The Ford Ironman World Championships will take place in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii on October 13th. Whether you are a pro or an age group athlete, just getting to Hawaii in October is the culmination of a very difficult qualifying process and, for some, a celebration knowing that they finally made it.
Kona is not like any other Ironman. There is a mythical element to the race. The headwinds and ho’omumuku crosswinds can be vicious, purportedly driven by Madame Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes. She is said to turn into a fiery rage at times, pushing athletes from side to side on the course or knocking them completely off their bike.
Combined with a very competitive 2.4 mile swim and a scorching marathon, it has long been said, and rarely argued, that this is the toughest one-day sporting event on the planet. The Canadian Impact
The Canadian Impact
By Shawn Skene
Canadian professional athletes have a rich history of success on the Big Island of Hawaii. For almost three and a half decades Canadians have performed significant roles in the outcome of the world championship races, which are duly reflected in the record books. Canadians have captured eight Ironman World Championship titles and many more have played an integral part in the race action.
Wurtele – Canada’s newest generation
British Columbia’s Heather Wurtele will be Canada’s only sure bet to be on the starting line in Kona this year. Thanks to the new Kona Pro Ranking system she was virtually assured a starting spot thanks to her eighth place finish in Hawaii last year.
Wurtele’s road to Kona was not without some drama, though. The former molecular scientist planned to complete just one Ironman race in 2012 in order to go into Kona fresh. Her strategy was to use Ironman Coeur d’Alene to validate her spot. That plan went awry when the 33-year-old suffered a mechanical issue late in the cycling leg in Idaho. After losing her crank, she completed the rest of the bike portion of the race on a borrowed bike. Accepting the honourable gesture of loaned bike from a fellow competitor turned out to be a violation of the United States Triathlon Association’s rulebook, which resulted in Wurtele’s disqualification. Two weeks later, Wurtele validated her start for this year in Kona at the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt.
Regardless of the Wurtele’s bumpy path to Kona, the four-time Ironman champion will be starting the race with the intent of moving up the leader board this year. Wurtele is rock solid in all three disciplines and has proved she can perform in the heat and humidity.
There is an outside chance that Sara Gross may secure a coveted starting spot for the world championship. That will be dependent on her performance at the Ironman US Championship in New York City.
Puntous twins started it all
Wurtele’s road to Kona was paved 29 years ago by the Canada’s famous triathlon sisters, Sylviane and Patricia Puntous. The identical twins established themselves in the Hawaii record books in 1983 when Sylviane captured the first of two successive Ironman World Championship titles. The French Canadian was the first non-American winner (male or female) in Kona. For both wins Patricia was the runner up. Sylviane went on to record three second place finishes (1986, 1987, 1989) in her illustrious career and may have had even more success in Kona were it not for the arrival of Paula Newby Fraser and Erin Baker on the women’s scene in 1986.
Patricia`s place in Kona’s history is highlighted not just for her two runner-up performances, but for her apparent win in 1986. Crossing the finish line first, Patricia`s elation hastily turned to horror when she was informed that she was disqualified for drafting.
Canada’s greatest champion
Three-time Ironman champion Peter Reid had an eight-year run Hawaii that included wins in 1998, 2000 and 2003. He added three second-place finishes in 1999, 2002 and 2004 and capped off his career in Hawaii with a third in 2005. No one worked harder and sacrificed more for their success in Kona than Reid. Only one race mattered to the lanky Canuck and his dedication to commitment to winning the race is legendary.
Reid’s drive and persistence to be the best on that one day in October defined Reid and his career. Reid pioneered Kona training camps, where he lived and trained in solitude. He resided at altitude on the Island during these camps, coming down to sea level to train. Never content with his success, Reid continually sought an extra edge over his competition, which led him to seek out the advice six-time champion, Mark Allen. He also trained under Chris Carmichael for a short time to augment the direction he received from his long-time coach, Roch Frey. Driven, committed and focused, Reid was a dominant force in Kona and he should eventually receive a spot in the Ironman Hall of Fame.
