As the Ford Ironman World Championship draws near, athletes preparing to race in Kailua-Kona are eager for any information to give them a leg up on the day.
There can be no doubt that racing on the Big Island presents one of the most daunting combinations of wind, heat, terrain and, of course, world-class competition. In short, there is no such thing as being too prepared for this race.
While no one has all of the answers, here is a quick review of the top questions inside Endurance Nation about competing at the IMWC. In addition to these race-specific tips, don't forget to download our free race execution guide to help you manage the overall picture of racing as well. Travel safely and best of luck on race day!
What Is the Swim Like?
The one-loop, non-wetsuit ocean swim in Kona is one of the toughest in the sport. The ever-present swells and chances of choppy water can really wreak havoc with your stroke.
Don't forget the tidal current that typically pulls swimmers out, leading to a fast first half and slow second half of the swim. You should be prepared for multiple pace changes and the need to finish strong against a potential current. Don't fight the water, however, as that will make for a long day—just swim your swim.
How Tough Is the Kona Bike Course?
The bike course is a combination of two out-and-back portions. The first is in town with very short, steep segments. Be cautious here, however, as it's tempting to ride aggressively and the roads get clogged quickly.
The second out-and-back is the real deal to Hawi. For the most part, you should have a slight tail wind out to Waikoloa. The crosswinds usually kick in just before the road starts to kick up as you head to the turn in Hawi. Enjoy the free speed and do your best to eat and hydrate well; both become extremely hard to do when you are holding on to your bike in 25-mph gusting crosswind.
Due to the course layout, your halfway point isn't actually in Hawi—making a physically challenging ride very mentally tough, as well. Add to that the fact that the winds increase in the late morning, making that gentle tailwind you had on the way out into a nice headwind on the way back.
Suddenly, hills begin to appear that you never noticed on the way out. Kailua-Kona, just like any other Ironman course, rewards the smart, patient and disciplined cyclist. Strength can be a liability on this course, if you don't know how to use it properly. We highly recommend you read our Climbing Smart on Race Day article.
Knowing that the latter half of the bike is significantly harder will enable you to pace yourself properly. It's very tempting to chase the competition early on, but remember that there's a very tough marathon still on the schedule, and that's where the true potential of your race will be realized.
I've Heard the Transition Is Crazy? Something About Astro Turf!?
While they do cover the pier with artificial turf, it's nothing special. Know that the transition area is laid out so that everyone has to run pretty much the same distance to all of the bikes. There are no short cuts!
Coming off the bike, take note that the aid station inside transition is the only one for the first one to 1.5 miles. If you neglect to stop here you'll have a very long (and hot) first mile. In fact, the hardest part about transition is checking in, as every competitor is accompanied by a volunteer and you really have only one quick shot to drop your stuff and get your bearings.
What Is the Run Like?
The run leg in Kona is a tale of two courses. You have the incredibly humid five-mile out-and-back stretch along Ali'i Drive, and then the hot and hilly eight-mile out-and-back on the Queen K to the Natural Energy Lab. This one-two punch is usually just enough to finish off all but the most prepared competitors.