It is the 12th of October 4.15 and the alarm goes off, I’m already half awake wondering if I slept at all last night. It is a familiar feeling, I have not been sleeping too well the last 2 weeks in Hawaii. The jetlag, heat and fans have been keeping me up. I am thinking about how strong and confident I was feeling 2 weeks ago when leaving Perth and how this has slowly faded. The Hawaii holiday has been amazing nevertheless and besides taking it easy and getting ready for the race, we took some time to travel around, do some hiking, camping and surfing. These islands are truly amazing.
Today is race day and that is what this holiday is all about! I have been looking out for this day since December last year after qualifying in Busselton. Besides breaking my toe in March, the preparation for this race was good, I feel strong. I really enjoyed the training, the lead-up and getting ready for this race and felt I made a lot of progress in all 3 disciplines over the last few months.
After a five minute snooze, it is time for breakfast. Sarah, Janne and Bryant my support on course today are also up and I am pretending to be relaxed. After a short drive from our Airbnb I get dropped off at the start, we say quick goodbye, not sure if we will see each other before we start. I enter the start area behind the King Kameha hotel. It is crowded but very organized, 2400 athletes are being led through a funnel with various stops where volunteers are doing an amazing job of making sure we are ready; applying race number tattoos, weigh-in, securing timing chips, applying sunscreen, last minute hydration, distributing bike pumps in transition and helping with technical issues on the bikes. The organisation of this race is amazing with almost 5000 volunteers involved in various stages of the race. Hats off!
While walking to the start corral, I am surprised to see Sarah, Janne and Bryant have made it to the fence and there are some more hugs and high fives before I start. In my start corral, there is some nervous chat with fellow triathletes and I watch the Pro’s get in the water and take off for their race. I realize how special it is to be racing in the same race and think by myself: “How good is this?”
It is 6.40, time for us to swim the 150m to the start line, the water is choppy and there is quite some swell, not the usual flat conditions. For the first time this year, there will be wave starts instead of the iconic mass start. After the pro’s, HC and PC categories we are the first wave with males 18-40 years. There are about 1000 athletes in this wave, so I doubt if there is any difference for us. I manage to secure a spot in the front and after treading water for 5 minutes we are off! It is insanely crowded, white water and body parts everywhere. I sprint the first few hundred meters, thinking it will get less crowded but it doesn’t. Arms are getting entangled, I’m getting hit on the head, and people are pulling my ankles. At the turn around we catch some of the PC and HC category, it is chaos, I can’t imagine how these guys must feel while a 1000 athletes are swimming over them, under them, hitting them and I really wonder if it would be safer to have a dedicated lane for this category. But all this chaos seemed to have spread out the field a little, and for the first time I can pick some feet, and swim more relaxed. I think about how different swimming in the pool is compared to these conditions and am destined to get more practice in open water swimming when home this summer. The shore quickly comes closer and I swim relatively relaxed to the steps, I am happy the swim is over. Once out of the water I look at my watch and see 1.03, not bad considering these conditions.
T1 is messy and I struggle to get my two piece tri-suit, socks and cycling shoes on. It is so busy that there no volunteers available to help me with sun-screen but I decide not to rush and apply it myself. If only I was so considerate in T2…
The bike course starts with a short lap through town and a climb up on the Kuakini highway. I hear familiar screams on the side of the road, “go Sjoerd, go Freo”, I am trying to find my supporters in the crowd, but don’t see them. On the first climb I have to pace myself, I feel good, I overtake a few guys, but notice my heart rate is going up too fast. I slow down, it is going to be a long day. Especially at the start of the bike-leg it is crowded on course, I try not to draft but it is inevitable with so many riding so close, I hope the jury will realize this as well. I see the jury is being not too harsh and only the obvious drafters are getting penalties. Still when passing the first penalty tent I am surprised to see a 15-20 frustrated riders standing there.
The Kona bike course is (in)famous for the hills, winds and heat. It doesn’t feel too bad in the morning and I am quietly hoping it will stay like this. I comfortably keep a pace of around 40 km/h, get in my rhythm and enjoy the beautiful scenery. But soon I start getting cramp in my back, I never get back-pain and wonder why this is happening in this race, “Fingers crossed it is not getting worse”. My back pain is quickly forgotten once I turn left in Kawaihae and start the climb up to Hawi. From no wind at all, suddenly there is a massive headwind. My speed drops below 20km/h and for the first time I start to feel fatigued. Battling against the wind and the hills I see the helicopters and Pro’s coming down the hill one by one. They are going too fast to recognize them. Then, like I am not moving, Alexander Vinokurov who started in a wave behind me is overtaking me. His calf muscles are insane and his legs are pushing up and down like a robot, “would they still test him as an age grouper?” I wonder.
