I am all ironed out.
But that’s what you get for world championship spectathloning.
Marit was up at 4 am eating a delectable breakfast of Ensure, oatmeal and baby food bananas.
I’m thinking right now those are as good as curse words to her.
Anyways, she was up then we were up then we were out. Hoofed it down to the swim start to get a good peek into the bay. I ended up in the bay – somehow – along with my shoes and orthotics which made for a very wet and smelly feet day.
The swim start at Kona is always exciting. Enter nearly 2000 overconfident, antsy, pent up, nervous triathletes and you can just feel the energy. The cannon goes off, the pros swim then 15 minutes later the age groupers go off.
After some coffee, we headed up to the hot corner. Triathletes come charging on to Kuakini for the first 10 miles of the ride. Most leave their ride there. Of note we witnessed one classic crash, a man racing while talking on his cell phone and … the best but worst part when some European “accidentally” kicked over my coffee and I screamed PARTY FOUL which elicited a series of “sorry, so sorry” in a thick accent.
We headed over for breakfast then back to the condo for rest. Quickly the day passes. But that’s what happens when you have world champions racing. They are just too damn fast. I was napping when Chris told me that the lead men were coming down Ali’i. Time to wake up!
Once out there it was clear that today was hot. No cloud cover and the sun was beating down, reflecting off the black pavement to make it feel even hotter. I continually reapplied sunscreen but still ended up red.
The lead men came by. I knew that Craig Alexander would win. I knew it before the race started and once I saw him running along Ali’i. He always looks to be in complete control. I also think that because he only does one Ironman a year he makes himself even more of a threat. Maybe it makes him that much more hungry or that much more fresh.
The lead women – or shall I say woman came by with her usual smile and grace. Little did I know I was standing right next to Chrissie Wellington’s entire GB cheering crew. They were waving British flags and cheering for her like mad. She had a substantial lead and you could tell a record would be broken today.
The rest of the pros came running by. Some looked good, some not so good. The race pretty much played out as I thought it would. I thought it was quite interesting how many of the “classic” contenders completely flopped or DNFed. Here’s the deal: I think some people are just doing too many Ironmans. In ten years I’d like someone to study the cumulative damages of racing more than one Ironman a year. Look at the kidneys, joints and hormone levels. I think you can drain your body quickly if you do too many too often. Of course the pros need to make a living off the sport and need to compete but – at what cost I ask?
The age groupers started rolling out on to the course. Like the pros, some looked good, some not so good. What I find most interesting about Kona is that when athletes blow up in Kona it is absolutely classic. What you have are some of the best athletes in the world on one course. Most come here thinking they will get their sub 1-hour swim, their sub 5:30 bike and theyll run a sub 3:30 marathon. And when that is threatened you see the complete breakdown of athletes that just are not used to falling behind or getting off their goal pace. Some just give up – like the woman who told me it was ok that she was walking because Michellie Jones was laying in the road a few miles away. Some keep pressing forward and know that this is Kona, it’s different.
Not only that but it’s hard as hell! I don’t think people realize that. Really. Those of us that have been here get it. We know it’s different out there. There are things you don’t know! The air blows different here and it heats up like your kitchen when the oven is on during a hot summer day.
After a few hours in the sun, we decided to head up to the Queen K. We rented a bike from a nearby hotel. I would call the bike a piece of shit but it had two wheels and got me around quicker than my feet. Still, it was a piece of shit. Imagine a rusted 30 pound bike with flat pedals and foot brakes. When was the last time you used foot brakes? Maybe I was 8? I could not master the art of braking then stopping. I also could not get up a hill unless I charged it and in the process dropped my husband on his Cervelo P3.
I’m pretty sure I was pushing out 400 watts there.
As we turned off Palani, I voted the Germans the most drunk spectators. They had a tent, loud music and I finally heard what has to be the soundtrack of hell: German reggae. Yikes. Up on the Queen K things were starting to unravel. Damn I do not miss doing this race. It seems more uphill than I remember and felt even hotter. We were riding along the highway convincing athletes to stick with it, keep it up, or – my favorite – walk like you have somewhere to go. Get moving! When I saw Michael Lovato walking, I told him PICK IT UP LOVATO! He said a cute “ok” and started shuffling!
Up and down the Queen K, cheering for Marit, convincing Joy to keep pushing, waiting for Kris, screaming like crazy for anyone and everyone and I realized something…
No one really looks like they were having a good time.
And I’m comparing that to Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, most athletes just looked genuinely happy to just be in the game. They would talk with me, laugh, make jokes, mostly they just looked alive out there! Out here, I could barely get a smile, or eye contact or any response at all. I’m sure 50 percent couldn’t understand a damn word I said because they didn’t speak the language. But what about the other 50 percent? Is this focus? Is this strain?
It became apparent that everyone was taking this very seriously. From the moment they arrived on this island an intensity set into their eyes that burned like the sun. It’s not about having fun here – but it should be. Really, it should be.
I don’t know. What do I know. Not much. I’ve been there, done it twice. I know the pain. But I also know you can enjoy it. It’s Hawaii. Take it all in, and enjoy the day. Smile like you mean it. Be grateful for the opportunity to do something so amazing in such an amazing place.
Kona looked empty this year. If you finish beyond 11 hours, you’re in for a lonely race. It gets spread out and you find yourself clicking off the miles, 22, 23, 24 mostly by yourself. The highway was scattered with sponges, cups and other assorted treasures. We took lots of pictures of the treasures that people threw at us while standing along Ali’i. Andy Potts threw a Gatorade cup at me. Thanks, I’ll lick that along with my hand. A woman threw an entire Amphipod pouch at me. Lucky for me it contained two packages of shot blocks. Which I may or may not have taken – and eaten later along the Queen K. Fuel Belt bottles, heart rate monitor straps. You could probably outfit yourself in entirely new tri gear if you stood around long enough.
Marit looked tough, along with Joy, Kris, Ange, Bree, Michelle, both Adams, Adrienne, Haley and my new friend Kelzie. Toughness counts in Kona and it gets you across the finish line. The longer you are out there the tougher you are. As we rode back to the condo, in the darkness of night, only a few were left running. In the dark. Mostly alone. Now that’s a long day.
Marit arrived back at the condo. She was chatty, she was smelly (her words) and she had already swore off Ironman. I told her to refrain from making any major decisions about sports, puppies, babies or major purchases for at least another 3 weeks. She said ok.
We all ate ice cream. It was probably the best ice cream I’ve ever had. So I had about 5 bowls. I earned it. I may not have done the Ironman but watching it I must have burned at least … 10 calories.
Tomorrow Marit and her husband leave for Oahu, Chris and I will stay behind. Sunday after Ironman is always a good day. Everyone on the island finally exhales. And eats cinnamon buns. As fun as that sounds, we’re renting a car and heading to the other side of the island. I hear there’s a volcano there. And a beautiful valley. I’ve got to take advantage of the next two days because back at home I hear it’s already snowing.