Thursday, October 19, 2017

Kona

Kona Well what can I say, what a day the 14th of October  2017 turned put to be. The Ironman World Championchips is now in the rear view mirror and while ultimately I'll see the day as a success there was also some hard lessons learned and plenty of what ifs to take away. From what I've heard from anyone who's ever competed in the big dance in Kona nobody ever gets it right, it's just who gets it most right is most successful. I can now very proudly say I've competed at the highest world championship level in 3 different sports however at days end Rowing remains the only one that I've stood atop the podium and heard the Australian anthem bellowed out, i have 12months to work on that. An ironman is a long day for everyone involved and I'll try and keep this story to minimum but please bear with me as I promise to only write what truly feel is really relevant to my experience.  We arrived in Kona on the Monday prior to the event. I'd had a fantastic training camp in big bear lake california, nailing all my key sessions, and full of optimism to execute on race day. I did a recon final 120km of the bike course on Tuesday and liked what I saw, I knew it was a course where the race could really be setup on the bike leg. The heat didn't seem to be bothering me that much and I went into my final few days taper confident I'd done everything possible to challenge for the biggest prize in our sport. Those final couple of days dragged on, again another sign of my good form, and come Friday night I was in bed early sound asleep and relaxed, I couldn't wait to wake up at 3:30am and get race day started. Finally the phone beamed to life and my feet hit the ground and felt great, I was ready to go. Race morning is always a bit of a rat race. People everywhere in varying moods and I always seem to forget something or have something to do that takes longer than expected heightening that anxiety. Through in the fact that it's Kona and that urgency about the transition is significantly amplified. Today my issue was my brake rubbing, no idea how that all of sudden happened but it took me some fiddling to centre my wheel correctly again. With the wheel true'd up the gears where no longer in tune so I had a nice click click sound I had no idea how to get rid off but figured it would miraculously disappear once in the lava fields. With that I headed off to find Fallon to go though the final routine of putting on my swim skin having those lasts bits of nutrition in a normal way. I have to admit i was pretty cool calm and collected before the start without nerves which is far from a good sign as it generally means i'm approaching the race far to complacently. Anyway Fallon zipped me up, slapped on vasoline to avoid chafing, a second layer of sunscreen, a quick kiss and she sent me on my to the start of the Ironman World Championships. I don't do much of a warmup so jumped in about 5 minutes before the start. I felt calm and relaxed in the water so didn't have any reason to think I'd be anywhere other than the front pack. I lined up incidentally next to fellow Tasmanian Joe Gambles whom was my biggest rival for the tassie cup, well my only rival actually as there where only two of us Tasmanians in the race. I said hello, he kinda acknowledged me but looked far more nervous than I was in that 30 seconds before the gun went off, soon I was about to realize why. Before I knew it we where in the starters hands 10 seconds they said followed by deafly silence and "BOOM" we where off. The Swim I quickly realized why it wasn't a great thing being so relaxed as I was instantly jettisoned out the back of the race. I did my best to find some fast feet but there just seemed to always be someone in the spot I wanted to be and I get shuffled back. Well what that really means is others where prepared to fight tooth and nail for the same position and I wasn't so I lost that position. Once the dust settled after a few hundred m's I knew that I was going the speed of the front pack and a quick look up revealed over half the field disappearing ahead of me. Bugger, there goes plan A which is having a great swim, time to resort to plan be and just float around with the 2nd pack. Obviously the swim seemed to take an eternity which it did, around 6minutes longer than the rest off the guys, I'd never ever been that far behind in all my races all season.  The only bright side was I didn't have to swim very hard which I guess is quite normal when you swim the slowest you've ever swum, your not really putting much effort in. I noticed Lionel sanders and Sebastian kienle with me so I thought it's all good as these guys will be keen to rise there way back into the race, I'll just try and spend as much off the day as possible as close to them as possible. Around 53 minutes I emerged from the water with the leading females. Yes that's right the lead women had bridged a 5 minute gap to our slow mans group and actually tore through transition ahead of me. Now I was faced with a challenge I hadn't accounted for in getting the front off the women's race before I could think about participating in the men's race!!!!! Yes that first 53 minutes was a rather humbling experience. Anyways I got on my bike, got past the women, and before I knew I was at the front of the group containing Lionel, sebi, and Boris stein, plenty of fire power and motivation to get back into the race. It was finally game on. The Bike Finally surrounded bicycles and sitting on one myself I felt much more apart of the race. Thanks to my unintentional relaxed swim I quite literally felt like my race was just beginning all be it with a close to 7minute gap the ramant leader Josh