I would like to set the Kona scene for you… it’s a town that feels it was built in the 80’s, retro cool with magical accommodation on the seaside, limited air conditioning rather a fan that twirls in the hotel room. It is hot and humid unbearably so, I was constantly drowning in a pool of my own sweat.
The town is a little rustic holiday village the week before race week and the day immediately after race day its back to being this holiday village with days required to be filled with beach visits, swims with dolphins and drinking Mai Tais. During race week however it becomes the most insane, unbelievable display of chiselled bodies, amazing equipment and neon colours
“Dig Me” beach – the beach is literally non existent, is the catwalk for Ironman triathletes with fashion items on display including the shortest of shorts, caps, goggles, sports bikinis and speed suits and lets not forget the photo shoots that you randomly stumble upon. And if you ever happen to head to the outdoor community pool as an alternative there are swim squads in almost every lane that would put national squads to shame.
It is surreal. One day you are going for a cycle along the Queen K – part of your race recon and you happen upon Marino Vanhoenacker running shirtless, or you head for a coffee and Craig ‘Crowie’ Alexander walks by and then you could be just laying on the beach to get some sun on your pasty white skin and Michelle ‘Keep Smiling’ Vesteby says yes to a selfie. And that’s just mentioning the pro’s – there’s not a moment where someone is not cycling, running or swimming and every age grouper looks like they just fell out of a photo shoot looking like the next up and coming pro. To say its intimidating is an understatement.
BUT what an experience … it is probably one of the hardest races that I have encountered. I always start a race nervous as hell wondering how its possible to get through what I am about to attempt to do, I mean standing waiting to enter the swim start I think to myself ‘Why would a person ever want to put themselves through this?’ My mission is to get to those last 8 seconds when I know I have completed the task at hand and all is needed is a couple of the most enjoyable steps to the finish line.
I mean really why would I be nervous (said dripping with sarcasm) – its only taken two years, many broken bones, great friendships, my family and always last but never least my coach to just get me to the race in converted Kona.
My relationship with racing, with doing Ironman events is love/hate, hate/love. However with 3am wake up calls, managing a demanding career and trying to fit in a non-existent social/personal life you have got to know that my deepest desire is to win, to be the best, I want that more than anything – to be challenged for the top step. I had hit every training session with the exception of one… a gym session on my Birthday – I should have done that set. I should have pushed myself harder in my sessions, I say that because I come back ‘holding my head high’ with the bottom step – 3rd place finish but I am devastated not to have come home the World Champ!
Rather than go through a blow by blow of my actual race, I would like to highlight the surprises, the awesomeness and craziness of this race.
You enter the swim and the water is beautiful, crystal clear, so clear in fact that as you are heading out to the ‘invisible’ start line (it’s a water start) you are seeing a myriad of colours of every type of fish – you wish you were just heading out on a leisurely snorkel in paradise. You arrive at the swim start and tread water for 15 minutes, all I could think of was I am wasting much needed energy already getting kicked and punched by the other 600+ age group women before one of the most important days of my life (I mean that’s how I felt in the moment). The spectacular Paula Newby-Fraser arrived on the scene and without any count down lights the cannon. The swim start is fast, its furious and the fisty fight doesn’t not stop and before you reach half way you are swimming over the slower age group men – I think in my head “Sorry”, “My Bad” … “Oops, I didn’t mean to kick you in your ribs”. The swim was incredible; I loved arriving at the Body Glove boat, the swim turnaround that I had watched in the prior years race, I absolutely loved the swim. It was over quick but looking at my watch as I exited, time never the liar, it was slower than I wanted and as I arrived in the change rooms it seemed the whole world had arrived before me – every chair was filled.
I then thought to myself “Duh, this is the world champs – of course this is the best of the best”. Heading to the mount line, the day had already warmed up to the temperature of a braai ready to sizzle the steak and I was the steak about to get sizzled. Starting the ride you are surrounded by many people – fast and furious, aero helmets and terminator calves. I pressed my self-preservation button on, trying to maintain a consistent power (OMG did that just sound like a sentence from “Shit Triathletes Say”?) I hit Hawi – the turnaround point with sudden torrential rains, WTF? Really? That was unexpected but this did not last long 5 mins after the turn around I again jumped into the oven of a roasting chicken heading back to Kona to run a marathon. “Umm, a marathon – 42km’s” – this is what I think to myself – I mean I am about to run a marathon, what craziness is this? But lets move back to the business of finishing the second half of the bike, the wind hit, the speeds tumbled and you could see the carnage had started. The roads got quieter and the was a significantly slowing in race pace, at the time the thought crosses your mind that you may take another 3 hours to get to the end of the bike course, but before you know it you are passing the Energy Lab sign…soon to be visited on the run and you know it’s a couple more pedal strokes before you start the run.
Run time! I wait for run time; this is usually my favourite part… I started out and immediately knew as I was passed by Ali Rowatt (eventual 2nd place finisher and fastest age group runner), that I was in for a long day on the marathon. But I was going to push until the end, even if the speed I wanted was not coming. The run course is actually great, it is however exposed, there is no shade, there is no hiding there is you and the brutal conditions that make Kona, “Kona”. Everyone says that the run is lonely, that hitting the Energy Lab you feel isolated, potentially that is true if you are Jan Frodeno and you are the only one there! I had loads of people to chat to, although my chatting was limited to thanks, a couple of thumbs up with only pure focus to get to the finish line. A minute can last a second and it can last a lifetime, and before I knew it I saw the turnoff to Palani, a mile, that was it – I was in the last mile, 1.6kms of the race and the crowds of amazing, terrific, (I love you!!!!) supporters were there and then last 600 meters when you turn into right into Ali’i drive, this is where I had visualized a win, I knew that I had not got what I was coming for but those last hundred meters were sweet and kind and then I saw the best friend, supporter and just altogether amazing person that is Kelly Speirs holding out the SA flag for me, I grabbed it running down the carpet, as coached said with head high, flag flowing and about a million other athletes finishing with me.
When I crossed the finished line just up ahead was James ‘JimbO’ Welsh and we commiserated on how everything was sore – blistered feet, chaffed hips, burnt shoulder’s.
Kelly brought us salty chips, chocolate milk and mini bottles of champagne…a tough day out and the first time either James or I thought – I need to come back and finish some unfinished business, and such is the lure of an Ironman or Kona and the reason why I love to hate what I get to do.
That’s it for the race report but no race report of mine would ever be complete without knowing what it takes to do an Ironman it may be you inn race, out there to execute but the inspiration I receive from all of you, family, friends, random encounters, Team Tissink teammates, work colleagues – I cannot even articulate how that knowing whatever may come of race day, whatever I may feel about my accomplishments, that your unwavering support is undeniable – I hope to make you proud, I hope that you allow your light to shine brighter and I hope that you make your dreams come true, as you help me with every passing race to make mine come true.
Onwards and upwards to the next race…