Saturday, August 01, 2009

Hawaii Ironman 70.3 Triathlon Race Report

Hawaii Ironman 70.3 triathlon, run courseA couple of months ago, and two weeks after the Jemez 50k, I raced in the Hawaii Honu Ironman 70.3 triathlon on the big island. I should clarify a point here for those not so familiar with triathlons. This race should not be confused with the famous Kona Ironman triathlon in October. That other race is the Boston Marathon of triathlons, the big race that many people work hard to qualify for the privilege to participate. I was in a different race that covers part of the same course but only half the distance as the Kona Ironman. “Ironman 70.3” is the brand name for a Half-Ironman distance race, where 70.3 is the total number of miles covered in the combined swimming, biking, and running events.

Most flights to Kona seem to arrive in the evening and I stayed in a hostel near the airport the first night. Due to the time difference, I was wide awake the next morning at 5am even though the BikeWorks bike shop didn’t open until 9:00. I opted to rent a bike rather then bring my own. It was cheaper this way, and I did not have to deal with transportation during my vacation after the race. This turned into a good deal since they put me in a brand new Cervello racing bike that was imported for the race. It was much nicer than my regular bike. Using a bike for the first time in a race brought some risks, such as if it was not fitted well or what if there are complications if I had to change a tire on these unfamiliar wheels. Fortunately, it worked out well.

Hawaii Ironman 70.3 triathlon, entrance sign
Photo by Race Photographer
The shop put on my personal petals and “loaned” me a couple of CO2 cartridges (since those cannot travel on the plane) such that I would only have to pay for them if I had to use them. I took the bike for a quick spin around the block. I was surprised how little effort it took to go up the steep hill. That was the extent of what I could test drive the bike before the race. I took the wheels off so I could fit the bike in my back seat for the hour drive to the packet pickup site.

Hawaii Ironman 70.3 triathlon, Bike racks in T1

In the afternoon there was a pre-race meeting. It hit how big this even was with over 1000 people fit into the conference hall. The speakers drilled it in to us that it would be hot and hilly and we needed to be sure to get plenty of salt during the race. The one thing that made me optimistic was the promise of 6 miles of the run would be on grass. While most of the athletes would worry about the un-even footing, I was looking forward to it since I had been doing more trail running than roads this year. Unfortunately, during the race I would learn I mis-understood this was actually 6 miles on the golf greens as opposed to the lava fields, and most of it on an asphalt golf cart trail instead of grass.

Hawaii Ironman 70.3 triathlon, Start area at Hapuna Beach

Hawaii Ironman 70.3 triathlon, Swim Finish at Hapuna Beach

On race morning, I Dropped off my gear at the bike in T1 (Transition #1). The race start and T1 (swim to run transition) were located at Hapuna Beach state park while T2 (bike to run transition) and the finish would be at the race hotel several miles away. Unlike other triathlons I had done before, we could not leave any items for transition lying on the ground. Everything had to be hanging from our bike and/or fit in to one of two plastic bags (one for each transition) so that the volunteers could easily transport our stuff around. I hung transition items as best I could on the bike, filling my helmet with items that I would need to put on. Then I walked down to the beach for body marking. They used stamps to stamp on nice neat numbers, and then grease pencils to fill in any space the stamp missed. There was a bit of a hill between the beach and the beach and transition, but it was well carpeted.

Hawaii Ironman 70.3 triathlon, body marking at Hapuna Beach
Body Marking

Hawaii Ironman 70.3 triathlon, me just before the start
Photo by Carolyn R with my camera


This was my first triathlon of this size with a mass start. The startline was at an angle to the shore so people could choose to start on the left side where the water was waist high, or the right side, where water was over most people’s heads. I started near the back left. The first few hundred feet the water was clear and I felt like I was gliding over the sandy bottom 20 feet below. A few people swam over me, but since I am relatively slow and started near the back, it did not take long to fit into a grove alongside swimmers of similar speed.

Hawaii Ironman 70.3 triathlon
Photograph by race photographer

Hawaii Ironman 70.3 triathlon
Photo by Race Photographer
For much of the first two thirds of the course, I did not have to do much sighting since everyone around was swimming in good rhythm and in the same direction and approximately the same speed. In fact, between the sun in my eyes and goggles fogging up, I couldn’t see the buoys but it wasn’t much of a problem with so many people nearby swimming in the exact same direction. About half-way I slowed to wipe my goggles between strokes and was bumped from behind. Looked back and saw a train of 4 people had been drafting off me and all sticking their head up because of my interruption.

