Race Stories

Ollie’s Kona debut


Back at the start of 2021 and after 10+ years of playing football, I set myself the challenge of completing an Ironman after reading John McAvoy’s “From Iron Bars to Ironman”. In July of last year (2021), after 6 months of training on my own, I completed Ironman UK in Bolton and in doing so qualified for the Ironman World Championships. The qualification was unexpected and I’d always thought that I’d do one Ironman and I’d be done but following about 10 seconds of turning it over, I decided to take the opportunity as, to my mind, you don’t turn down opportunities to race in Hawaii with the best athletes in the world as it won’t happen every day!

In the period after the race and having taken the decision to race Kona, I was put in contact with James as I was keen to pick his brains on Kona and also a bona fide training plan in preparation. The week after our initial chat, I jumped in the pool with the Optima team and promptly had it reinforced that there was work to do on my swim (and a lot of it!). What was initially meant to be a month or two of training with the team before the race in October of that year, has turned into much much more as the race was postponed a year and I continued my journey with Optima and James for the last 18 months.

Over the course of that period, I competed at Ironman 70.3 Costa Navarino, some XC races and smaller triathlons, Ironman Nice and then, ultimately, the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. Although I could write an essay on each one of those and a dissertation on the training/fun I’ve had with the Optima Racing Team throughout that period, I’ve been asked to concentrate on Kona and the build up thereto which is what I’ll do!

Coming off the back of Ironman Nice in June which was a race that reinforced the great strides I’d made in triathlon since working with James, I knew the build to Kona would be tough as I’d have to balance the fatigue (I found it more mental than physical to be honest) of having just completed an Ironman with wanting to put together a very solid 12 week block of training in which I wanted to continue to make improvements. Ultimately, both mind and body recovered well though and the biggest issue was fitting the consistent and demanding training regime around my work commitments. These peaked in August and for two weeks, training (and, more harmfully, sleep) suffered considerably. As for many “age-group” athletes, the clash between work commitments and consistent high volume training challenged me over the course of my Ironman training. It was not uncommon for me to do 60+ hour working weeks and so fitting in the sessions could be difficult but, with James’s help, we found a way. My advice to any people setting out on the “Ironman” journey is (1) a training plan is an absolute must – it takes the “thinking” out of it and instead, especially when you’re tired, you just have to look at the session and then execute (easier said than done sometimes I know!), (2) 9 times out of 10, you can make it work if you really want to – 5.30am wake ups and logging back on after a tough track session are difficult of course, but come race day all those tough moments are banked and you’ll be better equipped for when it gets hard out there; and (3) do cut yourself some slack when you need though – there will be days you will be tired and will have to push through, but with a coach’s help you can identify those days where it is better to sleep in, make the session an easy one or reduce the number of reps – don’t be afraid to lose the battle, but win the war!

Getting back “on plan” after my two week “blip” was really hard as the body and mind were tired (and probably needed total rest) but in my mind I was thinking that I’d missed two weeks good training and Kona was starting to loom large! With James’s help (and a week completely offline training in France), I navigated through that period and come the end of the August I was happy that if I put in a solid month of training in September I would travel to the Big Island in good shape which is ultimately what I did.

I flew out to Hawaii just under two weeks before the race to give myself the best chance to acclimatize to the stifling heat/humidity (as well as to enjoy the sights and sounds of the beautiful island!), joining two other Optima members who were racing too, Stu and Jess. Having a little group of us to train and chill out with pre-race was absolutely epic! Stu is a Kona veteran (9 times now!!!) and was a brilliant tour guide who imparted many a pearl of wisdom over those two weeks that helped me on race day whilst Jess, a first timer like me, had all the intel on the pro racers and what they were up to pre-race. The two weeks spent with them both were so much fun and definitely helped make it the memorable experience that it was – thanks both!

As race day approached, I felt in a good place but knew that the result of the race would hinge on how well I executed my race, nutrition and cooling plans over the course of the day. I knew that I’d done the work on the latter with the hours spent in the sauna over the summer and had the experience of the nutrition plan in Nice to know what needed to be done on that front. It felt like James and I had left no stone unturned and that was a good place to be in pre-race.

Race day came and set out below is a summary of how each discipline went!



  • I felt relatively confident going in as the training swim on the same course a week prior had gone well and I’d been setting some good numbers in training. Having come to triathlon during COVID, this was my first mass start though and being held in a pen behind the surfers was pretty tough though. We were there for 5+ minutes and it became pretty cramped with people surging from behind which made treading water a bit difficult. I settled myself though and tried to take it all in – I had made the start line of the World Champs!
  • After the claxon went and the surfers parted, the first 300-400 metres were carnage and I swam hard but had to slow as my chest became quite tight and breathing with the washing machine swell proving difficult – I eventually found a good rhythm though which became better as the swim went on.
  • I didn’t find any great feet throughout but generally thought I swam well, overtaking people in the second half and finishing in a good place physically and mentally.
  • I was a little bit disappointed as I glanced at my watch coming out but knew that it was a tough non-wetsuit swim course and that the real racing lay ahead of me. Time to bring it!



