The World Championships have been coming to Kona since 1980 (the first two were held on the more populous and smaller island of at O’ahu). This means that the operation is slick. The impressive transition area is housed on a very small pier – less than half a rugby field in size, and the finish line is on the main beachfront road – Ali’i Drive. The whole setup is undertaken on Thursday, and by Friday morning, the bike check-in opens.
All through race weekend there are volunteers at check-in, at registration, on the swim course, around town, on race day etc… it really is fantastic to see what these people do to make this race possible.
On the morning of the race, you arrive earlier than most Ironman races, as you have to get body marked with a temporary number sticker and then be weighed. The weighing is partly to determine if you’re too fat to race (I just snuck in). It actually serves as a useful measure to determine your level of hydration or hyponatremia should you collapse during or after the race, or if you are submitted to the medical tent for any reason. Tim Noakes used some of this data when writing his book Waterlogged on the effects of over-hydration in endurance racing. I would suggest anyone coming to Kona reads this book as one source of information when planning your race and travel.
The non-wetsuit swim and mass floating start (you’re in the water – not off the beach) both add a different element to the advent of proceedings. The swimsuit that I picked up at the expo (soooo much cheaper than in SA, and you’re going to have a lot of choice) was well worth it. I won’t get into the specifics of the race here, but if you are racing in Kona either borrow a swimsuit or take a few extra dollars along and buy one at the expo beforehand. They are not like wetsuits which may restrict arm movement but more like a very tight fitting tri suit made with water repelling and non-flexible material.
Leaving my race out of the story for now, we move onto the finish line party. A unique part of this race is that there are very few slow people. And I mean this with all due respect to those for whom finishing an Ironman is a challenge in itself. The race dynamic is that 40 odd male pros arrive in under 9 hours. Then about 25 females around the 9-hour mark, and then there is a steady stream of age groupers.
These are the fastest age groupers in the world – most of them have podiumed at one of the multitude of Ironman events and there is very little separating them on the day. However, there are still the mature categories, some physically challenged athletes, a few fundraising slots, and local athletes. From about 10:00 pm, most athletes have gone home to shower, and returned to celebrate these heroes. For me, this was a huge highlight. I saw an 84-year-old Japanese man I’d met at the Underpants Run cross the line with a few minutes to spare, and then he was followed by two 70-something females who were struggling to stay upright.
Finally, as the rain that would’ve been welcomed earlier in the heat poured down on Ali’i Drive, the first double amputee to finish the World Champs crossed the line. Without arms, he swam on his back only kicking. Then rode by using his chin for gearing, knees for applying brakes, and steered using his chest… and then he ran home. Perspective….
The next day was the Awards function. It was very much like a normal Ironman awards function, except the podium was 5 deep and not 3 and you receive a big wooden salad bowl as your prize!! Unfortunately, this year there were no South Africans up there. We were very close with 2 of my Trifactri training mates achieving a 6th and 7th place.
Finally, the after-parties became quite raucous. I do have some incriminating evidence of drinking out of salad bowls, crazy dancing, and some general drunkenness – but what happens in Kona…! This is also a really good chance to chat with some pro athletes from around the world. At the closure of one of the last parties, our Dodge 7 seater was apparently the preferred Uber vehicle for the pro’s and their families.
The next few days were spent swimming with dolphins, turtles, and manta rays, drinking the local beer, eating some horrible fast and delicious slow food, visiting a volcano and packing.
I’ll be writing a race recap shortly and get something out to you soon.