Aidan Callaghan's Kona Experience

In a guest post, Aidan Callaghan describes his experience of competing at this year's Ironman world championships at Kona, Hawaii. Aidan is the current National Middle Distance champion and won the overall title for the 2015 Super Series. He was one of 15 Irish athletes who competed at Kona, see the full list of results.

 Aidan Callaghan Sligo SS 2015

Well that’s that, the dust has settled on Kona 2016, leaving me with the jet lag off a 22 hour flight and a big stuffy head that has committed me to the couch for the weekend. 

The “Big Island” certainly lived up to the hype. Stepping of the plane the first thing that’s hits you bang in the face is the heat, I remember thinking “it’s 9 o clock in the evening, if it’s this warm now, what’s it’s going to be like at midday”?

Kona 2016 Team Ireland

The Lead Up

The lead up to the race couldn’t really have went any better, I got some good work in, out on the bike and run course and also got a few swims in too, in what seemed like a bath, the water temperature was lovely. 

I was confident about my chances of performing well but cautious of getting to involved in a “race”, listening to others that have completed the race before, the advice was keep within yourself and try to stay strong for as long as possible. 

Kona Parade of Nations 2016 3

Day Morning

Race morning came and it was all systems go, treat it like any other race, prepare well, go through the routines and rituals and be ready come the cannon. The cannon, that was an experience in itself, a line of what seemed like 400 – 500 people stretched between Kona pier and a Roka buoy about 200 metre across the shore, looking back to the beach and seeing close to 1500 bobbing heads covered with a blue rubber cap, every one of them thinking the same thing, “let’s get this started” ”am I on the right line”? BOOM… The cannon goes and it’s arms, legs and feet everywhere, and I mean everywhere, in your face, on your chest, boys trying to swim over and under you at the same time, absolute mayhem. 

Kona Swim Start 2016

Survival

I knew the start would be a bit of a fighting match but this was on a different level altogether and lasted for about 600 – 700metres. It was carnage. Plan A of getting out early and trying to find some feet or possibly clear water had gone completely out the window.

Plan B, was now survive to the turning point, try as much as possible to get into a rhythm and progress through the mass of bodies in front of me. The turnaround came and it began to thin out. I put the hammer down and worked really hard to the finish line coming out in 54 minute, feeling strong which I was delighted with. I had thought I lost at least 2 or 3 minutes in the madness of the start but I would take 54 all day in a non-wetsuit swim. My first ever non wetsuit swim at that. 

Aidan Callaghan Kona 2016 Run 2

Queen Ka'ahumanu

Through transition, factor 50 on and out on the road. The first 20km is around the town and spectators are roaring in your ear - very Tour de France. Then it’s out onto the legendary Queen Ka'ahumanu or Queen K Highway. Hawaii is one of the weirdest places I’ve ever been for weather patterns. The temperature in Kona could be in the 30’s, head three or four miles inland and the rain could be teeming out of the skies and people are walking around in wellies and rain jackets. Well, the Queen-K is no different. 

We had a tail wind for the first 30km then out of the blue without us changing direction a massive crosswind appeared and stayed with us for the next 30km or so. This pattern continued for the entire 180km - headwind, crosswind, tailwind, crosswind, headwind… in that order until the finish. 

Kona Bike Longshot 2016

I’m extremely happy with my bike split finishing with 5hrs 07mins, which equates to just under 35 km/hr average. I finished feeling good with my heart rate nice and low.  

Through transition again, getting the factor 50 everywhere and out on the road. Through the town the support was immense by everyone and especially all the Irish crew with tricolours all over Kona town and even down as far as the energy lab. 

Aidan Callaghan Kona 1

Torture

My initial plan was to run 7.30min miles for the first eight miles and see where I was, at eight miles I felt just okay, the heat was starting to affect me and I was taking on more and more water at the aid stations. I carried on at 7.30min/mile pace for the next two miles. At this stage I began to feel faint with my arms beginning to tingle and get cold almost, which was disturbing as the rest of my body was on fire. I took the pace way back to eight minute miles, it was all I could manage. 

Between mile 10 and 20 was tortuous, I began to get cramps in my arms and tummy, which made for very uncomfortable running. I had resigned myself at this stage to a salvage operation. 

The aid stations became my happy places, stopping at each one for some liquid, ice & salt, all while dunking my entire head and torso in massive barrels full of ice and water. On one occasion after coming up for air from one of said barrels, a marshal said to me “good job, you got this man” I thought, is this fella nuts? I’ve got nothing at this stage.  

 I eventually had to stop at three of these stations for relief of a different kind. 

Kona Energy Lab

The Energy Lab didn’t feel too bad, probably because I was in that much pain already it didn’t matter where I was, the Sahara would have been an improvement. Coming out of the Energy Lab with six miles to go the end was in sight, keep at it, and keep moving forward I kept telling myself. 

I came into town and met Catherine at the 25.2 mile mark letting me know I was at 9hrs 46mins. With a mile to go I did everything I could and crossed the line in 9hrs 54mins 06secs. Delighted!

This was one tough day, but then again it’s supposed to be.

Happy?

Am I happy?  

Yes, I came into the race telling myself to go for each discipline and leave nothing behind in each of them. I swam and biked excellently, the run was obviously not what I wanted. 

Did the bike effect my run time? I honestly don’t think so, I messed up a bit with my salt intake and this brought the cramps on which really effected my pace. The heat was the same for everyone and you just have to deal with it as best you can. As with any race there will be positives and negatives, the important thing is to take the positives and learn from the negatives, which is what I have always done and will continue to do. 

Where to now? 

Obviously first and foremost is some down time, before planning for next year. I’ve 1 or 2 goals set up already but more about these later. My immediate goal is to start coaching and share my experience and knowledge with others. 

I completed my Triathlon coaching licence a few years ago but due to training and racing, never had the time to do any serious individual 1-2-1 coaching. I’m in the process of finalising the paper work for my level 1 and hope to take on some athletes over the course of the next few weeks and months. 

I’ve had a very successful couple years, over both short and long distance triathlon. I finished in the top five of the old national series for three years in a row, won the super series last year, won the national middle distance championships this year and also had two sub 10 hour Ironman races this year too, one of which was the World Championships.   

I’ve made loads of mistakes over the course of these years, but learned for each of them and put them to use in positive ways and means. I feel I have an abundance of knowledge and experience to share with anyone who wants to listen. If you are interested contact me through my blog page, facebook or twitter. 

And finally. 

Qualifying for Kona was an absolute dream come true, but it took a lot of support to get there. 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my main sponsors for the year, Voodoo Venue, Wholegreen, Shadow Clothing, Adam Speer & LK Bikes. 

As well as these kind folks many other individuals and businesses from around the town contributed toward the cost of the trip and I will be grateful for this for many years to come. 

This support, along with the support of my friends and family that turned up to the fundraising events certainly did fill me with pride and determination to do my best come race day. 

Mum and Dad made the journey and have been a constant support along the way. As always Catherine has been by my side throughout the year and was there again throughout the race week and on race day helping out with gear, shouting splits and being her usual supportive self. 

Until the next time. 

Aidan