Bowden grabs a pair of championship titles
Lori Bowden enjoyed an incredible seven-year stretch on the Big Island from 1997-2003. During that time Bowden was crowned world champion on two occasions (1999, 2003), finished second four times (1997, 1998, 2000, 2001) and was third in (2002). She’ll be remembered as one of Ironman’s most colourful figures thanks to her bouncing big hair, her floral race kits and perpetual smile.
The gracious and humble Fuhr
Heather Fuhr`s memorable championship win in 1997 will always be a highlight for Canadian Ironman fans. The Albertan passed eight-time Ironman world champion Paul Newby-Fraser on the Queen K during the run. Newby-Fraser offered words of encouragement to Fuhr as she took the lead. That pass signalled a changing of the guard and a new future for the women`s race in Kona and Fuhr was a deserving recipient of that torch. Fuhr won an impressive fifteen Ironman titles around the world and went on to record a second-place finish in 2004. She was, and continues to be, one of the most gracious and humble Ironman champions.
JulieAnne White`s outstanding second place showing in 1992 was completely overshadowed by Paula Newby-Fraser’s dominant performance. That day the South African recorded the first sub-nine hour women’s finish time in Kona. White was a phenomenal runner who arrived in Kona that year just six weeks after a record-setting performance at Ironman Canada. Her bike record from that race lasted almost two decades. White’s Ironman career was cut short thanks to gastrointestinal issues sustained during her top-ten finish in Kona in 1993 which resulted in half of her large intestine being removed immediately following the race.
Eleven-time Ironman champion Lisa Bentley ran her way to a third-place finish in 2006. Bentley’s battle with cystic fibrosis makes her five top-ten finishes at the Ironman World Championship that much more impressive.
McGlone’s immediate splash
Samantha McGlone, the 2006 Ironman 70.3 world champion, burst onto the Ironman stage with a second place finish in Kona in 2007 in her first Ironman race. The Olympian’s would eventually be slowed by a lower-leg injury that limited her starts and potential results in Kona.
Contributing editor Shawn Skene routinely reports on Ironman for both TMC and Ironman.com.Canadian Age Group Qualifiers
Canadian Age Group Contenders
By Jim Scott
Historically, Canadians have always enjoyed success at the Ironman World Championships, led by professionals Peter Reid, Lori Bowden, and Lisa Bentley. Going unnoticed, for the most part, has been the success of many of our age group athletes.
In 2011, Canadians took home two age group wins, led by Regina’s Milos Kostic, who set a course record in the 70 to 74 age group and Carol Peters of Delta, BC who placed first in the female 60 to 64 age group. As defending champions, they have already earned their ticket to Kona and will be contending to top the podium once again.
At 71, Kostic’s accomplishments as a triathlete are extraordinary. As a new entrant to the 70-74 age group in 2011, Kostic won the 70.3 Worlds in Calgary, won Ironman Canada and won the Ironman World Championship 70.3, setting a course record in each.
Kostic then went to Kona and set a new course record of 11:45. He won by over an hour and ran a 3:52 marathon in the process. On five occasions in Kona, Kostic has yet to lose. Don’t expect this streak to be broken in 2012. Barring health issues or a mechanical problem on race day, Kostic cannot be beaten.
As Canada’s other age group champion, Carol Peters went to Kona in 2010 and 2011 and won the W60-64 age group. She’s remarkably consistent and swims about 1:35, bikes 6:30 and runs a 4:00 marathon. In fact only three minutes separates both winning times. For such a remarkable accomplishment, Peters considers herself just an average athlete: “I’m average and … I don’t really train- just swim, bike and run almost every day.”
Of course, there’s nothing average about a two-time defending champion. Her victory in 2011 included a 40-minute win over second place finisher, Cullen Goodyear of North Vancouver, BC.
Goodyear is an athlete that somehow manages to avoid much attention given her Kona pedigree. After finishing second in the W60-64 age group in 2011 she is likely to be on the podium as a top-five finisher in her age group in 2012. She may even capture what has eluded her so far – an overall age group win. This is not as bold a statement as it seems. In her thirteen previous years in Kona she has had two second place finishes, two thirds and three fourth place finishes in her age group.
