Race Reports

Paul Rutherford – World Championships, KONA 2017


By Paul Rotherford

Right so, I’ve been putting this off and now that I’m home and it’s been a week since the race, that it’s time to cleanse the soul.

IN SHORT: Swam – Poorly; Under-Biked; Ran to Survive.

OTHERWISE, suffer as I did and read on…

The night before the race, I’ve slept the best I’ve ever slept before a race, a good uninterrupted 6 hours. Got up at 3.30am and loaded up on the usual breakfast of fruit and porridge. Big thanks to Emmet Kelly for the Flahavans ( I brought over my own, but for some reason the kids suddenly decided they wanted porridge on holidays every morning – not much chance on a school day normally). Everybody in the car in their PJs and off to Kona we went at 4.15am.

Parked up on Palani Hill, I said my goodbyes to my sleepy eyed kids and off I go to transition. The buzz is building in the dark as athletes and supporters funnel their way to race start. I’m guided through pre reg and body marking, where 100’s of volunteers are busy applying numbers to nervous athletes. I hand in my special needs bags, I’ve an insulated lunch box bought from Target with gels, tubes and two frozen bottles of water and gatorade endurance. – (Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.) The special needs bag will be at 96kms on the bike after the turnaround in Hawi. More volunteers offer Vaseline on a stick for personnel application, whilst others apply layers of sunscreen to any area not covered by the new swimskin.

I make my way round to T1 on the pier, the floodlight pier is awash with competitors rushing around. There has been thunderstorms all night and the ground is wet underfoot. I remove the bin bags from my shoes, Helmet/Handlebars and drivetrain (something I seen the pros do in Copenhagen – theory behind it being no oxidisation of the chain before the race – marginal gains) I get a trackpump and inflate Mr. Hanleys Tubeless tyres, check all my nutrition and T1 is sorted and ready to rock, it’s only 5.30. I find a lounger by the beach and put my feet up, visualise the race and take it all in.

The first light of day begins to break and suddenly you have 3 helicopters circling the area, providing all the live feeds for the viewers back home. I get a great vantage point for the pro start on the pier, BOOM the canon goes and 60 of the best explode into action. Five minutes later the ladies are off. We have 25 minutes before I’m off, Ross warned me that they’ll try and get you in the water as quickly as possible, which means you can be treading water for 15 minutes if you’re not careful. I head to the toilets one more time, then slowly make my way to the Dig me beach entry point. I’m still their 10min before start, I swim to an Hawaiin outrigger, swim start left and hold onto the side. Everything is going exactly as I had planned, I’m feeling good and ready to rock. With a minute to go, I make my way about 3 metres back and get ready.

The Swim

BOOM – We’re Off – I find feet straight away and I’m conscious of staying as relaxed as possible in the middle of 1600 or so. Surprisingly, it’s relatively wrestle free at the start, 1.29/100 for the first km, now I’m surrounded, still on feet and feeling pretty good – Within the next 100m meters, I’m pushed off feet and have been dunked 2 or 3 times and the Garmin has been stopped, I’ve taken on a bit of water but still fighting away, suddenly there are people everywhere but no toes for me to follow, we hit the first turnaround at the body glove boat, I get dunk’d again more water on board, 100m’s and another turnaround , I get dunked again. I try to accelerate for home but I have nothing, I’m now dry-wretching in the water, my goggles are cutting in and things are looking bleak – still 1.5km to go – oh f@ck. The next km is a blur – I feel like I’m swimming in treacle and I’m being past left right and centre. The top age group women are now swimming through, the mental math tells me I’m swimming sh!t, I look up and have still 500m to go. Time to tough it out, this is the hardest swim I’ve every done, since the turn we’ve got a bit of a swell that’s also fighting me every stroke. Hand over hand I barely get to the end and drag myself up the steps and in to T1, a swim I completed in 1:09, 7 days before has taken me 8 minutes more to complete. This wasn’t part of the visualisation earlier, worse again, I didn’t think I can go on.

Swim 1.16.57

Transition- This takes an eternity, I’m swaying, light headed and wretch again, volunteers help with sunscreen, arm coolers, calf sleeves. I can barely lift myself off the chair, up I get and run round the extremities of the most famous pier in Triathlon – it lifts my spirits – I’m off to the bike, I’m good on the bike, lets do this.
T1 6:30


The Cycle

I decide to be patient here, everyone says the bike doesn’t start until the turn. First couple of kms are a climb, I’m being passed again – normally this would ignite my competitive edge but I remember Kev calling for manners on the bike, stick to the plan and we’ll see all these people again. First 10kms are around 240W – down on the plan, but what you save here can only benefit in the end – right. My heartrate sensor is malfunctioning @220 bmp which it sometimes does after a swim them- nothing to worry about – right. I get to stretch of road that I’ve done twice in training, a stretch I know heading to Waikoloa – my base – time to put some watts down. I go to the well and there is nothing there, I’m feeling ill and can’t even hold the aero position. I’m following my nutrition plan but nothing is staying down, I’m going backwards. The next 50kms is spent fighting the wind, both my glutes are firing badly with a pinching pain every time I put the power down, I’m adjusting position but nothing is working. I continue to push forward but dark clouds are gathering, I want to stop every 7 miles at the aid station and call it a day, but I’m at the world – have a word with yourself FFS.

The PROS fly past in the other direction – Kienle and Sanders are in the lead – big bikers to the fore – come on Rutherford. I remember the special needs bag at the turn, a frozen/cold drink could just kick start my race., it’s my goal for the next 30kms, get to the turnaround and see how you feel. The climb to Hawi is torturous, windy and hot, I hit every aid station, 3 bottle’s over 400m, the first water fills the front bottle, Gatorade endurance is caught drunk and dispatched, a last water bottle is grabbed and sprayed over head, back and quads – every 7 miles the same routine, I don’t miss one.

