Age Grouper Laura Harris shares her Vegas & Kona “World’s” Double Experience

Laura Harris is an Australian age group triathlete who qualified for both the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas, and the Ironman World Championship in Kona. First up was the 70.3 Worlds, where Laura finished an amazing 5th place in the 18-24 year age group; in a time of 5:18:38. With a fe

Age Grouper Laura Harris shares her Vegas & Kona “World’s” Double Experience

Laura Harris is an Australian age group triathlete who qualified for both the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas, and the Ironman World Championship in Kona. First up was the 70.3 Worlds, where Laura finished an amazing 5th place in the 18-24 year age group; in a time of 5:18:38. With a few weeks to recover, it was over to Hawaii, with the young Aussie backing up to finish 13th in 11:01:28. Laura has kindly shared her experience from both races here for us. Enjoy the read!

Double World Championships Race Report – An experience to remember

A busy 12 months has finally come to an end. The last 7 weeks has been an experience of a life time, having had the opportunity to race the Vegas and Kona double World Championships. I could not be happier with the results from these races and can take away the experience to build on for the future. The people I have met along the way and the places that I’ve visited have made the trips even more memorable. It was a goal of mine that I set back in December 2011 and I am so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to experience it!

Having the World 70.3 race in Las Vegas 5 weeks before Kona was perfect timing for my Kona preparation. It gave me a chance to have a couple of weeks of training and racing in the heat after coming out of the Aussie winter months as well as breaking up the Ironman training. Training had been going well for Kona until then, managing to rack up the majority of my long rides before Vegas, despite having a bad run of illness over the winter months. I did almost every long ride on my own in Port Mac, including riding to Comboyne numerous times, Gingers Creek, Nabiac and anywhere else could get some mileage done. Having raced Vegas before I knew what I was in for this time – hills, hills and more hills!! I even spent some time on the wind trainer in front of the fire at home to adjust to the heat. I love the heat so it didn’t brother me at all. The run course is hilly too so I did most of my long runs over Pacific drive in Port Mac – my favourite place for running! I managed a solid half marathon hit out in the Hunter Valley over the hills at the beginning of my prep, where I pulled out a PB on that course and finished 4th overall.

Race day rolled around and we woke up to the unexpected… Rain!! I couldn’t believe it, it never rains in the desert! This wasn’t what I wanted at all but had to roll with it and race to the conditions. With Kona in the back of mind I was getting a bit worried about that bike course. I had a 7.45am wave start, 75mins after the Pro start, so it was a lot of waiting around In the rain, having to be out of transition at 6am. Thankfully it wasn’t cold, just a lot of mud!

After getting filed through like sheep to the swim start I finally got in the water and swam to the start line. The girls were rough – worse than the boys, but I gave it back to anyone who attempted to hold me under! I felt ok swimming, it’s always a slow swim at this race so I wasn’t expecting any fast time. The water was brown and couldn’t see a thing in there!

Following the swim we ran through a muddy and slippery 500m long transition, dodging the older age groups, taking their time through transition who were in the earlier waves. I finally got on the bike and the rain was pouring by this stage, I knew I had to take it easy to stay upright! I saw people coming off everywhere and ambo’s flying around the course. The long sweeping descents through the National Park were a bit sketchy, and having the road open to traffic was a joke!! At the 70km mark the rain started to clear and the sun came out – finally!! It was a bit of a climb back to transition into a head wind and I could feel the heat beaming down with steam coming off the road! 
After having a slower ride than usual I was determined to give it everything on the run. I knew I had a huge block of Ironman training under my belt so I thought I’d be tired but I had nothing to lose. I was in my element feeling the heat getting stronger throughout the run. People were starting to fall apart but I made sure I kept getting nutrition and sponges at each aid station. I seemed to be passing a lot of girls in my age group but still had no idea where I was after my slow bike leg. The run is basically 3.5k up hill and 3.5k back three times. I hit the last section of the hill on the last lap and picked it up as I was feeling good. Coming back down the hill, I passed a couple more girls and finished the run in 1.37 with an overall race time of 5.18.  Although a slower time than usual, I couldn’t complain, I stuck to my plan of racing to the conditions as I wanted to make the Kona start line! I later heard that I’d finished 5th in my age group, which is a podium at world champs, so I could not be happier!! After a track record of illness throughout winter and having to alter training around leading up to the race, I was happy to take anything from this race and appreciated being on the start line!

