Kona Qualification, Kona experience and race report (warning, LONG post)

Hey guys, figured I would share my overall thoughts on the KQ as well as my race week/day experience while it is fresh in my head and I am still riding out the IMWC high.

Kona Qualification -
It seems as if most who have entered the long course triathlon scene have heard of or thought of obtaining the illustrious ‘‘Kona Qualification.’’ Since I started training for Ironman Boulder back in November of last year, I read plenty of articles and did my research on finishing times needed for a shot at a Kona Qualification. If you haven’t already, https://www.coachcox.co.uk/ironman-world-championship-qualification/ the coach cox site does a great analysis on just about every IM race imaginable. I knew going into it that for the 30-34 age group, I would need around a 60min swim, around a 4:50 bike split as well as a 3:30 run. These are general guidelines and will always be plus or minus a few minutes depending on the course as well as the conditions. Of course a fast bike can have a slower run and vis versa. The quick and dirty on the benchmarks for the 30-34age group: a 60min 3.8k swim is 1:25/100 yard, for this you should be able to easily hold 1:20-1:24/100 yards on very minimal rest. Your FTP should be well above 4.0 w/kg, this would allow you to ride a 74% IF for the 180km race somewhere around 3.1w/kg. You should be able to run a 5k around 18:30min or around 6min miles. If adequately trained to the appropriate volume, this will land you somewhere around a sub 3hr open marathon or at that 3:30-3:35 Ironman run. Even then, that high level of fitness does not guarantee a Kona qualification. I have met plenty of athletes who are able to run circles around me and still have yet to obtain a KQ. Of course there exists very elite age groupers in which they come from a collegiate background of sorts and have times fast enough that they can easily obtain their professional card. They will continue to secure at least 1 of the 3 (usually is always 3 spots for the 30-34AG) spots at each of these races. With that said, for most of use normal age group athletes, it really comes down to fighting for 2 spots. You may want to think about picking a race that may play into your strengths a bit. If you are a weak swimmer, try and pick a race that is always wetsuit legal. Strong rider? Maybe give Ironman Wisconsin a shot. You may also want to target a hilly or flat run course depending on your run background. Even after all the hard work is done, your race has been strategically picked and you are about to toe the start line, you still can not pick and choose who shows up on race day. All you can do is put in the required work and keep the fingers crossed on race day…

Kona experience
Being on the big island was nothing short of a dream come true and cliche’ as that sounds. Having watched countless interviews and Ironman races on Youtube as I sat on the bike trainer over the year, walking up to dig me beach and seeing it first had almost took my breath away. I was able to get to the island on the Monday before the race. We found an air bnb about 3.5 miles South of the downtown area on Ali’i drive. I felt that this was a great location for many reasons. I could to runs up and down Ali’i drive, the queen K was easily accessible and it was out of the busy downtown area. The only thing I may change in the future is staying a few blocks up away from the water. It seems as if all the locations either on the water or a block off Ali’i drive do not have central air. Swimming at Dig me every morning was again a treat. There were little areas set up in which you can place all your gear which was nice. Try and catch the days that the world famous coffee boat is out there and check that off your list. Biking on the queen K was rather hectic for the first 10-15k until you made it way passed the airport. Tons of cars and stoplights turned an hour ride into a 90min ride at minimum. I went out a few times but for the most part I brought my feedback sports Omnium trainer and rode on that. I did make it a point to drive the course up to Hawi just to see what it was all about. I did all of my race week runs up and down Ali’i. Since my family was there, I was trying to hang out with them as much as possible and didn’t feel the need to go and run any specific segments of the course. I great rule of thumb which I should have followed is ‘‘drive the bike course and bike the run course’’ The island is of course very expensive. Gas is 4:18 a gallon. Going out to a restaurant will cost you around 20 dollars a plate plus drinks. If you place has a kitchen I would recommend buying food at the KTH supermarkets to save a few bucks. Located in the downtown area within a stretch of a few blocks are all the restaurants and attractions you will need. A few go to’s for me would be Huggos (where they do breakfast with Bob) Island Lava Java as well as Humpy’s. If and when you do go, its worth trying to find a few of the free parties thrown by training peaks, USAT etc. A great way to get some free grub and a few free drinks. A small place off the main strip called ‘‘Barefoot zone’’ is the best place to get an acai bowl in the morning. Most of the beaches that you see have far to many rocks and are difficult to just relax at. One of the main beaches is called Magic sands and gets fairly crowded from sunrise to sunset. ‘‘The end of the world’’ is also a spot to check out if you want to do the famous cliff dive. I did the greenwell as well as the Thunder mountain coffee tours. Both are about a 15min drive outside of town. I felt the Thunder mountain did a better 30min tour and I learned a ton about the coffee making process. A good reference that evidently was posted and updated every year by a local could be found on slowtwitch https://forum.slowtwitch.com/forum/Slowtwitch_Forums_C1/Triathlon_Forum_F1/2018_Kona_Survival_Guide_-_All_new_40th_Anniversary_Race_Edition_P6729131/?page=unread#unread . Evidently he is moving and will not be posting one for the 2019 year but maybe the torch will be passed. All in all, I would say that even if I am never able to qualify again for the IMWC, I would still make it a point to go back for that race week. It might even be more enjoyable not having to worry about racing on Saturday. You can fully indulge in everything Kona has to offer, get some quality training in on the course, relax and watch the race unfold first hand on Saturday…

Race report
You could definitely tell the island was heating up leading to race week. There were far more people out in town, more people out running and riding and traffic started to get horrible. I was one of the last to show up for mandatory bike check on Friday. I did not have to wait in any line which was really nice. According to the rules, we had to check in our run bags (including my run nutrition) during the check in the night before and they stated we would not have access to it on race day. Of course, every volunteer you spoke with gave you a different answer but evidently if you ask nice and ask the right people you can access your bags on race morning. It called for rain throughout the night and into race morning which didn’t look to promising. I covered my electronics with a garbage bag and of course, some volunteers said that was ok and others stated they would go through it at night and take the plastic bags off as you were only able to cover your handlebars and seat with it. Either way, it was still there in the morning and my powermeter, chain and derailleur were dry as a bone thank god. I got to the transition around 4:45. At that time we still had easy parking in the lot of Palani but it was starting to become full. I dropped off my bike nutrition, calibrated by power meter, set up my best bike split on my bike computer and headed out of transition to hang with my family. You were able to go in and out of transition during the morning which I found surprising. I said my goodbyes to my family around 6:25 right before the male pros went off and I stood there near the start. The female pros went off around 6:35 and we were able to get in the water shortly after. A mass of people shuffled down the stairs and swan towards the start line. I was under the impression that we would have room and time to get a little warm up in but it seems as if my warm up would consist of treading water for 20min on the start line before the race. I asked a few people ahead of me what they planned on swimming. As they stated they would be around the 50min mark I then slowly started to swim backwards towards the rest of the mere mortals. As we got closer to the start, around 6:55, the density of the swim start really grew and people were packed in like sardines. We had zero room around each other. Everyone was doing the egg beater motion to tread water and you could not help but to kick others and be kicked as we were so tightly packed. Without warning the gun went off and we were horizontal. For the few few hundred yards you couldn’t go anywhere. Every time I took a stroke, instead of feeling water I would feel someones back or legs. I swam most of the first 1-2 hundred yards like tarzan with my head out of the water to try and figure out what the heck was going on. At around 500 yards it started to spread out and by spread out I am speaking in very, very relative terms. There was zero open water around you. I had feet in my face, a person on each hip and someone touching my feet every stroke. I was not able to elongate and take a full stroke for the entire swim. I had to time my stroke and often times switch my breathing side so I was not swinging on the guy next to me or getting the water coming off his hand straight into my mouth every time I took a breath. By the turn around I knew things were not going to open up and I mentally succumbed to this. I put in a ton of work in the water over the last 6months and I felt as if a 60min swim or less would be easily achievable. I came out of the water in 1:01:42. If I was to go back and do this race again or in the future, I would have to focus on take out speed. I feel as if it would be better to be swam over by anyone who is faster than you than to be locked into a pack like that. Nowadays, most swim starts are rolling and take out speed is not a factor. If you are not familiar, take out speed is almost like sprinting the first few hundred yards to drop people and then settling into your pace. You can imagine this would be like sprinting the first mile and a half of a marathon before settling in and if not incorporated into your training, this could be rather detrimental.
The bike was interesting to say the least. I rode Boulder at a lower IF, somewhere around 68% and felt very comfortable coming off the bike. Going into this race I felt as if I had half the fitness as I did for Boulder. Without the elevation component, my plan was to ride again at 68% and enjoy the ride. On average, most of the 1600 male athletes were coming out of the water around an hour. 1600 riders getting onto the course at the same time was like Chicago traffic at 4pm on a Friday. the first part of the course that went up and down Kuakina highway was a 2 lane road and the congestion was expected. I was very surprised when this continued out on the Queen K. There were HUGE packs of riders that made it look like a charity bike ride on a weekend or even like a crit race. The race officials were nowhere to be found for the first 20-40k it seems. These packs would come up from behind and before you knew it you would be completely engulfed in it. Trying to ride an honest race I knew I had to either put in a heavy surge to ride out the front or hit the breaks to fall out the back. Taking the smarter route, I chose to hit the breaks. This happened multiple times leading up to the Hawi climb. I heard a motorcycle riding up behind me at one point and I chuckled because there was a huge pack around 30-40 yards in front of me. Unfortunately this was just one of the media motorcycles capturing some footage. Most of the riders in the pack made sure to throw some Shakas out as they were riding near the moto and I am really curious to know if all that draft footage will make it