I make it to Hawi and go for the special needs, I get off the bike to stretch, everything is cramping at this stage. I’ve manage 160W for the last 70kms. The drinks are a slushy blissful release, it perks up my spirits no end. I climb on the bike after giving the local lad the insulated lunch box, he’s delighted, I hope I’ve just balanced some Karma with Madam Pele to help me with the rest of the race. I take off and immediately feel 100% better, the downhill section from Hawi has some serious descents into vicious cross winds, I attack and suddenly I’m signing again, the Watts are back. 85kms back to town here we go. I’m hunting now and feeling strong and controlled. Unfortunately, the cramping continues, I’m cramping in places I never knew could even cramp (in my quads on the up stroke, the base of my neck and from my elbows to my shoulders – I didn’t even think that was possible.)

30kms to go, I snatch a coke at an aid station and this provides another mental stimuli to the bike finish. The cramping continues to T2, I pass my bike to the catcher and immediately spasm from my ankles to the base of my skull.

Bike 5:43 – 210W average (50W down on the plan)

Transition 2, I run around the same perimeter to the change tent, I get the sunscreen guy to massage my legs and shoulders to try and work out the knots – he does a good job and I climb out of the chair again and drag my ass to the run.

T2 – 7:12


The Run

Exiting the run into all the support is amazing – I’m fully aware I’m struggling today – but soak it all in, the smile once again grows on my face and I set off into the run up Ali drive. The PA announce that Patrick Lange has just passed Lionel Sanders at mile 23 for the lead. Aid stations are set up every mile, the heat is relentless and they can’t come quick enough. My plan is run between each, it’s apparent that my 4:40 pace plan is not going to happen, I run as fast as I can before cramp sets in.5:00 for the first 5kms,, 5.10 for the next 5. I hear Daisy shouting somewhere in the distance, but it’s amplified. I hit the Oakley hot corner to see Daisy has got herself a microphone and is shouting support for her dad, it wells me up, Billy asks if I’m OK, as I’m 40 minutes down from when I planned to be there – I tell her “I’m f@cked”. I turn the corner to see Jan Frodeno descend, clearly in bother as well – bad days happen to the best of us – I could see him thinking.

The next 10miles is the biggest struggle of my tri life – up Palani which I have to walk, then down into the energy lab. These are lonely miles, one thing I notice as I walk each aid station, they are manned/volunteered by different nationalities, I pass a German, French, Spanish, Japanese and of course Hawaiian – the support they give is empowering and greatly appreciated to tired souls struggling to get to their goals. (Water, Ice, Gatorade, Cola, Ice then Water again – I take cup each time) I’ve drank about 10 litres of fluid so far in the race and have had to pee once. I see some of the Irish lads on the switch backs, wishing them on to chase their goals. I see how far off the pace I am. (sad face) The energy lab takes it’s toll, I’m forced to stop for the first time outside of aid stations – everything spasms and I need to stretch again, the support from fellow athletes is immense and they will, you as well as themselves through dark times. It happens right opposite an Ireland flag that Aisling has put up earlier, a guttural instinct says not today, I start to run again.
I make it out of the energy lab and the sun begins to go down, I’ve taken some Hot Shot anti-cramp stuff and start to race the light home. My pace quickens and I’m down to low 5m/ks, still walking the stations. One last assault on my body, was the downhill on Palani sees everyone’s quads exploded, I’ve a mile to do, two more corners, I turn on Ali Drive, I’m going to make it, I immediately well up and tears form in my eyes, Kauri and Daisy start running beside me, this sets me off even more. I run up the chute, high 5’ing as I go, pain is replaced with pride. This is what I have dreamed of every year since watching Ironman on TV, to race the best in the home of Triathlon. I’m devastated that it hasn’t gone to my abilities but 50 feet tall for having raced here at all. I come up the ramp,
Mike Riley shouts ” PAUL RUTHERFORD from Sligo Tri Club, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”

Run 4:08


The volunteers catch you and escort you away from the finish , they are as emotionally charged as you are, I can’t remember their names, but without their help I would’ve resembled a man o war jelly fish washed up on the west coast from Ophelia. Hopefully my disjointed babble was as much encouragement to them as their words where to me.
Without the support of Billy and the kids this isn’t possible, they adapt they’re lives, so I can live mine. (This has been 7 weeks/12 months/2 years/5 years/10 years in the making) I hope that like me – they’ve had the time of their lives out here, living a dream. Thanks to all the family for their support, Amanda you’ve been immense in all this. Thank to all at Sligo Tri Club for training and support.

This day has been a rollercoaster of emotion, I’ve done two Ironmen before and although difficult went according to plan. Sat 14th October did not. I know it’s difficult but it took the world stage to show me just how difficult it can be and how far you need to dig to get through it, Today – this is the toughest race in the world and I’ve done it. I’m not sure why it didn’t go according to plan, it turns out 2 Ironmen in 7 weeks isn’t really possible, Two heavy bike crashes in a year ain’t advisable. Recovery is sometimes overlooked – but f’@ck’it, I’ve got the T-shirt and the medal.


Kona Paul
P.S. KONA, we’ve unfinished business.

More stories…

Tri with Pride 2022

Tri with Pride 2022

Race report by Oisin Keighron.  Signing up I saw the Tri with pride event come up on my Facebook feed a few times and...

Sligo Pool Sprint 2022

Sligo Pool Sprint 2022

Race report by Lewis Clarke. Sign up and Tri As a brief introduction, I moved to Sligo at the end of December 2020...