Friday, September 30, 2011

How to Not be a Dork in Kona: The Rules

Kona is the big dance.  The show.  The grand daddy of 'em all.  The Super Bowl of triathlon.  Pick your analogy they all pale in comparison to the race and week(s) leading up to the race itself.  If you are a triathlete, I hope that one day you get to race in Kona.  It is amazing.  As awesome as the recap show is on NBC television - it is one tenth of what goes on during the week and a snapshot of the day.

Things have already started as some pros arrive earlier and earlier to adjust to the heat as best that they can.  It seems that this is now an age group thing too.  I know one guy who has been in Kona since September 9th and he is from Germany.  Kona is a bit different than your standard Ironman.  Knowing that going in is something to consider.

Rule #1 - Don't judge a book by it's cover.

When you get off the plane, you will see tons of people and everyone will seem to be in shape.  You cannot know how much someone trained or is "all there" mentally.  You will just see the physical appearance of people.  Three years ago - EVERYONE in Kona looked like they needed a cheeseburger.  Thin was in.  Times were a lot slower.  If you are racing, I promise you this... a) you will beat someone who is "more ripped" than you on race day, b) a grandmotherly type WILL pass you somewhere on the course and will not even be breathing hard.  In 2000, I was in a "drag race" with the women's 55-59 champion.

Rule #2 - Respect the Hawaiian people and the island.

The Hawaiian people are allowing this race on their home.  They are good people and amazingly kind if you aren't a jerk.  Say "Aloha" and "Mahalo" (thank you) when you are in a restaurant and on the street.  I am blessed to call several native families ohana (family).  I helped a Hawaiian guy who had a tire blow out on the Queen K once and it turned out he was a police officer who had his phone go dead.  That year (2005) I was a volunteer and he got me through to the family area to see one of my athletes (Cedrick Dujon) finish.  When another policeman said, "Who is that?" (pointing at me) My friend said, "It's my cousin.  Can't you see the family resemblance man?  He's alright.  Let him in."  I am looking forward to catching up with him and his family next week.

The island... where to begin.  The big island of Hawaii is the most amazing place on Earth in my opinion.  The tropical water with green, pink, black, white, and red sands.  Lava pouring into the ocean - DAILY.  A mountain larger than Everest (when measured from the ocean floor).  Dolphins, turtles, rays.  Appreciate the place... there aren't many like it on this planet.  It is so amazing, that even the hardest non-believer comes home believing in God.  It is a spiritual place.

Speaking of...  Madame Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes and fire, and Ku, god of war.  Madame Pele is one bad-ass, touchy deity.  Placate her and everything should be cool.  Piss her off - and you are in for a long string of bad luck.  How else would you explain miles of homes being devoured by lava and only ONE being spared when Uncle Charlie (a native Hawaiian religion deacon of sorts) says a prayer on the roof of the home and lava starts moving the other way?  **More about him in a moment.**

Legend says that Pele rules over everything hot on the Big Island.  Fire, volcanoes and the leeward side of the island.  Pele worship is alive and well near the active craters where lava is one of those "uninsurable" risks.  Pele is said to appear as a beautiful young woman on the volcanoes.  Down the slope, away from her home - she is said to appear as an old woman with flowing white hair, dressed in white and often accompanied by a small white dog.  If you see such a woman, it is custom to offer her a ride and water if you have any.  If you see either hitchhiking on Highway 11 as you approach the national park, you are advised to give her a lift...and anyone who has seen the Brady Bunch knows that you should never take any lava rocks from Hawaii.

Madame Pele is said to have a taste for gin.  On race day, or in race coverage, take notice of the lava pyramids adorned with leis, offerings in ti leaves, anthuriums and ho'okupu.  If you want to be more to the point, a couple of bottles of Tanqueray poured over your lava pyramid and a prayer should do the trick.  Building a lava pyramid is common practice of racers.  BE ADVISED THAT LAVA IS SHARP AND WILL CUT YOU DEEPLY HANDLE IT WITH CARE.

Subsection A, Rule #2 - if Uncle Charlie asks to drink with you - you drink.

My friend brought me to meet this living legend at 9am on a Monday.  Uncle Charlie, upon meeting me, stood up and announced that we were going to have a drink.  I was informed that this was a tremendous honor and drank whatever he gave me.  My wife wound up driving us back to the hotel.  I was hammered, but at least it was 3pm in Chicago.

Rule #3 - Pro athletes, seals and turtles - leave them alone.

