Kona Race Week Highlights

Monday October 6

We had an early flight that departed Philadelphia at 6am. I had set my alarm for 3:30am, but awoke almost an hour before and didn’t even bother going back to sleep, I was too excited! It was still a scramble to get out of the door given the fact that it is impossible to pack light for any race, let alone an Ironman. Checking the bikes was no easy feat given confusion over the fees and I ended up being the last person on the plane to SFO. Looking around I did not see any other triathlete, but that all changed on the second leg. Even from halfway down the terminal in SFO I could spot the compression socks and M-dot paraphernalia. I knew I was in the right place!

About halfway through the flight my mom came up and asked for my resume because she had met someone and felt it was important that they have it. After playing a guessing game resembling 20 questions-when I asked who she was giving it to she responded “He knows Jesse [Thomas], lives in Oregon, and his name is Matt-I finally figured out she was seated next to Matt Lieto. I eventually made my way back to introduce myself and tell him I follow him on Twitter, apparently this would be my catch phrase for all of the pros and famous people I would meet during race week.

I was greeted in Kona by heat and humidity, which I had grown unaccustomed to since autumn was upon us in the Northeast. All of the bikes and bags made it, unfortunately not in one piece though as my brake cover on my speed concept was cracked and the brake cable looked like it had taken a beating. Darn TSA. Matt Lieto, who is sponsored by Trek, said he could help hook us up with a Trek mechanic to make repairs so that was a relief.

Bikes and luggage were packed into the minivan and we headed to the oceanfront condo in Keauhou. Well, at least the first condo.

The sound of the ocean to lull me to sleep.

There would be a few moves during the week as our original booking had flooded and there we had to piece together a new plan to accommodate all of us. The rest of the day was spent running errands, figuring out what to do with my bike, and getting a sense for what the scene in downtown Kailua was like. It seemed like such a quaint and unassuming place, but that would all change in a matter of days.

Exhaustion had begun to settle in from the travel and being awake almost 22 straight hours so I passed out for a long nights rest around 6:30pm. 

View from the Lanai 

Tuesday October 7

I woke up around 5:15am, later than I had expected to sleep. I casually had some breakfast and coffee before going to swim at Dig Me Beach. My parents drove me over and my dad was commenting the whole time about how in-shape and fit all of the people biking and running looked. This was his first really big race experience as he had only been to my more local Olympic Distance races, so this was quite a few levels up from that. I was still feeling kind of cranky and getting anxious about the rest of the week, so his comic relief was appreciated. 

Some of the gems from my dad. 

The little town was continuing its Ironweek transformation as more tents and banners went up along Ali’i drive. 

Former champions idolized next to the sea wall. 

I prepared for my swim, my first workout in over 48 hours. It felt so good to get my arms and legs moving and my blood pumping; despite being jetlagged and tired, a swim in the ocean was exactly what I needed. It was so neat to look down in the clear blue water and see brightly colored fish and coral, quite a departure from the black line of a swimming pool or the dark murky waters of most of the open water swims I have done. 

Scenes from Dig Me Beach

After getting out of the water the celebrity sightings began. First Sebastian Keinle, and then Paula Newby-Fraser and Apolo Ohno. The entirety of Kona was like a red carpet. We grabbed a quick breakfast and some delicious Kona coffee before I went to the athlete check-in. 

All checked-in for my first Ironman!

Then we hit up the Ironman Store! After all you cannot leave Kona without memorabilia. We also had to purchase some souvenirs for my sister who was not able to make the trip to Hawaii with us. 

I ran into Patrick Mckeon and his family before we left the expo. This was also his first Ironman so we both shared the same sentiments of no expectation for race day and excitement to hear the words “You are an Ironman,” when we crossed the finish on Saturday.

The next task was putting my bike together. We had to divide and conquer for this one, one person went to the bike shop, where the Trek mechanic had left spare Speed Concept parts, to get a new brake cover and I went to meet up with Matt Lieto. While we thought he was going to connect us with a mechanic, he assembled the bike himself, truly a world class guy. I still owe you Matt!

I spent the heat of the afternoon indoors and waited until it began to cool down to ride my bike into town. I hit up the Quarq tent at the expo first and I struck up a conversation with the founder of the company Jim Meyers. He told me they would be prototyping a new device and tracking athlete during the race and he offered me the opportunity to be one of the tracked athletes. Of course I said yes, especially knowing the number of people who would be stoked to be able to see my power live while I was out on the bike.

The sun was setting as I made a few final stops around the expo. It was probably one of the most spectacular sunsets of the week. 

Wait for it...

Wait for it...

Wow! Spectacular!

Wednesday October 8

Pat met me at Dig Me Beach for an early morning swim which included a trip to the coffee boat. No doubt I would be a much more committed swimmer if there was a coffee boat at every workout. Pat and I ran into fellow Philadelphian and Breakaway Racing teammate Dave Lambert who was attending the sports medicine conference as we were getting out of the water. I will definitely be hitting up that conference when I am an MD. As I was walking along the sea wall to the steps, I saw a bunch of women in brightly colored bikinis which I recognized as the SMASHFEST Queen bikinis, and was able to pick Maggie Rusch out of the group. We go way back, well sort of, on Twitter, and I was super excited to have finally met her in person!

