October 22, 2015

Race Week in Kona

There is nothing quite like the days leading up to an Ironman when an entire town is filled with energy, the Ironman Village is the center of action, and excitement (and nerves) for the race build more and more each day. Race week in Kona is like this on steroids. Almost everyone is in town a full week or more before, the Ironman store and Village open several days in advance, and the hottest triathletes in the world are training, milling around town, eating at Lava Java and swimming at the pier: Every. Single. Day. It's like Ironman crack for those who love the sport and for a brief time, you get to live in a dream world where you share this magnificent venue with the top pros in the world.

Pinch me, this is really happening

Found my name!

I arrived in Kona late Saturday night, October 3. I would have one week to acclimate to the 6 hour time change and attempt to adjust to the 90+ degree heat that often felt like 100-105. Oh, and the 38mph wind? No problem. My coach, Jorge Martinez from E3 Training Solutions, was conveniently in the condos next door and there to guide me through the days leading up to the race. What wasn't so convenient is that he had me out training in the hottest hours of the day on various parts of the course so I would be as prepared as possible for the big day. I cursed him as I did my final long run, 8.5 unbelievably hot miles on a 105 degree day. But as race day approached, I knew everything we did that week would get me that much closer to the finish line.

My first order of business was to swim at the Pier. I arrived feeling jet lagged, dehydrated and more than a bit out of it, but the crazy scene immediately snapped me into Ironman mode. My first swim was in really choppy water so all the subsequent swims (I swam daily leading up to the race) would feel that much easier. Some swims were serious and some were more for fun, including a couple coffee boat swims and some underwater goofing with good friends who came in from Chicago for the race.

Gotta love a GoPro

The famous Kona coffee boat... which was out of coffee

As the week went on, I previewed almost the entire course and had a good sense of what I was in for. Jorge took me through a detailed race plan, but ultimately my only goal at Kona was to have the time of my life. Being smart about the approach, the course, the conditions and my nutrition was critical for getting me through the race with my minimal training, but also for making sure I could enjoy the day. I felt ready.

I traveled to Kona alone, but was not alone for a single moment. I had friends already there, like Jorge and one of his other athletes, the amazing Jana (aka Czech Chick); a fellow Tahoe refugee, Carolyn; and Roni, a new friend I made on the long flight from NYC to Kona. I spent time with them every day, whether planned or by chance, and kept meeting new people everywhere. The spirit of camaraderie is stronger than ever at Kona and everyone I encountered was incredibly positive and friendly. Later in the week my amazing support crew arrived, including my mom and dad who made the long trip from Wisconsin to share the day with me, and my best friend and her husband from Chicago, who I can't seem to race an Ironman without. More friends arrived from Austin to volunteer, and suddenly we had this big group, which just added to the overall experience. I also felt so supported from afar, I literally couldn't have asked for anything more. My heart has never felt fuller than it did in the days leading up to the race and for a brief time, I was able to forget I had an injury and the thought of not finishing wasn't even an option. Ironman is a largely solo endeavor, but you never do it alone. The people who love you and support you are the most powerful source of fuel when it gets really difficult. I had more than enough to get me through 140.6 miles.

The official race events started on Thursday with the famous Underpants Run in the morning and the welcome banquet in the evening. I had a great time at both, joining Carolyn for the UPR and Jorge and Jana for the banquet. I even managed to reverse photo bomb the great Mark Allen.

Friday is when it became all business with the packing of the gear and mandatory bike and gear check in. This is usually a pretty nondescript task, but not at Kona. There was red carpet style set up and a small number of athletes allowed to go at one time. As you walked down the chute with your bike, industry professionals lined the barrier with clip boards capturing every detail about our bikes: who made the frame, what wheels we were riding, what type of power meter, hydration systems, etc. I was stopped by Enve to be photographed and given a t-shirt since my bike is maxed out in Enve. Powertap gave me a swag bag for using their power meter. People were asking what swim skin I'd be wearing. It was awesome. Each year I read the articles about what was seen at Kona, and to be part of the source was amazing.

After check in I had a quiet dinner with my parents and got into bed as early as possible to study my race plan one more time. Something I didn't mention earlier is that I caught a cold Monday evening and had been pretty sick throughout the week. By Friday night I was definitely feeling better, but also on the cusp of having it move into my chest. I got to bed as early as one can before an Ironman and hoped for the best. I knew in just a matter of hours my alarm would go off and I'd be starting a day I had dreamed about for years.

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