I wrote recently about how I found myself heading to Kona. To recap, it was a shock but I intended to enjoy every second, even if I knew I wouldn’t be finishing anywhere near the best. Kona is so incredibly difficult to get in to and I was extremely happy to just be going; my entire experience in Hawaii was guided by this feeling. I was going to soak it all in, not miss anything, even at the expense of R&R before the big day.
Kona is everything and more and when I refer to Kona I mean the town, people, expo, events and, of course, the race itself. I arrived the Tuesday before race day and headed straight to the hotel which was 6 miles from the start/finish/transition along Ali’i Drive. From the beginning I was blown away by the sheer number of athletes running and riding along Ali’i – it was packed the entire week. In hindsight, these were not only competitors but mostly friends, family and people “working” the race.
Pros were everywhere, running and riding along Ali’i, at the Expo – I was star struck. The Kona expo itself was like no other Ironman; all the brands were there and all were very generous with their giveaways. Cervelo offered a free VIP tune-up which I took full advantage of, thanks to some bike packing/unpacking damage. They also gave a Cervelo Kona t-shirt to every athlete with a Cervelo at bike drop-off. I could go on and on about the swag that was given to athletes leading up to the race but this report would be rather long, if it isn’t already!
The bike drop-off was another Kona specific experience. As you took your bike along the path towards transition there was a line of men and women checking each brand of component, helmet, shoe, bike, computer, seat etc. All for the famous bike count, a litmus test of the trends in the triathlon community. It was strangely intimidating.
As for the race itself, I will leave that to others to tell in detail. The course was everything it is famous for. Hot, windy and hilly. The swim had some fairly large swells but was otherwise uneventful – for an ironman swim! Unfortunately, I did not see the dolphins others were lucky enough to swim with. The bike was incredibly fast in sections, thanks to a tailwind but was also soul destroyingly slow when the headwinds showed themselves. The run was hot and, in my case, disappointingly slow. But as I have mentioned, my race at Kona wasn’t about competing, it was about embracing the experience. I didn’t expect to set any PB’s and I certainly didn’t!
This quote sums up how I felt about my race. “What I found most interesting was that nearly everyone I talked to had lost the battle in some way, some big, some small. It wasn’t that they’d had terrible races but they knew that this race had still beaten them, they knew there was a better version of themselves still out there.” Beven James Seyles
And then there is the finish. An Ironman finish is something you have to experience to know exactly how amazing it is. Kona is a whole other level. I don’t know whether the crowds are larger or louder or whether it is just knowing you are finishing at KONA but it was like nothing I had ever experienced. I had a stupid grin on my face for the last 1km. The crowds were cheering “you are at Kona”, “this is the World Championship, you did it!”. I had to force myself not to cry. I was going to smile and love every second. And I did.
One day I will go back. Any opportunity I am lucky enough to have to go there…I will; as a spectator or racer. There is simply nothing like it. I would suggest that if you are interested in triathlon at all, you should think about making the trip.
And I know – “The more I practice, the luckier I get” – Jerry Barber