This blog post sums up my whole Kona experience, if you only want to read my race report, please feel free to skip to that section…
I am currently on my second of four flights, which make up my epic journey home from Kona. Reflecting back over what has been a hugely successful season, ending with the privilege of racing in the most prestigious triathlon on the planet. The Ironman World Championships!
I was lucky enough to share a house with a fantastic bunch of people on the South side of Alii’ Drive. (A huge thanks to Paul Savage, Lucy Gossage and Joe Skipper for sorting this.) It was great to spend time with other athletes especially those who had raced in Kona before. I like to observe other athletes nutrition and training habits leading into a big race, interestingly not one person in our house of 10 had the same plan and we each stuck to our own preparation plans.
One week into our stay, everyone was still complaining about the heat and humidity. I had a few people asking me why I hadn’t moaned about it. The truth was, Reece and I were coping really well. This had to be down to the Heat Chamber training sessions we’d done with the superb team at the University of Bedfordshire before we left.
Exactly one week until race day, Reece and I took part in the official Ironman practice swim. This was set up as a race with timing chips, a mass start and a field of Professionals and Age Groupers. We swam this in our HUUB swim skins to see how they felt, aiming to swim at the same effort as we would on race day. Reece and I quickly found ourselves in the lead pack of 6 swimmers, which included the likes of Tim Don and a few other male pros. There was a lot of ‘argy bargy’ within the male dominated pack (myself being the only female). However we both completed the swim in 51 minutes, I was 10 minutes clear of the first professional female, Rachel Joyce. A great confidence boost for the following Saturday.
Alli Drive became a hive of activity in the week leading into the Ironman, it was impossible to ignore how much busier it was along the 5 mile stretch of road. With athletes running and cycling along the hard shoulder path, including many of the top professional athletes. Not only this but many of the houses had been converted in triathlon branded pop up shops, giving out free nutrition, product and triathlon swag. Alii Drive had become a mecca for triathlon, a triathletes dream and I was living it!
On Monday of race week I was lucky enough to do an interview with the lovely Sara Gross for Witsup.com, you can find the interview here: http://www.witsup.com/coffee-in-kona-lucy-charles/
On Tuesday I registered to race and did the obligatory over spend in the Ironman Expo store, a Kona most, haha! Once I had registered and collected a bucket load of freebies from the Athlete village I decided I wouldn’t come back down to this end of Alii Drive unless I really needed to. I wanted to stay away from the hype as it can be exhausting, especially in the heat, it’s hard to stay properly hydrated. I feel this is where Reece and I may have gained an additional edge over our competitors.
Leading into the race I had been struggling with a ‘niggle’ in my right shin, I decided not to run at all and just bike and swim. I went back to my roots, swimming often, sometimes twice a day; with a pool based session and a sea swim of the Ironman course. My swimming was feeling great, my biking was feeling ok, but not exceptional. I tried not to worry as I always seem to perform come race day, I tend to have about 5 more levels I can delve into when racing. I’m definitely starting to trust in my body’s ability to do as ask it!
Waking up at 3am on the morning of race day I was swept with a feeling of excitement and relief. It had been a long build up and it was finally time to get out there and show the world what I was capable of.
Reece and I walked down to the race start with two other members of our Kona house, all of us feeling surprising calm as we flagged down the first shuttle bus of the morning on Alii Drive. As we queued for body marking is was great to see many professional athletes looking super focused. It’s strange in Kona as you’re made to feel a bit like a VIP; having a chaperone take you to your bike, do your body marking, help you rack your bags, even apply your sunscreen!
Once my bike was all set I still had about 2 hours until I was due to start. I sat down and tried to stay relaxed, this isn’t easy when you have media helicopters circling above your head, photographers on the roofs of the hotels, Red Bull paragliders landing into the sea and thousands of athletes attempting to get near the swim start… It’s madness but super cool!
