Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Ironman Hawaii Run Course

The conclusion of Ironman Hawaii is a 42.2 kilometre (26.2 mile) run, fully sanctioned as a Boston Marathon qualifier if you're able to run fast enough after preceding the run with 6+ hours of effort.  The run consists of two out-and-back sections, which could be called 'beauty and the beast'.
Ali'i Drive
The first section is ten miles long, and takes the racers south through town along Ali'i Drive.  Ali'i runs parallel to the Pacific, which provides some nice ocean views along the way.  This section of Ali'i is also mostly vacation rentals, condos and beach houses, resulting in a ton of spectator support along this route.  The road is mostly flat, with a couple gentle rolling sections.  

Miles one to three take us through the 'hot corner', which is just north of Ali'i at the corner of Palani Drive and the Kuakini Highway.  Racers pass this corner three times on both the bike ride and the run, making it a popular spectating spot.  By the end of mile one we're back on Ali'i, running through the heart of town, passing the Farmer's Market, the Ironman village, Lava Java, and the Coconot Grove shopping centre.  Just past mile 2, we'll pass 'Kona Isle' which is my Kona home for my first three weeks here in Hawaii - I know the roads around here really well.  Mile four ends at White Sands Beach, one of the nicer beaches in town:
Probably good that the beach comes early in the run, if it was any later might just stop and jump in.
The turnaround for this section of the course is St. Peter's Church at Kahalu'u Beach, where we do it all over again in the opposite direction. 
How many people have said a prayer passing this place with 21 miles of running to go?
This section of the course is considered to be the more humid section of the course - hopefully we get a nice sea breeze to keep us cool.

Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway
The 'beast' of the run course starts with a really steep 400 metre climb up Palani Road to leave town.  The first professional male and female to the top of Palani each win the Timex Watch Bonus during the race.  Chris Lieto of the US has won the run prime the last two years, and Julie Dibens of Great Britain won last year.  

Once up Palani, it's a six mile rolling run along the barren Queen K highway - gone are the throngs of spectators from town, and each mile looks almost the same as the last.  I've had a chance to run this section a few times, and have taken note of the few 'landmarks' on the route to hopefully help pass the time - Makala Street (where the bike course finishes), Kealakehe Parkway, the Marina, Kaloko-Honokohau national park, Hina Lani Street, and Hulikoa Drive (Kona Mountain Coffee and Taco Del Mar in case anyone needs a snack that isn't an energy gel of Ironman Perform).  From Hulikoa it's a lonely 1.5 miles to the turn off to the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Institute road:
Now...most people think the Natural Energy Lab is there because of the intense solar heat in the area, and the absolutely massive solar panels on the site help perpetuate that myth:

The Natural Energy Lab is in fact a landlord for 30 different enterprises located on the site, with the main focus being the study and use of seawater for energy development (solar energy is captured to power some of the operations of the site, but the site was chosen mainly as an undeveloped plot of land close to Kailua-Kona, and not for any specific geothermal characteristics of the site).  Everything you could ever want to know about NELHA:

In practice, everyone dreads the energy lab, as it's all-around miserable.  I think it probably has more to do with WHEN it comes during the race, as opposed to WHAT it actually is.  You enter at mile 16, and leave at mile 19 - generally an un-fun time in any Ironman.  Plus, once you leave, you still have six miles of boring highway left to run before finishing.  There's a hill to climb coming out, which generally has a wind coming off the ocean (at your back) which can make it feel stifling on the way up.

Once we've re-traced our steps back along the Queen K (climbing a few tough rolling hills along the way), battered legs need to handle the steep downhill on Palani Drive - I'm actually pretty nervous about this downhill, as my legs were shredded in Louisville at this point and wouldn't have been able to run down such a steep pitch.  At least it won't be a surprise...

At the bottom of Palani, there's one mile to go, a quick loop through town with the finish on Al'ii Drive.  This mile won't hurt (much) - adrenaline is an impressive pain killer - last run for me for a long time - once that line is crossed, the off-season is in full effect!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Hawaii - Week 2

Big changes in Kailua town this week - more athletes showing up every day, and the 'welcome triathletes' signs are being hung all over town.  The amount of heckling directed my way while I've been out cycling and running has increased as well, based on this I'm deducing that there's a direct relationship between the number of triathletes in town and the frustration levels of certain locals.  The vast majority of the locals are super friendly, lots of people curious why athletes are here so 'early', and also wanting to know if triathlon is my 'full time job'.

