Reston Area Triathletes RATS.net Logo

Race Result

Racer: Kevin Kunkel
Race: Ironman World Championship
Date: Saturday, October 13, 2007
Location: Kona, HI
Race Type: Triathlon - Ironman
Age Group: Male 35 - 39
Time: 10:51:16
Overall Place: 725 / 1787
Age Group Place: 162 / 249
Comment: First Kona: An event, not a race

Race Report:

The 29th Ironman World Championship Race Report

Race Week

OK. So it’s been a month and I haven’t written my race report. Apparently I’m not as type “A” as everyone else in this Club. With the likes of people like Shawn Clark and Stacy you’re a loser unless you don’t crank out the RR in less than 24 hours. For me, I need to do a little introspection to get my full take on the event. And with this race that was certainly needed. I would characterize this race as an “event” more than anything else. There is so much wrapped into it with the international crowd, to the laid back nature of the Hawaiians, to the crazed press corps, to the ever-exercising participants. As the tri geek that I am I was in continuous visual overload. I could certainly see that I wasn’t the only one. My roomy and fellow Kona participant Stacy Taylor was amped up all week.

Most of you probably followed my blog all week and that only scratches the surface of what it was like to be there. The experience was everything I thought it would be and more. The greatness of our sport is its accessibility. Not only to participate but to follow the daily happenings of the pros and the realization that they are just like you but they have the fortune of making triathlon their career.


I woke up about 5AM which wasn’t much earlier than I had been. I think I was still on East Coast time or something. I drank my 2 bottles of Ensure and was feeling pretty fresh. The morning of wasn’t much different then the 4 days prior. I got down to “Dig Me” beach a little earlier but I felt very relaxed and confident that it was going to be a good day. Loads of people were already lined up on the sea wall. I got my last minute stuff all sorted out. I pumped up the tires. The guy on one side of me was from Japan and the other side was German. Neither spoke any English. Yup, it was a world championship for sure. Another thing was unique about Kona. The bib numbers are sorted by AG, so everyone on my rack was in my age group. I think there were over 200 in our age group.

After I had that all sorted out, there was about 40 minutes to go until the race. I wandered off to check out the pro bikes and sure enough everyone who is anyone was there. Macca was running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Later I learned that’s because the morning he showed up a tire was flat so someone got him a new wheel and tire ready to go. Over by the bathroom sitting all by her self in a meditative pose was none other than the 6-time wonder Natasha Badman. She looked pretty ready to go.

I stood by the ramp down to the water to see the pros start with Kona Stacy. It is here where we got videoed on the Ac tive.com Ironman blog. After the pro gun Stacy and I said “good luck” and a goodbye kiss and hug to one another and we made our way out into the water. I felt pretty relaxed out there treading. I was as ready as I was going to be. Stacy wanted to be way out to the side. I was hoping to find someone I could draft off—yeah right!

Swim (1:20:30; 1350th)

A couple things about this swim put me at a distinct disadvantage over the rest of those competing. One, put simply, I’m not a good swimmer. Second, I have NEVER done a triathlon is salt water/ocean. Three, I have never done a mass start Ironman swim before. You’d think I’d have broached these last two concerns prior to coming to the World Championships, don’t you think?! Oh well, I tried and make the best of it. I eased out into the water a few minutes aft the pros started and put myself right in the middle of everything. Not to close to the start line. I was probably about 20 yards back of the kayakers and surfers watching the line. When the gun went off the washing machine hit the large load dirty cycle. The proverbial washing machine created consistent turbid foam for nearly the first half of the swim. There weren’t a lot of punches or feet pulling but put simply, it was very crowded. I had people right in front, back, and both sides the entire swim. I have never experienced that before. Every one is a while I would look for the mast of the catamaran where we were to make the turn back to the pier. I saw it from way out. It appeared a lot closer and seemed to take a while to get there. It was only once I got to it that realized how massive of a boat it is. This is what made it seems to take forever.

The trip back seemed to go quicker than the way out but I was starting to develop a lot of pain in the neck and under the arms. This kind of thing had happen before in wetsuit races but never without. What I was feeling was the trapped air between my jersey and my skinsuit mixed with the saltwater had rubbed me completely raw in a few areas. Just last night my wife told me a I have a 1”x4” pe4rmanennt scar now on my lower back where all my skin was rubbed off. Lesson learned: when you are going to be doing a LONG swim in the ocean pretty much apply lubricant to your entire upper body. I noticed people doing this to what I thought was an excess before the swim, now I know better. I guess they learned their lesson the hard way as well.

I have to admit that the swim seemed long to me and my time reflected this. I was 6 minutes slower than Louisville which was disappointing because I felt like I certainly worked harder here. Both were non-wetsuit races to I guess the mass crowd start and the effects of saltwater are responsible for the slower time. On the bright side, it was beautiful to be able to see 50ft in any direction and to look at the reef and wish while you cruise along. I certainly haven’t had that fortune at any previous race.

