Kona – Kupa’a

Kona – Kupa’a

Kona was an experience like nothing else I’ve ever been a part of. The atmosphere before, during, and after the race is simply remarkable. Soaking in the history, the stories, and the dreams that all collide in one place at one time creates a palpable energy that you can’t avoid.

The theme of this year’s race was Kupa’a, which translates to “…your strength to stand firm, to believe in and be loyal to yourself, and to your surroundings.” While the drive this describes wasn’t always present throughout the duration of the race in a conscious manner, the process of walking through each challenge and not accepting anything short of the finish line, revealed one’s subconscious ability to remain loyal to the goals and dreams that go hand-in-hand with racing in Kona.

The spirit of the island will give you strength to overcome challenges while providing you inspiration and hope. Embrace your journey and Kupa’a. Remain unwavering in your will, and commit to achieving your dreams.

img_2170Race week officially started for me on Tuesday evening when we arrived in Kona. Even at 8:30pm local time (3:30am CST) after a long day of travel, the gravity of the event that was going to take place in three days began to settle in. Race prep, shaking out the body, and pretty constant eating took the better part of each day. It quickly became evident that there 20161007_kona-26-2-hdrwas no way to do or see everything that I had on my mental to-do list while still giving my body a chance to rest and be fully fueled for the 140.6 mile journey that I needed it for. My coach and teammates helped focus my energy on the priorities of race week, but it was extremely difficult to block out the nerves that were increasing with each box I was checking off. Race registration. Pre-race swim. Gear organized and packed. The final sunset before race day.

Pre-race

20161008_kona-37Not going to lie, from the 4:00am alarm to reconnecting with my family before getting into the water, this time was a blur of activity, emotion, and experience. Navigating the Kona streets in the pre-dawn darkness with hundreds of other athletes. Standing next to Daniela Ryf while getting my race number applied. Pumping up my bike tires on the iconic Kona pier. These experiences took the tiredness of a fairly restless night and excitement began to creep in. Per Alyssa’s recommendation, my family and I found some quiet space in a alley off of Ali’i drive as the national anthem was sung and professionals started their day.

Swim – 1:03

Floating in the salt water in the minutes leading up to the canon going off, the honor and privilege of being on this start line pushed aside the nerves and anxiety. Hearing so many different languages, witnessing the sportsmanship of scrambling to find replacement goggles for an athlete, and watching the paddle boarders keep everyone behind the start line made the early mornings, painful training sessions, and long Saturdays evaporate.

20161008_kona-110I have never been a part of a swim where I was constantly surrounded by people. In our pre-race meeting, Alyssa warned me that this was going to be a different experience because I wasn’t going to be racing off the front. When you’re surrounded by 2,300 of the best athletes in the world, you either have to be really fast or really slow to get your own space. Knowing that I was capable of a 1:00-1:05 swim, I knew I was going to be right in the thick of things. The start was sheer mayhem, and I had to fight for space. It quickly became apparent that even though the vast majority of the athletes were going to be well out of the race for a podium spot, everyone was envisioning winning and didn’t care about those around them. I can’t say this was a truly “disappointing” part of the day, but I was frustrated by the lack of respect and attention that most of the athletes paid to the well-being of those around them. Simple things like not swimming on top of other athletes were ignored. Now I’m not above being competitive and fighting for space, but there’s definitely a level of sportsmanship that I believe in upholding regardless of how badly I want to get the finish line in the top spot.

I’ve become more used to mass swim starts and having to work through crowds. What was different in Kona is that the crowds continued for the whole swim. The congestion ebbed and flowed, but I was never without company. This became a benefit as I was able to draft off other swimmers for the whole 2.4 miles.

Running up the steps of the pier, I saw 1:03 on the clock and was pretty elated. Yes, I would have loved to swim faster and beat my time from Wisconsin. But considering this was a non-wetsuit swim and my first in the ocean, I definitely wasn’t disappointed. This was reassurance that all of the work was paying off and the day was off to a great start.

Bike – 5:28

20161008_kona-131Everyone talks about the head, wind, humidity, and overall harsh conditions of Kona. Going into the race, I knew these would be factors, but I didn’t fully understand how incredible they were until I was on the island. I didn’t go in naive, but I don’t think there’s any way to truly know what you’re in for until you’re there.

During the swim I was prepared to be around many other guys, but I wasn’t ready for this to continue onto the bike. It was downright difficult to ride legally, as there were large groups of guys riding together at inconsistent speeds. They would blow past me, I would drop behind to the legal distance, settle into my own pace, and then ride up on them. The choice was either to sit up and stay behind or put in a big effort to get around all 15-20 guys. Utilizing both strategies made for a pretty rough ride, and it was hard to hit my watt goals. But all I could was ignore the packs and try to control my own day.

img_2261Despite struggling through the packs, heat, and what seemed like a headwind at every turn, I made a conscious effort to look around and enjoy the experience of rolling through the Kona lava fields. I got a welcomed pick-me-up from the crowds at the turn around in Hawi and Special Needs, where I had stashed a frozen bottle of my nutrition. Having a cold bottle was an incredibly welcomed change to the warm bottles that I had been sipping off of for the last three hours. And then before turning back onto the Queen K, seeing Alyssa, Lauren, and some of the Dimond guys was a great encouragement before hitting the final stretch of the ride.

