A couple days ago, Kona Dawn and I were debriefing on her first Hawaii Ironman experience last weekend and reflecting on the experience of being a newbie age grouper there. We agreed that this race is a shock to many people not just because of the exceptionally challenging conditions but because most everyone in this race has crushed another ironman to qualify—and is probably accustomed to being on the pointy end of her category in most races. Put dozens of people like this together in an ironman with conditions that make even the most fit feel absolutely terrible at times, and mental meltdowns abound. I think it is for this reason that it often takes people a few tries to have a successful race in Kona.
LOVE this pic of Kona Dawn last Saturday—a moment 7 years in the making, and dang that kit looks awesome!
I raced Kona for the first time as an age grouper in 2002. With just one ironman under my belt, I had benefitted from a tiny 18-24 age group at the Buffalo Spings Lake Half Ironman and to win and qualify for Kona. I knew that I had gotten lucky and almost had no business racing in the promised land, and yet I ended up second in my age group there on my first attempt. In hindsight, I don’t think this was a coincidence.
As I shared with Kona Dawn the other day, I think there were two key factors that made my first Kona a success:
I was terrified.
I remember being stuck in my hotel bed at the King Kam for the couple of days before the race. I was nauseous and thought I was coming down with something, so I stayed put and hoped it would go away. I never ended up actually getting sick. In hindsight, I realized that I had been paralyzed by fear.
It even continued through race morning, when I woke up to a crazy storm pounding on our windows and looked outside to see the downpour and huge swells in the ocean. I was sure the race would be postponed—so sure, in fact, that I went down to the hotel lobby to find an official and inquire. Needless, to say, I pretty much got laughed at . . . Basically, I knew that I had no idea what I was getting into—just that it was going to be harder than I could ever imagine.
I had no expectations.
Although I ended up finishing second in my age group, this was a complete and utter shock to me. I came into Hawaii having done one ironman, Florida, in a 12:29. Needless to say, looking at previous results for my age group, it never occurred to me that I would take well over an hour off my time end up on the podium. Hence all I wanted was A) to finish and B) to not embarrass myself. Granted, coming into this race without expectations is easier being as much of a newbie as I was, but to the extent that one can embrace that mindset for this event, it is a valuable one to have.
Okay, I also trained a lot—but I pretty much expect that everyone on the starting line in Kona has done that. It’s these two factors that probably set me apart from most of my competition at the time. I am sure that arranging my life around riding 300 miles every. single. week. come hell or high water helped me to not ride 7:03 like I did in my first ironman though.