Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pt 3: Ironman Hawaii Race Day

No TV special or online coverage compares with seeing this live:

Of course the hours before and after that moment were equally incredible...

I began the day at 3-something-am feeling fresh and ready to charge... and considering the lack of sleep I got and the more-than-average amount of alcohol I drank Friday night, that was surprising. Before heading out, I packed some Clif Bars and fruit from the farmer’s market in my bag, as I had no idea when or if I’d get a real meal during the day. My needs were insignificant on this day.

Now, I’ve been to a lot of triathlons, but I have never seen energy like I saw in this transition area. It was incredible. My HR was increasing just being in the crowd.

I posted up in media-access area, and wouldn’t you know… Ms. Wellington comes right by me and starts getting ready. I tried to get my Flip video cam, digital camera and cell phone on her all at once. This scenario turned out to be a common dilemma of the day: Me trying to manage three media devices, the “trio,” simultaneously. Ridiculously hard! And everything happens so fast it’s impossible to get it all. On top of that, then try rushing over to the Media Center at the King Kam to upload the latest pics & video—it’s just a mess. I’m a "young" journalist at 24 but I’m still old-school with my reporting (i.e. I need time) so this Internet immediacy was beyond hectic for me. But, you do what you can.

Inside the Media Center:

I found a good spot on the pier to watch the swim starts. I shed my first of many tears at this point. I knew enough people out in that washing-machine water and I felt excited/nervous for them all, plus I had met enough new people—pros and amateurs—who I was rooting for, too. And then, of course, there’s the fact that I’m a girl, and I get emotional over this stuff!

The pros setting off:

Age groupers lining up next:

Next, time to get busy. Joe and I were given strict instructions that as soon as the pros made their first little bike loop around town, we’d hop in the car with Coach Mario and head out. I really wanted to pee first, and every bathroom around seemed to have mile-long lines, even though the racers were all gone—that’s one thing every triathlon needs more of: Port-a-potties! I wound up in the Starbucks on Palani, where the bathroom line and coffee lines were equally insane. At least I got an Americano.

Watching the first of the racers bike by was a rush. I tried to get as many shots as I could but only several worked out—talk about frantic caffeine-jittery hands.

A wave from Bree Wee; and Crowie:

And before I knew it, we were running up Palani, in the car and driving to the turn to Hawi. We didn’t have access to drive on bike course, so we had to go up and around: long. It was great, though, because for about an hour, I had the opportunity to pick the brain of one of the top triathlon coaches there is. As an aspiring coach, I was in heaven. (Seriously, looking back, I got in some priceless networking on this trip!)
We got to the turn to Hawi (mile 35 going out, mile 70 coming back), and those few hours—as hot as they were—definitely were one of the highlights of the day. My feet, on the other hand, hated it out there and swelled up like balloons. It hurt. I was literally standing in the shade of a street sign to cool them—shade the size of about the size of a shoe box. Pathetic. At least I got some decent shots:

Chrissie, Mirinda Carfrae, Chris Lieto, Andy Potts, Faris Al-Sutan:

And most importantly… me followed by the triathlon media man himself screwing around:

. The only sad part out on the road was when Yvonne Van Vlerken came by at mile 70. She yelled something in German to Coach Mario and he translated to us: She had a mechanical issue and was stuck in her big gear, thus, completely frying her legs. (This eventually led to her dropping out in the run; what she endured on the bike proved to be too much.) Mario was very optimistic and understanding about the situation. “It happens,” he said. “There will be more races.”
I took a half-nap on the way back to transition headquarters, while still trying to chat with Mario and listening to race updates on the radio. I even had my mom working for me sending me the latest from Athlete Tracker.

We got back just in time to see Chrissie go into T2. I literally jumped out of Mario’s car while it was still rolling. I felt bad for ditching him like that, but was later able to apologize… he didn’t mind. The man is all smiles and a genuinely good guy.

I then met up with Ben Greenfield and we ran around the run course a bit trying to get good shots and whatnot.

Sam McGlone (5th):

But the best had yet to come….

