Survival guide for the Kona bike

Belinda Granger offers up her insights on the Ironman World Championship bike course from a pro's perspective.

| October 12, 2017 | RACES

Photo >Frank Wechsel / spomedis

by Belinda Granger

For pros the bike course at the Ironman World Championship is interesting because, seriously, it’s like an ITU start. It’s a frenzy! You ride the loop out of town and coming out of Palani like it’s a 40 km time trial, forgetting that you are embarking on a 180 km ride. It’s awful and, mentally, you have to break this race down. For the first 30 minutes of this race I used to race it like it was a short course race because, if you don’t, you get left behind. There's also the "Hot Corner," which is a sea of noise and color, Be watchful here. These time trial bikes are not made for sharp turning.

When I spectate this race I always stand at the Kuakini Highway turn around to see the looks on people’s faces. They are redlining because it is a climb all the way up Kuakini. And then you come screaming back down. And going up Palaini is another tough effort. A preview of the marathon.

I don’t start my race until I get up onto the Queen K proper because that’s when you can finally take a freaking drink. You can finally settle down on your aero bars and try to get your heart rate down and try to get into a rhythm, it's crazy. it sometimes takes up to 30 minutes along the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway, The Queen K, to get your sh*t worked out.

By the time you hit Waikoloa and Mauna Lani you are in a good place, a good rhythm. You know you're in an Ironman, a world championship. You’ve taken in food and electrolytes and you’re comfortable by that stage. You’ve also sorted yourself out, mainly, who you are riding with. You also talk, it’s not like that you don’t talk when you’re out there racing. People who say that they don’t talk when they are out there are full of crap. In the pro ranks the athletes try to limit their deficit and make inroads into the leaders. It's a time to work out strategy based on what the swim throws up. The same can be said for that age group set that is racing for their own world title.

Most times the environs around town are pretty calm, or calmer than out on course. It’s a rare day that gives you wind or weather into Waikoloa. Weather wise, you generally get the best indication as you climb the last 15 km into Hawi (the famous turn around town). And that’s when your day can turn to sh*t because you swing round the corner with about 15 km to go and you look out to your left and you can see ocean. Take a look to see if there are whitecaps. If you see whitecaps when you turn off at Kawaihae then you’re in deep! The outlook changes, too, with the lava fields being replaced by some grass land. It might not sound that exciting but anything is better than looking at lava for five hours!

I didn’t mind coming home from Hawi. The only time I didn’t like was when we had the horrible crosswinds, when you were getting blown across the road and that was scary. When the winds come through the valleys there and you are riding in excess of 50 km/h, that’s scary. It's just not pleasant for anyone. It doesn’t matter how fit or good you are, it’s just crappy for everyone. Put your head down here and really grind through it. Bad patches are also common here. Coming out of Kawaihae, too, is tough. The climb is long and steep and can kick your butt. It's not that hard. but it’s long and in stages and exposed so at that time of the morning it’s stinkin' hot with the sun belting down on the back of your helmet. You also know that once you get onto the Queen K there’s a chance you might have a headwind all the way home. So it plays on your mind. Be strong here! Just think about getting up that hill and getting yourself back onto the Queen K. Get as much food and drink in as you can. You usually don’t get assaulted by the headwind. if there is one, until a few kilometres down the Queen K.

Once you get around 20 to 30 km along the highway there is a tough climb to the lookout. It’s nasty, especially when you have a head wind. Be careful here. The last 20 to 30 km of the ride will be horrible for a lot of people. Their wheels fall off. You can lose some much time there. Even though it’s sort of flat heading back into Kona, if the wheels have fallen off, it’s very hard to get them back.

Then all you have to is run a marathon!