amburger. I figured all my misfortunes where long behind me and it would be plain sailing from here on in. Just as I thought that and allowed a cheeky grin to slide across my face I thought it was a good time to have a mouthful of Gu I had strapped Between my elbow pads in a squeegee bottle, holds my 8 gels for the bike. As I reached down to grab it I hit a bump and just at the second I loosened it from it's cradle it catapulted through my hands  bumped into my right leg, bounced throughout the frame like a ball in a pinball machine and careered down the road ahead of me narrowly missing my front wheel as I whized by. "Shit" I said to myself, that was 3/4 of my sodium and electrolyte consumption for the bike leg what do I do?? I considered stopping and going back to get it but didn't want to be further behind the game than I already am, I'd already worked hard enough to get ahead of the lead women I didn't want to give up my advantage on them!!! So I decided that I'd just have to figure it out as I went along and get as much flake and Gatorade as possible along the route to compensate for the fuel I lost. Game on again!! Once we hit the queen K sebi came to front and took charge. He'd closed this gap to the front every year he raced Kona including when he won off course in 2014, he was the captain of this makeshift team we had assembled or the 3 musketeers as I referred to us in my head during the ride. We each took turns at the front and sebi kept us calm with words of encouragement and info about the gap. When I pushed a little to hard he'd tell me to save the energy, we are going to catch them, stay calm. It really turned out to be a massive blessing in disguise having the swim I did and ending up with these guys as I learnt more from sebi in that bike leg about how to execute a bike leg than any of the ironman bike legs I've done so far in my career. He's out and out a champion athlete and someone I've admired watching the sport in the past years, I really had to pinch myself from time to time to remind myself that I really was riding with sebi on the biggest stage in our sport, was pretty cool! Sure enough sebi knew exactly what he was doing and we pulled the leaders back within 60km which even I thought was pretty impressive to wipe out a 7minute gap in such a short space of time. Once we caught the group I expected them to be fresh as daisies after waiting for us to catch up so the race could begin. I was wrong. As we rolled past them all to the head of the race there faces where showing way more strain than ours where, they hadn't been waiting for us at all. To the contrary they had been trying to stay away. Lionel and sebi I'm sure noticed the same and immediately went to the front of the group and pushed the pace. Sure enough one by one the lead group started to dwindle in numbers and by the time we reached the midway turn around point at the famous town of hawi it had shrunk to now more than 12 guys. Another thing I noticed on the way up to hawi was the wind and how much it was blowing all my rivals particularly Jan around. They had all opted for deep 80ml front wheels and they where struggling to control there bikes. I'd chosen a 40ml front wheel as it's simply easier to control and I'm not into wasting energy just trying to stay on my bike. I also knew the wind would be stronger on the way back down the hill so handling would be even more difficult for these guys. As we made the turn I was in 4th right behind Tim o'donell, sebi and Lionel in that order. While the 4 off us relaxed for a second to take a bottle of water I studied there faces and particularly Jans and by my observation he didn't look comfortable. at that second i decided to push the pace and make him really work out of the turn and put him on the back foot for the ride back to T2.  I instantly had a gap and while sebi and Lionel also reacted to create separation from the group, Jan was now isolated and forced to chase being the big favorite and the man everyone had come to beat. I slotted into a nice rhythm, nothing to knarly, just one should I decide to go solo I was confident I could hold for 90km and bombed down the decent as quickly as possible using all the decending skills I had in my arsenal. At the bottom we make a left as we climb back up toward the queen k and at this point I looked back to see sebi alone chasing me a few hundred meters back. I decided to wait for him as he was chasing me down for a reason which I'm sure was to go as fast as possible back to town so I figured stick with the captain and while climbing the hill provided the perfect time for me back off a little and let him catch me while also saving my legs. As we made the turn back onto the queen K sebi finally drew alongside me and simply said "we have a minute on Jan, let's go". He knew exactly what I was trying to do and was intent on doing the same and when Lionel soon bridged back up to us  as well and the 3 musketeers where back together again, this time intent on putting as much lava field between us and Jan the German Giant as possible before T2. With around 30km to ride Lionel decided it was time to really boogy and took over the pace making from sebi. Instantly a gap opened up so I rolled past sebi and told him great job and to hang tuff we are almost to T2. He didn't have the same swagger as earlier in the ride and sure enough when I looked over my shoulder 1 mike later he was gone, it was just now down to two off us. Lionel continued to pile on the pressure and at this point I looked at my average speed for the first time. I had no timer set up, simply speed, heart rate, distance, and average speed. I noticed the average was 42.7 km/h and I thought "G whiz" we are going pretty quick here, 42.5 is 4:15 pace, I wasn't aware of what the course record was but I had some recollection of someone telling me it was around 4:15, we where going quick, no wonder the guys looked like they where hurting. Around this point Lionel's pace began to drop. Now the only reference I had for this was heart rate. When he pushed I was around 150-155 bpm, pretty standard for me so he's certain,y just as strong as me on the bike. With around 15km to go however my heart rate dropped to 130. I decided to roll up to lionel and give him some encouragement to keep the pace hot, this was our chance to try and win the race and we had to push on. I gave home some encouraging words as I passed but his head dropped and I thought perhaps he's suffering, I might push the pace back to the solid 150 pulse mark and see what happens.  