Bruce smashes Ironman World Champs Kona 2019

GTC member Bruce Greenhalgh qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Kona at Ironman Wales 2018. Earlier this month, he headed to Hawaii and after finishing in an impressive time of 9 hours 53 minutes and 27 seconds, he described the race as “the highlight of my triathlon life”

In the run up to Kona, Bruce, who competes in the 40 to 44 age group, employed the help of a coach. He worked with Graeme Stewart, from Inverness.

After finishing Ironman Wales 2018.

Bruce says: “Training kicked off fairly quickly after Ironman Wales. The qualification for Kona had left me buzzing and I was eager to get started on training for Kona but I wondered what I could do to improve after mostly organising my own training plan for previous years.

“I thought that working with a coach would allow me to see how I could do things differently. Given that it was 13 months from Wales to Kona, I think that working with Graeme was useful because I probably would have over-trained earlier and burnt out way before the race.”

Ups and downs of training

Graeme adjusted Bruce’s training plan, including a focus on bike pacing. Bruce says: “I also did a lot of work on slower cadence cycling to build leg strength. This is the opposite to what I had previously been doing and this really helped to improve my efficiency on the bike.”

Bruce entered Ironman Lanzarote to break up his year of raining but things did not go so well. Bruce says: “Lanzarote was meant to be a way to practice racing in similar conditions to Hawaii. It turned out to be a brutal race, however, due to mistakes I made nutritionally.

“I finished in 11 hours 59 minutes and it did leave me wondering how I was going to cope with the heat in Kona.”

As Kona loomed, Bruce also started to feel intimidated by the reports from other people of the heat, wind and generally brutal course that he could expect.

Bruce says: “The athlete guide also suggested arriving in Kona three weeks before the race to acclimatise. But that was never going to happen.

“I arrived the Monday before the race and I was actually pleasantly surprised by the conditions. I got out and cycled a big chunk of the course. I also managed a couple of training runs, which helped to settle the nerves a little and gave me a better feel for how to pace the race.”

Bruce described the Kona race week as “a bonkers place”. He says: “It gave me a feeling of being an imposter, seeing all these athletes who looked like they were straight out of some photoshoot for the next Olympics as they galloped past me.

Sharing transition with triathlon star, Daniela Ryf.

“Seeing it all for real though was amazing. I checked into transition next to Daniela Ryf [the Swiss athlete and four-times Ironman World Champion], which was crazy and then race day, seeing all the pros getting ready, was incredible.

“The organisation at Kona was brilliant with the number of volunteers and the assistance for each athlete.”

The Kona swim

Bruce describes his Kona race, starting with the swim.

He says: “This year’s race was a staggered deep water start, which I think worked quite well. It meant there was a lot more space for competitors and it was probably one of the least violent Ironman swims I’ve done.

“Kona is always non-wetsuit, which really worried me because it’s not something I could train for in open water in Scotland so it was a big unknown.

“Thankfully sighting was quite good and it was a one-loop-clockwise course, which helped given I breathe only to the right-hand side.

“The sea is beautiful with coral reef fish and turtles. However, on race day I didn’t notice any of this apart from the coral, which strangely you could use almost like lane lines in the pool.”

The race reported that there was a sea swell and it was apparently worse than in previous years but while Bruce could sense it he said it was not as bad as a choppy day on Loch Lomond.

He was also delighted to catch up with some of the swimmers in the wave ahead and he completed the swim in 1:02.

He says: “It was a good  start and I was pretty elated after that going into T1. I definitely had to pinch myself having seen T1 on the TV for so many years.”

Kona bike course

The bike course starts with a hill and Bruce saw some fellow age groupers stopping at the side of the road with technical issues. He says: “This didn’t help to settle the nerves because you are always worried about what could go wrong in a race.”

Bruce remembered his race plan and, for once, he held back taking the hill calmly, letting people pass and then settling into the ride.

He says: “My bike power data seemed a bit weird but my average speed was way better than I’d expected. My power seemed well down on what I was aiming for but given my speed I decided to stick with that and my perceived effort.

“The staggered start had helped to spread out the field compared to previous years and although there were a few big groups on some of the uphill undulations it wasn’t too bad at all.

“I was nervous about getting a drafting penalty, though, so I never really hung around and it felt great to be powering past people.”

Bruce felt the bike course played to his strengths. He says: “It’s not a technical course, like cycling in Scotland, and I rarely needed the brakes.

“The crosswinds were a bit challenging but certainly not as bad as in Lanzarote. People seemed to feel it was a tougher wind day than last year but it certainly didn’t slow me down too much and I arrived back in 4:55, which was about 20 minutes faster than I’d thought I would go in my best case scenario.”

Bruce describes T2 as brilliant. He says: “Someone grabbed my bike to rack it. I got given my bag, sat down and then a chilled towel was draped over my shoulders while I put on my trainers.

“I felt good and way better than any T2 previously and I set off with a spring in my step.”

Bruce runs to sub-10 hour

At this point, Bruce knew that a sub-10 hour Ironman was possible but he found it hard to work out the maths for his pacing as he ran.

He says: “I simply settled into my plan for five-minute kilometres and hoped I wasn’t going to blow up with the heat. Crikey, it was it hot.

“Thankfully, the aid stations in Kona are about every mile and sometimes slightly closer, which is good. They give out cups of ice, which were invaluable. I was glad to have on my one-piece trisuit because this meant I could put ice down my suit without it falling out.

“At each aid station I walked, getting in the fluids and the odd gel, but it was the ice I valued most.”

Bruce was also grateful for the nutrition on course. He says: “It was incredible and although the taste of the Gatorade is minging it didn’t give me any issues and due to the volume I was taking in I didn’t need a great deal of salt tabs or gels on top.”

The Kona run course is essentially a long and undulating out-and-back loop.

Bruce says: “The run does have a hill comparable to Wales but you only do it once. I deliberately walked it having read a lot about how you can overheat there and then never cool down after that. This worked and going through the famed energy level was tough but I was really pleased with how I managed to keep knocking out at relatively the same pace.

“There were certainly plenty of casualties and I went past a lot of people hunched over or walking. Getting back into town was fabulous and I knew I was sub-10 then.

“I slowed to savour the moment and what I’d accomplished.”

Bruce has a sit down after Kona.

‘Dream come true’

Bruce reveals that it was a dream come true to finish Ironman Kona in a sub-10. He says: “I was only eight minutes slower than my Copenhagen Ironman PB, which given the toughness of the course, I was super chuffed with.

“I think I could have taken more risks and gone quicker but that could have led to the wheels coming off and then there would have been so many regrets.

“To finish like I did was a highlight of my triathlon life. It felt amazing to be in amongst it all and seeing all the pros during the race. Having my family there was the icing on the cake.”

What’s next?

Bruce still has racing ambitions but he says it is difficult to imagine that he can surpass his Kona result. He says: “However, there is still a hunger to do more racing.

“I do think I need some time off though to get some brownie points back in the bank. I plan to have an off year but keep training to a degree.

“I think I might plan for Ironman Barcelona in 2021 and try to go sub 9:30 but it depends on my motivation nearer the time.

“I don’t think I’ll ever go back to race at Kona because it’s a massive cost on a variety of fronts but to have done it is a dream come true.”

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