I wanted to experience the tension before the swim start whilst not being in it so at 5:45am we set off down to the pier to experience the swim start. With hindsight I wished I’d volunteered to help out pre race and through the swim, that would have been a great way to really experience it. As it was after wishing Roger, Mel and Neil good luck we stood by the finish line in front of the big screen. There was no way we could get a clear view of the swim start. So many people and great atmosphere. Two helicopters above and three drones.
We saw the male pros hit the turn point in 22:30 – it looked like they would be back before the females age groupers had started as I feared. It turned out in the last minutes before the start they’d got the women to move away from the pier leaving a gap for the leaders.
Once the swims had started we headed up to the Kuakini highway to cheer on the bike. The first person we were looking to vote for (my little nephew kept asking who we’d ‘vote’ for rather than ‘cheer’ and rather than keep correcting him all the adults just started to use the word vote instead of cheer. I’m wondering if it’ll catch on. I rather like the idea of voting for your favourite athletes by how loud you cheer).
It was great to see how fast the pros came through. Also how much of a pack there was. After the first three there was a gap then perhaps 30 guys. We saw Rachel come through and I think in my first cheer I managed to strain my voice ! If I’m ever supporting at Kona again I think I may invest in some voice coaching so I can project my voice without losing it for the following few days. Next up were the age groupers and it was very difficult to spot the athletes we were voting for even though we’d placed ourselves on the slight rise on the road. It was noticeable that the first age groupers through were typically bigger with broader shoulders – they looked like the strong swimmers they were. It was about at this point that my seven year old nephew, Isaiah, first asked “when would the race start”.
We stayed till we saw Neil through then headed to regroup over a leisurely buffet breakfast at Bubba Gump – only place with space for our large party. It turned out a good choice with a superb sea side location and much better than expect food.
I then headed back to the hotel to find the hotel bar was showing the live coverage. Superb! Got my laptop, a cold beer and sat there watching the coverage and using Matt Davy’s tracker. There was quite a buzz in the bar with loads of people there watching.
It was clearly a hot day so I grabbed my arm and shoulder coolers before heading out to support the run. We went to Ali’i drive at the entrance to the hotel. It was great as we (well Rachel) could head back to the hotel to get ice. This helped keep me cool. Isaiah again asked when the race was starting so I explained the race didn’t really start till mile 20 on the run ! Don’t think he fully appreciated it. What he did appreciate was absolutely roaring at the people we knew. He loved it stayed out there with me from 12:30 till gone seven when he was taken home to bed though he wanted to stay right till the end.
We naturally developed a protocol – we tried to cheer on everyone who we could see the name of. As the day progressed with this group we started trying to pick out details to cheer them up – “Isaac” was our favourite name until a little later “Clint” turned up. My sister latched on to this and when she liked a ladies outfit there would be something along the lines of “Go Girl! Love your outfit” or “Go Girl, You look gorgeous”. At the other end of the scale were our close friends out here. These got an all out ballistic as much as we could give cheer. This would include cheering as long as we got a response. My sister’s voice projects way further than mine and she’d learnt from supporting me that I give a wave if I hear her and as long as I wave she keeps shouting. Roger got the record on this as he kept waving so we kept shouting, it got all the way down to Bongo Bens before he stopped.
In between these two categories is a broad spread of people “I know” – this is anything from people I’ve hung out with a bit, only know on social media or even just know they’re friends of people in this group. I think the best for this was Troy from Blackline London – I know who he is, met him at IM South Africa but I’m not sure if I’ve ever exchanged a single word with him. However, their kit is very distinctive and we knew he was running third of the there male Blackliners. So … I spotted him in the aid station before there was any possibility of reading his name. We all started giving it full bore. I’ve no idea whether he had the foggiest who we were but he responded, looked lifted and high fived us. It made our day !
It was so much fun. To have raced here and now feel like in a tiny way I was giving a lift to those racing. When an athlete showed even a flicker of a reaction we gave more. I was in awe. Like my cramping riding up to Hawi the week before, supporting out there gave me way more respect for what everyone tackling this race was achieving than on any occasion I’ve raced. I resolved that if I ever return I will prepare properly for it. From the sidelines, the error of many of my previous attempts was crystal clear. I need to have this as an a-race, not for a good placing but purely to put me in a position to really enjoy it.
We found ourselves getting recruited by other supporters – asking us to cheer their loved one on. This was fantastic, so pleased to help and seeing the reaction from the athlete was the best. My mum has done this so many times for me when I’m racing. I’ll come by her and find everyone around cheering their hearts out. She’d clearly spoken to everyone and recruited them to the cause.
We moved down to Kuakini to see everyone in. First up was seeing Paul Burton – someone I’ve followed on twitter and met at South Africa. I’d had the impression he’d been trying to qualify for a while and here he was on his debut on a tough day going what looked like low 9:30s – very impressive indeed. I was pleased to see him at the final finishers to tell him so. Next we saw Roger not long after Jurgen Zack and Richard Hobson – so I know he’d had a great run (turned out 2nd fastest in his age group for 7th), it can’t be long before Roger cracks the podium. Then Neil – first time here after so many years chasing a slot. Again did a superb race, placing in at least the top third of his age group and hopefully proving to himself he has every right to be here and should feel confident in his ability to qualify the next time he wants to. Final person we saw was Mel. She’d toughed it out, the previous day she’d clearly not been 100%. The plan was to cheer her and rush down to the finish line but Isaiah hadn’t quite understood so he went belting along chasing her and shouting. eventually he turned round and we got down to see her finish in 8th. I hope as everything gets in perspective she realises that she can definitely podium here and will return again shortly.
Somehow we mustered the energy to hang out and watch the final finishers. I must say that Ironman’s reduction of the cut off to 16:50 was harsh. In the 80-84 age group we say the only finisher cross in 16:50:05 and though the WTC was happy to use this dramatic finish in the video they did not recognise him as the winner. In my mind he is – whatever you do maintain the 17 hours for these older age groups. Their performances are often the most inspirational. We watched him fall over 50m from the line (ultimately costing him the finish and the win) then as he went up the ramp Mike Reilly grabbed him and helped him across. I remember thinking that was odd as it was outside assistance but I think it was in fact very quick thinking by Mike – he’d realised at that point he’d missed the cut off so made sure he stayed upright and helped him to a much more dignified finish. Very classy Mike.
If you’ve raced this race and have the chance to come support I can fully recommend it. If I could afford it I think I’d booked a holiday out here every year and either race or support. As it is, I feel so motivated to qualify again. Just need to get this injury sorted.