Friday, October 21, 2011

2011 Kona Wrap-Up

2011 was my fourth Ironman Triathlon World Championship that I was asked to marshal.  This was my sixth time to Kona for the Ironman. 2000 when I raced.  2005 when I had several (three) athletes racing - I was a volunteer on the pier and as a bike catcher.  (I'm all over the video of the race.) 2008-2011 I've been a race official.  I extended my time in Kona by a few days in order to visit with some Hawaiian friends (still managed to miss some) and get a few days of "vacation".

I flew out on Tuesday so I'd be able to be in town on Wednesday.  I flew ORD to LAX and had a long 5 hour layover.  I found some decent sushi in the LAX airport and it turned out to be right by my gate.  I was able to charge up my phone and computer and met up with Ed and Candy (marshals from Galveston, Texas).  The flight to Kona was with a couple of Ironman legends that aren't in many books.  I don't think I said more than eight words the entire flight to Kona.  I just listened to their stories.

On arrival into Kona I felt at home.  I love the experience of being around the race.  I consider it a privilege to be trusted as a marshal such an important race in the triathlon world.  As a coach (although, I didn't have any athletes in this race) it is an important week to be in Kona.  There are many things to learn by watching and paying attention to detail.  Kona is significant and seems to get bigger every year.  It seems that more and more people in the business of triathlon understand that Kona is significant and the leaders of the sport are all there.  You cannot move in Kona without bumping into a triathlon legend and no matter who you are - there is always someone more fit than you.  People I talked to: Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Natasha Badmann, Heather Fuhr - Ironman Champions all.  Cowman, Tom Knoll, Bob Babbitt, Jimmy Riccitello, Mike Reilly, Tom Ziebart, Andrew Messick (CEO of Ironman), Ken Glah, Virginia Tinley, Tony Kannan, Tara Costa, Scott Rigsby, Rajesh Durbal, Bob & Maryann Blais, Troy Jacobson, Tim & Tony DeBoom, Cam Brown, Timo Bracht, Chris McCormick, Missy LaStrange, Richard Hill and others.  

As much as I try to be a leader in my community in triathlon, I'm just another guy in Kona.  Every person involved in Kona is serious enough to be there on race day.  That is serious commitment.  Every person is a leader in their community in some way or form.  Honestly, I think we are all leaders in the sport of triathlon.  We represent the sport to folks who don't know about triathlon.  What is interesting is who thinks that they are a leader and have the attitude that their "shit don't stink"versus those who try to lead by helping others.  Those who work on educating people about the sport.  Others showing folks that you don't necessarily need to do an Ironman (or win anything) to be a leader.  You can be a leader by helping people who have no chance of ever "repaying" you.  Even someone who may never meet you or know you were there.  You can be a leader by encouraging folks at your local gym.  A simple "You can do it" goes a long way.  After all, negative people who tell you you suck or aren't good are never in shortage.  It's the random person who tell you to "hang on" in a spin class or encourages you in the weight room that make the difference.  You don't have to be in Kona.  Aloha lives in many people.

 Some of the Ironman folks give me a bit of props for doing things with charity (ALS, Cancer, CAF), trying to bring better marshaling and education around marshaling to athletes in our area as well as offering quality coaching for good rates.  I won't go into who said what to me, but I'm very proud to have earned their respect.  It has nothing to do with my athletic ability - but who I am.  If I've learned one thing in my time on Earth - I know I can make a difference if I use my talents and abilities wisely.  I got "big timed" by a few people too.  "Big timed" means folks who talk to you or friend you when you can help them but ignore you when other "big" people are around.  It was disappointing, but never unexpected.  I'm usually good at predicting who is going to "out credential" me or "big time" me or me and Jay. 

If your happiness depends on your pleasing other people, you are going to be one unhappy person.

Wednesday, I went for a six mile run along Ali'i Drive.  It is extremely hot.  I love it.  On the run I saw a lot of folks who were in the race going extremely hard.  Every year you see "panic training" - people doing extra workouts in Kona because they don't feel fit enough; and, workouts that are way too hard.

Thursday was a full day of fishing with Glen, Ed and the boys.  We got into a school of Aku tuna which we then turned into bait for marlin.  We had a nibble from what we think was a marlin, but the hook never set.  I was next and hooked a 7' ~200 lbs. bronze whaler shark.  It took about 30 minutes to bring her in and then release her.  What was it like?  Put your car in neutral about 400 meters away and try and pull it in.  Every 10 seconds or so have the person in the car hit the brakes and when you get 15' from the boat... put the car in gear and go out another 400 meters.  I was soaked in sweat and every muscle in my body was completely exhausted.

Friday was a meetings and preparation for race day.  We went to breakfast and it took 45 minutes to get take out; so we were a few minutes late to our first meeting.  At 12:30pm, we went down and helped with bike check in as it seemed a lot of athletes had questions.  We started informally asking questions and soon everyone was asking questions.  I think we helped because there was no line to wait for bike check in which is normal.  This seemed to help reduce the stress a great deal.

