I am sitting at Hapuna beach, just north of Kilauena-Kona recollecting my thoughts of the Ironman World Campionship in Kona 2012. It’s the last day of the trip, a bit sad to fly home to a freezing Sweden – the nature, feeling and relaxation here on the Big Island Hawai’i is fantastic. In addition to racing here, I have had most of my family with me for a vacation and support – we have had the best vacation ever, but they have also given me a fantastic support. Both on race day and the whole year.
Pictures can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151103513921860.437023.533581859&type=1&l=97290bb5c0
Preparations during the autumn wasn’t the best. I found it quite challenging to focus on Ironman training when the season should be over. And I had already accomplished my goal-qualifying for the world champs which I did in Kalmar. The Ironman in Kona was just going to be a fantastic experience and great fun, so I actually didn’t take the training so seriously. I did some running, swimming and biking, but I really lacked specific long distance training on the bike or run.
When I arrived on the island 10 days before the race, I planned to train some, mainly for acclimatizing to the heat. I surely did some training, but not too much. From a physical perspective I probably did just what was needed, but psychologically I think I should have swum the swim course and biked the run course at least.
Race day came, and I wasn’t actually too nervous, as main goal was just to have a good race. I anticipated to be up to an hour slower than in Kalmar (where I posted a 8.57 Ironman) due to the extreme conditions. Kona is infamous for its winds, a challenging course (rolling hills), and the extreme heat. This year should become the hardest conditions since at least 8 years, strong winds and 35 Celcius in the shade. It’s just that there is no shade on the course.
The Kona race is extremely well organized, you get assistance with everything from bike check in the days before, and all support you can think of during race day, including putting on sunscreen in T1 and T2.
I came into the pier for body marking and last minute arrangements with the bike. Pumped my tubulars and got everything together. I was calm and all was fine. Even though it was only 06.30 in the morning, the crowds were enormous. Clearly this WAS a world championship. 06.30 and the cannon went of for the Pros, and we age groupers went into the water for our start at 07.00. Swimming in Kona can offer everything from big turtles, dolphins and always corals and tropical fish, so it’s a really really fantastic environment.
However, this day the turtles were not there- only choppy waves and 2000 competent age groupers that all wanted a strong swim… The problem in Kona is that ALL are good swimmers, so the field will not stretch out as much as in any other Ironman race.
In any case, during the last year I have improved my swimming (56 minutes in Kalmar) so I was confident and placed myself quite near the front of the pack. But the swim would become a very very hard one. I braced myself for the start, I anticipated a fight from the beginning. But it was worse. It was like a washing machine for the first 1700 meters. At the turning point it became even worse, and only on the stretch back to the pier it became better for me. Finally I exited the water after 1.05. Given the conditions, I can live with that time, but the feeling and performance was sub standard. Also the pro times were somewhat slower than earlier years. But the ironman is not won on the swim leg.
Excellent support in T1- got help with everything, and I was soon out on the bike. What a feeling starting off up Palani drive with all fantastic athletes! During the first loop in Kona (with a turnaround so you can see the competitors) town I was utterly surprised that there were so many athletes before me… I started out confidently, as my bike has been strong through the year. I did pay special attention not to get cramps in my thighs which I can sense during the early stages of the bike leg. Soon enough I was warmed up and overtook rider after rider.
After the Kona loop, we were finally up on Queen-K highway, which would take us all the way to Hawi. Fantastic. I had arm coolers, and on every aid station I took a bottle of water to pour over myself and in order to cool down. It was hot. Very hot, but I think actually I could manage that quite OK. I drank as much as I could, took my salt tablets and gels.
On Queen-K, the Marshall’s came every now and then in order to give penalties to drafters. I think they were too few, but surely they gave penalties to all that they saw were violating the 7 meter rule. I tried to ride correctly, but sometimes the riders were so many that it was almost impossible to be 100%correct. There were, however some obvious cheaters.
When passing the penalty tents there were literally at least 10-20 riders waiting their 4 minutes to start biking again…
The first 60-70k of the bike was very fast, we had the wind in the back and were super fast. My average was over 39 km/h, it felt great. I passed Alexander somewhere here.
Then the very very strong crosswinds started, they came with 15 m/s from the left and from the right, nearly throwing me of the course at several times. This part of the course goes over the infamous lava fields, a moonlike yet beautiful landscape with rolling hills.
Coming closer to the turning point at Hawi there is a very long uphill ride, but worse than the hill is the headwind. It was devastating and psychologically very hard. I had been riding strong, but here David caught up with me, and I got some renewed energy, I surely wouldn’t let him out of sight. So helped each others to the top, joking about the conditions. FInally up at Hawi, we knew there would be the downhill ride of our lives, with the wind in the back.
After turning, we caught Magnus who was struggling, he is normally a very strong biker. I urged him to get on board the Swedish caravan, but he didn’t. The ride down was so fast it was almost frightening. Steadily max speed at about 70 km/h, and I had to brace myself in order not to be blown off the road again. But I smiled at the poor fellows who still were fighting uphill….
Coming down from Hawi, I also passed Carl, and we rode kind of together for some time. At this point David was gone, and there were about 50 k back to Kona. I had felt very strong during the bike, but here my power dropped fast, as also the headwind picked up. Carl rode steadily and away from me, I was struggling and getting worried of the run. The 50 k with headwind back to Kona must have been at least 100 k long-it was so windy, hot and lonely.