The bulk of the race-related changes seemed to happen on Thursday - caution signs posted out on the highway, and the swim buoys placed along the swim course along with stand-up paddleboarders in the water in the mornings to keep us safe.  Apparently a cyclist was hit by a car on Wednesday and taken away in an ambulance, that may have influenced the caution signs going out on the highway the next morning...or maybe it was coincidence. 
Should read Caution: Lots of crazy, crazy people on the roads.

Training-wise, it was a splendid week.  Last week I lay down a lot of volume, but felt sluggish and didn't have a lot of speed or power.  This week I matched the volume, and was able to push the intensity to get some quality work done.  Metrics:

Swimming: 5h37m, 19K (biggest week of swimming since January of 2000!)
Cycling: 18h13m, 597K
Running: 7h10m, 100K

Saturday-Sunday was a 'race simulation' weekend, Saturday AM I did the full bike course and put out the same average power and normalized power that I held in Louisville (which will be my goal power totals here as well).  It was super windy on the way back into town, but mentally it's been good to tough out the winds solo in training - will make it that much easier with some people around on race day.  So many other cyclists on the course which was fun to see!  Checking out all the gorgeous bikes helps make the 180K go by a bit faster.  Sunday AM I ran 30K (just over 18 miles), with 14 miles at a steady Ironman race pace, then 4 miles about 8% faster.  Was my fastest 30K training run since May - here's the Garmin data:

The biggest result of all this training is my body is craving food like it never has before...luckily the produce is fresh and local, as is the seafood, and my condo kitchen is fully stocked.  
1.5 POUNDS of ahi tuna for $9.

My Hobbit-esque eating schedule - cereal and coffee pre-AM workout, fruit, bread w almond butter and honey, choco milk post AM workout, sandwiches or burritos pre-PM workout, cheese and crackers while making dinner, then a ton of big salads with seared tuna, quinoa, and whatever veg looks good at the market.  During-workout meals are decidedly less natural and healthy, predominantly Gatorade and Snickers bars. 
Post-workout snack on the lanai
If, after all that consumption, I still haven't hit my calorie target for the day, a Longboard Lager from the Kona Brewing Company down by the ocean to catch one of the phenomenal Kona sunsets is a good way to top off the tank and reflect on a good days' work.
One more week of hard work before starting to taper on Sunday - Team Imrie will be here in full effect by then, excited to have the crew here and to explore this big island!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Ironman Hawaii Bike Course

In my first ten days here in Hawaii I've rode the course three times - here's my Garmin file from my last ride (the start and finish are a little skewed from the actual course, as I'm starting and finishing 3K from the actual start/finish):

The athlete's guide for the Ironman World Championship contains the following paragraph below the description of the bike course:

Legendary Winds and Heat
From Ali'i Drive to the airport, a sea breeze blows from the ocean across the Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway approximately 10-12 mph.  During the evening, this wind reverses and blows from the mountains.  From the airport area to Hawi, you will be biking into the legendary Ho'omumuku headwinds that are most noticeable on this portion of the bike course north of the airport.  These winds blow 5-35 mph, and in extreme conditions can gust up to 60 mph.  After the Hawi turnaround, you will usually have these winds at your back to Kawaihae and side winds again along Highway 19.  While air temperatures may register in the high 80s to low 90s Fahrenheit, temperatures along this section of the course may exceed 100 Fahrenheit due to the reflected heat from the lava and asphalt.
While there is always wind, it seems to come from a different direction each ride.  Head winds are frustrating, but manageable...tailwinds are super fun...cross-winds are brutal as they make you feel like you're going to get tossed right off the road.  In the Hawaiian religion, Madame Pele is the goddess of fire, lightning, wind and volcanoes.  Hawaiians believe she lives in the craters of the Big Island's Kilauea Volcano, and according to Fodor's Hawaii travel guide, the most common offerings made to Madame Pele are flower leis and bottles of gin (!?).  When Team Imrie visits Volcano National Park I'll be sure to leave an offering in the hopes that the cross winds are subtle, and the tail winds substantial on October 8th.
Don't mess with this fiery chiquita.
KM 0-30
The first 15K takes you on a loop around Kailua town, including a short and steep climb up Makala street (shortly after leaving T1), then a steep downhill on Palani with a hard left at the bottom, followed by a gradual climb up the Kuakini highway, turning around and repeating it all (minus the Makala part - you don't get to descend that one until the ride is almost over!).  The next 15K takes you out on the Queen K highway, past the airport to Kekaha Kai State Park with a few gentle rollers but nothing tough.  
Tried to drop this dude all morning, with no success.
KM 30-60
Shortly after the Kekaha Kai State Park, the donkey warnings come out in full force - warning!  Don't get unseated by an ass during your Ironman ride!  No donkey sightings so far on training rides despite a lot of dawn riding, but have seen some goats grazing in that area.
Milestones I look for along this section are the donkey sign first, then the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery shortly afterwards, followed by the strip of resorts in the Waikoloa Village area.  This section rolls as well, but is a bit more 'lumpy' that the airport section earlier.

