1183 Flanagan, Neil GBR
Place in AG 35-39: 176 // Finish Time: 10:51:13
Swim: 1:02:12 // T1: 3:50 // Bike: 5:19:40 // T2: 4:20 // Run: 4:21:14
Okay, so, I’ll cut pretty much to the chase – we know how I qualified – there were 8 weeks in between Phillipines 70.3 and Kona, so with a week off post ‘Pines, and a 10 day taper that basically gave me 5 ½ training weeks to get ready – agreed with CP that we could not jump straight onto a full IM plan, we’d have to settle for doing just enough to get me round the course in a respectable time – we wanted to break 12 hours, I said I wanted 11.15, CP said it was ambitious – I still have the e-mail….
At this stage, I have to thank Ed and Marshall, who were with me every step of those 5 ½ weeks – these guys are now experienced in IM training and racing, and I think this helped them understand when I had the odd tantrum!! – anyway, thanks again guys!
Okay, so, onto the race itself – the 3 legged journey to Kona passed quickly enough, mostly due to the overwhelming excitement of what was to come, and being able to share the journey with Ed & Sarah – Marshall had scouted ahead the day before, so when I finally got to Kona he was there to pick me up at the airport – awesome!
After that, everything went smoothly, apart from my sleep pattern – jetlag is a funny thing – we would get down to digme beach early, to swim in the gorgeous waters, and it was literally like a who’s who of triathlon – everybody was there, current and former legends of the sport.
So we got the swims, easy bikes and runs out of the way, and then the Friday 15s – checked the bikes in, all good – back to the hotel for a last meal, and then relaxed and tried to get to sleep – at this stage I was having mixed feelings of overwhelming excitement, and abject terror!
Up at 4a.m, usual pre-race routine, and off we go to the race start – it was only when I got there that it started to sink in how bloody big this race actually is – get through body marking, and all that’s left to do is check the tyres, make sure nutrition is in order, and I’m good to go…..make my way down into the water, getting weighed on the way (83kgs CP, bang on!) – I wanted to get near the front as instructed by CP, and manage to barge my way into the 2nd row – now all we need is that cannon to go off…….
1750 of the best amateur Ironmen and Women start flailing away – I’ve seen an overhead picture of the swim start, and even though it looks totally mental from above, I don’t think the pictures do it justice – it was an absolute shitfight from the second the cannon went off to the very end – I don’t think there was ever a period of more than a few seconds when I had clear water and was not either swimming over someone, or having someone swim over me – there was a point on the way back after the turnaround when I just wanted to stop and take a breather, but I knew that if I stopped, I might never get going again. Added to the huge mass of bodies all fighting for space, there was quite a bit of chop that meant my usual long stroke was not really working, so I just increased the turnover and hoped for the best.
To put it in context, I’m sat writing this in the lounge in LA with a guy who qualified at IM UK – this is his 2nd Kona experience – he swam 55 minutes in Bolton – and 68 minutes in Kona – he said it was the worst and roughest swim he had ever experienced – so I’m actually pleased with my 62 minute effort – if you exclude Andy Potts, even the Pros only just managed to break 52 minutes, which is pretty slow by their standards – we later found out that something like 50% of the field would be exiting the water between 56 and 65 minutes, so that kinda puts it into perspective.
T1 – fairly straightforward, changing tent absolutely heaving with bodies – off with the Speedsuit, on with the racebelt, slap some sunscreen on and out to the bike, helmet and shades on, and away we go….
Out onto the bike course and you realise how big this event is, it’s like the whole of Hawaii is there on the course! – you just do a little out and back in the town, climb up onto the infamous Queen K Highway and then it’s pretty much a straight road for 55 miles or so to the turnaround at Hawi – it’s easy to see how people get a bit over excited and blow their legs before they’re even in the race, but I was conscious of riding nice and steady, and was content to see a stream of uber bikers come flying by – but I kept getting the giggles, I was doing my first Ironman – in Kona!! – interestingly enough I saw a fair few of these uber bikers later in the race! – the terrain really just rolls along beautifully, and the roads are super smooth – we had looked at the weather and wind forecast, and expected a very gentle tailwind on the way out, with the winds strengthening throughout the day, therefore a pretty stiff headwind on the way back, and this is pretty much as it panned out – had an amazing moment about 15km short of the turnaround when I saw the lead cars heading in the opposite direction, and could not believe my eyes when I saw Crowie was leading! – gave him a shout out, and that gave me a little boost, just what the doctor ordered……..what I was not expecting, however, was the incredible headwinds for the last 10km or so on the way out to Hawi – it’s quite demoralising when you’re working your tail off, and doing 15 kph! – however, I could see that everyone was struggling, so just accepted it for what it was, gritted my teeth and got on with it – the pay off, of course was a big tailwind after the turnaround – in fact it was quite scary, I think I topped out at nearly 70kph at one point, and had a couple of really scary moments in crosswinds when I thought I was going to come off – then, as we expected, we came back into the “normal winds”, and basically rode the whole way home into a headwind – it was a bit frustrating, watching the average speed going down with every passing kilometre, but I stuck to the game plan, kept to my nutrition strategy, and soon enough I was at the airport, only 7 or 8 miles to go, and you go slightly downhill, so even into the headwind I was able to keep my speed up, and knew I was going to have a decent bike split – saw Crowie heading into the Energy Lab on the run, obviously a few minutes ahead of Raelert, gave him another shout out, chuffed to bits! – I hadn’t seen either Ed or Marsh at this point, and was hoping they were both having good days…
T2 – again, fairly straightforward – didn’t go for the flying dismount as I didn’t want to fall over in front of thousands of people! – just stopped, handed my bike off and trundled through transition – it’s quite a long run through, so I had a good chance to shake the stiffness out of my legs – into the change tent, socks and running shoes on, fuel belt on, cap on, gels etc into the pockets and away we go – legs felt okay at this stage! – checked the race clock on the way out and saw it saying 6 hours 30 minutes……
The first part of the run is incredible – you run out and back about 5 miles (8km) along Ali’i drive which is the main beach road, and the streets are just heaving with people, all dressed up to the max and cheering for you – as some, if not most of you will know, I had never run a Marathon before, in fact, the longest run I have ever done was 22km, so I was a bit scared of what might happen – however, had agreed with CP a 15/5 run strategy, and, having tested it over a couple of Dirty Dogs, if I could stick to it, I would run around 4 hours – we knew the 2nd half of the run was going to be really difficult, but I would just have to dig in and do the best I could….if it was 4 ½ or 5 hours, so be it.
