I had all of race week to get acclimatised and see a bit of the race course. Since Kona last year I’d been focussing specifically on this race and I’d made no secret of the fact that my goal was to win the 18-24 age-group and get back to the Big Island. Having looked at the starting list beforehand, I knew going into the race that there were two guys in particular that I'd have to look out for during the race...
Race day breakfast was an energy bar, energy drink, bread & jam. After getting the bike ready in transition I had a quick swim warm up and popped a gel 30 minutes before the start. The sun has risen and it promised to be a beautiful day.
We lined up on the beach and the gun fired to signal the start of IM #5. The start was pretty frantic, but after the first turn buoy it settled down. Apart from a few whacks to the head the first loop went by uneventfully in roughly 30 minutes, although by the time I trudged my way through the shallow water and ran to start the second loop another minute had passed. Loop 2 was uneventful (and lonely), but it went by quickly in around 32 minutes. Swim time (including quite a bit of running!) was 1:03:44. The run through T1 was swift and I knew I’d have some catching up to do.
The first 10km or so is mainly uphill and I settled into a pace around 200 watts. 20 minutes into the ride Natascha Badmann passed me along with one of my competitors in my AG. Soon before the first turn point I saw the first guy in my AG, and realised he had an 8 minute lead on me. I was pretty pleased as I thought it would be more. I reduced the pace a little and prepared myself mentally for the ride. The laps seemed to cruise by and at the halfway stage I was only 6 minutes down to the AG leader. I was feeling good and kept a steady effort for the final lap.
This was arguably my best paced Ironman bike split to date:
Lap 1: 1:39:34
Lap 2: 1:38:12
Lap 3: 1:37:31
In terms of the nature of the course, it's undulating (which I think suits me) with the final 20km along the coastal road back into town offering some stunning views. There are no real hills/downhills which allows you to pedal throughout and stay aero for nearly 100% of the ride.
Through T2 I saw a mass of bags, including those of my AG rivals. It was at this point that I knew I was in the lead. I left transition quickly and started the run with high hopes. The first loop was really odd – there was barely anyone on the course! I saw the odd female pro coming in the other direction, but I was pretty much on my own. I soaked up the amazing atmosphere and got through the first loop purely on adrenaline. At 18km there were two things that happened; firstly, I saw the second guy in my AG and realised I had a good lead, and secondly, my pace slowed. I made the decision to be sensible and keep a comfortable pace, knowing that as long as I didn’t walk I should be safe. I managed to keep things together reasonably well through lap 2, but the final lap was yet to come.
It was hot and I was tired. There were several occasions where I considered walking, thinking ‘just 15 seconds, you’ve got a buffer, it’s all good’. But I didn’t. I was barely keeping up with the guys on laps 1 or 2 and I feared I was losing time. With around 6km to go Amanda Stevens (who I passed earlier - a lovely girl who I chatted to after the race) passed me and gave me the hurry up. She was tanking it and there was no way I could go with her. At the 39km sign something clicked and I realised that if I pushed I had a chance at a PB. With that, I ignored my aching quads and found my original pace. Before turning down the chute the announcer confirmed I had the AG win and I walked the chute, high-fiving and thanking the crowd, enjoying the moment.
Final run splits were:Lap 1: 1:03:xx
Lap 2: 1:06:xxLap 3: 1:14:xx
9:27:56, 1st 18-24, 4th AGer overall and 29th overall. Bike PB, run PB and overall PB - can't complain about that! Still, there's a lot of work to do ahead of Kona, but I feel privileged to have the opportunity to race there again this year. That being said, I'm not going there for another 10th place finish ;) IMSA is an excellent race and one I would do again in a heartbeat. The crowds are great and the locals are really friendly. It was awesome to have the opportunity to meet so many nice people from around the world, many of whom I know I'll keep in touch with.
Now, I have a training plan to write!