Two thirds of the way through, the calm peaceful rhythm was interrupted as a swimmer came up from behind and started to weave in front of me. He was kicking so much and generating so many bubbles that my visibility went to zero and I couldn’t seem to get away from him for a few minutes. He would slow down so I would try to swim around, and then he would speed back up and weave to cut me off. Eventually he moved ahead but I never got back into the same rhythm as most of the pack I had been swimming alongside had also moved ahead. When I exited the water there were a few people I know who were cheering as I ran by. Most of the crowd had already come through so there was no waiting at the showers set up to rinse off the salt water. Then I went up the hill and into T1.


Hawaii Ironman 70.3 triathlon, wedding singletA couple of my friends at the race were getting married in Hawaii as part of the trip, and they gave us special “wedding” racing singlets the day before for those of us who came out for the race.
Hawaii Ironman 70.3 triathlon, leaving T1
Photo by Race Photographer.
It worked well for the swim, but since I did not bring a bento box for the bike, I really needed pockets to hold nutrition. So I switched to a bike jersey which gave an added benefit of more sun protection to enhance my farmers tan. While filling my pockets with gels and Cliffbars from the transition bag, I managed to miss the packet of salt pills. Then I put all my swim gear into the transition bag so the volunteers could transport it to the finish.

On the way out of transition, the bike chain came off the gears. I should have ridden it a little after re-assembly. A volunteer at transition helped me get that fixed, then gave me a big unexpected push to get me started up the hill that connected the transition to the highway. I guess such pushes are normal in races, but it was the first time for me and I was a little startled.


The bike course covers the harder half of the Kona Ironman course. Once I got to the main highway, the course went south a few miles and then turned around. It was impressive to see the crowds of bikers already coming back from the opposite direction. The first section had a bunch of rollers. This rental bike allowed me to take the up-hills faster and with less effort than my normal bike. On the down hills, despite going into the hardest gear, I ran out of resistance quickly and I felt like I could not build up as much speed as I normally do on downhills. The comparison with my regular bike could be subjective, influenced by the perception of effort and speed without data to show the actual effort and speed since I did not have a speedometer on that bike and have not both bikes on the same course. However, I was leapfrogging people of similar average speed opposite of normal. I was flying past them on the up-hills and they were flying by me on the downhills.

When I realized that I left behind the salt tablets, I started drinking exclusively Gatorade to try and best replenish. The aid stations offered both water and Gatorade. There were a few miles of uphill against strong wind to reach the northern most turn-around. Then I came back the same way and was able to see how many people were still behind. I started keeping count of my place ahead of last as people passed me or I passed them.

Hawaii Ironman 70.3  triathlon bike course

Hawaii Ironman 70.3 triathlon, me on the bike course
Photo by Race Photographer
With about 10 miles before the end, there was one steep long hill where my legs started to cramp up. I almost had to get off the bike, but I managed to slowly keep going and even pass a couple of people despite my snail’s pace. I wasn’t the only one in trouble here. Once I got past the hill, the legs recovered a little, but I was still slower. Each time the highway passed over a lava field, I could feel the heat radiating back at me.

I was impressed with how the highways in this area were well marked with permanent bike lanes. At each intersection, it was clearly marked where the bikes needed to cross any entrance/exit deceleration lanes, and had signs indicating to motorists where the bicycle crossing was to occur. If only bike lanes in Austin could be marked so well through intersections.


I came in to this transition some 15 minutes before the cutoff. Despite having never visited this transition before, it was no problem finding my designated bike stall. My bike-to-run transition bag that I turned in at packet pickup was waiting for me at my bike stall along with by swim-to-bike bag that had already been transported from T1. I switched back to the wedding singlet, and grabbed the salt tabs from the T1 bag. Took some time to apply sunscreen, and then started heading towards the run start. I could only muster a walk, and a woman who had already finished was walking in my direction and, not realizing I was still in the race started talking about how tough the run was, and then asked me how my race went. I told her I would answer after I finished my run.

As I left, the officials reminded me to turn my race belt around and show the race number in the front. When I reached down I realized my race belt was gone. I felt up my shirt a bit to make sure the belt hadn’t ridden up under, but it wasn’t there. They told me I couldn’t proceed without a number. I started to turn around to go back to my bike to see if I left it there when switching shirts, but then the officials told me I could go on without it. 7 miles into the run, I found the race number. It had gotten flipped upside down and the belt had ridden up under my shirt.


