I have put off writing this blog for quite literally months as what happened over there cut real deep. I have been lucky enough in my very short career to have trained hard and then always got 'around about' the result I was looking for. I would have days where I over-achieved and others which left a bitter sweet taste in my mouth, but within a week I am usually back and training with renewed vigour.
Kona, 17 was very different.
To give you some context - I went to Kona in 2016 with no expectations at all, I just wanted to finish. I had a blinder of a day and everything went to plan and I came away with 11th in my age division and a time of 9:22:59. 'How good is Kona I was thinking', and rightfully so. Literally, the moment I finished Kona in 2016 - I knew that I could win that race a year later. I was so sure of it. So that's what I tried to do. I spent the next 300 or so days with one goal in mind - to win a world age group title in 2017.
I headed over to Ironman New Zealand and the weather gods turned on an absolute beauty of a day. Head winds which made the Kona of 2016 winds feel like nothing. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to win my age division and punch my ticket to the Big Island for the second year running. Game on!
I trained REALLY well. Under the guidance of my long term coach in Tim Reed, we devised a plan which we thought - if executed well, would deliver for us. I was lean, fit and so ready. Pre race I was a lot calmer in 2017 then I had ever been. I am not sure if it was a culmination of having been there before or the fact that a lot of my 'life goals' had also been ticked in 2017. I got married, I built a house and I managed to grow my coaching business (www.triedgecoaching.com.au) into a fully functioning business. But either was - I was ready.
The gun went on race morning and with 15 - 20 good hard strokes I had found a set of swimmers feet and I was off. Within 200m I had clear water either side of me and I was enjoying the free ride out to the turn around boat. Kona is a weird swim, in some ways it feels like the first 500/600m dictates where you come out of the water. Packs form and it requires a pretty big effort to bridge the gaps between solo. I chose to sit in my pack and 'just chill' trying to do as little work as possible. I got out of the water in 2017 in a better position than I did in 2016 but with a slower time. I wasn't concerned - it happens. I exited the swim in 54:33.
I nailed it through transition and got onto the bike in a good position. 2016 saw me ride very conservatively and somewhat negate my strongest leg. 2017 the plan Reedy and I had discussed was to assert a bit of 'road dominance' early and I really didn't let anyone have a chance to catch my back wheel. I was outta there. I rode to the plan which was just 10 watts higher than IM for the first 15 minutes to make sure that a) I was were I needed to be and b) the closer you are to the front of the race, the less chance you have of being caught in a pack and hence subject to the inevitable draft buster lottery. At this point, I noticed a beautifully formed pace line about 800m or so up the road. I had a look at the 3 guys siting behind me and it became clear to me that my 'ticket' was 800m up the road. Was I concerned about spending the energy - no, we had trained for this scenario. In my training I had prepared for, if needed the first 40 minutes or so to be slightly above Ironman - it is all about being measured. If I had have tried to catch that group in 5 minutes, yes I would have destroyed myself. I said to myself '20 minutes' that's how long I will give myself and patiently chipped away. So many times I thought I thought I was not going to catch them as when I was going uphill, they were going down and it and seemed to be 'yo yoying'. I stayed patient and at 22 minutes I got to within 12m of the back marker of the pace line.
