Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Kona Race Report: The Bike

I have been told that a smart bike is the key to a good Ironman. In Kona, I decided to test that theory.

Kona does not have a bad elevation profile, but it is notoriously windy. My guess was that I could do the course in 6:30. But if I did that, my legs would be hurting for the run; during my last two Ironmans, my marathons fell apart. So I decided in Kona I would go easier on the bike and would shoot for a 7-hour ride.

I was surprised just how cool the first mile of the bike was. I was already over 90-minutes into the race, but since most of that was spent in the water this was the first time I actually got to see all of the spectators up close lined up along the road. It was amazing; I might as well have been in the Tour de France. (Given a choice between Kona and Le Tour, I'd pick Kona any day.)

There's a small hill that takes you out of town where I saw Craig and Jana standing on the side of the road. I was in a really good mood and thought it would be fun to high-five them as I went by. That worked out fine, but afterwards I realized that taking my hand off the bike while climbing and trying to ride close to the curb makes me a bit unstable. I wont be doing that again.

Once you leave town you get to the famous black lava fields pretty quickly. And for a while, everything about the race changed. We were pretty spread out; there was never a time when I couldn't see another cyclist, but there were long stretches when the nearest racer wasn several hundred yards away. And then an odd feeling came over me... After all the chaos of the swim and then riding through town, things suddenly felt... Peaceful. I wasn't racing; I was essentially by myself, out for a bike ride in the middle of a lava field in Hawaii. Which just happened to be part of the Ironman World Championship. I am always wound pretty tight and stressed about something, but this was almost a Zen-experience. It was wonderful.

Well, the Zen didn't last too long because we had to go out to Hawi. There is a long, steady climb into town and - truthfully? - it was easy. I do a lot of hill training and I kept an easy, steady pace and the hill was nothing.

The infamous winds however were not nothing. I remembered something that Michellie Jone said on an Ironman DVD: "I make that turn up to Hawi, I look and see if there are any whitecaps. If there are whitecaps, I know it’s going to be a tough tough wind day." So I looked out to the ocean, and I swear it looked like it was snowing out there. White water everywhere. Yikes.

I couldn't believe how little control I had of my bicycle. I would try to stay right on the shoulder line and the next instant I'd be on the far side of the lane. At one point I was blown into the other incoming-traffic lane, although technically it wasn't my fault. I was passing a guy on the left, then he got blown across the lane and I had to steer across the yellow line to avoid him. Fortunately, everyone in the incoming lane was also being blown off to the side so there were no collisions. I don't know how far I was leaning sideways into the wind myself, but the people around me certainly looked like were doing a good 30 degrees. And God forbid you want to take a drink and actually take one hand off the handlebars. That was suicide.

This is the elevation for the bike:

You would think that it would be a difficult first half and then smooth sailing once you hit the turn-around at the top of the hill in Hawi. No. We had a headwind all the way back to Kona. Aside from the initial descent, I felt like I was riding uphill all the way home. The last 30 miles were as tiring as the first 80 miles.

After the race, I pieced together reviews of the winds from people who have done the race before. The general consensus was that the winds weren't as bad as previous years, but with two caveats:

1) The gusts were as strong, it's just that they weren't as frequent as in other years.
2) The later in the day you were on the course, the worse the winds were. I'm guessing Macca had it easier than I did.

I'm glad that we didn't have a bad wind day overall. But I'm grateful that I still had to deal with the winds. I wanted to have the full Kona Experience, the good and the bad. I felt like I did.

When I first heard that there would be aid stations every 5 miles on the bike, I thought that sounded like overkill. But during the race, they couldn't come fast enough. The one nice thing about the wind was that it kept our skin fairly cool but it was still a hot sun out there. At every aid station, I would grab a water bottle, chug one-half to two-thirds of it, then dump the rest on my legs or head. I've never drank so much on a ride ever, and that was probably a smart move.

I had one sharp cramp in my leg at mile 110. It wasn't exactly they way I wanted to finish the ride, but it went away pretty quickly. I popped an extra salt tablet for good measure (I had been taking tablets about once an hour.)

I wanted to do a fairly-easy 7-hour bike and I finished in 6:51 so I think I pretty much nailed it. The most important thing was that aside from the last-minute cramp my legs really did feel pretty good coming off the bike. That was the strategy for the entire race.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pro looking bike shot--That's a good picture, Mike. You look like a badass.


11:36 AM  

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