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
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).
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
01:27:49 (Division Rank: 185)
05:55:52 (Division Rank: 150)
03:53:34 (Division Rank: 101)
T1: Swim-to-bike 00:04:35
T2: Bike-to-run 00:04:52
Overall Rank 1,316 out of 2,316
Division Rank (age 50-54) 101 out of 203