Race Day is finally here! All I can say it has been one great journey all building up to this one day. As I developed my race day plan, there is always the balance between risk and reward for hard to push. Cross that line and there is a high probability for a DNF, stay too conservative and you leave time out on the course. My goal for the season was to Qualify for this race, and given the time and monetary investment I’ve made to get here, I decided to keep my strategy on the conservative side. With that said, I went into the race with the following goals, in order of importance:
1. Enjoy the entire experience all through race week and race day.
2. Cross the finish line
3. Finish Sub-10:00 hrs. Assuming “typical conditions” this seemed like a reasonable goal given my fitness and pacing plan.
4. Match my Kona Qualifying times 1:06 Swim / 5:10 Bike / 3:20 Run for a total of 9:43.
So going in I felt that if I was able to meet the 4 goals above, my race would be a complete success and my race day strategy was developed accordingly. I was confident that I developed a plan that I could stick to, race my race and achieve my objectives. Now it was time for the important next step: Time to Execute!
IM race day morning was fairly typical. I woke up 15 minutes earlier than normal at 3:45 to allow for extra time for the 1.5-mile walk to the start line. Other than that, same schedule I follow for my other Ironman and Half-Ironman race. Wake-up, eat, shower, get dressed and be in transition 1.5 hours prior to the start.
For this race, I made a couple of changes to my pre-race breakfast, that I was hoping would finally address the GI issues I have experience in every IM so far, usually around mile 14-16 of the run. Also, knowing that races in warm temperatures can expose flaws in even the best nutrition plans; I knew I needed to figure out a solution to my issues. Long story short, I started eating gluten-free (or minimal gluten) at the end of July. I also tested eliminating all dairy products for 2-3 days prior to my long workouts with great success in training. With this new approach I had 2 Lara bars to add some fat and protein in addition to the carbohydrates, and then large bowl of Enviro-Kids Koala Krisp with almond milk. After several successful trials in training, I was feeling good that this might finally solve my issues.
By 5:00 AM my wife, son, mom and I headed out for the walk to the Transition area. It was actually a relatively relaxing and peaceful walk in the darkness until we arrive at the edge of town. As we neared transition, my mom and son staked out their location on the wall to watch the start, and my wife and I headed to the Body Marking tent. The whole pre-race routine was very well organized, and I flew through body marking, finished getting my race clothes on and dropped off my pre-swim bag. After a final goodbye to my wife, I entered the transition area around 6:00 AM to get my bike ready.
The excitement and energy in the Transition area was indescribable and the helicopters flying low overhead and Hawaiian dancers and drums only added to the anticipation. Finally it was 6:30 and the professional’s were off. Now crunch time for me to go through my pre-race routine and stretching. As I neared the swim entry, I ran into my friend Bryan. We both getting pretty pumped up about the start and made our way down the stairs and decided to line up together since we both swim similar times. With about 10 minutes to go, we waded our way out to the start line and lined up about 20 feet back from the start about 50 feet left of the floating car. Then waiting, bobbing, waiting, adjust goggles, waiting…….
BOOM! The cannon fired and we were off. My plan was to stay slightly wide and stay in cleaner water and avoid the thick scrum of everyone going up the buoy line. The swim was definitely crowded, but the water was clear enough to get into a normal swimming form and rhythm. About 10 minutes into the swim, I started to angle over to the buoy line, which was a mistake. Next thing I knew I was swimming up on the person in front of me, getting hit with elbows on both sides and having my ankles grabbed and pulled under. Not for me, and much slower than staying wide. I quickly decided to stay as wide as necessary for the rest of the swim so I was able to actually swim. This ended up being maybe 100 feet (not really sure and didn’t really didn’t stop and look) off the buoy line. Besides the crowds, the water conditions were not bad. Not nearly as calm as my first swim earlier in the week, but also not as bad as the large swell days. The swells were large enough that I had to time my sightings so I was on the peak of a swell otherwise I couldn’t see the buoys. At the turn, we had about 100 meters where it seemed that we were going directly into the waves and wind. After that we made the turn and swim straight back to the pier. I just settled into my pace with a small group that we seemed to take turns leading and drafting all the way back.