The starter’s cannon erupted for the pro men’s start, this certainly got the heart beat racing a little. Only to be followed 5 minutes later by another blast for the pro women. Then 15 minutes later the age group men where off, this looked quite a bit more chaotic than the pro starts. Finally it was my turn to enter the water and paddle up to the swim start bouys. As usual it was a fight for positions on the front line, but I managed to hold my ground! A final blast of the cannon and I was off, head down and go, go, go! Ten stokes in and I had clear water, it remained this way until I reached 400m from the turnaround boat (half way point), this was when I caught the main pack of Age group men. I’m pretty sure they didn’t expect to be ‘chicked’ so early on, sorry guys!
Working my way through the mass of blue caps I completed the swim in 52 minutes. A roar echoed around Kona bay as I exited the swim, the first female age grouper… Goosebumps! I was very fast through transition I wanted to get out unseen, I wasn’t sure how close the next female was behind.
Onto the bike, a mass of age group men everywhere. A real nightmare as I didn’t want to get penalised for drafting, which for the first 5-10 miles was nearly impossible. My power was way up, I had to remind myself this wasn’t a 70.3 and these were all male athletes, calm it down! Once I was out onto the Queen K I had settled into my race power zone and was feeling fantastic, the slight tail wind may have also helped. I made it to the turnaround point in Hawi in 2 hours 30 mins. The handful of spectators there where a real boost, plus it had been great seeing the pro athlete’s races unfolding on the other side of the road on the way into Hawi.
The winds started to change on the way back with an increasing headwind it was hard to not get annoyed with the drop in average speed, but I kept grinding away. It wasn’t until the 130km point on the bike that the first female age group caught me. I was pretty pleased to have held her off until this point, the bike is by far my weakest of the three disciplines. The heat started to increase slightly with the ever building head wind, the sunlight beaming on the tarmac creating a blurry haze ahead…
The fastest a 180km bike leg has even gone, I found myself back at Palani and speeding down into T2. I leaped off the bike and handed it to one of the volunteers, I jogged my way around the outside of the pier and straight into the changing tent. I was out onto the run in the flash and my legs where feeling great. The cheers as I ran up the bottom section of Palani got my legs a little excited and my starting pace was a little too fast, I soon reined it in.
The Alli Drive section of the run was really enjoyable, the streets were lined with spectators screaming out support and spraying athletes with their hose pipes. I saw my fiancé Reece running in the opposite direction, we gave each other a high-five both looking & feeling strong. By the 5 mile turnaround point at South Alii Drive many athletes were already walking, a couple retiring from the race altogether. This was something I couldn’t comprehend!
It wasn’t long until I found myself at the halfway marker out on the barren section along the Queen K, a huge contrast to running along Alii Drive. This was where the race started to get tough, a vast expanses of road ahead with no sign of an end point. I kept running, making the most of every aid station grabbing water, sponges and ice, filling my top with all three.
Once again I saw my fiancé Reece running in the opposite direction and knew I must be getting close to the infamous Energy Lab. As I ran down the hill I hadn’t realised how far we had to run in there. As I turned around I was checking the numbers of the female athletes behind me, no one in my age category was in sight. Just 10k to go, as long as I kept moving my second World title was in the bag.
It was the longest 10k of my life, hitting the downhill section on Palani I managed a sprint finish for the last mile, I ran strong over the line, I had done it, I was the under 25 Ironman World Champion! I finished in a time of 10 hours and 20 minutes, an iron distance personal best and top ten age group lady overall. Crossing that infamous finish line was unreal and signified the end of what has been a spectacular season.
Post Race Summary
The Kona experience has lived up to everything and more, it can be described none other than a trip of a life time. Swimming with turtles and dolphins in their natural habitat, Zip-ling through the Hawi forest. Star gazing in our outside hot tub, with the clearest views of the Milky Way I’ve ever seen. A helicopter trip around the breath-taking waterfalls that cover the North of the island. Not to mention making some fantastic new friends and sharing the World Championship podium with my training partner, fiancé and best friend Reece Barclay.
A huge thank you to my family, tri club, support team and sponsors for making this possible: