Day III — Ironman World Championships

One of the reasons why I scheduled the training at the Maui YMCA for Friday was so that I could go to the Ironman World Championships in Kona that was being held on Saturday. Since you are here, you know how much a trip to the race would mean to me. What a great opportunity to see some of my heroes in action. Watching the top tier athletes race wold be one of those experiences that would help motivate me through the winter as I am training for my first Ironman on May 1st of this year. If you want a more complete race report for the men, click here. For the same information for the women, click here.

Bruce and I got up early and took the first flight to Kona. The plane we got on was tiny and only sat 8 people. I have to admit, I never felt unsafe in the thing. It was really a cool experience and I took some great photos. The pilot was about 16 years old, but he did a great job

We landed and took a cab over to what I will call the Starting Area. By the time we got there, the cutoff of 2.5 hours for the swim was just passing. There were some athletes who did not make the deadline. Among those was a guy who had beat cancer 4 times and had a heart transplant only 2 years ago. He missed the cutoff by a matter of minutes, It breaks your heart, but the clock waits for nobody.

By that time we positioned ourselves by the exit from T1 to the bike course. It was so great to see the back of the packers (BOP’s) starting their bike leg. It was a real inspiration to watch them pedal forward as they knew the people who were in contention to win the race were already 25 miles ahead of them. I loved seeing the racers who knew they would never podium on this day moving forward and racing themselves.

That means we had a ton of time to wait until the leaders came in on the bike. Bruce and I spent time lounging around and getting some photos of the finish line and other attractions. It was amazing to walk down the finish chute and feel the energy of the anticipation that was in the air. I loved being there and feeling the nervous energy of the crowd as everyone was rooting for either their athlete or the pro they wanted to win.

Me about 300 yards from the finish. Very, very cool.

And this is the actual finish line.

After a couple of hours, it was time for the leaders to come in on the bike. I got some great photos of Craig Alexander, Chris Lieto, Faris Al-Sultan, Andy Potts, and the other male pros. Here are the photos and I apologize for the quality, but you do get the idea how fast these guys are.

This was the leader off of the bike. Chris Lieto was amazing this day and ended up with a 2nd place finish.

At this point he is cruising at about 25 mph down the chute.

This is one of my favorite athletes, Faris Al-Sultan of Germany finishing his bike. The guy is a stud.

Now the real race today was for the Women’s Course Record with Chrissie Wellington. As a side note, Bruce and I went to a meeting about two years ago with one of her sponsors, Suunto, where she spoke to a room of about 30 people. She was extremely cool there and came across as very down to earth. I was really impressed with her now and have to admit I was a little biased in rooting for her at the race. I didn’t get any photos of her finishing the bike. I was too slow on the draw.

The great trait of the layout for the bike finish and run start is they are in the same spot. So taking photos of bike finishers and athletes who are starting the run is really easy. I got some very cool photos of my favorite athletes starting their marathons…but the best one is of Chrissie starting here marathon. She looked so strong and her gait was loose and smooth…

I caught her in a weird moment as she was smiling from ear to ear at this point. The crowd was going CRAZY for her, much more so than what they did for the men. It was really cool to be there and feel of that energy.

So we watched a ton of people come in. Bruce and I tried to cheer for everyone, but put a priority on women and old men. I know how much a personalized cheer can lift your spirits as you are feeling low. And man, there were a ton of people coming it. After another hour of this, we went and had lunch at a restaurant that was right across from the transition area. The food was alright, but the service was great. I was surprised how easy it was to get a table.

A word about spectating — this race was really spectator friendly. With the swim finish and the transition area all in the same vicinity, it was easy to see athletes multiple times. I was really surprised how many shops there were in the area and how easy it was to find shade to hang out in. If you are planning on vacationing in Hawai’i, get over there during this race and find some time to get over to the island and see it in person.

After dinner we went out and started cheering on the slower riders. The cutoff for the bike was 5:30, so we were no where near the cutoff, but lots of “real-world” athletes were coming in at this point. We stood by the start of the running course to cheer on the people who needed it. This was our view…I think you will agree it was amazing that we were so close to the athletes…

It was getting to the time of the day to see the winners come through the finishers chute. The electricity and anticipation for the finish was really building at this point. Craig Alexander took the lead of the men’s race about at the mid point of the marathon and never looked back. Chrissie Wellington was on pace to set a new course record and the crowd was starting to really get excited. The crowd was getting jazzed.

So I set up on the ocean side of the finisher’s chute to get some exceptional pictures. I thought about setting up at the finish line, but I wanted that photo that nobody else would get. I think I got them. These photos are about 50 yards from the finish and shooting towards town. You can see we got the Ford display as the background. Not all of the photos are great, but they show some of the better athletes in the world in my opinion. Here are my shots:

The men’s winner, Aussie Craig Alexander. He is a fantastic triathlete. This is his second title in a row.

This is the 2nd place finisher, Chris Lieto. Chris is an American and was featured this month on the cover of Outside Magazine. Chris started triathlons in 1997 after seeing the NBC coverage of Kona during that year. What you see there is Chris giving me a thumbs up, thanking me for my support.

Now this is one of my favorite triathletes, Faris Al-Sultan. He is half German and half Iraqi. I love his rock-and-roll attitude. You notice he still has lots of hair while most triathletes don’t.

And this of course is my favorite story of the day. Chrissie Wellington set a new course record for women at 8:54. The 2nd place finisher came in at 9:13. Chrissie is such a gracious winner and and amazing person. The crowd was going nuts as she made the turn onto Alii drive and made her way to the finish line. It really was a singular experience that really helped me understand how far people can push their bodies with their minds.

After we watched a couple more professionals come in, we made out way over to the street where the triathletes made their first turn onto the streets to cheer on the BOP’s. There were all types of triathletes that came through the course at this point. I could not believe the joy they exuded at this point. They knew they were taking the first steps of the marathon, yet there was happiness on their faces. Most were in obvious pain, but it was clear they were living their dream. Bruce and I cheered for everyone as they came by. I even called a friend of mine who speaks Japanese so I could cheer for the Japanese triathletes. But the most inspiring athlete that came by was this one:

About the time I shot this photo we had to go. Hindsight being what it is, I should have booked either a much later flight or we should have stayed the night. I wish we could have stayed until midnight to see those last finishers cross the line. This day was so emotional already, but it could have been capped by that experience. Not having been there for that event made me promise myself that in May when I finish mine, I will be at the finish line to support those athletes who need the full 17 hours to finish up.

We had to jump into a cab to get to the airport and head back to Maui. What a fantastic experience it was. I thought I knew how profound the spirit of triathlon was, but going to this race where it all began was amazing. I love the sport of triathlon, but I think I understand it better now. To be on the course where Mark Allen and Dave Scott had their epic battles and where Welch and Ingraham crawled in their race to the finish was amazing. I loved the experience and am so glad we made this a priority this year.

About the Author

I have been participating in running and triathlons for 10 years and love the feeling that training provides. You may not agree with me, but you know you just can't look away...