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Russell Cox: Kona report
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Wednesday 14th October 2009


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Russell Cox has been a busy athlete this year. Ironman Western Australia, Ironman Australia, Ironman Lanzarote, Quelle Challenge Roth and Ironman UK had all been completed within the last 12 months before even getting to Kona.With qualification achieved late in the day at Bolton, could he produce a solid performance in Hawaii on the back of such an apparently full schedule?

He could...and then some! This is his report of how he smashed his challenging pre-race goal of a 10-hour finish, crossing the line as the third GB age grouper overall - and looking remarkably fresh too...


Kona has been the goal for the last couple of years of my triathlon career. In fact it wasn't long after I started triathlon and got the idea of going long that I wanted to race Hawaii. So I'm pleased to be sitting in the lobby of my hotel killing time before a long, uncomfortable flight home writing up a race report. It's hard to get beyond what a tough yet amazing day it was, but I'll try and break it down into more detail for you.

The level of organisation for the World Champs is as high as you might expect. From bike racking the day before where you have your own personal transition guide through to the efficiency with which you're numbered for the race. The only time I had to queue was registration and like most of the other athletes I did choose to go the minute that opened!

I spent about two weeks in Kona leading up to the race. The plan was to be well acclimatised by the 10th and I think it worked pretty well. I've claimed to prefer hot races and if anywhere is going to test that it's Hawaii. The first few days of training are tough, your heart rate goes through the roof and sweat pours off you. Add the fatigue as you wake at odd hours of the night and it's not long before you're left wondering how on earth you'll race!

Come race day I had swum all the swim course and had done every bit of the bike course too. I'd never been bold enough to run too far up the Queen K though so there would still be some surprises to come. If this gave me any advantage it was that I knew how tough things could be. It's not so much the course, but the conditions here that challenge you.

Race morning was a 4am start so I could get breakfast in. Fortunately I'd stuck to early nights and early mornings so there was no shock to the system. I opted for my slightly quirky bagel with jam, cheese and some chicken along with a Powerbar. It may not sound like a lot of athlete's race day breakfasts but it'd worked in Roth and the UK.

Staying across the road from transition let me wander down for body marking and to set-up the bike. Even better once I'd spent the five minutes this took I could dive back to my hotel room for a snooze and decent toilet facilities! I rested up till about an hour before the start then headed over to transition to suit up and get ready to race.

Hawaii is a non-wetsuit swim, instead 99% of the field wear a swimskin of one type or another. I was fortunate to have a Kona 09 edition PointZero3+ thanks to Blueseventy (www.blueseventy.com) and My Sporting Times (www.mysportingtimes.com). I also had a lot of bodyglide as the past two days of practice had told me this thing was tight and chafed a lot! Everyone squeezed into these suits except for a handful of bold individuals in Speedos.

Once the Pro field had started we started filing onto the tiny little beach and into the water. The swim starts from the end of the pier so you get to warm up heading out there. Placement for the swim start had been much discussed in the lead in. I knew that with the stacked Hawaii field I should be further back than normal, but otherwise had no idea. Having ended up somewhere over the right side I opted to stay there. It did seem as good a place as any.

The wait for the starting cannon seemed to drag out and we were actually getting cold treading water. Then suddenly we were going. It has to be the roughest swim start I've ever been in. I'm not sure I've ever been knocked about so much in the water. I soon discovered I'd chosen a terrible starting point as surfers herded those of us on the right over to the first buoy. The crowding was awful. There wasn't much you could do to escape all I could do was stick with it and hope for the best.

Every buoy on the outward section was like this. The pack of swimmers bunched, slowed and knocked each other about. Each time you'd try and find some space or break free between them, but there was no chance. By the time I hit the turn around things were finally starting to thin out. My return was a little less stressful as we all found ourselves some space. On the plus side at least sighting wasn't an issue, just follow the feet ahead of you!

I returned to Dig Me beach bracing myself for a slow swim. The 1:09 on the clock was a little worse than I'd hoped though. Nothing that could be done about it at this point I dashed into transition, grabbed my bag and got myself moving as best I could.

The first portion of the bike is a short out-and-back in town. It's got a small hill in, but everyone seems to take it as hard as they can. It was a little unnerving to come out way back in the swim and then have people overtaking you on the bike. My legs felt slightly stiff and a little sore, not what I wanted for the World Champs. I reminded myself of the importance of patience and what a long day Ironman was. It would all come together in time.

Forty kilometres in and I was beginning to wonder if it really would come together. I was overtaking a fair number of athletes, but still felt a little off the pace. Not what I wanted, but all I could do was go by feel and push as best I could. Somewhere shortly after turning off for the climb up to Hawi things started to take a positive turn. As the road climbed my legs came to life. Now I was enjoying this!

