It may be the depths of winter, but it's never too soon to throw back to some red hot racing in Kona at the 2018 Ironman World Championships. After qualifying at Ironman South Africa (on a Parcours Grimpeur wheelset) as part of our #TakeParcoursToKona promotion, Ben Hall was out on the Big Island, looking to improve on his debut performance back in 2016.
Here's how things unfolded in his own words:
The Ironman World Championship takes place in Kona-Hawaii in mid-October. For one week a year this tropical island paradise goes completely triathlon-crazy. In the week prior to the race, the town is littered with retired and current pros; as well as every triathlon brand imaginable with things for sale (my wife definitively told me that we did not need a $5000 mattress that applies more or less pressure to your legs depending on how much training you have done!). The week prior to the race was full of surreal moments, such as being sat enjoying an iced coffee with none other than three-time world champion Craig Alexander; we compared notes on cycling around London and Box Hill (my experience based on real life, his from training on Zwift!). If you’re not careful, the week prior to the race can be just as tiring as the race itself!
This was my second time racing on ‘the island’, and I knew what I was in store for. My first experience in Kona was a shuddering baptism of fire, involving some exceptionally dark moments running along the Queen K highway in the 35°C heat. This time I was determined to pace the race sensibly, and most of all to enjoy every minute of the day!
The swim start is perhaps the most iconic in triathlon. Two thousand of the world’s best athletes floating in a tightly packed line as the sun rises over Kona bay. There are helicopters overhead, and scuba divers with video cameras underneath you. It’s hard to suppress the adrenaline as you tread water, waiting. A canon fires from the nearby pier to announce the start, and everything becomes chaos. Those two thousand athletes treading water all immediately assume the horizontal, and arms start flying. And I mean flying! You get punched, grabbed, kicked, and even swum over – really, right over the top of you! The only hope you have is to give as good as you get. I spent the bulk of the swim trying to remain calm, and reassuring myself that at some point the melee would subside. And it eventually did. After about 3.7km. Leaving me a somewhat more tranquil 100m of swimming before I exited the water.
The bike course is 56km out and 56km back along the Hawaiian coastline, following a rolling highway which is notoriously susceptible to incredibly strong and sporadic cross-winds. I was riding the Parcours Grimpeur wheelset which had served me so well at Ironman South Africa earlier in the year. It was a shallower wheelset than those on most of my competitors’ bikes; but it meant that I could descend confidently without fear of getting blown off by a stray cross-wind. True to my expectations I was overtaking dozens of competitors on each descent. While other riders tucked down for safety and feathered their brakes, I had the confidence to stay on my aerobars pedalling hard. I then made up a huge amount of time in the second half of the bike course, as my conservative pacing strategy started to pay dividends, and other riders began the wilt in the inexorably rising heat.
I felt good starting the run. But the temperature (when factoring in the humidity) was the equivalent of 37°C that day, and I knew first-hand how humbling that can be! I started cautiously, and managed to maintain a consistent, if unexciting, pace for the full marathon. I would slow down to walk through the aid-stations to drop as much ice as possible down by tri-suit, then resume my determined jog.
I finished in a total time of 9 hours 40 minutes, 56th male finisher in my age-category at the World Championship. A full 40 minutes faster than my debut at the event in 2016. If I can maintain that rate of improvement, I’ll one day have a track-record to rival Craig Alexander’s. Unfortunately, I think that’s unlikely; but I’ll settle for having succeeded in my main goal: of enjoying every minute of it.