Finally I reach the turn around point up the hill and I look forward to relax a little going downhill. Unfortunately there is no opportunity to relax on this challenging bike course. While going almost 60 km/h the crosswinds which coming from random directions are hammering my 80mm front wheels, I have to focus and hold tight to not come off the bike. While being mostly absent on the way out, the wind is now really starting to blow and I start to feel the heat. My feet have swollen in the heat and are hurting and I’m getting desperate with the thought of 60 more kms in a headwind. At the next aid stations I take some extra water bottles to squeeze out over my head and feet to cool me down, it does not seem to work…. Luckily the head wind is turning into a crosswind and later into a slight tailwind on the last little section back towards Kona. Happy my nutrition went to plan -I ate all my 15 gels and drank a few gatorade bottles-, I am reaching Kona. My goal was to ride sub5 but happy with 5.03. My PB of 9.18 is going to be a stretch, but 9.5hrs is definitely within reach with a good run.
In T2 I pass my bike to the volunteer and run to the change tent. I quickly change my shoes, put on a hat and take off, not realizing I am about to make a big mistake. I see a bucket of ice water with sponges but run past it, “I’ll get some at the first aid station“ I decide. Leaving transition I immediately feel the heat, and while I normally feel really good coming off the bike, I feel terrible. The night before the race I had a feeling it was going to be a hot day, and even cut my own hair but it was not enough.
According to the Athlete’s Guide there will be an aid station every mile on the run course so I expect the first one after one mile. The sun is burning, humidity is pressing, I feel so hot. There is the one mile sign, no aid station, I am struggling, I look at my watch and shake my head looking at my pace, this is not a good start and there is 41 km to go. I hear familiar voices and try to smile while passing my support on course. All I can say is that I am so hot. Where is the aid station?!?!? Finally at 2.5kms there is the first aid station, I take some sponges, ice and water but it does not seem to help. I repeat this at every aid station but a few sponges at the time is not cooling me down. I still feel like shit, my eyelids are getting heavy and have problems with coordination. I decide to slow down to 5 min/km, finishing is all that matters now. The run course starts with a 12km out and back along Ali Drive so after 10kms I run past my supporters again and this time smiling is a bit easier but still forced. Then back in Kona we climb the steep Palani road before leaving town again on the Queen Ka`ahumanu Highway. I decide to walk the climb, and do some calculations. “If I run all the way in 5min kms, I could still break 10hrs”. On the climb I see Jan Frodeno coming down back into town, looking like an absolute machine and I am so jealous he is almost done. After the climb I want to start running again, but the heat, fatigue and lack of coordination is hitting me. And I have to slow down to 5.30min/km and then even 6 min/km. I re-do my calculations and realise it is going to be a long afternoon. Running 6 min/km does not make it feel easier and I get annoyed. I must have been visibly and or audibly upset because at the 16km mark when pro athlete Daniela Ryf is passing me on her way back, she sympathetically shouts “Come on you can do it!”. It helps, it breaks my chain of negative thoughts and for the first time in a while I start smiling again and think about why I love this sport. At the next aid station, a volunteer pours 2L of ice cold water over my head, it finally cools me down, Instantly I feel better. I realise I had been doing it wrong all the time, the sponges they are handing out -one at the time- are not sufficient, and from this point on I stop at every aid station and grab a handful of sponges out of the bucket and squeeze them over my head. It works, I can even speed up again to sub 5min/km. I start to enjoy the race again, at the infamous energy lab -it is the coastal location with the most amount of solar radiation in the USA- I actually have my best time of the race. I am overtaking people again and realize a sub10 is still achievable.
Coming back through Kona with all the support on course is amazing but seeing Sarah, Bryant and Janne at the last mile mark is very special. The smile on my face is coming automatically now, I realise I made it, I sprint past a few guys in the finish chute and hear the magic words: “Sjoerd Algera from the Netherlands you are an IRONMAN!” I finish in 9.50.37 which puts me in 95th place in my AG and 399th overall, maybe not the time I secretly dreamed off, but happy I managed to overcome the heat and finish under 10hrs.
This has truly been an amazing experience, and I hope to make it back some time. Thanks to all the FTC members for the support during training in the months leading up the race and thanks for the online support. Thanks to Bryant and Janne for the company and support in Kona. And finally, thanks to Sarah for all the support, amazing holiday and putting up with my addiction for triathlon.
What equipment were you using? Bike: Felt B12 with Zipp 808 Wheels
What training plan did you follow to prepare? FTC Ironman Plan from Scientific Triathlon
How did you qualify for kona? Ironman Western Australia in December 2018
If you could go back 3months before the race knowing what you know now. What would you change regarding your preparation? Definitely do some more heat and humidity acclimatization
Any other tips for those doing Kona? Do everything you can to stay cool throughout the day
What was your nutrition strategy? Gel every 20min and 1L of fluids per hour (50/50 gatorade / water)