I've been participating in triathlons since 1988. I was a weird and obnoxious kid back then with way too much un-bridled energy. When other guys had pics of Michael Jordan or John Stockton on their lockers, I had Scott Tinley and Mike Pigg plastered all over mine. In 1993, I was lucky enough to qualify for the Ironman in Hawaii. Back then, most of the qualifiers were 1/2 Ironman distances. Not 70.3's. (I still don't understand the thought of branding a half ironman a 70.3. It's a half Ironman, not some digital reference to the distance you travel).
Below are a few personal suggestions and rules to participating or attending the worlds greatest endurance event.
#1- Expect to see things you don't see every day back at home.
The week before Kona was nothing like I encountered at any other race. You will see stuff you would rather forget to remember to forget. Things like the Euro athletes strolling around Kona it their speedos with their baskets full; mostly shaven, some… not. One morning before the race, I was taking an early walk down Ali'i drive and saw a bunch of dudes and a couple of gals running in their underwear in protest of the Euro's dress code. The Underpants Run had only 12 or so that year. Nowadays there are hundreds of folks parading down the road in their tighty-whitey's! Amazing what people will do when they are thousands of miles away from home!
#2 - Prepare to meet your hero!
The highlight of the pre-race festivities was when I was sitting on the Pier after a swim when I met Mike Pigg. He spent some time talking to me like we had been friends for years. (Note: Mike Pigg was a 2-time National Champion, 2nd place finisher in Hawaii, and beat everybody who raced against him in the late 1980's and 1990's. Arguably, he beat Mark Allen more than anyone else on the planet at Olympic and half-iron distances). I was as giddy as a school girl when I met Mike. He took 19th that year and had to retire from long distance racing because of a stomach virus. He raced for several years afterward dominating Olympic, Half Ironman, and Xterra events. He now coaches athletes and is my personal coach. Being coached by one of the worlds best triathlete's is fantastic, because he share's stories of his races and incorporates them into his lessons. You should try him out!
#3 - In Kona, poop happens- period.
The day started off great! The Kona Pier was crowded and full of stressful athletes. I remember sitting impatiently trying to make my way into the pier to get my body marked. I felt like I was packed in a case of sardines. Then, out of the blue, I hear this voice, "Mr. Aamodt, Mr. Aamodt, we have been waiting for you. Please, everyone, make way for Mr. Aamodt". Unbeknownst to the crowd and myself, it was my brother Jim who was a race marshal that year and used his credentials to escort me to the front of the line. I didn't argue!
The swim was fabulous. It seemed like an eternity swimming to the turnaround boat. At the swim finish, I exited the water, ran through the changing tent, and there was that strange race marshall holding my bike out for me….COOL! The climb out of Kona up to the Queen K Highway seemed effortless. Cowbells and screams were a plenty. People you don't even know are yelling out your name and cheering for you.
The first 50 miles out to Hawi were very enjoyable. I was loving every minute of it. At the turnaround point, volunteers were handing out our special needs bags with our gear in them. I found my bag, and tried to pull out my version of GU. It was called a 'Leppin Squeezy'- banana flavored. That stuff was magical! When I tried to pull it out of the bag, everything fell out onto the ground. At 22+ mph, and in the thick of the coolest race on Earth, I decided to not stop, but continue on without it.- poop happening #1. By mile 80, I was spent. Fried. Toast. Bonked. Hit the Wall. I did, however, found refuge in the last aid station. I physically stopped my bike (which I never would have done previously) and grabbed a gazillion bananas, plethora of Fig Newtons, and some Gatorade. By the time I reached the Kona Surf (T2 back then), I was feeling better. Ad to that the crowd and adrenaline, I was sooooo ready to run. My old running coach, Roger Burhley had given me some killer workouts prior to the race which included big hill repeats to prepare me for the exit out of the surf and up "the wall". "The Wall" isn't on the run portion anymore. I remember exiting T2 running down the wall, turning around and telling myself not to look up, but looking up anyway. All I saw was pavement landscaped like a big wall. Ugh. My heart rate shot sky high and my legs burned like nothing else. At the top of The Wall, I felt a little composure. By mile 8 I was running 7:30's with another gentleman. I don't remember his name, but we had a great friendship going for a few miles. While we were running and encouraging each other, I looked down at my feet. They hurt very badly. Where were my socks? -poop happening #2. I was so caught up in the emotion of the day at the transition area, I forgot to put my running socks on. (anything over an Olympic distance race, I would wear socks). My white Saucony's were coated red with blood. By mile 11, the blisters were so intolerable, I had to take my shoes off at each aid station, and apply new bandages. I remember one gentleman from Denmark introducing himself to me and offering me his socks. The kindest gesture ever! I was overcome by his generosity, but I kindly declined. He walked with me for about a half of a mile. Cool guy. Probably never see him again. My goal was a 3:30 marathon. I ended up running a 4:20, and to this day, I have scars on my heals from the blisters. (please don't judge me; I'm typically not that stupid!)
#4- The pain is worth it.
Crossing the finish-line in Kona is like nothing else. I am fortunate to have been a part of it. I remember after the event, telling my family that I was going to go back to the condo for a quick shower. The plan was to come back to the finish line and party until midnight (which is the tradition). The next thing I knew, it was 1pm the next afternoon. Oopsie! I was so sore. My whole body ached-shoulders, back, legs…oh the legs! calves, quads-- you name the body part- It was sore. I decide to go for a walk and grab something to eat and loosen up the muscles. But really, all I wanted to do was eat. and eat. and eat. While walking, I saw Mark Allen, who won the event, gingerly trying to step down off of a curb. He looked sore too! He was human after all! We caught eye contact just as he finished stepping off the curb. I said, "Great Job, Mark." He gave me a thumbs up and a little laugh. That was cool. The pain is worth it. Yes, Indeed.
Dan Aamodt is an avid middle of the packer with over 150 events under his belt. He lives in Draper, UT and has a pretty darn cool wife and two kids. In his spare time, he likes to…well, as the Race Director for Porter Half, he really doesn't have much spare time. You can visit Dan's website at www.lonepeakevents.com