This was my 6th year heading to Kona for the World Championships. Sixth!! I have raced there twice (as an amateur), and, the last 3 years have gone as part of the Smashfest Queen expo-and-race-day-cheer-squad, and to coach my athletes who have qualified. I have raced in hard conditions, I have raced in “easy” conditions (2013 was pretty fast!). I have spectated on really hot, windy days. And I have now spectated in probably the most favorable conditions of the recent past.
I have seen a lot go down over the last few years. And, over the years, I have changed. My goals have changed. As I evolved from amateur to professional, I found my voice in the #50WomenToKona movement. I am the first to tell you that has made me see Ironman in a different light. I have also spent a significant amount of time in the woods in the last couple years. Running the Vermont Long Trail – accomplishing something in which there was no finisher medal, no spectators other than those I invited to help me, and no entry fee has also shaped my vision of accomplishment in endurance sports.
I was asked by a good friend this last week what I felt when I was there this week. This was while I watched people take selfies in front of the big wall of names across from our booth. While I watched countless people do their casual morning run in their one piece tri kit. And I saw all the nakedness of the undie run, and all the compression of the antsy athletes. My reaction? I still think a lot of what triathletes tend to do is silly. But I do love that silliness. And I respect those people for owning it and being a part of the sport I love. It’s silly, but it’s fun, and there’s a lot of times when I need that fun in the sport and so I thank them for that.
And then, race day came.
I’m not sure how to really describe what I seemed to see out there, but I will say: the pro race is, still, a race. Yes there are a few packs and drafting and some of that nonsense needs to be addressed (i.e. I firmly believe the time gap between male/female pros should be large enough a female can’t swim/bike up into the men’s race). But for the most part, the professionals are racing at a caliber and in conditions that are suited to see who is the fastest swim/bike/runner of the day.
The Age Group race? The pointy end of this is still quite race-like and impressive. And the back end, those brave souls who are clamoring to be at the finish line in 17 hours? Yep, they are sure as hell working hard. But I have to say it: I was really, really disappointed with my overall impression of the age group race this year. It was as if all these folks hopped onto a moving walkway, and then did a running motion (or biking motion) until the walkway brought them back down to Ali’i Drive.
I’ve actually always been fundamentally against moving walkways. And escalators, if we are keeping track. I’m definitely “that person” who hoofs up the stairs next to the escalator, or tests her race-walking skills on the standard floor next to the moving-walkway to prove I can get there just as fast. And no, it’s not because I think I’m better than the moving walkway, or those who use it. But it’s because not taking it has, I believe, made me a stronger person. Working hard is something I seek to do, at a fundamental level, everyday. It’s a skill. It’s a habit. Of course I still make mistakes and am not perfect – and often these are the result of not having the foresight ahead of time to see that I was trying to cut a corner, or take a moving sidewalk, instead of doing the work.
The middle of the age group race for the most part left me wildly uninspired*. It was as if so many people got to Kona and said “Whew!”, and set off on a 140.6 mile victory lap. And I realize that in many ways, that is exactly what it is for people. But that doesn’t mean you can’t race, in my opinion. It doesn’t mean you can’t dig deep. You can still leave it all out on the Queen K. So many people are content with how they got there, that they forget that it might be just as valuable to lay it on the line one more time. Whether that ends in an epic blowup, or an unwarranted breakthrough. And for the folks at the pointy end: take a risk. Go pro. You’ve paid your respects to Kona, and yes, you might not race there again for awhile if you do it. But I promise you, the reward of knowing that you have tested your limits by racing those who are truly the top of the sport, is the best. That will encourage the others to step up and fill your shoes. And so on.
I love sport and I love competing and I really want to go to Kona — whether I’m racing or spectating — and see that grit and determination. For the most part, I didn’t find it this year. Let’s get off the moving walkway, and change that.
*This is a generalization. There was absolutely some greatness here that I am not highlighting so that I can make my point.