“I qualified at 70.3 Hawaii. I’ve done that race at least four times, as well as Ironman Hawaii thirteen times. I love the Big Island.”
In M18-24 look out for Jonathon Roth, who finished 16th last year. In his first trip to the Big Island, Roth swam and biked well, but ran a 3:48 marathon. Roth qualified at Ironman 70.3 Hawaii when he won his age group in 4:37. This included a 1:29 run – perhaps an indication of things to come in October.
David Hainish of Campbellville, ON placed second in the 25 to 29 age group at Ironman Texas this year in 9:25. Hainish is getting progressively faster. In Texas, Hainish’s age group was won by American Patrick Wheeler, who has finished 13th twice and 14th in his age group in Kona. Hainish is a candidate for a top finish in the 25-29 age group.
Since 1997, Edie Fisher of Kenora, ON has been winning, or placing very high, in her age group. In 2009, Fisher finished sixth in the female 50-54 age group. At Ironman Wisconsin in 2011, American Jan Guenther destroyed the entire field, including runner-up Fisher, with an almost 50-minute win. Undaunted, Fisher went on to take another second place two months later at Ironman Arizona. Placing first was another American, Barbara Kuhlemeier, who took third at the 70.3 World Championships in 2011. Fisher will be in for some tough competition in Kona, but can certainly contend for a podium placing in 2012.
Hélène Desrosiers may be a long shot to finish on the podium in her first Hawaii Ironman, but she is putting in a season that may lead to a great race in Kona. Desrosiers completed Ironman Lake Placid three years in a row, which included a second place in the W40-45 age group in 2011 and a 10:50 clocking.
“Less than 4 months later I did (Ironman Arizona) hoping to qualify (for the Ford Ironman World Championships)…My training had gone very well and I felt physically and mentally ready to perform well.” Desrosiers did perform well, finishing with a personal best time of 10:48 and third place in her age group. Notable about this finish was that Desrosiers was third to American Mimi Winsberg. Winsberg has finished as high as eleventh in the W45-49 age group in Kona.
Other Canadian athletes worth watching in Kona include former age-group record holder Brian Keast of New Dundee, ON and John Hethering of McDonald’s Corner, ON.
Keast has been a competitor in Kona for thirteen years. A 10:08 at Ironman Arizona that was enough for him to win his age group, will send Keast over for his fourteenth race. After being diagnosed with atherosclerosis and undergoing triple bypass surgery in 2007, Keast made it back to Kona in 2008 to finish fifteenth in the 45-49 age group. He suffered another setback at Ironman Canada in 2011 when he was hit by a truck while on his bike and failed to qualify for Kona. Competing in the 50-54 age group will be a challenge, particular with John Mergler of New Zealand winning last year in 9:42, but a strong finish by Keast will be yet another victory in his journey back to competitive age group racing.
John Hethering is a competitor in the 60 to 64 age group. While training in Florida in March, 2011 he was hit by a large boat being towed by a truck. “How do I explain that, while riding my bike, I was hit by a boat? The boat was much wider than the truck. As a result, along with leaving a large amount of skin in Florida, I sustained a fractured pelvis. This set my training back about three months.”
Hethering made it to Ironman Florida later in the year and took second place in the 60-64 age group to a former thirteenth place finisher in Kona and should be watched for a very good finish in his age group in 2012.
After looking at the Canadian athletes that have qualified to date, there are some that will be knocking on the door for an overall win in their respective age groups; others could be looking at personal bests and top-10 finishes. Most athletes, however, will be putting in a tough day in a prestigious locale. As one perennial top age group performer once told me “A bad day racing in Kona is still a pretty damned good day.”
