Thursday, November 1, 2012

IM Kona 2012 - Pre-Race Week

Wow! 3 weeks removed from THE race, and I am still having a difficult time putting it into words. It really truly was an experience of a lifetime that will be very difficult to top!

I have so much I want to share with all of you, yet I am struggling to figure out where to start, and how to “summarize” what happened in the 2 weeks I spent in Hawaii! I could really write a book or at least that’s how I feel, but since I know how time crunched most of you are, I’ll do my best to make this short, though I am sure it will still be super long but hopefully worth the read :)

If you are a regular follower/reader of my blog, you know by now that 3 weeks ago, I have competed in my first ever ironman - THE ironman that anyone even outside of the triathlon world seems to know and recognize – THE Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawai’i.  To this day it’s almost a bit surreal. Many people were shocked this was my first IM, because the assumption is that one can only qualify by winning or close to winning another full IM. So Yes – you have to qualify, yes – you have to win or almost win, yes - most competitors do so at another full ironman, and yes-  most have done many IM’s before competing in Kona! However, there are still a few half ironman races left that can qualify you for Hawaii, and that was the path I chose to follow if I was going to get to Kona this time around. I was fortunate enough to qualify back in June at Buffalo Springs 70.3, Texas. You can read that race report here.

Being fairly new to the sport, I have watched this race online from beginning to end every single year since I got into the sport 3 short years ago.  I had a hard time tearing myself away from the computer screen! Fast forward to October 6th – when I stepped off the plane in Kona, Hawaii and was greeted by the cutest airport ever seen and 7 days removed from the big day. This picture doesn't quite do it justice, but the airport is really tiny and cute,  I swear.

I knew this race was special, but watching it on the computer or on TV during the 1 hour or this years 2 hour coverage doesn’t do it justice. It really doesn’t.  It actually doesn’t even come close! This race is like no other! It really is SUPER special, and the atmosphere, and energy that comes with it is very hard to put into words. I’ll do my best to take you through my pre-race week, the race itself, and the post race activities, but I recommend to each and every one of you (whether you are or aren’t interested in triathlon) to put this on your bucket list of things to experience – it will be worth it, and you will leave energized to do whatever it is that you are dreaming of!) You don’t have to compete, but you can volunteer, or simply just spectate! This race or event is really truly like no other!

From the time I stepped off the plane, to my very 1st sunrise, to my very 1st stroll on Ali’I drive, to the 1st swim at Dig Me beach, or the 1st ride on the famous Queen K, I felt like I was at the Olympics!

1st Swim at Dig Me beach wondering how far I really have to swim before I can turn around!

Riding on the Queen K and trying to capture some of it J (The famous “energy lab” section of run course is directly behind me)

And the beautiful sunsets:

The atmosphere was electric, and the energy in town is really hard to describe! And better yet, unlike the Olympics where you need to buy tickets, this “show” is free! J

Here is my attempt at summarizing the pre-race week:

I arrived in Kona exactly one week before the race. My flight was a short (or maybe not so short) 5+ hour flight from LAX. I was already on the west coast for an entire week before that in cool (super hot 100+ degree temps) of Palm Desert ,CA for our annual sales meeting. Having the biggest sales meeting of a year 2 weeks before the biggest race of my triathlon career is not exactly ideal, but I did my best to get as much sleep as possible, get in my training and eat as much ‘good’ food as I could and stay away from too much alcohol. Not the easiest thing to do, but I managed just fine or so I thought.  Saturday am before I was heading from Palm Dessert to Kona, I woke up with a sore throat and I was beginning to get congested – OMG – am I really getting sick? This can’t be right, and why now, and why me – I began to enter “freak out” mode.  I’ll spare you the details but let’s just say there were a few tears shed.  With the help of some amazing folks (Thanks Briana, Jorge, and Karen), I was surprisingly very calm come Thursday, and even calmer come Friday. I don’t know what it was, but instead of getting more nervous as race day got closer, I was getting more and more confident and so ready to experience this race of many firsts – first Ironman, first non wetsuit open water ocean swim, first marathon etc.  But that’s getting a bit ahead of myself.

