Who would have guessed that when I saw a bunch of crazy people on TV doing Kona back in the 80’s, someday, I would want to be one of them.  If I were completely honest, I would even tell you, I’ve had Kona in the back of my mind every time I’ve raced, including my first time at IM Wisconsin.

Yeah, it was a complete long shot, but I felt like, on some level, I was in the ballpark, and during Ironman, anything can happen.  Even last year when I went to Louisville, I was secretly anticipating pulling a miraculous rabbit out of my hat, though I was way undertrained in the run.  This year, I actually put it out there, and once again, it wasn’t really that close.

Anyway, watching KONA really gets me jacked, and here were 8 Things that caught my attention.

1.  THE MASS SWIM START IS AMAZING – The online video coverage of KONA is so incredibly cool.  They helicopter and underwater cameras were great, but for me the coolest thing ever was the tight shots from a boat that rolled along with the pro swimmers.  I could literally watch that scene for hours.  They are just hammering through that water with the smoothest form and power.  The fact that I find that so exciting is kind of weird, because watching swimming seems boring, but not when you have “been in that situation” and understand how it feels.  At one point in the broadcast, the announcers mentioned something like, “It looks like Matt Chrabot is escorting Lionel Sanders through this swim,” and that little line set off a firestorm of debate on the internet.

2.  THE RACE INSIDE THE RACE About a week or so before KONA, I interviewed Ironman Chattanooga runner-up, Matt Chrabot about what was one of the closest finishes in Ironman history.  That race was two weeks before KONA and Chrabot had qualified and planned on racing.  To mortals, that seems impossible, so I was very interested how he would handle KONA.  Most assumed he would use it as a chance to do recon on the course.  I actually asked him a swim question in my interview:

8.  You’re clearly a great swimmer, do you change your game plan at all for a downstream course? 

Not really. Just get in that front pack and hope the deficit on the other contenders is sizable.

Not much there, but during KONA some accused him of being a Domestique (servant) for Sanders in the swim because they had the same swim time and Chrabot is typically a much faster swimmer.  Drafting in the swim is technically legal, but the debate is over whether or not Matt purposely compromised his race to help Lionel.  I’m not sure what to make of it, but there’s tons of fodder here if you want to dig in.

3.  I GOT TO TRACK FOUR PEOPLE I KNEW – The first couple times I tracked KONA, I knew “of” a few people racing, but this year I actually knew four people.  Dave Richter, Arlo Hartley, Vicki Updike, and Emily Rollins.  Dave is from Wisconsin, and we met through a mutual friend (my race body guard, Pete) while I was watching Chattanooga last year.  Ironically, he wound up scooping the last KONA slot from another guy I know, Brad Rollins (Emily’s husband).  Arlo Hartley was a year ahead of me in high school back in Beloit, Wisconsin.  I actually beat him by a couple places at Ironman Wisconsin, but he came back the next year and kicked ass on his way to landing a KONA slot.  Vicki and Emily are both from Nashville and I see them all over the place.  By all of their accounts, KONA was a completely different beast.

4.  THE POWER OF THE BIKE – I didn’t get to watch much of the bike stuff, but the power these pros drop on the course is mind boggling.  10-15 guys in the front pack going back and forth in devastating heat and wind, holding a 25 mph pace for 112 miles.  The race seemed wide open as they neared the end of the bike, but Jan Frodeno had other ideas.

5.  BIKE FOR SHOW, RUN FOR DOE – Jan was second out of the water and first off the bike.  He then decided to lead the run from start to finish with an average pace of 6:34/mile.  I can barely stand the pressure of holding off friends in training, but here he was squashing dreams of some of the best triathlete runners in the world.  Just an impressive day for Frodeno.

6.  THE CELEBRITY OF KONA – Every year there are a couple celebrity types that pay big bucks to race KONA.  This is always a sticky topic with Ironman traditionalists because most people have to earn their way to Hawaii through other races.  That was not the case for celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and everyone’s favorite football underdog actor, Sean Astin, otherwise known as “Rudy.”  I definitely have mixed emotions about letting guys like this in, but there is usually a big time charity donation component that’s hard to argue with.  Somewhere in all of this may be the answer to one of my biggest questions about KONA:  How does this race have all the best triathletes from around the world, yet often people don’t finish (see Gordon Ramsey’s result) or even make the swim cut off.  Rudy finished with a 15:30.

7.  THE FINISH LINE CELEBRATIONS ARE A BIT MUCH – I was in Louisville watching random KONA finishers cross the line on my laptop, and had to turn it off after about 20 minutes.  The over-the-top posturing is really kind of embarrassing.  I mean, I get it, you finished KONA, but allegedly most of you have had pretty good success in Ironman races.  Do we really need the “rolling across the ground finish,” or the “fake bow and arrow shooting” pose?  Stand tall, be proud, and act like you’ve been there.  That said, I’ll probably juggle flaming torches or something if I ever get to that point.

8.  I BLEW MY KONA PREDICTIONS – A few days before the race I went on record with my KONA predictions for the pro men.  They were at best random guesses, but non-the-less, I could have done much worse.

Prediction      Actual Finish   Net                               Comments
Sebastian Kienle                      1st                     8th            (-7)            Had a great swim, maybe it took a little too much?
Jan Frodeno                             2nd                    1st            (+1)            Just a solid year and a great race.
Brent McMahon                      3rd                     9th           (-6)            Solid race, really rising in the ranks.
Frederick Van Lierde             4th                     31st          (-27)          Was right there, but obviously had major issues on the run.
Ivan Rana                                 5th                     12th          (-7)            Great run and race, just a little too far back off the bike.
Matt Hanson                            6th                    DNF                            He may have been ready to run, but a bike accident ended his day.
Andy Potts                                7th                      4th          (+3)           May have heard my advice to hold back a tinge on the swim.
Andraes Raelert                      8th                      2nd         (+6)           He’s always there and put together a beauty.
Ben Hoffman                           9th                     36th        (-29)          Had a big target on him this year. Too much on the bike.
Tim Don                                  10th                   15th          (-5)             Right there all the way through.

BONUS:  Here’s a picture my friend Dave Richter sent the day after the race.  Only in KONA.  [follow_me]




8 Thoughts on KONA