Jeremy Hopwood

Jeremy Hopwood

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kona 2010 - Racing at the Show

The Background Story


For anyone who is involved in the sport of triathlon they know the place Kona has in this sport. The word Kona is so much more than just a race venue in the world of triathlon. It is where Julie Moss collapsed within site of the finish in 1982 on Ali'i Drive. It is were many of the sports great have come and face disappointment on multiple occasions before eventually getting a win. 

Kona has names that are iconic in the tri world, whether it be Ali'i drive, Palani hill, the Queen K, Hawi or the energy lab it is a place I felt like I knew even before I first landed there. Growing up in Australia I remember watching Kona on TV with my Dad, I remember Greg Welch coming close to winning on a few occasions before finally breaking through in 1994. 

At that time and until I landed in Kona race week that place seemed so far away. So far away from growing up in Australia where a road trip to Melbourne was a big journey, so far away when I decided to sign-up for Ironman Canada 2008 even though I could swim about 50m. Throughout the whole time (probably 20 years ago) from when I first saw Kona on TV there was something that resonated within me about Ironman Hawaii, the lava fields, the energy lab and the like.

The Recent Journey

After 18 months in the sport of Triathlon in March 2009 I decided to set some goals in terms of getting faster. On my blog I call it the "process of getting faster" and that is what I focussed my goals around. This involved a bit more structure and focus to see what was possible. I came out of Ironman Canada 2009 (10:26) knowing I could go faster and also knowing that I loved this sport. 

The thing about triathlon is that it doesn't lie, while natural talent and ability plays a role in triathlon like all sports it is hard to fake it when you are racing for 2 to 10 hours (or more). The sport doesn't care who you are, what you have done, what potential you have. Come race day all it cares about is did you do the work day in day out. Did you get out of the bed to go to the pool? did you get that ride done in the 3 degree weather or did you cut it short? did you push that interval to 100% or just 98%? Basically triathlon is honest, it tells you by your results if you came prepared, if you race smart and if you were prepared to hurt.

So post Ironman Canada 2009 I decided to put a real focus on the process of getting faster. That meant making sure the process made sense in terms of my aim of getting faster. I started to work with Clint Lien - Mercury Rising Triathlon. At this point as if you are investing 15 to 20 hours a week into training you want to do it in a structured objective way. Through working with Clint I have been able to focus my energy into executing the plan and hence removing a lot of the potential excuses.

Through out 2010 I had some solid races (UBC Olympic (2:07) , Shawnigan Lake Half Iron (4:20)) and coming into Ironman CDA felt like I could put in a good day. With 9:34 at Ironman CDA I had the opportunity to take a Kona slot and get to go to the island.

The Build to Kona

The build to Kona went well, as always there were some crap days but I thought I executed well. Coming into race week I had done what I thought could be done to race strong. As always there are a few things in retrospect I would change but overall I was very happy with my prep. 

I knew I wasn't going to swim the lights out but at least I felt relaxed and fit in the water. Bike wise I felt strong although it is hard to get an exact gauge until you get into race mode and form the run perspective felt like I was pretty strong. 

I had a good hit out at  the Vancouver Olympic Triathlon (2:09) in miserable conditions were I spent half the day just trying not to step on more barnacles after slicing my foot 50m in and avoiding laying the bike done in the wet.

Race Week

So it was time as the plane came into land at Kona airport I got my first view of the Lava fields. It was an exciting time seeing the blackness that the lava fields provide to the landscape. That day I got to run down Ali'i drive and start to soak in some of the atmosphere of Kona in race week. The next day I swam at the pier and started to fully appreciate the type of vibe that having 1500 or so fast people in the one place creates. 

Early in the week I tried to soak as much in as possible. This included a ride in the winds at Hawi, the only way I could describe the gusts is to set up your trainer on a slight angle then get a fried to try and push you off while you fight to stay upright - only one word describes it and that word was - WOW!!!!. Having said that I found it it a lot of fun to ride in and was a little bit disappointed it was a little calm out there on race day.

We had a good crew there from Vancouver and combined with the hospitality of Lifesport and their Victoria, BC contingent had an awesome time in the lead up to race day. To be able to share this experience with Les and people I am super happy to call my friends was awesome!!!

Race week workouts all went well, I felt relaxed and ready. Come check in on the Friday got to soak up the atmosphere that is the day before the show with the bike count and all the associated activities that you need to do on the day before a race.

The Show is Here - Race Day

Overall 10:05:34
500 of 1847 - Overall
462 of 1344 - Male
100 of 162 - M30-3

It was then time to race. I seem to be lucky that I sleep well the night before races. after about 7 hours I was up, went for a quick jog then got down some pre race food. Made sure to get to the race site early, got my bags and bike finalized then chilled for 20 minutes before the pros left. At this time it was time to make my way to the water, and with about 10 or so to go I got in my warm - up then went out to float in the bay.