on the nbc broadcast. When I reached the turn around at Hawi I remember thinking to myself ‘‘well that wasn’t so bad’’ . Overall the climbs were not steep but rather long. I also saw on the Ironman course elevation profile they listed it as 5800ft of elevation gain. My garmin told me there was around 4500 so I am curious to see what others got. On the way down from Hawi I was ready to decend! Unfortunately there were riders that would be coming down and cut in right in front of you. Again, this put me in situation were I had to either put in a down hill surge or stay on the breaks to avoid any drafting controversy. The last 60 or so km’s were smooth sailing. We were blessed with the best kona bike conditions to date which is what lead to so many records being broken on that day. I was rather disappointed with the amount of drafting that was happening. You see it in every race but its even worse when you see it during a world championship. I went back and forth on this a few times thinking that it was a product of having so many riders enter the course at one time. On the flip side of the coin, I really did not see to many of the riders attempt to exit the packs they were in. If I was to do the race again, outside of riding at a higher ironman effort there is little no nothing I would change. I did lose quite some time to always being on the breaks. I also lose time having to grab water and slow down at every aid station in order to keep up with my 1.5L of fluid intake per hour. At the end of the bike ride, I hopped off and my legs were fresh as can be ready to go for a jog back down the Queen K. My bike split was 4:48:33 for the day.
I kept to the same tactics on the run as I did on the bike. I run with a stryd power meter and I have been doing my long runs at a nice easy 240watts which puts me somewhere around 7:50-8:05 on the flats. The first 7.6 miles were essentially pan flat. A few small hills up and down Ali’i drive but nothing crazy. It was great to see the trainer road crew at the Ali’i drive turn around somewhere about mile 3.5. I made my way back to Palani Rd and that was one heck of a hill to run up. I was surprised to see so many runners walking up the hill. I kept a steady shuffle and held it at 240watts and made it up no problem. The stretch of the Queen K out to the energy lab was loooong and boring. By that time the typical hot and humid kona conditions had set in. I kept my same nutrition/hydration strategy as I did on the bike. I passed the aid stations taking 3 sips of water per station, sponges on the back and neck, ice in the hat and down the kit. I saw a drastic change in the race while in the energy lab and with good reason. Without any cover and with the surrounding lava fields you really felt like you were in an oven. You were fooled by the fact that the first portion of the lab had a downhill stretch. They had stretched out the energy lab this year and it honestly felt like it was never ending. I was relieved to head back out of the lab, Miles 14-20 are always dark points of the race for me. I am energetic when I get to mile 13 knowing that I am half way there. The next 6 miles feels like no mans land until I reach 20 miles and I know there is inly 10k left. The back half of the run after the energy lab turned into a typical death march seen at any other race. The first half, although congested, you would have to slow down every so slightly through aid stations and I was probably only losing 10 seconds at most for each one. The first hour and 40 min of the run I averaged 8:15/mile. I found it extremely difficult to go through any aid station during the final stretch back to town on the queen K. People were no longer at a slow jog through them but rather at a standstill. It was impossible to slow down, pop in and pop out. The latter half of the run I lost 30seconds per mile to every aid station. I was angry enough that I skipped the last 2 aid stations and ran the last 1.5 miles at a 6:58 pace. One thing I will be working on in the future is whether or not I need to take in fluids at every single station. If I am matching my fluids on the bike as well as the first half of the run, I feel as if I could run the remainder of the race with little to no hydration. By the looks of my run profile I lost around 6 minutes in the back half of the run. The final mile of the race went by way to quickly. Coming down around the hot corner and down ali’i drive through the finish shoot was like being in a time warp. Before I knew it I was across the line and getting swept away by volunteers. I ended up running 3:40:58 for an overall time of 9:38:15. A 9:39 at Ironman Boulder was able to get me a 23rd ish overall position including the professional field. Not the case for the world champs as that landed me in 109th for the AG and 474th overall. This really speaks to the depth of the field. The top 26 athletes in 30-34 all went under 9hrs…The top 3 were in the 8:30’s … CRAZY!! Most if not all ran well under 3:20 for the marathon. The top 10 guys were running around 3hrs or under which would be difficult for me on fresh legs. There were a few that had slower run splits but they also swam 50 minutes and rode a 4:25. Analyzing the competitors, i’ve come to the realization that I need to step up my run game. In order to become more competitive in the field and make a KQ more probable in the future I need to be taking 10-15min off my marathon time. I think I will be taking this next year off the full distance and focusing more on half iron and oly racing trying to get my high end speed up. I don’t know what the exact plan will be or the best way to go about taking 10-15min off a marathon but you bet I will be figuring it out over the next few weeks. Time for some off season!!!


