Kona 2015 Race Report

Every triathlete dreams of one day racing in Kona. It’s a venue steeped in history and has a strange type of magnetic allure to it that keeps you wanting to come back. I have had the privilege of racing there the past 3 years, but even if I qualify I will not be going back in 2016 since I’ll be focusing on other types of races. Kona is brutal. Don’t get me wrong, it is an amazing experience, but it’s not what I would call a fun day out. In fact it feels like each time I do it, I leave a little bit of my soul out on the lava fields…

robgray.org dimond-0057

Here is a brief recap of my 2015 race…


Summary – total time 10:31  (swim 1:04 |  bike 4:57  |  run: 4:21)

Overall I was happy with swim/bike performance, the run was clearly slower than expected (my past 2 Kona runs were 3:30). It was much hotter than usual which affected me pretty badly. I also came down from altitude this year (Boulder) and I think I need to modify my usual heat prep to account for different blood plasma “behaviour” coming down from elevation to sea level.


Going in I didn’t have high expectations. I KQd at IMAZ 2014 so had a longer off season than usual. I slowly got back into things but was really busy at work all the way through July. Since work pays the bills, it gets priority! I also have 2 small kids age 2 and 4, and I’ve found that it’s a lot of extra work to play my part as a Dad at this age. It’s not so much the extra time it takes, but rather the complete randomness of stuff that happens when you have small kids. For example, you plan a long 5 hour ride on a Saturday, but when Saturday rolls around one kid is sick and has to be taken to the doctor, and someone needs to look after the other kid. Either way, you need to be flexible on your training plans and adjust when things like this happen. You can still get great training done, you just can’t expect it to be predictable. You need to be open and flexible, otherwise it will get frustrating and cause unnecessary stress (which is obviously counter-productive).

We also moved from California to Boulder in August. Anyone who has moved across country will tell you that the process is pretty draining. But once we were in Boulder I got an excellent training block done, just at the right time too (the final 8 weeks before Kona). It’s really interesting to me, how with many years of “base”, you can train for a relatively short time (like 6-8 weeks) and be in decent shape for an Ironman. Anyway it was actually kind of nice going to race Kona without any aspirations, and just treating it as a big (and hot!) training day for IMAZ and Ultraman Florida.

Below is a chart of my weekly volume going in:  avg about 11 hours per week, with a few 20 hour weeks thrown in. Usually I’m doing 25-30 hours per week in an IM build.

kona training volume 2015

I was a little worried about my swim, since the Kona swim “takes no prisoners” – at least on the bike you can slow down and on the run you can stop, but on the swim you just get crushed and swum over if you get it wrong. I did virtually no swimming in 2015. What I did do though, was high intensity and focused on quality. I don’t think I swam more than a 200m interval until 3 weeks before race day. However, with 3 weeks to go, I did a lot of long sets (mainly 800s and 400s) which I think helped me get my endurance back just in time.

You can see in the chart below how low my swim volume was in comparison to previous years. Based on that I was really happy with a 1:04 swim in Kona. The course is a bit long (2.5 miles instead of 2.4) and conditions were apparently tough.

kona swim volume 2014-2015

By the time race day rolled around I felt pretty good about my training. My swim has come back quickly, my biking was solid, and my run was acceptable (not great, but acceptable).

I estimated my race splits to be 1:06 swim, 5:00 bike and 3:45 run… and on the whole, things worked out.

Swim: 1:04 http://tpks.ws/mpZv At the time I was pretty happy with that as a kona swim time, given my swim shape. After the fact when I realized it was a slower day than usual, I was even happier with it.

I started left of middle, next to the large orange pontoon. My “short course speed” helped me get clear of the initial melee and I had virtually no contact the whole way. My initial pace after about 5 mins, when I glanced down at my garmin, was 1:12/100y (presumably current and draft assisted). I got to the turnaround in about 27 mins, so obviously some current on the way back slowed us down.

