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Ironman World Champs 2022 Kona

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

I qualified for the race on the big island back in August 2021 when I raced at Ironman Poland. Initially planned for October 2021, the race was postponed twice and finally confirmed to take place in October 2022 over the course of two days. This was lucky for me as I had some nice lead time to train and book everything. It’s widely debated/criticized how expensive this race has become – having booked everything 8 months in advance the costs were manageable for me, albeit still pretty outrageous once on the island ($8.00 for a mediocre cappuccino!)

This was my first time on the big island and my second time in Hawaii (I traveled to Kauai three months prior for a wedding). What struck me immediately was how different Kona was from Kauai. Whereas Kona had a volcanic and apocalyptic landscape, Kauai offered lush forest with multiple shades of green.

A week before race day

I arrived in Kona eight days before the race. Only half of my luggage arrived with me (thank you, Lufthansa). Fortunately, my bike wasn’t left behind, however, the bag containing the tools, pedals, seat post with my saddle attached to it were all still in Frankfurt, according to my AirTag. You might wonder why I had a seat post in my check-in luggage and not a bike box? I’ve a status on Lufthansa and as long as I kept my bike bag under 23kg it was free, saving me a little fortune.

I didn’t waste much time once I touched down and banked my first swim on the swim course and first steady run around the infamous Energy Lab. Admittedly, both workouts worried me - my swim pace was much slower than usual and running merely 8km was a struggle. I told myself that this is a normal part of tapering with the race looming the next week.

When my missing luggage finally found me early the next morning, I assembled my bike and headed out to the Queen K for a brick session. It was hardly an enjoyable experience. Queen K is a highway— not the typical setting for a guy whose usual rides are on quaint French country roads. The dense traffic of vehicles of all sizes made the infamous crosswinds much harder to handle, with the lorries stirring up strong gusts every time they drove past. At the time I remember thinking that without the cars, the wind wouldn’t be such an issue, and after that ride, I was happy with the 64mm-deep wheels I had with me (back in France I was contemplating getting shallower ones).

Another thing I began to notice those first few days was my perception of power and how it differed from the numbers Wahoo was showing. Something that felt like 240 watts was merely 200 watts, and mind you, I calibrated the pedals before the ride. My brick run on the second day felt better than the day before, maybe because I was able to stay on Sam Appleton’s foot for a brief section of the Energy Lab (ultimately giving me a false sense of acclimation).

The days up to the race passed fairly quickly and workouts from then on became shorter with some activations. It was amazing to spot many pros running along Ali’i Drive, cycling along the Queen K or preparing for a swim on the Kailua Pier. My personal memorable moment was a quick chat with Gustav Iden during the launch of Santara Tech. He had run nearly a marathon (40km) a few hours earlier (six days before his race) and when I asked him about that, he replied that it’s his job, he’s here to win and it’s what it takes. Turns out he was right…

Day before race day

I started the day with an easy swim. It turned out to be the most enjoyable workout in Kona, because on the way back to the beach a pod of dolphins joined me for a few hundred meters, playing with each other along the way.

My age group was scheduled to race on Thursday (Oct 6) along with the pro-women’s group. During the check-in I saw Lucy setting up her bike as I was being questioned by a volunteer about my gear for a survey Ironman was conducting. Questions varied from my power meter type to the brand of my sunglasses— I guess they think they still have more ad space to fill during race broadcasts.

I dropped off my bike, did a bit of mind mapping and dropped off my shoes, identifying landmarks so I could spot them easily. I do this for the bike gear as well. Getting weighed was the last point of the check-in. Now all that was left was to fall asleep at 8pm.

It’s pretty amazing how the unassuming Kailua pier transformed into the buzzing epicenter of a triathlon. I find it hard to believe how this piece of concrete can accommodate 2800 bikes and athletes.

Race day

My age group was the last on agenda that day to start the swim, which allowed for a (somewhat) longer sleep. The alarm rang around 4:00, which meant I managed to get 7 hours of sleep— not bad. After a quick shower, coffee, and oats, we were off! I was staying in an Airbnb at the end of Ali’i Drive, about a 15-minute drive from the T1 and T2 which was convenient but still required driving to the pier.

The entry to the transition was from a different place than the check-in the day prior, something I knew after reading the athlete guide 17 times. At the entrance, I was greeted by dozens of volunteers clapping and cheering us on. As I progressed through the tent a volunteer was checking my body markings which I had done after waking up. Having cleared that, I dropped off my one bag for special needs - a frozen bottle for the run portion- to be picked up at the Energy Lab.

Finally, I get on my way to the bike to rack up the bottles, put gels in the bento box and mount my Wahoo. I also checked on my bike tires and whether they kept their pressure. During check-in the day prior I decided to not touch my tires (I have them set up tubeless) and left the 6 bar hoping to get 5.5 bar on race day. Seeing the endless queues of dozens of athletes struggling for one pump, I definitely didn’t regret my decisions - a conclusion I came to after having done the pressure check with an elaborate thumb test.

