Alistair Brownlee racing his debut full Ironman and debut Kona is the talk of the Big Island. Just what is he capable of in the heat, humidity and headwinds of Hawaii?
Ali Brownlee’s Kona kit
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From London 2012 to Rio 2016 and those two ITU World Tri Series titles, he’s stepped up to the plate throughout his career, and we can expect more fireworks when the Brit faces Frodeno and co. on Saturday at 5:30pm UK time.
Here he opens up on his current fitness, his Iron prep and plans for the 2019 Ironman World Championships.
ALI BROWNLEE ON… THE LURE OF KONA
The Ironman World Champs in Kona has always been on my radar since I started tri when I was eight or nine and my uncle was doing Ironman and knew about this race. I’ve therefore known about it a long time and it’s always been at the back of my mind over my decade of ITU racing. It’s great to finally be here. The difficult thing after the Rio Olympics in 2016 was, having won the Olympics twice, what am I going to do next? So being here is an interesting place to be in.
ALI BROWNLEE ON… IRONMAN TRAINING
Ironman was always something I wanted to do and I would’ve like to have raced Kona a year or two ago if it wasn’t for my injuries. I’ve really enjoyed the training for Kona and the experience of being on the island. My focus was the 70.3 Worlds after Ironman Cork but now I’ve really focussed on this. The three things I’ve really had to focus on are nutrition, the heat and the distance. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of addressing these in my training after so much time spent racing short-course and 70.3 tri. This is the most interesting challenge I’ve had in a number of years. What does that training look like? What does the nutrition look like? What is my strategy? I’ve enjoyed those questions and I’m satisfied to be here.
ALI BROWNLEE ON… RACING KONA AT THE FIRST ATTEMPT
I’ve been invited out to the race a few times over the years and people have said I need to experience Kona before racing it. But it’s such a long way, especially when you only have two weeks break a year. So, if I’m coming out, then I’m going to race it, and it’ll be a great learning experience to race it. But my mantra for my whole career has been that it’s just another race, so get yourself into the race and the best possible position on that day. And back your ability to make the right decisions in the competition.
ALI BROWNLEE ON… THE KONA COURSE
The striking thing is that the course and conditions have doubled what it says on the tin: it’s windy, hot and rocky. I’ve spent a lifetime wanting tailwinds on the run but here you actually want a headwind to cool you. And the wind can change complete direction at any time on the bike. The course is more undulating than I thought and there isn’t a lot of flat. That’s the only thing that’s shocked me.
ALI BROWNLEE ON… IRON ADVICE
I’ve had a lot of advice from lots of people for this race. But the important thing is assimilating that advice and deciding what to take in yourself. My main advice is patience. Drilling in patience and getting carb intake sorted.
I wanted to do the swim here. I’ve never swam 3.8km straight in my life and one of the things about being here is a careful balance between taking in the gravitas of the race and how special it is to lift your performance on race day, and then keeping fresh for the race. That’s something that I’ve dealt with at the event.
ALI BROWNLEE ON… PRESSURE
It’s nice to have less expectation on me compared to the Olympics. It’s good for me to stand on the start line and not think it’d be a bad day if I didn’t win this race, rather than it’ll be a good day if I get around. I’ve dealt with my fair share of high-pressure racing over the years and I won’t have to deal with something like the 2012 Olympics again. It feels good to be a rookie.
ALI BROWNLEE ON… RACING MINDSET
Kona is a race that I want to do well in at some point. Put me in the race and if it goes well, and I’m in a great position running along Ali’i Drive, I’m not going to jog it in from there. If I’m in a good position, I’m going to race.
ALI BROWNLEE ON… TRAINING WITH THE CREW
I’ve trained with Gordon Benson and Mark Buckingham. They’ve enjoyed the challenge of doing some longer training as well. I watched Javier Gomez with interest last year and spoke to him about it as well. He said it was hot and hard! Ironman translates well for those who have done very well at short-course racing but Jan [Frodeno] has done the job in terms of diligence. I still do my vast majority of training with Jonny, but specific sessions will differ. It’d be really good to have him in this race.
ALI BROWNLEE ON… THE OPENNESS OF M-DOT
Ironman feels like a very different sport to ITU racing. It was always something that I was going to do. Lionel Sanders and Cameron Wurf starting in their mid 20s wouldn’t happen in ITU racing, and they wouldn’t be competitive at ITU racing [starting that late]. The diversity of Ironman is good and I like that people race from different backgrounds.
ALI BROWNLEE ON… PLAN B
I don’t have minimum expectations of my result in 2019. If I’m racing the last 15km of the race and if that leaves me in first or fifth then I’ll be happy with that. I’m in the best fitness I’ve been in for years. I’ve never been a big one for plans and would rather back myself to make the right call.
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