Kona 2018 – The Race Report

Courtesy of Paul Franks!!!

I first found out that I would be racing in the 2018 World Championship Ironman presented by Amazon around 18 months prior to the race.  I had applied for race entry through the Legacy program.  The legacy program for those who do not know, was introduced 6 years ago whereby those people who had not ever raced at Kona could apply for a race entry if they had completed 12 Ironman races any where in the world.  So, a guaranteed spot in the biggest race in the world just by finishing 12 races.  Well that took me 12 years!  And it was worth the wait.

We arrived in Kona on the Monday before the race after a holiday in Honolulu for the prior week. Flying in over the island was spectacular.  It looked like the previous day there had been volcanic activity with the black lava streams flowing down to the sea.  The airport itself was carved into the lava fields around 15 km out of the sleepy little tourist town of Kailua-Kona. After 18 months of waiting, all of a sudden the race became very real.  Getting off the plane the heat and humidity hit you like a brick wall, probably made worse by a long cold winter of training in Newcastle.

After arriving at our accommodation and getting unpacked the first job was to get the bike unpacked.  The airlines had changed their bike policy this year so only hard cases were now allowed.  So, for the first time before a race I had a bike in many pieces.  In a short time, I had the bike back together with surprisingly no leftover screws but had managed to partly strip one of the parts putting it together.  What I found once I went to the expo, was many of the big bike brands (probably about 8) had teams of mechanics available to assist and even service your bike free of charge.   In no time the bolt had been replaced and I was ready to go.


 Walking down to the famous Kona pier for the first time, I wondered where it all took place.  There was nothing to indicate that the World Championships were coming to town, but within a few days that all changed and with the construction workers building a mini town, finish schute, transition and all the associated tents to service the event.  What I also found was it was more like a week of lead up events, with much going on.  Trying to fit in all the events made it hard to focus on the race and did not help keeping the legs fresh with all the walking around town.  There were 2 main areas with the merchandise tent and pier area and the second merchandise tent and expo area.  The expo was like nothing I had seen before.  All the top brands show casing the latest releases of their equipment.  It was like triathlon heaven.  Many sponsors had their professional athletes doing meet and greet sessions and they were all very accessible if you wanted to meet and speak to them.

During the week I did a couple of rides with Nellie McClelland and Peter Hodgeson on the course out past the airport trying to get familiar with the course and get used to the heat and the road surface. Nellie gave us a few helpful tips after previously racing at Kona while out on the ride.  On the other days we met up with Greg Broadley who was going around for an amazing 6th Kona race, and swam on the course and similarly was a wealth of helpful tips helping us get ready for race day.  One of the coolest things was encountered on our first swim.  Greg took us out to a boat just off the swim course about 800m off the shore.  This was the coffee cart boat where you swam up to the boat and they handed  a coffee over the side to you. Apparently, another tradition that is a part of the race that I had not heard of.  During the week were many events.  The Aussie morning tea, Parade of Nations, Legacy lunch, Undie run and the welcome dinner.  It was fantastic to be involved in the events and really made the event even better than I had anticipated.

Anyway onto the race.  The race start for age group men was at 7.05, the ladies at 7.20 and the Pros went off at 6.35am.  Up early after a surprisingly good night sleep at 4.45am, and I got down to the registration and numbering early as recommended by the coach.  With 2,500 people racing I was told there can be long waits if you are late.  The number marking on my arm was relatively quick.  The volunteers were super helpful and friendly even more than usual. After putting in my street bags for after the race I sat down on the grass to take it all in.  In no time I had Greg Broadley and Peter Hodgeson siting with me.  I was not expecting to see anyone I know before the race with so many competitors.  It was a great start to the day.  After the canon sent the Pro field away, we made our way into the water.  The swim start was about 300m off the pier, so we headed out with around 10 minutes to spare.  Once I got out to the start line I floated on my back just taking it all in looking at all the crowds, overhead helicopter and everything that was going on.  The water was warm but a little cloudy after the overnight rain.  Surprisingly I felt calm, well prepared and excited for the day ahead. As suggested by a friend I dived down a few times to the bottom looking up at all the dangling legs, a spectacular site. Before I knew it, the canon exploded from the pier and we were away. 

I started out wide on the right and at the back of the main group.  I could not see any benefit from getting swum over by the other 1750 male athletes swimming with me.  The water was choppy with a rolling swell but nothing of concern.  I quickly got into a rhythm and enjoyed the clear waters watching the coral and sea life as I swam along.  After a while I noticed a boat, not far in front of me and was surprised to find it was the turning boat, I was half way already.  The rest of the swim was pretty uneventful.  We started to get a few of the lead age group female swimmers coming past towards the end of the swim.  I arrived at the stairs that I had seen many times in the past watching the race, thinking one down 2 to go.  The transition 1 was a longer run than usual with a noisy crowd and volunteers urging on all the competitors.  After getting changed, I made sure I took the time to get covered in sunscreen as I was going to be a long day in the heat.

