The Road to Kona
By Fabrice Guillaume
Team FeXY Elite Team member
Posted June 2013
Believe, Commit, Train Smart and Execute
This article is for my fellow friends and athletes that are wondering how one can qualify for Kona. Yes, I have a job, a wife and 2 kids and, yes, I managed to balance these things without losing my wife or job (actually got a promotion).....It is POSSIBLE! You first need to believe in you, then to commit to this goal even if it may take several years, and then, train smartly and execute intelligently.
The first part of this article is more around tips for training and getting ready for IM racing.
The second part of this article is about Lake Placid 2012 qualifying race and what, I feel, gave me an edge to finish 4th of my AG to qualify for IM Worlds.
The last part of this article relates to the race itself, with the days leading to it, the day of the race and the post race days that I used to explore the magnificent islands of Kona and Kauai.
Slide Shows for those that prefer to just watch pictures and listen to music:
Part 1 – TRAINING TIPS
Training Tips for experienced Triathlete, already used to train/race the 70.3 and 140.6 races and trying to get better and rank in a consistent manner in the top 10 of his/her AG.
Overall, my training plan looks like many others. I guess the key things, that I feel helped me, are (in no particular order):
- Aerobic: that should be the bulk of your training. Work in your aerobic zone / don’t try to be in this grey zone where you push a bit too hard because you feel good but never really work on your fat burning engine (or not enough). Being a GREAT (I did not say good) fat burning engine in this zone IS CRITICAL for IM distance races.
- Anaerobic: make sure to have good sessions there. This is a great zone to be in with your swim workouts and bike workouts. Also good for the run workouts but limit it to once a week.
Part 2 – QUALIFYING RACE REPORT
You can access a lot more details about Race Report: Ironman Lake Placid 2012 which I used to qualify for Kona.
But the essence of it was to really keep a STEADY pace in both the swim and the bike segment even though I felt great and I let several of my Age group competitors pass me. The entire race strategy was to slow down the least and I would essentially start picking up people in the 2nd loop of the bike then the run.
This is pretty much what happened. I wrote on my garmin to remain patient and I indeed let people fly by me in the first loop of the bike. I eventually picked a few in the 2nd loop. And on the run, same -I did not push too hard the first 6-8 miles. Then I started to push a bit and I eventually managed to maintain a good steady pace throughout the marathon leg while a lot of other athletes started to really slow down drastically.
This is how I moved from 12th AG position after the 1st loop of the run while I was in town to finish 4th AG. The last 3-5 miles happened to be where I picked up the most athletes.
So the take away is to come prepared, obviously fit physically but maybe more important with a solid plan and execute on it. It’s not easy to force yourself to slow down. But remember that this is a LONG day and things can change drastically in the last 2-4 hours of the race. So trust your training, trust your plan and execute. Too many athletes burn matches early in the race and end up suffering the last few hours of the race.
Part 3 – KONA 2012 RACE REPORTS and HAWAII TIPS
Days leading to the race:
Marianne my wife and I decided to go to Kona just the 2 of us while my mother would watch after our little hobbits (Celian and Ethan). We usually never do anything without them, and after 12 years of wedding, this was just the 2nd time we would do this. We missed them but at the same time, this whole Kona travel almost fell like a honeymoon and we came back an even stronger couple than we left (and god knows we are already solid).
This whole Kona experience has just been INCREDIBLE. I’ll try to share more about it but feel free to ping me offline. Additional pictures are available on Facebook.
We decided to stay close to race site. We rented a condo just 1 mile south from the pier. This was certainly a good decision. I recommend anyone going to Kona to stay relatively close as this makes the pre-days logistics a LOT simpler. Just make sure to book quite early in advance. There are a lot of specialized travel agencies that can help you (Endurance Travel, Anthony agency,..) but we found our condo directly via vrbo.com website.
We flew from Dulles Airport straight to Honolulu without having to connect in California (highly recommend this option). We then used a small plane to hop island from Honolulu to Kona airport. Its quick and cheap (30mn, $70).
In Kona airport, we rented a jeep and we arrived at the condo pretty quickly, within 20mn.
