My first IRONMAN was in 2015 which was IRONMAN Texas. I finished but it was a brutal day during which I got second degree sunburn. That evening I called my wife and said never again. The next day I decided I could do better. The next year I did Texas and Chattanooga and then learnt that if I did 12, I could go to Kona and take part in the world championship via the Legacy program which then became the end game, take part in the world championship. This was originally supposed to be 2020 but Covid pushed it to 2021 and then 2022. During that time, I did other events making Kona my 22nd full IRONMAN and the 4th of 2022 after Texas, St George and Alaska. St George was the 2021 delayed World Championship being relocated out of Hawaii for the first time meaning I would take part in two world championships in the same year! Kona was also to be a big family vacation and from day one the plan was for my family to have the IRONMAN VIP treatment where they could place the kukui nut lei round my neck at the end and get to go out on a boat and see the swim up close.
We arrived on the Saturday, giving us a full week before the event to acclimatize and have some fun. It was a very long day, 3-hour flight from DFW to LAX, 3-hour layover then 6-hour flight to Kona but all flights were on time and our luggage made it with no problems! I had shipped my bike with TriBike Transport a few weeks earlier. The Kona airport is very small and all open air. The bags took some time to arrive, but we then hopped on the shuttle to Budget, got our SUV and were on our way to the condo we had rented on the Ocean front. There had been some jumping around where we were going to stay. Originally, we were staying at the Westin but that was about 45 minutes North of the main IRONMAN location, and we heard horror stories about how busy everything would be and wondered how race day logistics would work being so far away. A few weeks before we found the great condo that would enable us to eat at home, was 1-mile from the IRONMAN start so we switched!
Sunday, I woke up at midnight (because of the 5-hour time difference) so I went for an 8-mile run up to the main town then North up the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway for 3 miles then back again. I showered and then my daughter was also awake, so we went to the 24-hour Safeway to buy essential supplies. $500 later we had vital supplies like Oreo O’s, garlic knots and a lot of other useless stuff that we didn’t end up using most of.
You had to book your check-in time in advance, and I had booked the first available, 9am on the Sunday, and they were extremely strict checking your booking. There was a line forming at 8:45 and after a brief ceremony they opened on time at 9am. I was delighted to be given a coin for the event then all the other goodies; backpack, towel, poster, bib (x2 so you could keep one), cool bike sticker, regular bag and bike stickers. You didn’t get your chip yet; you would get that at bike check-in. Remember, this was a 2-day event. Women and older men were Thursday, rest of men were Saturday.
You also got ANOTHER coin at the finish which is the coin on the right in the pictures.
There were a LOT of things in the store and I decided to buy a lot of T-shirts, T-shirts and hats for family, I bought the event tri-shorts, bike shirt, running shirt, socks. A lot of cookies were spent (the word used for money with the kids). We then took some pictures around the event posters and participant names.
I went and joined Fitness Forever to enable me to train still while on the island which offered a 2-week membership and then at the request of the children we dined on traditional Hawaiian cuisine for our first meal, McDonalds. We went to the beach next to our condo, wandered round the town and then had another local favorite for dinner, Kona Crust New York Style pizza. I took it as a win as at least it had the word Kona in the restaurant title. It was great pizza!
Monday, I woke up early but had to wait until 4am until the gym opened. I trained till 6:30 and loved it. This is the first time I had trained in a gym for 2.5 years since Covid started. I have been training at home but having all the equipment was amazing. When we got home, I started training at Lifetime Fitness again 🙂 I went to the gym every morning except Friday and Sunday.
At 8am there was a Legacy function and I got to meet several legends of the sport! Dave Scott was very chatty and it was great. We talked a lot about weight lifting after he commented I was a big guy and didn’t look like a normal triathlete. He is very much in favor of strength conditioning.
My family had VIP check-in at the host King Kamehameha hotel. We had the boat package which meant they were taken out onto the water during the swim portion of the Ironman, then given great viewing, meals and then would be on the finish line to put the lei round my neck. They each got AWESOME stuff. Full backpack (the same as mine as an athlete), same towel I got but also got cup, USB power charger, an amazing satchel type small bag (which I stole and you see in the gear picture above), polo shirt, pin (shown in coin picture) and more!
For the rest of the day we once again explored the local town but everyone was pretty tired so we took it easy as that night we had the manta ray snorkel night trip. On the way out we saw the most amazing complete rainbow ever! We saw 14 manta rays and they came up so close to us. This was the kids favorite part of the entire trip and I have a great gopro video of the key moments and have linked to a little 5 minute version of some highlights.
On Tuesday my wife and daughter went for a half day horse trail ride while Ben and I found some great scenic areas and messed around.
Wednesday was beach day. We all messed around in the Ocean and I got sunburnt which was obviously a mistake. In the afternoon we met a photographer at a different beach and had a great set of family pictures taken and then some of me swimming and running. When we got back Julie took a few pictures of me in my bike gear. I had to cut the arms off the XXL bike shirt as it cut the blood off to my arms (money well spent). We also discovered Ultimate Burger at lunch which was probably the best burger I’d ever had.
Thursday was the women’s event and we watched most of the day. During the swim we could see them swim past the condo and on the run, they ran past the condo. We were on the TV from an aerial shot. We even picked up cups Lucy and Daniella dropped :D. I also applied lots of sunburn cream as I was pretty burnt from Wednesday. This would prove to be a problem 😀
Friday, I prepared my bags and also went to the IRONMAN village and bought a hat for my Omius cooling blocks (which required me to buy a complete set again) and a race belt with a small pouch. They also had the finisher gear so bought the jacket and t-shirt but didn’t allow myself to look at it until I had earned it.
My registered check-in spot was from 12-1 but they were not checking and a HUGE line in the sun had formed which took about 30 minutes.
Your helmet had to go on the bike then hang up your bags (which were under a shade). You got your chip on way out after being weighed. I had actually lost weight over the past 5 days, also not good.
It was pasta for lunch then Kona Crust pizza for dinner. I had bought a swim skin just for Kona (not wetsuit legal as too warm) but decided against it because of the sun burn and it was cutting into me anyway. I was worried when you added the salt water it would basically just chaff really badly and cause pain. I showered, applied numbers and a layer of sunscreen. I went to bed at 7am with an alarm for 2:30 but as usual slept terribly.
My family had to be at the VIP check-in for 5am and I had 7:20 start so we left at 4:30 for the one mile walk down from the condo. On the walk down I commented on how tired and achy I felt. I’m not sure if it was just the sunburn, had been a busy week or was starting to come down with the cold I’ve been fighting ever since we left Kona on Tuesday.
I had just got an Apple Watch Ultra and decided to test it at this event. I put it in low battery mode and turned off cellular. In my tests it would lose about 5% power an hour during exercise which meant it should handle even the worst day!
Once we hit the village we separated, and I went to transition. You had no access to your gear bags but could put nutrition on your bike (a Gatorade and water for me) and I pumped up my tires to 80psi. I switched to tubeless 25’s which means they run at a lower pressure. I also noticed everyone else had a swim skin, boooooo.
There were huge lines for the toilets but I figured the hotel would have urinals in their bathroom which they did and could bypass the lines so that was a great time saver. At 6am I joined the corral to start lining up. I saw Robert who had participated Thursday who advised to get up near the start as with such big waves may not even get to the start line on time in the water so followed that advice.
At about 7:10 they got my wave into the water where you swam about 100 yards to what is the starting point in the ocean with people on surf boards making sure you hold the line. I went to the far left and back a bit as I knew everyone else would be faster than me. I saw my family in one of the boats, which was really cool and we waved and blew kisses! You trod water for about 10 minutes until it was go time via the air horn. My wife took these pictures of me.
My legs felt pretty heavy, and it was a tough swim. This was my first ever 2.4 without a wet suit and the salt water was not as buoyant as I had hoped. There were also two waves starting after me which as a slow swimmer I knew would catch me about halfway. Sure enough at the turnaround point that caught me and for 5 minutes I was thrown around, punched in the face, kicked and generally abused. I like to think by accident. The water was clear but I didn’t get to see that many cool underwater things because I was too busy trying to sight the buoys (which I struggled with in the choppy waves) and generally focusing on how miserable I was and how much longer would I be miserable 😀
Remember this is the world championship. Nearly everyone there is there because they won age group events and the older men and all women (most also faster than me) were Thursday. The only people that would be slower than me would be other legacy athletes and even among them I was likely slower. My expectation is I would be last out the water and maybe last on the day. I wasn’t but was pretty close to last out the water as the empty bike transition attested. The swim was VERY slow, 1 hour and 42 minutes. My worst ever by a lot. The swim skin may have helped slightly if I had had it on, but that wetsuit clearly helps me a lot normally (as I’m normally 90 minutes)!
I would like to say this is how I looked exiting.
But it was not. These were from the Wednesday photo day. What I actually looked like was:
At the transition I saw my family again as I got my gear bag which was awesome. I put on more sunscreen, shirt, nutrition and grabbed my bike and out I went. As I exited the tent the sun came out. Grr.
