Fall has arrived in northeastern Illinois. Today the gray skies sit against the bright yellows, crisp browns and warm reds of the leaves. The temperature is chilly and rain is falling.
Less than 24 hours ago I was doing my last early morning run down Alii Drive. I ran over to the aquatic center to swim before running back to the condo. A cup of coffee at Lava Java. And then a sad but sunny good bye.
I'm not sure which time zone my body is in right now or which day it is. I slept 3 hours on the plane, got home, pumped myself full of dark roast and found myself skipping around the parking lot of the grocery store before 8 am because I had some overcaffeinated energy to burn.
I miss Hawaii already. The house is cold and the raindrops are falling. I thought I would revisit the race and the island with some photos...enjoy!
Here's Chris at the pre-race check in. If you want to feel insecure, fat or underprepared go check your bike in at Kona! Everyone is riding top of the line bikes and everyone has an aero helmet. Thomas and I sat on the wall alongside the road watching the competitors. Phil White from Cervelo stood a few feet away handing out Cervelo shirts to all of the competitors riding Cervelos. Zipp representatives were giving away visors for all those riding Zipp wheels. Amidst all of this you could see the fear and anxiety in the competitors eyes making for a very busy, antsy scene.
This is the best damn idea I've seen in a long time! I am not sure if the tape held - but this guy had taped his C02 cartridge and dispenser into the tail of his aero helmet. You will see many uses for tape at bike check in.
I don't think many of the competitors at Kona are prepared for how truly desolate and harsh the Queen K can be. You hear a lot of "it was hot, it was windy". Yes, it's a freakin' volcano! This picture paints how lonely and long the road is at times. If you had visions of a tropical paradise with palm trees and blue waters - those visions are out there - miles away at the shore. Come race day, this is what you see for hours.
Here's Craig Alexander running along Alii Drive. Notice two things: the word WATERSTRAAT written on the ground to the left of him (!) and his appearance. He is the most focused and fluid runner I have ever seen. He truly gets into a zone and looks unshakable. It is like his eyes become fixated on his goal and he doesn't stop until he arrives.
Faris Al-Sultan sort of lopes along. He is lanky and scruffy. While others are clean shaven and proper, he runs by hairy with a speedo. Go Faris! Bend the rules. Be your hairy bad ass self.
This is Cait Snow. Cait was the female pro winner of Ironman Lake Placid. Simply put, girl can run. She clocked a sub 3-hour run on that course. She covered the Kona marathon in 3:01. When she passed me on Alii Drive she was all smiles and giggling uncontrollably.
Here is Chris running along the Queen K. The run course follows the first part of the bike course. I'm not sure most people realize how lonely the run course can feel. It is nearly devoid of spectators and on the most black pavement you have ever seen. Add to that the fact that there is no shade, a 13,000+ foot volcano to your right and the sky is engulfed in vog (volcanic fog) and you get a run course like nowhere else. Though there are nearly 2000 competitors in the race, out here you feel very much alone.
Normann Stalder runs by along Alii Drive - the first part of the marathon. To the right is the ocean literally a few yards away from the road. To the left is mostly condos, hotels. These 10 miles of the course are filled with spectators - both triathlon spectators and locals hanging out at the beaches along the way.
Rachel Ross runs by sticking out her tongue! She may be fast but I'll tell you that she didn't make it look easy. You could tell that Rachel was giving it her all. Sometimes I wonder if we all realize how hard athletes like Rachel or other age group world champions (Rachel has won her AG at Kona twice) really work. Some of it is talent but most of it is just the raw, pure work where you dig deep, push aside the pain and talk yourself into believing you will make it out alive on the other side (across the finish line). No secret other than that. Champions feel the same hurt, heat, wind, pain - they just push past it harder.
Yvonne Van Vlerken runs by in second place. Yvonne had a relatively "slow" swim of 1:06 (by Kona standards) - nearly 10 minutes behind the leaders yet biked and ran her way into a 2nd overall finish. Goes to show that on race day - anything can happen. Ironman is a long day - and it's anyone's to win.
The Waterstraat cheering section in full force along Alii Drive. Three cowbells, two Trisports.com shirts and one hot pregnant chick (Chris' younger sister) - can any other cheering squad boast that? We tatooed the street with the names of everyone we knew that was competing and rang the bells loud.
Another shot of the marathon around 10 hours into the race. You will notice the runners go both ways. It's not uncommon to run into someone as you get into "the zone" out there. At this point in the race, Thomas and I realized you could say anything to the competitors and they wouldn't even know. They all returned the same blank stares. The look of Ironman. Out there you see the full range of human emotions. Pro or age grouper - I saw them crying, walking, laughing, hurting at different parts of the race. Along this part of the road - around mile 21 - you will see some unraveling as others run steadily by. Some stop to throw up, others take a squat in the shrubs, a few steps later Chris sipmly sat down.
Bella Comerford is one of my favorite athletes. Her coach, Brett Sutton, has said of her that she is not as talented as most but works hard. He calls her a soldier. She has won two Ironmans this year and finished Kona in the top 10. One word when I saw her - GRIT. Grit is what it takes. You cannot learn grit - it is something you feel and do. When I saw her I could see the grit in her face. Grit is looking pain, headwind, heat in the face and saying GIVE ME MORE, I'm ready, I've trained for this day all year and I'll give it whatever it takes. I'll never forget that look.
Belinda Granger is one of the cutest people I have ever seen. When I noticed her at the Power Bar breakfast she was talking excitedly with much animation. She is also - as you can see - one lean machine out there. She took control of the race on the bike and at some point fell back on the run. When I saw her running down Palani around mile 24 she was chatting away with another competitor.
Here comes Chrissie Wellington. The girl is an animal. 100 percent pure animal that tears apart the course. She was running out there like it was a 10K. She is a complete contrast to someone like Craig Alexander. While he always looks cool, collected and focused, she looks hungry, passionate and on fire. The look on her face says it all.
The infamous Energy Lab around dusk. You cannot bring your bike inside, so many left bikes here and walked inside to cheer. Thomas and I waited outside the lab letting Chris wrestle with his demons by himself. The Energy Lab is a mere 3 miles or so of the race but it comes around 16 - 18; a point in which hours in the sun and wind either leave you charged up to get the race done or falling apart wondering how you'll make it to the end.
Joanna Lawn running down Alii Drive early in the marathon. Notice the "one compression sock." This was quite common this year. She's built a little differently than most triathletes - tall, sturdy.
Chris rides up the hill on Palani in the first five minutes of the bike. Chris was one of the few people sitting and spinning up the hill. Many were out of the saddle, feet on top of shoes, attacking up the hill. Seriously? There's 111 more miles to go. Give it time.
Riding back along the Queen K, Thomas sees a sign with Twinkies taped to it. He couldn't help himself. When he asked if I wanted one I said no way dude! Those things are made of toxic materials and have been out in the sun so long they have morphed into to something else. He disregarded this and shoved the Twinkie into this mouth.
Hope you enjoyed revisiting these moments with me. I feel warm now!