The Kona Experience

Written by: Ruth Purbrook.

I can’t believe how long it has been since the big race itself, the race I spent 4.5 solid months training for, visualising during all the hard sessions and desperately hoping for a bit of luck to get me through what many people say is the toughest Ironman.

I am immensely grateful that I am in a position where I smashed my goals, and my first experience of the island was overall positive, although it has given me the hunger to go back for more!

The Kona Experience:

I don’t think I can give the whole experience justice in any words, but I will try and give some sense of what it was like. Arriving 8 days before the race I thought it would be a similar experience to 70.3 World Champs in Australia the year before. . . all I can say is it is like that on steroids times 1 million!

My week kicked off at 5.30am Saturday morning up bright and early for the Ho’ala training swim – basically, an opportunity for athletes to swim the course in a semi-race setting. Having only just arrived I was under orders to just relax and take it fairly chilled. This I did, and despite a punch to the face right at the start generally enjoyed the swim and was very happy to come out in 1.01. If I could have a swim like that on race day I would be delighted! We then had team breakfast which was awesome – with 8 Freespeed athletes out in Kona it was a great opportunity to get to know some of them better and learn from all their experience.

I was staying with coach Will and his teammate Patrik – who was also in Kona for his first race. It was great seeing how he prepared for the big day and awesome to see him smash it in coming 8th as youngest pro out there.

The rest of the week consisted of practice swim, bike and run – all fairly relaxed sessions just getting used to some of the course and the conditions. Most days it was quite overcast so whilst it was quite humid there weren’t any days I went out and wondered if I could even get through the race, so I was generally feeling pretty good for the big day.

The magic of the island is in being able to go from the beach outside our apartment and swim with wild turtles, and drive 20 minutes to a bay where you could swim with wild dolphins – huge highlights of the trip!

It is definitely the most relaxed I have felt in the run-up to a race, despite the absolute circus of the leanest, fittest people I have seen running up and down Ali’i drive every day, the number of different brands all selling things promising to make you that bit faster, and the biggest collection of bike porn!

The race itself – the swim:

Being the last group to set off and wanting to not get too caught in all the madness I hung near the back to get into the water – in hindsight a mistake. This meant I was about 6 deep in and had absolutely nowhere to go when the cannon went off. Definitely the most hectic first 1km of a swim – ladies fighting everywhere to try and get some space, and so many people unable to swim in a straight line. Finally managed to get some space so concentrated on getting into a rhythm. This lasted for maybe about 500m when we started hitting the slow men, which cause absolute mayhem again. Coming out of the swim I was mainly happy to have survived, although a bit disappointed with 1.o4 considering the time I did the week before. Anyway – onto the bike which is always the best bit!

The bike:

Without a doubt the most boring course I have done. The first bit was quite fun looping through town so there were crowds cheering. It was also pretty busy having come out with a big chunk of ladies and a lot of the men. I was just trying to bike to my own power and keep my own space. As we got out onto the highway groups were forming and I knew I had to not get annoyed, do my own thing where possible and not over bike. I was with a few other ladies most of the way out to Hawi, generally, a couple of them were good at keeping draft legal distance and we were swapping around as we were passing the groups of men. There was one girl (winner of 18-24) who clearly couldn’t be bothered to make any attempt to not draft and just sat on whoever’s wheel she could (like right on it!), which the draft busters seemed to ignore. After the turnaround point I stopped briefly to sort out my special needs bag (I think the additional PH1500 here saved me), and then the fun began for the descent. Fortunately, the crosswinds weren’t too bad and until we hit the headwind I was loving life. It then got a bit tougher, my watts dropped and I was getting a bit bored of the endless road ahead, however, I just kept focussing on passing people one by one and getting to the end of the bike course. I was expecting one more aid station at the end of the bike so the last 20k I felt a bit hot, but in future will be checking out exactly where all the aid stations are!

The run:

Running through transition I was wondering how the hell am I going to run a marathon – given you can be on the aerobars the whole bike I felt a bit stiff and uncomfortable, and my legs did not feel like they were playing ball as I started running. Fortunately, this got better, and the out and back down Ali’i drive was amazing! Crowds everywhere, music, people cheering everyone on, hosing people down and this section was the best atmosphere I have had at a race. I was running quite a good pace but consciously slowed down to make sure I didn’t burn out. Heading out onto the Queen K I was running with a lovely lady from New Zealand, unfortunately, I couldn’t keep up with her as we approached the Energy Lab! This bit of the run was the worst – long, boring, hot, hilly. I had no idea where I was position wise and at this point knew I was just trying to hang on to keep running. I didn’t seem to be having any stomach issues but stuck to coke and water with just a couple of shot blocks to make sure I wasn’t tempting fate. As I came out of the energy lab Will was there, and he told me I was in 3rd, with a girl quite close behind me. He also said Ali is just 2.5 mins up the road but I thought he was talking about teammate Ali (who came flying past me and I knew I couldn’t keep up!) so didn’t pay much attention. Coming into the final bit of town I put on a bit of a push as he said she was catching me a bit, and it was also great to see the crowds again!

Crossing the finish line I had all sorts of emotions – relief at having finished, pride, gratefulness, excitement. I am completely over the moon that my first Kona I managed to run the whole marathon, enjoy the whole experience, and learn so much that I can take into it next time. Obviously, my competitive spirit wants to go back there and do better!

A huge thank you to coach Will – for getting me into the shape to be here, guiding me through the week up to the race and being a real mentor as well as coach. I look forward to what we can do even better next year.

It would not have been possible without Barney always being there, supporting me through the ups and downs, doing the early morning sessions with me and showing me what real dedication is.

The support of the club as ever has been amazing – the various training sessions I have company for, the general atmosphere and the amount of messages of support and congratulations was quite overwhelming!