The big one has once again come & gone & I'm leaving kona with a slight sense of satisfaction about what went down on Saturday. I certainly have to confess that i never envisioned the race panning out the way it did for me, however, having the luxury of now being able to analyse my opponents & how i felt on the day, 5th was as good as I could've hoped for no matter which way the cards had fallen for me. Since Italy everything went exactly as we had hoped it would. Fallon, the Dog, and I had a very seamless travel and transitional week from Italy to Kona. We checked into LA for a few days allowing me to do a little bit of active recovery & soften the 12hr time change between Europe & Kona.
We arrived on the big island on the Friday & I was instantly back in a normal routine sleep wise so we most definitely nailed that. I was able to do a really good 10 day block of training which I'd never done before in Kona which to be honest made me wish I'd chosen to come to kona a lot sooner for some training. Each session i felt better & better in the heat & off course grew in confidence that i could be a contender for the biggest event in our sport. It's one thing for everyone else to tell you that your a contender, its another thing to truly believe you are yourself. While Italy was a big step in the right direction I knew first hand that that meant absolutely nothing when it comes to delivering a solid performance in the Lava Fields. The recovery week was great & my muscles felt fresh & ready for battle. One thing i was a little concerned about was how much sleeping i was doing especially during the day, usually I cant sleep when i take training away as I've got so much more energy. Might be something, might be nothing but I'm certainly going to look into that. The week definitely seemed to take an eternity as is often the case when your well prepared & when the alarm went off on Saturday morning at 3:20 i was ready to go.
Kona is the race I've done more than any other in this sport. In fact I've done kona double the amount of times of any of the others which i guess is pretty common however that means it totals 20% of my career days racing triathlons. Suffice to say Fallon, who's been there with me on each of the 4 occasions, & I have a set routine of when to arrive, get me dressed, & get me to the star line in plenty of time. It certainly helps with nerves when you've done it all before as they say & this year i certainly felt more in control of my thoughts than previous years. This year my Mum also joined us in kona for the first time & when it was time to head of to the swim start giving her a hug & realising how many race starts shes been there for to send me on my way, & in so many different sports & levels of competition was a pretty special moment & gave me some reassurance its was going to be a good day.
En route to the water entry i ran into Jan who looked imperious as always, its impossible not to admire his physical stature. What struck me more was how calm he was, making jokes about having my phone confiscated & making it clear he was up for the fight. This made me excited now as I didn't care who won the race or filled the top spots & i just wanted those spots to be filled by guys like Jan who was there to make the race & not simply sit back & wait for others to falter as we'd seen in the last couple of years. Finally was time to get into the pacific & then i always feel calm, guess that's because i grew up surrounded by it! There is nothing quite like the start line in kona, it just feels so mythical & I couldn't wait for the sound of the most famous cannon in our sport to reverberate along the kona Pier. We where off!
Up until this point everything had seemed to go perfectly. From this point on everything panned out in no way shape form the way I'd envisioned. Usually when I'm sharp i get off to a fast start in the swim which gives me the chance to keep an eye on the leaders & stay as close to the front as possible. On Saturday i had a very sluggish start & the arms simply weren't turning over like i wanted them to. Instead of being in control i was instantly retreating into the washing machine of the main body of the field with no idea where anybody was. One thing i knew for sure was that Jan, Ali, Josh & any other fast swimmers where long gone. I have to emphasise I didn't feel tired at all, to the contrary in fact, i felt great, i just couldn't get myself going, was just flat.
Anyways I've learnt to swallow my poison & except that was where i was at & bobbed along in a group that i had no idea who was in or how far behind we where. I have to also confess as we got closer to the Pier i did start looking back as I was concerned Lucy was going to catch me again, i wasn't overly optimistic it was a surprisingly fast swim i was having that's for sure! Finally we hit the pier & to my pleasant surprise most of the guys around me where the same as 12 months prior & once again Lucy hadn't been able to catch up! I say that's a success but she still swam over 3 minutes quicker than me. Happy with who was around me the next concern was where was Jan?? 5 minutes up the road... Great, not what i hoped for but probably what i expected, was time to get to work on the bike.
