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Jim Graham’s Ironman Kona 2016 Race Report

Jim Graham’s Ironman Kona 2016 Race Report

In Brief

Mid Sussex Triathlon Club member, Jim Graham, was fortunate enough to get a legacy slot for the 2016 Ironman World Championship in Kona on 8th October 2016. The 11:26 finish time ranked in the top half of age group. This was a very pleasing result despite being 1:41 slower than PB.

Kona is THE Iconic Triathlon Venue and you don't need to be racing in the main event in order to participate or enjoy the experience. Kona is a lovely super-friendly town with lots of preliminary events, banquets, tourism and partying. Being a volunteer marshal for the main race is really rewarding. The whole town is a giant expo for race week and there are loads of free hats, shirts, gels, lubricants, cycle-bottles etc. There are numerous pros and former world champions to spot, listen to and chat with.

WTC (World Triathlon Corporation) have this race week as their annual celebration so everything is lavish and grand (despite there being a relatively small select group of main event racers compared to mega-races like Roth or Frankfurt).

In Depth

Background

Inevitably, long distance triathlon would have arisen eventually in one or several places in the world. The fact that Hawaii was the location that established the specific iron race distances is probably fundamental to the current huge appeal of triathlon. This course and the pros who have excelled here have become legendary.

Imagine being in a sauna for up to 17hours doing continual multi-sport. That is what the Ironman World Championship is like. However, Kailua-Kona in Hawaii is a beautiful tropical paradise with very hospitable friendly locals, so the race is an absolute pleasure despite the challenging conditions.

It is a humbling experience. Many elite athletes in their prime (with Ironman podium finishes elsewhere in the world) suffer at Kona and fail to finish or get beaten by 70 year olds. By the way, some of those 70 year olds are super-human and can beat all of our PB's.

Getting a slot

Currently about a quarter of a million triathletes compete each year in qualifying races to try to get one of a couple of thousand places to the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Big Island, Hawaii on the second Saturday each October. Some events seem a bit easier than others for qualifying but you always need to finish in the top 1-2% of age group. 

Annually, there are about 100 legacy slots distributed amongst those who have completed more than a dozen official Ironman full-distance races. There are a handful of executive and charity places available in order to raise money for good causes (one charity is currently asking for a thirty-five thousand pound bond/pledge from the athlete who takes the single slot that they have for 2017).

There are a handful of slots for disabled athletes and for the US military.

There are about 100 professional slots, but obviously those are impossible for normal human beings to get. This year there were only 9 UK professionals good enough to reach this standard and 2 of these failed to finish.

Pre-race Training

Getting a Kona slot is a bit overwhelming, because of the thought of competing with the world's best. Even if you have your best race ever, you will still most likely rank low in age group and finish considerably slower than PB.

I decided to do a series of races to get me in shape and to bundle all this into a challenge to honour my father-in-law who has Alzheimer's disease. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/James-Graham19

Training was was all about doing this series of races then avoiding injury in order to get to the Kona start-line intact.

3/4/16 Paris Marathon in 2:59

17/4/16 Brighton Marathon in 2:51 (PB)

24/4/16 London Marathon in 2:55

21/5/16 Lanzarote Ironman 140.7 in 13:56 (bike broke)

11/9/16 Weymouth Ironman 70.3 in 5:38

18/9/16 Wales ironman 140.7 in 11:27

Pre-race week

Kona exceeded all expectations. As soon as you get off the plane it is clear that Hawaiians take great pride in being kind, patient and hospitable. Literally an island paradise and also the Ironman event does live up to the hype. 

My wife, Helen, probably had a better week than me because there was so much great stuff to do and no worries for her about saving energy for the the big race.

  • Ho'ala swim race 38k
  • PATH 10k run race
  • Underpants Run 1.5miles
  • Traditional feasts x2
  • Heroes of Hawaii banquet
  • All World Athlete Breakfast with Dave Scott and Mark Allen
  • Parade of Nations
  • Welcome banquet
  • Black Sands Beach Turtle watching
  • Daily swimming, cycling and running
  • Active volcano lava tour
  • Coffee plantation tour

Race Morning

The bike racks and transition on the pier were immaculate. Every inch carpeted and nothing out of place. Not too cramped for space. This was one was clearly going to be different from other races. Terrific kind attention from the army of volunteers and marshals. The excitement and expectation was palpable.