Jim Scott is a freelance journalist based in Halifax. He routinely reports on age group racing for Ironman.com.Training Tips
Conquering the Kona Challenge
By Lance Watson and LifeSport Coaching
The Ironman World Championship is one of the ultimate goals and achievements in our sport. Training for a fall race in the heat, humidity and trade winds is not always easy when you’re coming from Canada’s cooler fall conditions. I asked the LifeSport coaches to share some of their stories about overcoming various logistical challenges to prepare athletes for success in Kona. There are lessons in determination and problem solving in each example. Here is what they had to say:
Coach: Lucy Smith
Women 35 to 39 athlete
Kona Challenge: This athlete did not have an opportunity to race leading into Kona because she lived in a remote geographic location and had a busy professional and family life. We needed to find ways to build in a high performance race experience leading into the World Championship. We needed mid- and late-season goals as learning-to-race opportunities for Hawaii and to provide physiological markers of progressive improvement.
Kona Solution: Due to lack of available triathlons, we targeted local run and bike races for race-specific efforts and to push threshold fitness. You always go harder in a race than in training. I built training around these threshold efforts and we practiced and reviewed positive racing sport psychology including logistical preparation, focus and self talk through each event. By the summer, we were able to use the local heat and humidity to start training for the climate of Hawaii and built long, low cadence cycling sets into her training to simulate the sort of bike strength and patience needed for the hills and winds in Kona. She also used the small, but enthusiastic local triathlete community to organize a half-distance training day. We created an ocean swim, mapped out a 90 km route that included rolling hills and had a run route set up with water stations. Spouses, friends and partners acted as volunteers and support for the day. She approached it like a serious race effort and, while it was a low key event, the practice was invaluable in getting ready for the race in Kona. She was able to be immersed in an environment of focussed effort and triathlon culture for a weekend and to experience success. She started the race in Hawaii feeling confident and well prepared.
Coach: Dan Smith
Women 40 to 44 athlete
Kona Challenge: This athlete qualified for Kona eight weeks before in a 70.3 race. She had a breakthrough performance and qualifying was a pleasant surprise. She had little time to prepare for an Ironman, which was made even more challenging by her career. As a teacher, she had very little extra time to train during the week.
Kona Solution: After a brief recovery week, we began by increasing overall volume. On the bike this included not just longer rides, but ones that incorporated numerous hill sections at specific above-race efforts to become accustomed to fighting both gravity and wind. We also improved the quality of the long runs by placing them on Wednesday, separating them from her weekend long ride workouts. We broke the runs into morning and evening sections: two to 2.5 hours in the morning, and another hour in the evening. By allowing adequate recovery between long rides and long runs throughout the week, she approached most key workouts reasonably fresh. This was important given how quickly we had to ramp up volume. This also meant there was only one weekday that had a significant amount of training (Wednesday), and it was split to fit around her work schedule. She gained confidence cycling and running at a consistent expected effort and pace.
She also took advantage of Labour Day weekend and incorporated a large training volume block over the four days, which was about a month before the world championship. As always, nutrition plays an even bigger part in Kona than at other Ironman races, so we tried to create habits that were reinforced during each workout in her mini-Ironman block. In Hawaii she exceeded her expectations, finishing strong in a personal best time.
Coach: Bjoern Ossenbrink
Men 35 to 39 athlete
Kona Challenge: To prepare a northern-Canadian athlete for the tough conditions in Kona that include wind, heat, humidity and hills.
Kona Solution: We began by putting in some solid early season training throughout the months of January to May. The initial focus was to start to acclimatize to the warm, humid conditions through indoor rides and runs with the heater on and regular steam room visits. The final first preparation of the early season finished by competing at Ironman Lanzarote, a race that mimics the Kona conditions thanks to the warm temperatures, high winds and ride and run through lava fields. This experience was invaluable.
After the race he took some time off to prepare up for the Kona build. July, August and September featured lots of long and hilly tempo rides and interval run training with many threshold sets between that included 1 to 3 km repeats. In early September he went back into steam room and even did some steam room trainer rides. This took a lot of dedication, but he was promised a pay-off on race day. Has last bit of preparation was an early arrival in Kona where he went through a full two-week taper, fully acclimatizing to the conditions. He raced very well and finished with a new Ironman personal best, which is exceptional on a tough course like Hawaii.
