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When it comes to Ironman, it doesn’t get any better than the World Championship. Held every year on the Big Island of Hawaii in Kailua-Kona, it is, quite simply, the pinnacle of our sport.
As we speak, athletes from all over the world have started to descend on the Island and in a few short days, they will take on an incredibly challenging course that pushes wannabe world champions to the brink of their physical and mental ability year after year. We’re getting tingles just thinking about it!
There are so many reasons why triathletes everywhere continue to put themselves through their Ironman paces every year in the hope of cracking a spot at the biggest dance of all. Here are five reasons we can’t get enough of the Ironman World Championship …
1. “The Vibe”
In the immortal words of Dennis Denuto*, it’s just the vibe. This one is hard to explain but trust us, when it comes to Ironman mecca, there’s no competition. As soon as you step foot in the town of Kona, there’s no denying the fact it is the epicentre of endurance sport for that one week. This is the world championship - the day of days - where every athlete (from professionals to 17-hour specialists) arrives tapered and ready to race what is likely the biggest, most significant event in their athletic life.
An incredible calibre of athletes from all over the world roam the town by foot or bike, at the absolute peak of their fitness, many of whom are preparing themselves to fulfil a lifelong dream. Professionals and age-group world champion contenders aside, there are also Legacy Program athletes and Ironman Global Ambassador athletes who are represented - people who have achieved or overcome incredible health or other personal feats to participate and live their own potential on race day. Witnessing these athletes cross the finish line and the moments that precede and ensue often rivals and surpasses even the most impressive professional performances.
The Big Island. From the Mountains to the Lava Fields, the pristine ocean and everything in between, there’s nothing quite like it and no way to replicate that extraordinarily special feeling that fills you from head to toe as soon as you step off the plane. And how could there be? After all, it is the spiritual home of Ironman.
2. Location, Location, Location
From the moment you land at the airport which is flanked by lava fields, you know you’re somewhere special. Kona really is quintessential Hawaii. And there’s no place on earth like the Big Island. Rent a car for the day and you can drive the Island, passing through no less than four of the five major climate zones that exist on our planet. It is truly one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world.
It’s also a relatively handy flight from Australia, all worldwide destinations considered, which may be one of the reasons our country is so healthily represented at the Ironman event each year. The locals for the most part are incredibly welcoming and wholeheartedly embrace race week which is no doubt a key contributing factor to its enduring success.
In terms of all your race-related requirements, everything is centrally located, so although a hire car is handy if you’re hauling a bike(s) and other equipment, it’s not a deal-breaker provided your accommodation is close to town. Should you choose the car-less path however, just a word of warning - the free shuttle bus and its incredibly loose schedule certainly sing from the Island Time hymn sheet!
3. The Course
Picturesque location aside, this Ironman course is a unique beast. Nothing gives you all the feels quite like a conch shell and cannon fire do, signalling the start of the race. Athletes set off on the swim leg in ridiculously warm (no wetsuit) water, often escorted along the way by dolphins, turtles and a myriad of other marine life clearly visible in the pristine waters of Kailua Bay.
The ride is generally fast and fun, but the hills, the heat and the trade winds still need to be battled and managed. Finally, the ultimate test for athletes is the lumpy and insanely hot run, including an extended stint in an infamous section called the “Energy Lab” – notorious for siphoning energy from athletes, rather than providing them with any.
Whether you’re a professional, age-group contender or just out there to make it under 17-hours, on race day all athletes are equal, each one battling the same course and conditions as the next. Being the World Championship, spectators and supporters abound, but they’re mostly concentrated closer to town which is understandable. After all, spectating in the middle of a lava field doesn’t seem all that appealing!
4. The Expo
For spectators and supporters, a trip to the epic expo during race week is essential. And to be fair, even as a nervous athlete with the best intentions to keep unnecessary “noise” to a minimum, it’s probably still unavoidable. With two decent setups spanning a road, sponsor freebies and bargains abound and with a steady stream of professional athletes turning up throughout race week for signings, product promotions and interviews, the expo is heaven for tri-gear nerds and groupies alike. If you do indulge in any pre-race purchases however, just remember to avoid committing the cardinal sin of christening them on race day!
5. The Extras
When all is said and done and race day has been and gone (or for a few treats in between), nothing beats the iced coffees of Lava Java and ice-cream sandwiches of Huggos on the Rocks, flanked by a cocktail or two at sunset. If you’re taking travel notes, these are essential stops. And an acai bowl from Basik Acai (the Kilauea is our recommendation) is the breakfast of (world) champions!
For a break from your food coma, or for non-triathlon related activities, options abound. Swimming with manta rays and spinner dolphins, or indulging in a spot of snorkelling in various locations around the Island should tick a few boxes. A Kona Coffee tour or trip to Kona Brewing Company also come highly recommended. And no visit to the Big Island is complete without stopping in to Volcanoes National Park.
With so many athletes arriving a week or two early for pre-race acclimatisation, the post-race exodus is generally swift so if you’re keen to holiday after the big day, stay a while longer on the Island and enjoy everything this little town has to offer, once its Ironman hosting duties have concluded for another year.
While few of us have managed to reach the “holy grail” of Ironman this year, we can still watch with bated breath on October 13 (Australian time) and cheer on our T:Zero athletes with gusto. In all honesty, it's virtually impossible not to be moved and motivated by this incredible event.
* Do yourself a favour and download “The Castle” for essential wind trainer viewing 😉
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An amazing collection of training and racing advice from the T:Zero Multisport coaches- with the occasional guest blogger! Read this blog to help you live your potential!