13 Things That Surprised Me in Kona

Race Day

Swimming with the Fishes: Hawaii is known for its clear water and great snorkeling but there's nothing like being escorted by brightly colored tropical fish as you cruise through the swim. It seemed as though there were always fish around but it was the huge schools that occasionally made the bottom disappear that were particularly spectacular!

Headwinds in All Directions: The nasty headwinds and crosswinds on the climb up to and descending from Hawi are legendary and were expected. But riding into the trade winds from Waikoloa back to Kona on what seemed like an endless gradual uphill were a mental and physical challenge. Be prepared! This was by far one of the toughest points in the race.

Almost Famous, Almost: The World Championship has more folks on motorcycles with video cameras than any other race. At one point I found myself riding near 1982 IM Kona champion Kathleen McCartney who, after 30 years, was having a friendly rematch with Julie Moss. The cameras were following her closely for some time and for a while I thought I might make it into the TV coverage. But, unfortunately, I got edited out. Guess I have a face for radio.

Ice Cold Towels Anyone?: After suffering with serious foot pain for the last 60 miles on the bike I needed something to refocus my mindset. When I sat down in T2 a volunteer quickly wrapped an ice cold towel over my shoulders and in a moment I was back and ready to go out and enjoy my favorite part of any Ironman race...the marathon.

Widely Scattered Dark: The Queen K and the Energy Lab are dark, quiet places after sundown because during the race there are few street lights and minimal traffic. It's kind of eerie because you can see mostly nothing and all you hear is your breath and the sound of your shoes against the pavement. It's almost meditative. Strangely it was my favorite time in the race.

Stoners on the Hill: Nothing will jolt you out of that I'm-almost-finished trance like a couple of enthusiastically cheering spectators. As I got closer I found out how they managed to stay motivated after such a long day...guess there's nothing like a good Mary Jane buzz to keep the Ironman spirit alive.

More: 3 Training Tips for Aspiring Kona Athletes

The Race Is In the Bag

The BYOC Banquet: As Ironman awards banquets go, this is the big one. Over half the field were first-time Kona competitors and apparently everyone and their extended families came to see them race. The crowd is massive. My advice is either get there early or bring your own chair if you want a seat.

Fish As Fresh As It Gets: The Big Island has a lot of fun places to eat and if you want to sample some of the BEST fresh island fish in the days before or after the race visit the Bite Me Fish Market located in Honokohau Harbor just north of Kona. It's my current favorite casual place to eat.

One final word: A friend and consistent Kona competitor once told me that the Ironman races leading up to Kona were about competing but that Kona was about enjoying the day. Based on my experience she was right. Racing on the Big Island among all those great triathletes is the reward. Whether you get there this year or next take good care of yourself out there on the course and enjoy the day. Congratulations! You earned it.

More: 10 Things to Do in Kona

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