Pat and I before our trip to the coffee boat

Next stop was the Computrainer breakfast, where I consumed loads of coffee and met some Aussie triathletes. As I was leaving and saying goodbye I saw Jodie Swallow, who is one of my favorite athletes because of her grit and tenacity on the race course and because of her open and honest opinions about the sport. I smiled at her and sheepishly wished her luck.

Our next destination was Hawi and the paents and I piled into the minivan with my bike to make the drive up to the turnaround. We enjoyed a nice lunch in the very tiny town with a main stretch of about a quarter mile of shops and restaurants. No wonder Hawi feels left out of Ironman week, even with the groups of triathletes that had made the trip up there there was still no comparison to the hustle and bustle of Kailua.  

At the turnaround in Hawi.

 After lunch I jumped on my bike to test out the first 10 miles of the descent from Hawi and get a sense of what the winds might be like come race day. I flew down the road with the ocean on my right. The winds were blowing, but not too much to keep me out of the aero bars for very long. When I caught up with the minivan, I found that my mom had written me a message in the stones. 

I love my Ohana!

We made a quick stop at Hapuna Beach on the way back to Kona, where I lay in the shade and put my feet up. I went for a short run when we got back and was ready to call it a day. Three more sleeps. 

Another beautiful sunset in Kona. 

Thursday October 9

Rest day! Sort of. Being my first Kona, I had to see what the Underpants Run was all about. I also could not resist potentially being part of a world record. So I paired my Oiselle “Run Your Butt Off” Randies with a matching sports bra and paraded down Ali’I Drive. It was quite a spectacle and despite all the fancy get ups, the best were still the granny panties, especially the group of grannies running in big white cotton panties. 

Oh Hey! #KonaUPR2014

Oiselle, hiring any new models?

We met Chris Lieto (when I was still in my Underpants Runs get-up) at the MORE than Sport tent and snapped a few pictures with the Ironman Champion and founder of MORE than Sport. It is a really cool organization, so check it out. I then met up with another Accelerate3 athlete, Janine Willis, her husband and daughter, for some acai bowls. I wimped out and got a smoothie which was delicious. 

The Accelerate3 Kona Ladies

Finally it was time to return to the condo to rest-up for the day. I put off full-on kicking up of feet as I wanted to get some pre-race prep out of the way. I chatted on the phone with my coach, mostly discussing nutrition plans and power during the bike leg. Even though it was my first Ironman, Brian did not overwhelm me with a complicated race plan. While this might have been unsettling for me at some point earlier on in my career, I did not overthink it or ask questions that would bog me down with unnecessary details. Over the past 8 months we have built a mutual trust that he will help prepare me for race day and I will execute.

With very little to do, I had nothing to distract me from thinking about the race, my nerves started to get the best of me, and I had a hard time really relaxing. Lying down to nap was not possible so I just sat in silence. All of us finally sat down for a meal together, the first time the whole week. Then off to bed, two more sleeps. 

Friday October 10

I woke-up later than I expected, but felt refreshed and ready to get going. I made a batch of Chocolate & Seas Salt sticky balls portables from The Feed Zone Portables cookbook and ate some breakfast before setting out for my final tune-up workouts. First i went for a short run with some strides along Ali'i Drive. There were lots of other athletes out for runs and rides as well, and I recieved a "looking really good, you're ready," from a passerby which was certainly uplifting. 

Where I did my final pre-race swim. Saw a sea turtle and had a fish kiss my toe. 

Next it was time to regroup with everyone and finalize the game plan for the day to ensure everything that we accomplished everything that needed to get done as efficiently as possible. This meant a trip to the bike shop to get some final nutrition items since I failed to pack enough of my Infinit Custom blend, Em’s Ironmix 2, and to see if they had a part  I needed to mount my aero bottle that TSA had lost in their raid of the bike boxes. We had to get creative and eventually found a way to mount it without the piece, but we did not have the correct screws and bolts to hold it in place without rattling around. After I solved my nutrition issue with relative ease, I sat fuming and sending angry Tweets to TSA, which surprisingly received a response (I should probably try to follow-up on that). We finally found what we needed, so it was time to get food and coconut water and head for the lanai at the condo for some lounging in the ocean breeze. 

My Dad and a Picky Bar turning my frown upside down. 

I sat by myself for some time eating lunch and making a few last mental checklists of everything I needed to do before it was time to go to bike check-in. Time flew by and before it knew it, it was time to head back over to the pier; I had to stop at Quarq and SRAM first to pick-up my bike. The mechanics generously gave my bike its final prerace tune-up, paired my Quarq to my Garmin, and tucked the Qollector into the draft box. 

Bike has been blessed and is ready to go!

Walking into the bike check-in is probably the closest I'll get to being on the red carpet. There were paparazzi (reps from bike companies) watching your every move as you walk by; they are taking pictures, checking out your bike, components, and equipment. I also got the start treatment with my own personal concierge to walk me around transition, show me where everything is, and help me rack my bike and hang my gear bags. While I was overwhelmed by the sights and sounds, and wanted to take it all in, it was time to call it a day.

The Red Carpet of Triathlon. Compression and Aero Helmets instead of black dresses and high heels. 

We caught the sunset from the top of the hill, one of the best sunsets of the week. I climbed into bed with the final thought, that tomorrow at this time-no matter what-I would be an Ironman. 

One last sunset before the canon goes off. 

I just wanted to share the highlights of the whirlwind week! Race report coming your way soon!