The days leading to the race, we used to walk a fair amount around the pier, stop at different places to shop, hang out with several friends (Kendra Goffredo, Andy Lipscomb, Mike Orton, Leslie, Aaron Church, Mike Gadzinski, Rob and Shandra Richardson, Endurance Corner crew,… I also swam everyday in the beautiful waters where you can see turtles, colorful tropical fishes,… There is a boat about 400 yards from the shore that serves you some yummy hot coffee. It’s just plain awesome. I also ran a bit every day and biked around the city.
I woke up at 5am, ate a banana, bagel with nutella and drunk a good coffee (Hawaii has some awesome coffee!). Marianne walked with me to the pier, she then tried to find a place in the crowd to see the swim start while I went in transition to prepare things. I saw several friends and we hanged out a bit. I did not feel any pressure, instead I was racing today as a celebration race with no pressure and trying to absorb as much as possible the positive vibe that was there.
Pros started before us and then it was us, the Age groupers to go in the water and trade water before the 7am start. I decided to go all the way to the left with the hope it would not be as crowded as in the center. That was the case until 10mn before the start, then it became really crowded like everywhere else. I spent some of this time to try to relax, look under the water at all these feet around me and the beautiful sea floor/fishes and I told myself how lucky I was to be at the start of this mythic race. That’s it, I was there, my dream was becoming true.
SWIM (1:13, 176 Div):
We waited for the canon to go off but instead we heard Mike Really yelled something over the speaker. Looks like the canon was not working so we started in a bit of confusion. The start was really brutal with 2,000 swimmers around that all swim roughly in the same pace (55mn-1:10). I thought Lake Placid had been a really bad experience but Kona certainly toped it off. I tried to remain relaxed and stay as far left as possible while shooting for the remote boat around which we turn. I got swam over several times and I did not panic. I was not there to fight or “place”, just wanted to have a solid race and enjoy it. So, I just back off several times leaving more aggressive swimmers swim around me (when not over me…). As I reached the boat, I realized we actually had to go around another boat a bit further before we could come back. The swim back to the shore was actually a lot better and I finally settled in a good rhythm. My laps show that I actually negative split. Though my overall time was really slow but that’s ok. I’m not there anymore to place, I’m there to enjoy it so no pressure. As I tried to climb the stairs to go into the transition I fell on my ass and I laughed. Jeez I’m not drunk yet – drinks are later tonight…
Transition went pretty fast. I just poured a bit of water on my head and shoulder to take out the salt, went through the changing tent and off I was with my bike.
BIKE (5:29, 159 Div)
The bike course is pretty much rolling hills and wind with a lot of heat. So the plan was to simply stay hydrated, keep pouring water on the body at each aid station to keep body core temp from increasing too high and just work on a steady pacing. After the out and back out of the city, I was then cruising on he Queen K, catching up with Leslie and a few others. It was really enjoyable to ride in this beautiful scenery with the sea on the left and a lot of black rocks from the volcano around. As I approached the end of Queen K, I noticed the winds became stronger. I made a left down flying down before making a right to go 18 miles up to Hawi turnaround. The climb to Hawi is a gradual climb. This is the area where you get the legendary crosswinds. I could see white caps on the sea on the left and the winds certainly lived up to the expectations. I told myself how the heck do these people live here as I reached a place with many houses. The last 5 miles were brutal as the climb got steeper and the winds blew stronger. At the turn, I decided to take the time to eat, drink and pee while cruising down the downhill.
Back to Queen K, I really felt great and I was ready to push a good steady pace and bring it home. I started to even push a little bit harder and started to pick up several athletes. Then things started to go slightly wrong when the winds that I thought would be tail winds became head winds. My pace dropped significantly but I kept the power roughly where it was supposed to be and I just patiently kept my cadence up at 90 stopped looking at speed. Just to give an idea, avg speed from mile 75 to mile 90 was 24.51 mph to go down to 20.4 mph and eventually drop to 17.4 mph
I eventually finished in 5:28:33 so an “ok” bike split. My Garmin indicates the avg temps was 91F and a max of 100F and the Gain elevation about 4,000 ft.