Bike: 4:57http://tpks.ws/yyKJ Just a pretty steady effort, around 230 watts most of the way. This year I rode an 808 up front and it was perfectly fine. I love the handling of the Dimond and I just flew down Hawi (probably passed about 60+ guys going down). The 55 tooth rotor q-ring probably also helped a bit 😉

Run/Walk: 4:21… it was at least 10 degrees hotter than any other Kona I’ve done, so I started off slower than planned. I also was in better run shape the other years. I settled into what felt like a very slow 8:30/mile. However after about 10 miles I just started overheating. Even though I had done what I thought was a good amount of heat prep, I continually felt like I was in a sauna, at that point where you really just need to get out. So I would stop, walk and ice myself through aid stations, and eventually in between aid stations too. With any time goals out of the window, it was actually nice to be able to walk whenever I felt like it. That was much more enjoyable than pushing through and suffering! Jan Frodeno was coming down Palani as I was going up, so I stopped there to cheer him for a bit. I walked the whole way up Palani and then continued the run/walk along the Queen K. Into the energy lab, it got a lot cooler and it was overcast, so running was much more manageable again. For once, the final 10k was actually pretty nice.

So, overall it was great to be a part of the Kona experience again, and I am looking forward to NOT going back for a few years (well, at least not 2016)…

And now, some amusing Kona observations:

  1. About 150 guys passed me in the first 10 miles of the bike. I was riding at about 260 watts, most of them would have been over 300. I passed pretty much every one of them again before Hawi. This seems to be an annual Kona phenomenon.
  2. The german triathlon federation must have a bike prime for who can get up Palani Rd the fastest. Every year, there is some muscled up german dude who sprints up Palani as hard as he can. This year I was at about 300 watts going up palani and this guy sprinted past me out of the saddle, must have been doing at least 700w!
  3. There was this guy on an old cheetah bike, looked like a hand-me-down from Natasha Badman, with 650c road wheels. This guy was severely directionally challenged. He kept on passing people on the right, snaking all over the road, and then once when passing through an aid station he drank a bottle of water and then threw it straight over his LEFT shoulder – missing my head my about 2 inches. After than I put in a surge, for my own safety, and left him behind.

Key learnings: I think the heat acclimation is my main learning from this year. I need to figure out a new protocol, one that doesn’t involve getting to the island 4 weeks early. My current workaround for this problem is to just not do Kona or other hot races! Easy solution… and someone who really wants to go there can take my spot. I might go back one day when I feel that I can put in the preparation to properly honor that course as a World Championship Race. until then I will just potter around other races and enjoy some new challenges (like Ultraman!)

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5 thoughts on “Kona 2015 Race Report

  1. Rob: thanks so much for taking the time for the great race reports; I’ve been an avid reader for years now. I’ve been meaning to ask you for some time now, but as I start to plan another Kona assault for 2016 and my heat training sis not serve me well for Kona in 2015, what do you mean by: “…different blood plasma behaviour…”? Have you been able to validate this theory a bit more? Any advice for heat training at altitude? Or, would you simply advise just getting into the environment several days prior to the race to acclimatize while doing the last bit of training?

    • Hey Bob – my theory is that the additional red blood cells we develop nicely at altitude may result in changes to blood plasma that affect us in the heat. I’m not sure if “thicker blood” is the right word but that’s kind of what I’m thinking. I think the 2 strategies would be either doing a LOT more heat prep while still at altitude, or arriving in Kona 2 weeks early. I’m employing the former strategy this year for UM Hawaii – basically I plan on doing a big heat prep block just before my big build (12 weeks out) and then another focused heat prep effort 4 weeks out until 1 week out. I’ve not validated any of this wth data though – I plan to chat to some of the guys at UC Boulder Sports Science about their thoughts on it – just haven’t got around to visiting them yet. I’ll let you know if I get any further data on it!

      Cheers,
      Rob

      • Thanks Rob. I was quite disappointed that my heat prep was not more effective. I was able to log 8-sessions in the month leading to Kona-2015, which included both higher temperatures & humidity. The odd thing is I feel like prior seasons prep for IM-Louisville were pretty effective and it’s darn hot there in August (104*F heat index). I look forward to hearing what you learn from the UC Boulder Sports Science folks.

  2. Great stuff Rob. How you managed a 4:57 bike on 2.74w/kg is incredible. My wife and I qualified for the first time as well as a 61year old I’ve help coach and are all going this year so we are really looking forward to it. Thanks for the tips and suggestions!

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