The Ironman World Championship in Kona is about as colorful and intense for Kona as Mardi Gras is for New Orleans and New Years Eve is for New York. The whole town is affected-road closures, thousands of tourists pouring in, bars swelling with partying patrons and residents shining with a good attitude (or not) and volunteerism to make sure people leave with a smile and great memories. When the visitors leave with their stories, they leave behind less in their wallets to make the business community think it was worth the 14 hour days it took to prepare, serve and clean up.
My family and I have been volunteering and supporting the Ironman events since 2013 including running downtown in our underpants during the annual Underpants Run, dressing up like mermaids and athletes for the “Parade of Nations” while waving from a float and squirting hundreds of spectators, volunteering to pour and serve water for four hours at an aid station during the race, running backward with water bottles for the bike portion of the race on the highway and finally cheering for the exhausted, but elated athletes at the finish line. What an experience each year!
I do my best to blog about the week so people can see the crazy. This year, the crazy got me with the crowds and I have not been as ON IT, as in years past, but will be there at 5 am tomorrow to volunteer at the Volunteer Nutrition Station. In all the hoopla I wanted to share some tips for peeps who are new to Hawaii or may come in future years to experience Ironman Kona.
IronMan Kona-Tips for Making The Most of An Amazing Event Week
1. Participate in the events leading up to the race-Just as you would decorate a float and throw beads to the crowd in Mardi Gras, so you should enjoy the parade, put your kids in the keiki bi-athalon and consider doing the Underpants run. The Underpants Run, as a side note, is a fiesta..take a look at the video.
2. Get downtown before the crack of dawn-If you want a spot on the wall..you have to come early. Like 4 am early. We spoke to a guy who got downtown at 4 and was just in time to snare an amazing vantage point near the beginning of the race near the pier. We got there at 6:15 and had to sit at the Canoe House over 1/4 of a mile away from the start line. If it matters, show up early.
3. Don’t stand in line for coffee- Lava Java and other restaurants known for serving coffee get jammed if you arrive around 6 am. We walked along the street and street vendors were serving hot Kona coffee and muffins from tables near the Palace. For a few years, I think I saw the same guy under the Banyan Tree selling coffee. He was selling a good sized cup of coffee for $3.
4. Run, don’t walk to each transition-When the first swimmers come in, the crowd shifts to the bike course on Kuakini. We took our time to get over there and ended up standing on a wall in front of the Kona Seaside Hotel. (Which I saw today had yellow caution tape, so they don’t like that) To get a taste of the action, we had to go at least 1/4 mile towards the Coconut Grove. If it matters, I’m just sayin’.
5. Watch the winner and the last athletes: Hearing the announcer yelling, “You Are An Ironman!” to the first few people who come across the finish line is pretty awesome. The first finishers are elite athletes and a camera crew has been following them all day. Cheer them on. But then come back at 9 pm at night and cheer on the athletes who have been on the course for 15 hours. It is a feat of human strength and courage to be in the first pack of winners,,but the same is true of the “age groupers” and the handicapped athletes. You will never see determination, grit, fortitude and sheer will power as you do in the last few hours of the race.
6. If you can, volunteer-We have volunteered for two years in a row at the running aid station and not only does it give my kids a chance to give back to the community, but you can’t help but be inspired by the athletes. We also dance in the street, get free food, get a free t-shirt and get invited to a huge Mahalo party on the Monday after the event.
7. Don’t freak out that there are thousands of “extra” people here. For residents-yes, two thousand “extra” people are on our roads, eating in our restaurants, riding and running on Ali’i Drive and swimming off of the pier. It’s ok. It’s only for a week. My friends, who just can’t handle it, go camping at Mahukona up near Hawi, go to Hilo for the weekend, etc.
If you are like a friend of mine, who will spend the next year training your butt off to be able to get to Kona to participate as an athlete, good luck and wishing you all the energy in the world. If you are coming as a supporter of an athlete..take my suggestions and you will have a ball.