Friday, October 16, 2009

Kona Report - the bike

So after speaking to quite a few people about the race, I’m even more content with my swim time. A few of the guys I spoke to were expecting to swim in the mid 50’s based on doing this time at IMLP and IMCDA and they came out in 1:01. I guess that return current did slow things down quite a bit.

I was really excited to be on my bike. I love my bike and I love riding, simple as that. I love the speed, the fact that you can explore and cover lots of ground, I love the tech aspect – the bike is easily my favorite part of the race. When asked what my strength is in triathlon, I usually respond that I’m kind of equal in all three of the disciplines. However, I think if I began at a young age with this sport or any of the disciplines individually, I’d have the most potential physiologically in cycling. This could just be my love for cycling speaking though.

The first eight miles of the bike course, in my opinion, are silly. The course zig-zags through Kailua doing a bizarre figure eight before climbing up Palani Hill and heading north on the Queen K. I much preferred the old course even with the two transition areas. This initial eight miles is actually quite hilly though and doesn’t allow you to get in any rhythm to soon. Funny, most that see the bike course for the first time are amazed by how hilly it actually is. Typically we just hear about the challenge of the weather conditions, forgetting, not discussing, or underestimating that there is over 4000 feet of climbing. I love the course though – the climbs suit my riding style extremely well in that they are the long, gradual constant rollers that I can power through.

Speaking of power, I had a specific plan for this race, and as I mentioned, the goal was to keep the ride effort on the comfortable side so that hopefully I’d be able to run well in these conditions. I set ceilings for my power output on the flats and hills and stuck to them. I certainly don’t think that a power meter is a necessity for IM racing, but man, it sure helps keep me where I need to be. If any of the number geeks are interested in what my specific power plan was or what numbers I averaged, I’ll put it out there.

Back to the race; I left T1 with a bunch of other athletes and some of these guys were taking off as though they were doing a sprint. A friend of mine came by me on the long climb up the kuakini highway at mile four and said “let’s go!” I told him to be patient, we were just getting started. I stuck to my plan and watched a bunch of athletes ride away – this is hard for me to let happen, so I was constantly reminding myself of my plan. I told myself that I’d see most of these guys later on and sure enough, I did.

The heat and humidity began really early on during the bike in comparison with other years. Yet, there was a pesky slight headwind as well once you got past the airport. I was alternating between EFS and water, sipping often and downing about 30 ounces per hour. In addition, I was taking a saltstick capsule every 20 to 30 minutes. I planned on using natural pop tarts on the bike for calories along with the EFS and cliffbars. This worked well in training. However, I couldn't find the natural poptarts in Kona, so I was using regular pop tarts (your physiology needs simple sugars and lots of calories during an IM). Lisa, who I call my coach, told me the day before that they were going to be to dry to eat during the race and she was right. Eating these, it felt like I had a mouthful of dirt. I tossed my pop tarts aside at the next aid station and quickly adjusted to a new plan – get in some coke at each aid station. I typically don’t start with coke so early in the race but why the hell not? It works well for me.

Probably 95% of the field was wearing aero helmets - even the athletes who were going to be out there on race day for 14 or more hours. I still believe this is stupid in Hawaii. You need the vents. A friend of mine who was racing said he wears it not so much for the aerodynamics but more so to keep the sun off his bald dome and neck. I wore my road helmet and was glad I did as I poured lots of water through it throughout the ride. Craig Alexander and Chrissie Wellington (the male and female overall winners) seem to agree with me as they were wearing standard road helmets.

As I climbed towards Hawi, I got a first hand seat of the pro race as the lead riders were coming the other way. Chris Lieto was off the front by maybe 45 seconds on a group of three that included Eneko Llnaos, Faris Al Sultan, and someone else. Then, a further minute back was the main group. These guys were all hammering! The pros start 15 minutes ahead of the age groupers and their plan is to really work the first half of the bike to get out ahead of the winds which typically pick up shortly after 9am. What was amazing was how close Chrissie Wellington was to the lead group of pro men, and how big a gap she had already had on the next women. Speaking of the pro’s beginning at 6:45am, I think this is wrong. This race has grown yet they are still trying to keep the main principals in place. The IM was always about everyone starting together, amateurs and pros and everyone racing the same course and the same conditions. Those 15 minutes makes a huge difference. Not that I am racing against the pros, just more so that it would make there race even more interesting. They began this 15 minute head start because a few of the female pros bitched about the contact during the swim from the amateur men. There were plenty of amateur women swimming near me during the race and didn’t seem to have a problem with the contact – as I mentioned in my swim recap.

