What makes Kona the Holy Grail for Age Group Triathletes?
Hawaii...(deep breath & relax). Paradise, sunshine, palm trees, ocean, relaxation are all images we associate with the islands of Hawaii.
Isolated in the heart of the Pacific Ocean with a relaxed feel, how does, arguably, the most gruelling one-day endurance race fit in here and what makes it worth chasing so hard?
Picture this, there are over 2000 bikes crammed in transition on the pier, you're already sweating before 7am (and that's even before the race nerves kick in). What is about to come will include thrashing it out, limbs against limbs, in the 3.8km swim before battling the intense heat and wind on the isolated lava filled rolling hills of the Queen K for the 180km cycle. Once you've managed to not melt or dehydrate you'll fight off the sun and humidity for the final 42.2km run. All this in the heat of the day with absolutely zero shelter and just the odd aid station to look forward to. It’s painful!
It sounds like hell, but why do you still want to do this so badly?
Well, now picture being part of the history of the sport, the World Championship. This is where the best of the best come to test their hard work in preparation against the elements and other athletes. So much has happened over the past 40 years, the famous crawl, the IronWar, a string of dominance from individual athletes, record breakers, para-athletes and athletes overcoming unbelievable circumstances to be there.
The race morning of an Ironman has a special hush of excitement to it. If you’ve been part of one you’ll know what I’m talking about, the nervous energy is at an all-time high! Now multiple that by 10...
The break-wall along Ali’i Drive is jam packed with family, friends, locals and fans of the sport cramming in to every viewable space. It’s a very raw experience - no major stadiums, forced viewing zones or big screens.
Bang! The Canon marks the start of the washing machine effect as the athletes ignite the bay. Game on.
Reaching the end of the swim you know you’re only minutes from pedalling along the famous Queen K. You absorb so much heat as you push through the Lava fields but this is what you've worked so hard for. You know the turn at Hawi means the end of the climb but often the start of the headwinds. The sheer heat and humidity increases, really testing your body, preparation and mental strength for that final 80km.
Coming back into the little town of Kailua-Kona there is that sense of excitement again as crowds line the streets with just the marathon left to go. The first 16km are sensational along Ali’i Drive with the loads of Ironman support. Up Palani Road and away from it all it’s just you, the Queen K, lava, heat, humidity and the other battling athletes. It’s fairly surreal to think that the real race starts now. With no external support it’s you against the elements and your mind. What’s to come is more challenging than you’d imagine as you head further away from civilisation and into the ‘Energy Lab’. Renowned for absorbing all your energy, this is where an athletes true grit is found.
As you slowly rise up to the turn on to Palani Road, your body in pieces, you can hear the party starting, the euphoria and adrenaline pumping. It’s a quick down hill, left turn, right turn, and right again to find Ali’i Drive and that illustrious red carpet. Whether it takes you 8 hours or 17 this finish line is the dream for so many athletes and there is nothing quite like it!
Kona is the Everest of triathlon, the Holy Grail. It’s a marker of your ability to set a goal, work hard, learn from your mistakes, sacrifice and chase a dream. That’s all before you even get to the start line.
Have you got what it takes?