Going into the Ironman World Championship, Brent McMahon had the bonafides to finish in the top 10: two sub-8 hour Ironmans, no weakness in his swim, bike, or run, and a love for heat and humidity. Still, as those who have raced in Kona can attest, the results from a maiden attempt can be hard to predict.
Brent tells us what went down during the Big Dance, and how he wants to come back for Kona 2016.
Race morning I felt very calm and confident that I had done everything I could to prepare for my first time in Kona. Though I had some hiccups in training leading up to the race and even race week, that didn’t change the fact I knew the course and believed I could win. That is how I approached the race and I put myself in the right place to go for the win.
I was feeling comfortable and smooth the whole 3.8 kilometers and exited in the first main group coming out of the water. I had a smooth and fast transition and with a quick mount I got onto the bike course third in my group only a minute or so down on the front three out of the water.
Through the bike I tried to stay near the front as much as possible so I could stabilize my power output but also keep an eye on the front of the race. There was a lot of firepower in the group and some calmer wind conditions this year. As a result, the group stayed together all the way down from Hawi and partway to Mauna Lani.
It was at this point that Jan Frodeno and Sebastian Kienle inched away up the road to catch up to O’Donnell who had opened a gap solo. Once the gaps started to form I worked my way toward the front three on my own as we approached Waikaloa. I was able to open a sizeable gap and close some time on the front three. Eneko Llanos came up slowly from the group behind and we rode together for a while but I focused on my pace and staying hydrated and cool and let him inch away with 45+ kilometers to go. As we neared town, Frederik van Lierde came up and closing out the final 20 kilometers together I felt strong and confident heading to the run 90 seconds down from the leader in fifth place.
In and out of T2 I had my usual quick, smooth changeover and came out ahead of van Lierde and only 20 seconds down on Llanos who was in fourth. The opening kilometers were tough: I was moving all right but the effort was high. Typically this lasts the first three to five kilometers and then my run legs come around.
As I headed towards the 8-kilometer turn around on Ali’i, my run legs were not coming around and I was feeling worse and worse. I was struggling to keep a pace slower than my warm-up runs. I was in a world of hurt just focusing on getting to each aid station and then walking through them to get water and aid. I had my whole support crew cheering me on and telling me to stick with it. I have never felt so bad for so long as I did in this race.
I jogged along and just focused on all the hard work I had done and all the people that had gotten me to the start line. There were many times I almost gave up and I was just in the opening 10 kilometers of 42.
As I headed towards the Energy Lab — arguably the toughest part of the marathon — I started to find some rhythm. I wasn’t running much faster; it just came a little smoother. At this same point, I started to see guys ahead starting to falter on the long straight rolls of the Queen K. I had persevered to this point and gotten that deep into an ugly place. I had to keep going and reaching for those spots ahead.
I slowly clawed back time and moved up into tenth and as I moved past van Lierde at the bottom of the Energy Lab, he made a sound as if to say, “Where on earth did you come from? I thought you were dead on gone.” It was this moment that I knew I had overcome so much to this point that nothing was going to stop me from getting to the finish and I was going to push and suffer all of the final 14 kilometers still to go.
I emerged out of the Energy Lab in ninth with a renewed sense of willpower that I was going to need every step of the way to the finish. Within a couple of kilometers of leaving the Energy Lab I was back to misery and battling every stride, but I knew I could make it now.
I was being chased by Boris Stein in those final kilometers and as I hit the top of Palani I let it all hang out going downhill. In the final mile I opened one minute on Stein and gained a minute on Kienle in eighth to finish within 30 seconds.
At the finish line I was spent and relieved to have finally finished and come across in ninth place. It was not how I saw the day playing out, whether it be from losing eight days of training or a misjudgement of calories, but I was so happy to have been tough and persevered through the ugliest run I have ever done.
I am so satisfied but all too hungry to come back next year to execute a better race and have the marathon I know I can run.
What a race. I am so happy to have been part of this great endurance team. Kona, what a journey it has been to my first Ironman World Championships. Just like the Olympics, it was many years in the making and I can’t wait to take on the challenge again. All of you were a part of this journey and without your support I could not have done it. For that I am very thankful.