The transition closed roughly 90 minutes before our swim start so I had a lot of time to kill with a swim skin, cap, goggles and a few gels in my hands. A quick stop in a portable toilet turned out not to be quick. I guess you can’t avoid queues before a race regardless of whether it’s your local tri or Kona. By the time that was done, I still had more than an hour to kill so I decided to move to the start area (which eventually transformed into the finish line). There was a big screen where we could watch the pro-women fight it out in the water. By that time the sun started to gain elevation and the temperature was kicking up rapidly, even before we entered the water.

Finally, we are rushed to move forward and people started jogging slowly to enter the water. I down a gel as I pass through the start area.


I put my goggles and cap on, run into the water and swim to the start line. As I turn my head around all I can see are heads above the water and hands treading. I realized I was really close to the start line so I moved to the back so I wouldn’t be spit out from the washing machine which was about to go at full speed.

And then- boom. The mayhem begins as everyone goes horizontal, kicking and punching everyone and everything within their reach. I receive a face kick myself. After 3 minutes of what resembled a drunken brawl, I settled into what felt like a sustainable pace and I began to look for some feet. I didn’t take long to find some, and thanks to that I managed to do a very solid 1km without expending too much effort and the pace felt pretty good too. Then something I had feared happened. We caught up with the older men age groups that had started before us. Staying on my companion’s feet was much harder as we had to meander through people swimming breaststroke— which we did until the very end of the swim.

I was surprised how quickly we reached the Body Glove boat, although I knew the way back would take ages. After hitting the turn buoy and heading back I started cramping. This was a first for me, I never had cramps during the swim portion of a race. I’d been taking a lot of electrolytes throughout my stay in Kona and I also took salt caps with my breakfast before the race. It was the first ‘oh shit’ moment of the day (at that point I was praying it would be the last one - it wasn’t). I stopped kicking at that point only resuming a dozen or so strokes later, albeit I still felt a nibble in the middle of my foot which made me a bit more conservative with pace.

Because of this, the way back felt like an eternity. Finally, I could see a huge inflatable Gatorade bottle which was my sighting point, and as I got closer I started seeing people sitting on the pier and cheering us on.

I get out of the water, climb up the stairs, and look at my watch - 1:07, I’ll take it! I splash my face with the fresh water from the hoses and run quickly to grab my bike bag and head to the tent. I manage to empty my 3rd gel of the day. As I enter the tent I see millions of bodies and a cloud of sweat and humidity hits my nostrils. I decided that staying there long was not an option due to lack of oxygen.

I managed to put my helmet and shoes on fairly quickly, then I began a game of Tetris with fitting all the gels in my tri suit. Now it was time for the bike.


I found my bike fairly quickly and began to run towards the mount line while doing my best to avoid colliding with the other athletes from the older men’s age groups. I reached the mount line, heard my name from the crowd, smiled, and mounted the bike while trying not to hit any other athletes around me.

There we go, first tiny climb up Palani Road and left to Kuakini. Usually, I try not to give in to the adrenaline spikes when I’m feeling super fresh during the first bits of the race. Not in Kona. I notice I’m doing 190 watts, which feels demanding. Maybe I just need to warm up a bit, I tell myself. I carry on to descend Palani and go left to go back to Kuakini and hit the first gradual climb. My legs started to feel better but I couldn’t say I was crushing it. We hit a U-turn at Kuakini and fly 60km/h down the highway slaloming through potholes. Turn right on Palani, the steepest climb of the race. I start to feel a cramp brewing in my quads. I made a pact with myself to get salt (mostly through Gatorade and salt tabs in my bento) at every occasion possible, keeping my fingers crossed that it’ll get better.

After I made it to the top of Palani, it was Queen K for the next 170km or so. My strategy was fairly simple: get water at every aid station, fill up my Xlab torpedo and -depending on the status of my rear bottle- drink a few sips of Gatorade to replenish sodium. I was trying to drink as much as possible and take gels every 20-25mins (depending on the amount of carbs in my gels), I also had two Maurten solid bars. I ate the first one mid-through the ride and the last one 30km before the finish knowing that my body would not be able to digest it if I kept it for the run.

Things were looking good up until Waikoloa where the heat started to ramp up and my legs did not reap the benefits of any of the sodium I had been taking. The wind also felt like it was only blowing from the front.

As I was approaching Hawi I started preparing myself for the infamous climb that is not so much a climb as it is a 2%-4% rolling hill death by a thousand cuts (with a strong headwind on top). I would choose the climbs over at Ironman Nice every single time over Hawi.

After the U-turn we finally got to go down all the miles we had been climbing. I flew past many participants who were taking it easy with the crosswinds. I saw it as the only chance to win some time and frankly, I didn’t think the wind was that strong. I’m a 78kg guy which probably plays a factor, I was also descending on my tri bars which should also make me more stable (these were thoughts in my head at least).

The final 40km was mind over matter and I found that staying on tri bars was increasingly hard, mostly because my neck was killing me. My arms and butt felt surprisingly good. Every time I made a surge (by then from 160 watts I was putting at this stage to 200 watts) I could feel the cramp sleeping in my quads. With the marathon looming, I knew it would be a long and painful one.

