Again, the Hot Corner is the best place to be as spectators can watch athletes come in from the bike ride and pass by twice on the run before heading out on the Queen K Highway...again.
Another hot spot (literally) is the place where athletes emerge from the Energy Lab, a three-mile out-and-back stretch on which no spectators are allowed. It's often the spot on the course that makes or breaks an athlete's race. When they emerge they are about 10 kilometers from the finish. Watching the race unfold at that spot on the course is a treat. In 2010, there was quite a showdown between Chris McCormack and Andreas Raelert, and those who had ventured out that way had the best seats in the house. The two pros battled it out during the final stretch and ran shoulder-to-shoulder all the way down Palani Drive—within striking distance of the finish line.
If you decide to venture away from the Hot Corner and down the Queen K toward the Energy Lab, please be respectful of the athletes racing. Event organizers discourage people from riding bikes on the Queen K during the race as they can interfere with athletes and credentialed media.
Food can be pricey in a destination location such as Kona. But if you indulge in what's indigenous you can eat pretty cheap. Papayas, for example, might be $3.50 on the mainland but you can find deals—like five for $1—at the local markets. Guava and avocados are also recommended. There is a farmers market open daily on Ali'i Drive right across from the Ironman Kona Expo. It's a great place to enjoy local goodies on the spot or to stock up on treats for the week. Yum.
Car, moped, bike or foot? The best way to get around town, especially if you're solo, is the moped. But make arrangements early or miss out. The island knows these are high in demand and rental prices reflect it. A car may be a better option for those with two or more people, but they too are pricey and parking, while not impossible, is always a challenge.
For those not racing, bike rentals are another great option. Biking is a great way to get around and get your workout in too. Of course, if you're staying close enough to town, your legs may be all you need.
Gawk at Gear
The day before the race every athlete is required to check his or her bike into the transition area. All athletes, pros and amateurs roll their bikes through a single chute and equipment is checked according to the event's safety regulations. Once clear the athlete is then escorted to their transition area so they can drop their bike off and orientate themselves with the layout of the area.
Coinciding with the bike check is the official bike count. Dozens of people—many industry experts and journalists—line the entrance of the bike check and watch like hawks as athletes wheel their machines down the chute. It's like watching a tennis match as the "bike counters" scribble down the particulars about the brand of each competitor's bike and bike parts, including specs on wheels, saddles and framesets. The information is then compiled and reported post-race. It's quite the competition within the competition for companies in the industry.
Take a Tour Down Ali'i Drive
Driving down Ali'i Drive you'll often see flags, banners or even whole garage doors wrapped with images of sponsored athletes and logos. Larger companies such as Specialized, K-Swiss, Oakley, TYR and Asics, will transform a rental property on the island into a retreat that serves as accommodation for their employees, office space, a place to entertain guests, hold press parties announce new gear and most importantly as an escape for their sponsored athletes. Athletes will spend time at their sponsor's houses putting finishing touches on race-day gear, getting hooked up with the latest and greatest in new product, snacking, getting complimentary massages and just relaxing.
Party on and on and on...
There's always a reason to celebrate in Kona and last year's first (hopefully annual) TGINR "Thank-God-I'm-Not-Racing" party, hosted by Competitor Magazine on the eve of the race is a perfect example. The inaugural event, held at Huggo's On The Rocks, was packed with pros, supporters and other industry folks. An open bar, buffet and baseball caps with TGINR were free for all.
Other notable race-related parties include the Kona Concert Series on Wednesday; the Official Carbo Party on Thursday, during which athletes are treated to local entertainment and motivational speeches from the likes of Mike Reilly (The Voice of Ironman); the Post-Race Awards Dinner; and K-Swiss Party on Sunday.
Of course let's not forget the Ironman finish line on Saturday, the biggest party of the week.
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