With Torbjørn Sindballe being forced in to retirement due to a heart condition, the men’s race at the 2009 Ironman World Championship will not be the same. Sindballe has agreed to share some perspectives and tips for race day in a series of articles. In this article, Sindballe gives his take on the brutal course and conditions that athletes will face.
Written by: Torbjørn Sindballe
When the gun goes off 6:45 am on October 10 for the start of the Ironman World Championship in Kona, the athletes will face one of the toughest Ironman course and climates in the world. The race is designed to challenge the limits of what is humanly possible. On the line are some of the best athletes in the world and all have gone through grueling preparations to push things to that elusive next level. Everyone is hungry for the biggest prize of them all, ready to dig deeper than they have ever done before. Yet, many of them will be smashed to pieces by the brutal force of the course and the conditions. Many pro athletes, who are probably among the fittest people on earth, have walked the marathon, humbled and humiliated by the inability to balance the competitive drive with the necessary respect for the heat, wind and humidity. Mastering this race is truly an art.
The swim is probably one of the hardest on the circuit. It is non-wetsuit legal, which takes away the usual benefit of snuggly fitting neo that is available at most other races. The waves are often eminent and in your face. And last but not least there is a grueling field of competitors, all of who are eager to occupy the little piece of water defining the shortest way out and back to the catamaran.
Once up on the bike everyone throws down the hammer right out T1. No one starts the day easy because the fear of getting left behind the train is greater than the common sense of proper pacing. The first 10K through town is technical and packed with athletes. Any loss of focus might throw you to the ground in a blink. Once up on the Queen K the pace is kept high, well over the average pace of everyone in the field and the gradual rollers start piling up in front of you. Often a mile long with a gradient of 3-5%, they gradually zapp your power bit my bit until you hit the stair steps up to Hawi. Then comes the steep part up to scenic point at the critical 95-mile mark, where everyone is stiff and tired from hours in the bars.
The winds are in general unpredictable and some days you are facing headwinds for more than 2/3´s of the course. You never know what you are going to get; side winds that throw you across the lane, headwinds that leave even the strongest rider on the little chain or tailwinds that make you spin the pain. On the easy days, you are on target for a personal best and on the worst you are targeting an all time low. The winds make that much of a difference.
Through the ride the mercury rises towards 90 or 100 Fahrenheit, and you gradually start cooking inside your helmet. But it is not until Alii drive on the run where the real wall of heat is waiting. That is where the reality of the situation sinks in. Many marathons are cancelled if temperatures reach over 85 degrees, but in Kona it is usually 95 degrees with 70% humidity. Add in the baking sun and heat drizzle over the tarmac. It is there to challenge every little bit of you, to break you down and get into the core of who you are and what you can take.
The first section along Alii drive is packed with spectators and encourages over-speeding, despite the highest humidity on the course. Once up the steep Palani hill, you face a series of rollers and most likely a tailwind that will make you boil even more. Once you start to feel the distance at around 20 miles, you are running up a mile long hill out of the Energy Lab with the wind at your back. If you are lucky you get a headwind home to the finish – it cools you of just enough to get you over the rollers and down leg-crushing palani hill and around the corner to the most wonderful finish line on earth.
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