Sensational sunrise as we did the final bike check then waded into the water for the start. Seen it on TV, dvd's and on youtube many times. Unreal.

The mass start at Dig-Me Beach and the cannon going off. Wonderful. Felt like "home", despite being almost as different from a UK triathlon start as it is possible to be. No particular stress or worries about that swim in that lovely clear warm tropical calm water. Nothing to prove on the swim but slight anxiety that any number of bike issues could spoil this (possibly once in a lifetime) experience.

Swim

Sensibly, I seeded myself with the slowest 10% (far to the left of the pier). Beautiful warm clear waters with lots of fish. I had gazed at the sea-life and sighted the tropical landscape every morning for the last week but on race day it was the same pair of feet to look at for most of the 1:27 swim. A massive non-neoprene swim PB for me but one of the slowest swims of the day in this elite field (2100th out of 2316).

It was all serene until the final half mile when the top female age-groupers (who had set off 15 mins later than the men) bombed past and over me.

Cycle

No problem finding my bike bag or bike in T1 as the bulk of my age group were long gone.

There are some slightly tricky sections at mile 2 and mile 4.5, so I took it easy and settled down. This cycle must not be ruined by a stupid accident. 

The plan was to drink 1500ml per hour (yes, 1500ml!) and not get in an accident or get a drafting penalty. It seemed almost impossible to drink that much but experts say it is needed at Kona. The heat, high winds and humidity readily cause dehydration plus salt depletion. Feed stations every 7 miles were needed in order to get enough to drink and to constantly drench body in water. One bottle-cage was just for water to drench body in between feed stations.

There appeared to be double the usual number of draft-buster motorbike marshals and the penalty tents were always full.

A rushed 4 minute T1 caused insufficient suncream application, so the subsequent fear of sunburn encouraged quicker pedalling.

The gusts of wind in the northern half of the bike course were extreme and it was good to not have deep rims (Zipp 303 front and 808 rear did the job nicely).

Paced it nicely using heart rate monitor and overtook lots of people in the last 30 miles. The 5:55 cycle was pleasing and the DIY bike constructed from eBay second-hand parts and duct-tape performed perfectly.

Run

It was a massive relief to start the run and feel confident that this most important of all races would now be completed.

Extreme overheating potential was mitigated by feed stations every mile issuing fluids, sponges, gels and ice. It was good having the drink bottle carried in the tri-suit back pocket to provide extra drinks in between each feed station. Lots of ice was stuffed under tri-suit and hat but it mostly melted within 10 minutes. Lots of supporters on the course had hoses to cool us. Those who overheated had to slow down but fortunately, I kept a good pace even in the infamous hot microclimate of the 4-mile "energy lab section".

It was great feeling strong during the hot airless ascent out of the "energy lab" (just before mile 20) and thereafter gradually increasing pace to overtake many athletes until completing the run in 3:53. The final half-mile mile was an ecstatic sprint ending in a mad dash to the finisher's arch. Too pumped-up with emotion to slow-down and pose for pictures. Stuff of dreams.

Post-Race

Helen was a volunteer marshall for the finish-line and I literally ran into her arms, which was a very special moment to complete a wonderful event.

Next day was spent chilling out, packing the bikes and attending the Champions Banquet Awards Ceremony. Being placed 101st out of 203 starters in the 50-54 male age group was almost unbelievable. How could I have beaten that many athletes at this race when for 8 years of trying (16 previous Ironman races) those guys had been beating me and grabbing all the podium places? I would have been content to beat just one of them in order to prove that my participation in the World Championship was justified.

Volcano

Big Island Hawaii is literally still growing, with huge quantities of red-hot lava being deposited on land and at sea every day. A couple of days after the big race we found ourselves jogging for miles in the lava fields to get access to the latest up-close viewing places. At sunset the bubbling lava glows spectacularly and it looks like the end of the world and the beginning of the world simultaneously. 

Reflection and Thanks

This is the race report that I have dreamt about writing since first doing a local sprint triathlon in 2008. Some people apparently have sufficient ability to get a Kona slot at will. For most of us it is nearly impossible and that makes this achievement sweeter. My journey has been blessed with plenty of help and support from family and friends. 

