Ironman World championships
Very early start today. Up at 4am to prepare Chris's pre-race breakfast of porridge, maple syrup and banana. Chris seemed calm and focussed, this being his fourth Ironman event, and he followed a well practiced ritual of preparation - food / sunscreen / kit check and timely arrival at the start. We left home at 5am.
Downstairs in the BanyanTree parking area we were surprised that there were very few cars. Most of the residents were already up at the start. Perhaps unsurprisingly there was very little traffic in Kona and we dropped Chris at the race start area a few minutes later, wishing him well for the race. He went off to prepare his bike and pump the tyres up to 110psi and to get body marked with his race number, 2152.
Our original plan was then to go and order a slap up breakfast for ourselves but the crowds and atmosphere in the town was infectious and so, after checking the road closure maps we parked our car in an area where we could still get out to view the bike route, and looked about to find a good vantage point from where to watch the start and the swim.
We found just the spot in the garden of the Huluhe'le palace, right next to the wall of the Kahlua Harbour.
There were people standing on the wall and on the rocks on the other side of the wall but we were pretty lucky with our choice of spot as the lady in front of us was very short and also too elderly to climb up on the wall!
From our place we could easily see the start line and also the area where the bikes were racked ready for the first transition. Excitement built as a fleet of safety crew clad in orange tunics set off out into the bay to loud cheers from the crowd.
Overhead helicopters hovered, taking photographs, and film footage,to be relayed to large screens. A drone also hovered by, presumably doing something similar.
Sky divers appeared and parachuted into the bay. The national anthem was sung and then the pro athletes entered the water, and started their race. Following that the main group of 2400 entered the water and we craned our necks and trained our binoculars on them to try to distinguish Chris from the many other slim athletes wearing blue hats and black swimskins.
At 7.55 we saw the puff of smoke from the cannon and heard the boom of the start. The sea boiled as all those swimmers struck out for their 2.4 mile swim. The crowd cheered and roared and waved and the atmosphere was tremendous.
We watched the pro athletes return to finish their swim in only 50 minutes and run up the slipway to get on their bikes.
It was impossible to see Chris in the water or at the transition so we decided to head up onto Kuakini Highway ready to watch the first part of the bike section.
Although it was only 8.30 in the morning, it was already really hot and patches of shade were in demand. We found a good spot and watched the pro athletes race past. They moved like lightning and it was quite a challenge to keep an eye out for Chris in his red Rudy project helmet, grey tri-suit and white shoes. We soon had a collection of photos of men matching that description who were not Chris! Suddenly he appeared, busily overtaking other cyclists, a big grin on his face! Cameras and go pros clicked into life and his 4 second fly past was recorded. This first leg was a six-mile-there and six-mile-back route to the south of Kona. We had timed other riders and had made a note of other competitors in striking outfits nearby.
Despite this, we nearly missed him on his return leg, and he was almost level with us before we could raise a cheer and photograph a rear view as he shot past!
His bike section seemed to be going really well - according to the Ironman website on Sharky's phone Chris finished the swim in 1350th place and had now overtaken so many cyclists that he had risen to 978th. His average speed on this section was 35.3 mph.
Back on the pavement we were feeling hot and exhausted just watching! The bike route now headed up the west coast of Big Island to the town of Hawi at its northern tip - a 100 mile round trip. Chris would not appear in Kona again for about 4 hours.
We had several options - breakfast or beach or follow the race. Obviously the last option was the only consideration! The question was, could we get back to the car and do the two hour drive along the narrow inland mountain road to Hawi in time to be there before Chris? The main road along the coast was obviously closed because of the race. Off we went, so glad of our comfortable, air conditioned 4WD car.
