And then it was over – Kona 2019. For me personally, it all played out like a movie that began with the departure and ended 14 days later with the arrival home. I.e. the realization process is not yet complete for me – it all still feels very unreal.
On the one hand, it’s a shame that it’s over – when you’re working towards a deadline for a long time and then it’s all over, you often fall into a hole. On the other hand, I’m also happy because I’ve never trained intensively for so long at a stretch – at the end of the day, the intensive preparation for the qualification in Frankfurt on June 30, 2019 started at the beginning of March, which means I trained at a high level between 8 and 16 hours per week for seven months until Kona. In the process, I cycled 5590 km in 198 hours, ran 1071 km in 84 hours, and swam 101.5 km in 28 hours. I am very grateful that it was possible for me to qualify for Hawaii with this comparatively low training effort and to participate successfully. This is partly due to my particularly time-efficient training methodology, but also to a certain genetic disposition: the normal training workload of an average Hawaii participant is rather twice as high.
Despite all this, such a project is only possible if the environment is right. Therefore, my special thanks go to my wife Jennifer, without whose approval and commitment the whole thing would certainly not have been possible, as well as to my children, who often had to do without their dad. In addition, I would like to thank Sönke on behalf of Clausmark for his support. Finally, I would like to thank all my colleagues and friends and everyone else who has been cheering along.
So Ironman is just a well-marketed special competition distance in triathlon – namely the long distance. In addition, there is the sprint or everyman distance (500-20-5), short or Olympic distance (1500-40-10) and middle or half distance (1900-90-21). No one (except maybe some questionable douchebags who want an Ironman on their resume) starts with the long distance, but you gradually approach it through the sub-distances. In this sense and because it is my concern to bring the triathlon sport in Germany further, I would like to try every encouraging time. For a regional Everyman distance you don’t need any special equipment, at the beginning a Dutch bike and a bathing suit will do. Anyone who is interested here is welcome to contact me.
Day 11 - The day after
The next day I had signed up for a boat trip with a snorkeling round with my tour operator to chill out and lick wounds.
We were lucky, besides flying fish there were a few dolphins to admire from close range, which swam curiously next to us.
On the way to the snorkeling grounds, the view of the previous day’s swim from the sea allowed us to reflect on what we had experienced – it was much further than we had thought. Finally I could now try the hoppy beer, very tasty. Also, for those who still don’t believe there’s beer in Hawai’i, here’s proof:
Around 14:00 we were back and in the evening followed the award ceremony. With Jan Frodeno and Anne Haug, we not only have the men’s winner this year, but also the women’s winner for the first time. That’s when the Yanks hoped to break Germany’s dominance of the men’s game, which has lasted since 2014, but unfortunately the opposite happened – strike!
And so the Sunday passed very quickly, hard to believe but on Monday evening was already the departure – madness how quickly the time had passed. After everything was packed, I went swimming one last time in the afternoon, it was just beautiful there. After that it started to rain, a nice farewell picture.
At 6:00 p.m. I went to the airport (in contrast to Saturday this time not on foot but by bus) and Wednesday noon around 1:00 p.m. I was back home.
Day 10 - Part 2: The time after the race
After I had recovered in the finish area from the immediate efforts of the race, there was still an unfortunately only cold shower and a massage.
After that I was able to move again to some extent and decided to pack up to cheer on other participants as they crossed the finish line. By now it was after 7:00pm, the sun had been setting for a while, and so I limped into the transition area to get my bags and bike and bring them inside. Afterwards I drove back to experience the atmosphere in the finish area (see video). But I wasn’t back until around 9:00 p.m., because everything takes a little longer after a race like that – you’re not the youngest anymore, or at least you don’t feel that way.
The goal of many athletes in Hawaii is the “Day Light Finish”, i.e. arrival before sunset. This corresponds to about 10.5 – 11 h race duration, depending on the start time. However, the finish line will not be closed until 00:30, i.e. anyone arriving after that time will not be scored. At this point, however, the last starters are already 16.5 h on the road. In Kona it is a tradition that the winners (this year a German double victory with Jan Frodeno and Anne Haug) greet the late finishers. And so the mood goes towards its climax from 21:00:
The oldest and only starter in the M85 age group, an 87-year-old Japanese, wanted to repeat his success from last year (he finished at 00:29), but this time it was not to be. Since he’s been coming to Kona for years, this could be an incentive to come back next year – maybe today just wasn’t his day. The oldest finisher this year was 76. Personally, I can’t yet imagine doing 16 h of sport at a stretch – but who needs it ;).
At some point, the tiredness was greater than the euphoria, and it went to bed.
Day 10 - Part 1: It's race day - here we go!
