DF: Can you describe the Kona experience? Since it is the World Championship race is the atmosphere very different from other IM races? You've made mention of the massive amount of advertising everywhere, is that increased in Kona? Does it detract from your enjoyment of the event itself?
SP: Before I went to Kona I had people tell me over and over that "Kona is all about the pro's." After experiencing it myself I have to agree. And since it is the world championships and you (mostly) had to qualify to get there, it seemed that the vast majority of athletes had an ego. Not everyone, but more than enough that it seemed the norm.
DF: Would you describe the other athletes as friendly? Is it a here-for-me mentality or more of an everyone-helps-everyone-else community?
SP: I think that in the shorter distance tri people tend to have more fun. In the longer distance events people tend to take it more serioiusly. With some justification I suppose. You work hard to get there so they're a pretty focused group. Some people are friendly. Others just look upon you as someone to beat.
DF: Triathlon is one of the few sports where the elites and professionals compete alongside the amateurs. Have you ever met any elite athletes when at a race? Do you even follow triathlon and know/care who is who?
SP: I recognize names of the top athletes but damm if I could pick them out of a crowd.
DF: How did your race go?
SP: The swim was rougher than I anticipated, which is saying a lot as I was expecting nothing short of brutality. The pros went off a 1/2 hour ahead of us age groupers which is nice for them as there was a total of 80 pros. They had open water to swim in. For us...not so much. When the gun went off for us age groupers I was in the water with 1,850 people, all fighting for the same slice of water. I generally try to sprint to the front, find open water and settle in. At Kona, the vast majority of swimmers seemed to be at my level of swimming ability so there was no open water to be found. I hit the first buoy and came to a dead stop because of the mass of bodies. It looked like a bunch of seals fighting for fish and you could literally have walked over the bodies. I dove straight down and swam underwater to the left for 30 seconds to get out of it. After that I stayed way way outside and kept away from the mess. Even with that I only remember a few times that I was not following bubbles or white water. I remember getting elbowed, shoved and on one memorable occasion, someone grabbed my foot and almost dislocated my big toe. My toe hurt throughout the race and I limped through T1. I was not happy.
|Define: Mass Start|
The bike was...well...as expected. Hot, windy, long and lots of hills. I had a plan and I stuck to it. I got passed by hundreds of people--literally, hundreds--but didn't worry about it. They had their race. I had mine. The only thing that rubbed me the wrong way was the massive (and I mean MASSIVE) amounts of drafting. See, there is the "no drafting" rule in triathons. You see a bit of it regardless because it's a long course and the motorcycle referees can't be everywhere but I was staggered by the amount of it I saw. I'm talking groups of 40-50 riders blowing past me at times. I'm slogging away into the headwind and a group would go past doing probably 25 mph, which is easy to do in a peloton. I'm really only racing myself so I suppose it shouldn't bother me if people cheat but that was so blatant that it just pissed me off.
The run went better than I thought. I was pleasantly suprised to find it a mostly flat course. There were some inclines but I would hesitate to call them "hills". It was hot hot hot, but I filled my cap with ice at every aid station (one every mile), grabbed water and slogged on. The miles went by. I would have loved to have done the run faster but my run training had been seriously lagging due to injuries so I'm pretty happy with the time I ended up with. I expected slower.
DF: I always hear people talking about the heat and the wind when they talk about this course. Are they as bad as it sounds? The Ironman website had reports coming in that the pavement temperature was breaking 130 degrees. How brutal is that?
SP: My most vivid memory from the race was while I was on the bike. As far ahead as I could see was just a line of bikers--like marching ants--heading up an endless hill until the view was distorted by the heat shimmer off the asphalt. It was everything I expected.
DF: What is the hardest part of bike course? The run course? Why are those points so difficult, because of the grade or because of where they fall in the race distance-wise?
SP: For the bike, it would definitely be the climb to Hawi. The winds and the incline alone make it a winner. The only saving grace for that is that it's at the half-way point so you're reasonably fresh and you know you have a screaming fast downhill to look forward to. A close second would probably be miles 80-100. You're tired, you're doing a gradual relentless incline and the winds are just making you mash the pedals. That's the point I just wanted the bike to be over.
The run course? Hard to say but I'd have to go with the turn around at the Natural Energy lab. It's at miles 17-20, relentless sun and some inclines.
DF: Do you feel more prepared for it than some other age-groupers because you get to train here year-round?
SP: Without question. And I suspect the local Big Island residents have a HUGE home couse advantage.
DF: What was your goal time going into Kona? Is it slower/faster than your goal time for other Iron-distance races? Did you achieve your goal?
SP: I was hoping for a faster time than my previous IM (NZL), but was not sure how realistic it would be given that Kona is a much harder couse that NZL. When all was said and done I had a new PR by 40 minutes. I can't complain. :)
DF: How difficult is it to get a good nutrition plan together for a race this long? Do you stop at the aid stations to re-fill and refuel or cruise through picking up stuff as you go?
SP: Nutrition can make or break you on race day. It's not something you leave to chance. If you don't plan for it you're almost guaranteed to bonk. IM supplies Powerbar products (gels and bars) and Ironman Perform (electroyle drinks) along with water at the bike aid stations. I don't do Powerbar so I had to bring my own calories. I packed all the calories I needed for the bike and make sure I consumed them on schedule. For liquid, I just do water, so at each station I would toss the empty bottles, slow down, grab a full one from a volunteer and continue on. I had electrolyte tablets that I took every 10 miles. I exited the bike fully hydrated and with energy to spare so that all went well.
DF: Why do something like this? Is it because you love the challenge? You want to prove something to yourself? It keeps you sane? WHY seems like the biggest question a non-endurance athlete has when they hear about Ironman. How do you answer?
SP: The first time I did an IM was to prove to myself I could. Now I do it for the continuing challenge to see how well I can do. IM is definitely not the hardest event I have done (a 100 mile run is by far tougher) but it is by no means a trivial event so I really like the challenge.
I really appreciate Sean taking the time to answer my questions. It was very cool for him to talk about his training and his race with me. And for you numbers junkies out there, we'll finish off with Mr. Price's splits and finish time.
2.4mi swim- 1:08:53 (1:47/100m pace)
112 mi bike- 6:01:41 (18.58mph avg.)
26.2mi run- 4:32:22 (10:23/mi pace)
Overall time- 11:55:52