The 2016 edition of the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii saw a star’s reputation enhanced even further and a record breaking performance. But this story focuses on four inspiring stories from age-group athletes who all found strength in the lava fields of Kona and were willing to share their story of ‘My Hawaii’ with our readers.
First Up, The Pro Race
Hawaii and Ironman. These two words can strike fear into the toughest of competitors come October every year. Because no matter how many times you have travelled to this particular Pacific Island you never really know what you are going to get. Every athlete fears the unknown and the Big Island is famous for throwing up a few curve balls just when you are not looking.
This year two of the sports’ greatest athletes, Jan Frodeno and Daniela Ryf faced any fears they may have had head-on and created their own piece of Kona history.
In just over eight hours of tough racing side-by-side with fellow German Sebastian Kienle, Frodeno broke away to win his second Ironman World Championship. He set his day up with 48.02 swim and 4:29.00 bike ride but it was not enough to hold off Kienle who caught the lead group with an incredible 4:23:55 ride. The two men headed off onto the run together where fans were treated to a battle in the mode of the 1989 Ironman War. Frodeno’s strength in the second half of the marathon allowed him to pull away slowly just after the half-way point.
By the time they hit the Energy Lab, the lead was out to two minutes and at the end of the race it was a win for Frodeno by 3:32. An Olympic Gold Medal, two Ironman World Championships and the World Record performance at Challenge Roth earlier in the year opens up the debate: Is Jan Frodeno the best male triathlete we have ever seen?
Can you ever imagine completing an Ironman and stating, “I didn’t feel any pain?” Well that is exactly what Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf said moments after crossing the line in a new course record time of 8:46:46 this year in Kona. Ryf’s incredible race began with a swim of 52.50 that saw her exit Kailua Bay just four seconds down on swim leader Meredith Kessler, but after the turn at Hawi, the famous turnaround town of the bike leg, Ryf went about re-writing the record books.
Gaining time with every pedal stroke Ryf entered T2 with an eight-minute lead over Germany’s Anja Beranek, but more importantly with a 22-minute lead over Australia’s own Mirinda Carfrae.
However once Ryf had fastened her running shoes there was no looking back. A 2:56:52 marathon took Ryf to the top of the podium while Carfrae re-established herself as one of the toughest Kona competitors running herself into second place in a time of 9:10:30. After being hit by a car just days before last year’s race, Carfrae was back and said after the race, “I was just trying to put together a solid marathon after such a rough day. Honestly, Daniela was in a different league today. I’ll take the best of the rest today.”
The Australian professional women faired well with Carfrae claiming second and the consistent Carrie Lester gaining 10thplace. The Aussie men had a tougher day with Tim Van Berkel finishing 19thin a gutsy display and David Dellow in 24thplace. Hats off to Luke McKenzie who once again showed his character by finishing the race in 35thplace in what was a tough day for the Gold Coast native.
This story, My Hawaii, is focused on the age-group athlete, the weekend warriors who sacrifice time away from family and friends, sneak off from work at lunch times to fit in a swim or a run and live the multisport lifestyle for very little kudos. In this article we have asked four athletes to write in their own words what Hawaii means to them. You will be suitably inspired by these incredible people.
My Hawaii by Ryan Miller
My Hawaii started many years ago as a kid sitting on the lounge watching Darrell Eastlake on Wide World of Sports. I remember watching this little Aussie (Greg Welch) taking on the world and the American guns on their home turf in Kona.
That sparked me to say that one day, no matter how long it took me, I was going to get to that island.
Fast forward to 2015 and a group of 22 Wagga guys were signing up for Ironman Australia in Port Macquarie. So I asked my long term mate and old training partner Brad Kahlefeldt to help me out with a program (BKR Coaching). I understood the commitment, and that the level required in my age group to get to Kona would be extremely difficult.
On race day in Port Macquarie, which was my first ever Ironman, I finished top 10 overall in 9:16 and automatically qualified second in my age group for Kona. So I was off to Hawaii.
Twelve weeks out from the world championships I had a routine mole scan that came back with the worst possible news. The doctor said the words you don’t want to ever hear: “You have cancer.”
So after two operations and a bit of time out of the water, I finally got the all clear to head to Kona. Enter Tri Travel, and this being my first time along with my three mates from Wagga and my coach Brad, we stayed with the Tri Travel crew who made a very daunting place feel like home. From tours and stories from Shane (I still use the knowledge he gave me in racing to this day) to Tiff looking after all the crew including Mum and Dad who had come along to watch this crazy race, they made our experience incredible. My first Kona was amazing, finishing top 20 in my age group, and all I wanted to do was get back to Hawaii again for another crack.
So in 2016, after qualifying at Busselton just seven weeks after my first Kona, I got my chance to take on the Big Island again.