The small town of Hawi at the top of the island provides the turning point for the bike course. Once you've turned you've a fast descent for the next ten kilometres. The only risk can be gusting side winds. Mercifully the wind was light at the north end of the island and those gusts never showed. It was a case of get yourself in the biggest gear you could, as aero as possible and spin out. After a tough first half it's a great way to start the return.

It can't last forever though and when you hit Kawaihae and climb back up to the Queen K the wind was in your face. It had picked up a bit and apparently was going to make us work to get back to transition. My legs were good though, it was game on and I was ready for this. I grinded out a big gear and found myself rapidly moving through the field. All around me people seemed to be slowing up, whilst I felt great. Having trained on the course over the past couple of weeks I had plenty of familiar landmarks to let me know what was to come. I just pushed from landmark to landmark claiming back as many places as possible. Somehow despite a headwind my speed for the last 60km was higher than much of the earlier ride!

I hit T2 with near enough a 5:15 bike. As I got close to town I'd hoped to go under this, but I could live with missing that by a few seconds. It meant that despite the slow swim I now had 3:30 in which to run the marathon if I wanted my sub 10 hour goal. That should definitely be within my reach so I was quite optimistic.

Out onto the run and the first mile went by far too fast. I eased back a little, remember the importance of patience once more. I knew that to have a good race I need to conserve my energy for the end. The initial section of the run along Ali'i Drive is shaded and relatively sheltered. Fortunately this is where I had my low patch of the race. Around the 5-mile mark I slowed a little and for a while struggled to keep myself motivated. The excitement of racing in Hawaii vanished and I just felt tired. I started whinging to myself about the stupidity of racing as much as I have!

With much relief come mile eight my mood rose again and my pace lifted. I was back in the race and felt good. I started to look forward to the Queen K. I would actually be running through the Natural Energy Lab! Here I was competing in Hawaii! Before that I had the slog up Palani Road, a nasty little hill that gets plenty of good athletes walking. I did a slow run up it myself and managed the top without needing to walk. There I was on the Queen K!

The Natural Energy Lab seems far further out when you have to run to it. With no shelter and plenty of black tarmac and lava surrounding you the heat builds up out there. Aid stations became more about cooling than nutrition and were fortunately very frequent. Each one would involve a careful process of chucking as much ice and fluid over my head as well as one unfortunate instance of Gatorade! Generally I found if I cooled myself down a little my pace would pick up again.

The Energy lab is as frustrating as I'd been told. Despite marking over two thirds of the run done it's a slog downhill that you know you'll shortly be returning up. Run special needs is at the bottom though I'd put nothing in there. In the future I certainly will, if for no other reason than for a pick me up if things go wrong. I've never seen so many athletes walking and struggling as I have out on that run. The heat was really taking it's toll.

Once I'd climbed out of the Energy lab and was back on the Queen K I knew it wasn't too far to go. Motivation to push and finish strongly was low though. At that point an American guy ran up beside me and we exchanged compliments on each others running. Both looking to break 10 hours we pushed each other along. Whilst the perceived effort went up significantly the pace didn't seem to. I was pushing just to keep working at the same pace! Still even more places were being claimed as more and more athletes struggled to keep going.

With only a couple of miles to go we passed pro Michael Lovato in an aid station. He was walking, but shouted out 'Good running guys' it was great to be getting compliments from the pros. Our pacing was clearly working as when the race clock hit 9:30 we had less than 3 miles to go. I knew I'd made that sub-10 goal. Funnily all that filled my mind now was the faster I could go the better my result. I pushed some more.

Before you descend Palani for the final mile home theres a short rise. I say short rise, but at that point in the race it feels like a mountain. I pushed hard up it. A little too hard as my running partner dropped me on the descent and I had nothing to match him. I wasn't going to give up entirely and picked up the pace as best I could. It got me a handful more places in that last mile at least.

The race had been such a mental battle and a real war of attrition. When I got onto Ali'i Drive and just had the final stretch to go all I felt was relief. A matter of a minute or two and it would all be over. I kept pushing to get the best time I could and really remember so little of the finish chute. Some may say I look too fresh crossing the finish line, but I certainly didn't feel it. I'd put a lot into it and the reward was a sub 3:15 run in Kona along with a 9:47:30 for my first race there.

It's been a real mix of emotions since. All positive and at times a little overwhelming. Whilst I never felt I was performing my best throughout the day I had a great result. I felt not only had I managed to earn my slot to Hawaii, once there I'd proved myself and delivered on my training. Of course having checked results I start to think about what I can do next year. Yes, I'll definitely be back, it's an amazing race and one I hope to do many more times.