Hawaii Ironman 70.3The first mile did not go well. It was hot and no shade. After the first aid station, I filled up on salty snacks, took a gel, and poured plenty of ice water over my head to cool down.
Hawaii Ironman 70.3, me on the run course
Photo by Race Photographer
That gave me some refreshment and I was able to run a little. When the run course came near the bike course, I saw a few bikers come in but knew they would not proceed due to the cutoff. I was near the back of the pack. I hit several of the aid stations at the same time as a course monitor on a moped who was telling the aid stations how many people were behind, which was not too many. Some aid stations were starting to tear down as I passed, but they all left out enough food, drink, and ice.

Part of the run was over the grass of the golf course, and each time I hit grass I was drawing energy from the ground, but then each time I hit asphalt it was like sucking the energy out. After a few miles on the golf course, we went on a road with a section of 3 out-and-backs, some of it through a lava field. Laura was a little ahead of me, and so I passed her on each of these out-and-backs. She was running for a bit with a guy who was limping in a funny way. I was impressed with him for continuing despite what looked like race injury walk. I did not realize until much later in the race when we passed on the 4th out-and-back that the reason for the weird looking run was because he was running on artificial legs.

Hawaii Ironman 70.3 triathlon, run course

Once I left the lava field and got back on the golf greens, there was an occasional breeze, but it was still hot and no shade. The golf course had a bunch of short, but steep hills and this made it difficult to keep a regular running pace. About 7 or 8 miles, my legs started cramping again and so I had to walk a bit. I thought the final race cutoff was at 8:30, and was calculating that my pace would be cutting it close. With about 4 miles to go, I realized I mis-calculated and would be about 10 minutes after the cutoff. I tried to speed up, but couldn’t maintain the speed without feeling like I was going to puke.

Hawaii Ironman 70.3, run course
Hawaii Ironman 70.3, self portrait on the run course

Hawaii Ironman 70.3 triathlon, me on the run course
Photo by Race Photographer
There was one last out-and-back on a straight road which covered more than 3 miles of the course, and this was hard mentally. But it did allow me to count and see there were still 10 people behind me. One woman coming back the opposite direction apparently saw my shirt and addressed me as “John”. When I acknowledged, and not yet realizing how she knew my name, she told me Laura was just a few hundred yards and it would be really cute if I caught up so we could cross the finish line together. She was already gone before I realized she confused me with the groom, whose name was also John (and printed on the wedding singlet.)

Hawaii Ironman 70.3, run course

With a mile to go, I was close enough to the finish to hear the count-down to the 8:30 cut-off. Thinking I was officially DNF, there was not so much motivation to push the pace the last mile, but I was still going to finish it anyway. After I finished, I learned the 8:30 cutoff was only for qualifying for any of the slots to the Kona Ironman and that anyone making the bike cutoff would be allowed to finish with an official time. I made it to the finish in just 10 minutes after that cutoff.

Hawaii Ironman 70.3, me approaching finish line
I am approaching the finish, Photograph By Amy B.

Hawaii Ironman 70.3
Finished! Photograph by race photographer


When I got to the transition to retrieve my bike, most of the bike holders had already been removed as part of course cleanup. The remaining bikes had been moved with transition bags to one of the few remaining bike racks in no particular order. Here I saw the logistics benefit of requiring all the gear be left in the transition bags as the volunteers could easily move all my transition items as they needed.

I have to thank a couple of my friends who helped me navigate the post-race finish area when I was not thinking too clearly after my finish, and also for watching my bike while I retrieved my car from the remote parking. I couldn’t have ridden my bike along with two gear bags to the car at that point. After I had a chance to clean off and change, I treated myself to a tasty fish dinner and some frozen island drinks at a restraint with some excellent tropical live music.

This was my third half-iron distance, and a personal worst time. However, it was also the hardest triathlon I have attempted. I wasn’t specifically training for this due to the Jemez trail race two weeks earlier, so I am happy to have been able to finish and get a taste of a part of the Kona Ironman course. In the final results, there were 1104 participants who started, 1053 finishers, and 51 DNF. 4 of the DNF were listed with a finishing time for the run course so I wasn’t sure why they were DNF unless it was just a very late finish after 9 hours. The race photographer had some good pictures and a reasonably priced bulk purchase options, hense the source of some of the pictures here. Other pictures I snapped along the course myself with a pocket camera or swiped from friends as indicated.

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  1. Congratulations on this half-ironman. I am so impressed. Thanks for the great race report, and keep'em comin'. Hope to see you out running sometime this year...

  2. Not sure why, but none of your photos are showing and you take such wonderful shots. It sounds like it was a wonderful adventure. Congratulations on finishing.


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