RUN (3:31, 122 div)
I gave my bike to a volunteer and flew through T2. The volunteers are just plain awesome. As I headed out of Transition, my legs felt incredibly good. I actually had to slow down myself the first few miles and yet clicked some 6:00-6:30 miles. I knew I had to slow down and go back to my steady 7:20-7:30 but for some reasons these legs wanted to run… I kept cruising on the out and back on Ali’I Drive feeling awesome. I saw my wife and kissed her, then David O. and finally Mike Gadzinsky already coming back the other way. He was putting a great show. The out and back went really well. I just kept focusing on staying hydrating and keeping my HR relatively low. Then the major climb of Palani Road appeared and I just worked on keeping a high cadence making a point to now walk. At the top I was on Queen K Highway and it was now just a matter of keeping it steady and stay hydrated.
The difficult part of this out and back on Queen K and the lava section is that there is pretty much no crowd and you are fully exposed under the sun with the heat reflecting on the pavement. Pretty brutal physically and mentally. I just went to my routine of drinking, keeping a high cadence and always looking at the next athlete to pick up and just pick them one by one. As I approached the Natural Energy Lab, I was still really feeling ok and kept telling myself how fortunate I was to be here, in the same place as so many other athletes I saw before on TV. On the way back, I saw Kendra that had a super day (she finished top 10 of her AG). Heading back on Queen K, I started to eventually feel tired, so I just kept the focus on high cadence and keeping the legs moving (do not walk I kept repeating my self).
Getting back down in the city, that’s it I was just 2 miles of the finish line and it was time to celebrate. I flew threw the last 2 miles high fiving my wife and waving at Rob Richardson and few other friends. The last mile is just incredible with a HUGE crowd and amazing electric atmosphere. At that time, you actually don’t even run, you just float in the air, not even thinking about your legs or anything but enjoying every second. I reached the finish line and jumped in the air to celebrate this awesome race.
Final time: 10:20, ok I’ll take it. Time really did not matter as much as celebrating this season and having fun - which I did.
After crossing the finish line, I went to get a massage. I felt surprisingly well. I was juts hungry/thirsty as expected but I did not need any special treatment or IV.
Looks like the race hydration plan worked.
I eventually got my bike and gear back and met with my wife. It was time to celebrate. And we did!
Major thanks to:
- my beautiful wife Marianne and both my little Ninjas Celian and Ethan for being my best supporters throughout the year
- my family for always supporting me even though they are far
- my friends from Team FeXY
- my sponsors, namely Spokets ETC and PR for giving me some awesome deals with bike and run/tri equipment and apparel.
- My coach Brady Dehoust from Endurance Corner for having given me a great training plan and race execution plan to quality and race to Kona
Past race days:
The days after the race were incredible. (See pictures on Facebook.
The day after the race, we hiked on the volcano on Kona Island - just plain beautiful.
We then flew to Kauai, another island that is a paradise for those that like Mother Nature. We flew with a helicopter (and no door/window) for an hour over magnificent waterfalls including the one shot in Jurassic Park, the Waimea Canyon (little brother of the Grand canyon), some tropical forests, some super dry places…
We also hiked along the Na’Pali Coast that is absolutely gorgeous. And we obviously enjoyed everyday the sand beaches all absolutely gorgeous. The turtles & fishes are everywhere. We finished the last day with some surfing (can’t be in Hawaii without surfing).
The hotel we stayed out was incredible. It is “Koa Kea". We picked it up as it was a top rated hotel on Tripadvisor and a top 10 in the world. I highly recommend it if you like gourmet cuisine, romantic settings and want to avoid he big crowds/loud music/…
We really enjoyed this 10 days trip in Hawaii. And we are certainly looking forward to coming back, this time with our little ones. We both really fell in love with these islands. I highly recommend a trip out there, even though it’s not through a sport event. I will personally shoot to qualify again, either via the IM circuit or maybe via another fun circuit: Xterra in Mauai. We’ll see. But we’ll be back.