That's what I want to write about here - my Kona EXPERIENCE. I have told most people in conversation that ask what was Kona like, that the experience was awesome but the race wasn't all I had dreamed it would be. Don't get me wrong - it was memorable for so many reasons. So why was the overall experience so great and the race less so?
Lets start with the race. First and foremost, with my injury it was going to be almost impossible to break the magical 10 hour mark. I had carried the injury for nearly 4 months in the build up to Kona. And so it proved - a 4:24 marathon was not going to be good enough and the bike was probably 8-10 minutes slower than I had planned. Then lets look at the transition times: over 8 minutes spent in transition? People told me that the transition times tend to be slow in Kona due to the distances, but the winner, Patrick Lange, managed just over 4 minutes so surely I shouldn't be double? My overall time certainly wasn't double his: Patrick finished 1st overall in 8:01:40 and I finished in 10:48:08. Statistics and more statistics. I don't know what it is about analysing stats post race? Maybe in some way I try to find answers to what happened on the day or maybe I think that the next race will be better if I understand everything about what happened in this race. Yes, ofcourse statistics help with analysis and finding ways to improve, but at my level and my age every IronMan I enter will have its own challenges and will probably not be comparable to the previous ones. As they say in the classics: "IronMan guarantees nothing" and in Kona this is more true than most IronMan destinations. The combination of the heat, humidity, wind and just the fact that it is World Champs and the most dreamt about race in the world to participate in, all add up to make this a very unpredictable race. Kona is simply like no other - I reckon every athlete puts more pressure on themselves in this race than any other. That's what World Champs should be - a physical and mental test.
So what do I really believe 'went wrong'? As I mentioned right upfront, it is now 2 months later and hindsight is always easy. Injury apart, I do believe my body did not fire like it should have on the day - I am talking here mainly about on the bike. My swim was pretty good - cutting under the hour mark by 2 minutes was where I wanted to be to get my day off to a good start. In fact it felt like a pretty easy swim. I got into a great rhythm early on - that was after my goggles got knocked off once and then filled up with water another 2 times forcing me to stop and adjust. Patience was something many people preach for this race - its a long day - and a lot can happen.
Considering I was doing pretty much no running and only cycling and swimming and still averaging over 14 hours per week, should mean that those 2 disciplines should have been super strong. In all honesty I believe I was tired. What? The medical professionals I have seen since my return: sports doctor, physiotherapist & biokineticist all said that the injuries and ailments are the result of longer term effects of not looking after my body through proper recovery, sleep, massage, not enough supplementary training and basically just pounding away at the same three disciplines for hours and hours and hours. I am my own worst enemy - I treated this race more seriously than any other and with that came crammed in hours of training where ever possible. In my mind I constantly felt that the more I do the better I would perform. There are so many things I have learned and with my 20 years in the sport should have applied. One of the most obvious is "quality over quantity". Easy to say now - I was caught up in preparing for Kona World Champs - the ultimate race on that mythical Island of Hawaii. There is nothing like it.
Family, work, sleep and training - trying to balance those when you are preparing for Kona are nearly impossible. The 'training' part outweighs everything else - not even a question - just ask my family! I believe I was mentally and physically tired. Not the tired you feel after having one night of bad sleep, but the tiredness of constantly not letting your mind and body recover the way it should. Day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out and in fact even year in and year out will eventually lead to tiredness. I am not making excuses at all and I believe most Age Groupers find themselves in these situations if they have competed for any length of time. That is just what we do, because we love the sport and we love competing, both against ourselves and against others. Those that know me well, will know I am not hugely gifted but my work ethic and discipline is probably higher than most. It has got me far and will hopefully still get me further. Kona 2017 is history and I was part of it and have the medal to prove it - no one can EVER take that away from me. It was amazing and I have incredibly vivid memories of many minute moments from that day. They will be with me always.
Now for the 'experience'. For 2 weeks of my life I lived & trained like a pro. I certainly found myself feeling like one many times while on the BIG Island. How could I ever dream of more? I was on cloud 9, I loved it, I will remember it, I will cherish it and most importantly I will be forever grateful and thankful to my family for letting me live this experience. You can't not feel special when you are on an island with over 2000 of the very best long distance triathletes in the world. Every single person is in the shape of their lives and you feel the energy & adrenalin everywhere. 2 spectacular memories are swimming next to the then IronMan world champ, Jan Frodeno, in the training pool and exchanging a few words. The same Jan Frodeno I found myself cycling behind along the Queen K highway at a 'safe distance' so as not to disturb him, for nearly 40 kilometres. As we where approaching Kailua-Kona, I passed him on an uphill stretch and he turned to me and said with a smile: "keep that power for race day". I would be able to go back to the exact spot on that incline where he said those words to me. That's how special that moment was. Then there was my 'roomie' Richard Lawrie. What an awesome guy and superb athlete. It was great sharing the entire 2 weeks with him and just having someone around to shoot the breeze with.
The 2 weeks started with a looooong trip half way around the globe to get to the BIG Island. Everyone has to do that - from the eventual winner to the athlete that drags him or herself across the finish line just before the 17 hour cut off. That is all part of it and that is what makes it special - you know you are going through what everyone else is. The arrival, the pick up from the airport and unpacking in your temporary home. Building the bike and going for that first 'test' ride along Queen K Highway and seeing the black lava fields for the first time in hot and humid conditions. All of it is simply amazing. Heading down into Kailua, Kona and doing the grocery shopping , training, going for a mandatory cappuccino, training some more and then having a relaxing afternoon on the couch is what I believe pros would do. The best part is, I did it - for two solid weeks. I even managed to fit in what a tourist would do - go and see the live volcanoes. Seeing molten rock ooze from the earth close up is certainly a once in a lifetime experience. Maybe the pros wouldn't have done that - risk getting injured while walking across the razor sharp lava fields to get to the eventual live flowing lava. If that is what separates the pros from the age groupers, then I can live with that.
The registration, the opening ceremony, the Expo, The official Iron Man store (which needs to be visited a number of times to make sure you have all the memorabilia and presents for back home) the parade of nations, the check-in, the race, the Banquet of Champions, the 'day after' stroll down Ali'i Drive with much discomfort, packing everything up and getting on the plane back home - all of it is part of the EXPERIENCE and it is unforgettable. That is one of the reasons why I am writing this after 2 months - just to refresh the memories and make sure I can read this in a month or year from now and reminisce! Isn't that why we do these things - to be able to say - been there, done that! Some of the 'been there's' will be more memorable than others but at the end of the day they make up the journey!