Kona Report – James Welsh


It was eleven years ago that I last touched down at Kona International Airport and driving from the airport along the Queen K Highway and down Palani Road into Alii Drive  en route to  Kona Tiki hotel, it all looked unchanged and just as I remembered it despite the passing of time.

I joined Annah Watkinson and our super domestique Kelly Spiers for race prep week. They had already settled into the island life style, scouted out the eateries, training routes, ocean swims, community pool, conducted interviews and taken selfies with triathlon celebs and managed to get them to divulge their best race tips.

We rode the Queen K Highway,  we  ran  the Natural Energy Lab, ran up and down Alii Drive and swam the course, all in various degrees of heat, wind and ocean turbulence. We were pretty well prepared for what race day could throw at us but anyone who has raced Kona before will know that race day always throws in the unexpected…. in fact expect the unexpected is not a bad strategy.

Walking down to the pier for body marking it was almost dead calm, the sea looked flat and it seemed that it might be a perfect  day with fast times. The unbelievably friendly and efficient volunteers made the whole process as smooth as silk and before I knew it I was bobbing in the water waiting for the cannon to fire. It fired and finally the race had started.

Whilst getting sucked along with the bulk of the field and surprisingly finding pretty open water I felt that the swim was going really well. We turned around the Body Glove boat at 1,9km and started the trek for home. Home just never seemed to get any closer with a current holding us back it soon became evident that we would all be about 5 minutes slower than planned.

Out of T1 and after a short loop around town and up Palani Road we were heading out to Hawi on the famed Queen K Highway. At this point there was a tail wind and there was no holding back the uber cyclists who seemed to be in the majority, flying past as if it was a 70,3. The Queen K Highway started to change direction making the tail wind more of a cross wind and later towards Hawi it became a head wind but more surprising was that out of nowhere it started to spit a little and then as we approached Hawi we found ourselves drenched in a rain storm which no sooner had we departed Hawi for home , that it disappeared and we were back to scorching hot temperatures, cross winds and  finally head winds to put the nail in the coffin for all those who over cooked the first half of the bike

Arriving back in Kona and entering T2 is an encouraging moment as the lonely , barren and hot bike course is replaced with screaming fans and some small semblance of shade along Alii Drive. Residence spray you with water and shout untruths about how good you looking which all helps until you start the climb up Palani Road and out of Kona back onto the Queen K Highway.

It is now that you are on your own, there is no support and your only friends are the volunteers and Coke. This is a do or die stretch of the course as it is where real progress is made towards the finish but is also the part that punishes you for any over exuberance earlier in the day. I noticed a lot of punishment going on.

After about 8 ks of running along the Queen K Highway the left turn into the infamous Natural Energy Lab appears. Into the Natural Energy Lab it is a slight down hill for 3 ks and then a turn around and back another 3ks to the Queen K Highway which leaves you with about 10 ks to the finish. I ran and rode this stretch in training and it seemed pretty flat and unchallenging but somehow on race day every bump in the road becomes a mountain and the little bump up to the top of Palani Road feels like a cliff face which once you are over and start the decent down Palani Road you are presented with probably the finest last 2ks of an ironman race. From the bottom of Palani Road you make three turns before finding your way onto the famous Alii Drive for about 600m to the finish line where for the first time since this journey started you know something for certain as Mike Reilly announces your arrival at the finish line with those immortal words “ you are an ironman”.

Hobbling, badly blistered and pretty broken it was some consolation to find that Annah was suffering equally but despite stomach issues throughout the run she had managed a 3rd  place age group finish and I a 4th  place age group finish giving Team Tissink the only two podiums (top five podium in Kona) out of  20 odd South Africans at Kona on a very tough day.

The only triathletes who leave Kona completely satisfied are the winners, for the rest of us we are thankful for what we managed to achieve…  but then do what we always do… analyse, re strategize and consider the possibility of another visit to this amazing race.

Thanks must go to Raynard, Natalie and Team Tissink for getting us so proudly onto that podium.


James Welsh

Author: Tissink_Admin

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