Managing Heat and Limiters in Kona

Coach talking to a triathlete about to go into the water
January 20, 2017

D3 Staff



Competing in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii presents a unique challenge unlike any other Ironman event. Reflecting on my past experiences racing in Kona, I've had a mix of successes and setbacks, each providing valuable lessons for future races.

In 2001, despite not being entirely satisfied with my performance, I recognized that given my limited experience and knowledge at the time, I managed reasonably well. However, in 2005, despite having more experience under my belt, I made numerous mistakes and ended up having to walk the second half of the run. I attribute this to a lack of respect for the challenging course and harsh conditions.

My decision to target the 2009 race stemmed from a desire to find a truly challenging event in triathlon. Kona represented the ultimate puzzle for me, one I had yet to solve. Although my preparations for 2009 were going smoothly, unforeseen work commitments arose just two weeks before the race, preventing me from making it to the start line. While disappointing, this setback fueled my motivation and hunger for success in the following year.

With a full year to prepare for Kona 2010, I delved into extensive research on racing in hot conditions, sweat rates, core temperatures, and more. I discovered that my exceptionally high sweat rate, sometimes reaching 96oz per hour, had been a significant factor in my struggles during hot races.

To address this, I focused on optimizing my nutrition and hydration strategies. Knowing that an Ironman athlete's stomach can only absorb around 45oz of liquid per hour, I tailored my intake accordingly, opting for liquid calories to avoid overwhelming my digestive system. Through meticulous tracking and experimentation during key training sessions, I honed in on the optimal hydration and calorie intake for race day.

As the summer heat intensified, I continued to fine-tune my nutrition plan, gradually increasing my calorie intake while ensuring my stomach could handle it. Practicing run sessions off the bike with maximal liquid intake became a crucial part of my training regimen, ensuring my body was accustomed to the demands of race day.

In addition to managing hydration and nutrition, I recognized that acclimating to the heat would be critical. Arriving in Kona almost two weeks early allowed me to adapt to the conditions and experiment with cooling strategies. While cooling clothing didn't make a noticeable difference, I found that dousing myself with ice water during training runs helped keep my core temperature in check.

On race day, I prioritized staying hydrated and cool, regularly taking cups of ice at aid stations and opting for a vented helmet on the bike. Keeping my effort level conservative during the run proved to be crucial, as pushing too hard risked overheating and jeopardizing my performance. Ultimately, managing the day's challenges with caution and foresight proved to be more important than taking unnecessary risks.

In summary, my journey to prepare for and race in the Ironman World Championship in Kona has been filled with valuable lessons and insights. By addressing factors such as hydration, nutrition, and heat acclimation, I was able to overcome past obstacles and perform at my best on race day.

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