Optimizing Kona—an Athlete's Guide
by Chad Holderbaum
Ed. Note—Chad Holderbaum lives and works in Colorado Springs, coaching for Durata Training, and has also raced as a professional triathlete. Chad has coached numerous athletes to the Big Island and has raced Kona four times himself. This week, Chad brings us some key lessons learned for athletes heading into the race.
With the biggest race in triathlon quickly approaching, it can be quite overwhelming for both age group and pro athletes making their final preparations for the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii on October 12th. Over the years at Durata Training, it has become very important for our coaches to emphasize the do’s and don’ts and how athletes should begin to break down the event into small manageable chunks not only on race day.
Before You Go
Let’s face it, if you’re heading to Kona, most likely it’s been a long year of not only training but also racing. You’ve probably done at least one other Ironman event and multiple 70.3 races leading up to this year's World Championship event. If I were to emphasize one thing before you pack your suitcase is that you should not “panic-train." Have trust in your fitness and the cumulative training that you’ve put in all year long. Often times it’s better to come into Kona a little under-trained than over-trained. This is also the time to begin visualizing race day, including putting the final touches on your nutrition and hydration plan. Know what type of calories work for you in hot and humid conditions, know how much you plan to drink on the bike and run, and know what your electrolyte needs are. This is also a great time to begin heat acclimation protocols, especially if you are coming from colder climates (ed.—if you missed it, check out last month's piece on how to nail your acclimation here). Finally, iron out your itinerary for race week so the flow of race week doesn’t cause you any added or extra stress.
Arriving in Kona can be profound and emotional. First off, you’ve worked extremely hard to get here. What you’ll notice first is that everyone looks fit. This is the perfect time to remind yourself to focus on your own race, and that YOU probably look fit, too! This is a thought that should resonate with you multiple times race week and during the event itself. Try your best to minimize the hammer-fests along Ali'i Drive and out on the Queen K Highway while you’re putting the final touches on your training program. It’s easy to get caught up racing other athletes, so put your ego aside and remind yourself that the race occurs on Saturday not the days leading up to it. There can also be many other distractions race week, like family excursions, expo visits, and banquets. In no way am I advocating living inside like a hermit all week—after all, you are in Hawaii. But be mindful of the time you spend on your feet and what food and drink you’re putting into your body. Last but not least, I recommend you take a drive early in the week out to Kawaihae and experience the infamous cross-winds for yourself. This piece of advice has benefited every athlete I’ve coached.
The day has finally come. A day you’ve been dreaming about for at least the last year, possibly years. The magic is in the air as you step out onto Dig Me beach and feel the sand between your toes. Yes, it’ll be emotional but this is a fantastic time to reflect back on your “why." Reflect on your personal journey which has gotten you to where you are today. Once the race begins, focus on your own race execution and trust your plan opposed to trying to replicate the effort of other athletes around you. Stay in your own “box." Know that the crosswinds are coming especially as you go in and out of the boulders along the road (preview the bike course and you’ll know what I mean). The Ironman World Championship rewards patience and if you can hold back all day until you’re running out of the Energy Lab, you’ll end up with a fantastic result. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the experience. Kona is a special place and—if done right—will be a major highlight of your life for years to come.