Overpriced, busy, commercialised, unpopular with the locals, unsustainable, unsupportive, dangerous; Kona got a real bad wrap prior to the return of the World Ironman Champs.
On the outside I felt really mixed emotions about the whole thing - stuck here in the rapidly cooling UK with three (a bit sick) kids whilst James mingled with old friends, swam, rode and ran the volcano, and basically engaged again with the greats of our sport for GTN. 80% of my friends seemed to be in Kona - childless and free whilst I feel very much in the depths of motherhood still, I'm not sad but it is the reality of many parents who love the sport. One day I will be out there supporting my athletes and even family race and I feel very grateful for having been able to race in Kona four times.
Back to now.
Fully invested in Sam and Steffi, with Louise out there supporting her partner too, I scrambled each morning to review what training they had done ; if they were sick, nervous, prepared or fine before they went to bed. They were mostly fine but when I feel mostly 'un fine' I projected my anxiety into my obsession - performance.
Unable to doze in front of live coverage (and the absolutely wonderous performances of the new wave of IM women) I followed my athletes races on the tracker. I slept once I knew they would finish healthy such is the brutality of the Kona IM. The ladies delivered brilliant efforts and I am ecstatic with their endeavour, approach and results on a classic Kona sweltering day.
Seamless Sixth for Sam
Sam finished 6th in the loaded 40-44 AG with solid swim, bike and run splits I was already happy with her reward and then James let me know she had suffered a 5 min penalty early in the bike when a motor bike had blocked her from moving out to overtake an athlete. Five minutes off her end time would have seen her on the podium and that fact will be one that niggles in our side for some time. That said her response in adversity, her consistency and positivity all day after is just more testament to her resilience.
We know we should always feel intrinsically motivated and satisfied with our best effort but in reality medals are nice. 10.21. Sam 'You are one of the Worlds best AG triathletes IRONMAN' (said in a Paul Kaye voice) ;)
Warrior Steffi fights on
Steffi arrived in Kona fit and ready. The past month began with a niggly hamstring but had finished with a 32km longest ever training run. We both felt very confident of the prospects in Kona but Steffi played it down - she was adamant she wanted to finish in daylight.
A day after arrival Steffi got a cough. It is one of the realities of travelling from Europe to the US in Autumn and with a week until the race it was about rest and patience.
I never doubted Steffi would finish what she started. I don't think we got the best out of her healthy body but we did well with a sick one. Steffi tested positive for Covid two days ago and clear yesterday so we are pretty sure she raced with it in her system - a fatigue that would have floored 90% of racers.
I believe Steffi , on her best day may have got on the podium and thus feel Steffi's discontentment with her end result but in the larger context Steffi ran a 10.50, whilst sick, in the hardest (bar the Pros) field of the day. I am nothing but proud of her as I know her husband Gerry is too.
Steffi will see a World AG podium in the future and that will be amazing but nothing will be more inspirational to me than seeing her take on the challenges she has in training this year. She is an amazing athlete and is everything the sport add to the world and more. Steffi I will always be on your team. Steffi moves on to race World 70.3 in St George before deciding on her next challenge in endurance.
On a different note - watching the Women race on the Thursday in their own race seemed to me as a step forward for womens' triathlon. I don't know Chelsea Sodaro personally but watching her performance, knowing her coach Dan and watching her interview with James I am already a huge fan. Her race was spectacular. Rinny-esque with an 18 month old child. I, as everyone else with toddlers, am blown away by the achievement. Well done Team Sodaro !
It was interesting watching the race as a spectator rather than an invested racer after these years away. Kona definitely daggers some but opens doors for the lucky few too. I believe Sodaro will prosper here for years to come and whilst the 'old timers' in Ryf and Charles Barclay will win again I love the leap some can take in that particular environment - thats something to remember whilst making bets next year - I'd be really interested to watch Ashleigh Gentle run the Kona course.