Kona in My Heart

Nineteen years ago, I did my very first triathlon.

I had no clue what I was doing, other than I would be swimming, biking and running for 1/4 mile, 9 miles and 5k, respectively.

I was 23 years old, it was 1998 and my training consisted of nothing more scientific than swimming, biking and running.

No clue yet about how to create a training plan, what intensities to train at, what to eat, how to recover and certainly, how to mentally prepare.

The race was fun.

Yes, I forgot to take my helmet off on the run and yes, I suffered from digestive issues, but still, it was enjoyable enough to be my foray into what would become the sport I fell in love with, learned to train for, recover from and visualize in advance of.

It was my vehicle to learn how to set goals beyond anything I actually thought I might achieve, so seemingly outrageous I would never have even uttered them aloud, and then, actually reach them.

It took only two seasons of racing before I got the courage to sign up for a full; after chatting with a challenged athlete at the finish line of the 2000 IM California, I was so inspired at what he’d accomplished that I signed up the very next day.

My first ironman was the 2001 Ironman California.

I finished well over 15 hours after having trained with no plan other than to swim, bike and run as much as possible.

Over the next few years, I figured out my nutrition, was coached by a few different experts before meeting with Lance Watson, who became my coach of nearly ten years, and through persistence, focus and perhaps sheer will, became a much more competitive athlete.

My first Kona qualification was through my fourth Ironman, Wisconsin, in 2005, for the race which would be held in 2006.

I had the chance to travel to Hawaii with a group of friends, some of whom were racing in 2005, to experience as a spectator for the very first time, what was in store for me the following year.

It was love at first sight.

It was everything I’d read about and seen and heard about each and every year when I’d watch the recap on TV.

The vast lava fields, the beautiful turquoise sea, the scorching heat, the beautiful Aloha spirit and the tales of Madame Pele… I couldn’t believe I was really there! And that the following year I’d get to race the sacred course!

Training went well for the race; much of it done in tandem with my husband (also a multi Kona athlete) and the race was the stuff dreams were made of.

Not for performance; in fact, I don’t even recall my first Kona time, but it was far from stellar, but just to have gone there, and to fall in love with Kona and all it means to me, all over again.

I raced each Kona (more so there than at my qualifying Ironman races) with what I refer to as the attitude of gratitude.

I went through stages of having to perform and qualify every year or the world would end, to a less amped up version of that, one in which I still wanted to execute the race I knew I was capable of but at from a (somewhat) less phrenetic pace.

I missed racing in 2008 after missing the mark at my qualifying event due to a poor performance at Placid.

(I lacked the mental strength at the time to prevent the 62 air temp and pouring rain get the better of me on the bike, resulting in me riding 70 miles in a size XL sweatshirt a volunteer loaned me covered up with a hefty bag to keep from getting soaked again.)

It crushed me, and made me even hungrier to race again.

Which I did, again and again.

In fact, the twice annual trip to Kona became our regular family vacation as Chris and I both continued to get faster, stronger and more savvy about navigating this incredible race.

But never with any lack of respect of what the course is capable of.
And while there were two other missed years along the way, both were planned in advance, so that when mid October rolled around, there was no sting.

But this year…. ouch.

An injury earlier this year set the stage for an unusual racing season for me.

Call it forced recovery, call it my body shouting out to me to take a break, but in any event, the takeaway was a sole 70.3 race in June (Honu) and a local Olympic Distance Triathlon.

I opted not to race at 70.3 Worlds, feeling I hadn’t the time to safely build back up, post injury.

I knew it would be tough once the big show rolled around, and tough it is.

I write this as Chris and I watch the live feed playing in the background, the intention being a cathartic release of pent up emotions of not being there in person on this very important day.

Part of me doesn’t want to admit it, doesn’t want to feel it. After all, yes, it is just a race and it is just a day.

But at the same time, pretending it’s no big deal would be nothing more than that: pretending.

I’ll be there again; I have unfinished business; I haven’t made it on the podium yet (by 57 seconds).
And I haven’t even volunteered there yet!

Knowing friends who are racing today, sending them Aloha spirit feels good, as well as the double underlined validation that without out a doubt, this race is something which remains such a big part of why I love this sport so much.

My heart out there on the course today with all the incredible athletes and volunteers who have the honor of being a part of this beautiful day.