There was some wind outbound against you, but I just felt tired. The swim took a lot out of me and honestly with the sunburn, lots of activity all week I was just a bit spent and first few hours were tough. It was very lonely since nearly everyone was in front and as very high caliber athletes I was not catching many people.
On the plus side I only stopped to pee twice 😀 All the aid stations had lots of supplies and even though they were every 15ish miles because of a lack of volunteers (an issue this year because of the 2-day event) it was not an issue and I changed water and Gatorade at every aid station and got a new gel when needed.
The headwind became a tailwind on the way back and I started to feel some strength coming back. The view of the ocean was great but you were basically on a highway for 112 miles surrounded by volcanic rock.
Total time was 6:11 which I was OK with but my average power was very low, around 160 which I think was just a function of how lousy I felt for the first half.
T2 was very slow as I knew my hands had got burnt on the bike as had my legs and was trying to apply lots of sunscreen which at this point could not do much. I had tried to apply more sunscreen during the bike but it did nothing.
Once again I would like to say these were pictures of me during the run.
But once again these were from Wednesday. Most pictures from the actual event would be me jogging, power walking lol.
I saw my family outside our condo on the way out at about mile 1.3 and again at about 5 and they made little signs and it was awesome seeing them.
If the bike seemed lonely the run was even more lonely. At about 6pm it got dark and many of the roads were not lit so I was running alone and in pitch black for large sections. They did warn us up front to have a headlamp if would be finishing late which I ignored although it was OK. You could see the white road line and the roads were in good condition so no tripping up etc. They had started to collapse the aid stations towards the end but still had all the supplies.
I jogged/walked at the start but the day just took its toll and had to power walk most of the last 16 miles but about 10 of those were with someone else power walking so that was nice!
My legs sunburn hurt, my feet hurt and I felt horrible and just tired but at mile 25 that all went away which was all downhill. I just started running and that final stretch down Ali’i Drive with everyone cheering made all the pain go away. Soon would get to see my family again and realize a huge goal.
Hearing Mike call out my name was amazing and then seeing my family waiting to place the beads round my neck was just the best.
You then went and got your morning clothes bag, finisher shirt, hat, medal and athlete finish coin.
You got your picture taken and then food was available in the recovery area but I skipped that to rejoin my family and grab my bike and gear bags. We hobbled to Tri Bike (which was on way to the condo), dropped off the bike then made it back where I collapsed into the chair begging for chocolate milk and pizza.
The Ultra watch was at 19% and for the last mile I turned on cellular so my family got better tracking on me. The only issue I had with the watch was at one point it asked me to confirm I was still training (rude) and at the end the screen was locked stopping me ending the workout. I think it was a mix of water and sleep lock. Holding down the crown eventually fixed it. I had it in manual mode between elements of the triathlon and not automatic as I worried if you paused on the bike it would think you entered T2. You can’t end workout with the action button which I think is a mistake but you do use the action button to switch between phases and to start. Overall, even if it took 17 hours to complete the battery would have lasted. The only other thing I don’t like is the activity details are only available on the phone and not via PC which is why all the detail shots are phone screenshots.
As usual I got no sleep that night and at 12:30 got out of bed and watched the recording of the pro race. My legs were not that bad Sunday mainly because I just didn’t stress them during the marathon as I just felt so crappy. For the next 2 days we took it pretty easy and headed home Tuesday. Kona airport was fine if pretty minimal. We made our connecting flight even though we were a little late and had to run between the terminals and somehow even our bags still made it!!! The LAX to DFW flight was a bigger plane and we had little mini cabins each with fold flat seats like international business class so that was awesome and the kids thought was the greatest thing ever. It was on this flight I really started to feel pretty sick which is why only posting this race report so late, been feeling under the weather since been back.
Did I have the day I wanted? No, not at all. I had done quite a bit of running ahead of this Kona to condition my legs. I had done a lot of cycling and was in great shape. I hadn’t swum enough but I was OK with that. I had hoped to PR at Kona but was obviously far from it. It was just not my day. Whether it was just an off day, the sunburn, the fact it had been a hectic week and I just started the day tired, the start of my cold, maybe everything it was far from my dream day. But I finished like many other of my past IRONMANs. I toughed it out and completed the goal, to take part in Kona and finish number 22. 8 years in the making and definitely once in a lifetime.
And with that this was my swan song for Ironman. I have achieved the goal and I think now it’s time to focus on a different set of challenges. I want to spend some time focusing more on my weightlifting. I want to do the Leadville 100 trail run in 2023. I’ll always find some other crazy thing but my desire to swim-bike-run was completed with Kona.
As always I couldn’t have done this without the support of my amazing wife Julie and it was great she and the kids were there for this one and medaled me at the end. Thank you!! Xoxo