It seems fitting that my whirlwind 4 weeks spent on the Big Island of Hawaii concluded with the arrival of Hurricane Ana which saw many a tourist (and triathlete) prematurely depart. Below is short account of the lead-up and race in Kona.
Prior to my arrival in Hawaii, a lot of friends had warned me of Kona’s polarizing nature in that it triggers a love or hate type response in its visitors. From the moment I touched down in Kona’s open-air airport I was pretty sure I was pro-Kona...as pro-Kona as an amateur can be.
Arriving 3 weeks out meant that the only people out training at this time were keen age-groupers or pros. A good training session was measure by the number of waves one could elicit from Kona’s pro contingent. Training in the weeks leading up to the race was amazing, seeing and training in all the places you’ve seen in the pictures and videos was a surreal experience. The one thing that doesn’t come through in the broadcast or magazine articles is the climate.
This whole acclimatisation thing was new to me. I had hoped that being acclimatized would make running through the energy lab, feel like a stroll around an air-conditioned room. This was not the case. Once acclimatized, I came to the gross realisation that you don’t sweat any less or feel any less uncomfortable outside. The only real difference was, I could still complete simple tasks after returning from a training session. These included but were not limited to: speaking, applying simple logic and retaining the use of one’s motor functions. All fairly useful tools come race day. It took me roughly 2 weeks to acclimatize.
A general day consisted of a morning session, 2nd breakfast post-session, shops, nap, arvo session then dinner. Coffee was of course supplemented at every opportunity, particular given the reputation and quality of good coffee on the island.
From 10 days out, the flood of age-groupers descended upon the island. Panic began ensue as lean, tanned and well outfitted (in terms of equipment) athletes could be seen flogging themselves on every section of ocean, pavement and highway Kona had to offer. The only real consolation was that on a whole, the fashion sense of the population remained low, with calf compression, sandals, sport sunglasses and ironman branded apparel worn casually at every turn.
Pre-race training really didn’t feel too different to regular training given a good number of the Blackfins were present and accounted for in Kona (Chris Van Dorssen, Mike Musk, Rob Taylor and Lee-Anne Flugel). The only exception was extra-curricular activities Kona offers, namely; underpants run, dolphin guided open water swims, the Parade of Nations and volcano expeditions/lava hunting.
By the time race morning arrived, I wasn’t nervous, really just excited. I’d long since given up on worrying about what the weather was going to do as I came to the realisation that predicting weather in Kona is like picking winning lottery numbers, you’d be lucky to get it just partially right just once in your life.
I opted to start wide on the swim to stay out of trouble and got on some straight-shooting feet very early on. These lead me around the turn-around point in just over 27 minutes. I start feeling pretty chuffed with myself only to exit the water in 1hr2mins and find out there were some pretty nasty currents on the return journey.
Onto the bike and the legs felt fresh. There was no shortage of athletes on the early sections of the bike course. I had a couple of friends I knew rode similar bike splits as me which really helped me measure my efforts on the way out. The massive groups didn’t last long as they started to splinter in headwinds through Waikoloa, the climb to Hawi and the penalty box at the turn-around . The ride back to Kona was a bit more solitary. Solitary and tough. The only real comfort I enjoyed were some strong tailwinds back through Waikoloa which had me riding 70km/h with little effort. As I was doing some rough calculations to see how many minutes I was going to demolish my previous best bike split, the winds quickly swung around and became a headwind again and remained that way all the way to T2. Thanks Kona.
The run started very quickly. The first section is an 8km out and back along Ali’i drive which is Kona’s seaside promenade and tends to suck you along at quite a pace. Team Australia support was rife along Ali’i drive which was also where my parents and many other familiar faces could be seen. It was amazing having so many people to look out for. Back up the hill at 16km really feels like the halfway point and the atmosphere was electric. Music was blaring and I remember feeling like pulling in for a quick dance with the crowds. This all changes when you head back into the lava fields. All of a sudden there was NO-ONE around, spectators or competitors. I had some company as I moved through the energy lab relatively unscathed. On the climb out of the lab my new friend slowed and I was once again by myself. At this point the only thing going through my head were Matt Burton’s words “all that is left now is the longest and hardest city to surf race of your life”. I continued to pick up a few more positions on the way back to town. At the 40km mark, I ran by an older competitor who had just begun his marathon, he shouted out some advice as I moved by “don’t go out too hard, there’s a whole marathon ahead”...I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the whole marathon was actually behind. The final stretch along Ali’i drive to the finish was over in an instant. It was a wall of noise. I attempted to throw out a few high 5’s but it seemed futile as I missed every single one. Up the finish ramp, I managed a little dance as I crossed the line. You could not wipe the smile off my face.
I could never have predicated the race was going to come together like it did. Many people had a lot of faith in me, more so than I had in myself at times. The support I had from everyone was totally humbling. From the many messages before and after the race to the friends and family that were on the sidelines calling out words of encouragement. I have a few thankyous which are long overdue.
The first must go to my coach Mike Gee. I had the perfect lead in to Kona, which was a result of a well built training program factoring in my condition on a weekly basis. He hatched a race strategy a few weeks out and it worked to near perfection. This sort of thing doesn’t happen by chance, it comes from an attentive coach who knows where you’re at even when you don’t yourself.
I’d like to once again thank Lauren Shelley for having me along for a good block of track sessions. These really were imperative in rebuilding some of my running confidence. Also, for being the best Physio in the land and helping to keep me injury free.
To all the boys at Ride Advice Cyclery, thanks for looking after me. You have helped me get on a bike I just love to ride and have great confidence in. This doesn’t stop me from visiting you hundreds of times per week so thanks for putting up with me.
Lastly, to family and friends, thanks for your unwavering support. Triathlon and Ironman in particular is an incredibly selfish pastime. Thanks for understanding that “it’s not you, it’s me”.