— By Matt Sharpe
TMC contributor Matt Sharpe checks in with fellow Canadian pro triathletes, the Wurteles, after Kona last week. The duo placed 12th (Heather) and 38th (Trevor) on the Big Island, not earning the placings they were hoping for but each coming off a season of strong results.
MS: Heather why don’t you tell me about you build up to Kona?
HW: Obviously 70.3 Worlds was a big focus after podiums the last few years, and that was a pretty key focus of my year. In retrospect looking at the lead-up to Kona, it’s becoming more clear to me that that needs to be the sole focus. Although I don’t quite yet feel willing to sacrifice the rest of my year for Kona, that’s always a difficult decision.
Going directly from Australia the plan was always to have time to acclimatize to the heat and humidity. I felt that was the best call for me as it does take me awhile to get used to the conditions.
The lead up went well. The big challenge training in Kona is doing the volume and intensity you need to be incredibly fit for the race. But sometimes the climate itself makes doing that hard.
Do you find that when you’re there it’s hard to hit those sessions exactly as you need to? Because of the weather and the heat.
Yeah exactly. It’s really valuable to be able to do a ride of the whole course and figure out, you know, I need this much fluid, this much salt. And you have to do that when it’s 90 degrees (32C — she’s spent too much time down south) and a zillion percent humidity. It’s really hard to hit the watts that you normally do in training in those conditions, you know?
Well you guys go a lot longer than I do, so thats pretty damn impressive.
I think that’s the challenge with Kona, I executed the acclimatization well. But it’s just hard to hit those numbers to improve the fitness levels being in that environment.
Cool. Trev, why don’t you take me through your pre-Kona. I want to hear about it!
Yeah, pretty similar situation for my year. I had no intention of putting all my eggs in the Kona basket. I raced pretty well through the year and executed my races very well, and that’s what got me the qualification for Kona. I didn’t start the year with the intention of trying to qualify for Kona, but I knew if I raced well then yeah I’d probably have enough points and get the spot. I got the spot in July and I decided to take it and really try to recover well after Ironman Canada.
I did 70.3 Worlds even though I was certainly not fit enough to do well there. I knew it wasn’t going to be a great race, but I thought, ‘OK I’m already going to Australia, I’ll just get a race under the belt.’ It’s always nice to get a race in between that, I guess, that two month space of time between Ironman Canada and Kona.
I had a really good build for Kona, everything went really well. I was stuck in Australia for a bit longer than planned due to a stolen passport.
Yeah? What happened there?
Someone broke into our rental condo and stole our electronics and grabbed my passport off the bedside table. We weren’t able to track him down.
Ah maaaaan, that’s frustrating!
Yeah, it was super frustrating. It didn’t help that the Canadian embassy were super difficult to deal with, like they wouldn’t give me any updates. Luckily Callum Millward helped me out and I stayed with him in Noosa. And Noosa’s a fabulous place to train so I didn’t lose out on any training.
But then I finally made it to Kona and had three weeks of training there and everything was going really well. I was motivated to race and I felt fit! I did the best I could in the leadup.
So take me through the race itself.
My swim was the main reason I hadn’t been going back to Kona the past few years. I knew if I wasn’t a strong enough swimmer to be close to the front then there was really no point. But I’d been swimming really well this year, I had some great swims I was super happy with. In Kona I wouldn’t say I had a horrendous swim, but I just missed the group I should have been with.
So were you caught between groups? Or just kinda stuck behind people?
I was in a small group about a minute off, so I got out of the water, heard the time gap and thought, “well, that’s not horrible,” but it wasn’t a great situation for me to be in.
So I got out of the water and the first 30 to 40 minutes of the bike were pretty hard trying to get back to that main group.
I can’t even imagine.
Yeah, I was with Matt Russell trying to get back onto the tail-end of that massive group. Once I got to the back of the group I could see the leaders of the group way up the road. They must have been like a minute ahead. Definitely burnt some matches getting back on and once you’re in a group like that and you’re at the back, the surge and break and surge and break is unbelieveable. It was not a good spot to be in.