Imagine if during the most important week of your work year you had people everywhere asking you for your time, autograph and picture?  Early in the week - no problem.  As you get closer to the race... give these folks their space.  Their faces are 100% game face by Thursday.

Turtles and coral - while they look pretty and strong - they are both fragile.  Admire them from a distance.  The Honu turtles are an endangered species.  Hawaiian monk seals are known to be aggressive from time to time.  Leave them alone.

Make sure the only thing you leave behind are foot prints in the sand.  If you see garbage or plastic in the water, remove it and throw it away or into a recycling bin.

Rule # 4 - Prepare and expect the worst.

In 2000 and 2001 there was a 8' sea swell, high temperatures and category one hurricane force winds - ideal for a triathlon right?  In Kona they won't cancel the swim for white cap waves.  You better be ready.  Well... if you are here, it probably won't bother you that much.  In 2006, there was crazy heat (137 F heat index) with a STRONG thunderstorm in the early evening.  Expect HARSH weather conditions.  Anything easier is a blessing.

**Best race to simulate Kona conditions?  Buffalo Springs Lake Ironman 70.3 in late June. Lubbock, TX

Rule #5 - Lighten up Francis.  You may never be here again.

While this is all that it is cracked up to be, don't be a jerk.  After the race you'll have to go back to work and 99% of the world's population still won't be exactly sure how far that Ironman is.  Keep it in perspective.


  1. Great post even for a spectator, thanks :) I saw someone posting on Facebook about sitting in Kona "playing Qualifier/Lottery/Poser" watching the crowd and that seemed kind of sad. Hopefully I can just cheer and do my training in relative obscurity without bothering anyone!

  2. Thanks Molly. Yeah... I've missed Kona six times by under 1 minute (and wouldn't have caught the guy in front of me). I raced there in 2000 and "beat" a lot of qualifiers. Even going from MOP to BOP in my age group (after my marathon meltdown) I still beat a lot of folks who "earned it".

    As a spectator and an athlete my $0.02 would be to enjoy the experience and people watch while going to an amazing island. Looking forward to meeting you. We need to exchange phone numbers.

  3. Nice Bob! Which six races did you miss qualifying by under a minute I will be sure not to do those sounds pretty tough.

  4. Missed at the Chicago Triathlon (when you could qualify at an Olympic distance race). The guy in front of me passed me with 200m to go. I had a good race. He had a better one. Then missed at roll downs of other qualifiers - so "technically" not a "real" qualifier (read: top five) - but the way I look at it...if the guy in front of me takes the Kona slot... I just missed. Either way - I wasn't good enough on that day to qualify.

    **READERS NOTE** - The "anonymous" question was probably someone who is a "hater" and afraid to put his or her name down.

  5. Bob, your incessant talk about your past accomplishments makes it sound like you were once one of the better triathletes in Chicago when you've always been just average. And why do you frequently throw in a reference to the 'jerks' out there? I hope you post my comment and show my name. I'm not a 'hater', just a realist.

    Chris Barnes

  6. Hi Chris - You may be right - I may be average at my best. I'm an unfinished product. Not even a "realist" as you call yourself - can take away races I've finished and things I've been fortunate enough to experience.

    The goal of this blog is to pass on learned experiences. This is how I learned about triathlon. I have never claimed to be one of the best, just one who has been around. One who has tried to pass on the things I see to others who may be interested in another perspective.

    Not every comment gets posted for a reason. Anyone who puts themselves out there on a blog/website will tell you their comments and email are full of "loving encouragement" from realists like yourself.

    See you at the races. Good health to you.

  7. GREAT post Bob! - Mark

  8. Chris -

    One addition - In my opinion - folks who are the best in Chicago: Bob Scott, Brad Moore, ELF, Jenny Harrison, Dean Hewson, Russ K, Mark Rouse, Theresa Rouse, Nancy Wentink, Laura Lee, Darian D (when he lived here), Jen Baer (when she lived here)... I'm sure I'm forgetting a ton of people - but you should know that I understand I'm just a face in the crowd.

    I thought you knew me better. Guess not.


  9. Hey Chris - don't know why you hate Bob so much. I just googled his 2005 Ironman Wisconsin results. He doesn't look that average to me!

    245th of 2244? 49th of 405?

    Dude, what's your problem?



    1:00:39 6:21:17 4:24:59 11:59:42 245 of 2244 49 of 405

  10. 'T', I certainly don't hate Bob. He's always been nice to me. I'm sorry that you misunderstood the meaning of my post. Good job pointing out that 2005 IM result though!