my triathlon journey
It seemed as if the Energy Lab would never appear, says Hana Sykorova, as she thinks back at this year’s Ironman Hawaii
Czech American Hana Sykorova completed in Team Zoot Ultra colors her fourth Ironman by finishing the 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run at the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. After last year’s digestive issues during the final marathon, she finished with a better taste in a time of 10:16 and she’s happy with her result. She settled down in New York and next year wants to focus on speed training and race only half ironman distance. Have a read regarding her race.
Hawaii is a little closer for you from New York in comparison with the Czech Republic, however the climate is completely different there. How did you get acclimated to the conditions as part of your pre-race preparation?
I arrived in Hawaii with my friend Morgan one week early, on Saturday. We rented a house on a hill between the Queen K and Kuakini Highway with a beautiful ocean view and the most unbelievable sunset. It came with a roommate, three cats, a car and a commuter hybrid bike. It was an awesome find, thank you craigslist. There was no AC, so we would have to keep the fans on and keep all doors open to get a cross breeze. I think it was a good strategy. Due to the fact that we were essentially always outside with the open house, we were getting used to the heat and humidity and were getting acclimated. I avoided being in direct sunlight, especially in the middle of the day.
So everything was all in tune before the race, the way it should be?
To my surprise I was able to sleep some the night before the race. I was a bit upset about the fact that the Shimano race wheels I wanted to rent for the race did not fit on my Specialized bike. I only discovered this on Friday. I could only use the deeper Shimano race wheel in the front and my regular Roval (more of a training wheel) in the back. If you choose to use different depth wheels, you will typically set it up the other way around. It was not the fastest set up. I tried not to think about it and decided to focus on things I could directly control.
Is there any kind of pre-start ritual which helps you calm the nerves?
Before the swim start, I was hanging out with my Zoot teammate Adrienne. We went over to the post-race massage area where there was less going on and things were calmer. Half an hour before the race I ate a tablet of Biestmilch, a colostrum with Guarana, which gives me focus and calms my nerves down. I tried it earlier during pre-race week.
Regarding the race itself, how did the swim go?
Similarly to last year, I positioned myself towards the left with the weaker swimmers. I was in third row, so having plenty of bodies in front of me to follow. I managed to swim on other swimmers’ feet for about the first quarter of the swim. I wasn’t even sighting, just as long as I could feel a wake coming onto me. Later I managed to swim hip to hip with another swimmer. I like this technique the best, being in sync with someone else’s pace. In my free time I like to dance socially, Argentine tango for example, so I guess this is the kind of technique that comes easy to me. The pace seemed somewhat fast to me, but I tried to hang on and focused on technique and breathing. I lost some swimmers on the way back but still seemed to be swimming with someone always. At one point I was swimming next to a person with no legs and they were keeping pace. I was so incredibly impressed. When I pressed my watch in transition, I was super excited to see my time, 1’06”, 6 mins faster than last year. And swimming is my Achilles heal.
As the day went on, the wind got stronger during the bike section. How did you deal with it? How did the bike portion go?
I was determined to save some energy on the bike. Although I am still not certain why I was not feeling well on the run last year, I think it may have been due to going out too hard on the bike. I really tried to enjoy the first part of the bike, making sure I was hydrating. It was clear the conditions were better than last year as my time seemed fast. On the way back there were sections with really strong headwinds. I tried to keep my head down and just keep pushing in the small ring, hoping to keep my legs somewhat fresh. The whole ride I kept telling myself that the race is all about the marathon and I still need to be in the mood to run it when I finish the bike.
Last year you had stomach problems on the run. How did you deal with the marathon run on heated asphalt of the never-ending flat this year?
The section on the Queen K heading towards the Energy Lab was the worst. It seemed as if the Energy Lab was never going to appear. There were all kinds of signs except the one for the Energy Lab! There were two women running around my pace, so I tried to stay with them. When I finally saw the turn into the Energy Lab, a burst of energy came over me and I picked up the pace. That, however, lasted only a mere half a mile. After the turnaround in the Energy Lab, I could see who was behind me and it was motivating me not to slow down. I had no stomach issues due to my new nutrition plan but I may have been dehydrated. I simply could not speed up on the last miles although I really wanted to. Running down Palani Hill on the last mile I tried to smile and savor the moment. The fan support was unbelievable but in reality I was telling myself – when will I finally see that damn finish line… I heard my name, “You are an Ironman” and that’s when a second of bliss overcame me. I stopped my watch and wanted to throw up. I felt worse than during the run. You just can’t win either way. The volunteers dragged me to the medical tent where after running some tests I finally got an IV. After that I started to smile again.
What do you think of the race outcome overall?
I am quite happy with the outcome. I don’t have all that much experience with the full ironman distance still. The first ironman was kind of an experiment (and was also supposed to be the last one), the second was here in Hawaii last year, the third only 6 weeks later (so also a bit of an experiment to see how my body would take this back to back), and finally this one, where I’m the most happy with my swim.
Did you have a chance to speak with other Czech competitors here?
Before the awards banquet I spoke with Lukas Polan, who was kicked in his temple by another swimmer and briefly lost his consciousness during the first leg of the race. The lifeguards had to drag him out. I’m so relieved he survived this and seems to be ok. I also spoke with Mirek Vrasil Jr. who could not even start due to fever. You never know what can happen here. The legend linked to the Hawaiian gods, such as Madam Pele, says that you have to suffer here the first time and things will only go well when you return. Perhaps it’s true.
And your next triathlon plans?
Right now I’m recuperating in beautiful Maui through the end of the week. After this I will spend at least another five weeks without any structured training. Next year I’ll spend racing just the half ironman distance. I want to see how much faster I can get with higher intensity training. I look forward to spending my time on other hobbies as well, such as travel, scuba diving or argentine tango dancing.