I was relaxed and excited at this point. Floating in the bay, helicopters overhead, people everywhere, US anthem plays and before you know it is time. A cannon goes and the madness starts!!!

Swim - 1:19:48

1350 of 1847 - Overall
1036 of1344 - Male
148 of 162 - M30-34

The first 300m or so was pretty damn rough. I had expected it to be a little bit more civilized, had seeded myself towards the back but was just warfare out there. Once the madness stopped it was about finding a rhythm. I thought I focussed pretty well throughout the swim, kept my concentration up and swam pretty strong in the last half. Based on a quick glance at my watch coming round the far buoy I think I may have negative split the swim. However it was not what I had expected but in the end 5 minutes over a Ironman is a short time so exited the water and got into T1

T1 - 2:55

265 of 1847 - Overall

Just had a slowish T1. Stopped to get sunscreen put on and also had one of my bike shoes on before had taken off swim skin. Other than that no major errors and proceeded to get out of there. The M30-34 racks were at the back of the pier so this meant a long run with the bike through transition.

Bike 5:17:00

546 of 1847 - Overall
520 of1344 - Male
96 of 162 - M30-34

Set out on the bike and just aimed to do nothing stupid until I got out of town. In fact aimed to do nothing stupid all day but this is the part were it pays to be the most alert. By nothing stupid I meant not going out like I was in a 40km TT and avoiding getting taken out or going down.

After having navigated town it was time to hit the queen K. The plan was to ride patiently until 40km to go then pick up the pace if all felt good. The weather on race day looked like it would bring headwinds for that last 40km so being cooked at that point was not an option. Heading out on the queen K felt good. got my nutrition in, made sure to cool down with two bottles over my head at every station and kept hydrated.

I was passing a lot of people which I had not fully expected so made sure to keep and eye on my HR and perceived effort. In hindsight I played it a little safe out there but I made the decision based on what feedback I was getting from around me so it made sense at the time. Going out to Hawi it was cool to see the pro race going the other way. Was starting to pass more people in this section as well. Had to play it cautious at times when passing as people were getting blow about a little and didn't want to get side swiped int eh act of passing.

On the return just tried to stay aero and then it was time to hit the Queen K once more. At this point I started to pick up the pace and was just flying past people who seemed to have blown up early n the bike. Kept on getting fluids down, staying aero and making sure I was going through my calories.Looking at my return trip from Hawi I seemed to hold pace with those who rode around 5:05 to 5:10 so definitely think held back a little too much on the journey out.

The bike was fun, its a weird feeling just riding through the lava fields on a closed highway when you are in a rhythm. Had a few moments, especially when seeing the pro race going back the other way were I was just thinking "WOW - I am racing Kona". Just tried to soak it up as much as I could while trying to execute the plan. 

Riding done it was time to come back into town, get the legs ready to run and hit into T2. I just tried to keep the effort up on the last couple mile while getting ready. Unstrapped the feet then hit T2.

T2 - 1:55

3 of 1847 - Overall

This part is going to take longer to write than the time I spent in T2. I suppose it is due to my swim being so slow but I always feel like I am chase mode when racing. Transition is something that I feel I can save time in by being calm, relaxed, organised and acting with a sense of urgency.

I think I handed my bike off to somebody - the fact it was in one piece post race indicates this was the fact. I then proceeded to get to the bags and tents in a fast controlled manner. Grabbed my bag, got to the end of the change tent, shoes on, plastic bag with hat, nutrition, sunscreen, salt tabs and on my way.

In the end i had the 3rd fastest T2 on the day. This was even with putting my left shoe on my right foot to start. Got everything done i needed to do and out onto the run course it was.

Run - 3:23:54

311 of 1847 - Overall
278 of1344 - Male
61 of 162 - M30-34

Out on to the run it was. The first couple hundred meters I used to empty my bag, start to get another layer of sunscreen on. It was then time to find a rhythm. After the first mile i had got down my initial bunch of liquid nutrition and was about to head out on Ali'i drive. My main aim was not to run to fast in this section and just hit a rhythm, to be honest I never felt a great rhythm out there. It was just a diesel type of day, normally I come good form this feeling but it was just not happening.

I was still passing people but the one thing you notice in Kona is very few people are walking. Everyone there is willing to work hard and keep on moving so the normal carnage you see on an Ironman course is not there. Heck if they ran a normal Ironman on that course the finisher rate would be pretty low but luckily most people out there know what they are doing.

