Road to Kona, Part Three

Mina Pizzini – Qualified at IM Arizona 2016

I guess this year it just wasn’t meant to be. I came down with a cold a week out of from the race; I hadn’t had a cold in a good three years! I was still feeling a bit rough on the flight Hawaii on Wednesday, but on Thursday I woke up feeling much better. Had a nice swim in Kailua Bay that morning. I love swimming in the ocean!

Friday morning, the day before the race, I woke up feeling antsy. I just wanted to get this over with. I went out for my 20 minute pre-race run… easy running, drills, and strides and was feeling pretty good. As I headed back, I tripped over uneven pavement and when I went to stop my fall, I felt a sharp pull in the back of my left hamstring. I ended up walking back. I would have been better served by just face planting than trying to brake my fall.

I came back and iced to try and get the hamstring to calm down. I immediately looked for cryotherapy places nearby and found one. I was there when they opened the doors and got full body cryo followed by localized on the hamstring. That helped a bit, but I was still sore.

Plan B was a cortisone shot. After I dropped off Q and my race bags in transition, we headed to a local emergency care place. The doctor didn’t think it was too bad, given that the pain was localized to a small area. He said it was worth trying prednisone so I went with that.

Race morning, the pain was still there. It didn’t seem that the shot had done much. I certainly couldn’t run. At that point, I decided it would be a very realistic training day, so Bob and I headed to the pier.

It was very stress-free race morning for me. I broke the tip off the stem of my tube trying to blow up my tires with a strange pump. No problem. I calmly took the wheel to the mechanic onsite who had a replacement core for my valve extender. I attached it, changed the tube, and was good to go.

I started on the front row and to the left. I got out strong and clean and quickly found a good pair of feet to follow. The water is super clear, which makes it easy to draft. I didn’t have to lift my head up to sight at all. I was able to stay on my swimmer for most of the way out until we ran into some of the men’s wave. I found another good swimmer and concentrated on my stroke (reaching over the barrel). I let the swimmer I was drafting worry about picking our way through the men’s wave in the last kilometer.

Side note: The women start 15 minutes after the men. How is it, at this level, we caught men who had started 15 minutes ahead of us only one mile into the race? And by the last 1000 m, there were a lot of them! I understand that some of these racers are in their 70s, but not that many! If they are going to make us start so far back, then they should be able to give us a relatively clear course and pull or re-route anyone who hasn’t hit the turn-around in say, 45 minutes. For goodness sake, it’s a triathlon! Learn to swim! Otherwise, they should just start us all together.

No need to rush through T1. I changed into my cycling kit and walked through transition, which required us to follow the perimeter of the entire pier. I found Q and we headed out.

I had decided that I would ride as long as my hammy wasn’t hurting and stick to my original race plan. I wasn’t going to ride like an 112 mile all-out TT. I wanted to practice my pacing and fueling on a hilly course and see where my bike came out compared to my competition. It was really crowded in the first little 10-mile out-and-back south of town. I used this part of the course to spin out my legs. I sat and spun on the short steep climb up Palani. Bob was there cheering me on and rolling his eyes at some chick riding up the hill in her big ring at 20 rpms.

It was still a little crowded for the first 30 miles of the Queen K, but not too bad. Nothing like IMAZ. I stuck to my plan and kept to my target power and HR goals for the first 40. I coasted the downhills as much as possible to bring my HR down and because it’s the smart thing to do. The extra three miles an hour you get by hammering the descents isn’t worth the watts you put in.
The next section was the climb up to Hawi. This section has a stunning view of the ocean to the left and some very lucky cows on the right. I was on the high end of watts goal here, but watched my HR carefully. It was nice to sit up a little and even stand to stretch out a little. Eventually I started seeing the men’s age-groupers coming back. The looked awfully close together…lots of clumps of riders. I didn’t notice many in the penalty boxes. Eventually I saw a couple of women headed back down and knew I was close to the top.

I made the U-turn and Q was raring to go on the descent. I tucked up and passed lots of people. The descent is pretty straight, the roads were dry, and we were strung out, which gave me a clear path. This was the best part of the ride!

Once back on the Queen K, I started seeing a lot of familiar kits that had passed me earlier. This section was headwind. I wanted to finish strong, but not let my HR get out of control. My legs were feeling fine. Every now and then I’d get twinge from the hammy, but it held up nicely for the ride. In the final 200 m before T2, I saw Bob cheering me on.

I brought Q into transition and informed the race officials I wouldn’t be finishing. I found Bob on Palani and we went to the Canoe Club for a meal, a Mai Tai, and view of the harbor.

