Updated: Apr 23
THE KONA MORNING
It's race morning for one of the biggest events in triathlon next to the Olympics in the middle of a small island in the pacific ocean. The swim start of the 3.8k deep water ocean swim takes place in the small town of Kona, on the big island. The normally calm town is now buzzing full of nervous triathletes and their supporters. It's 4:30am and you make the few minutes drive to the bay of the swim start in the car. It's still completely dark but there are quite a few other cars on the road heading to the same destination you are. No time for parking. Your supporters let you out close to the famous Kamehameha hotel right at the swim start. In order to get into transition where you checked in your bike yesterday, you need to go through a big tent for "body marking" which is on the big parking lot behind the hotel. You thought coming early would avoid the crowds of athletes, you are wrong. Hundreds of excited triathletes are alread standing in line, nervously stepping right and forth. Some have pure happiness and joy in their face, appreciative just to be there. Some have their eyes wide open, blank fear of the unknown that waits ahead. You can see ahead of taking one swim stroke who will do well today and who will struggle.
Despite the darkness and early morning it is warm outside like you would imagine it to be in Hawaii. A t-shirt over your triathlon suit is all you need. The warm still soft winds in the morning and warm air make you feel relaxed and brushes over your skin every now and then. The volunteers that put on your race number in form of a tattoo (called "body marking") are full of energy and vibrating happiness and joy. They know how special this morning is and remind everyone around them with laughter and smiles who might have forgotten about the rough road that led them just to one of the few of your age group world wide that are allowed to start here. Most others are glued to the TV from home and hoping to stand in line for body marking the next year. It's 5am now. Body marking took it's time but you finally make your way to transition along the beach behind the Kamehameha Hotel. Heading towards the pier of the bay, on which about 2500 bikes are tighly racked on long iron bars, you can now see the whole bay and island with all it's beauty. You see the ocean, a rather calm morning today, not many waves which should make for an easier swim.
You see the sun coming up in the background right next to the vulcano and mountain tops of the island. Palm trees and the cozy wodden white Kona houses form a line along the beach front. You start to realize where you are and how privileged you are to be able to do this. To be able to be here this morning, on a remote island in the middle of the ocean, far far away from home just to do a triathlon. But it feels more like just a race. It feels different. Time to check the bike a last time before the start. Are the brakes working - check. Pump the tires - check. Add the race nutrition bottles and snacks to the bike - check.
I leave the transition and my bike behind and head to meet my supporters before my warm up. The worst time of the day starts about now. Time to kill before the warm up, not allowing your mind to panic or loose focus of the moment.
Looking at the fiery red sky and sunrise helps. It brings you right back to where you are sitting. On the corner of a small coffee place on the ground, waiting to start your warm up for the IRONMAN World Championship battling against the best athletes of the sport. Being there that morning comes as close to "enlightment" as I have ever been. I never felt so alive, in the moment and joyfull before. It has been the same energy and feeling there at my 2nd start in 2018 on the island, despite being physically unprepared to have a good day. The vibrant energy of the hawaiian islands can be felt clear as day and is the reason why athletes crave to come back to the island as soon as the muscle ache goes away.