I started this blog in 2010 when there were 11 weeks to go before my next Ironman triathlon. People have found it interesting (mainly my Mum!) so I continue to write.
The Ironman is a long distance triathlon; Swim 2.4miles, Cycle 112miles, Run 26.2 miles (marathon). I have competed in one every year since 2004. I hope this blog can help others see what is involved. I find the process of writing it makes me more accountable and motivates me to do the harder sessions when i'm not feeling like it!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Hawaii Ironman 2011 Race Report


Firstly i'd like to say as a rule, I find people's race reports very self obsessed and boring. The purpose of this one is to jog my memory in the years to come and maybe help anyone else who takes part. There were a lot of little things I wasn't prepared for and pre-warning could have helped. 

After a broken night's sleep (not my nerves, George was fidgeting) we all got up at 3.30am I gathered all my stuff together (energy drink, water, swim gear, bike shoes, bike bottles, garmin etc) put the first application of sunscreen on and had my third breakfast. 
We left the house at 4.15am not knowing whether Kona would be a traffic jam with nowhere to park or would be a well oiled corporate machine.
We got to the start and parked with no problems at all - this was a first!
Then onto body marking. Instead of the usual long lines there were multiple tables and no waiting. I'm used to getting someone with a marker pen just write the number. Here they use proper bold stamps and fill in any mistakes with a permanent marker. 
There had been an emphasis on not putting sunscreen on until body marking, but there wasn't a problem. They used alcohol gel to clean the skin before anyway. (I hope it's not too boring but I just want this to be of use to future competitors)

Then onto weighing - this again was a new experience. It was run by the medical team presumably to give them a background level should you become unwell. Dehydration = lighter, Low sodium = heavier??
- my weight had been something i'd really focused on for Bolton but had relaxed for Hawaii. I knew this was dangerous but it was just too difficult to keep it up both mentally and maintain the spirit of co-operation with everyone who came to support.
- so what were the numbers? Well in Bolton I was between 66 and 67kg and at the weigh in I was 71.9Kg. This was perhaps not the ideal start mentally. I reminded myself that racing heavier meant 1. Stronger swim 2. Stronger bike 3. Less colds - I had felt a couple of colds coming on in Hawaii (sore throat etc, but it only lasted half a day or so)
Heavier however also meant - 1. Slower bike climbing 2. Slower run 3. Poorer heat tolerance. ( I tried not to think about these)

Then to give in the special needs bag - this is a bag you can have waiting for you at the half way point of the bike and the same on the run. I had a bottle with 3hours worth of calories for the half way point on the bike. My thoughts were that the time spent picking it up was less than the time spent lugging it round for 56miles. It's also less concentrated which is easier to stomach. I was sent on several wild goose chases trying to find the place to drop this off. It demonstrated what i've always experienced on race morning; you think you're fairly relaxed until something doesn't go to plan - then it turns into a life and death rush that hopefully you can get sorted quickly.

- I found my bike in the dark, put all the equipment on it (bottles, shoes, garmin, tools) and just gave the wheels a quick spin to check the brakes weren't rubbing. The back wheel wouldn't turn at all! At the time this was a big problem - it was dark and I couldn't see what was going on. It didn't take long for me to realise I was going to need some help sorting it out. I went asking anyone I could find where the bike maintenance man was? After 15mins of frantic to-ing and fro-ing (Having taken all the stuff off my bike again) the VERY VERY nice man calmly said no problem and fixed it in half a minute. I then asked if he wanted to do the race for me as well? He replied that they very often wish they could when they are out fixing people's problems later in the day.

- Calm descended again and I got my self prepared for the start. I felt like i'd forgotten to do something. In the UK there's always loads of pre-race gear to either hand in or give to your friends. In Hawaii's warmer climate I had none of this stuff to get rid of. It was time to get down to the start and watch the pros who were going of to the cannon! at 6.30 followed by the masses at 7.00. The gap had been made bigger this year to prevent the faster age groupers catching the slower female pros and interfering with their race.