My qualifying swim time was 1:06 and even though the conditions were more difficult here than in Coeur d’Alene, I made some good improvements since then thanks to all the feedback from Fraser Bicycle Swim Coaches Bonnie Karas and Chris Lutz. Also, thanks to Chris for setting me up with a Blue Seventy ITU Tri-suit to use as a swim skin. It is not technically a swim skin, but I figured based on my swim time the biggest benefit was to simply wear my race top and shorts during the swim and have a quickly removable, yet tight fitting outer layer. This type of suit is perfect for this, as it is Teflon coated and tight fitting. There are several companies making suits like this, including SLS3.
As far as my times, I was about 33:00 at the first turn, about 2 to 3 minutes along the back edge and then about 34:00 on the swim back to the pier. Final time 1:09:43 (113/171 in AG and 798 overall). Not great, but for me it seemed to be the correct effort for me.
Finally out of the water and into T1. I spent extra time in the shower making sure all the salt water was rinsed off. I probably spent a few seconds too many here, but since this was my first time in a salt-water swim in an Ironman, I wanted to be sure I was well rinsed. Into the change tent where I put on my arm coolers, skin cooler helmet beanie and sunscreen. Then off to what seemed to be a long run to my bike where I put on my helmet and sunglasses. Due to the length of the run, I left my shoes on my bike, and no doubt this was the correct choice. My Garmin shows the distance in Transition to be about ¼ mile, but it just seemed so much longer than that! Out of T1 in 4:11.
Now for the bike. As I planned my pacing, I broke the bike into 5 main parts. The first section was the 7 mile twisting and turning section around town and my goal was to simply get into a steady pace, get some nutrition in and not get caught up with the guys flying by me. No really pacing or power goals other than to not do anything stupid and keep my peak power in check.
After that, it’s out onto the Queen K for the roughly the next 35 miles through the lava desert. Here is where I chose a conservative plan. Typically I always pace by power in training and racing. Here given my observation from test rides, I paid attention to HR, in addition to RPE for this section of the race. My power was about 10 -15 watts lower than what I expected for that HR, but I also knew it was warm and that would come back to bite me if I pushed too hard in the beginning. The surprising thing was even though my power was lower than I wanted, but speed was right where I thought it would be, so it seemed like a good trade-off at that point.
From here I also focused on executing my nutrition plan perfectly. I started with 2 bottles of First Endurance EFS with 2 scoops of power each, and 2 EFS Liquid Shot flasks. My consumption was 1 bottle of sports drink per hour, and I would get new bottles of Perform at the aid stations as needed. I also decided to use 2 standard bottle cages instead of 1 cage on the aerobars and the Specialized Virtue Aero Bottle on the frame. This allowed me to use the second cage to carry water, which I would drink as needed or dump over my body to stay cool. This extra water was crucial as I ended up grabbing 1 full bottle of water at every aid station. I would end up drinking about 1/3 and the rest went on my arms, head, back and face. It was amazing how good the cool water felt. For the additional calories, I also took 1 serving of EFS Liquid Shot or Gel every hour. I started with 2 EFS flasks, with each diluted to half concentration so it had a thinner viscosity making it easier to drink with a dry mouth, plus 1 GU Roctane for a total of 5 gel servings. I also added a half scoop of EFS Pre-Race to one of the flasks (a.k.a. the First Endurance Hand Grenade) that I would save until the last 2 hours of the ride to give me that extra kick to finish strong and set up a solid run. In addition, I also took 1 salt stick tab every hour for a total of 5 on the bike.
After we passed through Kaiwaihee, we made the turn towards Hawi and began the rolling / climbing hills into the headwinds. Here I went back to my power pacing, and just focused on steady pressure on my pedals, consistent power and riding a straight line. The winds were relentless and did not seem to let up. Looking back they ere not as bad as I expected, but they were just always there; absolutely no relief at all for the entire 15-18 mile segment.
After the turnaround in Hawi, the race really got interesting. All those headwinds and climbing turn into a descent with a strong tail wind. I was easily spinning out at 100+ rpm at a 53x11 and coasting for much of this return section. My average speed for the first 5 miles after the turnaround was 34.3 mph, with a maximum of 40.7mph…..all at a meager 124w!
