Faster than before is sometimes still not good enough

American Timothy O'Donnell finished 3rd in Kona in 2015 with a 8:18:50, and 5th in 2013 with a 8:22:25, but a 8:16:20 in 2016 meant 6th place for the man who has his sights set on the very top of the podium. We had a chat with him a couple days after the race and here is what he said.

Slowtwitch: Well Timothy, how are you feeling?

Timothy O’Donnell Well, my shirt says it all.

ST: For our readers who can’t see you, what does it say?

Timothy: Everything hurts and I am dying.

ST: Well, you don’t look like you are dying.

Timothy: I got some serious cankles though. Some days, especially here, you don’t have what you could on another day, regardless of fitness. So every time when it is a single day event it is a bit a roll of the dice. I was proud of the way I fought through it, even though I kind of got dropped at the end of the bike and a couple times during the run.

ST: Going into the race did have a race plan with variables or did you want to see how it would develop and react accordingly?

Timothy: I think the men’s race is too dynamic right now to really have one set strategy. So I kind of had an idea what I wanted to do. I wanted to be at the front during the bike and I wanted to get off in the front, unless there was an outlier, someone that you kind of knew was on a suicide mission. But I knew with the other six guys in that group that someone from that group was going to win. Really my only strategy was to put myself in a position to win the race, and I did that leading into the run. I just did not execute during the run.

ST: How hard was the pace going out on the bike?

Timothy: It was the slowest first 40k I have ever ridden in Kona. I mean it was almost silly, cat and mouse. Everyone was holding their cards close to the chest and I think it changed the race. We let people into the race that may not have been there had we pushed the pace, and other guys we almost gave them a free pass to get back up and not work as hard. Basically not burning as many matches as it usually does getting up to the front. Strategically it probably wasn’t the smartest race for the guys up front unless you are someone like Jan [Frodeno] who is ready to back it up with a good run. We did not set ourselves up for success.

ST: Isn’t it also very difficult in such a group to advance and slot in?

Timothy: The hard part is that there are too many good guys to cover when gaps start to open. Usually when gaps open that is when breaks happen, but there are just too many guys strong enough to close the gap and keep everyone connected. And that held the race together longer. But at about 40k Andi Böcherer went to the front and the pace started to get going and Michi Weiss caught us at the end of the Queen K and then everything started to get hot.

ST: But you were one of the last guys to get dropped. Were you surprised about others who fell off?

Timothy: I am never surprised about the back half of that race, it just gets real, and Sebi [Kienle] attacked through an aid station and I got disconnected there. In my opinion the ad stations needed some more training and needed some more people, especially for a World Championship. There were a couple times where myself and other guys at the front missed some stuff. I had missed some stuff at the aid station before that, so when Sebi attacked through this one I knew if I wanted to survive I needed to keep myself fueled up. So I lost contact there and it took me about 20 miles to crawl back up to them and get on the tail of that group, roughly near the Energy Lab.

ST: I guess you noticed the penalties too?

Timothy: Yeah, I think that thinned it out too.

ST: I think at one time there were 6 guys in the penalty tent.

Timothy: Were they all in the same tent? Was it like Clearwater?

ST: Yup.

Timothy: Definitely some of those needed to be called, but I could not tell you exactly who needed to be called.

ST: I am kind of hyper aware of this stuff but every time I came past the front or watched them go by sitting in the lava field I did not notice any irregularities. The same was really at the very front of the age group race. I did however see folks in that leading pro group having to use their brakes to not get into the draft zone.

Timothy: It is such a hard balance, and if you are not literally reflector to reflector, someone will slot in in front of you. It is just what is going to happen. So then there is a natural reaction time. So when someone sirs up, there is going to be a lag and it is kind of stressful.

ST: Is it less stress full when the group is smaller?

Timothy: Yup, but you are still dealing with dynamics. When I caught back up to those guys and someone else was trying to get 20 seconds into transition. It is a lot of yo-yoing.

ST: What power numbers were you pushing?

Timothy: I was not riding with power, I took my Vector pedals off [before the race] and threw caution into the wind.

ST: No risk no gain?

Timothy: Yes.

ST: Going into the run how did you feel?

Timothy: I felt good, and obviously working with Mark [Allen] I am working on keeping everything in that 150 heart rate range, and I think there were only two sections on they bike, and they were short, where I felt I went kind of above that. So I did not think I was killing my chances on the bike for a good run. Even when I rode back up to the guys I kind of felt like last year, that I was in my rhythm. So yeah, I felt great when I came off the bike. The first few miles of the run I felt fine and then my heart rate popped up 20 beats for some reason and that is when I hit a dark spot. I think I lost like 3 minutes, between mile 4 and 6. Basically lost a ton of time.

ST: But you must have found a second wind.

Timothy: I did, and Hoff said he saw me walking through an aid station on Alii early, and though oh that is going to be a long day. And then going through the Energy Lab I am creeping back up, 10 or 15 seconds behind him. Fitness wise I was there, but I need to figure out some stuff for the run. For me to run the same time as last year on a much faster day is not acceptable. I did something wrong, and for me that should have been a sub 2:50 day. I think I ran 2:52 [actually 2:55], and he [Jan Frodeno] ran 2:45 and Patrick [Lange] ran a 2:39.

ST: Were you surprised when Lange came by?

Timothy: No, I saw him in the Energy Lab, and for me he was one of those guys no one is talking about and he is really good. He ran 2:40 in hot and humid Woodlands, Texas, so I was not surprised for him to run that well in Kona.

ST: Were you in any position to speed up when he passed you?

Timothy: He caught me right when I had another really bad patch where I lost contact with Ben. I had caught Andi and was sitting in fourth place right behind Ben right around mile 21 and then got stomach cramps. Andi saw that and took advantage of that and Patrick came up maybe a minute later.

ST: So you had other things to worry about?

Timothy: Yes it was damage control.

ST: But no one caught you after that?

Timothy: Boris [Stein] got very close, I think it was about 30 seconds, but it was all pride at that point.

ST: Where does this Kona race experience rank?

Timothy: You know, it is hard. I have never gone this fast in Kona, and I haven’t looked at the results of the last year to see where a 8:16 would have placed me. But typically that is a top five or even a podium. I feel that this is maybe the best prepared I was, but I just did not execute well. Last year was obviously my best, and in 2013 I was 5th, but I think this was maybe a better race even with that run.

ST: So what is next?

Timothy: Island House Triathlon. And hopefully that is going to happen. I know they had some storm damage and hopefully everyone is ok there.

ST: Are you taking any break?

Timothy: I will, but I am not sure if I am racing anything else. The last few years I have raced something late in November, but we will see. I did not have the year I wanted to have, so I am thinking do I need to get some more results or just shut it down and get ready for next year? I will talk to Mark when I get home and make the final call.

ST: Any other thoughts?

Timothy: Other than Jan no one is going much faster than men have historically gone, but I don’t remember that tight of a race and that 7 guys had come off the front. It is definitely a level stepping up and it is fun to be part of that challenge.

ST: Onwards to next year.

Timothy: Yeah, I am still going for the win. I could have picked various other races to become an X-time IRONMAN champion, but I made a conscious decision to focus on winning Kona and I am not straying from that now. I made that move to get up to the group so I could win, but I just needed to run faster.

ST: Well, thanks for the chat.

Timothy: You are welcome.