STRATFORD Triathlon Club’s Richard Shephard finished 333rd out of more than 2,200 competitors who took part in the prestigious Triathlon Ironman World Championships at Kona, Hawaii.
The atmosphere in Kona in the weeks prior to the race is incredible and just seems to build and build as the best professional and amateur triathletes from around the world descend on the Big Island.
Shephard, a talismanic figure for the Stratford Tri section, finished 79th in his age group in what was a keenly contested event.
Due to the high water temperature, the swim is always a non-wetsuit affair and, with a mass start of nearly 2,000 male competitors, it can be brutal.
Shephard describes his race efforts in his own words: “It’s difficult preparing for a race when you know it’s not the course and the distances, but more the conditions that you’re likely to encounter that is the biggest challenge. Having raced there in 2014 I had a good idea of what is was in for.
“For me the swim went pretty well. I managed to stay out of trouble by swimming off the side of the main field and I arrived at transition in one hour and two minutes. It was not my fastest swim time but I was happy to be in good shape to go out on the bike.
“The transition zone was exceptionally busy, as was the first section of the bike course, with hundreds of athletes all having completed the swim on or around the hour mark an indication of the standard of the competition.
“As I made my way out on the 112-mile bike route I could feel the temperature increasing with the sun blazing down on the Queen K Highway.
“About 40 miles in I began to suffer with cramp, not a good sign so early on in the race, especially with the notorious trade winds to deal with.
“I was making a conscious effort to stay hydrated and take on plenty of salt. After the turn point at Hawi at the north of the island, there was a welcomed tailwind, however this was shortlived and soon turned into tricky sidewinds which caused a number of crashes as athletes collided.
“The last 30 or so miles was back into a headwind and by this time the midday sun was at full strength.”
Shephard continued: “With the bike course completed, I embarked on the 26.2-mile run route which starts with an out and back down the famous Alii Drive and this was the first time in the race the huge crowds could be appreciated.
“It was never going to be my fastest marathon as by this point the temperature was well in excess of 30 degrees and, combined with the high humidity, I knew that keeping my core temperature down and remaining well hydrated was most important.
“There are aid stations approximately every mile where I was able to take cold water, energy drinks and copious amounts of ice.
“All was going to plan until around the 16-mile point where you enter the infamous ‘Energy Lab’ and the course drops down from the highway to sea level and the temperature seems to be hotter still.
“It was at this point that I started to encounter more cramps. The last eight to ten miles were a battle and I found myself just getting between aid stations like stepping stones to the finish.
“Returning into Kona for the last mile of the race was amazing, not only because for the most part it was downhill, but it was great to see my family and friends amongst the crowds at the finish line.
“Shortly after the finish I swore never to do another Ironman and a race of any kind in temperatures above 25 degrees.
“However, having already qualified for the Half Ironman Championships next year to be held in Tennessee, I may have to backtrack on this!”
Shephard’s result: Total time – nine hours, 48 minutes, 32 seconds; 79th in age group, 333rd overall from more than 2,200; swim – 1:02:23; bike – 112 miles, 5:10:12; run – 26.2 miles, 3:28:38.