Ford Ironman 70.3 Hawaii (Honu) – Race Report

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Ford Ironman 70.3 Hawaii Triathlon — June 2, 2007
1.2 mi. swim, 56 mi. bike, 13.1 mi. run

Overall, Ironman 70.3 Hawaii (Honu), my third half-ironman distance triathlon, was a mixed bag. On one hand, it was a 17 minute PR (compared to Wildflower this year, or an hour faster than my first half), mostly the result of a faster bike split. On the other hand, having no experience with the course, the mass-start and non-wetsuit swim, the split transition format, and Honu’s ninety plus degree heat and humidity made for a mentally and physically challenging race. The details…

Jaime and Brian at the finish

Pre-race
Jaime and I arrived in Hawaii two days before the event. Besides a few “simulated heat” indoor bike trainer sessions — riding with the windows closed, no fan, and wearing a few extra layers of clothing — there was little opportunity acclimate to the Hawaii heat. Of course, most everyone in the race was in the same boat but I still worried about the course conditions. 70.3 Hawaii features a non-wetsuit, mass-start swim (1,150 athletes all start together) and a split transition format whereby the swim-to-bike and bike-to-run transition areas are in separate locations. Registration therefore required quite a bit of organization compared to a standard triathlon which added a bit to the pre-race stress. I had a sore throat before the race but didn’t think much of it assuming it was allergies, the air conditioning, or similar.

Coming out of the water at HonuSWIM (37:26)
I am generally calm and relaxed the morning of an event but driving to the Honu swim start I definitely started to get the pre-race jitters. Perhaps it was because I marked Honu as an “A” race, perhaps it was all of the unknowns. For whatever reason, I was noticeably nervous. I warmed up in the water the best I could about fifteen minutes before race start. I decided to line up at the farthest end of the start line in the water thinking it might be a bit closer to the first buoy. It was difficult to hear the announcers on shore; everyone in the water near me simply waited for the cannon shot which would signal the start.

Suddenly, we saw a number of people running down the beach and people entering the water. Everyone in my area looked confused. Did they fire the cannon?! What’s going on?? Turns out that people running on the beach created a false start. There was nothing the race directors could do, so the race began in an unofficial, awkward fashion which only added to the pre-race stress.

Despite the mass-start, I felt like I spent a lot of time swimming alone. I certainly didn’t find many draft partners this time. I also found it difficult to sight the buoys in the sun. I eventually switched from trying to sight to keeping equal numbers of triathletes on either side hoping that the pack as a whole was swimming in a straight line.

One mistake I made was sprinting to what appeared to be the last buoy only several hundred yards from the finish. It turned out to be the second to last buoy, so it was a bit of a mental blow to have to recover and go hard a second time. Please let me have a decent bike split…

T1 (3:19)
T1 was relatively uneventful. Frustrated by the swim start and mistakes in the water and knowing that I had a long run to make with the bike since it was racked at the farthest point of the transition area, I avoided the niceties such as the fresh water showers, adding more sunscreen, etc., and simply focused on getting into my bike gear and heading out as quickly as possible.

Biking the Queen KBIKE (2:32:18, PR)
I have to say that I felt good on most of the bike route. After a ten minute warmup, I made the conscious decision to positive split the bike by starting out at the high end of power zone 3 (shooting for 265-270 watts) with peaks in upper zone 4-5a on the climbs (270-290 watts) verses attempting to ride a measured zone 3 effort throughout. I’m not sure if it was a good or bad strategy, but not counting on the simulated indoor heat training, I decided to ride harder while it was cooler. It also felt good to go a bit faster to release some of the nervous energy. I ended up with a PR bike split overall but I definitely faded, dropping to zone 2 power for most of the last ten miles of the ride. (Interesting to note the significant drop in power compared to the relatively stable heart rate. See graph.)

bike power graphA special thanks to Fred Rzymek, and Val Tavanese of OutSpokin Family Bicycles & Pro Shop, who also raced at Honu and had a killer bike split, for outfitting me on the Cervelo P3C. The bike is a true godsend.

(You can view the bike route on MotionBased. Note: this file is from another user and is not my own.)

T2 (2:51)
T2 was like a swami walk on hot coals. I undid the shoes rolling into the transition and left them clipped in to the pedals and ran barefoot to the transition spot as usual. Like most, I wasn’t counting on the blacktop pavement being hot enough to fry an egg. As a result I spent quite a bit of time dancing around on my toes while trying to remove running gear from the transition bag. Eventually I sat down to put on my shoes to get my feet off of the pavement which cost more time. (If you do Honu, definitely run T2 in your bike shoes!) Oh, well. Live and burn… It was the agony of de-feet… (Insert your own bad pun here.)

