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Kona Diaries - Days 1 to 4

As part of our ATHLETE TAKE OVER I thought I would share my experience of racing at Kona, a decade old dream of mine that came true in 2019. It's mainly pretty pictures and a little bit of triathlon! I will post another four days worth every week day this week.

Day 1

It’s finally here, the day to go to Kona. Work and life have been a bit of struggle recently so I have had almost zero time to contemplate what a trip to Kona means to me or everyone around me. The work life balance hasn’t quite had the capacity to handle training for another Ironman following qualification in July. It’s sometimes been a choice between eating, sleeping, work or training. Not all of them have been possible on the same day! We also threw in a cheeky house move and a job change each between August and now.

An early start to leave for the flight, I say early, it wasn’t that early. I’ve been up to either cycle or run at the same time for the past few weeks so for me I got a ten minute lie in! The new house location made it super simple to get to the real world where they keep useful things like airports. We were faced with a fairly large check in queue, always a nightmare when you are travelling with a bike box that you haven’t booked on yet. We were going on the premise that the chap on the phone told us we didn’t need to pre book it. This has gone wrong for us in the past so I was preparing for a heated discussion.

For some reason we had chosen to use my military issue bags for this trip and the self check in lady recognised them.

‘Excuse me sir, are you military?

‘Er, yes....

‘Are you travelling on orders?

‘Well......yes kind of (bluffing)

‘Do you have them with you?

‘No but I do have a NATO travel order with me

‘Ah that’s great, straight through to my colleague at the desk please. She will book your bags and bike in for you

‘We haven’t paid for any of them yet

‘No problem Sir, that’s all taken care of for you

Skip the queue and get free bags! Win!!!

Onto the plane with minimum fuss, Leanne and I are not sat together. No big deal, it’s a full flight. Just before take off its apparent that the only free seat onboard is next to Leanne - I’ll take that as a sign so quickly switched. Much better view and I don’t think I could have taken the snorting from my previous seat buddy for 8hrs!

As I relax back into my seat I look out the window and notice that we are overhead the Bolton course which makes me look back at the last year of shooting for this dream. I thought I did everything possible leading up to that event, as it turns out there were some errors but fingers crossed I’ve corrected them. I’ve been doing this a while now and learn something new every time. I think I’m in a better place at the moment than I was in July but still not confident about the underpants run! This whole thing has been a dream since getting into tri, I never thought it would actually happen but once I started getting close to the performances I needed it became all consuming. I won’t lie, this year has been hard in terms of training and looking under every stone for every gain. Some of those stones were worth their weight in gold, some of them were total duds. I’ve had to revisit things again and again to refine them. Just stamping my ticket to the Big Island was the goal of the season, I hadn’t really contemplated what the actual race would be like or how I would perform - I have tried to convince myself that it doesn’t really matter and to just enjoy the experience but that isn’t how any triathlete really functions!

Day 2

We arrived in the dark and just made last orders for food at our hotel. After that it was straight to bed. I didn’t sleep. I was wide awake and sat on the balcony working on some athletes training and race plans at 0230. Before I knew it, the sun was up! We headed out for breakfast at Lava Java (it was ace) drank way too much coffee and made our way to the pier for a swim. The beach is probably one of the smallest in the world for such a big event, something you don’t really get an idea of from the tv.

I had been a bit nervous about getting in the water here. Not only is it non wetsuit but everyone is built like a machine. Nevertheless, I suited up and swam. It was cool, not just a little bit but really cool. Loads of marine life, nice temperature and I clearly was not the slowest fish out there. I spent the whole time grinning and thinking how lucky I am.