But finally I got into Kona, again a great feeling to hear the CROWD!! I finished the ride just over 5 hours, which I am actually very happy with during these conditions. It had been a steady ride, despite the slow finish. Considering that Alexander Craig had posted a ride just about 15 minutes faster than mine demonstrates the hard conditions.
In T2 in Kona you just drop your bike to a volunteer, just like pro’s – and actually feeling like a pro! Great support.
When running the 200 or so meters around the pier to the changing tent, I became quite concerned. My left foot was in such great pain that I could not run on it. It wasn’t the stiffness from the ride, nor my muscles, but a nerve pain that I’ve had the last few weeks, and apparently had become much worse during the ride, when my feet had been squeezed into the bike shoes. Not good at all.
I got my GoCoCo compression socks on and refused help with getting sunscreen on my back- after all, I took on sunscreen earlier that morning, right? But after some fast thoughts I asked for having some sunscreen on my back after all which would prove to be the wiser choice.
So I started the run out on the first stretch on Alii drive. The crowd was shouting as if I was the leader! I got a glimpse of my fantastic family, but I was in pain! I ran easy, and really the pain actually subsided… Could I really do this?
The heat was enormous, but there were aid stations every mile with cups of ice, sponges, drinks and energy. I got some sponges on the front and back of my race suit and in my cap. Soon I developed a pattern of taking 3 cups of ice on every aid station, pouring one on the inside of my suit on the front, one on the back and one in my running cap. Also splashing water over myself, and tried when possible to drink something.
They melted away in minutes, but provided me with cool water over me.
At the 7 km mark, there is a turning point on Alii drive, just at Keahole bay. By that time, I had had a few really promising kilometers of running. But soon enough, my stomach started cramping. Badly. Bad thoughts started coming, this was not really the first time I had issues with my stomach during a race… But I kept going at whichever speed I could do, running slowly. Coming back to Kona at 14 k, it was just a bit better, and I tried to look positive when passing my family again, highfiveing my sons.
Next up was Palani drive again. The hill up to Queen-K where the remainder of the run is. The Palani drive is not that long, but in the heat and fatigue it felt like running up a mountain…
Out on Queen-K highway it actually felt nice to be on the final part of the race. But the cramps got worse fast now, and the running shifted to walking/running. The heat was ridiculous. I met the leading pro male and women, and surely many of them were suffering too. Many of the great triathletes really had a hard day. Alexander Craig, for instance was far behind the leader.
The heat was bad, but my cramps in my stomach was worse. By now, I understood that it wasn’t going to become better. My stomach clearly is my limiting factor in these kind of races -must get that fixed or replaced. Very very disappointing not to be able to race as hard as the rest of your body would allow. But no excuses -ironman racing is by such complex and all pieces must work.
The heat was, for me, not limiting. It was sick but I managed that. The road out to Energy lab felt extremely long. Had I biked this stretch before, I would have had reference points, but the hills just went up and down, and all the time I thought the road to Energy lab would come soon. But it almost never came.
I caught Magnus who was extremely fatigued from the heat. We walked/talked and ran a bit. I ran away from him, and then he passed me when I had to fold double over my cramps. Eventually I had to let him go on the way back from Energy lab.
The road back to Kona was again very long. It wasn’t racing for me, it was just transporting myself back. Very disappointing indeed not to be able to race properly.
Eventually I came nearer to town, and the crowds were gathering again. They shouted “last incline”, which felt good. I looked for the first time on my watch for total race time – it was about 9.48,when passing the 40 k mark. I realized that I now had to get myself together and make the 10 hour limit. So I struggled on slowly but steadily. Palani drive downhill was easy running, but the pounding hurt me. I watched my clock for the final stretch -I was going to make it… Not a fantastic time, but still. I caught a glimpse of my great family just when I came into Alii drive, just a couple of hundred meters to go…
Then the Ironman carpet came. The crowd was wild. But then I saw the Official race clock – 10.01 with 50 meters to go! Not a good surprise – I must have accidentally stopped my watch for 2 minutes or so, hence the 2 minutes difference from between my watch and the official….
But in any case, I heard the speaker saying “Peter Oom, you are an Ironman” in the most American way… The most disappointing with the finishing time just over 10 hours is that I could have enjoyed the moment just a little bit more on Alii drive, should I have known that I already had passed 10 hours…
After finishing, I felt everything else but good. I was assisted again by two excellent volunteers. I got myself to the self treatment area, and I had to sit there for an hour or more and my family eventually came over there and met me. Every few minutes my stomach cramped again, but I knew I had to force down some fluids and some basic food.
The whole evening I felt really bad, but later that evening I could fall asleep and slept ok the whole night.
Now there will be some time to consider what I am doing and think over the next season. I will be doing some kind of endurance sport, that is for sure.
Maybe I’ll just continue with various triathlons as your average age grouper. Or perhaps I should try to get the final pieces in my ironman races together in order to perform well for once… Maybe shifting to more races with focus on the experience rather than the competitive element.
Or perhaps shift over to endurance running instead, considering I’ve already done the world champs in triathlon.
Time will tell.
Special thanks to my warmest supporters; my wife and family, Ecco, Sportlife, GoCoCo, Duells, Continental, triathleten.se.