How to Reach Your Potential in Kona

It took Chris McCormack six tries before he finally walked away with the Ironman World Championship title.

For most triathletes, the Ironman World Championships in Kona represents the pinnacle of personal athletic achievement.

Having endured years of hard work and sacrifice en route to qualifying, these lucky few are now faced with a daunting task: Training up (again) for an Ironman. Only this time they'll be competing against the best in the world.

Elation quickly fades as reality sets in. After all, it's really, really hard to get fitter in the second half of an Ironman season. After having coached many athletes through their qualifying race, then managing their recovery, and finally rebuilding their fitness for an assault on the Big Island, these are our tips for you.

Post Qualifying Tips

How many other times in your life will you be able to toe the line and at the end of the day say "I was XXX in the world!" The opportunity to participate in a World Championship Anything is extremely rare and unique.

If you are a Kona Newbie, we recommend your first goal should be to enjoy the experience of participating in the Ironman World Championships. We would hate to see that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity tarnished by setting but then not accomplishing your performance goals. It's a pretty special day. Enjoy it!

Rebuilding Your Fitness
You built your fitness up to its peak, tapered and then raced. Now you need to recover while simultaneously beginning to train for Kona. How to manage it? This is the structure we've found to be most effective:

  • Week after the race: Swim for recovery Monday through Wednesday, then get back on your normal swim routine by Friday. No running at all this week. No cycling until the weekend and then only one or two very easy rides.
  • The following week: Normal swim frequency and intensity; normal bike frequency, but greatly reduced intensity and volume. Listen to your body. Do your first post-race run on about Thurday or Friday of this week. Very easy, just run.
  • The next week: Normal swim schedule, normal bike schedule, normal running frequency but reduced volume and intensity.
  • Four weeks after the race: Everything back to normal, and you can begin rebuilding your fitness for Kona.

With this schedule above, eight weeks is probably the minimum time required between Iron-distance races for you to expect to improve on your performance.

Kona-specific Race Tips

The Swim
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.

With swim training for one Ironman race under your belt, endurance shouldn't be your biggest limiter. The conditions/competition in Kona require multiple pace changes, as well as the ability to be strong when closing gaps against a potential current.

  • Work on muscular endurance by doing medium-length repeats of 200 to 400 yards/meters with pace changes included.
  • Boost your cadence by doing repeats at different speeds; a higher turnover means reduced hip drag due to a slower stroke and fatigue.
  • Keep longer swims to a minimum, choosing a good 1,500 time-trial effort over 3,800 long and slow in the water.

The Bike
As anyone who looks at the bike course profile will tell you, the race doesn't look that hard from the bike. As anyone who has done the race will tell you—that profile is the least of your worries.

On top of the terrain you have the heat from the lava fields and road radiating up at you, as well as the potential for incredible wind gusts sweeping down the mountain.

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