A lot of people have helped me in my training and preparation for this race. As usual I have to give a big thank you to Jaggad (www.jaggad.com) who provide the excellent kit I race in. I get plenty of attention out on the course too, even if it's mostly because I'm mistaken for an Aussie! Also My Sporting Times (www.mysportingtimes.com) and the Open Water swimming lake they run. I still may not have had the best swim, but imagine how much worse it would have been without their support! Also I have to thank them and Blueseventy (www.blueseventy.com) for sorting out one of their new PointZero3+ swimskins for me. Hopefully next time I can deliver a performance worthy of it!

I'm resting up a little now and relaxing, but not for long as I have the ITU World Long Course Tri in Perth in under two weeks. Then it's a block of training down in Bussleton for my third attempt at Ironman Western Australia. I've renewed enthusiasm and optimism and will be aiming for an early qualification this time. Aside from racing and training I'm also working on my new coaching business (www.trainstravels.co.uk/coaching/ and have openings for interested athletes. I've plenty of experience training and racing to share both as a working athlete and a full-time one.


You can keep up-to-date with Russell and his progress via his excellent blog: www.trainstravels.co.uk


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Have Your Say
Re: Russell Cox: Kona report
Posted by Jacob
Posted at 11:20:05 14th Oct 2009
Reply to this

This is a great insight to competing in the ironman. And it covered most aspects except the transition. I assume you did not cycle in the swimskin suit so what happens in a typical transition?
Re: Russell Cox: Kona report
Posted by Russ
Posted at 12:18:02 15th Oct 2009
Reply to this

Jacob - I skim over transition because I find it hard to think of how to make it interesting! But since you want to know more, I'll give a quick description of mine.

T1 - you run up the steps from the beach and start removing the top half of the swimskin like you would with a wetsuit. Through some showers and grab your bag from its hanger. Into a change tent, get the rest of the swimskin off. In my case shove some nutrition products in my back pocket and grab my shoes as I'm not doing a flying mount on the bike. Swim stuff in the bag and off round transition. Grab the bike, shoes on and run to the bike mount. Then I'm off...

T2 - Dismount at entry leaving my shoes on the bike. I do bother with that, you basically slip your feet out the shoes in the final few hundred metres. Hand the bike over to a catcher and head off round transition. Again grab your run bag and into the change tent. Sit down and get compression socks on. That was a bit fiddly this time as I'd safety pinned the timing chip strap! Other than that rolling up the socks in preparation did the job for getting the socks on quickly. Run shoes on, a couple of little bottles of gel in the back pocket and get the helpers to put some suntan lotion on my head. Then off out on the run...

Hope that's what you were interested to know.
Re: Russell Cox: Kona report
Posted by athlete
Posted at 09:43:49 15th Oct 2009
Reply to this

A good result. If you are a full time athlete why do you still race as an age grouper and how come you dont win your age group?

I think it is really un fair that some age groupers call themselves full time yet are not prepared to race Pro as they are not fast enough.

It is hardly fair for an age grouper working a 40 hour week to compete against a full time athlete or am I missing something.

I race Olympic distance events and I would like to step up to Ironman one day.
Re: Russell Cox: Kona report
Posted by Russ
Posted at 12:36:03 15th Oct 2009
Reply to this

I don't win my age group because there are people in it who are faster than me or happen to have better races on the day. Many of them also hold down jobs, have families, mortgages etc. There's also a fair few who've opted to train full-time. I don't race pro as I am not (yet) fast enough. You're right in that too.

Our sport is categorised by age groups. Is it fair when a triathlete who works 40 hours a week comes up against one who works only 20 hours? Or what about a full time athlete who rides a 3 or 4 year old road bike comes up against a working athlete who rides a Cervelo P4 with zipp disc wheel and 1080 front? I can't match that aerodynamic spend and the watts potentially being saved by it!

I guess bluntly I'm saying life isn't fair. We all have the same amount of time in the day and we make the choices that use it up.

Good luck with taking on the Ironman distance. I hope you can enjoy the training and racing and working to achieve the best you can. I wouldn't focus too much on what advantages or disadvantages other athletes may have over you, but on getting the best out of yourself. Who knows, perhaps you'll be beating me to the line at some race in the future.




Re: Russell Cox: Kona report
Posted by drhildi
Posted at 10:09:57 22nd Oct 2009
Reply to this

Hi Russell!

Well done, an excellent race result. I was watching your progress on Ironman live.com as well as my friend Lizzie Brama's.

I agree - life isn't fair - we just all do our best with what we've got. I've got 2 kids, no money, a job and a non-atheletic body so I just have to pootle around the iron-distance, aiming for little improvements but I still love it and admire anyone at wahtever level who wants to keep improving. I am going to get the marathon licked this year!!!

Good luck for the next seaon - keep in touch and come down to Brighton for a visit!

Hildi