KM 60-90
Here the real fun begins.  Everyone talks about the climb to Hawi, but the last few kilometers along the Queen K before turning left onto highway 270 have a bit of climbing with some bite.  Especially if you're climbing straight into the 'legendary Ho'omumuku headwinds' Ironman warns you about...
The end of the Queen K...until the return trip begins in a couple hours.
The turn onto 270 is a welcome sight as it's a nice little downhill into Kawaihae before starting the climb up to Hawi.  Coming through Kawaihae we pass the Hawaiian Cement Corporation's two large storage basins right at the port of Kawaihae...these are visible from about the 40K point onwards, giving you a sense of where you're headed while finishing off the Queen K.
Pushing the bike too hard makes your legs feel like they came from these tanks.
From Kawaihae itself at 70K it's around 27K up to the turnaround at Havi - the last 10K of this section represents consistent climbing.  Most of the 70K-87K section is rolling with more climbing than descending.

KM 90-120
The climb finishes up to Hawi, and we turn around ready to charge back to town.  Hawi itself is an unremarkable town, so we're not missing much by turning around on its outskirts and racing for home.
The first 10K of the descent are lightning-quick, it's mostly a straight shot down, and the winds haven't been bad here (head or tail wind, no cross) in the three times I've done the climb.  Look to your right on the way down by the Upolu Airport road to catch a glimpse of the Hawi wind farm:
There's way more than these two, but shooting photos whilst riding is a tough ask!
When the road veers left after the Mahukona Beach turn off, cross winds become a major factor if Madame Pele is peeved at the racers.  Keep pedaling as the downward force on the pedals helps steady the bike - luckily on race day there will be no transport trucks on the road to shoot by you and dirty the air!

KM 120-150
Shortly after 120K we're back in Kawaihae - usually I stop for snacks both on the way up and on the way down, but not on race day - will have to go Snickers-free for that ride...
One of the tougher climbs on the course comes right out of Kawaihae - it's decently long, steep in parts, and comes later in the ride so the legs are bitten a bit.  Once we turn right back onto the Queen K, hopefully if Pele was blowing in our faces on the way out, we'll get a nice tailwind through this section.  There's a long, straight, flat section near the resort turn-offs, which can be super fun and super fast with a kicking tailwind...we need to save our legs earlier in the ride so we're able to push the required watts along here.

KM 150-180
Homestretch...right around 150K there's the only Hawaii state-approved 'Scenic Point' (as it's actually marked so tourists know to pull over and take photos).  Here I am representing the Morning Glory Cycling Club, with just under an hour left back to town:
From the Scenic Point back to town is fun - steady rollers and the potential for headwinds, but if the power has been under control up to this point, this last section can be the difference between a good and an average bike split.

Once we hit the 'hot corner' and see this sign, it's one right-hand turn and a quick downhill on Palani before the marathon starts:
This song came on while running this morning...was tough after Louisville to wait for the body to recover, now that it's been over three weeks, I feel I've waited long enough and I'm ready to rip it for the next ten days before resting up for race day...

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Hawaii - Week 1

Aloha!  It's the rainy season on the Kona Coast, but you'd hardly know it based on the weather this week - some rain on Saturday and Friday nights, and sunshine the rest of the time.  It's warm, but not obnoxiously hot...if race day is the same temperature as this week, it won't be miserable...

In seven days I've made three trips to the market, each time coming home with a backpack full of fruits and veg, and never spending more than $19 at a time (one trip was only $3.50 but I'm pretty sure the cashier's math was off). 
Ten papayas for $2!!
After taking two weeks off from swimming post-Louisville to allow for my ribs to heal, I've been back in the water every day this week - once in the Pacific, the rest at the Kona Community Aquatic Centre, an outdoor 50 metre pool that's divided up into 19 lanes of 25 yards.  The best part is it's FREE!  The next best part is my blanched Scottish complexion is getting a bit of colour.