Mid Sussex Triathlon Club is full of so many inspirational people who provide lots of positive energy and all of our successes should be considered a team effort. It was fantastic for me to share this experience with my most important person (Helen). 

The next time someone from our club gets a Kona slot, we should rent out a decent sized house for race week and have a large club gathering as that would be awesome. The flights would be the main expense, then we could survive on the free hand-outs of isotonic drinks and energy bars/gels. Expenses could be off-set by selling all the accumulated free hats and tee-shirts on eBay when we get home.

Race Summary

Swim

01:27:49 (Division Rank: 185)

Bike

05:55:52 (Division Rank: 150)

Run

03:53:34 (Division Rank: 101)

Transition Details

T1: Swim-to-bike 00:04:35

T2: Bike-to-run 00:04:52

Finish Time

11:26:42

Overall Rank 1,316 out of 2,316

Division Rank (age 50-54) 101 out of 203

 

Ironman 70.3 Staffs

Whilst many of the members were marshalling at the Mid Sussex Sprint Triathlon, three members were competing along with 2331 other participants at the prestigious Ironman 70.3 in Staffordshire. The event involves a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride and a 13.1 mile half marathon, finishing at the historic Shugborough Estate. 

Andrew Biggs was delighted to finish in 5hrs 19 mins, with Adam Cameron-James, who was celebrating his 40th Birthday, finishing in 6hrs 15mins 48secs and Rachel Dallimore in 6hrs 35mins. Although the conditions were wet for the bike ride making the road surface slippery, the event was hugely enjoyable. Rachel mentioned a special thanks to Julie Williams of the Tri Club who had helped her with confidence in the over water swim.

IM Barcelona 2015 race report

IM Barcelona 2015 race report

3 places and 12 minutes from securing Kona slot

 

Pre-Race

Jeff Woodall of MSTC announced he was doing IM Barcelona 2015.

I loved doing this race in 2014, so it didn't take much to persuade me to take up a late entry for 2015, via Nirvana Travel.

Classic over-training by doing a full-distance 100% effort 3 weeks earlier at Challenge Weymouth, followed by an 80% effort at Gauntlet middle-distance 1 week prior to Barcelona.

 

Race Day

Perfect conditions with calm sea and 20 degrees air temperature with no rain and little wind or sunshine.

Swim:

Rolling-start to swim made a stress-free experience and easy to find correctly paced swimmers to draft off. Exited the water in 1:18 (2 minutes slower than PB but 4 minutes quicker than 2014). Bodes well for a good race. Wanting to shave 8 minutes off last year's finish time in order to get a sub-10 result.

Cycle:

Was approximately half-way in field of 2,400 at start of cycle. Therefore, over a thousand riders to overtake over the coming 112-miles. Got 12 seconds to overtake each one in order to avoid a drafting penalty. Decided to give it 100% and try for a first ever sub-5 hour ironman cycle. Not thinking about the run. Didn't want to stop for loo or fuel, so only drank 3 litres that I was carrying (15 gels, 3 salt tablets and 4 sachets of isotonic dissolved in the drinks system).

Plan worked well and completed cycle in 4:49, with only 2 or 3 cyclists overtaking me during that time. 19 minutes quicker than 2014!

Run:

Started with a stitch and indigestion so didn't take a gel for the first 40 minutes. Happy with the cycle and not too bothered about doing a great run. Started to feel good after first hour, so focused on trying to get that sub-10 finish. Got the maths wrong by a 15 minute margin and sprinted frantically for the last 2-miles in order to squeeze in under 10-hours. In fact managed 3:32, which was just 2 minutes slower than 2014.

 

Post-Race

Felt fantastic and scoffed a big meal including 3 beers. Usually feel rubbish after ironman, so this was a pleasant surprise. Couldn't believe the 9:45 finish time. Not surprised that 6 male 50-54's had finished quicker than me, because there are some insanely fast middle aged blokes out there who beat many of the pros.

Met up with Jeff and his family. Jeff swam 4 minutes quicker than me and would have matched me on the cycle if he hadn't got a horrid puncture. Jeff had completed a terrific sub-12 for his first ever ironman.