The bike started with a couple of loops around town, a chance to wave and speak to the family and kids and then we headed out on the Queen K highway.  This was a 4 lane, recently upgraded highway that headed north, to the turn-around at Hawi  ( pronounced Har vee ).  The road service was smooth hot mix and hot.  There was a relatively light headwind wind for Hawaii standards as we road out of town.  It was hard holding back on the bike with so many people riding past me, but I kept reminding myself that this was not a normal race.  It was the world champs with the best of the best here. So, I stuck to my power limits as recommended by my coach Jason Allie who had previously raced at Kona.  The aid stations or athlete restaurants as described at the briefing were much closer together than in other races.  I was careful to make sure I took on plenty of water at each station and poured the rest of the bottle over me.  By before the turn around both my shoes were full of water and stayed that way for the rest of the ride.  When I got off the bike they looked like grandma skin and I wondered if I was in for problems on the run starting with soft wet feet. The last 30km up to the turn around was upwards.  A rolling climb to Hawi.  On the way back down I spotted both Pete and  Nellie who were not far behind.  About 35km out of Kona they caught me whilst I was having a nature stop.  We rode the last hour together, which was really enjoyable, each rolling through and having a quick chat along the way.  The scenery on the bike was like nothing I had seen before.  The lava fields were stunning with sections of a spinifex type grass growing amongst it. We had been lucky with the wind,  the sidewinds that often blow you from off your bike after the turn around at Hawi had been light.  The heat and humidity was still there taking its toll though.  Sections on the ride were so unbearable hot until the sun went behind a cloud which was certainly great relief.

We rolled into town and transition 2 together, got changed and headed out on the run.  I remember thinking to myself I should be fine to finish now as if the wheels came off I had plenty of time to walk to the finish. It took me a couple of kilometres to catch Pete then Nellie.  I had made sure I took my time to get covered in sunscreen and my skin was white as I exited T2.  The conditions were hot, of course it was the tropics, around 30 degrees and 80 % humidity.  I was quickly taught by Nellie to walk the aid stations.  It took a fair amount of time to put ice in my hat, down the tri suit front and back, water over the head nutrition to eat or drink.  I gained so much more respect for the pros who can run sub 3 hours but still cool themselves and get nutrition in such brutal conditions.  The run was quite enjoyable, taking in the sites, the atmosphere and doing it with a friend.  The run was similar to the bike, a loop in town to see everyone then a run on the Queen K out of town on the highway amongst the lava fields.  There were not many spectators once we got out of town.  After the turn around at the energy lab Nellie and I had run out of conversation, so we parted company.  By the time I got back onto the highway the sun was going down.  It was very dark with no street lighting for most of the run after dark. Luckily I only had about 10km to the finish line once darkness fell.  Even after dark I learned quickly that I had to continue wetting myself to stop myself overheating.  Before I knew it I was back in town passing some familiar Maitland Tri club faces on my way to Ali drive and the finish line after a catch up with the family.  The finish was awesome with even a birthday wish from the voice of ironman Mike Riley after I crossed the line.  There was no rush up Ali drive so I could savour all the atmosphere.  I was told by a couple of people racing that there are no finish times in Kona just Kona finishers.

So if you like triathlon or tolerate it, if you get the opportunity to race or even spectate the Ironman World Championships then don’t let the opportunity pass.  Wish I could return to do it again one day, at worst I will be back to spectate. Well done to the other Newcastle Triathlon club members who raced, Greg Broadley x 6 finishes, The Kona Queen Nellie McClelland x 3 and Lucas Mc Beath

A few of the stats.

Oldest male to finish – 86 years from Japan being the oldest man to ever complete Kona

Oldest female to finish 73 years

New bike course record by Aussie Cameron worth breaking his record from last year

New men’s race record

New women’s record by Danelle Ryf and breaking by an amazing 20 minutes

New female swim course record

Australia had 208 athletes racing the 3rd largest country.  Considering we have 120 Kona spots in Australia and some would go to overseas people there are a lot of Aussies racing overseas getting Kona spots

That’s it from me.  Sorry bit of an essay but could have gone on for much longer. Hope you enjoyed and one day get to experience it for yourself.


Paul Franks 

Ironman World Championship finisher 2018