Free swimming!
Over 660K of riding this week - might be my biggest week ever of cycling.  Most of the rides are out on the Queen Ka'ahumanu highway, where the scenery is basically this for 60K north of town:

Cyclist takes wrong turn and ends up on the moon.
Not feeling super fast on the bike, but it's hard to go fast when you're trying to shoot photos of the landscape, and self-portraits along the way...will leave the camera at home next week and focus on wattage more closely.

Have been running short and easy routes regularly, but won't push the tempo or the distance until next week, which will be three full weeks since Louisville.  I was happy to have this tune pop on my ipod during today's run though, as I've been trying to get used to pace per mile as opposed to pace per kilometre (as we're in the land of imperialists), and this song coming in at 7:19 lasts LONGER than a full mile, which is sweet.  And Jack White just shreds the guitar solos, which is more amazing than a basket of chicken wings.

Beach reading this week was book one in George R.R. Martin's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' series...'A Game of Thrones', which HBO turned into a television series ths year.  I watched the series first, and it was excellent, and now that I've read the book I'm super impressed with how faithfully they adapted the text to the screen.  Season 2, which covers the second book, 'A Clash of Kings' is due to start in April 2012 so you have seven months to read book one, watch season one, and be caught up.

This takes 'Death before DNF' to the next level...
Please excuse me whilst I drink the milk of the poppy to ease my suffering from that 180K bike ride...

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Ironman Louisville 2011

Louisville was my third attempt at the Ironman distance, after a debut at Ironman Canada in 2008 in 10:39 and a DNF also in Canada in 2009.  In both the 2008 and 2009 races I went in with the goal of racing sub 10 and qualifying for Hawaii, but was pretty new to endurance racing and didn't know how much durability was required to put myself in a position to race those times.  In both races, I swam and rode too hard and paid the price on the run.  My overall placings in each sport in both 2008 and 2009:

2008: swim - 21st, bike - 545th, run - 191st
2009: swim - 25th, bike - 357th, run - DNF

After that 2009 race I committed to stay away from Ironman until I could take my weakness (the bike) and make it a strength.  2010 was spent focused on improving the bike, and I built on that fitness through 2011.  In February I made the decision to sign up for Louisville about an hour after having dinner with Mark Harrison, who'd just signed up for the race as his tenth (10!) Ironman.

Training went really well all year - no major injuries or sicknesses - just solid, consistent training.  Then ten days before the race I fell off my bike whilst commuting around the city, dislocating three ribs and putting a large dent into that confidence.  Cycling was fine, but both swimming and running hurt, as did sleeping and sometimes breathing.  Instead of a 'taper week', I shut it all down and hoped that the rest would have me OK to race on August 28th.

Phil Verk and I left Toronto on Wednesday night with a packed Ford Escape and an 'amazing' amount of baked goods from Bake Desserts ( - check it out, your stomach with thank you).  Highlights of the drive down included said baked goods, mocking the 'crazy storm' we were supposed to get that night, seeing probably the largest praying mantis in all of Ohio, consuming massive amounts of Louis CK stand-up, then enduring the wrath of the weather gods for mocking them and being forced off the road in Findlay, Ohio for the night. 

May or may not be the Praying Mantis we saw in Toledo
We stayed at the Galt House, which is the host hotel for the race, and it was great.  Everything was close by, staff was super helpful, and we could just focus on racing.  Within the hour of checking in, we see this car out front of the hotel:
Ironmen are a strange breed.
By Thursday I tested the ribs with a 5K run and it was manageable, did another short run on Friday and about 10 minutes of swimming on Saturday.  I wanted to feel super confident going into the race, but ended up being pretty nervous as my family and I had already booked flights and accomodation for a DNF would be the opposite of 'amazing'...maybe 'death before DNF' makes a bit more I still need to pay my VISA bill for the house in Hawaii if I'm deceased?

Our fan club (Team Imrie, Karen West and Shawn Patton) calmed us down over dinner, and Phil, Mark and myself were as ready as we could be ('as we could be' emphasis added for Mark, who had cycled exactly 105K in 2011 prior to the race, with 55K of that being part of the Muskoka Long Course triathlon...he was most definitely the least-trained participant heading into the race...getting married three weeks before an Ironman doesn't lend itself to being the most prepared triathlete).