I was a wreck… Crying like a baby every time someone significant crossed the finish line (just ask my mom who I kept calling even though she probably couldn’t hear me). The emotions started with Crowie at 8:20, peaked with Chrissie at 8:54 and continued past midnight.

Too many pictures to choose from of the men's finish; several of my favs:

Then the ladies. The buildup to Chrissie's finish was incredible. Would she break PNF's record? We were all holding our breath... and she did it!
Also, as luck would have it, I was standing right next to her boyfriend (didn’t even know she had a BF!) when she finished, so, yup, she came right over to me (well, to him, but I was right there too haha.) How cute: And some of my other favorite ladies:

I stuck around at the finish until just about the 10:10 mark, after I saw Brad Golden cross. Yea, he's my ex but I'm not cold-hearted and I care about his accomplishments in tri. I've seen the guy go from Mr. anti-endurance sports to Kona qualifier. (For the record, there was a time when I could run faster and longer than him!) So, I'm proud of him, like I am of most Ironman athletes who clearly sacrifice a lot to get to Kona. Anyways, after Brad crossed, I needed a breather. Unfortunately, this meant I just missed Charisa, Brian and Nick crossing together, bummer. But I got to see this:
I later went to the post-race pro press conference, and it was great to hear Chris Lieto, Crowie (beer in hand),
Andreas Raelert (3rd, in blue below) and Rassmus Henning (5th, in white) talk about their experiences. Plus, I shoved down some free pizza. At that point the Clif bars & fruit were gone, I had grabbed a sandwich in the Media Center at some point, but was still starving. My calorie burn was probably equal to that of my typical Saturday training day.

Ben G was also in need of a meal, so we skipped out of the women’s conference early for food and wine at this great Thai place right on Ali'i where we watched the last guys coming in from our table. Refueled and energized, it was time for a couple bar-pitstops and crazy antics, then to the finish line for midnight.

The finish line at midnight was, of course, amazing. NBC and tons of others do a good job at portraying that, so I’ll spare ya. For me, the most heart-wrenching part of the night was seeing Matt Hoover finishing and then laying in medical, ghost white. Matt is so much more than “the guy from Biggest Loser.” Imagine the pressure on him… he attracted nationwide attention, he doesn’t have the typical Ironman-athlete build and some were skeptic of the fact that he was handed a Kona slot. Pressure? Um, yeaaa. In my opinion, he earned his ticket to Kona. Just look at what he overcame: From overweight to Ironman. That's inspiring, especially to anyone trying to lose weight and live healthfully. America needs more of that.

I don’t care that he crossed 3 minutes after the official cutoff time. That man is just as much an Ironman as all the rest in my eyes. And, the fact that he wants to do another Ironman next year, well, that speaks volumes. On top of it all, I got the chance to talk to his coach, Jim Vance, about Matt’s day… and oh man. Rough, but remarkable. Read Jim’s blog.

Being surrounded by such athletic greatness all day makes me somewhat ashamed to say that the rest of my night was spent being a little too tipsy. But I eventually found my bed and slept it off.

And for the record, I'm not that obsessed with Chrissie Wellington, despite what you might gather from these blogs :)


  1. I just randomly came across your blog... glad you had so much fun in Kona! We also stayed at the Seaside. Cool location...
    Personally, I LOVE that photo of Chrissie eating pizza. Classic. I bet she doesn't do that too often though. HA!

  2. I'm TOTALLY obsessed with Chrissie. I got the greatest picture of her on the run last year just as she was making the turn to run up Palani (mile 10ish) - she looked right at me and gave me her classic smile. That's still my background on my laptop.

    So this means you're done with the Kona posts, right? PLEASE! :)

  3. Sounds like you had a blast. Sucks to know that I was only a couple islands away and made no effort to witness the madness! Maybe next year...

  4. did anyone realize potts is walking in socks across the finish line?

  5. Yea Ryan, I forgot to mention that! I asked Andy about the one shoe thing at the K-Swiss party, and he said he raced in memory of his father-in-law who recently passed, and he took off that shoe at the finish line as a symbolic gesture, pointing it toward the sky. I think he said his father-in-law's name was written on it. Andy is the man... probably my favorite pro make triathlete.