Once the “free ride” was over it was back to business, with a focus on pacing, now by RPE and power, and letting my HR drift upwards a bit. Once we hit the turn at Kaiwaihee (about mile 80) it was back into the lava fields, and it was time to launch the grenade! So I took my first half flask of the First Endurance Hand Grenade, and not sure if it was pacing or the energy boost, but I was feeling really good at this point. So I decided to push it a bit and let my power and HR climb. By this point I was passing everyone I saw ahead of me so it was good motivation to stay in a good aero position to minimize the winds and make up some time. Overall I averaged about 22.5 mph over the last 52 miles, and most importantly I was feeling really good.
As I got close to Kona it was interesting to see the men’s pro race play out. Just before Hawi (mile 50 for me), I saw the lead pack of 5 riders heading back to Kona. Not sure who was all there, but I could tell it included Lieto, Alexander and I thought Raelert. Now at the end of my ride, I saw Alexander with a big lead as he headed out to the energy lab. After seeing this, it was hard to contain the excitement that I would soon experience by all the loud and crazy crowds. After the last few turns, it was down Palani and back to T2. Bike split was 5:09:21, up to 96/171 in AG and 524 overall.
Overall, my average power was only 198w (206w normalized, VI of 1.04), which was about 15w less than my expected power based on my training rides. I haven’t performed an FTP Test since late spring, so I am not sure, but I think my IF was approximately 0.65. As I stated earlier my plan was to err on the conservative side, and I definitely did that, but I think the question remains did I stay too conservative? Or was it necessary to reduce my power accordingly due to the effects of the heat? It’s hard to tell. Regardless, I was happy I beat my goal of sub 5:10 and I was feeling really good with plenty left to spend on the run.
I tried to move through T2 as quickly as possible, but again, that run from dismount all the way to the end and back to the tent seemed to go forever. It was a bit uncomfortable to run so far barefoot. I quickly got on my SLS3 Compression socks, K-Swiss Kwicky Blades and grabbed my goodie bag that contained my visor and gels and was off. In and out of T2 in 3:51.
On to the run, where it always gets interesting. I was feeling good at this point and especially with all the crowds it took a lot of self-control to keep my pace in check. The first 10 miles consists of a 5 mile out and back along Alii Drive, which was mostly full sun, but lined by trees so there is minimal winds to keep you cool. Pretty much, it's just hot. Similar to my bike plan, I decided to use HR in addition to RPE to control my pace in the opening 10 miles. As I started running the first 3 miles I was feeling good keeping a pace at 7:30, but my HR was about 5-7 bpm higher than my best long runs, so I made the decision to dial it back and stick with my plan. This had me running about 8:00 min/miles and my HR began to settle where I liked it at about 148-150 bpm.
My nutrition plan was pretty much consistent throughout the race. I would take advantage of every aid station to stay cool and hydrated. Every aid station was the following routine: 2 cold sponges on each side of tri top, 1 cup of ice down front and 1 cup of ice down y back, drink 1 cup (approx. 4 oz) of Perform, then water over head and water on face. On top of that I had a Salt Stick Tab about every 2 miles and 1 gel serving every 40-45 minutes. Similar to the bike I had 2 GU Roctanes, then 1 First Endurance Hand Grenade (1/2 flask of EFS Liquid Shot, ½ water, ½ scoop of Pre-Race) that I saved for the last 16 miles of the run.
After holding steady with my nutrition and cooling plan, I was feeling good heading back into town. As I began the climb up Palani Hill, I noticed people around me starting to struggle a bit with the climb. Even though was only going at a walking pace up the hill, I kept “running” because mentally it kept me engaged in the race. I felt if I started walking that hill, it would be the first part of a possible mental breakdown that would cause more walking later. At this point in an Ironman, I feel it’s more mental strength that physical strength that carries you through.
