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It’s Harder Than It Looks

October 5th, 2011

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A couple of days ago, I rode most of the Ironman bike course.  It’s my job to know the course, after all – and I figured what better way to recon the course than via bicycle.  I know – it’s a tough job . . .

Upon first glance, the Kona course seems relatively benign.  There’s not much elevation change; it’s not that windy; it’s not even that hot on the course – at least not compared to Tucson.

But if you look a little deeper – if you ride the course in its entirety, it becomes clear that this is truly a “world championship worthy” course.  Considering the sum of all its parts, this course is brutal.  The wind is consistently inconsistent.  The heat is very sneaky – one minute you’re cool and comfortable, and the next minute you feel like you’re sitting in a steam room while someone is shooting a hot blow-dryer in your face.  There are no steep climbs on the course, but the cumulative nature of the elevation changes (and the wind and the heat) combine to make each little climb feel like you’re riding through sticky tar, or that you’re riding on tires with 50 psi instead of 100 psi.

Then, of course, the same exact course on race day is much harder than the course on a training day - in part because of the preceding swim, but on race day, for some mysterious reason, any conditions experienced during training are magnified by infinity.

So when you watch the coverage of the Ford Ironman World Championships on your computer this Saturday, know that the bike course is much harder than it appears on your screen.  Don’t be fooled by the style and grace with which the best triathletes in the world exhibit while riding the Kona bike course.  Look deeper.  Look at their faces.  Watch how their body language changes as the ride progresses.  Look at how the salt, from gallons of sweat, stain their race kits with white streaks.  And then consider that when these athletes hop off their bicycles, having completed two of the three disciplines – the race is just beginning.

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