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Race Results

4th place, age group M30-34, Kona qualification

3rd place, age group M30-34

3rd place, Finnish Championship

Winner, age group M30-34

2013 IRONMAN Kalmar
2nd place, age group M30-34, Kona qualification

Finisher in 9 hours 30 minutes

5th place, Finnish Championship

Winner, age group M30-34

More results here.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Ironman Hawaii Race Recap

In Short

I achieved my season's primary goal by just qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. I was out there foremost to enjoy and finish this hard race. I had, however, developed also some high hopes for a good result. While my finishing time of 9:30 isn't that bad really, I feel somewhat disappointed. My placing in the age group was quite far from what I expected and what I feel that I'm capable of. I did enjoy the race, at least occasionally. But for the most part of it, I was waiting for my race engine to start, which didn't happen until on the marathon course. I'm glad it did happen eventually and I was able to finish with a decent run split of 3:12. 

The Long Version

It's now more than 35 hours since the cannon fired at Kailua Bay sending all us age group athletes on our way for the 140.6 mile journey we had ahead for us. It was another beautiful morning in the island of Hawaii, the sun shining and light winds. I was really happy that the race day was finally here. All the waiting during the week was a bit nerve wrecking and although I tried to think of it as just another race, I couldn't help it from getting under my skin. It was, after all, the biggest thing in our sport, the World Championships. I was feeling good and strong nevertheless and ready to race.

After Ironman Kalmar, where I qualified for Kona, my training was progressing well. Despite a busy work schedule with some long-haul flights and short night sleeps I still managed to do very good iron-specific training sessions and saw my fitness improving. I was especially happy with my performance on the bike which had become my weapon this season and I saw some long-awaited development in the pool as well.

My primary goal for this season was to qualify for Hawaii and the plan was then to just enjoy Kona and scout the race for the future. With my stellar season and all the good results that I've had, I was getting hungry for a bit more however. I had even secret hopes for a top placing in my age group, which I new was going to mean an overall top sixty-ish result. I would have to climb my way up the field after the swim for sure but my running on a normal day wouldn't be an issue and I definitely counted on my bike performance. The only big question mark was the hot and humid conditions and how I'd be coping with them.

The Swim

As a relatively weak swimmer I was a bit worried about the non-wetsuit swim start. I've previously experienced being pushed below the surface in a mass start and now without the buoyancy of the wetsuit, my concerns were surfaced. I tried to find a tranquil spot on the left side of the start line and stayed away from the front. When the cannon fired I avoided sprinting and settled to my own rhythm. To my surprise there was none of the crowded feeling of my previous Ironman starts. It seemed everybody at this level knew what they were doing, swimming in a straight line at an even pace. I actually enjoyed swimming and the underwater view was spectacular with all the colourful fish and coral. 

The halfway point came quickly and looking at the Garmin-file I was there in 30 min. On the way back I started to feel the effort and felt my technique gradually reverting to the old and slow. There must have been also some current or wind fighting us back since my total time was around 1:08. For me everything under 1:10 in an ocean swim  without a wetsuit was acceptable so I was satisfied.

The Bike

The bike course started with a twitchy section around the town centre in Kona. If the swimming didn't feel crowded it sure did now. Pretty much everybody seemed to be already on the course. Normally I'd be flying past the field constantly on the left lane but now there was no room to do that. I was stuck and had to ride below my target zone until we got on the Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway which took about 12 km. From there the road was wider leaving more room for passing but there were still so many competitors around that it was a lot of on-off action with the power, this of course not being the ideal way to ride an ironman bike-leg. There was still plenty of kilometers to cover though, so I wasn't too worried at this point.

Usually, it takes a while until I start to feel really good and powerful on the bike and I was expecting this to happen here as well. However, the legs hadn't still started to work the way I was used to when we got to the halfway turnaround. I don't know if it was because of the heat or all the pumping motion fighting for the space on the road, probably a bit of both. At the turnaround I had spent 2:28 on the bike course and it was actually 96 km into the ride with all the descents ahead that I had just climbed riding to Hawi so everything was still ok. There were a lot of people ahead though, so I'd really have to concentrate on keeping the pace up.

Getting back on Queen K from Kawaihae the winds were picking up. What were supposed to  be descents felt like flats and flats, on the other hand, felt like uphills. At the same time I was starting to struggle to stay in my target heart rate zone, dipping under all the time. A few days earlier Mark Allen had warned me about this and his advice in this case was to get in calories. Immediately! So I started to refuel ahead of my planned 20 minute intervals but it obviously takes time until the energy gets back into the muscles. In the meantime I just had to endure in the lava fields with the strong headwind that had developed. I was loosing time quickly. 

The last twenty kilometers seemed to take forever and I was getting all kinds of thoughts of failure and even dropping out. Finally, I got back to Kona and transition for running. I felt really disappointed as I knew my hopes for a good placing were out of the window by this point. I changed into the running shoes nevertheless, mostly out of habit I guess.

The Run

Running well of the bike has always been the stronghold of my triathlon performance and it didn't disappoint this time either. Right after the transition I saw Mira and the girls cheering me on all happy to see me. I felt an immediate boost and all thoughts of calling it day were gone just like that. I couldn't let them down now after dragging them all the way here. I quickly kissed the girls and started running. After that I was catching athletes' backs like Pacman. I had a good time running and could keep a good pace of 4:20/km. For the first 15 km I just run through the aid stations grabbing some water and ice to poor on my head and into my race top and having a sip of Coke. After that I started to walk a few meters at the stations, which were about a mile apart, to ensure proper hydration and energy intake.

There always comes a rough patch somewhere on the run course, but as ironman racing in general, it's mostly mental. Chris McCormack, one of the athletes I'm inspired by, says you just have to embrace that feeling and stay positive. This time the feeling came when running out of Kona towards the Natural Energy Lab. I saw the first age groupers, including Sami Inkinen, coming back already and realised just how far back I was. My mind was wandering for a while feeling all sorry for myself: "That's where I should be, running with that guy. But I'm still here, a good 30 minutes back". But then from the other shoulder: "Stop dreaming! You can still hit that 9:30 mark if you hang in there". I decided to go with the latter and pushed the pace. 

Coming back into town I was in a hurry to make it. I run the last  two kilometers at a pace of 4:00/km speeding down Palani Road like a sprinter. On Ali'i Drive I saw all these people cheering on and celebrating the finishers, the street covered with text like in the climbs of Tour de France. I couldn't help but smiling and felt that I should enjoy the moment for just a little longer despite the clock. I walked the last five meters up the ramp to the finish line and sucked in the atmosphere. Then I heard the announcer calling: "Jens Dahlman, you're an Ironman!". I felt good.

The Aftermath

While I didn't quite perform at the level I was hoping for I'm still happy that I did the race. Maybe I had too high expectations for myself or it just wasn't my day yesterday for whatever reason but anyway I'm humbled by the class of the athletes in Hawaii. Here, mediocre isn't part of the vocabulary if you want to succeed.  I'll be definitely using this experience to fuel my future training and racing. You'll be seeing me stronger and faster in the race close to you next season!

Now, it's the offseason and time for the family :)

1 comment:

  1. Goooo Jens! Let's have a party when you come back! :)