- I hadn't given much thought to race tactics to be honest. For the swim I had a few thoughts prior 1. Everyone is going to be a good/fast swimmer. 2. It's going to be very aggressive at the front. 3. I'm inexperienced in the sea
- this led me to place myself quite a bit back from the start line. Unfortunately my assumption that everyone was going to be Duncan Goodhew was very wrong indeed. I was boxed in by some really bad swimmers. My stroke rate that i'd practiced keeping high at about 60/min stayed around 30! this gave me time to look at everyone else - I couldn't believe what I was seeing, fingers apart, dropped elbows, crossed over arms, mad kicking from the knees and foam everywhere as they muscled through the water. The result was a very comfortable albeit frustrating experience. It was impossible to make much headway through, every time I saw some clear water and put some power down i'd be blocked by the next group. I contented myself with the thought that maybe I was actually going really fast and was just benefiting from a great draft and I did take a really good line round.
- So out of the water the clock read 1h11min, disappointing but i'd survived and not used much energy.
- The first tent you reach has hoses hanging from above. These are to wash the salt water off to prevent chaffing on the bike (I think)
- The next tent, time to get ready for the bike. In Bolton i'd aimed for a fast transition but here I was much more methodical - it's also much busier! Despite this I found myself getting on the bike still wearing my swim skin. I'd forgotten to take off the lower half in the excitement. I had to find a friendly looking helper and ask if they could put it somewhere for me "my number's 1088 and it cost $300, thank you so much" I felt like a complete idiot.
My youngest supporter - Will
There were still lots of bikes in transition so the swim can't have gone so badly.
1hr11? kept going through my mind - an unhelpful ananalysis of something now in the past that I could do nothing about. The only useful thing was a determination to have a better bike. 
Getting out of transition was the usual battle - I decided to pedal for a lot longer with my feet resting on the shoes and wait for it to become safe to put them on. 
This early section was the only real technical part of the largely out and back course. A fair few people passed me but I was going around 40km/hr so didn't worry too much. For the first 45mins of riding out of town it was incredibly hard not to draft - it was often a case of four simultaneous overtakings occurring at the same time. I'd heard that whole groups of riders could be penalised and did my best to ride within the rules. Those early Kms were the most enjoyable of the race - the road was fast, I felt good, I was actually doing it. Not much else to say until the climb to Hawi (pronaounced har-vee) about 70km in.
This climb was very very hard - up until this point I had started to think a personal best of an unthinkable sub 5hr bike was on the cards. I'd done this climb before and it hadn't been too bad. The winds however were in full swing. A few pros passed going back into town which was a welcome distraction. The wind got steadily stronger coming from the right hand side and almost blowing me across the road. I haven't experienced anything like it before. The worst thing however is that I was being passed by nine riders for every one I passed - I still need to work that out - Was it the extra Kgs? or just the result of a more negative mind set. Bottom line they were better. 
This would be a great place to watch the race. Similar to the top of the climb on the UK course. I kept wishing for the turn around but it was very slow coming. I also needed to get all my drink down as I had the second waiting at "special needs"
The special needs station was well run with numerous volunteers waiting to hand you your bag. Not like the UK course that requires you to scramble through a disorganised table with everyone's bags dumped in a heap.
After the turn around there was a long downhill. My average pace had taken a bit of a beating - down from 35km/hr to 32km/hr. Unfortunately i'm not the bravest descender - my main concern was not coming off as the sidewinds continued to blow. I found myself
occasionally on the brakes unlike anyone else. The descent was actually hard work - I started to develop quite a few aches staying in the aero position and not pedalling.
By the bottom of the hill the novelty of it all had worn off, it was hot and I was keen to get back to Kona as quickly as possible, oh and my saddle was starting to get sore!
I haven't mentioned the aid stations - these were every 10km which was luxury. I only took water from each but there was a lot to choose from - coke, powerbars, gatorade, bananas, gels, etc, They were dangerous places however as many people just dropped their bottles on the floor.
By the time it got to the turn around I had started pooring water down my back, on my legs and on my feet. My feet had started to really burn and when I moved them in my shoes the pain was unbelievable. I had put some paracetamol in my drinks bottles but I didn't feel like it worked at all. I've had this sort of pain before (hot foot) but a long time ago, the left being much worse than the right. I felt like the right foot needed to be out more and the left wedged.
The main thought at this stage is how on Earth am I going to run a marathon on these painful feet - fortunately it seems to be very cycling specific and goes immediately on running.
The ride back to Kona was through the lava fields and covered ground I had become very familiar with (it helped a bit). Pacing wise i'm not sure what was going on as I would pass people and then they would pass me - was it me or them putting out random surges of power?
Some pictures of lava fields;
Helicopters at Waikoloa

My garmin cycle data can be found at:

I'm fairly happy with this overall. I kept my heart rate relatively low early on pushing it in the last third and not going over my ceiling of 143/min. The cadence was also reasonable, better if around 90/min but 80 is OK. I really need a power meter on the bike to make anymore meaningful sense of the data. 