This time in a much different setting, with no one I trained with qualifying, I was heading over solo and didn’t hesitate to hook up with the Tri Travel crew again. As usual the lead-in week was great with everything set out, giving me all the time I needed to focus on the race and taking in the experience that is the world championships. This year would be different as I’d finished the race before and ticked that off, so I was going to try and have an aggressive race and see what unfolded. On a hot and windy day, I got through and was the first Aussie in my age group, 10 minutes quicker than the year before and 27th overall in the age group, showing me just how hard this field can be in Kona.
So for now it’s back to the drawing board to get quicker and to qualify for hopefully what will be my third Ironman world championship in a row, to continue on “My Hawaii”. There is just something special about this island that keeps drawing you back, which you have to experience to understand.
My Hawaii by Damian Jeffery
To stop me from walking during the run leg in my qualifying race at Cairns, my thoughts were with my cousin who is only 49 years old and transitioning into a wheelchair. He suffers from Muscular Dystrophy, as do a number of my family members.
I realised in qualifying for Kona that I had a voice, and this led to me becoming an ambassador for MD Australia. My employer also supported me by asking me to be a company health ambassador. This united those around me to raise funds (we raised over $5000) and awareness for MDA, on the road to My Hawaii. I started a blog sharing my journey, tips from people who inspired me and informing people about MD. It also gave my cousin a purpose as he set a goal of representing Australia in shooting in the Tokyo Paralympics.
I hadn’t ever travelled overseas and with a tight budget and family commitments, my wife Helyn and two girls, Alyza and Sienna couldn’t make the trip. This led me to taking the tour with Tri Travel who really helped prepare me well for race day, so when the time came to brace for the Hawi cross winds and the energy lab, I was ready.
Mark Allen’s speech during the pre-race dinner about Kupa’a and Ohana really summed up my journey. Hawaii taught me to not be so hard on myself and to savour the moment. My girls wrote me a note before I left, telling me they would be proud no matter what time or place I came. So I took the time particularly on the run to embrace the spirit of the race and the island. I walked the red carpet, high-fiving kids and supporters, taking it all in.
I had a fantastic day, all of the fellow athletes, their family, locals and the very special volunteers made this possible. The race was everything I expected and more.
I’ve made new friends, met a lot of my role models and learnt about the history of triathlon. I leave Kona with a full heart, the experience of a lifetime and as a better person.
My Hawaii by Rob Hill
Ten years of qualifying, training, tapering and racing at the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii have provided so many memories, friends, challenges to overcome and so many lessons learned both in the sport of triathlon and in life. The question is: What is MY Hawaii? In other words, what does this race mean to me personally?
Racing the Hawaii Ironman 10 consecutive years was never a goal of mine, which in a way made achieving it a lot easier. I focused on one race at a time, one season at a time, one Ironman preparation at a time.
When I first qualified for Hawaii at Ironman Australia in 2007 and first experienced the excitement and awe of racing in Kona, I made a commitment that if I ever qualify again for Hawaii I will respect the achievement and accept the slot. I was also motivated by something that has motivated me ever since my first sprint triathlon in 1997: to get better at this sport. I have been privileged to have put together nine consecutive, solid qualifying Ironman races since that first one in 2007, and lucky (in a weird way) that when things have gone drastically wrong, or even just those race days where we feel flat and unable to perform at our best, these races have been at Kona in October. It’s a bit frustrating when a good race in Hawaii has become my main goal of the year, but the upside has been that I have had that opportunity again the next year to fulfil my potential in Kona.
Each year when the plane lands at Kona airport and I first breathe in the hot air, I feel at home, all be it an oppressive, draining home that provides a very tough place to train or race. The only sessions I do that feel comfortable in Kona are in the water! There is something special about Kona which people like Mark Allen have spoken much about: the spirituality of the place, the land feels raw and alive which I suspect is to do with the newness of the land and the most active volcano in the world that continues to add land mass to the Big Island. Beyond the physical preparation to do well in October in Hawaii, there is a real benefit of respecting the island, the conditions and the difficulty of the race. Every year this Ironman feels to me like a double Ironman compared to racing the same distance back home. It is the biggest challenge of the sport, with the toughest competition you can face in a swim-bike-run event.
My Hawaii is just this, facing up to all of these challenges that cannot be found at any other race and putting my reputation on the line – again – to test myself in one of the special places in the world!
My Hawaii by Lisa Redmond
I could write a lot on how the day progressed but my actual race process was in reality probably not a lot different to most out there. So this is a kind of “bigger picture” look at my first Kona. I first saw an Ironman race in 2013 in New Zealand. I will never forget that feeling of amazement at the athletes’ achievements, and crying watching total strangers finish. If anyone had told me then that I would race my third Ironman there three years later and qualify for Kona, I would have thought they had rocks in their head. But that’s what happened and it seemed fitting to have qualified at the very race that started my passion for Ironman.
