Ed. Note—We launch the Black + White Collection today, in celebration of making it ten successful years in the triathlon apparel business. In honor of that accomplishment, and since it's Kona week, we turn to another athlete celebrating a decade: Andy Potts (racing his 10th Kona) returns to our pages with one of our most sought-after topics: how to prepare for Kona and optimize your performance once you've qualified. Kona is difficult simply to qualify for, and many athletes forget what they need to do simply to have a good day once they've arrived. Read on for tips from one of the best American finishers in the contemporary era.

Kona is the big show, both the single most sought after race in our sport and the crusher of athletes' dreams. It is the unicorn that many athletes spend every training session thinking about, preparing for, and wishing for. It is surrounded by history, mystique, drama, and a solid dose of reality. Being that it is the date that is circled on the calendar by so many, I figured I would jump in and give you some tips on how I have prepared for Kona and a few lessons I learned along the way. 

Lesson #1: There Isn’t a Magic Formula

Just because it is the biggest race of the year and potentially a once in a lifetime race, the principles of training and applying stress to the body to adapt and get stronger do not change. You can not do things that your body is not ready for and you should always form a plan based on what works, what your body is telling you right now, and where you want to be. 

This is now my 10th year doing Kona and I can honestly say that my preparation has been different every single time. Out of the ten times I have raced, I have carried an injury with me during the race or leading up to the race on at least 8 of those occasions. Why? Because I am constantly searching for better, and with that comes the risk of injury. I try new things, which everyone should do, and I train close to the edge. The danger in that is that you sometimes might fall off the cliff. Nonetheless, I have had success when I have ran big miles going into the race and when I have not run at all for 3-5 weeks before the race. I have had success with high intensity work and with high volume work. The key here is to be consistent, be repeatable, and to take the time to understand what your body is telling you throughout your training cycle.

Lesson #2: Late Power Rules The Day

Whether it is Kona or any other Ironman, harvesting, cultivating, and building late power on the bike is critical to success for both the bike and the run. The best Ironman athletes have the smallest drop off in power as you approach miles 90+ on the bike. Being able to maintain power late in the bike can have exponential effects for your race day results and also typically indicates that you have enough strength to get off the bike and run well. How do you work on late power? You train that way, a lot. For myself and our AP Racing athletes, we do a lot of over-distance work and we do a lot of work that is about 20 watts or bpm’s over race effort late into rides. These longer rides and late sustained efforts late in workouts conditions your body to be able to do work late in a race.

picture courtesy AP Racing

Lesson #3: Course Tip: Kawaihae to the Overlook

In the spirit of lesson #2, late power, this is a course specific tip. When you race in Kona, you will find yourself out at the turn around at Hawi really quickly. You will be surprised how quick you are there, actually. This can be a trap. After the long descent, you will hit a short uphill back to Kawaihae and then head back onto the Queen K. This section, from Kawaihae to the overlook at about mile 90, is really difficult and is when most folks start to feel the effects of the day. The climb to the overlook is difficult and is probably at one of the warmest parts of the bike course. The key is to know that this entire section is difficult, prepare for it (see lesson #2!), and do not over-bike up until this point. This is certainly easier said than done, but it is easier to prepare for if you know it is coming as it is a part of the course that is not frequently discussed.

Lesson 4: The first Ten Miles is the Setup

Again, this rule applies to any race but Kona is a great example of this. If you watch Kona, there is a five-mile out and back on Ali'i before you head up Palani Hill to the Queen K. Pros and age groupers alike come out hot and fly through those first five miles. If there are ten athletes running together, by the time you hit mile five, three to four have already fallen off their opening five-mile pace. By mile ten, the top of Palani, another two or three have fallen off. My point: you need to run smart and run your race. Race day is for racing, but if you are racing in the first five miles to the detriment of the remaining 21, you are in for a very long day. So use the first miles on Ali'i to soak in the energy from the crowds, establish your pace/rhythm, and settle into a pace or effort you can build from.

picture courtesy AP Racing

Lesson 5: Celebrate the Day

Whether you are first or last, your job is to celebrate the day. You need to celebrate the effort it took you to be there and the amazing environment you get to race in. You do that by making every mile count. Be engaged, keep on smiling, and keep on pushing. When you hit the finish chute, take it all in, savor it, and be grateful for what you just accomplished: congratulations! If you are still looking for more tips on racing Kona or if you still need help with your training or racing to get to Kona, you should check out working with me and our AP Racing team. We have everything from 1:1 coaching to completely customized training plans to the best camps. Check us out at AP Racing.

picture courtesy AP Racing

See you in Kona,

Andy