Kona Racing Wisdom From Kona Veteran Simon Butterworth

Simon Butterworth, age group Champion, Kona 2017

D3 Coach Simon Butterworth has had the most incredible athletic prowess of racing the Ironman World Championships fourteen times. He is about to embark on his 15th this October. His knowledge of the course and conditions is unparalleled. He is a strategic athlete, researching and understanding every aspect of the course so that his own race plan is thoroughly dialed in for all variables. And the best part – he is willing to share his top tips with you – all to ensure your own race day success. 

1. Don’t drink for the first 30 minutes after the swim. I have only seen this advice once, it was in an article by Dave Scott just before my first Ironman in 2001. The idea is that you have almost certainly been drinking during the swim and adding more fluids on top of some nice saltwater (or “clean” lake/river water) and it is not necessarily kind on your stomach. Best to wait until the swim water is digested.

2. Don’t use RPE in the first 30 minutes of the bike. RPE this early in the race is very misleading. When you get going on the bike you most likely will feel like superman/superwoman. You will not have felt this good starting a bike after the swim in months. Don’t let that feeling get you hammering as you hit the hills in Kona. Staying in your targeted power zone is the best way to control those emotions. 

3. Be prepared for the unexpected. Spending some time visualizing the race you hope for and thinking about things that can go wrong is essential. And, better than just thinking about it is writing it down. I always write a race report before the race (finalizing it on the long flight to Kona). It does include the possible bad stuff and most importantly, things I can do that will lift me out of a hole. Here are some potential problems:

  • Exceptionally windy day (my first in 2001 had 55 mph gusts on the Queen K and 30 mph headwind going up to Hawi). Stay in your aerobars and be sure to practice that when you get to Kona in the wind. Staying low going into the wind is an obvious best choice. Staying low in crosswind gusts gets you just a bit closer to the road, wind diminishes as you get close to the ground.
  • Watch the grass on the side of the road for a small warning of a big gust.
  • If you flat, or have a mechanical problem, be sure to keep up the hydration and fueling. I failed to think of that when I had an extended stop one year. Fortunately, I realized my mistake in time. 
  • Be prepared for a case of the wobbles when you get off the bike. In 2001 I totally underestimated the effort of staying upright in the wind gusts, and the effects of the heat. I almost hit the pavement when I got off the bike. The first 3 miles were ugly and slow but I recovered and finished. Even in better conditions those first two hills on Alii, which you hardly notice in practice, can seem like a mountain. Pace things right and take a short walk and they will seem much smaller on the way back to the crowds in Kona. 
  • Walking, you will unless you are an elite athlete and even they do some. I solve the mental stress of walking by planning to do so on a schedule. If you have not been doing this, now is not the time to change your plans. However, be ready mentally to deal with walking. You will not be alone. Experiment with the duration of the walk and intensity. You might be surprised at how a modest 15 seconds (which is about 30 fast steps for me) makes you feel and getting into a routine can help. Short fast walking can help fire up the glutes that have probably gone to sleep. 

Some extra points to remember.

  • This is nothing you haven’t heard before, but it is much too late to make changes in your gear. That includes clothing, and the fuel and sports drink you use. Dave Scott changed his bike position three weeks before his last IM, he did not finish. 
  • No flip flops, or barefoot walking. Make sure your footwear minimizes the chance of an accident as you enjoy Kona before the race. 
  • Above all else, enjoy the experience of racing the Ironman World Championships! See you out there.

D3 Coach Simon Butterworth will be racing his 15th IMWC this October. In the big picture, he sees attitude more than age making the difference in many aspects of this sport. There are times in triathlon that to see improvements you need to slow down and spend some time working on your technique – which requires a great deal of discipline. So does having a coach and following the plan written for you. The best coach in the world can only be of help if you’re ready and willing to do the work.

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