With Sebi & Lionel in my group I thought I'd like to get away from them if possible so I really jammed it when i got on the bike. Well i tried to really jam it however this was when i realised that sharpness i was searching for in the swim was also not there anymore on the bike. Once again & very early on i accepted my poison on the bike & just had to cross my fingers i had it in me to stay close to the front of the race. I settled quickly into my grinding tempo that i knew i could hold all day & waited to see if Sebi & Lionel would reenact 2017 & lead the charge to the front group. That's a lie, i was preying that they would do that as i knew I didn't have the legs i needed to get across a 5 minute gap to Jan, TO, & Ali. This time around there was Cameo from either of them & they seemed very content to instead pack themselves behind the Cam eo instead. While this shocked me at first i also have enough respect for both of them to know that if they felt they could push the pace they would & that my pace was better than they could muster up. This gave me a little more confidence that I wasn't going along too badly & i settled in for a lonely ride on the front of the train. I definitely wasn't annoyed in anyway shape or form in fact to contrary, i thought wow that's a massive sign of respect from those guys. 2 years earlier I'd sat behind the pair of the as we rocketed up the queen k hanging on by the skin of my teeth. With what's transpired since then its obviously my responsibility to set the pace as I've created that tag for myself. Just unwritten rules of the sport & to be honest i prefer to be on the front as I'm paranoid about getting a drafting penalty. I'd just do the best i could.
As the miles ticked by we started to eat into the lead. Certainly not as rapidly as I would've loved to have been able to but heading in the right direction as they say. One by one guys also starting dropping from that group which was nice to be moving up places but also told me they are not messing around up there! When we caught Patrick who'd had the swim of his life, ridden harder than anyone had ever seen him ride for 60km I couldn't help myself but to take a jab at him. I slowed a little as i passed the lone figure & as loudly as possible said to him "YOU LOOK A LITTLE LONELY THERE". I noticed he'd snivelled his way into our group a few miles later when i glanced back so i mustered up some strength to blow him straight out the ass of my following chew chew train & i knew that would be the last we'd see off him that day. It's a long way on that highway when your left to your own devices.
When we finally made it to Hawi I finally had the opportunity assess what was going up front. As expected an looked smooth & relaxed as did TO. Ali was already looking pretty ragged which wed all predicted so was very impressed to hear soon after that he'd punctured & been able to ride back to the front of the race. Was certainly something I obviously I wasn't capable of doing on the day. Once on our way back the Decent from Hawi had been my launch pad in the past, not this year. Try as i may to spark some pace i just couldn't get myself going, was just one of those where the mind needed to be stronger than the body.
Coupled with my lack of speed was the wind direction. It was basically a block headwind or howling tail breeze. This meant that into the breeze i was protecting all those behind me whom i knew many of which where much faster runners than me, not a good situation. And then when the wind was from behind the line behind me had the reverse effect of blocking me from the tail breeze so I couldn't maximise that like i usually can & try to squeeze the throttle. I had to take advantage of the rare crosswind sections & steeper rises to attempt to take some sting out of there legs so i stood some chance of running my way into a respectable position. Fortunately as we got closer back towards town i got some favourable wind & was able to pretty easily dislodge the tag alongs & give myself a nice buffer on them into T2. On top of that I'd managed to pull back Ali & blast straight past him which reiterated that i was perhaps in better shape than i thought to salvage a top 5. For the first time in my professional triathlon career I didn't enter T2 in record time & with nobody in front of me. Nope, i was 3rd, over 2 minutes back on Jan & TO & it was certainly very humbling. I say that but i was also slightly chuffed as since my arrival we've seen an entirely different dynamic & level play out on the bike. If your going to dish it out you have to be prepared to take it & was certainly being whacked with a good dose of my own medicine. As Arni would say, I'll be back.....
