Sunday, November 27, 2011

2011 Kona Spectator Report

We had a good support group to watch Steve and Gary race Kona: me and Laura and Teresa and Sue and Steve's dad and brother Dave. (Dave is quite the swimmer himself, and won a pair of goggles from the "coffee boat" by diving down 30 feet and grabbing some coral from the bottom. He blew out his eardrum, but hey... Free Goggles.) On race day, we met up with Steve and Gary around 5:45am, and I think I was more nervous they were. Perhaps they are simply better at hiding it. Lots of hugs, lots of sunscreen, then they left for the race.

Most of our cheering squad went up to the hotel room to watch the race start since it had a good view of the water. I stayed down on the ground so I couldn't see anything but it was still fun to be a part of all the activity.

I saw Steve start out on the bike but somehow missed Gary. Fortunately, the bike course loops back after about 10 miles so we were able to catch them both as they climbed the small hill on their way out to the Queen K. They were both smiling and looked like they were having a great time.

I can't say the same thing a few hours later when we saw them coming back on the bike. Gary came in first, and the best word I can use to describe him is "wet". And it wasn't just water-dumped-over-the-head wet, he looked internally wet. You could tell he was really, REALLY sweating and it must have been a rough hot ride out there. A few minutes later he was smiling starting the run, but again he looked hot. And not in the good way.

Then we waited for Steve, and that was a problem. The bike finish is about 50 yards from the overall race finish, and we could hear the race announcer updating everything that was happening with the pros. They were tracking Craig Alexander who was on pace to set a new Ironman World Championship record and we could have gone over to watch history being made. But Steve wasn't back yet. We kept hearing the updates how Crowie was 2 miles away... 1 mile away... 1/2 mile away... and we were thinking "come on, Steve! We need to go see Craig!" 

We never left our Steve-viewing post, and settled for hearing Craig Alexander break the world record. Steve came in a few minutes later. No regrets.

There's a shortcut spectators can take to catch athletes around mile 1 of the run. After we saw Steve head out on the run, Laura, Dave and I ran down Alii Drive to see Steve again. It was probably the toughest workout I had in months. It was maybe a half-mile run, but we did it dodging crowds while carrying cameras and signs and phones and not wearing proper running gear. We caught Steve again, completely sweaty and out of breath (us, not Steve).

The next viewing area was at mile 10, but for some reason I thought it was mile 5 or 6 so I made sure we got there very early. This meant we spent a lot of time waiting and worrying why our racers hadn't shown up yet. Once we realized they had 4 more miles to run than I thought, we felt better. We saw Steve first, which was odd. Not that we weren't thrilled to see him, but history would suggest that we should have seen Gary first. Turns out, Gary had stopped about 200 yards down the road from us. Basically, he overheated on the bike and was having trouble recovering. He decided to drop out of the race. Just wasn't his day. He raced Kona before, he'll race it again, but in spite of his great spirits it was certainly a disappointment.

We then had another 16 miles to wait for Steve's final finish. We had dinner at the hotel, constantly redoing the math trying to figure out what time Steve would come in. I think we decided that we could see him at mile 25 around 8:00 or 8:15, and then take the short cut to watch him finish at 8:15-8:30. 

Playing it extra safe, we got to mile 25 around 7:40. We really wanted to plan this out well, so we sent Steve's brother on a mission to time how long it would take to get to the finish line using the shortcut. It's kind of a blur what happened next, but as I recall Inconsiderate Steve showed up about 20 minutes early. We freaked (or at least I did) because I had no clear plan on where to go yet. Steve's Brother returned as we scrambled to get our gear together and he led us on a mad dash to the finish line. (It's actually pretty amazing that you can get great seats at the last minute and we were in the bleachers leaning on the fence when Steve arrived.)

You may recall my friend Brian and I coined the phrase "milking the chute". It means that when you're in the finisher's chute, make the most of it. High five strangers, kiss babies, do whatever you want but you should really make the most of the experience. Well, Steve did something completely new. As he approached the finish mat, he kind of went into a slow-motion bullet time. He walked under the clock - and seemed to just sort of stand there. It was like he was posing for wedding photos. He just stayed there, and stayed there, and stayed there. It wasn't like they had to call security to move him out the way, but he was definitely there for an awkwardly long time. More power to him.

We saw Steve, did lots of sweaty man-hugging (sweaty-man hugging?) and then he went over to the medical tent and tried to con his way into getting a fluid drip. They weren't buying it and just released him. I think for his next Ironman I'm going to bring my own I.V. for him to use after the race.

So let me say this about Kona: it is probably the easiest race I've ever spectated. The key factors of a spectator-friendly race are 1) how often you can see your racer, 2) how far you have to walk to get to different viewing areas, and 3) how difficult it is to cut across the race course. I felt it was very easy to get around and we had some pretty good viewings. 

I do have one complaint about the race crossings- I think it's great when young people come out and volunteer at Ironman. But you shouldn't put a 16-year-old girl in charge of crowd control at a pedestrian crossway. I was amazed at how many people were cutting across the bike course dangerously close in front of the bikes. Oh, and accidentally dropping bags and trash in the road as they did it. People are stupid.