It’s hard to know where to even start with the whole trip. All roads lead back to PE in April where myself and Erwan Prevost sat around the Kona slot allocation and debated on what decision was going to be made ,as neither of us had really planned on making the trip this year. Once Erwan had calmly swiped the massive R16k entry fees and taking his slot there was not looking back from there and the planning began.
The trip for me was one for learning as a coach and gathering as much experience as possible about the island, training routes, climate, tapering, travel tips, race tactics and how best possible to make sure future athletes I work with can have the best build up and race possible. My personal race I had a couple boxes to tick but overall was not too phased about the result. This really helped in the training up to the event as well as being able to make sure I could take in as much of the island as possible when there.
The trip started with the long haul across, a flight itinerary that is daunting with 36hrs travel from door to door and yet the most exciting and anticipated trip one can make. I won’t say I landed and the trip was just smooth sailing as with a 16hr, 10hr and 1hr flight you land and feel like you have been hit by a bus.
The hype and talk about Kona definitely lived up to expectation. The atmosphere in the village is electric and just sucks you into the race and love for the island. Coffee shops and local cuisine grips you and sucks up all those valuable Rands you have saved up it worth every cent.The ocean is like an aquarium as the ocean life engulfs you with countless sea life swimming alongside you, so much so that I swam more in the week leading up to the race than in the month leading up. It’s just an addiction you can’t let go. Our term for the heat was that is was ‘refreshingly different ‘ because if I had to hear another athlete talking about his hot it was one more time I think I was going to slap them and send them back to where they came from.
The famous land marks such as the Queen K, Lava fields and Ali drive definitely met all the box ticks and acknowledging how much of an impact the climate and conditions can have on the race is humbling. The under pants run was a huge focus leading up to the race and definitely makes most feel fat as some take prep for the run more seriously than the actual Ironman race. The nerves and anxiety of other athletes can defiantly be felt as race day nears and the competitive nature of most on the island oozes out as you see some of the most incredible machinery and athletic bodies passing around the village.
If you want to say hello or greet fellow athletes when out training you best save your energy. It’s by far the most stuck up and unfriendly environment I have ever seen as athletes focus on their pre-race prep and the awareness of others is minimal. We tried raising our voices to get a bit more attention but that was often returned with a raised eyebrow or look of shock.
When racking bikes and equipment on the Friday afternoon it’s really just a moment to take in and reality hits you. All emotions come together and you stand there on the peer and just realize how special of an achievement it is to be in the race. It’s at that point the butterflies finally start to appear and the switch flicks to racing mode.
An early rise, breakfast and sh&t ,its off to the race start we go. Of all the aspects I experienced in the build up I was completely blown away by the sheer amount of people around transition and that had lined up along the peers and shoreline to watch the race, it was mind blowing!
The swim start was quick and brutal but I must admit at one point 200m In I thought I was Michael Phelps as I had clean water and just immense power and swimming prowess.....this all ended when the two arrows on the outside starters merged in front of me and then I went back to my life of white water swimming, following feet and pure brutality of the under dog swimmer.
The bike was always going to be a smash fest from the beginning as you fight for position and look for the right attacks to join. An extremely energy zapping process but probably one of the most important parts of executing a great race. The wind blew, it rained, the wind blew more, the humidity said Howzit and the lava fields whipped out some special magic. All in all though I never felt like I was under pressure by what the climate threw out and I believe the write training and mind set was in place to tackle the bike leg and as I ended up having a great day out.
Racking the bike and heading out to the run is just world class. The streets are lined up with spectators 5 people deep and who would have thought so many people would know my name as they screen and support you. If you want a PB 10km , the first part of that run is the perfect spot as the crowd lift you and push you along with their support. The next 30km can only be described as the most boring and mentally testing run conditions I have ever experienced. It’s lonely ,refreshingly different and stark contrast to what you have just experienced coming out of T2. My goal was a 3h30 marathon and make sure my Achilles didn’t end up in my throat, box ticked. So coming into the final 2km and back towards the red carpet was just rock star status as far as feelings go. The crowd roars, music is pumping and the familiar voice of Paul Kaye sounds out, he gives me an amazing intro to the crowd from my past short course racing and then.....Travis, you are an Ironman. A feeling and memory that will last a lifetime.
The after party for those who know me well.....that story is for another day!
By Travis Johnston