It’s race day! The big day I’ve been working towards for 10 months (since November 2018) has arrived. At 3:45 a.m. we get out of bed. For breakfast we have fresh pancakes – it’s a tradition. After breakfast, around 4:15, the remaining things are prepared for the race: Mixing drinks, packing food for the bike, etc. It’s already 4:45 and off we go. It takes a while to get to the start area with the shuttle service – we are not the only ones.
The calm before the storm:
In the starting area, you go through the security check for the traditional body marking. Very nice people stick your race number on your arm:
After that, there is still about an hour to stow the bike bottles and food on the bike. After 20 min I finished and enjoyed the atmosphere while waiting for my start at 7:05.
You have to be in your starting block 20 minutes before the start, here I still have enough time to put on my swimsuit, goggles, etc. The tension is enormous. The professionals have just started. Finally my start group is called and we have to swim into the water and the approx. 100 m to the imaginary start line between the two black pyramids. The swim is clockwise, you can see the buoys well on the picture. At the very back you can see two small boats, they mark the turning point.
Then the horn sounds and off we go.
Since swimming is my weakest discipline, I try to swim as easy as possible and not get out of breath. It rained all night and stormed a bit, so the water is murky – no fish today. In addition, it has quite high waves, but they are not particularly disturbing, as they do not break in deep water.
At the beginning, if possible, look for someone who is a little faster than you and hang out in the water shadow. You need a bit of luck for that, and I directly find someone with whom I get the first third around. It drags all the way to the boats at the turnaround point. When I finally get there, I take a quick look at the clock, 36 minutes – 3-4 min faster than expected. Now comes “only” the way back. After another 39 minutes I’m back in the transition area, the way back was a bit more exhausting. After 1:15 h in the water I have to be careful that my calves don’t cramp when I put my feet on. 1:15 h – for me a good time, so it can continue.
For the first change I take my time: carefully shower off with fresh water, swimsuit off, cycling shoes on, helmet on and on to the bike and I’m on my way.
To warm up, we first go up a bit. Then turn right onto a 12 km turnaround course. Contrary to all assumptions, it goes permanently uphill until the turning point. Light wind from the front. In the first part of the race I am used to overtake many better swimmers – so also here. Finally, we get on the Queen-K Highway and with a lot of tailwind we head towards Hawi, the turnaround point at kilometer 95.
Most of the way there was relatively easy to drive, frequent tailwinds allowed a high pace and one made rapid progress through the lava desert. From time to time the wind also came from the side and sometimes from the front. It quickly became clear that it was not as windless today as predicted. Between Waikoloa at km 48 and Waikui at km 60 the wind was now blowing very hard from the right. Here the air between the two volcanoes is pushed through by the trade wind and thus strongly accelerated. With enough inclination, however, no problem for the time being. Now we start the 30 km long but gentle climb to Hawi. Here you change the direction from northeast to northwest, so that the strong wind now comes from behind – there goes quite easy up the mountain. After a while the first professionals come towards me. These started half an hour earlier and were already on their way back. Doesn’t look very fast – they must be going against the wind – haha. But not long along the way, about 12 km before Hawi, the wind shifts. Now it comes strongly from the front, now and then also a violent gust from the side, and it still goes uphill. These now coming 12 km were for me the toughest on the bike course. After half an eternity I’m finally at the turning point in Hawi – the wind is now coming from behind again and the descent begins.
The joy of the tailwind makes me descend rapidly, with peaks of more than 70 km/h I start downhill again. Suddenly a blow from the right, a gust of wind hits full in, so that I have to make a strong swerve. Shortly afterwards again, this time only from the left. At 70 km/h, it’s even more powerful than at 25 km/h. These are the dreaded wind shear at Hawi, which is the reason why disc wheels are banned on this route. As I learned later, it must have simply “knocked out” some lighter female participants here. Overall, however, typical Hawaii weather, somewhere the myth must come from. After a few involuntary swerves, I’m back down in Waikui and it’s a short stretch of relatively steep uphill. The wind blows with about 60 km/h from the front. This piece is short, but fierce and some important grains are lost here. Finally, it goes back the last 60 km. The wind blows as it did on the outward journey, so you lose what you gained on the outward journey and vice versa. The last 20 km are very tough and do not want to go around. In the meantime, the body no longer feels like cycling and it is getting noticeably hot. I take something out to recover for the final run and eat my remaining gels.
In total, I took in about 2000 kcal while cycling. Hopefully that will be enough to get the run over with. When running, the body needs more energy, so there is less left for digestion. The difficulty is to choose the pace so that you can still supply enough energy via digestion while running. If you run too fast, the energy supply breaks down and you have to run much slower – that’s not very comfortable. This is commonly referred to as “bursting.”