Mike Minardi – Qualified at IM Los Cabos 2016

Kona 2017 is in the books! The race was a success for me. In my last post I laid out my modest goals and what I thought I could do based on my training compared to 2015. Swim better by a few minutes. Bike a few minutes faster. Be smarter on the run and peel a few minutes off there, too. I said “I know what I am capable of” but I didn’t give a finish time. The audacious goal, I thought, was to be in the top 20 in my age group. As it turned out, I swam better by a couple minutes, I biked a few minutes faster, and I was smarter overall and peeled a few minutes off my run. The actual stretch goal for finish time I had in mind, I’ll say now, was 10:10. As it turned out THAT was the audacious goal. My 10:24 was thirteen minutes faster than 2015 and landed me in 17th place in my age group, in the WORLD!

So, some takeaways, and then the (only slightly edited) stream-of-consciousness race report I sent my coach a week after the race if you want to know the details of what it’s like for an athlete on race day in Kona. Some people are into that.

  • Kona is so much easier to prepare for if you’ve done it before. I just “did” the race in 2015 without properly familiarizing myself with the course and visualizing how I’d handle the variety of challenges. If you can make it through my race report you’ll see how the imprint of my memories of 2015 factored into my strategy on each leg.
  • Proper bike nutrition and effort is the key to a decent marathon. Obvious, right? Hard to put into practice. My favorite t-shirt saying: “triathlon: swim, overbike, walk.”
  • You, really, almost cannot take too much salt in a hot Ironman.
  • Volunteers are fantastic people.
  • Finishing Kona the second time is just as good as the first.
  • I really want to go back

Here’s the race report:

Days leading into race: Pretty chill. No major stressors. Mike and Kris and Cheryl were all content just staying in Kona and going along with the race related schedules. Ate well and healthy. Spent a lot of time in the recovery boots, and all workouts got done as prescribed and were good. Good sleeps.

Swim setup: Tyr Nest pro goggles (pre-treated lenses the night before) and Blue Seventy speed suit.
Run setup: New pair of Hoka Clifton 3 (10.5), speed laced; ATC racing kit and visor; old racing socks; and race belt.
Bike setup: I replaced the refillable BTA with a gorilla cage zip-tied for “normal” bike bottles and on-course hand-ups of water and Gatorade bottles; two bottle cages behind seat; spare tube, CO2 and tools were wrapped with Velcro straps and hidden up under the seat; Zipp 808 front with Continental Supersonic and rear 808 with Continental 4000s; Giro Empire ACC road shoes (tongue cut out, laces replaced with speed laces); and Giro Aerohead MIPS helmet.

Nutrition laid out for the swim, bike and run:
Swim: 2 powerbar gels, full bottle of EFS with pre-race, and contents of 2 salt caps
Bike: in the “bento” a full flip-top container of Metasalt capsules and two gels; 6 more gels taped to the top tube behind the bento shielded from the wind; and 3 22 oz bottles mixed with 200 calories each of EFS-Pro, Pre-race, and 2 salt cap contents.
Run: Another flip-top filled with Metasalt; FE gel grenade full of EFS vanilla (400cal); and 2 gels on race belt.

Bike and gear check-in on Friday at 1:30 pm gave a preview of race day sensations in transition. Hot and muggy as hell. Helmets must be with bike now (not in transition bag).

Race day
Up at 3:45 for my usual big glass of “morning mix” which is about 22 oz of water, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and a Nuun tab. Then a bagel and peanut butter and coffee. Took care “of business.” Got down to body marking by 5:30 or so. Started up the bike computer, calibrated the PM, and hit “start” so that it would start automatically when the bike leg started (Garmin is set to auto-pause). Filled the bike bottles, filled tires to 100 psi, and checked gearing (small ring, low gear).

Before the swim while milling around I ate ¾ of a banana and drank my pre-swim bottle. Final port-o-potty visit. 15 minutes or so before race start I downed the gels and drank water.

Lots of chop and wind out past the pier. Got in the water early and swam around and hung onto a tractor tire (ship bumper) attached just above the water line on the pier. Note to self and to your other athletes: don’t do this. The pier is covered with barnacles and other sharp objects. I sliced my finger and a shard of barnacle shell pierced my left big toe and I couldn’t get it out until 2 days after the race (and it hurt like hell!). It’s not hard to lazily float around or do a light warm-up before the cannon and it’s kind of comical that athletes at IMWC are trying to save themselves that 10 minutes of “effort”!