Sunday morning came quickly, I went for my first swim at Dig Me beach and it didn’t disappoint. I am not quite sure how much swimming I actually did, but between the beautiful underwater scenery, the fact I could barely breathe, the swells that were rolling in and the super duper salty water, I wasn’t sure what to take in first.Quick swim was followed by an awesome breakfast at the famous Lava Java,that certainly didn't disappoint.

Later on, I went for a quick ride on the Queen K, and what an introduction to the famous winds! Flying like a superwoman on the way there, only to turn around and run into a wall, while getting smacked sideways! Wow! Just what I needed to further question my 808 Zipp Firecrest wheel combo!

The rest of the week involved more swimming, another bike ride or two just to keep the wheels spinning, couple runs, but the main focus was to get rid of whatever bug that got me! I rarely ever get sick which is super awesome, however it also means that when I do get sick I really have no clue about which medicine works best for me so it was time for some trial and error, and I am happy to report that come Friday, I felt ready to go and could breathe again!  

Relaxing also included few official and if you are ever on the island must do pre race activities:

Parade of nations was up first and I think this event further made me feel like I was part of something special – very special. I have never been in the Olympics, but that’s sort of how I felt. Walking down Ali’i drive with the rest of the Czechs  and just taking in the indescribable energy of everyone that was so happy to be there and ready to race was very special. 

Maybe next time I too will get my own “float”, I mean Mercedes! J 

Then there was the famous underpants run, where pictures are worth more than a 1,000 words!  Don’t skip this if you are there!

And what about the awesome TYR party that we were fortunate to get into? No worries – I kept my extra special swimming abilities on the down low! We got to meet whole bunch TYR employees, pro athletes, and the food was simply amazing!  And look who was there? J

I also got to make my very own custom goggles – hard at work here:

And here is the final product or two - one of a kind czechchick TYR goggles as well as E3 team color once J

I am saving both of those for when I graduate from my turtle stage! J

Thursday night was the opening dinner and ceremony, and for the first time ever,I can actually say it was worth attending (for the most part). The stage alone was unbelievable, the local acts were the best, and the stories were very inspirational.

I definitely was reminded again that this is not just another race. I really began to realize that I am very fortunate to be one of the almost 2,000 athletes that would get the chance to take on this challenge.  It finally started to sink in. I was to finally be able to see what I can do with this distance and just how tough I really am or am not.  As my friend Ed would say – I would finally have the chance to play in the big leagues, and I was going to test my limits against the best of the best. Those countless morning swims, those long bike rides, and runs – I was little over 24 hours away from putting it all together, and all I could think about was “ Is it Saturday morning yet?”

One last swim on Friday morning before the big day was followed by slightly oversized and overpriced breakfast (food in Hawaii is just a tad bit expensive – wow!), and the rest of the day was spent by relaxing, getting my pre-race bags ready, and dropping off my “Fireball”

Even dropping off my fireball was a process and we were each taken through the transition area by a volunteer. That’s right – 1 on 1 tour guide through the entire transition area.

This is where my “Fireball” spent the night.

Bike bags: 1st row on the left – I think my volunteer was a bit surprised when had to take a picture of every single spot I dropped something off J

Once “Fireball” and transition bags were dropped off, We walked back, I took one last look at the swim start, and the swim course, but instead of feeling super nervous and scared, I grew more and more confident. Sure there were butterflies, but not the kind that paralyzes you, rather the kind that excites youJ.  I mean how can you not be excited when you watch the famous finish line being built right in front of your eyes?

Finish line in the works:

Getting a bit closer:

And finally the stage behind the finish line, and the screen that you can watch yourself on when you cross the finish line! J

To everyone’s surprise, I was getting way too hungry, so it now was really time to go feed the worm :) Thanks to super chef Briana - I had a super-sized dinner consisting of pasta with red sauce and some super duper $10 a pound grilled chicken breast and off to bed I went. I  may have read my race plan 1, 2, 3, or 10 times over and over again (whose coach writes a race report that makes you shed a tear or two when you read your race report? – mine does), replayed how the race will go in my head a few times, and actually fell asleep.

And just like that race morning was here! 

Next up - How it all went down on race day! Stay tuned :)