*If you’re racing in Kona this year, would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment!

By Rich Strauss and Patrick McCrann
Endurance Nation

As the Ford Ironman World Championship draws near, athletes preparing to race in Kailua-Kona are eager for any information to give them a leg up on the day.

There can be no doubt that racing on the Big Island presents one of the most daunting combinations of wind, heat, terrain and, of course, world-class competition. In short, there is no such thing as being too prepared for this race.

While no one has all of the answers, here is a quick review of the top questions inside Endurance Nation about competing at the IMWC. In addition to these race-specific tips, don’t forget to download our free race execution guide to help you manage the overall picture of racing as well. Travel safely and best of luck on race day!

What Is the Swim Like?
The one-loop, non-wetsuit ocean swim in Kona is one of the toughest in the sport. The ever-present swells and chances of choppy water can really wreak havoc with your stroke.

Don’t forget the tidal current that typically pulls swimmers out, leading to a fast first half and slow second half of the swim. You should be prepared for multiple pace changes and the need to finish strong against a potential current. Don’t fight the water, however, as that will make for a long day—just swim your swim.

How Tough Is the Kona Bike Course?
The bike course is a combination of two out-and-back portions. The first is in town with very short, steep segments. Be cautious here, however, as it’s tempting to ride aggressively and the roads get clogged quickly.

The second out-and-back is the real deal to Hawi. For the most part, you should have a slight tail wind out to Waikoloa. The crosswinds usually kick in just before the road starts to kick up as you head to the turn in Hawi. Enjoy the free speed and do your best to eat and hydrate well; both become extremely hard to do when you are holding on to your bike in 25-mph gusting crosswind.

Due to the course layout, your halfway point isn’t actually in Hawi—making a physically challenging ride very mentally tough, as well. Add to that the fact that the winds increase in the late morning, making that gentle tailwind you had on the way out into a nice headwind on the way back.

Suddenly, hills begin to appear that you never noticed on the way out. Kailua-Kona, just like any other Ironman course, rewards the smart, patient and disciplined cyclist. Strength can be a liability on this course, if you don’t know how to use it properly. We highly recommend you read our Climbing Smart on Race Day article.

Knowing that the latter half of the bike is significantly harder will enable you to pace yourself properly. It’s very tempting to chase the competition early on, but remember that there’s a very tough marathon still on the schedule, and that’s where the true potential of your race will be realized.

I’ve Heard the Transition Is Crazy? Something About Astro Turf!?
While they do cover the pier with artificial turf, it’s nothing special. Know that the transition area is laid out so that everyone has to run pretty much the same distance to all of the bikes. There are no short cuts!

Coming off the bike, take note that the aid station inside transition is the only one for the first one to 1.5 miles. If you neglect to stop here you’ll have a very long (and hot) first mile. In fact, the hardest part about transition is checking in, as every competitor is accompanied by a volunteer and you really have only one quick shot to drop your stuff and get your bearings.

What Is the Run Like?
The run leg in Kona is a tale of two courses. You have the incredibly humid five-mile out-and-back stretch along Ali’i Drive, and then the hot and hilly eight-mile out-and-back on the Queen K to the Natural Energy Lab. This one-two punch is usually just enough to finish off all but the most prepared competitors.

Without a doubt, being able to manage the heat is what will make or break your run. Dress appropriately and know what you need to do to stay cool both in the humidity and in the direct heat of the lava fields. Keeping your core body temperature and heart rate down in the early stages of the run will ensure you’ll have something left for when it matters.

Once you have suffered up Palani Road, you leave the relative comfort of Kailua and the spectators for a solitary, mind-bending run through the lava fields of the Queen K and into the Energy Lab. There is quite possibly no single flat part on this latter segment, with rolling terrain that defies your mind’s efforts to ascertain where you are and how much you have left in the tank.

Once you make the descent down Palani, however, adrenaline takes over and there’s little else to do but cruise in and soak up one of the longest (and coolest) finishing chutes in all of triathlon.

What Can My Family Do on Race Day?
If they want to see you on the bike, the quick out and back is nice. For the adventurous, there is a shuttle out on the Queen K, but most folks stay in town and swim at the beach or relax. There’s a jumbo TV downtown broadcasting the Pro race and plenty of places to eat.

Everyone will want to be near the course early for the run (about 12:30 p.m.) as the Pros start coming through with elite Age Groupers not too far behind. In fact, if you look at the run map, you’ll see that your family can station themselves near the bottom of the hill on Palani and catch you coming and going many times before dashing to the finish line to see you wrap up your day!

What’s the Biggest Mistake I Can Make?
Course aside, it’s racing outside of your ability. Not respecting the race for what it is—a collection of the world’s best triathletes on one of the toughest courses anywhere—is a surefire recipe for disaster.

We highly recommend that you commit yourself to cruising the swim and bike until you are descending from Hawi. At that point you can dial things up to Steady and begin your day of racing. Coach Rich rode a 5:12 and qualified for Kona in 2002 at Ironman Wisconsin doing just this: a 72-mile bike ride after a 40-mile warm-up.

What’s the Temperature Like on Race Day?
Temps for Kailua-Kona have historically been in the mid- to upper-80s. This is compounded by the humidity and the radiant heat coming from the asphalt and lava. Your best bet is to be ready for a very hot day, both gear-wise and nutritionally speaking. But remember: At the end of the day, everyone else has to race under the same conditions!

As you approach race day, remember to relax and enjoy the journey. There are few times in our lives when we can honestly say, on this day, in this sport, I competed against the best in the world.

Don’t ruin the few weeks beforehand—and race day—by crushing yourself. Focus on what matters and save all the hardcore training for your run at qualification next year. You do want to go back…don’t you?

Endurance Nation is the world’s only 400 person long-course triathlon team, with 25 to 35 athletes in every U.S. Ironman this season. Download the Endurance Nation Ironman Race Kit, FREE! The Kit includes: The Four Keys to Ironman Execution eBook, 6 x 30-minute preview videos of our Ironman Course Talks, and the Ironman Transition Training Plan eBook, a comprehensive guide for the “what now” questions rattling around in your head post race! The kit is our gift to you, as a demonstration of our commitment to changing the Ironman training, racing, and coaching game!

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Filed under: Kona Ironman World Championships

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