I spent the next couple of days in Vegas before heading to LA on the way home. I got to do a few tourist things as well as focused on my recovery to get ready for Kona 5 weeks later. I returned to Australia on Friday 13th September for about 2.5 weeks before heading to Kona! There wasn’t much downtime at all, it was straight back into training that weekend in Sydney then home to Port on the Sunday to unpack and repack for a 3 day school camp. In between training I had this time to organise my career for next year, with job interviews as soon as I returned.  Less than a week before I was flying to Kona I got the call that I was waiting for – a job offer for next year! I couldn’t be happier!! I spent a week in Sydney training before flying out as it was school holidays. 

I arrived in Kona 10 days before the race so I had plenty of time to acclimatise to the conditions as well as get organised for my biggest race yet! I had heard all the stories of this race and after spending some time there I quickly learnt a lot about the history of it. I had watched this race for years but it’s not until you experience it that you fully understand what it’s like.  Athletes, spectators and supporters were slowly rolling in throughout the week and it was all getting surreal! I was prepared to take on any challenge that was going to be thrown at me and embrace the experience! This race isn’t about times or placings, instead an experience of a life time and respecting the island.

Race day quickly rolled around. I had mixed feelings of excitement and nerves, but that’s all normal for me. When I heard the helicopter, it all became real and I had to pinch myself that I was competing in this race that I had dreamt about for so long.  After a good warm up it was time to get into the water. Looking back at the shore from the swim start and seeing thousands of spectators lined up along the wall is amazing! The gun went off and the washing machine began. Not once did the swim thin out, it was congested for the whole swim. I was swam over, punched and kicked but was determined just to get through it and get to the bike. 
Getting to the bike was a good feeling, running through transition in the crowd was amazing! At the bike mount I had a Euro guy come flying straight past me knocking off my shoes from my bike so I had to stop and pick them up and put them on properly which cost me a bit of time. I was warned not to get carried away in the first loop in town as it can have potential to get caught up in. I stayed in control during this part. Getting out to the Queen K was a good feeling. I was feeling great and started to get some nutrition in early incase it got really windy later.  All the way to Hawi was great with a bit of a tail wind. I went through 60k at 1.40 and 90k at 2.40, but was wondering when it would all change and sure enough the final 60k felt like an uphill battle into the head wind on my own. Anyone who says it wasn’t windy was obviously sitting pretty in a group. With 30k to go I looked down at my shoe and saw blood coming out the top from a blister that had been annoying be the entire ride, so I stopped at the next aid station and got it taped up so it didn’t get worse for the run. It may have cost me a few minutes but it was better than battling with it for a marathon. 
I was hanging to get off the bike by the end and get onto the run.

Finally I got into transition and started the run. I really had no idea how I was going to go in the run leg as it was only my second Ironman. I didn’t get off to a great start for the first 11km, having some stomach issues. I walked every station and stopped to go to the toilet. I got to a point where I had to dehydrate myself and stop taking in nutrition and start again for it to go away. After I did this I couldn’t believe my luck, I was feeling fantastic after 11k. Running up Palani hill was an experience to remember, hearing my name and the crowd lifted me for what I was about to face on the Queen K and the Energy Lab. Once I got out there I really enjoyed it. It was solitude really and the support from the volunteers at each aid station was unreal! I’ve never seen a town embrace Ironman as much as they do in Kona! Each aid station was only a mile apart so I just kept breaking the run down and getting to each aid station. Seeing good friend Kristy Craft running back into town not long past the energy lab made my day! She was having a cracker of a race! Running into the energy lab and hearing the ‘Land Down Under’ Men at Work song was amazing!

I continued to get nutrition in and ice to keep me cool for the entire run leg. For a rookie Ironman athlete I can safely say that I managed my nutrition quiet well! Running back along the Queen K was a case of keeping on top of my pace and ticking the miles over one by one. Hitting Palani Drive was the best feeling ever as I knew adrenalin would take over from here and get me home. Making the final turn onto Ali’i Drive and seeing the Tossers and collecting the Aussie flag from my brother was amazing! I soaked it all up running down the Shute as its best experience ever! Unlike Port Ironman I could actually see the spectators and saw the BTC crew waiting to high five me! Crossing the line was an experience to remember, I couldn’t believe what I had just accomplished on my second ever Ironman and as a Kona rookie! I finished the race 2mins faster than Port in 11.01 with a run time of 3.41. I am so so happy with this result and hope to one day be back in the future if I’m lucky enough!!

I can’t thank the people enough who have supported me for this race! My family, friends, Saxon, my coach Nicole Ward, Gordon Street Cycles and of course our amazing support crew out there.