Honu runRUN (2:03:43)
The run started out great and slowly went downhill. The run course was a mix of paved roads through residential areas, golf course fairways and paved golf cart paths, and one long stretch of road through a desolate, scorching lava field. Aid stations were placed at every mile. There were also mile markers on the course so it was easy to check your mile splits. (You can view the run route on MotionBased. Note: this file is from another user and is not my own.)

The first mile of the run was expectedly tough making the transition from cycling to running, but not as bad as Wildflower. I took enough salt on the bike and the days before the race so I experienced minimal leg cramping. The initial four miles seemed to go by quickly. My mile splits, while not fast, seemed reasonable for me (8:40, 8:47, 8:32, 9:05). I focused a bit less on heart rate and simply tried to keep pace with people running slightly faster than I wanted to go.

I had eaten three gels on the bike and had several with me for the run but the heat made eating anything unappealing. I ate one gel and stuck with gatorade and water (and coke later on) for the remainder of the run. I also took Coach Duane‘s advice, cinching my race belt around my shirt and pouring ice down the front and back and under my hat to stay cool. While effective, I spent entirely too much time ensuring that I had ice on all parts of my body, often stopping completely before leaving each aid station. Of course, the ice probably saved my butt but most aid stations also had wet sponges you could put under your clothes and I found late in the race that one set of sponges under the hat and jersey worked almost as well and could be quickly rejuvenated with a splash of ice water when gathering ice was not practical.

I knew that I had a decent swim and bike since I saw Grant (one of my tri-heros) behind me at each out and back segment, and saw Andy Myers (another tri-hero friend) on some of the longer out and back segments. In spite of my slow run splits, the virtual hero sandwich I was in made me feel for once like I was in the race.

Jaime's coral sign at HonuAt one point during the run, the course goes through the host hotel grounds near the pool, restaurant, and beach cabanas. It was great to see lots of people out cheering — such a boost when you’re out there struggling just to keep moving. Jaime made a cool Hawaiian-style coral sign for me and cheered and took videos as I hobbled by. I said that I was having fun (yep, lied) and tried to look strong while passing.

Any good feelings ended at mile 9 when the route steered away from the relative comfort of the Mauna Lani hotel grounds and golf course and turned down a long, desolate road into the black lava fields (South Kaniku Drive). At this point the sun was at its hottest (94-96 degrees by my Polar) and the course headed downhill which meant a long uphill run to come. I soon saw Andy running in the opposite direction on his way out of the lava field. Obviously, he was way ahead approaching mile 12, but when before he looked happy and comfortable, now Andy simply looked like hell with sponges attached. The enthusiastic smile and wave was reduced to a mere lifting of the hand with a few fingers partly extended. I knew if tri-hero Andy looked like that, I was really in for it. Thus began the lava field run.

heart rate graphThe last four miles were pure survival for me. My pace slowed (9:43, 10:21, 9:44, 9:56) and the aid stations seemed to get farther and farther apart. By the time I reached the end of the lava field road turnaround (mile 10.5), Grant was only seconds behind. This roasted tomato was quickly slipping off the hero sandwich, as it were. Of course Grant was very encouraging as he passed. He in-turn was focused on chasing another triathlete in his age-group to maintain his lead. A few positive words and he was gone.

Hot, sunburned, and tired, the last mile felt like an eternity (much like reading this report, if you’re still here). Swearing off triathlons at almost every point during the day, I tried to think positive and consider what I learned. (Thump, thump, thump… bird… tree… bush… ouch…) OK, nothing earth shattering came to mind. I just knew that I needed to spend less time walking, need to eat more on the run, and work on overall running speed.

The finish was a bit of a blur. Jaime took another movie and had a nice lei for me. Andy and Grant were there, and Sandy came in seconds later. Everyone was in better spirits at the finish line. Having my fill of the Hawaii sun, Jaime and I went straight to T2 to pick up the bike and back to the shade of the hotel. After an ice bath and long wait for burgers at the pool-side grill, I felt tired but started to rejuvenate.

OVERALL (5:19:37, PR)
If it doesn’t show in the race report, my head was not in the best place for this event, probably because so many aspects of the race were new. By comparison, it felt significantly more difficult than Wildflower. Perhaps I was starting to get sick; I had a full blown head cold two days after but I doubt it effected my race much. I calculated out my time based on Wildflower age-group rankings and expected to finish in approximately 5:12, so I was seven minutes slower at 36th place. Everyone seemed to think that the heat this year slowed most people down which may be partly true. 36th place in the 35-39 age-group last year was 4:44 minutes faster. BayAreaTri.com stats below.

Honu stats

Anyhow, these are details. Good or bad, it’s an experience I’ll never forget. I certainly have a new level of respect for the conditions and all those who race on the Big Island. Congratulations to our immediate gang (Andy, Sandy, Grant, Karen, Laura, Fernando, Danielle, and Marshall) and to everyone who raced. Aloha! Great job and see you at the next tri.

Cervelo P3C in paradise

Next up…
San Jose International Triathlon, June 24, 2007.