The last 10km into transition seemed to take forever. In retrospect taking 5minutes more letting the heart rate drop a little and taking on some more calories in the final third of the bike could have been a better strategy. 

There was a rule that there should be no passing coming into town down Palani road. I took it very steady but was passed by quite a few people - not sure what happened to them. 

I left it a bit late but managed to get the garmin off the bike and my feet out of the shoes, just before the bike catchers took the bike. 

This was far better than T1. Socks, shoes, cap, sunglasses on and go. I stupidly declined the offer of suncreen thinking my P20 would do the job. 

The run
Running has always been my strong point and I set off strong with a smile on my face. I had gone too fast in Bolton so I decided to dial it back a bit to 4.30min/km. I passed people slowly and didn't get passed by many people at all. The aid stations took a while to work out. On offer was Ice, water, cola, powerbar energy drink, gels, bananas, and I seem to remember pretzels as well. I walked every aid station, water on head, cola, and energy drink then off again. I tried the sponges but was unimpressed. I also tried ice down the shorts as I'd heard of people doing that but it just melted down the legs and gave me soggy trainers. 
These aid stations were total carnage. The volunteers were brilliant - all young and enthusiastic. They really tried hard to get you to take what they were offering, "ice ice baby!"
I always find it interesting to see what different nationalities say for encouragement. The Aussies say "looking good" which works well. The English, a high pitched "don't stop" which is less effective. My first experience of the American's, "nice job" which not wanting to be ungrateful does start to annoy after a while. 
The first part of the run is a south out and back down Ali drive. There's loads of support probably because it's through a residential area. The final northern out and back is a much more solitary experience. This takes in a famous land mark "the energy lab" it's devoted to green energy and can be seen as two large solar panels, however much of it is underground relying on geothermal energy. 
It's a good time to put my run data as a picture tells a thousand words:

So at 90mins the wheels came well and truly off (see heart rate). I developed cramp in my right bum, and right hamstring, and really started, to suffer. It was a very difficult time. I tried all the positive thinking I could, some of which worked - but the very physicality of the pain made it very difficult. I wasn't alone, it was surprising how many people looked OK but would then stop and walk or vomit. 
It was also difficult to view the situation with an objective mindset. I was miserable. In the past I have really enjoyed running in the heat and found this added to the disappointment. I kept moving forwards as best I could and found a short stride rhythm that seemed to work - the most comfortable method was to run as if sitting down a bit! this seemed to stretch out the right glute and keep things at bay (luckily there are no pictures!) 
After a while I was able to think more sensibly about what was going on. It's always difficult knowing have you eaten too much or not enough. I decided to take the extra electrolyte tablets I had and also get some gels in. Within 15mins of taking the electrolytes the cramp had reduced to just a small discomfort and I was able to run, albeit slower than earlier. I did some calculations and made a resolution to stay under 6min/km. The gels worked well also.
The course had definitely given me an education - by relying on energy drink and Cola I had not taken on enough fuel or had enough salt. The reason for this; inexperience and a lack of physical stimulus - I couldn't stomach the thought of gels earlier on, and didn't have a handle on how much electrolyte was necessary. Later, I heard it was 35deg on the road that afternoon. 
So, luckily I began to feel better and a smile came back for the last 5km or so, and I was chatty once more with my fellow runners. I kept thinking just 15laps of the track to go. 
A positive consequence of saying goodbye to the sub 10hr was a determination to take the finish up Ali drive slowly. I took the time to speak to Ella and George and take a union jack over the finish line. 
It was a truly great day that I couldn't have done without all the support of friends and family. Wearing my Serpentine running club top was a brilliant decision - there was a lot of "go serpentine" which helped like never before. The overwhelming thoughts of "never again" have slowly been replaced with a sense of unfinished business.................

Finally about that flag. Ella had planned to surprise me with a big union jack for me to carry across the finish line. Unfortunately the female winner, Chrissie Wellington took it from her! Ella was a little annoyed (I am playing it down a bit) but we have both realised the flag was destined for greater things.

Run photos
Ali Drive Finish

The south out and back

The pros passing Lava Java coffee shop

Chrissie Wellington - hungry for my flag!

These passed painfully slowly

Pro men coming down Ali drive

Me - enjoying it

Ella in mid air

If only I was turning left (down the finish)

An exhausting day for George

A thirsty day for Will

Good old Aussies

Other photos
Buzz Lightyear had to come

I've yet to do a race when everyone wants to get in

The support team

The medal is absolutely huge!

George checking it for quality

They were real flowers

Hundreds of "bike counters" reporting back to the manufacturers  HQ (there were no Enigmas Howard!)

The entire support team after a very long day - thank you.


A well earned rest

After Pizza

Time to go home
Thank you to everyone who has donated to George's charity it has made it all the more rewarding an experience. 

p.s. a reminder to respect the sun;
After one day's racing!

My number's still there after 5 days!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Going to bed, it's 8pm. Race is tomorrow. Up at 4am.
I haven't had chance to write for a couple of days as it's been very hectic. There's a lot to write and some great pictures. I'll save the excuses till tomorrow though. Wish me luck, James

45min cycle
Several changes to cleats - still can't get it right. I'll just go with them in the centre front/back and left/right and take the allen keys!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


50km moderate pace with 4-5 x 5km at Olympic/Race pace

I did this on the stretch of road from Kona up the Queen K highway. The bike had been serviced and apart from a couple of things i'd expected them to do it was all in working order. It's improved position wise on the bike as well. I'm not sure what exactly is responsible; stretching, massage, or lowering the saddle a fraction but i'm not complaining.

It was a great confidence booster, feeling fairly comfortable throughout. I'll get some pictures up when I get back - it's just a windy wasteland of lava fields.

Mum and Bill arrived yesterday evening so everyone is here now.
We went for a swim at Hapuna beach in the morning.
Then onto Kona to register - this was an eye opener. I was taken through a miriad of legal forms, basically saying it was all at my own risk and I wouldn't sue them. You don't have anything like this in the UK. Also lots of eye contact, hand shaking and well wishing from the large group of volunteers.
Then the "chance" to buy a load of Ironman branded tat. I had planned to get a few things but became quickly cynical about it all. I ended up getting a little towel for my swim bag.
That sums up my reaction to most things - I had thought about getting a tattoo but when it comes down to it, it doesn't seem such an attractive idea.
Then onto the parade of nations - everyone walked down Ali drive with the flag of your country. Ella had got me a flag, that intially I was a little shy about waving around. I was hoping to see Chrissie Wellington (the british female winner and course record holder) but she must have been resting.
The person bringing up the back of the "parade" was someone in a grim reaper costume and a sand timer. They will be (without costume) taking people off the course if they are falling behind the cutoff time. I hope I don't get to meet them on Saturday.

Then off to the expo - all the brands you can think of were there. The best area was probably specialized who are announcing their new "SHIV" bike they had a massive stand. Tim Don was there and a lot of our Olympic hopefuls - I think they are here just for a free holiday, but wouldn't be surprised to see them move up to the longer events after the olympics (there's more money!)

George did well and got given loads of sweets. Daddy ate way too much free stuff as well. There were some new "powerbar chocolate protein bites" I kept going back for more. I'll call it carbo loading.

The main thing to work out now is where i'm going to keep all the tools on the bike. Changing the saddle has meant i've lost the associated saddle.

Monday, 3 October 2011


1hour easy spinning with some sprints

I was meant to do a bike/run session today. Unfortunately there are a few bike problems that I can't sort with the tools I have brought out. I had to check it into a bike shop. It's starting to get very hyped here - I met up with Martin Muldoon, another Serpentine runner who is competing. He's a lot more aware of who's who and was able to point out about 20 of the triathlon superstars. Macca who won last year was in the bike shop. I pretended not to notice!

I had a massage from Sean at konasportstherapy.com - the only space on the island was at the sheraton. It was amazing to see the surroundings the better off athletes are enjoying.

With the heat etc, i'm starting to think the best strategy for me will be to take it very easy until the marathon.

Sunday, 2 October 2011


Ironman course

Today was meant to be a rest day but there's a lot of fitting in with everyone else's plans so swim it was. Ella and I decided to do the full course which is an out and back in Kona. When it gets a little deeper and the fish get bigger the nerves took some ignoring.
We got to a buoy marked IMT which I assumed was ironman turn around - we got back far too quickly though so i'm not sure if we did it all. We were out for about 50mins, Ella's that fast but i'm definitely not.

In the afternoon we had signed up to see Manta Rays - you basically hand off a raft at dusk that has lots of lights on. The lights attract plankton which the Manta Rays eat. We didn't see any unfortunately. It took me a while to think of something funny to say; "it wasn't manta be"

The bloke next to me on the raft was doing the ironman as well - there was one advantage to not being skinny, he was shivering and I wasn't.
Oh yeh - and I nearly ate my body weight in pretzels on the boat.