Ask The Coach: Am I Best Prepared for Kona?

By LifeSport Coach Dan Smith

Ask the Coach:  Am I Best Prepared for Kona?

Racing in the IRONMAN World Championships is usually the number 1 bucket list dream of many triathletes.  – However, it is a unique event with many challenges. First off, it is the World Championships for competitive and serious age group athletes so there is a lot of pressure. It is also a late season event held on a tropical island 2500 miles and 3 time zones west of California.  The ambient temperatures and humidity are also much higher than much of North America at this time.

Logistics and travel:

If you have qualified at an IRONMAN event or through the Legacy program, the first thing is to plan your trip as early as possible. Flights, accommodations and rental cars are booked quickly and the closer one gets to October, the tougher and more expensive it is to get direct flights. The trip from Los Angeles, when added to connecting flights can go from 5 to over 24 hours. Aim to arrive in Kona 5 to 7 days before the event so as to not be rushed in the week leading up to the race. Also, for those going for the first time, there is a full courses swim the Saturday before IRONMAN; this is a good opportunity to swim in salt water and without a wetsuit. It’s also interesting to see how the island changes over the week with the constant influx of athletes and the setting up of one of triathlons most prestigious events.


Research has shown that acclimatization to the heat and humidity takes 8-12 days. By arriving early you give your body the best chance at adapting to the tropical climate. Upon arrival in Hawaii pay close attention to hydration. Keep activities light and take note of how your sweat rate changes and how the body reacts to the increase in temperature. Being aware of your hourly sweat rate and the fact that you can typically replace 800ml to 1 liter of fluid per hour will give you a baseline for race day. Also remember to include sodium to maintain electrolyte balance.

Many athletes will not use the air conditioning in the cars or rooms in order to acclimatize. However don’t do this at the expense of not being able to sleep and generally being uncomfortable as this doesn’t put one in a good frame of mind. Be cognizant of what your body is going through and you will have a successful race.

The Course:

Wetsuits are not permitted during the swim, so if you have done all your open water swimming in a wetsuit, get used to the distance without the aid of flotation. Some athletes complain of motion sickness during long ocean swims; this can be alleviated by using earplugs.

Take time to familiarize yourself with both the bike and run courses. The footage on TV often shows what happens on the lava fields out on the Queen K highway. Knowing that the initial 10 miles of the bike doesn’t leave town, where it is crucial not to get carried away by the excitement of the crowds is important. Similarly, the first 10 miles of the run is an out and back on Ali’i Drive, where the heat and humidity can be stifling, before the long journey on the highway to the Energy Lab is just as critical.

The bike course though is mostly undulating and with no particularly steep climbs; it pays to prepare for long segments in the aero bars. Even for much of the climb to Hawi, especially later in the morning when the winds pick up, it pays to be aero as much as possible. Most notorious are the winds. They can come from all directions and are one of the more difficult to prepare for.

In the four weeks leading up to the race, try and recreate the conditions that will be encountered on the race course. This may involve setting up a trainer in the bathroom, turning on the heater and the shower to increase humidity. Athletes can also set up a humidifier if the bathroom isn’t an option. Aim for a room temperature of 30C along with 60% humidity. Athletes can overdress for outdoor activities by wearing tights, long sleeves and a hat.

Finally, plan the week leading up to the Saturday race ahead of time. Know where you will do key workout sessions and then rest up. Don’t panic, trying to jam a billion things in. Stick to schedule and limit the number of times going to the Expo. Plan special events like the Under Pants run as part of the week taper rather than adding to workouts.

There are many more elements that will guide you on your path to a successful day in Kona. Having a coach with experience with the World Championships is particularly valuable consideration to have in your corner.

LifeSport coach Dan Smith is a NCCP certified triathlon coach whose experience over 20 years has lead athletes to secure a spot in Kona and hit the podium on a consistent basis. Dan’s knowledge and experience allows him to customize a program for beginners to pro athletes. Contact Dan to share your goals, race faster, or master the Ironman distance. Find more great training tips by joining us on;

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