T1 (3:17)

One thing can be said for the transitions at Kona—compact. Because it’s on a pier and that there are nearly 1800 competitors, there’s not much room left to waste. Other then about 30 porta-potties the pier is full of bikes. Nothing too cramped, but efficient. As a comparison to Louisville there was very little running with the bike prior to mounting. I made an effort to rinse off the salt water in the hose tent they have. I wish I had spent a little more time in there. The injuries suffered during the swim only got worse throughout the day.

Bike (5:29:11; 753rd after the bike)

As is always the case, I said to myself within seconds of mounting the bike, “now the race starts.” I managed to keep the mind and body in check and just motored the first 6-7 miles in town. I was checking out the crowds and all the people. It was a true festival of excitement in every sense of the word. Once out of town the first thing I came upon was a bruised and battered Natasha Badman on a cell phone with one foot inside an ambulance. I guess this was only the beginning of a crazy day for the pros. As I headed north on the Queen K past the airport is when the real surreal moonscape takes the fore. You could never feel lonely but I was steadily passing a bunch of faster swimmers/slower riders the whole way. I’d try and strike up a little conversation here or there as I pass like I do in most big/long races. It’s a way to keep me going easy and not pushing too hard. The difference here at Kona was that only about ½ the people in the race speak English. A couple times I got back, “I don’t speak English” with a heavy German accent. Oh well.

As I got out to Waikoloa it became less crowed and more windy. This was only the beginning of the windiest day I have ever had on a bike! It is also where there are some slight climbs and descents. As for the course as a whole I didn’t find the topography all that challenging. I’d say a ride through rural Loudon County is considerably more hilly. But the fact that the land is so barren means that the effect of the wind is greatly amplified. As I made the turn by Kawaihae for the last 20 or so mile to Hawi the winds temporarily subsided until I got about 6 miles from Hawi. It was in the 14 mile stretch where I ran into the pros coming back. First I saw Chris Lieto doing a lot of work by HIMSELF as should be the case. He was followed at this point by Torjborn Sinballe about a ¼ mile back and then about another 1/8 of a mile there was a PACK with Cam Brown, Macca, Alexander, and a lot of others. If these guys were 10 meters apart then I would truly be shocked. About 10 minutes later right before I started the 90 degree right turn for the last 5 miles to Hawi I ran into the woman’s leader at that time which was still Michellie Jones. Now my beef here was that the cross winds were getting wicked. I almost got blown off my bike 3 times in this 5 mile stretch. I knew she was coming up because there was a helicopter overhead and there were two minivans, one on each side of here completely protecting her from the wind. Now, giving her the benefit of the doubt I would say these may have been the medical cars talking to her about her inner ear problems. I hope so because she was getting protected from some vicious winds.

The last 5 miles to Hawi were absolutely brutal. I was fully tucked in aero, certainly pushing somewhere around 230 watts and I was going 14 mph! As soon as we made the turnaround at Hawi was the special needs bag pickup. I got my bag and sat up putting stuff away in my jersey. I looked down at my speed and was going 42 mph while in top gear. Then I got down to business and for 5 miles I avg. 46 mph with a couple peaks over 50! I have never done that anywhere before. It was nuts.

My nutrition strategy on the bike was about the same as the two prior Ironmans. No solid food. 12-13 gels with water (1 every 20 minutes with 10-12 ounces of water) and 4 Endurolytes per hour. Supplemented by the occasional Gatorade or coke diluted with some water. Everything was going along fine until I took the Ensure at the turnaround. I had never done that before but I was craving it. I think that may have been a mistake. After that I felt bloated. I thought I needed it because after fighting that wind for nearly 60 miles, whether it be cross or head on, I was more tired than I should have been. To this day I haven’t nailed it down whether it was the two Ironmans in 6 weeks, or was it the improper fueling that did it. Trial and error and time will tell I guess.

I never felt a precipitous decline in power or output on the way back I was just getting a little tired and I knew I was sweating a lot because my outfit was virtually completely encrusted with salt. Usually from 80 miles on is when I feel my strongest on the bike. At IM Loo this is where I made up a lot of time and avg. over 24 mph. That wasn’t happening here. I was somewhere right around 20 which is pretty much what I avg. all day. As for the chaffing which started during the swim only got worse to the point that I was bleeding in my lower back and on the back of my arms. Another issue that was rearing up, most people know me know that I most of the time don’t use sunblock. Most of the time I get away without it because I don’t usually burn all that easy. This time I knew that the tropical altitude of the sun was going to be a doozy so I sun blocked before the race, and then again before the bike. But before I even got to T2 I could tell I was burning. Thank God I put on what I did because if I hadn’t I would have been roasted. I don’t care who you are ALWAYS wear sunblock in Kona!