Through transition & finally onto the part of the race I'd been most anticipating. I obviously wasn't in the situation I'd envisaged so instead of calculating what i need to run to stay away I was now working out what pace pace i believed i could run from start to finish. I felt 4:00 per km pace +- was a realistic goal on the flatter sections & that would allow me to be conservative on the harder parts of the course. As i expected Ali, Sebi, & Lionel took off like greyhounds & sprinted past me in the first few km's. Sebi looked great & was going after Jan while the body language on Ali & Lionel meant it wouldn't be long before I'd be running back past them out on the Queen K. To say i felt comfortable would be a stretch however seeing how ragged the others looked reinforced i was certainly within my capabilities.
At the turnaround on Ali Drive i got another look at Jan where just like before the swim start I couldn't help but admire his athleticism, as we crossed once he made eye contact i just said "please smash that race record". TO also looked great, his signature head tilt in perfect position as always & at 39 in the form of his life, Go the old guys i thought! Sebi looked great as well & while i knew he'd fade later in the run i also knew I didn't have the running legs to up my pace & stay close enough to capitalise our that. Ali & Lionel continued to look vulnerable & upon examine those behind me I knew Ben Hoffman was the only one who looked like he had the legs to run me down. 4th to 5th was my revised objective which to be honest was a lot better that was i was contemplating on the bike where i felt a Top 10 would've been the best i could hope for. The day was improving finally!
Once out on the queen K i got into a nice rhythm & quickly picked off & dispatched first Lionel & then Ali. Really says how far my running has come when you've got the confidence to let guys like that blast past & know you'll be back past them in the not to distant future, specially someone of Ali's pedigree. While I'm one of Ali's biggest fans with what he's achieved on race day he's just another opponent to me as I'm able to judge him on what i can see & not what i know about him. If i allowed myself to fall into one of my man crush moments about his Olympic Gold Medals I'd probably have been to embarrassed to run back passed him. In my book what that guy has achieved in this sport he's in a league of his own. Anyways back to the racing.
Into the energy lab & i allowed myself to switch off a little & freshen up a bit for the final slog back along the Queen K to the finish line. At the turn around nothing had changed in my assessment, Jan was on course record pace, TO's head was still perfectly tilted to the side & Sebi was tiffing it out like only Sebi knows how to do. From behind the Hoff was absolutely flying & i knew 5th was now best case scenario. I also took notice of Joe Skipper who was within striking distance & with a 2;38 marathon to his name i knew that I'd need to really get to work once back out on the Queen K to keep him at bay.
The Hoff stormed past me quicker than expected so much so that he actually frightened me! I tried to up my pace but knew that was a hiding to nothing & got back to maintaining the rhythm I'd figured would be enough to keep Joe from doing the same thing to me. By the time I'd grind'd my way to top of Palani Road i still held decent buffer on Joe however not wanting to leave anything to chance i let the legs go & set about emptying the tank over the final few km's. That section the run course has actually been pretty good to me the last couple of years. 12 months prior Javier Gomez became the first professional triathlete i ever past on the run course. Fast forward 12 months & i was running my 2 fastest km's of the race en route to defending a top 5 position, isn't i crazy how much better a top 5 sounds than coming 6th!! Sorry Joe. 6th doesn't get you an invite to the post race press conference for starters.
When i finally hit Ali drive i was searching so hard for that finish line & the sound of Mike Riley's voice, i was hurting big big big time. Across the line & i felt very content, I finally managed to race an entire swim/bike/run in Kona! While I'm well aware many saw 5th as a disappointment its most definitely far from the case for one simple reason, the 4 guys that finished above me. Two of them are previous champions of the race & the other 2 have both finished 2nd, I'd most definitely finished in the position i truly deserved for where I'm at in this triathlon journey. Jan set a new overall course record which was another monumental step forward for the sport, specially in less than favourable conditions.
So that's that, another Kona in the books. Ive already qualified for the 2020 edition so baring injury or illness ill be on the start line on oct 10. For now its time for me to switch gears & tackle some ITU racing, see where that gets me, worst case scenario it should help me with that very vulnerable swim! Only time will tell i guess however one things for certain, i truly love each & every second of what i do!
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