On the way Sharky kept track of Chris's progress through the check points. We calculated that there was enough spare time to pick up some take-out breakfast at the Waimea Coffee Company. What an amazing place. Great coffee served in every way possible, all drawn on a black board. Every breakfast bagel or burrito imaginable, cheerful friendly staff and live country and western music! It was packed with local people and it wasn't quick but it was more than worth it and we were soon back on the road. The drive was spectacular. From lava fields up to green rolling 'Telly-Tubby Land' fields. This was cowboy 'paniolo' country with farms, ranches and horses. We had calculated that Chris should get to Hawi around 11.30. We arrived just after 11.00, parked and scampered along through the town to where the race barriers and Ironman signs were lined up, crowds cheering and clapping the passing riders as they cycled in, negotiated a 180 degree loop turn in the road and set off on their 50 mile return leg back to Kona. As we joined the crowds of other spectators at the barrier clapping and cheering the other cyclists, a light misty drizzle started to fall. The road became slippery and we saw one cyclist slip, crash and retire hurt, clutching what looked like a broken wrist. All the cyclists rode over the wet surface of the loop very cautiously indeed.
The rain then turned to a steady downpour, and then stepped up another gear again to hoolie down, monsoon style! We tried to be as brave and tough as the cycling Ironmen, but eventually retreated under the canopy at the front of a grocery store, as rainwater slooshed down the road in a torrent.
Then suddenly there was Chris, head down, cycling towards us - we had made it with 10 minutes to spare! He looked over in response to our cheers and his face lit up as he carefully negotiated the turn, grinning happily, and cycled away, pumping his fist in the air! Never was there a more worthwhile 4 hour road trip!
We splashed our way back to the car, soaked through, and piled in for the return drive.
Since our last website check, Chris had passed another 100 riders, and was now lying 877th. Good work!
Our task now was to get back to Kona, find somewhere to park the car (no small feat on race day!) and find a front row spot near the bike/run transition.
We accomplished this despite the searing heat, and find a spot where the cyclists were free-wheeling downhill over the last few hundred metres of the course into the transition zone, and then emerging a few minutes later to start their marathon, running uphill along the opposite side of the road to the incoming cyclists.
The website showed that Chris was still about 6 miles away so we just had time to slip into the air conditioned bar at Quinn's for four medicinal glasses of ice cold Big Wave.
Back outside the heat was unbearable. Statistics later revealed that it was 32C in the shade, 43C in the sun and 54C on the Tarmac. No wonder so many competitors (including Gordon Ramsay) dropped out of the event!
We positioned ourselves along the crash barriers to join the cheering crowds. After a few minutes Chris appeared on his bike, flying downhill and into transition. A few minutes later he reappeared, well sun-creamed, wearing visor and sunglasses, running easily up the road, pausing only briefly to 'high five' Bill and Sharky.
Chris was then heading off to run south down Ali'i Drive, past our apartment for 6 miles and then, from there, back along the same route before heading out of town north along Queen Kaahumanu Drive, to the Energy Lab near the airport. The final leg of the marathon was back through the town and along the northern end of Ali'i Drive to the finish line at the harbour.
We made our way along Ali'i drive to find a good vantage point. The heat was beating back up off the the Tarmac and it was hard to think of anything other than how hot it was. ( I know I kept going on about the heat, but it really was astonishing - you could feel your skin burning and sweat just dropped in a steady stream off everyone's chins!)
All the areas of shade had been taken but we managed to find a spot where there was a light breeze blowing off the ocean which helped. In the middle of the pedestrianised road, a policeman stood directing runners into town on the right and back and out of town on the left. He wore a black shirt and black trousers, black boots and a peaked uniform and cap with white gloves and showed no sign whatsoever of being even slightly uncomfortable!
After what seemed like forever, Chris appeared, trotting happily along with his characteristic 'T-Rex' posture (arms high and tucked close to his body). This time it was a high five for Mike and big smiles all round as he passed the 11 mile point of his run and set off along the gruelling coast road north, across bleak black lava fields.
We were full of admiration for our runner and do took ourselves off to Humpy's to celebrate with a couple of pints of beer and a snack. From our vantage point on the balcony we were humbled by the athletes running past in the heat, a complete mix of ages shapes and sizes. There were serious faced, muscular, tanned Brazilians energetically bounding along, lanky blond swedes loping along looking relaxed, diminutive Japanese women looking calm and focussed, and tall laughing Australians being cheered loudly by their supporters (so many runners called 'Aussie'!). Some supporters were there, like us, to cheer their friends and family. Others, their country men, and still others were there to cheer everyone, and this was made easier by each runner wearing a race number that also bore their name so it was easy to personalise their support.