I positioned myself about a third of the way back from the front swimmers, on the inside line along the pier. I don’t see a big advantage in going outside for “cleaner” water when you’re eventually going to get bunched up and smacked around anyway. There was the normal amount of combat, head-kicks, rib elbows, punches, grabbed feet, etc. throughout but I stayed relaxed and swam.
The first couple hundred meters I swam fairly solid. My “plan” was to start the swim a bit harder than usual rather than easier and building. A quarter of the way in I did a couple breast strokes to re-align as the mass of swimmers made it difficult to sight. I did this a couple more times throughout the swim, overall. The boat seemed to be way more than half way into the swim. At the turn the swells were a bit bigger, the chop was heavier and there was a noticeable current right-to-left. Age group women were swimming by me. I had a bit of trouble sighting the finish and by the time I got to the end I was ready to be done.

Swim Takeaways: My swimming in practice really has improved. It is starting to translate ever so gradually into my race swims. In 2018 I will probably do quite a few more of my “optional” workouts as long open water swims and perhaps even a couple swim races. I’ve seen more improvement in 2017 than in the years before so I want to build on that and swim more masters sessions and make time to get some 1:1 help. I need also to work a lot on drafting. During this race I didn’t feel like I had any lengthy drafts, people were too slow, too fast, or I’d get knocked off.

2015: 1:21
2017: goal: 1:15, actual 1:19

Very crowded. All that was in my transition bag was my shoes, which I put on at the bike and ran in them to the mount area.

The in-town loop was inconsequential, other than feeling a bit shelled from the swim and weak. Started with the first bottle after about 10 minutes. On the Palani climb to the Queen K I stayed seated and chugged at moderate power as athletes around me stood pounding the pedals only for me to pass them once we got up and turned left on the highway. This would be repeated a lot through the ride.

Most of the first half I felt weak and NP was showing at mid-180s. However, I remembered being upset in 2015 when I was only at 190 NP in Hawi and I had already decided that I would do better by staying small, riding steady, fueling, and taking advantage of some of the fit and equipment changes I’d made and likely I could do no worse, if not better. I was buoyed by passing people and packs of people the entire time. There were packs I’d see off in the distance of dozens of riders in a row, clearly drafting, and I would catch and pass them easily. The only drafting I had to deal with was guys trying to get on my wheel, I never got stuck in any packs. This was a lot different than 2015 when I felt mostly alone the whole ride.

When I got to the “Hawi 7 miles sign” I was feeling better and was mentally prepared for the wind and the long grade to the turnaround. In 2015 this little stretch was very demoralizing. This year I think the wind was more cross than head-on. I got to the turnaround and my power had recovered to 188w, so a bit lower than 2015, but I felt much fresher.

On the ride back I was feeling my strength build and continued passing people. The wind was constant and the combination with the long rollers made it penalizing to get out of position. My back started tightening up and I would get out of the saddle to pass or on downhills to stretch. The last set of rollers coming into Kona I remember being torture in 2015. This year I was much better fueled and perhaps more fit and stayed riding strong all the way to T2.
Bike Nutrition: Executed to plan; drank my three bottles of EFS mix in the first 1h45m or so (200 calories each, two salt tab contents each, Pre-racein each) and tossed each bottle as emptied. For the remainder I tried to drink two bottles of Gatorade at 140 calories each per hour, plus as much water as I could comfortably drink, with a 100 calorie Powerbar gel every 35 minutes and 3-4 Metasalt capsules every 30-40 minutes. At various points in the second half I would feel an adductor or calf cramp starting and would immediately take 3-4 additional salt caps and water. I finished all gels and all salt. One long pee coming back from Hawi. I did not use special needs.
Bike takeaways: I think I have this hot racenutrition thing nailed after Cabo and Kona this year.
  • I can take nearly 500 calories an hour on the first half of the bike with only minor bloating.
  • Adding in water is key!! it enables you to eat gels and process salt better as well as adding fluid that provides a break from the flavored drinks.
  • The BTA bike bottle set up is much better for Ironman than a refillable aero bottle that comes with the hassle of refilling, at least with the aero refillable that I have.
2015: 5:18
2017: goal: 5:10 actual: 5:11
Packed and I had to wait for a seat to open.

My plan for the run was to break it up into 3 segments:
T2 to Queen K – Run “easy” 8 minute miles and walk aid stations quickly.
Queen K through Energy Lab – Run marathon race effort at 7:45 pace and walk aid stations quickly.
Top of Energy Lab to finish – Run at half-marathon race effort, hold 7:45 pace, and walk aid stations quickly

The goal for the first section was to set up a steady pace and a strong second half by not getting overheated in the first 30 minutes… meaning get the legs and nutrition settled and stabilized with a happy stomach and use the top of the painful run up Palani at 10 miles as a mental lift starting a feel-good stretch on the Queen K. Easy 8 minute pace should be a breathing pattern of 4 steps per breath but I could never get myself to this… easy 8:00-something was still half-marathon RPE (3 steps per breath) as apparently the heat prevented my HR and respiration to go any lower. I did not walk at any point on the Palani hill.

