the race make sure you swim on the course. The ocean is very salty and can chafe your skin particularly if you wear a speed suit. Do some ocean swimming and if you are there more than a week ahead swim the whole course with some friends. Maybe you can spot some dolphins.
Bike. The bike course I would break into 3 section, the initial in town out and back which should be done very controlled and with care as there are many turns. This is roughly 10 miles. Ride defensively as there is no need to have an accident here being in a hurry. The second section is the road to Hawi on the Queen K Highway. This section ends with a 7 mile climb to Hawi the highest point of the bike course. Try to pre ride the 14 miles from Kawaihae to Hawi and back prior to the race. This second section is about 50 miles total. The last section is the road back to town and T2 and it’s roughly another 50 miles. This is where the people who paced this race begin to really have some fun. If you pace this race well and manage your hydration it can be an enjoyable ride back to town passing other competitors who went out too fast. Most racers including professionals slow down here and those who maintain their effort simply pass people without trying. One word of caution overall is that you can have partial head winds in both the way out to Hawi and on the way back. A simple 45 degree shift of the wind can cause this. This means that even if you have a head wind going out it does not mean it will be a tail wind the entire way back. Keep that in mind.
Run. The marathon can be divide into 4 sections. The initial section is the run in town and this is about 10 miles. Here you see a lot of people and it’s generally exciting and relatively flat. This section is an out and back which keeps you interested in knowing who is ahead of you and who is behind you. If you are not feeling well here be careful. Try to figure out why and get out of it if possible. I have seen people bounce back in the later miles. Do not lose hope if you do not feel well here. This section ends with the run up Palani Road to the Queen K. Do not over exert yourself running up this hill. There is plenty of running left. If you begin to hurt going up it is best to take a little break and walk. Don’t be a hero here. The second section is the run on the Queen K to the entrance to the Energy Lab. Here you can settle into your Ironman pace. The Queen K goes up and down very slightly but nothing super steep. The third section is the Energy lab. This is a 3 to 4 mile out and back. The run back to the Queen K Highway is slightly uphill and this is where you can begin to pick it up if you have anything left or you can wait until you are back on the Highway. The last section is a 10K to the finish line on the Queen K Highway and the end in town to Alii Drive. Here you give the race anything you have left. If you are strong and have done a good job with hydration and nutrition you can pass many. I recommend you run this section and part of the energy lab if you arrive early enough to the Island.
When you get to Kona, train in the heat and not all at 7:00 AM when it is cool. Also do not sit in the AC all the time. Your body will adapt to the conditions if you embrace them rather than avoid them. Enjoy this gem of our sport.