I kept a very steady, controlled pace and went through 56 miles in around 2 hrs 23 minutes and I was thinking that I was going to have a sub 5 hr ride easily since the return trip is more downhill than up. Madame Pele had other plans as she shifted the winds soon after I reached the turn around and gave all us amateurs a nice, stiff headwind all the way back to the airport.

I went through Kawaihai on the return trip and was looking for Lisa – seeing her for the few brief seconds I get to during an IM race is really important to me. I don’t really know why other than the fact that she brings out the best in me. The picture above is me yelling to her that I felt great, which I did – the ride felt easy thus far. It really did, yet I could feel the heat and humidity and knew that I needed to stay very controlled. In fact, at about the 70 miles mark, Doug Clark, the guy who won my age group, came by and I had to make a decision; up my pace and go with him or stick to my plan. I stuck to my plan since the wind was also working us quite hard on the return trip and didn’t want to risk blowing up. Kudos to Doug who rode really well and ran even better.The ride from Kawaihai back to the airport had the strongest winds we'd encountered during this race, slowing things significantly. Kona is so strange in that once you got past the airport, this heavy wind all but disappeared.

The last 20 miles of Hawaii are so different, race wise, than the first 92. If you have ridden smart, you begin reeling in a lot of suffering athletes. It’s amazing because some of these guys looked so bad, I remember thinking what the hell were they doing? How could they be this far up in the race and pedaling so poorly now? It’s not like its one or two athletes, it’s a lot! There is a lot of drafting in Hawaii, yet the last 1/3rd of the race is usually quite honest. Everyone around me had salt caked up all over their uniforms. Most think that this means they are getting dehydrated, yet it could just mean that you are taking in a lot of sodium and your body is expelling what it doesn’t need. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are in a hyponatremic state.

Around mile 100, I wanted off the bike. My legs still felt solid as well as my energy, and even mentally I was fine. My contact points though were beginning to ask for forgiveness. Contact points are the parts on you that touch the parts on your bike. It was mainly my feet and my arms. My ass was fine on the saddle – I wasn’t moving around too much looking for that comfy spot. But the bottom of my feet felt tender, mostly from being soggy with salt water and sweat and from pushing against the pedals. My forearms were tired of being in the aero position – on this course; I don’t leave this position much at all. My aero pads are really comfortable yet again, from sweating so much and pouring water over myself, this contact point gets irritated. Hawaii is a race where you race wet all day. You come out of the water and you never dry off because of the humidity. Then you sweat an excessive amount. On top of that, every five miles on the bike and every mile on the run there is an aid station and I would grab a water bottle each time and pour it through my helmet, squirt my face, empty it down my back and front in an effort to stay cool.

Rolling into T2, I mentally was in a good place. I enjoyed the ride, managed my reserves well and was actually enjoying the day thus far. An IM is more a test of will rather than a race (more on this in a future report). I felt that the test thus far was in displaying patience and racing smart. I hadn't reached any point yet where I felt like I was in a low spot and needed to search for the "whys" and convince my self to move onward. I wasnt even close to this point - yet anyways, I haven't finished my run report yet. In 2004, I got off the bike in T2 and knew in my first few steps running in transition that it was going to be a tough marathon. This go around, was the opposite. I swung my right leg back over my saddle as I rolled the last 20 meters into transition, leaving both my bare feet standing on top of just my left shoe now which was still attached to the pedal. A volunteer awaited my hand off as I hopped off and ran, letting my bike keep rolling right at them. My legs felt solid! Yet I still had a bit of a run left…


Vincent said...

nice report, good amount of details.

I get really frustrated with the pro field goes first. I race right at the front of the amateurs and it would be nice not to have that 15 minutes to make up.

can't wait for the run

Eric said...

That 15 minutes is huge in Hawaii Vincent - Some pros told me that they didn't experience much wind on the bike at all.

Vincent said...


Jon said...

Thanks for posting your experiences at Kona. They are very inspiring for an age grouper like me. Looking forward to reading the run report!

Anonymous said...

How did you manage to keep your watts from spiking, with all the short hills, during the first few miles? Curious, what were your watts for the first 56 miles, you had a lot of vertical to cover?
Nice report! You filled in some great details missed on the video feed !

Eric said...

Thanks for reading guys.

The hills arent a steep gradient, they just keep coming. The steep grades are the ones that really spike your wattage. My plan was to keep the watts below 320 on the gradual hills and below 350 on the steeper few like Palani. My power meter is in my bike box which is still coming Fed Ex - as soon as I get it, I'll post my watts for the first 56 miles. I glanced at my average watts (not normalized) while packing up my bike and they were 275 for the 112.