Kona – A Magical Place

Oct
2014
11

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With the Ironman World Championships starting in just a couple of hours, I decided earlier in the week to share my experience spectating at the 2013 event in Kona. Since I did not have the blog then, I thought it would be fun to share my memories with everyone now!  It has been fun this week going through the hundreds of photos and remembering a truly magical event!

To start off, I will share a little about the race, which is the mack-daddy of ALL Ironmans!!  Most of the readers probably know the basics about this race, but I don’t want to assume everyone does.  A large majority of age-group participants at the IM World Championship in Kona are there because they qualified to be there. The rules can get a bit confusing, especially for the pro athletes and so I won’t even go there, but generally speaking for age groupers, to qualify, they will have done REALLY well at another race, and probably placed in the very top of their age group. Each race is different, but for example sake, my age group, female 40-44, may have two or three slots available, at a particular IM race. Therefore, to qualify for Kona, one would have to come in as the top two or three finishers in their age group. There are also roll down slots and other logistics, but for arguments sake, I wanted to illustrate a basic example.  To elaborate a little bit more, my age group at Lake Placid had 172 women, which shows how tough it is for someone to qualify for Kona. To get to the level of even trying to qualify, one must have lots of time to train.  I would say ALOT more time is required and also very special athletic ability.

World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), the owners of Ironman, have made it possible for others to live the dream to race at Kona by implementing other programs. One of these programs is the lottery.  To join the lottery, one must register and pay a fee in hopes to be one of the 100 selected age groupers. I have heard, that thousands register for the lottery, so odds are not great to be selected. However, our friend Tim, was selected through the lottery, to participate in the 2013 Ironman World Championships in Kona.

When Tim called us with the news in early spring 2013, Tony and I pretty much decided immediately that we would be making the trip to support and spectate.  We had traveled to Maui and Kauai in 2006, and really fell in love with Hawaii.  We had discussed going back one back to the Big Island to witness the IM World Championships.  This was the perfect opportunity!

After months of planning and watching Tim prepare for the big event, October was here and it was time!  Tony and I left for the Big Island on October 8.  We arrived that evening in Hilo.  Our plan was to fly in to the far side of the island (from Kona) and spend the following day (Wednesday) exploring the opposite side of the island as we made out way to Kona.  All in all, I think this plan was a good one as we would not have had the time to see and explore this other area.

After a day of exploring, we made it to Kona (just outside of town) and Tony and I located the rental house where we would be staying.  Nicole (Tim’s wife) found a house that was large enough for all Tim’s supporters to stay.  Tony and I arrived first, followed by Tim’s parents and finally Tim and Nicole.  The last couple would be arriving the following day.

Thursday 10/10/13 – That morning, we made it downtown and immediately felt the buzz and excitement of all the is the World Championship Ironman!  The general plan was for Tim to get checked-in and pick up his bike from TriBike Transport.  We also wanted to check out the expo a bit and just look around.

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Tim enjoyed his first taste of this awesome event!

We had not been in the expo area very long when we hear an announcement that Chrissie Wellington (4-time Ironman World Champion and undefeated at all Iron distance races) would be available in a bit for a meet and greet.  WHAT!  I was thrilled!  I was hoping that I would get the opportunity to have her sign my book, but I did not think the opportunity would come this quickly!  HOW PERFECT!  I brought my copy of her book, “A Life Without Limits”, all the way from NC in hopes I would have this opportunity.  PLUS, I threw it in my bag that morning, so I had it with me there at the expo!

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One of the highlights…meeting this Ironman legend and all around classy lady!

After all my excitement of meeting Chrissie, we all meet up and the last of the support crew, Jeff and Liz, had arrived in town.  We spent the afternoon grocery shopping before having a early dinner in anticipation of the outing planned for the evening…night swimming with MantaRays!  (I originally planned to limit this post to just Ironman related activities or else the post would take hours to write and read…however, this experience was too cool to exclude!)

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Aboard the boat and excited about a new experience of swimming with the Manta Rays!

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The crew ready to head out for an adventure!

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The beauty and grace of the mantas!

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Sometimes referred to as the “Butterflies of the Sea”, these graceful animals are a sight that must been seen in person. Manta rays are beautiful sea creatures that live in warm tropical waters. Their side fins have evolved into wide triangular wings with which they use to “fly” through the water. These wings range from 4-20 ft, making them amongst the largest sea creatures anywhere. The Manta ray is one of Hawaii’s most fascinating and stunningly beautiful sights. (Text from Sunlight on Water website.)

