Aileen Flynn - My Kona Experience

IM Kona AFlynn Bike

Congratulations to Aileen Flynn on a great race, and on being the only Irish woman competing in the Ironman World Championships 2017 in Kona, Hawaii. Aileen has very kindly sent in the following piece outlining her Kona experience.

As I write this it is the morning after 11hours and 10mins of battling the Hawaiian waves, wind , heat and lava fields and I can feel every blissfully painful minute of it!

The Course

The Kona Ironman course is tough but that is what makes it so special. It’s the external elements that take their toll on race day. The swell. The heat. The humidity and Madam Pele blowing in all directions. All these things can gradually chip away at your armour and make for a longer harder slog than usual over an Ironman course. Pacing and staying cool is key and for me that is what turned a disastrous race in 2015 to an amazing experience in 2017.

I feel privileged to have the ability physically and mentally to get to the start line in Dig Me Beach and hear that gun go off. I am grateful have the means and the support from work , friends and family to help me get here. There are many people who qualify all over the world who just can’t make the journey here a reality.

2017 saw the largest number of Irish competitors in Kona with 20 of us treading the waters on Saturday morning shortly after sunrise. We had qualified from races all over the world including Santa Rosa, Bolton, South Africa, Wales, Mallorca , Austria , Arizona and Barcelona.

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I arrived to the Big Island two weeks before the race and relished the time I had here to train on the course and adapt to the conditions. It is certainly a good idea to allow at least 11 days pre-race to get over the jet lag and recover from the travel. It’s the other side of the world after all and it certainly feels like it when leaving Dublin in October and arriving to 30 plus degrees and 90% humidity.

The atmosphere and buzz leading up to race day is tantalizing. On Tuesday we had the parade of nations where we wore our Irish shirts and tri colours and walked along the main street in Kona. Thanks very much to Velo Revolution for sponsoring our t-shirts. Of course, being an Ironman event, all roads lead to the expo! Thursday morning was the annual underpants run. It’s great to be able to pitch in and enjoy these little pre-race distractions and soak up the Kona experience in all its glory.

IM Kona 2017 Parade of Nations

The Race

Race day. I qualified in Ironman South Africa comfortably winning my age group. On foot of this I thought- maybe I could get a top 5 podium in Kona. Yes I was dreaming. As the summer progressed I knew I was nowhere near where I should be to achieve that but I thought if I had a really good day top 10 might be possible. I felt well rested and ready at the start line. Everything had gone really well in my final weeks of prep and I was heathy, body felt strong and I was ready to rock! The swim was going well. I was moving along at a steady clip, the half way point is a turnaround at a boat, I jumped onto feet and followed a girl for a good section of the return leg. I stopped sighting and just followed. Before I knew it we were bang in the middle of the swim course, off the course. Doh! We were directed back onto the course but probably added another 300m onto my swim. I was annoyed with myself but put it behind me.

IM Kona 2017 AFlynn Transition

Into T1 and I was crestfallen to see about 3 bikes left in my section so I knew I was well down in my age group but that’s usually the case for me. Onwards. It’s a long day out there.

Onto the bike

I headed out on the bike and tried to settle in. I had a power target of 150-160w so this felt really manageable and I held that for the bike section. The bike is just amazing. It was 5 hrs 44mins of controlled biking. Some cross winds at Hawi and it felt hot but not as hot as 2015. I felt like I was biking well within myself yet passing people comfortably. My favourite section is the turnaround at Hawi about 3 hours in. There are some great straight downhills where you can really pick up speed. I felt stronger over the last hour and picked my effort up as I felt I had more in the tank. Those weeks sleeping in an altitude tent paid off! I pulled into transition and felt good getting off the bike.

Suncream and costume change in T2 and off on the run…42 km….it’s going to be fine I told myself just stick to the race plan my coach advised and all will be good. I did and it was. I felt totally in control throughout the run, pushed that last 10km out of the energy lab and finished strong. I was passing lots of girls and hoped I had biked and ran myself into the top 20. I finished 34th in my age category. Not a small pond. I was thrilled with my race. I have the Kona bug.

IM Kona AFlynn Finish Line

Congrats to all the Irish out here this year- there were some stellar performances and it’s been great hearing everyone’s race stories…lots of lessons to learn, as always, with Ironman.

IM Kona 2017 Post Race Ice Cream

Thanks to my coach Eanna McGrath from Base2Race for his sage advice and training over the past few months. I look forward now to some downtime and a short holiday over this side of the world. Thanks for all the wonderful messages of support I have received over the past week.