Shortly after making that final turn, however, it became apparent that it would be a pretty challenging 25 miles. The wind had shifted, so we were greeted with more headwind. This return trip became about putting my head down and pushing through. My power was dropping off, and despite needing to get as aero as possible to combat the wind, this became more and more difficult. Coming into town, I was very ready to get off the bike and start the run.

Run – 4:00

Coming into the race, Alyssa and I knew that I had the fitness for a 2:58-3:05 marathon. These numbers, though, were completely dependent on conditions. After a decent first mile, I started to feel the wheels coming off in a way that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to completely recover from. The goal of running 6:50 miles was quickly replaced with the goal of just running. Despite having to walk in the first three miles, I was so thrilled with the crowd support along that first ten miles stretch on Ali’i. At one spot, there had to have been ten people that all started yelling my name and encouragement as I walked by.

img_2260Through the pain and disappointment of knowing that this wasn’t going to be the run I was capable of, this was all a part of the process that I desperately wanted to experience. That support along Ali’I drive, and similar experiences coming up Palani, kept a smile on my face and motivated me to push as much as I could. There was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to finish, no matter how long it took me. At times I was able to get back into a rhythm and run 7:15 pace. Other times, pain in my lower abdomen and kidneys forced me to resort to as fast a walk as I could manage.

I saw Alyssa again around mile 16, and she assured me that the last ten miles were more about the mind then the body. The rigor of training that she had put me through in the previous months had more than prepared my body to get through the miles. So again, head down, accept and love the pain that I was experiencing, and continue moving forward into the Energy Lab. Unlike a lot of the stories I’ve heard about this section, I really enjoyed it. You get to run right by the ocean, and the crowd support is really great.

20161008_kona-241Coming off the Queen K Highway at mile 25, I decided to throw caution to the wind and push this last mile. I didn’t feel good, but I knew that I could dig down and pull off a strong finish. The cheers and high-fives coming down Ali’i Drive towards the finish was everything I wanted it to be. No amount of discomfort could keep the smile off my face. The elation of completing the Ironman World Championships is a feeling that can’t be forgotten!

Was the time-result of the race what I was hoping for? No. But was it the experience and memories that I wanted? Absolutely. I never thought I’d be at a place in this sport where placement and time goals would be of such great importance, where I’d be pushing for a top-3 or top-5 finish. As I’ve progressed and had the opportunity to work with an amazing coach in Alyssa and team with Team HPB, this has become a reality. Triathlon is all about pushing yourself to achieve something that you didn’t think was achievable; it’s about trying and achieving. That might be crossing a finish line or breaking the tape. Kona, however, was never going to be the top-X race for me. Thinking back, there was a sense of relief that this brought. As much as I wanted to have a strong race and achieve something that I knew was possible given my training, this was more about the experience. All I needed to do was show up, give everything that I could, and smile as much as I possibly could. So I’m not letting myself be disappointed about the challenges on the bike or how much I walked on the run. I crossed the finish line at the Ironman World Championships!

None of this would have been possible without the unparalleled support from so many people. First, there are no words that can truly capture how thankful I am for the family and friends that traveled so far to sit around and watch my race for 10+ hours (not pictured: my dad who played the additional role of my official race photographer).20161008_kona-73

Thank you to Alyssa for getting to this place in my athletic pursuit and making racing in Kona a reality! I hope I’m not that much more difficult of an athlete to work with than others, but I’m sure I could be easier. Your patience, tough love, and encouragement after a strong session make this sport so much fun!20161007_kona-23-2

Thank to you GLUKOS Energy for all of the support you have provided this year! I’ve struggled a lot to find the right nutrition to fuel me during these long-distance endeavors, and I can confidently say these products are the only ones I want to use. glukos

Thank you Love The Pain for providing me with such a comfortable race kit that was customized just for me! Each graphic has such special meaning, and being able to race with these on my clothing was incredible!

love-the-pain

And finally, thank you ROKA Sports for providing me with a phenomenal swim skin! I definitely had some anxiety going into a 2.4 mile, non-wetsuit swim, but the benefits of the swim skin quickly took care of those. roka-logo

1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    Gayle Lindell November 14, 2016

    Ben, reading this brought smiles, tears, & immense pride for what you accomplished, how you shared your heart here, & the privilege of sharing Kona with you.

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