Superb write-up and congratulations on a great result.

Thank you @John_Hallas !

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Great report and congrats on the race!

One of the things that chimes with me most is your swim experience. I raced last year and have qualified for next year and the one thing that I think will make the most difference to my race will be swim performance. There are so many athletes of similar ability that the further up the swim field you can get the ‘easier’ your race becomes. It’s not the actual time you get by swimming faster but where it’s puts you on the road as the bike starts that will make a huge difference.

I also feel your pain at the bike packs. Kudos to you for trying to avoid them.

Again, congrats on the race :+1: Are you intending to try and qualify next year?

@JulianM Thank you! congrats on qualifying again that is awesome. It just seems as if you are able to get out of the water between 55 and 60 minutes it makes for a completely different race. gaining a minute or two in the swim will not win you a race but if you can avoid all that traffic it will most certainly help. I have mixed feelings on racing a full again next year. I was rather glad that at the thought of not having to do long training days once Boulder was going to be over…and then I qualified. I put in some longer days leading up to the race in order to survive and I could not wait for it to be done. Once I stepped foot on the island however, the energy and hype of that race lived up to its expectations and put the long course bug back in me. As of now I think I would benefit more from working more on my swim and getting a solid run focused short course year under my belt to get my speed up. My wife is also planning on doing an Ironman next season so it would be nice to have a lower training volume to help her out in all aspects of preparation since she did the same for me. We will see…

Kona is nuts during race week isn’t it! I was similar in that I thought I’d be a one and done there but I guess not.

Times were crazy fast this year. A friend of mine in your AG went 9:10 and was 39th! That time last year would have been 5th.

Your plan sounds great I think. The swim gives you a great head start in the field and if you can run well in the heat you’ll make up more places than you can imagine. With a 3:40 I would think you mage up a good number anyway? If you are able to knock 15-20 minutes off that run the number will go up exponentially. I’ve never seen so many obviously very fit people walking and just broken as I did on the Queen K last year!

Good luck with whatever you choose to do.


Very well done, congratulations. And thank you for the insightful story…

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Great write up! Thank you and congrats!!! KQing is in my five year plan so all this info is great to take notes from

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Great stuff here, Mike. Well done - awesome result! KQ is a bucket list goal. Work has precluded me taking a shot until this year, and I fell short in a tough field. Bike was my big shortfall, so… TrainerRoad! Looking forward to a longer term pursuit and getting out there someday! Nice work!

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Congrats dude!

I am not a triathete but found your interview and subsequent write up and story very inspiring and motivating!

Keep up the epic work - awesome to hear about your journey on here!

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@tribuddha Thank you. keep up the great work and stay focused!

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Thank you @kurt.braeckel sorry to hear this year did not work out. You will be an absolute beast in no time flat if you are going to use a TR plan. Hope to see you in the lava fields!!

Thanks for the detailed writeup and congratulations on your finish. Like others I’m particularly impressed you were able to do this while completing residency, and I’m glad you let us come along for part of the ride!

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@BMiller Mahalo!!

Great write up & interview. Does Humpy’s deliver to the continental U.S.?

@Double-A already tried lol they only thing you can get delivered is the coffee beans!!!

Great write up. Congrats on a fantastic race.

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What is your usual training pace during runs? a 5k time doesn’t always match up with an open marathon. Sub 3 would BQ and is a pretty solid time on its own.

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@Bioteknik training pace varies. 3-4 min V02 efforts are usually around a 5:40 pace, LT pace is 6:15, Tempo 6:30 and my easy runs are anywhere from 7:45 - 8:15. Of course the longer the race the better it would be at predicting your marathon time. Similar to a 60min FTP test, you would be silly to go out and ride 60min for the test. Most do a 20 min test and take off a percentage and now we have the ramp test. A 5k is an easily reproducible test that does not produce much fatigue or require much recovery time and is a great way to track your progress. There are some resources available like https://runsmartproject.com/calculator/ for instance. Of course it is just a prediction but if you put in the required volume and key session for the longer distance it would be achievable. That is something I was actually looking into for next year in order to get my run volume up. I might target an end of the season Mar, maybe even Chicago so I can carry some high volume into the 2020 season… we will see

@Bioteknik I just wrote a reply and posted a link but I think it was flagged as spam due to the link. Hopefully it gets reviewed and posted. If not I will get back.