The second change goes off without a hitch. In the transition area, the bike is taken off, you get your bag – helmet off, running shoes on, cap and sunglasses on and on you go. Stop – this time please do not forget the sunscreen.
The first quarter of the run is hot and humid. Although it is cloudy, it must have rained recently. Fortunately, there is a refreshment station every 1.6 km. I stuff all my pockets full of ice cubes and put a few more in the front. This way you can endure the heat. The target was an average of 4:30-4:40 per km, which works quite well. After about two kilometers, all the ice cubes have melted, so I’m busy refilling and keeping myself completely wet. Coke and sports drinks are also available at each station. And sponges that you can stuff into your jersey and that are later lying around at the aid stations (whoever throws something away outside the station will be given a time penalty or disqualified for “littering”).
After looping through Kailua, we head up to the Queen K Highway. Although it is still quite warm with about 31-33 °, but because it is now very cloudy much more pleasant than before and no longer so humid. Here we go straight on for ever past the airport and then finally down to the Energy Lab.
Here, seawater is pumped up from a depth of 6000 meters. That’s 6° cold, so you can use the surface water to provide any temperature water you want to grow lobsters and abalone that couldn’t survive in the 28° Pacific here.
Up here it is also too warm for lobsters but still cloudy, so today is not like so often 40 ° or more to endure. At a relatively steady pace, the course heads to the turnaround point and back to the Queen K Highway at km 31.5. Three quarters are done and things are going well. Only an increasing pressure on the left big toe and occasional cramps in the right foot lift give me pause for thought. Also take something out and not risk anything. Meanwhile, the average has dropped to 4:50 but everything is still on track. In triathlon, the run starts at the half marathon mark: this is where you usually know if you’ve overdone it or not.
Only 10 km left, which are normally a piece of cake. Now I count backwards and it goes on constantly. Only 5 km left. I have no more desire for Coke or Iso drink and consider skipping the next refreshment. Since evil can take revenge, I force myself to drink the obligatory three cups. Finally the Queen-K Highway is over resp. it goes right down the mountain. Only 2 km to go – you can already hear the finish area, but you still have to run a loop. These last 2 kilometers I run unleashed to the finish, about 1 min/km faster than before and can still make up some places. After 9:48 h I’m at the finish and have the targeted dream time of 9:59 h even undercut by 10 minutes, which is certainly also thanks to the clouds.
At the finish
Maximilian, you are an Ironman! You hear these words at the finish line of every Ironman race, but here in Kona, in the cradle of the long-distance triathlon, it has a completely different meaning.
The emotions that hit you after crossing the finish line like that can be overwhelming. After all, you’ve been working towards it for several months and you don’t know whether it’s going to work or not until shortly before the finish line.
A nice young woman takes me by the hand and leads me to the regeneration area. At the same time, she asks me my name, where I’m from, and how I’m doing. Since I can answer everything, she disappears again to receive the next athlete and I can receive my after-race bag with my change of clothes.
For the next two hours, you recover from your exertions by eating mostly salty foods and replenishing your fluid levels. A look inside my shoes shows that the left toe is swollen and blue. I don’t know how long that would have lasted. Now that the effect of the body’s stress hormones is wearing off, it also starts to hurt – ouch. Unfortunately, everyone in Germany is asleep right now, otherwise you could still send a few messages that you arrived safely. It is now 17:05…
Day 9 - The day before the race
The day before the race usually flies by. Around noon I had to check in my bike at the transition area. Before that, all the equipment must be prepared and packed in appropriate bags. That takes time. Since the race starts at 6:25 the next morning, there would be no time for that the next day. You have to get up at about 3:45 a.m. even so….
Normally you still have time to pack the bike and run bag in the morning, here in Hawaii it’s different – you have to check in both bags and have no access to them the next day. Just don’t forget anything is the motto.
The fear of terrorist attacks has also arrived at Ironman: Only issued bags are allowed – no own bags. The bags are transparent:
After the bike drop-off you have some time to find your way around the transition area. You memorize the entrances and exits well so that you can easily find your bike and bags during the race. The time is running and the transition area is big! (But everyone has to travel the same path, no matter where the bike is).
Since it goes on the next morning at 3:45 o’clock from the bed, I go today early in selbsiges – alarm clock is actually superfluous, so far I was awake before races always already around 3:00 o’clock.