Coach: Mark Shorter
Female 55 to 59 athlete
Kona Challenge: This athlete qualified for two world championships, Ironman and the Xterra. We set the goal to prepare for excellence at both races and to be able to recover in time to competitively race the Xterra World Championship in Maui two weeks after Ironman.
Kona Solution: We built an exceptional early season base in order to be able to reduce volume prior to Kona sooner than normal – four weeks before. We did maintain shorter, high quality workouts in all three disciplines and included two full rest days per week. (Rest was important for this athlete, who is in her late 50s.)
Post Hawaii, the plan was to be aggressive with all aspects of recovery, including nutrition, massage, icing, stretching, sleep, active recovery sessions (flat aerobic riding, easy technical ocean swimming and water running). All rides were on the mountain bike to maximize familiarization with the bike set up. As a result she had a banner year, placing seventh in her age category in Hawaii, followed by a win in her age category at the Xterra worlds two weeks later.
Coach: Bruce Regensburg
Men 60 to 64 athlete
Kona Challenge: This athlete qualified for the Ironman World Championship in April. He had not expected to qualify and had planned events that would keep him occupied for the spring and summer, which limited his training time. Regardless, he was not going to pass on the opportunity to race in Hawaii. The challenge was to maintain his fitness and then build for the race.
Kona Solution: The plan was to keep him on a triathlon fitness maintenance program until six weeks before the race, then ramp up his training for four weeks and taper him for two weeks. His time was inflexible and very limited, so we developed a plan that was manageable for him during the maintenance phase of his program. The longest sessions he could do were two hour workouts in each discipline per week. One concern was that athletes over the age of 60 lose strength quickly. To maintain his strength we incorporated hill workouts for both the bike and run. The plan also incorporated 10 minute runs and 30 second walks. These run workouts were to prepare him for running from aid station to aid station. Six weeks before Kona we started to build his endurance with 90-minute runs and four-hour bike rides. We increased the runs by 15 minutes each week and the bikes by 30 minutes per week. These were all done at Ironman specific heart rates over similar terrain. He achieved his goal to complete the race feeling good enough to enjoy the finishing stretch along Alii Drive.
Coach: Lance Watson
Professional woman athlete
Kona Challenge: This athlete was a newer professional, preparing to race in her first world champinship. 12 weeks prior to Hawaii, a car ran through a stop sign and knocked her off her bike, breaking her collar bone. We decided to not think about if she could race Hawaii, but rather, how we would get her to the start line.
Kona Solution: In a situation like this you discover what the athlete can do and then do a lot of it to maximize the benefit. After one week of recovery, she started with endurance walking. She walked up to two hours on the treadmill at a steep grade. We found she could raise her heart rate to a level that simulated an easy running effort. Within two weeks she could ride a wind trainer upright with her arm stabilized and after three more weeks she was able to do three hours in this position. This riding was done indoors in hot and humid consitions. She paid special attention to nutrition, making good choices, to maintain an elite athlete’s body composition. Three and a half weeks after the accident she was able to start an outdoor walk-run progression. She also could ride outdoors on her road bike on flat terrain. At this point we started single arm swimming and kicking in the pool.
Six weeks after the accident she was finally train properly on the bike and run. With plenty of physiotherapy to inprove her shoulder strength and mobility, her swimming improved to about 80 per cent of her normal ability. This left us with four weeks to train prior to a two-week taper. We took some chances and increased her training volume quite aggressively. Thanks to her good general fitness she handled the elevated volume well. She did a lot of sessions on hilly terrain to build strength and increase her heart rate. In the very last week of training before her taper, her fitness indicators (pace, heart rate and power output) suggested she was ready to tackle the Ironman and her swimming finally felt normal. That year she placed 23rd, finishing strong and running a 3:17 marathon, which was very satisfying given the challenges leading into this race. More importantly, she gained invaluable experience which allowed her to finish in the top five only two years later.
LifeSport head coach Lance Watson has coached a number of Olympians, Ironman and Age Group champions. The coaches at LifeSport enjoy coaching athletes of all ages and abilities who are passionate about sport and personal excellence.
Visit www.LifeSportCoaching.com or write Coach@LifeSporCoaching.com for coaching enquiries