We followed Chris's progress on the live website as he continued to overtake other runners and pass check points. We made our way down to the finishing line at around 5pm to watch everyone finishing and to wait for Chris. We knew he was hoping to finish the race in 11-12 hours (6-7pm) and preferably in the daylight (6pm).
It was great to be in the stand at the finishing line. Continuous cheering, rhythmic banging on the barriers, loud upbeat music and a commentary announcing each runner as they approached the finishing line and were declared 'Ironman'.
Chris appeared, still grinning, nearly ran past us, turned back to give a huge grin and went on over the finish line in 10 hours 51 minutes and 57 seconds, in 873rd place overall. Brilliant, and even better than hoped for! I was so thrilled I photographed the sky and the man standing next to me instead of Chris! Bill discovered at the last minute that his camera battery was flat! Doh! Luckily The professional photographers had the moment well and truly covered!
After cheers and hugs we raced round to the athletes village where the medal be-decked and garlanded Chris had gone.
We found a host of other supporters doing the same thing. Supporters can't enter the athletes village, athletes do not have mobile phones, hence it was not an easy rendezvous got anyone! In the end Chris borrowed a phone and rang us to say he was taking advantage of the free meal and massage, and was just enjoying the general atmosphere at this unique event. We agreed to meet in an hour.
The rest of us managed to get an upstairs balcony table in the brewery restaurant opposite the finish where we could continue to watch the finish line and also get supper.
When Chris appeared there were lots of hugs and congratulations and we spent the rest of the evening at the finishing line cheering each and every competitor over the line.
Once again the variety of athletes was amazing. German housewives in their 60s, Russian men in their 30s, American girls in their 20s, Japanese men in their late 70s. The oldest finisher was in his mid 80s. One physically challenged competitor had only one arm and one leg, running with a below knee prosthesis and his arm stump hanging at his side.
Some athletes bounded in laughing and waving and hugging people in the crowd, some simply ran quietly up the centre of the course, relieved it was over. Others wore flags and carried selfie sticks to capture their moment of glory. Some staggered along barely able to move. One elderly Japanese man ran into the side barrier, fell, and with his legs still moving, had to be picked up and put back on his feet so that he could run the last few steps over the line unassisted.
It was an awesome experience with tremendous atmosphere. Unforgettable.
It all wound up at midnight when the barriers went across the finishers tunnel. The fire dancers danced and the anthem was sung. We drifted slowly back to the car, collected Chris's bike and back to Banyan Tree for Chris stretch out on the sofa bed under the fan for a well earned rest.
The Charge of the Ironman (with apologies to Lord Tennyson):
by Chris Bellamy.
Half a degree, half a degree,
Half a degree upward,
Kona's heat rising
For the two thousand four hundred.
"Good luck for today!
"Be strong all the way!" they say:
On Kailua pier
Assembled the two thousand four hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Crowds to the left of them,
Helicopters above them
The blades a' thunder'd;
Storm'd at with cheers and yells,
Boldly they wished each other well,
Into the jaws of pain,
Into the growing swell
Swam the two thousand four hundred.
Flash'd all their shoulders bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air,
Slicing through sunrise fair,
With dolphins and turtles rare;
Athletes in hats pink and blue,
And those missing limbs too;
Reel'd in the final strokes
Shatter'd and salted.
They swam back, but not
Not the two thousand four hundred.
Sun to right of them,
Sea to left of them,
Winds behind them,
Carbon wheels thunder'd;
Fuelled up with blocks and gels,
While sun and monsoon fell.
They fought and battled well
Back from Hawi's turn of hell
Resisting the urge to yield,
Through wind and lava field,
What's left of two thousand four hundred.
"A marathon left!" they exclaimed
Was there a man dismay'd?
Just you and asphalt now,
Someone had chunder'd:
Their fists icy sponges grasped,
Feet swelling and blistered,
Theirs but to do or die:
Along Ali'i drive they blundered.
Dreaming of glory to be made,
From the Energy Lab legs won't fade,
Writing their story's last chapters!
Stumbling across that finish line,
No matter what time,
the crowds roared and thunder'd;
Honor the sacrifices they made,
Honor the Ironman Brigade,
All two thousand four hundred.