On the Queen K just past the energy lab I saw the helicopters coming my way. I knew that meant that the lead men were on the Queen K heading fro the Lab in the other direction. I came upon them and it looked to be one hell of a race at that time. I saw Chris Lieto STILL leading, followed by Macca about 100m back, and then another 100m to Crowie. Having the lead three men within 200 meters had to make for some exciting racing. That gave me a little lift to an otherwise pretty sobering ride through barren lava fields. As I came back to town and down Palani I could see my entire posse in their RATS yellow yelling and screaming. That was a big emotional lift.

T2 (3:38)

I got off the bike and the legs felt quite good which left me excited because I wasn’t feeling all that well over the last 20 miles or so on the bike. I reapplied more sunblock and I was on my way. Thanks to Jeroen pointing out that I passed somewhere around 600 on the bike. It felt like a lot but not necessarily that many. It sounds more impressive than it is. It just means I suck at swimming.

Run (3:54:40; 725th at the finish)

When you exit the transition and make your way up Palani to the turn at Kuakini there are people everywhere. It’s like being in the biggest big city marathon. There is just so much stuff going on. I got to see my posse again as well as tons of other people calling out my name.

You make your way down to Ali’i and then out toward Kehahoe which is where we were staying. You pass lava Java and all the other places that make Kona special. As I got to about 5 miles where you make a turnaround I just didn’t have that killer instinct. I just didn’t possess that mental edge necessary to push oneself to the limit. That same drive and ambition that was free flowing from the well at IM-Louisville just 6 weeks prior had run dry. I wasn’t doing anything differently. I didn’t think it was any hotter or any more humid than at Loo. In fact, the weather conditions were probably better here at Kona. As for my pace and strategy it was the same as well. I was cruising at 8 min mile pace and then walking through the aid stations. I did feel a little more bloated so I wasn’t craving the calories as I should have. I just flipped a mental switch in my brain and I said, “the hard part was getting here...enjoy it.” So that’s what I tried to do.

Because my approach had changed I became chatty with the people around me. As I made back to downtown around mile 9 and was about to head up Palani to the Queen K I saw my load posse again. They were doing their best to cheer me up. I didn’t let them know that I wasn’t really racing anymore. I just said, “I’m gonna keep on truckin’.”

As I made the turn up Palani to the Queen K I knew there’s no way I’m running up that. I still have the Energy Lab to deal with. I walked up the hill and began to run again. My pace never really fell off per se. I still managed to finish with a sub 9min pace. I just walked longer out the back of all the aid stations. As I made my way out to the Lab here came the women’s leaders. The first girl I saw I said to myself, “who was that!” Apparently the announcers were doing the same thing. Not far off of Chrissie’s feet was a hard charging Sam Maglone. She was working hard to catch up. The only other women’s leader I noticed was Desiree Ficker and she was walking. It was clear she was having bad day.

Once I got to the energy lab I met up with a buddy I made during the parade from the Oakland area (my old stomping ground). He has done the race a number of times. We both were feeling about he same. We just decided once we got back on the Queen K for the last 6 miles or so that we would just keep each other company. Sometime I would surge ahead of him and then he would leap frog me. We did this the rest of the way. With about 4 miles to go I was starting to feel better. I think this was more of a mental thing than a physical one. I asked, “we’re going to break 11 aren’t we?” He came back real quick, “no doubt.” With that we began to pick up the pace and barely walk through aid stations. In fact, I skipped the last two all together. As I was coming down Palani I saw the back of Rutger Beke who I had saw earlier coming back from the lab while I was heading there. He was still walking. I told him as I passed, “I really respect you for finishing this race.” He quipped back, “Thanks man. It means a lot.” He’s a real class act.

When I made my way back to Ali’i I knew I have about 600 meters left. I looked for my family. Not all of them were there. Apparently the system sending out splits was delayed and they thought I had about another ½ hour. My oldest son Kurtis was ready to go, other than he didn’t have any shoes on. Oh well, it is Hawaii after all. He proceeded to run down and cross the finish line with me which was pretty special because I didn’t do that in my two previous races.

Initially right after the race I felt pretty good—much better than at IM-Loo. That’s for sure! About 30 minutes later I felt like crap. I always want to stay around and welcome all the late finishers in but I can never make it. I’m either too hungry or too exhausted to care at that point. I did hand out long enough to wait and see Kona Stacy finish with her daughter. Both of them were really beaming with excitement and fulfillment. I’m proud of both of them. After that I grabbed my bike and hobbled down to meet my folks who drive me back to the condo.

All in all I’m OK with my race. I was really bummed at that point and the next day because I thought Kona deserved a better effort from me. I thought Stacy was going to hit me a couple times within the first 24-48 hours after the race. She got tired of hearing me whine and complain. I don’t blame her. I do want to go back someday. I hope to have the fortune to do so again. I’m doing IM-Loo again next year and maybe I’ll accomplish my main goal for next year which is to break 10 hours. If I do that I may be on my way back to Kona.

I can wait to share the rest of my story with you all. To here more you’ll have to come to the Kona special on December 1st Dave Cascio’s. See you there!