Erin and I were fortunate enough to spend 25 days in Kona. At first glance, it doesn’t seem to be much different than anywhere else in Canada or U.S.A. They’ve got everything we’ve come to expect in a city: Target, Walmart, McDonalds, Burger King, etc. But it doesn’t take long to find that there definitely is something a bit different happening there then on the mainland.
Everything moves a bit slower. On average people don’t seem to be in nearly as much of a rush. In 25 days, I don’t think I heard a single car horn. It seemed also that there was a much greater appreciation for and connection to the environment. As well, there seemed to be a greater number of “strangers” who appeared to be genuinely happy and content, at least judging by their demeanor and how they interacted with others. I believe what I am trying to describe is what the locals mean by “aloha”. So summed up more eloquently: The residents of Kona have a lot more “aloha” than the rest of the mainland.
What’s interesting is that “aloha” seems to be contagious. Erin and I had been there for 2 weeks before my parents arrived. We went to pick them up from the airport. We knew what time they were set to arrive, but we ended up being about 20 minutes late. We parked the car in the lot because we wanted to lei them as it was their first time in Hawaii. We were waiting at the United terminal when I receive a call from my dad. He was very disgruntled. The first thing he said was “where are you?” I told him we were waiting for him at the terminal. He then informed me that they had arrived via Hawaiin airlines, and thus we were at the wrong terminal. No sweat, that terminal was only 400 meters down from where we were standing.
As Erin and I are walking my dad continues to ask where we are and why we weren’t driving in the car. I didn’t want to spoil the surprise of the lei so I told him “that’s what they do here.” As we made our way down to the Hawaiin Airlines terminal my dad repeatedly explained to me how the airport pickup process works. “You drive the car to the front of the terminal and wait. If a guard forces you to move you drive around again and repeat that process over again until the people you are picking up come out. I don’t understand why you guys aren’t in the car.” By this time I was holding the phone about two feet in front of me; it was difficult for me to take his frustrations seriously with the ocean less than a kilometer away on one side, a mountain on the other side, and warm humid air infiltrating my lungs. Erin and I turned to each other and that is when we both knew we were much more “aloha” then they were. We were operating on Island Time i.e. “we’ll get there when we get there, we’re in no rush.” But don’t worry, after 10 days on the Big Island my dad became much more “aloha”. It’s hard not to.
The Big Island got me into a very spiritual mindset. It is with this mindset that I approached the race. It was difficult for the race not to have spiritual significance for me. After all, it was not even six years prior that the idea to do an Ironman popped into my head when I was in a very troubled head space. I didn’t really know what an Ironman was though, so I had to google it. Of course, the first thing that came up was the Hawaii Ironman World Championship. It wasn’t long after that the goal of competing in Kona was solidified.
The journey to this point was definitely not all bright sunny skies and smooth sailing. Many times along the way I questioned whether or not I was cut out for triathlon in general, let alone triathlon at the professional level. In spring of 2013 I was honestly contemplating quitting the pursuit of high performance triathlon and focusing on duathlon / pure-running. For me, toeing the line in Kona was a testament to the power of perseverance: You can achieve anything that you TRULY wish to achieve.
I approached this race with a lot of “aloha”. I was going to enjoy every minute of it. I was not going to panic if something didn’t go to plan. I was going to give my absolute best from start to finish. As I walked down the steps onto Dig Me Beach, it started to sink in. I had finally made it.
The swim didn’t go well. I knew this as I was being passed by the lead pack of pro women running up the stairs into transition. That didn’t matter though. Out onto the bike, I stayed controlled and within my goal power target range. The only time I spiked the power was initially when I had to pass the pack of pro women. My legs felt quite good. 310-320w didn’t feel very taxing. I spent much of the time taking in the cheering spectators, and reflecting on the fact that I was racing in the Ironman World Championship. At around 60k I did have a new feeling that I had never experienced before in a race: It was quite lonely out there.
I got a few time updates and knew that I was biking even with the front of the race. I did find that to be a bit discouraging as I was pushing nearly 320w, but I stuck to my plan. When I made the turn at Hawi and started to descend down the mountain, that’s when I started to lose my ability to push power. I am a grinder, and the descent is decently steep, forcing you to push a good 100RPM in order to keep any sort of pressure on the pedals. I was unable to hold my power from then onwards. Once I got to the base of the mountain, for some reason I could never get the power back up. The remaining 50k were quite challenging. My power was dropping at an alarming rate. It felt like I was just bouncing off the pedals rather than pushing into them. This didn’t matter though. I would take whatever the day threw at me.
I finally made it to transition and it felt great to get off the bike. I was curious to see how my run legs were going to feel seeing as my bike legs were completely trashed. Interestingly, my run legs felt great. Since it was so hot, and there was not a cloud in the sky, I decided to run completely off of feel. I used my perception of my core temperature as a guide of when to push and when to back off. The crowds along Alii Dr. were fantastic. It was difficult to stay controlled with so much adrenaline pumping. I just focused on running within myself and cooling off at every aid station with sponges, ice and cold water.
I felt pretty good until about 15 miles and then it was like a switch went off. Immediately my legs felt like concrete. I knew it was going to be a very painful next 11 miles, but that didn’t matter. I was either finishing this race, or being taken to the hospital in an ambulance. I gave it everything I had for the remainder of the race. I fought for every inch. I passed a few people, and a few people passed me.
Coming onto Alii Dr. for the final 400m was a moment I will never forget. The sides were lined three people deep. You could hear helicopters in the distance. It was so loud it hurt your ears. I tried to soak it in to the best of my ability, but unfortunately it is still a blur. Erin’s mom handed me a Canadian flag and I flew it proudly. When I crossed the finish line my mom and Erin were waiting for me. I gave them a hug and I tried to speak but there were no words that could come out. All I could do was cry.
I am proud of the result for a first crack at this race. I am proud that I gave my all from start to finish. But all of that stuff is not nearly as important as setting a goal and seeing it through to completion. It was a long and tough journey, but I made it to the end, and that is the most satisfying part. Of course, along the way I have accumulated new goals and ambitions, but this was the one that started it all, and thus this is the one that means the most.
Thanks for reading.