Friday, January 9, 2009

Ironman Kona - Bike Course

****Click to enlarge photos****

I have ridden the 112 mile Ironman course, to Hawi and back, many times in my mind.  Watching or the NBC coverage of the Ironman World Championships it is pretty hard not to imagine taking a few pedal strokes on the Queen K.

If you have no idea what I am talking about I'll sum it up quickly:  This is the most hallowed ground in triathlon.  Period.  It's like Wimbledon to tennis players, or Augusta National to golfers.  If you're not into sports (then I'm amazed you read my blog...) it would be like Mecca to a Muslim or Vatican City to a Catholic.

So I was pretty pumped to get out there and see what legends are made of.  It being January, I hadn't been doing a lot of riding since Oct/Nov. back in Canada...  I wasn't going to let that stop me though.  I would however be forced to let it slow me.

My steed:  A rented Cannondale Slice from Bike Works.  58cms.  Ultegra drivetrain with a Mavic Ksyrium wheelset.  A nice ride by all accounts (well by my account anyway...)

The Slice's carbon did a nice job of easing the rigours of 112 miles on my derriere...  for that I was grateful.  On the other hand the Slice comes with a single bottle cage mount - not a very good design - if a rider wants to go for more than an hour in this climate he will need to re-fill (which he likely will not - resulting in design-induced dehydration - a term I have coined, and a predicament I have experienced, several times on rides this week.)

The length of the route and the climate in Kona dictated that even if the Slice were bristling with water bottles I would likely need to refuel several times...  In response to this unenviable problem my Dad graciously offered to operate a support vehicle (rental car) equipped with a cooler of ice cold water, gels, bars, sandwiches, gatorade, elete, tubes, patch kits, a floor pump, a camera and anything else I could think of.  It was awesome to ride "light" as you would in a race.

I started at about 7:30am.  The Queen Ka'ahumanu Hwy is relatively quiet at this time of the morning and before I knew it I was out of town and on my way past the Energy Lab and the airport.  It was peaceful and I settled into a comfortable rhythm as the air warmed up gradually around me.

I had instructed my Dad to meet me every 15 miles or so to give me a fresh bottle and some food if I wanted it.  I looked forward to seeing him for the first stop to tell him how much I was enjoying the ride.  He handed me a bottle (weak gatorade with elete) and I gushed about "how awesome it is to be riding in this weather!"

I passed the Airport and got out into the thick of the lava fields - I was loving every minute of it...  

At Waikoloa (approx. the 1/4 mark) I caught up to a fellow on holiday from Santa Cruz - we rolled together for a stretch, chatting away - it was a good way to keep my pace in check.  It was tempting to ride a bit too fast because I was feeling so good.

As the miles ticked by I had my eyes peeled because Lance is in town and training on the Queen K.  If he passed me slow enough to chat what would I say???  Seriously, I gave it some long thought....  I never did decide.  I didn't see him either.

Near Kawaihae I rode for a while with a local guy who broke down the wind patterns for me and filled me in on the exact turnaround spot in Hawi.  He had some discouraging news about "trade winds" and "sea breezes" that switch...  so they are in your face all the way.   

After Kawaihae (about the 35 mile mark) you begin the climb up to Hawi.  I found the climb a lot more difficult than it looked - the incline doesn't look too dramatic, but into the wind, as I was, it is tough.  Both the wind and the incline also pick up in the final few miles.  

I reached the turnaround in the picturesque (though I have no pictures) town of Hawi (56 miles into the ride) in a very respectable 2:45 of riding.  I was really pleased with my progress.  Once there it was a chance to catch a quick 10 minute break - I ate a bunch of mini-sandwiches Sacha made for me and took down some saffron rice with tomatoes (SO GOOD!)

I was really looking forward to the 19 mile descent from Hawi - I felt a bit like a kid on Christmas Eve as I ate my food and imagined flying down the road at 45-50 mph, wind at my back.  I made plans with my Dad to see him 20 miles later because we thought it would only take about 35-40 minutes to cover that distance.  

You can see where this is going....  At first it was awesome, I really was flying for 2 or 3 miles.  Then the wind became ridiculously strong - crosswinds and headwinds that made progress disappointingly slow (and at times dangerous).  My fantasies were not being realized.  Also, the "big hills" weren't so big going down....  typical.  Anyway, a little black cloud was forming over my head as I rolled down from Hawi.

I tried to tell myself - "Hey!  you've read about this, and seen it on NBC - isn't this cool?"  No.  It wasn't.  I wanted to go a lot faster, not get blown all over the road.  I seriously had to pedal into the downhill to keep any speed - that is annoying.

I look back now and realize that this grumpy mental state is the first sign of an impending bonk.  (Bonk = dramatic loss of energy).  The food I ate at Hawi was maybe a bit too late.  Anyway, I toiled hard for about 90 minutes of "tough times", "doldrums", "gut check time" as I pushed back several gels to try to pull myself out of the bonk....  

I remember watching the Mavic sticker on my front hub rotate and wondering if it could possibly go any slower....  I also remember saying I would never own a wheel with a sticker on the front hub.  Ha ha....  the course was kicking my ass!  

It was bound to happen - I haven't exactly trained for 112 miles at race pace.  I also started quite a bit too fast in retrospect (first 40km in 1:07.)  I paid dearly for that early speed on the return trip.  The stretch from Kawaihae to Waikoloa was HELL.  Very hot, middle of the day, soft black pavement surrounded by hard black lava, 60, 70, 80 miles in the legs....  My iPod died too.... right in the middle of a CCR song:

Long as I remember the rain been comin down,
Clouds of mystry pourin' confusion on the ground.
Good men through the ages, tryin' to find the sun;
And I wonder, still I wonder, who'll stop the rain.

And I sang that song ONE MILLION TIMES after the iPod died....

Eventually, things improved a little - I think the fuel I started to push back began to take hold and I got a second wind.  I also got within striking distance of town and that brought my spirits up.

It was all I could do to smile for this shot at the Energy Lab - it was smoking hot and I was near done.  "Did you take it?  Good.  See you at home."

I churned out the last 10 or 15 miles feeling pretty decent considering where I had been not long before.  During the last minutes of the ride I thought a lot about how the course had really lulled me into a false sense of security early on.  I regained a lot of respect for it on the return trip as the temps and the wind kicked up.

It was so awesome to go into the dark cave of bonkdom on the lava fields and emerge in one piece.  It was much better than if I had simply rocked it....  I am glad it kicked my ass.  That's what it is known for....

Down the home stretch to our rental house....

Total ride time:  Approx. 6:00.

Total time with breaks, water stops etc.:  6:40.    

 Bike to Pool transition....

Ahhh.... now that feels good!

A HUGE thanks to my Dad - I think this ride would have been hell if I had to carry everything and go off the road to get water every 25 miles.  Also to Sacha for renting me the bike for the whole week, allowing me the time to ride it and making sandwiches too!

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Ryan Denner said...

sick dude! i rode part of the course a few times during lavaman. it really is a beautiful course, but then again, I cant say i have climbed hawi :)

Travis Keller said...

Nice write-up. Just got back from Kona myself. Did the ride to Hawi and back. What an awesome ride!!! Will do again and recommend any serious rider to go and do it! If you are a rider, stop making excuses and go and do it!!! It was an awesome experience!!!

Pete said...

I just booked my first time trip to Kona and this was exactly the right blog to read ... excited and nervous about doing the ride ... can your Dad sagway for me too?