Coming upon Palani i was focusing on keeping my core temp down and made sure to take it easy up the hill. Then I hit the Queen K!!! this was the one part of the course I had not run any of in training and heck was it hot!!! (Somewhere around 40 degrees before accounting for the reflective heat of the pavement)  I was just baking up there and focussed all my attention on getting my core temp down. In the end I think I lost around 9 minutes in the 6 miles before I hit the energy lab. Cooling down involved putting ice were ice should not live, creating man cans with sponges and showing off way too much chest hair.

I had run the energy lab early in the week and i can only describe it as an oven. Already cookin from the outside in I was a little worried about what would happen but I seemed to come good. There was slight breeze which may have helped just enough and before I knew it was passing people once again. I was hopping to see my kiwi mate Tony as I was entering the lab, as I knew I was not on track for a super fast day and if I saw him coming out as i was entering it would mean he was on track for about 9:30.

I will admit though when I did see him I took a split (2 minutes or so) and my next goal was to keep moving and bridge the gap. After stopping to grab my bottles out of my special foods bag I exited the lab and back onto the queen k. At this point in the run it is pretty much all about moving forward as fast as possible - its just that that is not always that fast. One thing I do is to make sure I keep getting calories down so focussed on that. I came upon  Tony with about 6km to go. Tony put in a crap load of work this year and in the end it was a stomach that did not want to play on race day that slowed him down. he had an awesome year with rock star performances at ITU Long Course Worlds, IMC (Winning his age group) and Kona. He gave me push to go for sub 10 and I managed to keep the speed up for a couple more miles but just could not hold at that pace.

I then hit the last climb before Palani. After a good 90 minutes of very limited crowds it started to thicken up again. As I came over the crest and down Palani it was a mile to go and I just made sure to enjoy this as much as I could. At this point sub 10 was out of the question so just free wheeled it down Palani and made sure to enjoy Ali'i Drive.

A buddy got me an aussie flag (Dazza the IRONFAN) before the shoot and just soaked it all in. Was an awesome mile being able to run down the drive that has so much history. The day didn't bring the exact result I was looking for but had one of the most enjoyable days of my life.

Racing Kona is something I hope I will do again, but regardless I think every opportunity will be a once in a lifetime experience. To be part of the show is something special and I definitely enjoyed it!!!

The Wrap

Its been an amazing journey thus far. I am going to write a individual thank you notes to as many people as I can. Here is the high level view but I am sure I have missed some people. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to follow, encourage, inspire, volunteer, put up with me, compete against etc etc over the past few years.

Leslie (My Wife) - ROCKSTAR!!!!! Thanks for all the support
Mum and Dad - Taking me to all those sports finally paid off

Family in BC - Thanks for all the support. Especially the Penticton Crew for all the support when I am up there training
Non Tri Friends - Your support is hugely appreciated. This sport is a bit anti social come race season!!!

Clint - Awesome working with you as a coach - have and will continue to learn a lot
Jerry - thanks for all the informal advice and feedback - beers are coming soon
Training Partners - Thanks all, is not possible without you all. Big shout out to Rachel who have done a heap of sessions with this year and have learned a lot from. Also a huge shout to Tony, even though on other sides of the world think we helped motivate each other across the season

Forerunners - Thanks for the support over the past couple years
Newton Running - Shoes rocked and helped me hold it together on a tough run day 
Speed Theory - Thanks for all the support - great to be affiliated with such a nice group of people 
SpiderTech - Thanks for all the support, especially the support during race week. The tape helped prevent the hamstrings form cramping in the last few miles of the run
Podium Imports - Thanks for doing the work to get us a Orca swim skin come race week 
Mercury Rising Triathlon - Clint's coaching company - good crew of athletes with 3 of us racing in Kona
Lifesport - Thanks for all the help during race week and access to the lounge for Leslie and I 
Dr Carla Cupido - For all the positive vibes and keeping my body healthy week in week out

Les and I after the day - Thanks for getting up at STUPID O'Clock on Race Day to come support!!!!
What Next

So are still working out the answer to that question. Next year will likely be a "developmental year" were I focus on my swim and my general speed. That will likely mean racing local in the West Coast Triathlon Series as well as a few other small events around BC. Half Ironman will be my distance of choice and hope to be able to lay down some good results locally.

Depending on how the year progresses my thoughts are I may then aim for the 30th anniversary of Ironman Canada in 2012. Lot of time, lot of training and a lot of fun to be had between now and then. 

Thanks again for all the support, this sport is absolutely FANTASTIC and I feel lucky to be a part of it. I can't wait to get back training but having a break is an important thing so at the moment my bike commute to work will suffice in terms of exercise for the moment. 

Thanks for coming on the journey and look forward to to continuing it in 2011 and beyond


  1. very well written!! great report, best of luck to you in 2011, and your wife too!