The first 4 lots of 15/5 went great – felt okay, the crowds were awesome (except I kept having to explain I was on a run/walk strategy!) saw Sarah on the way out and asked about Ed, but she hadn’t seen him, and looked a bit worried – then, about a km after the turnaround, I saw Ed, and a few minutes later, saw Marsh, which gave me a bit of a lift – it was very hot on the course, and the sun was very strong, so I was grabbing Ice, Water, anything I could get my hands on – the only downside was that my shoes and socks were soaked, and I knew I would pay for that later……anyway, those 4 15/5’s got me up to about 10 miles, and to the bottom of the famous Palani Hill – we’ve all been subject to CP’s “Palani Hill” chat, but as luck would have it, I was on the walk bit of my run/walk and so walked the whole way up it, even that was bloody hard! – got to the top of the hill and my 5 minutes was up and I had to start running again – which I couldn’t, as it felt like someone had sneaked up and chopped my legs off at waist height! – anyway, I managed about 8 minutes running, and 5 minutes walking – then 6 & 5, then 5 & 5 – it’s only about 6 miles out on the Queen K to the energy lab, then 2-3 miles in the lab (which is a bit like coach dirt, breeze in your face on the way in, and like running in an oven on the way out, and then 6-7 miles home including the final finishing loop – but those next 6 miles seemed to take forever (looking at the splits they pretty much did!) and I was waititng for Ed and Marsh to come sailing past me looking great – by this time, I was reduced to trying to run for 3 minutes, and walk for a minute – I don’t actually remember much about it, except thinking that all the chat roomers would be looking at the tracking system wondering where the bloody hell I had got to!
Finally got to the left turn into the energy lab and was greeted with a little headwind, which was nice! – however, as I mentioned above, when you turn around, the wind is behind you, and it is literally like running in an oven! – I have 3 memories from that section of the race – 1. Seeing Ed at the turnaround, he was only about 100m behind me at this stage and I knew I would soon get the chance to exchange a few words with him, which I was really looking forward to..
2. Dropping one of my Fuel Belt Bottles and when I picked it up, some of the asphalt was stuck to it – it was so hot, the road was actually melting! – I have seen a report somewhere that said the recorded surface temp in the Energy Lab was 135 Farenheit – seems about right!
3. Ed catching me and walking with me for a few minutes – bless, he was desperately trying to cajole me into action, and said he would run all the way home with me – all I could do was swear at him at this stage, I was physically and mentally toast at this stage, and I was preparing myself for a long walk home – Ed persisted however, and walked with me to the next aid station which was a few minutes away, then grabbed some fluids and carried on – I have to say, I didn’t recognize it at the time, but it was a massive boost – went through the aid station coming out of the energy lab, grabbed all the ice, water and coke I could grab, gulped the coke down, threw the ice and water on myself and decided I was not going to walk home, I would carry on with my 3/1 run/walk strategy, and try to tick off an aid station every 2 run/walks
At the next aid station, while I was grabbing water, I heard Marsh give me a shout out – I had been a bit worried as I hadn’t seen him in the energy lab, but clearly I just wasn’t totally in control of my faculties, as he had seen me!
Anyway, I’m rambling a bit now – the last 10km after the energy lab was a bit of a blur, my feet were so bloody sore and blistered that I was running with my toes scrunched up to avoid landing on the balls of my feet, but I just got into the mindset, and knew that if I broke the 3/1 rule, I would either just quit, or walk all the way home – I so desperately wanted a sub 11 hour (daylight) finish – soon enough, I was turning back onto Palani Hill, and I knew there was only about a mile to go – looked at my watch and saw that I had about 18 minutes in hand to break 11 hours, and knew that I would do it – one final walk, just to gather myself and then down onto Ali’I drive for the final 400m or so to the finish – I could hear the crowds, and the announcer, and got a little bit emotional – zipped up my top etc, hung back a little bit from the guy in front of me as I wanted a good finisher picture, and managed a reasonable jog into the finishing chute and up the ramp and heard those immortal words… “NEIL FLANAGAN – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” !!
I wanted to get most of this down before the memories faded, but to be honest, I don’t think they will – Kona is beautiful, the course is beautiful, and also beastly – we’ve all heard about the winds, but they’re like nothing I’ve experienced in Dubai – physically, I feel fine, except for sore blistered feet – I’ve replaced to 10 kgs I lost during the race, and then some!
Thanks as always go to Jason – mate, it has been an emotional few months! – couldn’t have done it without you – also, to the whole T2A team who continue to raise the bar, but particularly to Ed and Marshie, who have been great mentors, training buddies, and holidays companions – I have a thousand great memories from the last 10 days, which I’m sure will last a lifetime…
And, the big question – will I do another Ironman – probably not, definitely not in the next few years – after all, how can I top the one I’ve just done…
The Ford World Ironman Championships in Kona, been there, done it, got the tattoo