On the second leg it was not getting easier. I still could not push harder and keep my HR under control. Cramps were starting to appear in flashes in my hamstrings and calves, which I would bury with a few salt caps. On this section it appears to be uphill all the way to the Energy Lab, so I told myself that the return run would be downhill which gave me a little lift. Also on this section is where the carnage was becoming visible as people in both directions were walking and stretching and elite athletes with podium dreams were looking bad, walking, and readjusting expectations. One long pee before the Energy Lab. At the turnaround of the Energy Lab in 2015 I had an upset stomach and had to use the port-o-potty but no issue this year. The Red Bull aid station had huge car wash sponges that were icy cold and it was fantastic.

Turning right onto the Queen K was good news and bad news, as the temperatures were noticeably going down, but guess what? The damned highway is uphill in both f**king directions!!! Cramps were an issue here and I had to stop numerous times to stretch and I finished the rest of my salt as my hamstrings and adductors were locking up. I would run, stop, run, stop and was reduced to a stiff shuffle. Approaching the hot corner my legs were done; my feet, shins, calves, hamstrings, quads, and all were cramping hard and I could barely move. Somehow I got to the Base Performance tent near the hot corner and explained my situation. The guy started describing how to use the product and I said “dude, don’t tell me to lick my thumb and put it over the tube, I am going to eat this whole thing” and simultaneously as he replied “I would highly recommend you do not” I threw down half the container. He handed me a bottle of their amino drink to wash it down and carry with me and I took off running.

It was, actually, amazing. I finished the drink on the run and as I ran down the hill towards Ali’i I thought of how I wanted to look better than 2015 when I looked wasted (crooked hat, goofy dazed smile, Coke stained chin). I jumped on a sidewalk to dump the bottle in a trash can, zipped up my jersey, and ran strong to the finish.

Run Nutrition: 2 cups Gatorade every station + water as desired; 100 calorie gel every 4 miles washed down with water; and 2-4 salt caps every 4 miles with water (not same time as gel). Additional salt caps immediately as cramps appear. I did not use special needs.

Run takeaways: Good bike nutrition and pacing = good marathon. I cramped, but nothing that endangered my finish until towards the very end. Hot marathons take more time as you cannot sacrifice cooling yourself or cutting fluids for time. Breaking the run into chunks makes it mentally easier. Visors are better than hats in hot races. Put salt in special needs next time.

2015: 3:51
2017: goal: 3:35, actual: 3:45

Overall Results vs. Goal
2015: 10:37
2017: goal: sub 10:10 and top-20, actual: 10:24 and 17th

Amy Chow – Qualified at IM Chattanooga 2016

This was my third time at Kona. The first time, in 2009, chewed me up and spit me out. I was so crushed after that race. Of course, that meant in 2010 I wanted to try and do it again to redeem myself. This meant I started training way too early, burnt out, tried some Crossfit, and eventually got injured and couldn’t run in August/September leading up to the race. On the upside this meant I had little expectations going into the race, but I was also unsatisfied as I had worked hard and did not feel I raced to my potential.

My main time/performance goal going into Kona this year was to hit between 10:50-11 hours. Since I knew the WC course is tough and does not align with my strengths, I wanted to have realistic expectations. Since the swim at Chattanooga is so fast, I knew in order to hit my goal I would have to make up time on the bike.

Morning of the race I walked down to transition with Mike and my mom. Bizarrely, it was the calmest I’d felt before any Ironman. I think I’ve accepted the fact that doing IMs are now a way of life so provided I continue to do them on a regular basis, no need to get super nervous before, especially if I know I’ve put in the work. Though, the nonchalance-ness would come back to bite me shortly…

Got to the pier around 5:15, dropped off special needs bags, stood in line to get into the athlete-only area. Tri Tats were applied (though apparently not well), I was weighed and then into transition to get my bike set up. When I got to my bike I realized I had forgotten to put the nutrition bottle in the bike special needs bag, so I kicked myself for being so calm that morning. I immediately started working on the backup plan and it ended up working, so I can’t complain. However, lesson learned, I won’t make the same mistake next time.

