Ben Greenfield: Qualifying for the Kona World Ironman Triathlon

Ben Greenfield: Qualifying for the Kona World Ironman Triathlon

By Ben Greenfield

The Hawaii 70.3 triathlon race is a qualifier for the Kona Ironman Triathlon World Championship race. The 70.3 consists of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run. This was my “A Priority” race for this year. The entire focus of the 2010 season was to return to the Ironman World Championships without actually racing another Ironman in the process. This meant that I had to qualify at one of the few half-Ironman events around the globe that would allow me passage to the big one in Kona. And this also meant that I was a bit more anxious than usual about this race (just ask my wife, who shared a condo with me as I incessantly fretted over every detail of the big day)—all the way down to writing my goal times on my arm for what I figured I would need to qualify:

  • a 29-minute swim,
  • a 2-hour-and-27-minute bike ride, and
  • a 1-hour-and-30-minute run.

Pre-Race Preps

After spending 2 weeks in rainy Spokane, Washington, readying myself for the heat by performing jumping jacks and step-ups in the YMCA dry heat room and steam room, I stepped off the plane in Hawaii ready to rumble.

My nutrition protocol leading up to this race was very precise and calculated. I followed the recommendations of Dr. Richard Cohen precisely—limiting my omega-6 fatty acids while taking omega-3 fatty acids and using magnesium regularly. I use Natural Vitality’s OsteoCalm®, skewing my diet towards higher protein intake and whole-amino-acid supplementation and elevating my testosterone levels. I also supplemented with hydration tablets and liquid trace minerals during my stay in Hawaii leading up to the race, to replace lost electrolytes, and I used Natural Vitality’s liquid NutraRev! ® super antioxidant product as a natural energy booster.

My workouts consisted of 9 to12 training hours each week along with some gear modifications, including upgrading my wheels from Specialized Transition Pros to Gray 9.5 Wheels and Vittoria 320 Clincher tires.

During this training, I also kept my body as non-acidic and non-inflammatory as possible, and the OsteoCalm along with other supplements helped with this.

The tricky part about Hawaii is that your eyes pop open at about 4 every morning if you’re from the Pacific time zone. I went to bed at about 8 every night.

Race Day

Here is the beach line-up on race day. I started as far left as possible, floating in the water behind the pros. Heck, I figured even if I wasn’t as fast, I should still line up where they were going and try to hop on somebody’s feet. Yes, drafting is legal in the swim.

If you’re looking for race day tips, then here they are:

  • Start far left, out in the water.
  • Don’t really sweat the first buoy, which is a gradual right, but be ready for flying elbows at the second buoy, a sharp right turn.
  • There is poor visibility, you must swim into a current, and there’s lots of choppiness during the entire middle section of the swim that cuts across Hapuna Bay.
  • There’s a fast final 500 yards.

I drafted like a gold-digger the whole swim on some huge guy with big feet, so it felt pretty leisurely, but my watch read 29:02 as I was coming out of the water. Perfect!

A couple other tips: Don’t hit the rocks and don’t touch the turtles.

There is a fairly steep hill coming out of transition. Aside from dropping my bike shoe off a pedal as it scraped on the pavement, I had a pretty smooth transition. This is a good race to make sure your bike is in the proper gear coming out of transition, because it does go uphill immediately.

I had a very precise strategy for the bike split on this course, and after driving the course and doing a couple short test rides in the days leading up to the race, I figured I had the wind and hills figured out.

Click on any image above to see a larger version.

By the 30-mile mark, I had ridden into 7th place overall, with a sizeable 2-and-a-half-minute gap between me and the guy behind me.

My bike split was 2:21, so now I had a 6-minute “cushion” for a hot and hilly half-marathon that promised to pepper us through a winding golf course, multiple blacktop out and backs, and a final “Road to Hell” 5-mile slog.

I hung on to my position as 7th overall and 2nd place amateur until the 3-mile mark, where the eventual amateur winner passed me.

If you’re looking for run-course tips, here are a few:

  • It’s hard to get your rhythm. Focus, watch where you’re stepping, and maintain a high cadence.
  • Aid stations rock with cold water and ice. Use these liberally, especially on your thighs to cool off those femoral arteries.
  • If you start to overheat, take a short walk break. I did this myself for 60 seconds and it saved me as I started to burn up and really lose it just after the 10K mark.
  • Don’t eat much. Your body has a hard time cooling and digesting. I had a couple of banana halves and one gel on the run.
  • Don’t wear a big shoe that will get wet, hot and soggy running on golf course grass. I used the Avia Bolts and they were perfect. Do wear socks.

Once we entered the “Road to Hell,” I found my rhythm again, but at this point (about mile 8) I was passed a few times and knew I’d have to hold on hard if I wanted my slot.

I have to say that I really did suffer those last couple miles and looked behind me multiple times, expecting to see somebody running me down, but anybody who was going to do any damage had already passed me between miles 8 and 10.

That finish line sure looked good!

When the smoke cleared, it turned out that I ran a 1:33—not bad, considering I felt like I was crawling for a good 2 miles of the run. That was good enough for a 4:29…

  • 1 minute faster than planned…
  • 12th place overall…
  • and good enough for a Kona qualification!

So it’s off to the Big Island in October—which means I’ll start Ironman training sometime in August. And between now and then? Maybe a few small races or local half-Ironman events, but mostly I need to teach my kids how to ride a bike. I’m going to need some company during those long runs this fall.