I woke up on day 3 with pretty sore legs, not exactly how you want to feel before a double marathon! I had a light breakfast of rice pudding, and a packet of UCAN just before the run start.
With a 5 minute deficit to Inaki, and only 40 minutes ahead of Tony, I had to decide on a race strategy. I had trained for 2 possible options: the conservative option would be if I had a big lead going into day 2 – I’d start super easy around 8:00 min/mile down from Hawi, and then settle into an easy/steady pace along the Queen K. The aggressive option would be to run at my “non suicidal” sustained limit down from Hawi (around 7:15 pace) and then settle into 8:00 pace once on the Queen K.
The decision between the 2 strategies really came down to my goal. If I wanted to win, I should adopt the all-or-nothing approach. If I wanted a safe podium, I should adopt the conservative approach. To be honest, in my mind Tony was the real threat. If we each had our best day, he would run close to 6:30 and I would run close to 7:00. I knew Inaki’s best day would be around the 7:00 mark too. To be honest, I really thought Inaki’s big performance on day 2 would hurt his day 3 run. So, knowing my own limits well, I opted to start at around 7:15 pace and see how things unfolded over the first half marathon. I was there to win, and I would rather give it everything I had, blow up and come 10th, than be conservative and come 2nd or 3rd.
To my surprise, my legs started feeling really good after the first 5k. Jochen and I were running exactly the same pace, on target for my planned 7:15 / mile effort. We went through the first half marathon in around 1:40, Tony was about 2 minutes ahead, and Inaki was 7 minutes behind. This gave me a lot of confidence that I had chosen the right plan. It seemed like I was keeping Tony at bay, and that Inaki was paying for his day 2 effort.
Jochen and I passed through the marathon mark together in 3:29 and I was still feeling good. I was on the Queen K, and I was mostly a little faster than planned (about 7:45 instead of the planned 8:00 pace). My legs were still sore, but they were not getting any worse, so I just kept going. My nutrition was on track at 300 calories per hour and I was feeling strong. It was also apparently up to 85 degrees now out in the lava fields, but I still felt cool. I was just drinking normally and everything felt good.
Jochen started slowing down around mile 28, so I went off solo for a while. Then at mile 38, it was like I was suddenly hit with a sledgehammer. Every single step felt like someone was chiseling away at my quads. I could not help but slow down to manage the pain. A short while after cresting the scenic point hill, Inaki passed me. I knew I was only going to get slower from then on, so I knew the win was now out of reach unless he completely blew up. I also knew he would be spurred on after taking the lead, and that blowing up was not likely. It then became all about pain management for me. I would get to the finish line, I just needed to make sure I could actually still move forward in order to get there. The final 12 miles was mostly spent walking, with a bit of running thrown in. It was the most painful 12 miles of my life, but eventually I got to the “99 mile marker” which is the turn off the Queen K onto Makala drive. I stopped to let Ian take a picture of this momentous milestone, before jogging to the finish line. To my surprise, I crossed the finish line to finish 2nd overall, with just 4 minutes to spare over Tony.
I have no regrets over my decision to race hard. To be honest, I’m sure my quads would have also died with the conservative strategy, probably just a few miles later. I gave it everything I had in me over 3 days, but on this weekend Inaki just executed a really superb race.
Instead, it has given me significant insights into how I can better prepare for this race. I did do a lot of downhill running in training, but I don’t think it was enough. So over the winter I’m going to do a big run block to lay the foundation for some epic run training next summer. Then, I’m going to do very frequent long downhill runs in order to prepare my quads for the stress of this race. Plus, I’m going to spend a lot more time in the gym over winter working on strength (both for the run, and to prevent those post-swim glute cramps).
In conclusion, this race is simply amazing. I’ve been to Kona 3 times before this, but my experience those times was just a sliver of what the island has to offer. The Ironman takes place on the most boring part of the island, whereas Ultraman takes you on a crazy whirlwind tour of everything this spectacular place has to throw at you. Even if I had come last, I would have been so happy to be a part of this experience. May it be the first of many to come!
Here is the strava flyby for day 3