Anyone who has raced in Kona knows that it is unlike any other Ironman. To the uneducated eye the course looks rather nondescript, with a rolling open highway lined by black lava rock. But the wind and heat make the race quite difficult, and the course requires much strength and stamina. Having a vivid mental picture of the bike course can make all the difference come race day.
As with any race, breaking the course down into smaller segments and knowing what to expect will go a long way toward success.
Transition and in town: Remember this is the Ironman World Championship, and the majority of the 1,800 racers exit the water in a 30–40-minute window. That means there are plenty of other cyclists around you on the road. On top of that, the crowd is revving everyone up as racers make a circuit of Kailua- Kona. Then it’s back up Palani and onto the Queen K Highway.
Tip: Stay within your zones—it’s easy to get carried away. In town, concentrate on steady breathing and good cadence, and be aware of surrounding riders.
Airport to Waikoloa: Early morning means light winds, but there are still plenty of rolling hills to challenge the athletes. Once past the airport, competitors pass West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery, the Donkey Crossing sign and Scenic Point Lookout, which opens up the amazing view toward Kawaihae. The bike flattens out at this point. Three kilometres past Hapuna Beach, the Queen K Highway ends.
Tip: Keep on top of your plan for picking up water bottles to prevent dehydration. Keep a cage free for an extra bottle of water to pour over your head. If you drop your bottle or your special needs bag, it is well worth stopping and getting it.
Kawaihae to Hawi: This is really where the challenge begins as racers leave the lava fields for the long climb to Hawi. The winds typically begin to pick up here. Be prepared for sudden wind gusts: They’re strong! The last climb into Hawi is often straight into the wind—keep the effort steady. Remember Special Needs is just after the Hawi turnaround.
Tip: Shift a lot! Be steady with constant pressure on the pedals, and work to maximise pace in and out of the wind, and over the rolling hills. Look for opportunities for speed, but be wary about being too aggressive and accumulating lactic acid. Flow with the terrain and conditions.
Hawi back to Kawaihae: Racers get a chance to experience a tailwind for a spell; the wind turbines are located here for a reason! This section from Hawi is fast, but when the winds pick up it can be quite nerve-racking.
Tip: Aim to be as relaxed as you can in crosswinds, keeping your upper body loose and allowing yourself to move a bit with the side gusts. Flow with it and stay low and aero.
Kawaihae back to the airport: Pick off the landmarks one at a time on the way back. This is a great time to gain energy from spectators. Be ready for challenging sections of headwinds, false flats and 50–100kph gusts. Stay seated up the climb to the Scenic Point Lookout.
Tip: In long headwind sections, your speed may drop to 10mph or slower. Imagine riding the stationary trainer, where you need to have a good cadence rhythm and a smooth pedal stroke against steady resistance. Keep up a steady work rate.
Energy Lab to T2: This last segment of the bike is a good chance to top off energy stores as you come back into town. Keep cadence high as you prepare to dismount.