Sure enough a gap opened quickly and i was all off a sudden alone again at the head of the Ironman world championship. I mean I watched this race a million times on tv and YouTube since I was 7 years old, I couldn't believe the situation I'd found myself in after not even being at the head of the women's field 4 hrs earlier!!! I was now leading the men. As I rolled toward town I felt really strong and I was convinced I had a great chance at winning the race. My goal that morning was to finish by 2:40pm and I calculated I only needed a 3:00 marathon to do that. I'd already done that twice before having averaged 10 beats higher heart rate on the bike, surely this was going to be my day. Those final km went by so slowly as the world seemed to stop, it was like a dream. Physically I'd never felt better on a big keg m whole triathlon career, I'd had zero flat spots and got stronger and stronger as the ride went on. I rounded those final few curves, reached the dismount line and launched the bike into the volunteer, those first few steps felt absolutely amazing, my confidence grew even more. Before I go onto the run a little bit about the equipment I used and why I used it. At the beginning of the year I decided to go it alone and not continue my long standing relationship with cannondale. There where a range of reasons but the main was I wanted to be free to pick and choose what I believed to be the fastest possible pieces of equipment for each and every course. The bike was a no brainer, the pinarello has won 5 of the last 6 tour de France's and also hold the world hour record, besides you only have to look at it to realize it's the fastest frame set available. The new Dura Ace is just rock solid and extremely sleek and of course fits perfect with the pinarello as far as integration goes. My choice of wheels where prototype wheels from Aaron at Find Faster in scottsdale Arizona. I sent many hours in the wind tunnel with aaron testing every possible thing we could and we came up with an 85 40ml clincher combo. The suit is designed and sold by roka, was tested in the wind tunnel and also fitted me the best off all the suits which made a big difference to the data. Mary Jane Mack from Mack cycles was in charge of painting the kask bambino helmet which I don't think you can go by due to its aero advantages, limited disadvantages from head movement, and simplicity. Sunglasses by Oakley instead off a visor because it tested faster in the tunnel and also provides better cooling for the face. There are certainly some special bearings throughout the bike and a race day chain prepared by a very special NASCAR mechanic and that's how we put together the race car. I really do believe that I had the fastest bike out there and it was amazing how much that made me brim with absolute excitement simply believing in that. Moral to the story whatever combo yo choose make sure you believe init as come race day nobody stops and waits fir you because of slow equipment! The Run I raced through transition with a big grin on my face, I couldn't believe it, I was leading the race!!! It was so eary and deafly quiet in there and it's a long way around transition!!! I couldn't wait to get my shoes on my feet and start the run. I just had the best bike leg I could have ever dreamed off effort wise to set me up for a fast run and I was leading the biggest race, I jus wanted to get on with it! I reckon I had the quickest transition off my life and I was off on the run, the quicker I get the started the quicker i get finished. As I was leaving I could see the others trickling in and couldn't believe the gap I'd opened up in such a short space of time. I'd gone from dreaming of challenging for the podium on the morning of the race, to being conservative and going for a top 15 at the start of the bike, to now believing I had a chance of not only finishing on the podium but winning the race. The may sound stupid to everyone but I was leading so at that point someone had to take that off me, I had every right to dream big, and I was!!! The first couple of km's went perfect, I was gliding along with the improved stride length we'd worked so had on since wales. I was trying in vein to slow myself down but I was just running so much better and moving better than I'd ever moved before. Then as I past the 2 mile marker I started to feel tightness in my calfs and I thought oh oh!! I was cramping. I immediately thought of that 3000mg of sodium I'd planned to consume to prevent exactly this lying on the side of palani rd somewhere and knew then I was doomed. I neglected the one thing you can't neglect in the early stages of the race in Kona and it was coming back to bite me in a massive massive way. My stride started to shorten and my pace started to fall, Lionel caught me at around the 6km mark which was much later than I expected and I sensed then it wasn't to be his day, he usually moves like a freight train. Sebi rolled past and he to didn't look poverty spritely which I was really upset to see as If I wasn't going to be fighting for the win then I would have loved to have seen him take another title, he just races with so much heart.  