But it’s so hard to move up though.
That’s the thing, you’re not sure if it’s worth powering up for another five minutes to get past some of those guys or just kind of sit there and hope some gaps open up that you can pass easily.
The first 45 minutes to an hour I was riding wattages that I was not planning on riding. But then an hour and a bit in we hit some crazy side winds just a little bit before Waikaloa and that was kind of where I decided this is a perfect time just to ride my own race because there was just no sense staying with the group. I just made the decision to ride some steady watts and see what happens. After that I ended up riding really well, I mean it wasn’t a horrible ride, it was pretty good. (Heather jumped in, “You said you rode well”). I lost my power meter after Hawi and I had no idea what I was holding for power.
Coming off the bike I wasn’t too far off that group. I could see them coming out of T2 as I was going in. I started the run and just kinda did what I planned on doing for the first 10 miles.
Nice. How did you feel in the race with the heat?
I was really happy with how I felt, temperature-wise, I never felt hot, never felt overheated. I was just conscious of drinking enough.
I felt those first 10 miles of the run were really good, I did what I needed to do like staying hydrated, pacing appropriately, and getting fuel in. But just at mile thirteen a light switch went off and I just had no pop. People were starting to catch me and I couldn’t stay with them.
Why do you think that happened? Like calories or just fatigue?
Thinking back on it I just burnt too many matches on the bike. For me when I have a really good Ironman run it’s on the tail-end of a really steady bike ride. There was just so many surges. The next time I go to Kona I would definitely train that a bit more.
Nice. Heather, take us through your race.
For me it was just, unfortunately, one of those days where you just feel flat. And sometimes that just happens in a race, just too bad it was worlds!
I had an OK swim, just like Trevor I didn’t grow up as a swimmer and so I had to work really hard to improve to try to get on that front pack. In the swim it was just me and a few others in no-man’s land. I was about three minutes off the lead group and normally that’s not too much of a problem for me to ride my way up. But right away on the bike, the legs weren’t feeling too good. But sometimes it just comes around when you keep plugging away.
At that stage are you just looking at the powermeter thinking, “I should be doing better than this?”
Yeah so for me it was really a lot of mental focus on drinking, fuelling, and not worrying about what everyone else was doing. Its one of those things, in Ironman persevering tends to pay off.
On the way up to Hawi the group I was with got dropped, and then Heather Jackson and Melissa Haushildt came through and I couldn’t respond and stay with them. On the descent from Hawi I was really confident descending and dealing with the side winds and stuff and I thought, “well I’m probably gaining time here.” And people weren’t really gaining on me so I thought I could catch a few people at the end. I got into T2, and I wasn’t too far from Rinny so I thought, “well I’m not in too bad of a spot.” I did come around mentally after the bike, having caught some people.
Sometimes you have weaker legs on the bike and then you end up having a really good run. Because you just couldn’t dig deep. So onto the run I was in a positive place and thought, “lets go, lets run!” I was really good at hydrating, at getting ice in my hat. In the past I’d simply not slowed down enough at the aid stations to get the fluids I needed, so I was conscious of having to walk to get three cups of water.
I was running well, but just not where I felt I could get to that next level. But at the same time I just had to keep going. So I did all that pretty conservatively through town and up to the horrible Palani hill, which is a billion degrees and that was a pretty tough part. After that I turned the corner onto the highway and started feeling better and better.
For me the highlight of the day was coming up out of the Energy Lab when I finally found my legs. I felt like I was finally running at that point. I was quite keen and felt I could run myself into the top 10. It was definitely motivating to try and get up there and I could sort of see people falling apart in the Energy Lab. Besides Daniela (Ryf) the whole field was there, so I wasn’t totally out of it. Running home I was able to go deep and I caught a few people, and that felt good, especially after those dark times early on.
Kona is such a crazy race.