I was pretty content with this pace line and I rode comfortably in it until the base of Hawi. The plan was always to push it up Hawi - within reason of course. I noticed in this same pace line was a mate of mine in Blake Kappler, I knew that Blake would have a similar thought process and sure enough off he went. I deliberately let Blake make a small break of 10 -15 seconds on the pace line. I was confident I could bridge but I didn't want to drag the whole pack up with me. Allowing the gap meant that I could go hard enough to bridge, but also turn the screws on those behind. It worked a treat. By the time we got to the top of Hawi, there was a small group of about 5-6 of us left, the perfect amount, and with only 2 age groupers in front of this pack. This is where I was dealt my first bit of bad luck - my bike special needs bag was not there. It was VERY hot this year in Kona and my sweat rate was high. Not getting my special needs which had 2 flasks of my 'special potion' hurt, but I was still feeling fine so I wasn't concerned. I did know however that I would have a 'slump' as I was going to now run out of my own hydration mix and would be relying on the 'on course' nutrition for the final 30-40km of the bike. Coming down Hawi, Blake absolutely took off. We were hitting speeds in excess of 70km/h with wicked cross winds and it was sketchy. Old mate on a brand new Canyon hit the deck HARD, but the pace stayed high. I rode Kona with a bigger front chain ring this year as last year I lost a lot of ground by running out of gears on the descent. Not this year. It was scary, sketchy and exhilarating at the same time, but we got down Hawi with only 4 people left. The climb coming up from the base of Hawi to the highway is equally as hard as Hawi itself and I took my time up this climb, trying to keep my body cool in the oppressive heat.
The final 40km into turned really turned it on. Our group of 4 started to splinter and I decided to push on as I was feeling rather good still. I came off the bike 2nd in my age division and with a split of 4:51:28.
Through transition, again I felt really good. I dropped all of my nutrition as I was running out of transition and unfortunately 2 of my 'Hot Shots' rolled under the barricade and onto the cycle course where I could not reach them. Again, I wasn't concerned at this point. As I started running, it became very clear to me that something was 'different' this year. My pace out of transition was slow, yet I was flying past people. We had trained to run sub 4:30/km's and I knew I could do that with ease. I was running near 5min/km's and flying past people. It was bizzare. Within 1 mile, I was leading my age groups race. The exact position I had trained the whole year for. At about the 5km marker, something clicked and my running legs came back and they come on really strong. From kilometres 5 - 15, I ran somewhere between 4:20 - 4:30km's - right on plan. I went past my wife at km 15 and she told me I was winning. Legitimately - no more than 500m later I was a walking mess. I have never felt anything like it. It was as if someone had ripped the carpet from under my feet and I was in 'free fall'. Still in first, I tried to gather my thoughts and took some more nutrition. I knew that I would come good again - it was just a matter of time and riding this bad section out. I got to the turn around in the energy lab still in second place and in my mind I was now focused on getting that illusive 'bowl'. I tried everything hey - I tried skipping, walking backwards, side skipping - no matter what I did, my body was just not playing ball. Those precious bits of nutrition that I had missed on the bike and rolled away at the start of run I could have so dearly used. I spent the last 15km of the run absolutely grovelling home, so determined to get a 'bowl'. I got to the top of Palani hill, with the finish line no more than 2km away and I was passed by a group of my age group competitors. I finished 10th. 2016 was the best feeling of my life to date, 2017 - up there with the worst.
I cannot explain how devastated I was. I saw my wife in the finish chute and all I could say was 'I'm sorry'. She hurried down to see my immediately after the finish line and I just cried in her arms. I remember saying 'I had it, it was right there, I had it - and now I don't'. Before being taken away by the volunteers. I felt like I had let so many people down. All the people that believed in me. It's hard to comprehend until you have been in that moment. However time heals all and as the days go by, I have come to grips with what happened there. Don't get me wrong - it still hurts, so bad. And I am not happy with my performance, I know I am better than what I showed - but I learnt some really valuable lessons.
1) Take risks - I took some big ones that day and it very nearly came off. On another day with a little more luck it may have worked, but that's life.
2) No matter how good or bad you do in a Triathlon, your family, friends and loved ones are always so proud of you. I beat myself up for days until I realised this and was somewhat embarrassed to talk about it.
3) Its ok to not get it right - You know what, I went to Kona and had a horrible last 2 hours and I came 10th in the world. It's not all bad.
From here, I had some pretty decent chats with my wife and Reedy and we have decided to pull the trigger and step it up to race the 'big boys' in the professional ranks. It is something which I have always 'wished' I could do and for it to become a reality is something which is both scary but also super cool. I hope you follow my journey into the 'new pond' where I am the newest of tadpoles.