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Unlike most of their relatives, Manta Rays have NO teeth, stinger or barbs and are completely safe to be around.

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Night swimming with the Manta Rays was a fantastic outing and I highly recommend this to anyone that ever has the opportunity.

Friday was filled with more Kona exclusive activities!  That morning, Tim, Tony, Jeff and myself took part in a swim in Kailua Bay from Kaiokekua Beach (where the swim takes place).  There were a couple of really cool things about this swim…(1). The absolute beauty of swimming there with all the beautiful sea life.  It was like swimming in an aquarium!  (2). We swam out to the floating coffee bar that is anchored a few hundred meters off shore for a free taste of coffee.  This is a race week activity that we had a blast participating in!

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Just before our beautiful swim out to have some coffee!!

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Coffee Boat!!

Later that morning,  Tony, Nicole, Jeff and I went out to the infamous Energy Lab for a run.  Ever since we decided that we would be traveling to Kona, Nicole and I talked about wanting to do a run there.

Energy Lab Run

This facility is the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority which is a marine science and technology facility that provides economic opportunities for Hawaii in various areas.

Energy Lab

This may also be considered  to some, as the toughest part of the run course.  The road through the Energy Lab is surrounded by lava fields as is very barren.  Unlike the name may seem, they say that the area zaps your energy versus providing it!  Check out the short video from Triathlete Magazine’s web site that was published a few days ago about the Energy Lab.

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It was definitely a hot run and we were there much earlier in the day than the triathletes on race day.  It was neat to be able to experience a tiny piece of the course.

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The road through the energy lab (out and back) is surrounded by lava fields.

Mostly along the area of the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway (or the Queen K for short) where the bike course follows, you see signs about that are in support of the athletes that are out training.  This is just s reminder how much this race pretty much takes over the town and not just on race day!  Riding along the Queen K in the car, made me yurn for my bike.  With huge shoulders along the highway, I just felt like going for a ride.  It seems like a great place for locals to ride since you can go for hours basically without making a turn!

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Into the afternoon, we headed back into town for bike check in.  It was awesome to see the variety of bikes out and about and how “sweet” most of them were!

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Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) and Andy Potts (USA) with their bikes. (Andy did not start the race due to injury.)

There were lots of neat and fun details around the transitions and the host hotel.

Sites Around Kona

We just had to find Tim’s name amongst the other couple thousand on the banner!

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It was all about Ironman!!!!

The late afternoon and evening was low key with a pre-race dinner prepared by Nicole, with assistance from the group.  It was a great meal to enjoy before all the excitement of the next day.

Saturday 10/12/13 – Race morning was finally here!  We were all up and out early.  Tim and crew (sans me and Tony) followed him for the final send off and good lucks on the race.

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A great shot of Tim as he is all ready to go for the BIG race. (I love the number stickers instead of the typical Sharpie-written numbers).

Tony and I decided to stake out a spot on “the wall” to start the swim.  You definitely had to arrive early to secure a location there.

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The calm before the storm!

It was definitely the place to be and securing spots for us and Nicole allowed us to have prime spectating and picture taking opportunities.

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The water safety patrol on the beach, before they had to head out for duty!

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Spectators line the wall around the swim start…usually 2 to 3 people deep!

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Having fun with the panaromanic setting on the camera. It was a gorgeous morning!

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The sounding of the conch, which signifies the race was starting soon!

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Tony and I were excited to for the race to begin!

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Nicole was all set with her camera to capture Tim’s great day!

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We spotted Tim (and he spotted us) as he was swimming up to the start…that is him waving.

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The cannon sounded and the age groupers were off!

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The craziness of the mass swim start!

The spectating plan for the day was the split up in pairs so we could cover as much of the race course as possible and maximize our Tim spotting opportunities.  We all communicated by phone/text to let each other know when and where Tim had been spotted.

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Tony having fun as we are waiting for the racers at our first stop on the bike course

It was neat seeing the pros on their bikes and trying to recognize a few as they raced by.

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Pete Jacobs, the 2012 IM World Champion (and wearing race number 1).

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Liz Blanchford, raced into third place at her first showing in Kona.

It is always exciting to see the athlete you are supporting on the race course.  Tony and I take our responsibilities very seriously and try to get photos, cheer, lend encouragement, etc. all within a few seconds!  This was out first sight of Tim since before he started the swim.  He looked great on the bike and we knew he was so prepared to tackle this course!

