Having expert advice from a 13-time Ironman World Champion finisher is invaluable as you prepare for your own race. His approach to racing this course every year is strategic and calculated. Heed his advice on these three-pointers and you might end up as he did in 2017 taking the age group (70-74) win by over an hour! We wish Simon all the best as he heads for his 14th Ironman World Championship race and what will be his 25th Ironman.
Three Tips from Coach Simon
Planning the Bike: Perhaps more than any other race, getting the intensity right for the bike is key to a successful race in Kona. Everyone has heard about the winds but not so many people realize that there are also a lot of hills, 5,800 ft of altitude gain. That's almost 2,000 ft more than this year's Boulder IM and much of it out in the scorching heat of the lava fields. So even in the best of wind conditions, like last year, it will be a slower ride than your qualifier, unless you did Lanzarote. Plan your nutrition accordingly and lower your target power output. There is a very helpful article by Joe Friel on Training Peaks that can help you work this out. With the wind so unpredictable, at least up until the evening before the race, you should have two plans, one for mild conditions and one for the worst. Then when you get out there on Saturday morning you will not be cursing the weather forecaster, and if they get it wrong, you will be happy as you will have a plan for that.
About the Wind: The first 20-25 miles of the bike might make you think “wow all this talk about wind is bull”. As always, be patient. If it is going to be windy it will probably start when you reach the top of the hill looking down to the big resorts at the north end of the Queen K. Enjoy the ride up to that point, sometimes the wind is even at your back. In 2001, the worst year to date and my first, it gusted to 55 mph on the Queen K and was 30+ going up the hill to Hawi. The secret to survival is staying low on the bike, that means riding the aerobars much of the time. You need to get comfortable with that and if you are not, get a bike fit now before it is too late. It is much easier to survive a gust if you are low to the road. It is also possible to anticipate the gusts. Watching trees and shrubs ahead of you is an obvious thing but even the grass will tell you if a big one is about to hit. On the Queen K when it is very bad you also need to watch out when going through a cut in a big hill of Lava. As you enter, the wind you are leaning into will suddenly vanish and shortly be followed by wind bouncing around inside the cut. Then when you come out you need to be ready to lean into the steady wind again. Some parts of the Queen K going and coming home have a berm of 4-5 ft along the side of the road. If the wind is coming over the berm getting close to it can reduce its speed. This is especially true coming back after Waikoloa, a time when every little bit of help is welcome.
Coming back down from Hawi if the wind is blowing hard it will be very fast, for some scary fast. Even if you are not scared it will be hard if not impossible to get food out of a pocket. So anticipating that is a good idea. The last 1/2 mile coming into Hawi and departing is not usually very windy and is the time to fuel up. You should also be able to do that after you pick up your special needs.
Hopefully, you know that staying on the aerobars for the entire 112 miles is not a good idea, it is also hard to do. You may have a plan to get out of the saddle every 10-15 min for a stretch. With the winds on the Queen K and the last 5 miles into and out of Hawi, that kind of plan can be derailed. So the best approach is to sit up and/or get out of the saddle when the conditions permit and not follow a rigid plan.
Heat/Humidity: You can’t overcome the effect of the climate in Kona, it will always slow you down some, but you can get used to it mentally and physically and minimize its impact. Now is the time to start that process. I am in the sauna after every swim workout now and soon every day for 30 min. If you take that approach, be careful and ease into it if you are not a sauna regular. I am doing it now because I would like to be as prepared as I can be when I arrive 2 weeks before the race. If life does not allow the luxury of 2 weeks in Kona pre-race, then you need to be preparing for this no later than 4 weeks out. Advice from coach Bobby McGee (USAT Run Performance coach) is not to overdo this. You should do some of your last workouts in your taper sweating hard (extra clothing on the run, indoor bike with no fan going hard, and possibly some heat) but he recommends no more than 30 min at a time. If you have a long ride planned you could ride outside for say 3 hrs and then 30 min inside sweating. Or plan a looped run picking up some layers for the last 30 min at your home or car. You will be tapering at this point so doing more time hot is not going to help the taper. From my experience of being in Kona between anywhere from 5 days to 4 weeks before the race, I don't think you can adjust to the heat well in anything less than 10-14 days. This is like everything else, it's an individual thing, and best to prepare well in advance until you know yourself well.
In the big picture, Coach Simon sees attitude more than age making the difference in many aspects of this sport. There are times in triathlon that to see improvements you need to slow down and spend some time working on your technique – which requires a great deal of discipline. So does having a coach and following the plan written for you. The best coach in the world can only be of help if you’re ready and willing to do the work. Coach Simon is a USAT, Certified Coach USMS swim coach, FIST Certified Bike Fitter and Training Peaks Certified Coach.