Massive thanks to friends and family who supported us. Brilliant comments on facebook and it was heart-warming that some people had been followed our progress on the live-tracker then posted updates on facebook. It really helps to have positive thoughts about that sort of thing whilst racing.

 

SWIM DETAILS | Division Rank: 129

SPLIT NAME

DISTANCE

SPLIT TIME

RACE TIME

Total

3.9 km

01:18:38

01:18:38

PACE

DIVISION RANK

GENDER RANK

OVERALL RANK

02:02/100m

129

1318

1426

 

BIKE DETAILS | Division Rank: 20

SPLIT NAME

DISTANCE

SPLIT TIME

RACE TIME

Total

180.2 km

04:49:40

06:12:26

PACE

DIVISION RANK

GENDER RANK

OVERALL RANK

37.34 kph

20

386

398

 

RUN DETAILS | Division Rank: 7

SPLIT NAME

DISTANCE

SPLIT TIME

RACE TIME

Total

42.2 km

03:32:03

09:45:39

PACE

DIVISION RANK

GENDER RANK

OVERALL RANK

05:01/km

7

233

243

Originally from: IronMan Barcelona 2015 Results 

Ironman 70.3 Staffs 2015

Ironman 70.3 Staffs 2015

A small detachment from MSTC including Jules Stuart-Colwill, Matt Critchley, Morwenna (ably supporting) and Myself made the journey up to Staffordshire for the inaugural Ironman 70.3 at Shugborough country estate. It was our first attempt at a middle distance event for all of us so butterflies all round (although Jules had cheated by doing a full Ironman previously!)

Pre-race

We headed up on Friday afternoon, managing to scrape into registration thanks to some demon driving from Matt and much pleading to the security guard in the event village who initially insisted that they were already shut. It was a good job we did register on Friday as setup on Saturday was far from straight forward. The split transitions were over 12 miles apart with no direct access to T1 introducing an extra 20 minute hike over hill and dale with our bikes in tow. Maybe it wouldn't have seemed so bad if it hadn't been raining and we began to consider spending the next morning getting a soaking on the bike!

Race day started exceptionally early at 3:30am so we could drive to Shugborough then get a shuttle bus back to the swim venue at Chasewater. I'm sure everyone else was cursing my relative youth, meaning I got drawn in the first wave after the pros. But on the plus side we got to see Triathlon royalty Javier Gomez warming up right in front of us. Pretty cool to be in the same event as the world number 1, even if our times were slightly different on the day!

Race day

I found the swim great, massive red buoys made sighting easy and I managed to avoid the scrum at the start. Although it was surprisingly choppy for a lake which made me glad I'd had plenty of time to digest breakfast! Its fair to say I made the most of T1 and spent more time in there than was strictly necessary but eventually I did exit and got going on the bike course.

Early on there were some quite technical sections with narrow lanes and blind corners. I was glad to be on my trusty road bike after narrowly avoiding a pile up of TT bikes on a small sharp hill following a blind bend! I established a fairly consistent pacing, quicker than my training pace but it seemed to be sustainable. While the course definitely couldn't be described as flat with over 700 metres of climbing I did find it fairly fast... until the last 20k at least! The climb into Cannock Chase came at the worst time for me with energy running low my pace plummeted along with my spirits. However the really steep section I was dreading never arrived, instead it flattened off then left a mostly downhill cruise back to T2. All you stats fans can check out my bike leg on Strava.

So, just a little half marathon between me and a big shiny 70.3 medal. The run course was 3 laps of a varied course, around the Shugborough country mansion, out to some cheering crowds on the streets then back into the estate through a wooded section. The variety on the course made it go by pretty quickly, that and the regular flat coke refuelling stops! Apart from one 1/2k hill it was a pretty flat course making it easy to conserve energy. Unfortunately no sock change in T2 had left me with wet socks and rapidly growing blisters and plenty of opportunity to remind myself the pain is just weakness leaving my body!

Surprisingly I only saw our resident cheerleader Morwenna on my last lap and was disappointed to hear later that Ironman had abandoned several hundred supporters, including Morwenna, at the swim venue for several hours! I gather that more shuttle buses only turned up after some guerilla campaigning on social media and those buses then promptly got stuck in traffic for an hour trying to get back to T1. The organisers really must do better with logistics at this venue next year as it put a damper on the event for us and many other competitors we talked to.

