Kona hosts the Ironman World Championship. [The Ironman distance is 140.6 miles. However, "Ironman" is a trademark owned by World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), thus Kona is technically the world championship only for the 140.6 mile races owned and organized by WTC. Many other races of this distance exist, but they are not "Ironman" races so they are not qualifiers for Kona. Sorry for the confusion; you are not alone in feeling dizzy right now. It might be best to think of Kona as a series championship for races owned by one company.]
Kona is the hallowed historic ground of ultra-distance multi-sport competition (although it didn't truly originate on the Big Island). The inaugural participants did things like buy their bikes the week of the race at K-Mart, ride in jean shorts, and complete exactly three "training" runs before race day. And to think we want to be like them....my undercarriage definitely votes NOT to race like it's 1978.
|Inaugural Participant, Tom Knoll, holds the Inaugural Participation Trophy....literally a Man made of Iron|
But for most, Kona is it. The Brass Ring. Like the Boston Marathon and few other events, the Olympics for the Common Man. A goal - and finish line - imagined on so many dark mornings and scorching evenings in swimming pools, basement trainers, and running trails around the world. A chance to race against the best in the world, who call for water at aid stations in a variety of languages not taught in U.S. public schools.
But first, Kona Qualifiers must race the course itself. And sometimes that is the only race in which they will compete on the Big Island.
Often the preparation for racing the course is harder than the preparation for racing any age group of individuals. Because when the God of Ironman took her seventh day to rest, she really was saving up her energy and spite for her crowning jewel: Kona. Tapering for the coup de grace, if you will.
The first-timers bear the brunt of this fact, as I was reminded by one of my athletes, Phil, who two weekends ago achieved the goal for which he has worked extremely hard over the last few years.
|Meet Phil...with his very good bike position (although I can't take credit for that)|
Phil's business is words so I'm going to let him guest blog for a second:
"The immutable law of Kona is suffering. I've never had to dig as much in a race from beginning to end as that. Never been thrashed like that on the swim. Never felt so bad on the bike. Never had to work so hard to stay moving on the run."
This from an athlete who went sub-10 hours in Kona. Imagine going two hours faster. Or seven hours slower. The one aspect that unites them all is that they first have to go to battle with the course and its protector and creator, the omnipotent and omnipresent Madame Pele.
In my Kona race report last year I wrote:
"The Queen K is a deja-vu bacon strip of treeless lava and mercurial winds. Not steep, the hills are gradual and never-ending. I suspect that the Queen K's asphalt is so smooth because with her winds, Madame Pele has literally scoured off all imperfections. Kona participants are just 1,800 more to be systematically removed. On the bike leg you are not racing your competitors so much as Madame Pele herself and it is here that she most often gets her revenge."
Because the reality is that when a Kona training schedule says "3 hr ride as...," it should say "3 hr ride on rollers in a bikram studio with a space-heater or jet engine blowing in your face, the blasts of which must abruptly and randomly change strength and position."
Or instead of "2 hr run as...," "2 hr run on the shoulder of a deforested modern highway in central Florida in August. Rush hour or not is your preference."
Who would believe that if it showed up on a training schedule? And who would have the bikram studio?! Plus I almost got arrested that time I tried to run on I-95...
It's the repeat Kona Qualifiers who would believe it. They know what demons lay in wait out in those lava fields, and it's not just the person in front of you that you can't catch. They can also tell you that preparing for the course will (almost) take care of preparing for the competition - because oftentimes the competition are too busy getting slapped around by the course.
|Phil working on slapping the course right back|
For both cultural and athletic achievement reasons, I wish everyone had the opportunity to qualify for Kona - and then drag their bike into a bikram studio.