After getting my bike set up, I walked back out to find Mike and my mom and said goodbye to them before standing in line for the porta-potty. I think they need more porta-potties in transition. There were only 2 bunches plus the permanent restrooms in one of the shacks near the pier.
Got through the line, walked back to the beach area, and ran into Mina. Chatted a bit (she was likely not going to do the run because of a pulled hamstring the previous day) and then she went for a warm-up swim while I watched. Then we went and stood in the group to get into the water. Once in the water, I stood on the sand until 7:13 AM when I began the swim to the start buoy.

Swim: 1:08:32
I am happy with my swim. This was the first time I’ve done it where the age group women were separated from the men, which meant a lot less of a washing machine start. I had mostly open water to swim as normal once the cannon went off. At one point, two women came up on either side of me and seemed to be trying to swim through people. One of them had something that caught on my left arm Tri Tat plastic and peeled it off such that I had no number on my left arm before the swim was halfway done.

Overall I felt solid during the swim. Stroke was good, did not get kicked by anyone, passed a bunch of age group men, and the water was not noticeably choppy (to me at least). And, it was a 10+ minute PR over the two previous times here.

T1: 6:12
The changing tent was so crowded I didn’t even get a volunteer. But maybe that was for the better so I could just do what I needed to do. Walked out, realized I forgot chamois butter, so went back in to apply.

Bike: 5:56:00
The bike is and continues to be my Achilles’ heel. Brandon had me do a bike-focused block the month or two before Kona and watts that I was struggling to hit before Chattanooga were coming a lot easier. However, this bike time does not reflect that plus it was supposedly a fast bike day.

The initial portion of the bike in Kailua-Kona town was the usual mess. Lots of people and rough pavement so just stayed easy. Getting out onto the Queen K was not that much better in terms of bunches of people. My backup plan for my nutrition was to sit up at every aid station and drink as much water as possible for the first half since I could not carry a water-only bottle on my bike at the time. Basically that meant for the first 30ish miles or so I was losing speed at each aid station and soft pedaling a lot to not get any penalties. At one point I thought, “I’m bored.”

The wind picked up just past Waikoloa, which started to split up the field. At this point I could start passing people and applying some decent pressure to the pedals without fear of being caught for drafting. The last 7-10 miles up to Hawi were probably the toughest of the race for me. At one point the crosswind was so bad that I got blown across the lane from the white line on the shoulder to the center yellow line. I had to sit up just to make sure I was going forward and not sideways.

Finally made it to Hawi and my back was feeling tight. Stopped briefly to grab my special needs stuff, looked at my Garmin, and realized I needed to gain as much free speed possible on the way back as I could find otherwise I was going to be way over my bike goal time. The short stop helped to loosen my back as well.

Descent out of Hawi was fast, though still with crosswinds. 2009 gave me nightmares on this section (though it turned out that was a really bad wind year), 2010 was better, and this year was even better. I still had to hold onto the bullhorns on parts of the descent but I it was not as terrifying as I remembered. Once we were back on the Queen K I still felt decent. There were headwinds and rolling climbs and lots of people sitting up. I did my best to stay in my bars and just started passing people. The bottoms of my feet were burning but mentally and leg strength-wise, it was the best I ever felt during an IM bike. At Chattanooga I was having trouble digesting food by halfway through the ride (which is not unusual) but the calories (solid and liquid) seemed to be going down just fine this time.

I got passed by a few women the last few miles into town, but I saw no reason to chase them. The marathon was coming and I was a bit worried about my feet and ankles.

T2: 6:05
Standard transition prep. Nothing special, just making sure I had everything with me.

Run: 3:49:52
This was 5 minutes off my goal, but I am so far okay with it. Ironman is great for playing the “what-if” game if you really like to overthink (which I do) so it’s hard to say if I could have run this if I had biked harder and stuck to my power targets or if it really was the heat that slowed me down or if I went out too fast or if I just need to learn to hurt more… or maybe a combination of all the above.
The first 10 miles on Ali’I felt great. I was clicking off 8-8:30 pace including walking the aid stations. Even going up Palani wasn’t so bad and I remembered past years when it seemed like a wall. For me, the slow down happened probably around mile 14-15 when I was starting to wonder when the Energy Lab was and then the real slow down happened coming out of the Energy Lab. I had forgotten that it is uphill the whole way out.
Once back out on the Queen K I just kept trying to move forward as fast as possible, which meant about 9 minute pace.

Overall: 11:06:38
I could feel disappointed about how I did, since the only A goal I achieved was my swim, but it is still a 55-minute PR over the last time I was at the WC. And, I wasn’t completely dying and nauseous the day after like in past years. Plus, to say that I am in the top 54% of my age group and 27% of all women in the world, coming from a totally non-athlete background, is not that bad.