  • The atmosphere coming out of transition was absolutely mad so I tried not to get too excited and settle into power for first section of the course in town with no big spikes in power particularly going up Palani Drive.
  • Once out onto the mythical Queen K, I was surrounded by a lot of riders which made it very hard to stick to consistent power as I’d find myself behind them at low watts, surge above the target wattage to take over and then see them come back past and sit in front again. After repeating this a few times, I decided to settle in for the first part and concentrate on keeping my distance to the other so no drafting penalties!
  • The first 60-70k were into a headwind which made life interesting but I came to the hill at Hawi feeling relatively strong. I rode the hill on target power and knew that I could then look to squeeze the accelerator coming back down and into the second half of the bike. I got to the turnaround in good time, picked up special needs and then pinned my ears back on the descent as Stu had said to do. Nice and aero, good power and was flying past people – so much fun!
  • Once back onto the Queen K, my back (which had caused a few problems in the lead up to the race) was starting to tighten up and I had some pain so I found it hard to stay aero for long periods. I concentrated on keeping to my power, taking on plenty of fluids and nutrition and staying aero where possible.
  • I found that big groups reformed on the highway and a couple came screeching past only to break up in front of me so I picked off the people being shelled out of those and made the most of the tailwind heading back into town
  • I finished the bike happy with how it had gone but relieved that it was another part ticked off and then set out onto the run course that I’d heard (and dreamt) so much about!


  • Despite being excited to get out there, I, unsurprisingly some would say, didn’t feel exceptional at any point on the run. The out and back on Ali’i Drive felt like a furnace and was so loud with hundreds lining the route. I tried to soak it all up and enjoy it but knew what was to come and just tried to tap out the kms, drink lots and refuel well knowing the real fun was still to come at that stage
  • I tapped out a nice rhythm as I went up the hill at Palani which felt like it went on and on and saw my family here which was a good boost before heading out onto the Queen K ready to get to work!
  • At this stage, it was super hot (35°C+ according to my watch) but didn’t feel like I was struggling in the heat (the sauna and mind prep must have worked) and I was making good progress, overtaking people already and running at a nice cadence.
  • I then dived down into energy lab feeling ok although lost concentration momentarily and whilst overtaking someone at the start of that section I trod on outside of a traffic cone and rolled my ankle. It hurt (a lot initially) but I was in my zone and knew that it would dull as I hadn’t gone over on it completely.
  • As I turned at the far end of the course and headed back up to the Queen K, I knew this was the race – it was hot, uphill and I was tired. Time to bite down, stay in the moment and smile at how brutal this was quickly becoming!  
  • Turning onto the Queen K for the last time, I had Stu’s pre-race words ringing in my ears – “it’s all downhill from there”. I think I need to have a word with him as it definitely wasn’t all downhill and it was a looong way!
  • As the last 10kms ticked over, I was in pain but kept disciplined and in the moment as best I could. I continued to overtake people who looked broken and this gave me confidence that although I was hurting, everyone was in the same place and if I kept the mind strong, I’d get there!
  • At the top of Palani, I decided to take the handbrake completely off in the descent and felt like I charged down (if there was a video it was probably a sorry limp) and just about made the sharp left hand turn at the bottom…
  • Then down onto Ali’i Drive, under the famed Banyan tree and into the finishing chute as the adrenaline began to flow. I saw my family going mental against the barriers and, if I wasn’t so dehydrated probably would have shed a tear (and cracked a smile!)… it had been one hell of a battle but I’d done it! 


A couple of months have passed now and the achievement of racing Kona has started to sink in with the enduring feeling being one of huge gratitude. I started triathlon thinking that it would be an individual sport where discipline, hard work and, above all else, personal accountability would be the keys to doing well and whilst all of that is true, you really can’t do it (or do it anywhere near as well) without a team (and, in my case, an Optima Racing Team) around you. This report therefore wouldn’t be complete without saying a massive thank you to (1) every Optima member that I have had the pleasure of training with, drinking coffee with and laughing with over the past year – I’ve met some great people and there is no one I’d prefer to suffer with than you guys and (2) James, who has continued to push the boundaries of what I thought I was capable of and has been a great friend throughout that period – I’ve had a lot of coaches/teachers over the years, but he’s consistently got the best out of me better than any of them.