Race Morning
Louisville is unique in the Ironman circuit as it has a time-trial swim start.  Check out this video (codename: 'Muppet Show') for a taste of what it's like:

In prior years, friends and family were allowed to 'save' athletes a spot in the swim-start line-up, which resulted in people camping out overnight. Ironman decided this was a bad idea ahead of a 17 hour day (it's a long day for the friends and family as well!) so the lineup didn't iopen until transition did at 4:45AM.  Being a smart cookie, not just a fantastic baker of cookies, Karen suggested  that Phil ride her bike from transition to the swim start, which was awesome and got us close to the start of the line. 

Support Crew 1
Support Crew 2
Time flies when you're having fun, suddenly it's 7:01 and we're in the Ohio River.

Swim - 55:10, 51st overall
The biggest benefit of the time-trial start is you don't have to sprint from the gun to get clear water.  Being nervous about how my ribs would hold up over the course of a 3.9K swim, I took it super easy during the first third of the swim.  Once we passed the island and turned around into the main channel, I found a good pace and eventually latched on to one of the guys who passed me going a reasonable speed.  I wore a blueseventy distance tri suit, going for simplicity in T1 over the potential time savings in the water of a speedsuit (which I find really tight and uncomfortable).

Finishing the swim with my draft partner.
T1 - 3:03, 24th overall
Smooth and efficient, only potential improvement would be getting shoes on faster.

Bike - 5:02:54, 24th overall
Rode ridiculously easy for the first 60 minutes as there was nobody around and wanted to keep my HR low.  Usually in training I can start a long ride around 135 BPM for my target power, but the combo of the swim and the race day excitement had me around 145 BPM for the same effort. 

Had a train of guys catch me on the out-and-back section, led by my friend Matt Barfoot who is a strong rider, so I jumped in with them.  We quickly dropped the majority of the guys until it was just three of us.  Going through La Grange the first time, we were caught by three guys going a touch faster than us - we hung on for a while but eventually they took off. 

By the start of lap two, it was just Matt and I...and a couple hundred of our closest friends who were on their first lap...a bit sketchy trying to pass people when you're rocking along at 40 KM/H on the flats.

Matt and I rode together until the last 25K of the ride where he pulled away.  My Garmin registered just under 1,300 metres of climbing, over the course of the ride I consumed 1 bottle of Infinit, 5 bottles of Ironman Perform, 6 GU Roctane gels and 3 SaltStick caps.  Garmin data:

T2 - 3:14, 66th overall
A few mistakes here, dismounted about 100 metres too early which made the run longer than it needed to be.  Also drank two cups while sitting in the tent, plus poured a bottle over my head instead of just getting ready to run and doing that on the go.  Leaving T2 to hit the run course I saw Phil coming in off his bike - he just SHREDDED the course, split sub 5 hours and had the 12th fastest bike split in the race.
Phil kicking ass and taking names
Run - 3:17:24, 21st overall
Heart rate was higher than I wanted to start the run, but pace felt easy - I backed off a bit after the first two miles to try and get the HR under 150.   

Reaching for salt pills on mile 2 of the run
Felt good for ten miles, rough for three, then good for four before the wheels fell off on the 19th mile.  Stopped to use the 'facilities', and walked each aid station from there on out.  Check out the encouragement Phil received from Top Gun out on the run course:

When your dog cheers you through farts, you're qualifying for Hawaii
After looking at my Garmin data post-race, mile 18 was only about 15-20 seconds slower than what I had been running, but mentally it was crushing and convinced me I was dying.  Need to push through that feeling next time.  Aid stations were great - threw two sponges in first, ice down the pants, one cup perform, one cup cola.  Had gels at miles 6 and 11, plus 12 SaltStick caps.  Garmin data:

Total: 9:21:43, 8th overall, 1st M30-34
Overall very happy with the result - nutrition plan was spot-on, resulting in strong energy levels all day.  Quads gave out later in the run which may have been due to biking a bit too hard during the second half of the ride, or due to the fact that my body just isn't durable enough yet to race for more than 9 hours.  Nice to see that my swim is now my WEAKNESS, will take advantage of my time in Hawaii before the race to try and get more pool time in to see if I can move that up a bit in October.

Quick celebration with Team Imrie, then off to medical for 2L of IV. Saw Phil come in a few minutes later, he rocked the course and had an almost 30 minute PB, and is also off to Hawaii.  We gorged on Kentucky BBQ post-race at the Frankfort Avenue Beer Depot and Smokehouse ( which was awesomely delicious.  Highly recommended! 

Strong race overall for the Ontario contingent - Phil (6th in M35-39), Matt (4th in M30-34) and Glen Flint (4th in M35-39) and myself are all off to Hawaii to do it again on October 8th...