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2012 Hawaii Ironman - Nugget Report
CBD Cycles - 30/10/2012
I remember seeing the Hawaiian Ironman for the first time when I was about ten years old whilst watching Wide World of Sports in my family living room. To me these guys were superhuman, the distances they travelled and the conditions in which they did so, were reserved for cars with airconditioning. I remember thinking, somewhat naively, that I would like to complete it one day. Through a bit of luck, and a generous allocation of qualification spots in the Melbourne Ironman, I got my chance.
Navigating your way to the start line of any Ironman is never easy, everyone has to manage the training schedule whilst dealing with the balancing act of work and family and the personal challenges that inevitably come along the way. This was compounded by training through a Melbourne winter, a rather serious health scare and finding myself in hospital following a bike accident only weeks before the race.
Notwithstanding these hurdles, I still managed to have a solid preparation and arrived on the Big Island of Hawaii ten days before the race. In the days preceding the Ironman the town of Kona turned from a sleepy beach town into tri-geek heaven. Everywhere you looked were the who's who of the triathlon world along with ripped, tanned, super-fit people riding, running and swimming their way around the island. It is amazing to have such a large number of people and the positive energy that follows concentrated into such a small place. Despite the town being high octane all week, it can feel quite lonely as an athlete with the spectre of the race hanging over your thoughts.
This feeling of loneliness is exacerbated on the morning of race day. I got up ridiculously early and headed to the race start to take care of the normal formalities and join the other 1800 athletes congregated on the beach for the race start. I still remember stepping into the warm waters of Kialua Bay to head out to the swim start line and getting a chill through my body.
Time slows down as you tread water waiting for the cannon to go off. You feel like you are in solitary confinement - alone and isolated - even though you are surrounded by hundreds of other people who are in the exact same position.
All this nervousness and apprehension disappears the second the cannon goes off, then you can relax and execute what you have trained to do…until you get kicked in the face. As the cannon goes off, the peaceful ocean turns into a washing machine of violent churning water as every athlete kicks, punches and battles their way forward. The coral reef, colourful tropical fish, dolphins and turtles that had accompanied me on my training swims were replaced with white water and foam. Normally most swims settle down after a couple of hundred metres as people find their own space. However, despite having an entire ocean to swim in, I was generally assaulted for the entire 3.8 kms of the swim. I still think a couple of my fellow competitors should have at least bought me a drink or two before that swim….
It is always a relief to finish the swim leg, even if you are then faced with 180 km of cycling. The ride for the Hawaii Ironman is set in the lava fields of the island, with a 17 mile step climb to the small town of Hawi providing only a brief intermission before you turn around and come back the exact same way.
Hawaii is famous for its heat and wind and the island did not disappoint, serving up one of the hottest and windiest days in years. At the various aid stations I would be handed an ice cold drink which would quickly turn warm and undrinkable in a matter of minutes. There really is no respite from the conditions whilst on the bike. All I can say is that 180 km is enough time to become very tired of seeing lava and being cooked by the sun, hot wind and humidity.


Coming into transition for the second time, I remember thinking I felt ok and that I still had some strength in my legs…then I took two steps off the bike and thought bloody hell, that felt horrible – it would be the best I would feel for the entire marathon.
The run course is really broken into two sections. The first section is located in town, is heavily spectated and finishes with a long climb up Palani Hill (think Anderson St at the Tan on steroids). The second part of the run heads back out onto the highway and into the lava fields and has very few spectators.
Whilst I felt terrible I started running the first part of the run section hard. Not because I felt I had the strength to do so, but because my family and friends who had come to watch had spread themselves out all over town, so I felt I needed to put on a façade of looking good for them. After all I had the whole section out of town to fall apart. I must have been running ok through this section as I caught a number of the female professionals who had started earlier. I just aimed to keep a consistent rhythm and put one foot in front of the other.

In an attempt to try and keep my core temperature down at every aid station I tipped water over my head, put sponges soaked in ice water in my top, poured ice down my pants and carried ice in my hands – I was wetter on the run than I had been during the swim. Nevertheless, the day's heat started to take its toll and the body responded in a few unusual ways. In particular, my fingers went numb whilst my palms felt like they were burning up.
Things got tougher on the second half of the run with the long hills of the highway seemingly more pronounced than they appeared on the bike. Even having Chrissy Wellington (4 time women's world champion), offering assistance at one of the more remote aid stations on the course did not seem to help. My body had hit its limits and my stomach did not want to miss out on the fun as it started to cramp about 8 miles from home. I had come to the dark part of the race where it stops being measured in miles, kilometers or any other form of metric. It just comes down to willing yourself to the next aid station.
It was not till I had crested Palani Hill for the last time that I knew I was going to make it to the finish line. The run home was amazing, as the crowds lined the streets and encroached onto the road, squeezing me into a narrow chute hundreds of meters from the actual finish line.
I closed my eyes as I crossed the finishing line. It was not some glorious euphoric moment of relief. Rather it was a celebration of the distance traveled by someone who entered his first triathlon for a bit of fun, who almost drowned in the swim and fell off the bike as he left transition.
This race report was not written in Hawaii. It was grafted during the depths of winter, when I was out training before work whilst most slept in their beds. It cannot tell of pain of the alarm each morning, the pre-dawn cold, the sting of winter's rain, the endless loads of washing, the constant fatigue and tiredness felt and all the other trials that makes finishing so special.
You do not get to the start of the Hawaiian Ironman, let alone the finish line, without the support, help and sacrifices of others. I need to thank my wife, family and friends – many of whom made the trip to Hawaii to be with me …and to shop...mostly to shop. Sean Foster and the other coaches at Fluid Movements. My training buddies, especially the 5 others from the squad who managed to qualify for Hawaii, all of whom managed to make most training sessions sufficiently uncomfortable. Finally, but by no means least, thanks to CBD Cycles for all their advice and support.

Cheers

Stephen 'Nugget' Natoli