Day 8 - Rest
After Wednesday had passed quickly with a lot of rest and a last intensive swim session, Thursday was the penultimate day before the race. On this day, the wise triathlete does not train at all, but dedicates himself entirely to recovery before training intensively for a total of one hour in all three disciplines on Friday. Because of the persistent muggy heat here, I was completely preoccupied with keeping myself adequately hydrated without suffering mineral loss. Besides a massage, some time in the hotel’s pool also brought relaxation. Time is now flying by, the race is fast approaching. Finally, in the evening, the Welcome Dinner took place, with which the festivities around the World Championship were officially opened and all athletes were welcomed. In addition to a show that introduced you to Hawaiian culture, there was plenty of food and drink to recharge your batteries for what was to come.
I almost forgot one particular highlight: Contrary to well-known German song, there is very well beer in Hawaii – it is not only brewed there on site, but even tastes very good. Unfortunately, any consumption of alcohol is forbidden in the last weeks before a race, as it has a dramatic effect on endurance capacity, and what is actually not available here is non-alcoholic beer. You would also have to re-phrase the song. Anyway, my tour operator Hannes Hawaii Tours had a good connection to a well-known German brewer, and what can I say: The delivery delayed in customs arrived – finally a change from the sweet soft drink or sports drink.
Day 7 - Prepare equipment
Today there were no special program items except for the competition briefing in German. Here you learn a few important details about the course of the race and what to stick where. My starting documents seem to be complete. Interesting what was there:
So besides a last, longer swim session over 2500 m with a stop at the espresso boat, there was enough time to check, test and prepare the rest of the race equipment. This includes the almost ritual but in any case highly meditative cleaning of the bike. But also during the swim it had to be tested if the racing suit also fits well under the swim suit. Over the day, small wrinkles or awkward seams can have a very big effect….
In any case, the logo already looks good.
Day 6 - Finally race week
It’s race week. Although it is already Tuesday, you really notice it today in all corners and ends – almost all participants have arrived now. From the Monday before the race, the tension rises in most people – but from now on (and already for the last two weeks), the main thing is to listen to your body and suppress excessive training motivation. Because with dwindling fatigue – while the body recovers from the training stresses of the past months – the common triathlete is seized by a tremendous desire for higher, faster, further during the remaining short training sessions. However, those who indulge in this will not be able to deliver their best result on race day. You’re happy about every competitor who whizzes past you at breakneck speed :-D.
And yes – the Kona Coffee Boat is finally here! That makes the swimming session extra fun. On the way there are about 500 m to cover. This time there was a huge school of fish to watch. In total it was then about 1800 m with two coffee breaks. The atmosphere at the boat was gigantic.
Today also the registration opened, so you could pick up the starting documents – slowly but surely I realize what’s going on there on Saturday. My starting number is #1194.
In the evening, the “Parade of Nations” followed – a parade in which all participating nations walk through Kona in small groups. With 281 participants, the German delegation is the second largest group after the USA. We were led by a mood maker who proclaimed the goal to be the loudest and funniest group. With push-ups, Humba Täterä and Ole-Ole we went through downtown. We have certainly managed to do that. Triathlon legends Dave Scott and Mark Allen were waiting at the finish line and there was a small party into the evening.
Day 5 - First contact with the race track
On Monday the race week finally started. To celebrate this, half the race distance from Hawi back to Kailua was covered. Unfortunately, there was little wind, so I could not practice driving in the wind. For this there was time to take some photos:
Day 4 - Sightseeing
On Sunday I made a touristic bus trip around the island to get to know all climate zones. In fact, this is a special feature of Big Island, you can find here eight different climatic zones, the most impressive are lava desert and rainforest. The mountain on the photo is the over 4000 m high Mauna Loa.
Day 3 - Hawaii fundraising run
On Saturday, there was a 10 km fundraising run that was very reminiscent of our fun runs in Germany, except that there were muffins at the finish line. After that we went for another round of swimming.
Unfortunately, the espresso boat has not yet arrived. For this there was a very interested turtle. The fauna under water is impressive.
Day 2 - Bike & Beach
On Friday “Bike&Beach” was announced, i.e. 48 km on the competition course to a beach, and after two hours stay back again. Here I was able to gain my first experience with the gnarly wind. The same comes strongly from behind, then 5 km further from the front and again 5 km further from the side. But one drove straight ahead the whole time.
Day 1 - Arrival in Hawaii
After leaving home at 8:00 Thursday morning, I landed in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii at 8:30 that same day. With a time difference of 12 hours, that’s pretty much 24 hours of travel time. It’s best to stay awake and then go to bed normally.
Until Monday it is mainly about arriving, i.e. getting rid of the jetlag and getting to know the island a bit. The daily rhythm is a little different here: the sun rises around 5:30 am and sets around 6:15 pm. The twilight is very short. The sun sets in about 15 minutes, after which it is pitch black as there is little street lighting. Accordingly, people get up early and go to bed earlier than at home. But no matter what time you look out the window, someone is always walking by outside at a crazy pace.