After a near perfect training block leading up to the race, and trouble-free travel and logistics pre race (thanks to Tri Travel) I found myself feeling unusually unsettled a few days before the race. A ride back to town from Kawaihae when we first arrived had me absolutely terrified of the crosswinds, and out of nowhere tapering had given me a weird pain behind one knee. I was struggling to find my “why” for this race, which felt really stupid, I mean really, I was in Kona, the holy grail of long course triathlon. I had sobbed when I placed second at NZ knowing it meant a Kona spot and I had trained my butt off to be fitter than I had ever been before. Everything about the previous months had been Kona, Kona, Kona. Why was I feeling like I was in a bit of a weird head space? We all have our mental folders we open on race day and I knew I needed to have a very big “go to” ready to pull out when the going got tough, but the right one for this race just didn’t seem to be easily coming to me.
That “go to” crystallised a few days before the race (thanks to talks by Caroline Steffen, Mark Allen, Belinda Granger and advice from Karlyn Pipes). Now this might sound corny but I started to get in tune with the fact that the island is a special place, and to try and treat it is as just another (albeit beautiful and exciting) race location was a mistake. Madam Pele is always there, it is her island and we all were racing there at her pleasure. I also knew that a lot of people had helped me to get there and no way was I going to let them down.
So I determined I was going to race with honour for everyone who had any part of my journey, and the island itself and Madam Pele were going to help me do that. It is the most incredible feeling going down the pier steps for the swim start, and from that moment on for the rest of the day, I did not let up on thanking Madam Pele or asking her for the occasional boost. When the wind blew in my face (which was a lot on the bike), I thanked Madam Pele. Every time I went through an aid station I thanked Madam Pele and when it really hurt on the Queen K coming back into town, I again thanked her (or it might have also been a little begging to her at that point) for giving me the strength and opportunity to race strongly and to have honored the time and energy of my supporters, the other competitors and the thousands of volunteers. It worked.
Kona is one tough race. A friend described it as Ironman on steroids, and I totally agree. Do I want to come back? Yes please Madam Pele, and I am already planning how to do better next time.
For me this race came down to honour. If I didn’t get out there and give it my very best effort and focus, I would be failing to honour everyone who had helped me in some way get to that point.
So another year is done for Kona and while the athletes who finished on the famous Alii Drive, under the Banyon Tree, rest and take stock of what they have achieved, over 30,000 athletes around the world are plotting and planning how they will get to Kona 2017. Pick your qualifying race wisely, train smart and you too may just add your name to the Hawaii Honour Roll of Finishers.
The Tri Travel 10-day Kona timeline
Tri Travel have been travelling to Kona for 16 years helping over 1000 athletes to the holy grail on Alii Drive. Each year the team at Tri Travel create an itinerary designed to help the athlete see the course before the race, relax during the final few days and provide some expert knowledge and fun along the way. Here is a timeline of what to expect on the Tri Travel Hawaii Tour.
Day 1: Arrival day in Kona
Always the hardest day in Kona. Athletes and their travelling partners are tired and often bikes do not arrive on the same flight causing some angst. But the team at Tri Travel collect all the missing luggage and deliver it to the athletes later that night.
Day 2: Gaining energy in The Energy Lab
Now the tour starts to be fun. Tri Travel take the crew out to the Queen K Highway and run 14km in and out of the famous Energy Lab. The first real taste of what’s to come.
Day 3: Reality Check on the Kawaihii Ride
Starting at 7am Tri Travel drive the team over the bike course, finishing the bus tour at Kawaiihi. From there the athletes ride 55km back to the Royal Kona Resort, stopping at Scenic Lookout for some refreshments.
Later that night we have the team dinner and present the Tri Travel kit including the new edition Boca Trucker Hat.
Day 4: Belinda’s Swim Tips
Today Tri Travel pick up the athletes from their hotel and take them to the King Kam Hotel where they meet Belinda Granger who explains the course and then swims a few kilometers with the team, pointing out the best place to start and what to look for to help you swim the best line possible.
Day 5: Coffee. Swim. Relax.
Easy day today. A quick coffee at the beach with the team, an easy swim, then relaxing after shopping. Later that afternoon the team join the Parade of Nations.
Day 6: Cocktails and dreams
Time for the spectators to relax and unwind while their athletes sleep (and look after the kids for the night). This night is always a great get-together for all the support crews to relax, and compare notes about their (high maintenance) athlete!
Day 7: Undies are us!
This event is almost bigger than race day now with over 2000 people running around in their Undies. Lots of Tri Travel crew love taking their clothes off!
Day 8: Million dollar babies
A nervous day for the athletes as they check in their gear with 2400 other athletes onto the Kona Pier. A lot of money sits on that pier overnight.
Day 9: On your marks
Race day is here and while the athletes let the pressure off at the start of the race, it rarely subsides for the spectators who are on edge all day until their loved one crosses the line. The Tri Travel tour bus takes the spectators out to the heart of the race – the Queen K Highway, where we get a real taste of the heat and wind the athletes are experiencing.
Day 10: How good are we?
The Tri Travel breakfast is the time for everyone to get together and recap the day and at the end of the breakfast they relive the week with the famous Tri Travel team video.