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After Tim passed, we jumped in the car and headed to the next planned point.  We had one failure and it was with our decision in parking that morning, so unfortunately it took us a bit longer to get in route, but we overcame and made it to another great spot for spectating.

We found another good point on the course for spectating.  There was a bit of a hill which meant the athletes were not zooming by as fast as if they were on a flat section.  Also, they were not in aero position which can make it a little easier to recognize people. Once again, we were able to spot several pros on course.

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Meredith Kessler, one of the top U.S. Pros, finished 7th for the day.

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Mirinda Carafrae (“Rinny”) was always easy to spot.

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Tim stayed strong on the bike!

Once again, after Tim passed, we were on a mission to make it to the next stop.  We jumped in the car and headed back into town with plans to spot him early on the run course.

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Tim with a bit of fist pump to recognize all my cheering!

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Could you ask for a more beautiful view while on a run?

We enjoyed this spot on the run because of the ocean view and it was crowded with lots of spectators and support.  However, we were still on a mission to spot Tim again on the course, so we stuck to our plan!

At our new spot, we were able to see more of the pro athletes.

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Frederik Van Lierde out on the course. He ran into first place and finished as Ironman World Champion!

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Sebastian Kienle on the run course headed to a third place finish.

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Craig Alexander (“Crowie”), a legend in the sport as a three time Ironman World Champion and current course record holder. He finished 23rd for the day.

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Rachel Joyce running into second place finish.

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Rinny SMOKING the run course! She was a beast! She won her second championship in commanding fashion setting a new women’s course record with a marathon time only bettered by two pro men.

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This was our last TIm siting before we would see him at the finish line!

After seeing Tim a second time on the course run, shortly before he entered the Energy Lab portion, we made our way back into downtown to stake out at the finish line.

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Waiting at the finish line…the rest of the crew was on the other side of the chute. Fun photo op!

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Tim’s run down the finish chute on Ali’i Drive. This is a dream shared by so many triathletes and Tim really took it all in!!

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Crossing the finish line! He trained so hard for the race and he earned a strong finish.

After Tim’s finish, we all gathered together for well deserved congratulations.  It took a while for us to all find one another but that worked out the best because Tim needed a bit of down time before gathering all the gear to head back to the house to eat and clean up.

Once that was taken care of, we all headed back down to Ali’i drive to support the finishers in the last two hours.  This was something we all really wanted to take part in.  It had been a very long day, especially for Tim, but we knew that the finish line nearing midnight in Kona, was a special place to be.

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The party like atmosphere at the finish line…it was electric!

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The voice of Ironman, Mike Reilly, kept the crowed pumped all evening!

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After her record setting win earlier in the day, Rinny spent the evening having fun with the crowd and welcoming in the finial finishers!

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Harriet Anderson running down the chute.

We saw some amazing things at that finish line.  Harriet Anderson at age 78, finished the event after having a bike crash (she flipped over the guard rail on the Queen K) during the race.  Just a year earlier, she had become the oldest female finisher in Kona.  Harriet was the last official finisher with three minutes before the midnight cut-off.  She is incredible!

A bit after Harriet finished, Mike Reilly really got the crowd pumped up as he spotted a athlete named Karen approaching with less than 2 minutes on the clock.  Everyone on Ali’i Drive was cheering her on and chanting her name with every bit we had.

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Karen Aydelott with Mike Reilly in the finish chute.

Karen was racing with a prosthetic leg after losing her foot in a biking accident years before. She had qualified to make the trip to Kona earlier in the year and NOT in the challenged athlete division. She had issues with her prosthetic leg during the race and lost vaulable time as a result.

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Just passed the 17 hours.

Karen crossed the finish line just after the 17 hour cut-off.  However, she brought so much inspiration to Ali’i Drive.  It was an unforgettable moment.

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We had one last show to close out race day.  This obviously had a special Hawaiian flair and was a neat way to end the amazing day!

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TIm’s beautiful medal!!!

After race day, Tony and I spent one more day on the Big Island and then flew over to Maui for some more fun and relaxation on our favorite island.

I really enjoyed writing this post and sharing these memories.  Hawaii is an absolutely beautiful place and if you have never been, I strongly encourage you to make the trip.  In addition, if you love triathlon and have not experienced Kona during race week, DO IT!  It was a blast and confirmed what I thought I knew about Kona and the World Championship…it is magical!

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