One thing is for sure: Ironman racing is not for everyone. But for Guam’s Kilhak “Killy” Kunimoto, training for the intense endurance races and competing in them get him up in the morning.
At 70 years old, he still has something to prove – to himself and to the island’s manåmko'.
“I am doing this, so that I can show it can be done," Kunimoto said. "And over 70 years doesn’t mean have to sit on rocking chair yet."
On Aug. 11, Kunimoto sped to a second-place finish at Ironman 70.3 Philippines in Cebu. There were only two competitors in the men’s 70-74 age division, he and Masayoshi Watanabe.
Kunimoto edged even closer to his old nemesis.
Kunimoto, in 7 hours, 22 seconds, finished just behind Watanabe, who topped the podium with a time of 6 hours, 56 minutes, 10 seconds.
“Overall, I am very happy,” Kunimoto said. “So I said, ‘happy defeat’ to everyone."
The difference between them is now "only three minutes,” Kunimoto said. “I can do it next time.”
After the first two legs of the super triathlon, Kunimoto had a big lead. And heading into the run, he knew he needed every second of the banked time.
“I have been practicing very hard on bike,” Kunimoto said. “He was about 10 minutes faster than my last race, just wanted to reduce the difference between Wata and me because I know he is very strong on run. He was about 30 minutes faster than my last race.”
Kunimoto, with only seven years of triathlon experience, is already recognized in his age group as the Ironman No. 10 world-ranked athlete. With each race, he learns and improves. In past races, he spent too much time letting the ocean push him around.
“I felt good during my swim, not wasting my energy like I used to,” Kunimoto said. “I am a little bit faster to draft someone. I followed one guy most of the way.”
Despite finishing the swim four minutes off his personal record, Kunimoto finished over five minutes faster than Watanabe (52:51).
“I felt really good when I saw that Watanabe’s bike was still at the transit,” said Kunimoto, who exited the water in 47:32.
Still, Kunimoto knew he couldn’t let up. Even if he recorded a personal best on the bike, which he did by two minutes, Kunimoto feared Watanabe’s run.
“I just rode bike, telling me to be efficient, (work on) my form, hand position, (and) constant cadence,” said Kunimoto, finishing the bike in 3:10:07. “I just wanted to get my PR on my bike, which I did by two minutes.”
As Watanabe pedaled through Cebu, Kunimoto thought for the first time he might actually beat the world-ranked No. 6 endurance athlete.
A fresh Kunimoto said, “I didn't have too much pain when I got off the bike.”
“And when I came to the transition, I still didn't see Wata's bike. I still ahead of him. But I knew he was strong on run. I felt like maybe I beat him this time."
Watanabe, finishing the bike in 3:14:05, nearly four minutes slower than Kunimoto, soon reeled in the Guamanian.
“I saw him at 5-kilometer point, I (was) still … a good 800 meters ahead of him," Kunimoto said.
Seven kilometers into the run, Watanabe caught Kunimoto.
“Whoa, finally he came," Kunimoto said. "I knew he would.”
For the next 2 kilometers, they battled.
Nine kilometers into the run, "he slowed down ... so I passed him," Kunimoto said.
“I picked up speed and increase the distance, but it was too soon to do that," he said. "I lost most of my leg power and he came back and caught me at 19 kilo."
Kunimoto commended Watanabe's strategy, a nod to his world ranking.
“Yep, he had a better race plan than me. Yep, he is No. 6 in global, I can see that.”
Kunimoto, who has been working too much lately and not training as much as he prefers, said, “I struggle to find the time. I had to skip training because of late meetings, but that is OK. We just do the best we can.”
Still, Kunimoto is a competitor and he's hoping to find more efficient training methods that utilize less hours and produce more results.