The Road to Kona

See how these pros and age-groupers prepared for the Big Island.

When 45-year-old age group athlete and Coach Jen Rulon of San Antonio, Texas crosses the finish line in Kona this year, it will be the proud culmination of a goal she set for herself more than 15 years ago.

A 12-time IRONMAN finisher, Rulon has had her sights dead-set on Kona ever since she watched the famous "Iron War" on NBC in 1989. "I told my family right then and there that I would do that race by the time I was 30," says Rulon.

And she came close more than once, including missing her Kona slot by one placing and a mere 84 seconds.

To come so close ignited a fire within Rulon that led her to change career paths, go back to school to get her degree in kinesiology, and start coaching triathlon full time. "I realized how much I loved coaching and so I decided I wanted to continue to be a part of other people's successes."

But her resolve to get that slot lingered. Using her new depth of sports science knowledge and TrainingPeaks, Rulon has been able to not only coach several athletes to success, but also to hone in on her own training goals with her own coach, Brandon Marsh.

Together, they focused on improving her bike power and her marathon pace. "I hired Brandon for a reason, I trust him and his plan and his process," says Rulon. "And with TrainingPeaks, he can help keep me accountable to our plan and my goal."

In August of 2017 at IRONMAN Mont Tremblant, Rulon snagged that coveted spot on the Kona start line.

Read more about Rulon's 15-year-long Kona journey.

To improve her marathon time, Rulon did a 90-minute run progression set like this one. You can export this workout directly to your compatible Garmin device by clicking below.

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American pro triathlete and Olympian Andy Potts stakes his claim at the IRONMAN World Championship every year when he exits the water well ahead of the rest of the pack. The former University of Michigan All-American swimmer and 2007 70.3 world champion will toe the line of his seventh IRONMAN World Championship this year, but with two top-five Kona finishes, seven IRONMAN titles (and 27 IRONMAN 70.3 titles) to his name, Potts is always in the Big Island running.

In addition to his swimming prowess, Potts is also known for his willingness to change things up in his training, his predilection for solo workouts, his gear experimentations and his constant pursuit of excellence under the tutelage of his one-and-only triathlon coach, Mike Doane.

"I've changed my strategy for Kona as the years have gone by because the race required it and because I've had different goals," explains Potts. "At the end of the day there aren't many places to hide in the lava fields, so you have to be prepared for a mental and physical challenge."

Potts and his coach rely on TrainingPeaks to track Potts' training and to compare his Kona builds to those of years past. "My favorite part of TrainingPeaks is to be able to look back over many years of training and spot trends, to understand what has and has not not worked and to also give myself confidence to look at the work we have done."

This year, the numbers, as well as Potts own state of mind, led him to focus on long, outdoor rides, as opposed to his usual intense indoor-training regimen. He started off his new outdoor training protocol by climbing everything he could find in and around his Colorado Springs training base.

"Pikes Peak became a ritual, and I have seen my cycling and comfort improve dramatically as the year progressed," says Potts. "My hope is that it will pay off with my bike and run this year—hopefully both!"

Read on to learn what four key areas Potts believes any age-group athlete needs to focus on in order to elevate their triathlon game.

This year will mark Eduardo della Maggiora's second time in Kona, but his first attempt since leaving his corporate job in Chile and moving to Boulder, Colo. to train full-time under the direction of former professional triathlete Michael Lovato. "I'm taking the next few years to really discover where my limit is, both mentally and physically," explains Maggiora.

The famous NBC IRONMAN broadcast has launched thousands of IRONMAN journeys throughout the years, but one could argue few of them have been as meteoric as that of 37-year-old Maggiora, who in a little less than three years of competing has qualified for two 70.3 World Championships, raced Kona, finished third overall at IRONMAN Florida and gone sub-9-hours at the IRONMAN distance—all with little-to-no previous swimming, biking or running experience.

Maggiora is a true student of the sport—and of data-driven training in general. He's read well over a hundred books on multisport training, and he is an avid user of TrainingPeaks and Best Bike Split, the latter of which he used to nail his bike pacing on the challenging 2017 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship bike course.

Maggiora, an engineer by trade, has relied heavily on data to help prepare him for each race. "I'm a big PMC guy," he explains. "I do an analysis on past races and my form before each one, and I aim to recreate those numbers before each race." Maggiora pays particularly close attention to his CTL, both combined and singularly across swim, bike and run, in order to gauge his progress toward every race.

"I think having a coach like Michael, who is such a knowledgeable TrainingPeaks user has made a huge difference in my training," says Maggiora. "I track my form to see my fatigue levels, and if I see that those numbers are too negative for several days—I send a note to him and we adjust accordingly. It makes it so easy to stay on top of it."

Learn more about Maggiora's journey from finance entrepreneur and philanthropist to aspiring Kona podium finisher.

By all accounts, pro triathlete Heather Jackson is poised to become the first American woman to win the IRONMAN World Championship since 1996. Her third-place finish last year sent a message to her female competitors that she was one to watch in 2017—and she's been planning her route to the top ever since.

The Princeton hockey team captain and former Team USA track cyclist is known for her fierce competitiveness, huge smile and punk-rock look.

After her fifth-place finish in 2015, Jackson amicably parted ways with her coach of three years, Cliff English, and began training under the guidance of fellow pro Joe Gambles. The fresh take on her training proved to be a smart move—she went on to crush the IRONMAN Lake Placid female course record in 2016 in a time of 9:09:42, and followed it up with her bronze-medal performance in Kona in a time of 9:11:32.

For Jackson, what Gambles provided was a much-needed focus on her swim and marathon—and most importantly a fresh take on her confidence in her own abilities.

Gambles, known for his speed on the run, has a casual confidence to him that has been a huge influence on her believing in her racing abilities more than ever before. "When I tell him I was able to stay with the lead girls in a swim, he'll just turn to me and say ‘Yes Heather. You should always be up there with those girls. Why are you surprised?' and I'll be like ‘Oh! Okay, you're right!'"

In addition to helping Jackson with her swim and run, Gambles also introduced her to the world of bike power and other important training metrics, which he tracks closely in TrainingPeaks. "I had never really ridden with a power meter," admits Jackson. "And it's been interesting. I don't obsess over the numbers, but I like that it's something to look at to gauge how I'm hitting my efforts. And Joe looks at all of it, and really dials into my heart rate and power and everything else."

Learn more about Heather Jackson's thoughts on what makes a good coach great, as well as her 2017 Kona training strategy.

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Big Island Breakdown

Course tips from Dave Scott, pro race predictions, race week coverage and race day analysis.


Dave Scott's IRONMAN® Insights

In this exclusive video series by six-time IRONMAN Champion Dave Scott, you'll learn all you need to know about this legendary course, so you can plan your best race, or even just get the motivation you need to qualify for next year.


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Follow us on Facebook and get access to our stellar Facebook Live lineup, including six-time IRONMAN champion Dave Scott, age-group standouts Jen Rulon and Eduardo della Maggiora, and IRONMAN Live's Michael Lovato.

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