The "Kona Experience" was awesome. Kona is NEVER dull. Even if the race were not in town (aka: the circus) - Kona and the Big Island of Hawaii is a very awesome place. If you aren't spiritual... you will be. The incredible POWER of the sun, wind, heat and sight of the volcanoes (dormant and active) show you a bit of perspective.
We started our trip OUT of town. Did some things out near Waikoloa. Then we stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa. We ate fish twice a day. (How can you not when you are eating fish at lunch that was swimming at 6am?) This year marshaling was part of a vacation to the big island. Lorrie joined me using plane tickets we won in an ALS auction in March. The last time Lorrie traveled to the big island I was racing Ironman... ancient history a decade old.
I tried to give my friends racing space. No calls. No text messages. (I hate texting - I must be old.) No Facebook or Twitter - I didn't want people to know for a week we were away. Greta was with my mom and dad - her second home as my dad continues to battle cancer. Dad (and mom too) really enjoy Greta. She listens extremely well to them. Still... Lorrie and I missed Greta very much.
Swimming in Kona is simply amazing. Corals, white sand, black lava, and tropical fish of every color. What people don't talk about in Kona is the surge. You can swim pretty hard and not move an inch - for several minutes. Waves are waves - 3-6' are "normal". So when you go to Kona you really have to be strong in the water. The salinity of the water if very high. I had read something about the salinity of the ocean being stronger near the equator. I'm not sure if that is true, but it feels that way. It is far more salty in Kona than Clearwater in my opinion.
Cycling in Kona is full of short, steep up and down rollers - as well as heat and wind. Sure... we have heat and wind here. However, combined with the enormity of the view of a mountain and a mountain range pair with the ocean - nothing nearly as stunning. Some people say the lava fields are "boring"... I'd like to know what they think is exciting. I think the lava fields are amazing! So much so that concentration can be an issue if you don't focus. Heat - the heat out there is in the low 100s and its very dry. By the time you understand you are behind in your hydration you are completely hosed. In Kona you don't have heat index, there is "radiant heat index" - the heat index when paired with heat off the lava rock. Temperature was 101. Radiant heat index was 127. Hottest I've felt since 2000. (out of 2000, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010)
A big mahalo to the guys at Bike Works in Waikoloa. I elected to rent a bike in Kona instead of bring my bike. The shop turned out to be out of bikes after they told me I had a bike. In the confusion of the week, my reservation was given away. Honest mistake. I said, "No worries man" and we started to walk out. I said to Lorrie (quietly), "I'll just ride the hotel mountain bikes." The guy at the shop ran out of the shop and said, "Do you want to rent MY bike?" I didn't even need to adjust the seat. It was the first time I rode a bike out on the Queen K since 2000. It felt good. Real good. I was reminded of the high winds, high heat (I got a mild sunburn even wearing 80 SPF on a 1 hr bike ride.) How hot is it? Whatever hydration you normally bring for a "hot" run... double it.
I ran a lot in Kona. I did two seven mile runs and a nine miler. I started each of the runs with a 2.25 section of "trail" running (large "ankle twister" type rocks, sand, Honu turtles - your normal run in Kona). It felt great. On one of the toughest runs I did, a breakthrough. I was able to put my breathing out of my head and just run. Finally. A long way back still remains, but it was very good to have "that feeling" again.
Race day went well. Marshal work was pretty good. Marshals Jimmy and Ed caught five pros trying to use illegal speedsuits (magically) they had back up speedsuits. Amateurs were busted too. Most just didn't wear one.
A group of top age group athletes came through with some of the back of the pack pro women. I gave two drafting penalties in the first 90 seconds on the bike and was looking for more people who earlier seemed to be too close. As soon as the athletes saw that the marshals were calling the race like a World Championship - they started racing cleanly. I issued 10 drafting penalties (9 male, 1 female - age group) and one penalty for littering to a guy who chucked a water bottle into the lava fields right in front of me miles from any aid station. A guy from France (who earned a draft penalty) said in perfect English, "I do not understand! I am French." I flashed the red card right in his face again and said, "Vous avez une carte rouge pour la redaction. aller a la tente de pensalisation. Exactement comme dans votre briefing d'avant course en francais." (You have a red card for drafting. Go to the next penalty tent. Just like in your pre-race briefing given in French.) He then turned to me and said, "Thank you. I will go to the penalty tent." Even my terrible French got the point through to him. The pro women I watched were just fine. I even marshaled Bree Wee. Totally clean riding when I was by her. Well done. Some of the top age group men were using EVERY single one of the seconds in the 20 second count we give. Totally legal. A certain magazine didn't think so; one of their photographers greeted every ref with an explative, "Make a f*cking call!" What this excitable photographer doesn't understand is a static view of the situation doesn't give a 20 second view of the action. A picture he didn't take was of the 25 people in the Hawi penalty box or the 80 people in the T2 penalty box. Amazing how those shots never get taken.
Later I learned of a female was getting too close and then when marshals came around she would sit up (like she was dropping out of the group). She will get caught and it will be "news", but not to any of the marshals who saw (but couldn't catch) her in Kona. I wonder if/when she will get caught?
I finished up work just before the pro men's race ended. I got to see Macca running down Palani Road. Man, that road is steep. I could tell on Kuakini that it was over. Macca was screaming, "How far is he back?!" I could tell it was over by looking at 2nd place. Macca just looked more fresh and driven.
Later that evening Lorrie, Jay and I went to Thai Rin for dinner and waited for our friend Dick Lansing. Dick had a great time in Kona - this year was his fastest of his three trips to the big island. I swam with Dick (and wrote our workouts) and did the majority of the long bike rides with him. He was well prepared. His coach did a great job.
The two most amazing finishes were of Clayton Treska (stage four, terminal, testicular cancer) and a young man who is a triple amputee. What I took from watching them race - I've got NO problems. Seriously, I me annoyed by things from time to time, but it is only whining. When the footage airs on NBC you will cry like you did when you watched Jon Blais.
There was ONE family who insisted on running with their wife/mother all the way to the finish line... they turned around when a ref came out and Mike Reilly informed them that if they crossed the line she would be disqualified. The ref was already getting his book out. Luckily, they didn't interfere with the 60-64 age group championship which was about 12 minutes behind her.
Mahalo to Wendy and Bryan at Imuri at the Hilton Waikoloa; they made us feel like Ohana. Mahalo to Ken - my moto driver for the 3rd year in a row. It was great to spend time with his family again. Every year I return to Kona, I feel more a part of the town. It truly is a spiritual place.
I highly recommend visiting the big island of Hawaii. It has something for everyone; lush, tropical valleys, volcanos, snow capped mountains, lava desert, (black, green, red and white) sand beaches, big game fishing. Go for the race if you can. Life your life instead of watching others live on TV.
More to come - our fishing trip, hiking, etc.