Saturday wake up was at 5am.  Even as a marshal, I find I wake up at 3:30, 3:45, 4:15 and just watch the minutes roll by.  Got a shower.  Breakfast and off.  Arrived 15 minutes early at our staging area and now we wait.  There is very little chance of seeing the swim start in person, so the best way is to listen for the cannon as soon as the helicopters appear.  My regular motorcycle pilot (Ken) wasn't in Kona this year due to work.  It's been a tough year for everyone.  I did get lucky in getting an experienced rider and cool guy Deek.  He was great!

From the staging area for marshals, Jimmy Riccitello had me sending out marshals at intervals and we could tell it was going to be a busy day.  In all, we penalized about 10% of the field - so we certainly made a difference in making the race more fair for everyone.  It may seem like a lot, but it really isn't.  One other ref had 28 penalties.  We were in the bulk of the field.  This field is really fast and nobody wants to let anyone go in the early stages of the race.  I wrote 22 penalties for drafting, 2 for blocking and 2 for position (one for an acquaintance of mine who was riding in the middle of the road not passing anyone).  I don't think he recognized me when I penalized him - he was that out of it.  It may seem mean to even penalize my 'friends', but my view is that there are no warnings and no breaks for anyone.  Fair is fair.  A penalty is the same for everyone.  Once I look that it is a call - it's a call.  I don't' even look at the race number or athlete to see if I know him or her.  It wouldn't matter.  Fair and impartial are a must.  When I race - that's what I want from the officials.  Just let me race a fair race.  I hope others feel the same way.

At the end of the day I was given a motor scooter to ensure that everyone was legal on the course.  They were.  I came across Tara Costa and she was out there talking to everyone and encouraging people with all the power she could muster.  Then I saw Rajesh who was out of it, but any triple amputee who finishes Ironman Hawaii in 13 hours and change is one tough dude (to put it mildly).  Then I saw Scott Rigsby a double amputee.  He looked great.  Tara, Scott and Rajesh are very genuine people.  I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet them.  Hey, it's Kona... you never know who you'll meet or run into.

At the turn around in the Energy Lab is a "cheater mat" - a timing mat that records all competitors at the farthest point out on the run.  Those folks are out there all day and well into the night.  The atmosphere of ohana is palpable.  Jay and I were out there and asked if they were ok or needed anything.  I couldn't  blink before Richard, Maria and their friends had a homemade pork chorizo tacos with fresh cilantro and an ice cold Pepsi in my hands.  It was amazing!  We stayed with them and talked about how awesome Ironman is, family, Hawaiian culture and life and our lives on the mainland.  If I am racing or marshaling - I will make it a point to see them every year I am in Kona.  These folks are amazing.  Their kids were great, young examples.  I'll look forward to hearing about their life experience as they grow up.  Maybe it's corny, but suspend your cynicism for a few minutes.  What an experience!

We returned the scooters back to the hotel and Ironman race operations.  Then we went to the finish line and a bit past the finish line - out by the church.  To cheer for finishing athletes and remind them to smile, soak it in, zip up their team kit for their picture at the FINISH LINE.  We got a lot of smiles.  The last minutes of Ironman were awesome.  The 80+ men's race had the top three finish within minutes and at times they were all running together!  I hope to be chewing solid food and going to the bathroom by myself at 80.  Doing an Ironman is simply incredible.  The last finisher missed the cut off by 4 seconds.  4. Lousy. Seconds.  There was an audible AWWW NO! at the finish line.  Next year.

Sunday I was able to hang with David and Sarah Fix, Scott Guilfoil and others at the banquet.  I hadn't been to an Ironman awards banquet since 2005 and a Kona dinner since 2000.  It's even more professional than it was back then.  Really well done.  We didn't get into the KSWISS after party - our "connections" didn't have extra invites - so we just went back to Humpy's and had a beer and talked.  It turned out to be great; talked to folks from AUS, SUI, GER, CAN, MEX, JPN, and USA.  Very fun and relaxed.  Prior to the dinner I got to meet Molly, Jeff, Nigel and Shirley at Humpy's - a bar/restaurant on Ali'i Drive.  Watching NFL football at 7am is odd.  Watching Sunday night football at 2pm is bizarre.

The flight home was pretty awesome too.  I met a very cool couple from Toronto who's father/father-in-law did Ironman.  They had never seen the race until this year.  A lot of friends were on the flight.  Some marshals from Australia too.  Get this... they flew Kona to San Francisco to Sydney.  UGH!  Suddenly my connection from KOA to SFO to ORD wasn't bad at all.  One of the German officials was on the plane too.  No names mentioned... but he was quite hung over.  His girlfriend won her age group.  Hey, sounds reasonable to me.  I hope we keep in touch - he is a riot!  I love the German sense of humor and hard core attitude.  When the Aussies and Germans drink - just stand back and watch because we are all amateurs by comparison.  Then in SFO, I was speaking to Bob Scott - 81 year old from Naperville.

Going to Kona is always a reward for good work.  I hope to be able to go back as an athlete, but it may take a lottery slot to get me back.  I'll hope to continue to go as an official and volunteer as often as I can.  It is inspiring and good for the soul.  Just leave any bitterness and sarcasm at the airplane door.

Mahalo, A hui hou kakou

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