Race Coverage

Heather Jackson Was Just as Nervous as Me....

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By Tim Brown

Ironman World Championships Race Report - Wow! My one word review of the Ironman Kona World Championship. Unlike being disappointed after seeing a movie that received great reviews, Kona absolutely lived up to the hype. What an incredible experience. My not so short version review of the Kona experience is as follows:

A surprising AG win at Ironman Wisconsin (2018) secured the one available Kona slot and dictated some drastic revisions my 2019 race / training calendar. There would be less racing and more focus on distance endurance training. There would be no off season this year. I was surprised to have never experienced burnout during training leading up to Kona. IM training is a massive time sponge but Kona has always been a life-long dream and a fantastic motivator.

Anxiety started to build while packing for the trip. What have I forgotten? It is definitely a rollercoaster ride of panic and relief leading up to the race. But the bike arrived in good shape and it felt good to get on the course to alleviate some of the anxiety for this intimidating venue.

The hills on the bike course were more than I was expecting. It looks pretty flat on TV! It was very windy, as advertised. The heat and humidity were absolutely draining...


The swim course was rough and saltier than I was expecting. But that same salt made for great buoyancy. My biggest fear was of jellyfish. Thankfully, no stings. The water clarity and aquatic life is amazing.

Kona has an electric atmosphere during race week. There is great anticipation that something big is about to happen. There are a few locals that don’t much appreciate the invasion of their city, but the vast majority were extremely welcoming, friendly, and gracious hosts. Parking is very …challenging.

Anxiety builds throughout the week. One last check before Friday morning’s scheduled bike drop-off reveals some exposed cords on my front tire. WHAT! How did I miss that? Thankfully the good folks at The Bike Works were able to help me out and I was able to get the bike checked in on time.

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Race morning I checked in right behind women’s professional Heather Jackson. Very cool! She looked just as nervous as me. The waiting for the race start is always the worst part.

The swim was a rough, salty wrestling match even with the new wave format. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like with the mass wave start as in the past. Before the turnaround I can feel my new swim skin digging into my flesh, enhanced by saltwater sting. Just keep swimming…

The winds made for a very challenging bike. They are very unpredictable and come from many directions. The turnaround at Hawi made for some exciting speed enhanced by gravity and a strong tail wind. It was bit comical to watch all the bikes in front of me trying to keep a straight line. It looked as they were on a slalom ski run.

 

Cruising downhill at 35 MPH I was surprised by a sudden “WACK!” on my visor, followed by a sharp pain in my right arm. Evidently an unfortunate wasp was heading opposite my direction and exploded off my visor, it’s stinger launching into my arm. I must have looked quite odd trying to pull the stinger out while struggling to stay vertical. The balance of the bike less eventful but it was interesting to see the number of race officials closely monitoring for drafting penalties. Toward the end of the bike I observed a couple instances in which referees were providing verbal commands to racers to help them avoid penalties. I’m not sure if this is a standard policy but it struck me a very decent and good thing for them to do.

The first section of the run down Ali’i Drive was extremely hot as buildings and trees block any chance of a breeze. But it is a welcome change to have great crowd support after the lovely lava fields on the bike. You get thrown back into solitude once back on the Queen K. Aide stations are a welcome site not only for ice, fluids, and nutrition but the support from the nearly 5,000 awesome volunteers. Coming back into Kona with the sun setting was one of the more challenging parts of this race. I observed a good number of racers falter in this section of the race.

I cannot describe in words how it feels to run down the finish chute at Kona. The energy in that area is off the charts. Cathartic, Electric, Amazing. It was the best party I’ve ever experienced.

Even though I was completely smoked and not feeling well after the race, I was drawn back to the finish to cheer on the last competitors. The crowd goes into a complete frenzy, whipped up by Mike Reilly, as the last finishers approach. Incredible.

In the end, I finished 20th in my AG, 3rd American, and a new PR in very challenging conditions.

I am extremely grateful to my family for putting up with my training, my friends and coworkers for their help and interest, the nice folks at Foss Swim, Now Bikes, and Jon / Jillian Fagerness who helped introduce me to the great sport of triathlon. Thank you!

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