The only other thing scheduled for today was a bike build. I was dreading it. I love my bike but it does not travel well! I was right to be concerned. On the face of it the bike went together well, I am well versed in how it fits together now but only three out of four shifters worked. I’ve seen this before after travelling to a race so knew where to look - one of the wires had been pinched and severed in transit. I was ultra careful when packing the bike to avoid this so I can only assume that when US customs inspected the box they didn’t put it back the same way. Previously, I have cut and soldered the wire back together but this time it wasn’t going to be an option as the last operation took all remaining slack from the system. A quick google established I could get the bits I needed on Amazon Prime but a bit more googling proved that there were some on the Island less than a mile away and the bike shop was currently open on a Sunday. Off we went! The bike shop was one of the best I have been to. $121 later and I had new clics, they even gave me a piece of old shifter wire that I asked for to aid rethreading. It was a job that needed doing anyway but I hadn’t anticipated doing it in a hot hotel room before the IM WC! I was nice and calm though, no rush and even more glad that we had come out ahead of the crowd with time to spare. As it turned out, these were the last pair or SRAM eClics left on the island and by the end of the day another three athletes had been in to the shop looking for some.

Day 3

Jet lag got the better of us again but this time we managed to get to sleep again until about 0600. We walked around to the pier for another swim and swam straight to the 1.2 mile marker and bobbed about a bit marvelling at the scenery and number of tourists also out here on snorkel trips ($150). On our way back we were joined by a pod of dolphins who showed us up as crap swimmers! What an awesome experience and for free!

We decided on Humpy’s for breakfast and sat watching Lucy Charles run up and down Ali’i Drive whilst we ate. She looks fast even on her slow runs.

I had a small brick session planned so after a bit of chilling out set off on the bike through town and up the hill for my first taste of the Queen K. It is a highway and you have to ride on the shoulder where there is a fair amount of debris with trucks and thunderous V8’s passing by so it wasn’t the most relaxing ride. The wind and heat didn’t seem so bad though, perhaps the hours spent on the turbo with the heaters on hadn’t been wasted. It was just a simple 45 mins out and back which I did mostly by myself apart from a short bit with Michelle Vesterby and an American I got chatting to who is also out here representing the US Navy version of the FAA and worked the SAR circuit, small world.

The run was again super simple and short, just 30 mins total but that was enough. My body was still thinking it was around midnight so just wanted to shut down and sleep. It was a bit of a sweat fest and I established that 6km without water is probably 4km too far out here.

A late lunch at Da Poke Shack, one of the recommendations and sanctioned by Gordon Ramsey was really tasty. It’s not really my thing but enjoyed it and will go back later in the trip. We grabbed some cans of nice looking juice only to get halfway through and realise it was 5% alcohol! Oops.

Day 4

Another breakfast and another location, this time it was Bongo Bens. No Lucy Charles to watch this morning but our dolphin friends were out in force leaping out the water for our entertainment which more than made up for it.

We (I) had decided to do a structured pool swim today and as one of the two pools nearby was closed (the one you see in all the Kona videos) we set off to find the other one. It’s not far away and in a school built into the hillside. Pretty spectacular really, open air of course and packed full of pro’s, Nikki Bartlett and Susie Cheetham being the UK ones we recognised. A little self consciously I made my way to the poolside, I am sure no one even gave me a second thought but I was feeling the pressure not to be shit! I wasn’t that bad (I hope) and soon I was into the swing of it but feeling pretty empty and making harder work of it than usual. I think I can put it down to the fact that the pool is actually at a substantial altitude, far and away higher than I’ve ever swam anyway and I was my old friend jet lag was still hanging around. Excuses excuses! Half way through, the lifeguard came over to speak to me - ‘this is it, they have realised I am an imposter and I will be asked to leave’ I thought. Nope nothing that bad, he just wanted me to get a filter that had been dropped to the bottom. No problem, just a load of pro’s swimming up and down, don’t mess up Sammy! Wow, that pool was deep! My lungs were bursting and my fingers tips were only just long enough but I could see the respect in the eyes of other swimmers (I couldn’t. I doubt they even noticed my heroics).

The rest of the day was put aside to touristing which included a stop at Kona Coffee Shack which has probably the best views of any coffee shop in the world and a trip to Two Step Bay where we spent an hour or so snorkelling amongst the coral, chasing fish of all sorts of colour, the rainbow ones were my favourite!

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