Just before T2, I could see Chelsea Sodaro running down Queen K with Lucy on her back and Anne Haug in third.

As I was nearing T2 I got my feet out of my shoes and descended down Palani. When my legs hit the ground and I started running, I actually felt pretty good. I could run at a good pace with the bike (there were no bike catchers for us). I place my bike and catch the time on my Wahoo: 5:48:36 (not what I was looking for). I grab my running bag, enter the steamy tent again and set off for the marathon trying to grab some ice and water in a panic as I leave T2.


The first hundred meters felt like the day could be salvaged, but things went south as I ran up the first hill and the cramp in my quads came back, furiously knocking on the door.

I didn’t even hit the first kilometer when I felt like I’d already had enough. I tried to rationalize that it’s normal to have a slow start after nearly 6 hours on the bike and my watch wasn’t showing a horrible pace either. So I carried on with what felt like a full trolley of pain attached to my quads and hamstrings. I knew by then I would be walking every aid station, and every station up until the way back from the Energy Lab was pretty much a carbon copy of the first: Water - ice - ice - Gatorade - water - water on the head.

Leading up to the race I read a lot about running along Ali’i and how people said they loved flying down it. While I did love the atmosphere and people along the way, my body was hurting so much that it was impossible to hide it on my face. My running form at that time would give my coach nightmares.

Just before hitting the hill to Kuakini, I saw my girlfriend who shouted that I’m onto my PB and doing great. I thought to myself, “if this cramp never materializes, maybe it’ll be a good day after all”. At that point, I was averaging ~5”20’ per km, much slower than I was targeting and what I thought I was capable of, but faster than my PB nonetheless.

After walking half of Palani, I was on Queen K again en route to the Energy Lab. At that point my legs were hurting so much I was not only walking the aid stations but I started running from one landmark to the next and then walking for a while to do a reset.

Getting to Energy Lab felt like forever. When I finally did, I thought I was catching a second wind until Mr. Cramp made a sudden visit again. It was one of those moments when you don’t know if you will have to jump back to the finish line on one leg or if you’ll be able to make it at all. I had to stop for a solid minute or two, which felt like eternity. As I gradually began to walk, the special needs tent erected in front of me. A volunteer handed me my bag— my ice bottle was so hot you could make tea. I tossed it away without even trying it.

As I managed to get up the Energy Lab hill and got back to Queen K, the sun started setting. By that time I was no longer getting ice (it was getting too cold for that, by my standards). My goal was to finish before the sunset, so I was running 500-700m until my legs would cramp and then walk for a minute or two. This strategy got me to the last hill when the first spectators started to cheer on with music. The feeling of failure of not finishing before the sunset started to fade away slowly.

It was mile 25, and I grinded my teeth and did all I could to run the last mile. Running down Palani I was praying not to cramp up again and fall in front of the hundreds of supporters and volunteers. I walked again for a minute on Kuakini as Mr. Cramp (by then, my best friend) was re-emerging.

Finally, I saw the downhill leading to the finish line. All the pain was gone and luckily the adrenaline took ownership of my body. I spotted my girlfriend in the crowd, gave her a quick kiss and moved onto the finish line.

I heard Mike Reilly call me an Ironman as I passed the finish line with the time of 11:39:51, after my worst marathon time yet: 4:34. Immediately I was surrounded by volunteers with one walking me all the way to the rest area. She asked me a whole lot of questions about the race, I guess a standard check to determine whether I could be on my own. I suppose I passed because after I got my medal she wished me a good day and went on to collect the next finisher.

Post finish line

I won’t lie, the rest area was disappointing, mainly because there was no place to sit down except the ground. I got a slice of pizza and sat on the floor for 5 minutes to digest— both it and the race. I was planning on going to see my girlfriend and her family but the volunteers started insisting that we check out the gear immediately which led to very long queues to leave T2. After such a long day this was almost as painful as the run up the Energy Lab.


The day after the race my muscles actually felt pretty good. However, as days passed I began to feel progressively worse. I was fatigued all the time. Incredibly fatigued. After my 30-hour trip back home I entered my flat and immediately did a COVID test: positive. I wondered whether I already had it while I was racing or if I simply succumbed to the island and the notorious Kona conditions caused my body to give up. I guess I will never know for sure.

Final thoughts

It was without a doubt the most spectacular race I have taken part of and witnessed in my short triathlon journey. I loved every moment of being in Kona and sharing it with so many fit and passionate people— the energy was buzzing.

As for the race I executed to the best of my abilities on the day. I felt more than prepared after an extremely hard few months of training (courtesy of coach Jon to whom I’m extremely grateful). I was following my nutrition meticulously and I think my nutrition strategy was on point. Why I was cramping so much on that day, I don’t know, I guess I have to lean on the usual excuse of heat and humidity. I lose very little salt when I sweat and I wasn’t sweating all that much on the bike which only adds to the mystery.

People say that sometimes it’s more the mind than the body, which is true until your body decides to shut down. I feel like I successfully balanced the two. I finished Kona, my second Ironman and now I can enjoy races without the $ dot.


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