I soldiered on and continued to slow and continued to drop places and by the time I exited town and onto the queen k I'd drooped to 5th. By this point I'd resigned myself to the fact that I'd be simply achieving a lot by making it to the finish as no matter how much salt I threw down my mouth I wasn't getting any better. Once on the queen k I ran into Norman Stadler who told me I'd broken his record on the bike and I had to at least finish the race. It took a few seconds to process anything as firstly I didn't know what Norman looked like but I did know he had the record, and I had to remember the last average speed I saw to see if it was below his 42.5 and I distinctly remember seeing 42.8 as I rolled through to transition. I pieced it all together and said mate, I don't have the record, when you set that record and you won the race, i didn't come here to break a bike course record, I came here to win and right now I'm going to be flat out getting to the finish line. Seeing him left a real empty feeling in my head and heart of the opportunity id let squander. I've competed at the top level for many years across many platforms and I know when the days not going to turn around and today was certainly one of those days. Going from 1st to as low as 18th you have the luxury of seeing everything unfold. I knew from seeing all the guys on Ali and then as they passed me on the queen k, Patrick would win if Lionel and sebi faulted. Both only had to run within 5minutes of there bp's to win and they'd be well under  8hrs but if they wilted Patrick was floating like a butterfly and would zoom right by. Sure enough when I saw them in the energy lab the later was happening. Lionel and sebi where faltering and Patrick was flying. Now I felt terrible for them as we raced the ride so perfectly to give ourselves a chance of winning and none of the 3 musketeers where going to win, that really sucked as we worked so hard to make that race. On the flip side Patrick was extraordinary and on the biggest day his back was to the wall and he had to deliver one of the fastest ever runs in the history of the race to run down lionel and take the tape. Not only that but as I'd expected that morning close to 8hrs would be required to win and he smashed the overall course record. It took a special performance to take the win and that's what I think we all wanted to see at the start of the day, the race really by the record books came a long way last Saturday. 28 minutes after Patrick I would ultimately roll accords the line in 17th. Initially off course I was extremely disappointed as my goal for the race was to swim fast and run like a gazelle and Id done completely the opposite. I've heard suggestions that I was massively incentivized to break the bike course record, that's simply so far from the reality it's not funny. I didn't have a single penny riding in me breaking the bike course record hence I didn't even bother to find out what it actually was. I simply went out there like the other 57 pros and tried to win the world championship and for about an hour there around midday saturday I truly believed it was on the cards. I've leant an extremely large amount from this Kona experience and we will use all that information as we prepare for next year. After taking a couple of days to look at what I did I'm proud of my performance. I mean I set myself up to challenge for the podium and melted to 17th. Last year Lionel finished 29th and ran just as slow as me when he was considered a contender at the start of the day, why shouldn't I genuinely believe I could have been up there aswell. No I'm proud of my performance, I at least gave myself a chance. After all all bar 5 -6 athletes came within 5 minutes of the lead after the swim and I was one of them, that to me in my first Kona as a pro was a Great experience. I saw the faces and felt the pace out on the queen k on Saturday afternoon, and I cannot wait to go back again one day and see what gets thrown at me, I'll be training my backside off so I'm as ready as I can possibly be. Cjw 

9 comments:

  1. Top effort Cameron - enjoyed watching you on the front of the bike. All the best from Launceston, Tas.

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  2. Great efforts Cam... Great to see you following your dreams. We all learn as we go, excited to see what you'll do next year! See you around at Pedalers Fork :) Jon

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  3. Absolutely incredible race, and amazing insight into the mind of one of the men who made the race happen. Thanks for sharing. No talk of power meter or numbers - did you use one?

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  4. Truly exciting to watch. Great job!

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  5. Inspiring and awesome. You're rightly entitled to feel like you belong at the top.

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  6. Watching you from the sidelines working hard to achieve your dreams are some of my favorite days! xo

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  7. You were awesome. They said a biker can never win Kona. Stabler did twice.
    I have no doubt you will win it in the next 3 years

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  8. great read! you're a champ man! keep at it!

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