Unfortunately my pacing dropped off on the final lap of the run and I finished just outside of 6 1/2 hours, leaving me to rue my tardiness in transition, plenty to work on for the future! After locating Morwenna we cheered Matt and Jules in at the end, they both turned in great performances smashing their pre race time predictions, I doth my swim cap to you both. 

Results

Staff703-2015-Group.jpg

Name Country Div Rank Gender Rank Overall Rank Swim Bike Run Finish Points
Critchley, Matthew GBR 180 1001 1116 00:46:14 03:06:26 02:16:11 06:22:16 1589
Hook, Mike GBR 170 1114 1261 00:40:10 03:22:53 02:12:57 06:31:29 1273
Stuart-Colwill, Julienne GBR 42 213 1522 00:45:25 03:38:37 02:19:21 06:53:44 1317
Gomez, Javier ESP 1 1 1 00:23:34 02:20:57 01:13:32 04:02:13 3500

Ironman Florida 2014 - 7:43 minutes from Kona

Ironman Florida 2014 - 7:43 minutes from Kona

Pre-Race

A year ago I punched the air with delight having managed to register on-line for this race, which sells out in under 60 seconds. A flat fast PB course in the lovely location of Panama City Beach on the north coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Heat-acclimatization training was done in Mid Sussex (with lots of warm layers on) plus IM Barcelona, Disney World Orlando and Apalachicola (Florida) Marathon. It was roasting hot for 2 weeks in Florida prior to the race and sea temperature was 78 Fahrenheit  (above 76 is too hot for wet-suit racing). On race day we had an angry sea with rip-tides, 40mph winds and air temperature 10 degrees Celsius.

Swim

We all froze on the beach before dawn, especially those who got wet doing a swim warm-up. At dawn the decision was made to cancel the swim. Even we poor swimmers were a bit disappointed, because we wanted to do a proper triathlon. The sea had been too nasty even for the safety kayaks to be deployed.

Cycle

Spent a couple of hours trying to keep warm until it was my time to start cycling. There were nearly 3,000 of us setting off one every couple of seconds. I had a cycling jacket and a couple of space-blankets but some people had just a tri-suit.

The gusty wind played havoc with the deep wheel rims and I had to resist the impulse to stop for a bike check. It was like riding with loose skewers or headset, quite apart from getting buffeted sideways and having to react to avoid collisions. Fortunately, the course is separated from traffic and American roads are very wide.

Nice single loop course, mostly on flat good surface roads. A few undulating bits and one section on cracked tarmac that was rather bumpy.

Cycled well for 4 hours, managing to avoid drafting penalties and keep a decent pace. You have to surge past packs of riders and raise the heart rate temporarily, even though that's bad for burning energy reserves. If you stay with the pack you may get a penalty and faster riders will keep overtaking and force you further back. After that, I eased off a little (maybe lost form from a fortnight's lack of cycling or maybe just hurting too much from relentlessly battling the wind and keeping the aero-position for so long). Completed cycle in 5:22, though it was unclear if that was good or bad given the conditions and the rolling start.

Run

Excellent enthusiastic support on a good flat 2-lap course with varied views and lots of shade. No need for the ice that was provided as it remained chilly throughout, despite the sunshine. A real boost having Helen and our two sons on the course to cheer me on. So grateful. Worth around 10 minutes off the finish time I reckon.

1:42 for 13 miles then completed strongly for total run time of 3:26.

Post-Race

Felt great finishing with a sprint. Kissed Helen and got medal. Given a results card stating I was 3rd in age-group. A few minutes later, my position was down-graded to 5th due to the rolling start and a couple of finishers coming in having started after me. Not bad considering 241 in 50-54 age-group.

Attended Hawaii World Championship Kona Slot Allocation Ceremony, but there were only 3 slots for 50-54 and the top 3 all decided to take those places. I missed out by 7 minutes 43 seconds.

My AWA (all world athlete) ranking improved from 10th to 5th on the basis of this Florida result. Shame they don't presently use the AWA rankings to determine who gets Kona slots. AWA ranking is calculated from points scored in the 3 best performances for each athlete each year.