The road to Kona
written by Jason George
Kona, Hawaii…the site of the Ironman World Championships. It is one of the toughest one-day sporting events in the world, requiring a 3.8km swim, a 190km bike and then a full marathon. It is also the dream of almost every triathlete to qualify and compete in Kona.
The Ironman World Championships always take place on the second Saturday in October. This year (12.10.2019), we will see if Patrick Lange from Germany can win for a third consecutive time and Switzerland’s own Daniela Ryf can win for a fifth consecutive time. Amazing!!
A couple of years ago, I decided to build on my passion for running and return to triathlons, a sport that I enjoyed immensely some 30 years ago. The problem with triathlons however, is that you are training in three sports and it quite simply, requires a significant amount of time. I am committed to sports and the outdoors, and decided that after a long time away from triathlons I would try to find the time to properly train again for them. As I began my return to triathlon, I wondered to myself if there was a chance that I could compete at a level that would enable me to qualify for the World Championships in Kona.
Qualifying for Kona requires finishing an Ironman in the top two or three in your age group, and because everyone wants to go to Kona, the completion is tough. As time went on, the dream for Kona got stronger and this meant that I had to be very serious about my training. I began swimming at Eglisee at 6:30 in the morning, I added strength training (2x per week) to my programme, and there was no more time for lunch with friends and work colleagues…I needed the time for training. Weekends required 5-hour bike rides followed immediately by a short run or a long run followed by a swim. Many weeks I spent well over 20 hours training the three sports and doing strength and conditioning work. And of course, I am still employed full time (though not much longer!!).
Early this year I decided that I would enter an Ironman in the US (most of the full Ironman events in Europe are already finished by end-September) and try to qualify for Kona. I chose an Ironman at the end of September so that I would have as much of the good summer weather and long days as possible to prepare.
As it got close to race day (28.09.2019), I knew that I was mentally and physically ready. I had prepared well, had avoided injury, not missed any key workouts and was doing intervals in my sleep. I arrived in the US and despite all of my preparations, I realised that I was not ready for the heat. It was predicted to be 33 degrees on race day and of course the marathon takes place during the hottest part of the day. Hydration and keeping cool were going to be critical.
During final race preparations, I rode part of the bike course and ran part of the marathon course, trying to acclimate as quickly as possible. I then had my bike inspected, attended athlete briefing, and finalised my fueling and hydration strategy.
On race morning, close to 2000 athletes lined up at the start for the swim. For some, it was their first full-length race; others had done this crazy thing many times before. I jumped into the water and settled into a good pace. After 58:00 I exited and at this point I was third in my age group. I was very happy and feeling good…I had expected the swim to take about 1:05. Quickly onto the bike and out into the heat. The key to the bike is to not ride so hard that you have no energy left for the run and end up walking when you need to be running. I knew exactly how hard I should be riding (for those of you who are cyclists, I use a L/R Stages Power Meter) and tried to ride as steadily as possible. The scenery was nice, but I was focused on the race, my fueling, and, most importantly, staying properly hydrated. As I neared the end of the bike, I realized that the heat had taken a lot of energy from me and my legs were tired. I was worried…I needed to be able to run a full marathon…in 33 degree heat!
As I came into the transition area to change from the bike to the run, I told myself “keep moving forward”. I had the fifth fastest bike time and I was not going to stop. I started on the run and I have to admit, it was brutal. At EVERY aid station I put ice down my front, down my back and in my hat. I drank everything that they gave me: water, Iso, Coke, Red Bull. Running is a strength for me and although I was suffering, I knew the heat was affecting everyone and would be particularly hard on those who had yet to start their run. I had to keep moving forward.
After about four hours of running – and walking up some nasty little hills – I heard the crowd encouraging us along the last five hundred meters and, finally, finally, saw the finish line. I crossed with the clock showing 10:53:43.
At the awards ceremony the next day I took my place on the podium as second place finisher in my age group. In my group, only the top two qualified for Kona; I gladly accepted my entry and fulfilled a dream that I have had for a long time. Kona here we come!!
Please do not read this story and think that I did it alone. It would be impossible for me – or anyone – to finish an Ironman and qualify for Kona without the help, support, advice and friendship of many people. BRC is a part of me and all of you inspire me to keep moving forward. Thank you!