For long course triathletes, Kona represents the pinnacle of personal achievement, and the island of Kailua-Kona (the big island of Hawaii) certainly goes all out for the thousands of incredible athletes that race each year.
A couple of sentences really doesn’t do justice to the effort that goes into getting to Kona, but needless to say it does not go unnoticed by the humble tri-wife. Putting aside the regular sleep disruption (I really miss not being woken up at 5am), the long training sessions that ruin weekend plans and the lack of conversation about topics that don’t relate to swim, bike or run, it is incredibly inspiring to get a behind the scenes view of the dedication it requires to earn a ticket to the big dance.
Despite years of tri-wife training, nothing could have prepared me for race week at Kona. Understandably, nerves were on edge. A lot of time and effort had been invested in getting there and it showed. If you would like a chilled out week holiday-ing with your partner, Kona race week (if they’re racing at least) is not it.
There is however plenty to keep you busy, especially if you yourself dabble in the sport from time to time. The expo is a great way to kill a couple of hours – think any expo you’ve been to previously but on some serious steroids, plus with the fun game of, ‘how much free stuff can you get’ (Matt and I have the full selection of promo trainingpeaks t-shirts …. each). You can also sneak your way into the race week talks and breakfasts and get to hear from some of the legends of Ironman (Cam Wurf, Sarah Crowley, Michelleie Jones and of course, Mike Reilly). And obviously you have your own race day prep to do … where will you stand, what times are they expected to go past, what snacks will you need. (My special Kona race day banner had been sorted for months thanks to a sneaky secret planning session with Nick and Sandra, and Sandra’s expert graphic design, so that was all good)
When the big day arrives, all you can hope for is that their training, prep and hard work pays off … Matt’s were not the only nerves being tested. Up bright and early we got our respective race day gear together and headed to the start. Quite a lot of waiting around later (while Matt was sorting his stuff in transition) it was time to wave him off to the starting pen. When spectating it is key to have people you will be happy hanging out with for a full day …. a day is a long time. For Kona I had our friend Richo and Pete’s wives Hannah and Gillian as my race day company, along with Caleb, Richo’s 3 month old son, adding a new dynamic to the day.
With the amateur supporters busy trying to spot their competitor on the start line and get a few seconds of them dashing into the ocean, if they were lucky, I went off to stake out my spot at the exit to T1. This was not my first rodeo. Spot on the barriers secured I made some new friends with those around me then got my cheer voice warmed up on some pros and randomers before the bright green SBTC kit came into sight. New friendships made, about 5 of us gave a huge cheer to Matt as he went past and then I was off, position 2 to get to. Speed walk up to the bike course and I regrouped with the other tri wives and got a second cheer in as Matt looped back before heading out onto the Queen K. Pat on the back for the successful spectating and it was time to chill out and watch the race coverage of the pros.
Here is where I noticed a key difference supporter wise at Kona. Unlike all events I’ve been to previously, Kona is a single lap on both the bike and run, so there are far fewer opportunities to see your competitor. This might seem a bit rubbish, but when it is blisteringly hot this creates much longer periods when you can go relax in the air con, and when you can put your feet up and generally not end up more sore than they are at the end of the day. Bliss.
A few hours later and we headed out to hot corner. Hot is a bit of an understatement, we were in full sun and I was sweltering. Luckily our timing was pretty great so we weren’t there too long, plus I got a cheer in for Lucy Charles Barclay on the run, before I saw Richo and Matt come in off the bike, and a bit later (quite a bit later for Matt … not the speediest of T2s) come back past as they started the run. Sadly it wasn’t yet time for more air con as it was straight down to Alii Drive to see the guys loop back on the run before heading off towards the energy lab. At this point I felt like my skin was on fire, how on earth were all these mental people running in this heat?! Never mind, air con.
For those that have followed someone on the IRONMAN app before, you know the nerves that build up when your competitor is expected x minutes ago at the last timing point. What’s happened? Are they OK? Luckily this didn’t happen on the bike (when the nerves are 100 times worse due to the increased potential severity of an accident), but there was a notable drop off in pace in the energy lab for Matt. I knew this was a tough part of the course, he was absolutely smashing it generally and he was still moving along (most people would have been delighted at his pace!) … but I also knew he must be finding it really tough to have slowed down that much, so I was relieved to see his pace pick back up as he got back out on the highway, and then all thoughts were on finish line positioning.
It was packed right on the finish line so I picked a spot just after the start of the red m dot carpet and in no time there he was, still running at a blistering pace with the finish line feels well and truly evident – the nerves lifted, he’d finished. And not only that he’d had an absolutely amazing race, cue super proud girlfriend moment.
So that was it, our first Kona. And after a long week building up, the day itself flew by, so with Matt in recovery, I decided to do the same, and headed off to get a much needed beer.