I knew I could still break 10 hours if I keep this up and my run will be around 3:25-3:26. But I was feeling good. All those miles holding back on the bike and the first 10 miles of run kept me fresh (relatively speaking), so I decided to pick it up as I crested the hill onto the Queen K. So I picked up the pace and the miles began to tick by at a comfortable 7:20 min/mile pace. This was awesome! I was still walking every aid station completing my routine, and then pick up the pace accordingly between them and kept my average pace where I needed it. As I got near the Energy Lab I was just on cruise control and feeling good and hit my second best mile split at 7:09.
Into the Energy Lab and it is a nice downhill following by a flat before turning around and heading back to the Queen K. I can’t say I noticed the Energy lab to be any easier or more difficult than the rest of the run course. It was still hot and windy, but I just kept focus and my pace remained steady. As I finished the climb back to the Queen K, I tried to maintain a steady effort on the climb and just motored my way up the hill.
Now back on the Queen K, I knew I was well ahead of my goal of breaking 10 hours, and that my goal of sub 3:20 was well within reach. I just needed to maintain this pace and I would be there. As a result the thought of that gave me a surge in pace and I ran my fastest mile at a 7:03. After that I just focused on steady efforts up the hills and recovering when possible on the downhills. My pace for the rest of the miles hovered between 7:20 and 7:40. At this point my HR was climbing, staying close to 158-160, but RPE was okay and I just kept pushing to the finish and leaving what I had left out on the course. Once we hit the turn down Palani Hill at around Mile 24.5, I knew I was I right where I wanted to be with my splits. Actually the run down the Palani Hill was the worst part of the run for me. My legs were getting tired and the pounding of running downhill caused my quads and shins to take a beating and my form was starting to deteriorate. Shortly, I was off the hill and heading towards Alii Drive.
As I turned onto Alii Drive, I couldn’t believe it. It was a dream come true to run along the same streets and finish line that has such a special place in the history in our sport. The crowds were amazing with everyone going absolutely crazy, cheering clapping and yelling. IT. WAS. AWESOME! Just before I entered the finish chute, I saw my wife, son and mom on the side of the road, which was the perfect way for me to end my day as we completed this journey together. They were there at the start and here they were at the finish! I really wasn’t concerned with sprinting to the finish line at the point, even though there were plenty of other finishers around, I just wanted to leave enough space so we all could savoir this moment in our own ways. When I finally climber the ramp to the finish line, I heard those famous words: “Tom Maliszewski, You are an Ironman!”
After I crossed the line, it was time for a final check of my time: a run split of 3:18:51 for a total time of 9:45:57! I was absolutely ecstatic with my time! After holding back so much on the bike and run, my first thought was a chance to break 10 hours, and here I was feeling (relatively good), with a finish time within 3 minutes of my qualifying time, in my opinion much more difficult conditions! Complete Success! Final placing was 71 of 171 in M30-34 and 307 Overall.
For my first race in Kona I am really happy with my results. According my goals I had going in, I achieved every one of those. If it weren’t for such a slower swim, I would have beaten my qualifying time outright. I beat my bike split by about 1 minute and run split by about 2 minutes. Also, I finally had a good race with my nutrition at the Ironman Distance. This was the first race out of the four I’ve done, where I did not have to stop once for a toilet break and not one hint of GI distress. Very, very happy and satisfied with my results.
A few final thoughts…..
Now that the race it over and I’ve had some time to let it sink in, I still can’t fully believe it’s already over. It was a great experience on so many levels, from the build-up during race week, to the excitement and execution on race day. While I would love to do this race again in the future, I’m not sure how soon that will be. It’s time to step back and assess my plan for 2012 before I make and firm plans.
I have to acknowledge and express my gratitude to my wife for supporting me during the past couple of years during all the training and races to get here. Without her support, dedication and sacrifice this would have never been possible. She was and will always be my inspiration.
Also thanks to the entire crew at Fraser Bicycle, especially Paul, Ron, Coach Bonnie and Chris for helping me have a successful 2011-racing season. Thanks to Robert at First Endurance for his advice on fine-tuning my nutrition strategy and making the great First Endurance line of products. To Sebastian and Sylvie at SLS3 for making great racing, training and recovery gear. K-Swiss for the great shoes that performed as described and effectively drained all the fluids I was dumping over my head with no signs of friction or blisters.