Louella O'Herlihy is a Sundried ambassador and gives us her account of the magical Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
I qualified for Ironman Kona by winning my Age Group (F50-54) at Ironman Bolton in July. My friend Gill came to support me and on the run was saying encouraging things like, "Don't lose it on this last lap as I've booked the flights to Kona". She wasn't kidding so I had to dig deep as a lady was closing on me, but somehow blew up on this last lap so I ended up winning by 30 minutes.
Arriving in Kona
Gill and I travelled to Kona together; this was her 3rd time racing at the Ironman World Championships whereas this was going to be my 3rd Ironman full stop. We arrived 2 weeks before the race to acclimatise to the intense heat, get used to the strong winds that buffet you while on the bike, and practise the non-wetsuit swim. As this was my first time in Hawaii, it was also exciting for me to to turtle spot and keep an eye out for dolphins while we swam in Kailua-Kona bay at Dig Me Beach.
Unfortunately, the Airbnb we had booked was not fit for purpose so we put a plea on Facebook for accommodation and were put in touch with Karlyn Pipes,.an inspirational and lovely lady, who is also in the swimming Hall of Fame and has over 200 FINA Masters world records in every distance and stroke. She introduced us to the spirit of the island, Ohana, and especially the female strength of Madam Pele, the goddess of fire. Ohana means extended family, love, compassion and respect for all and this is the overriding experience I got out of racing in Kona. The spirit of Ironman, where anything is possible, was so inspiring.
The oldest lady competing was 72 and there were 3 men in their 80s! Then there were the 5,000 volunteers that had given up their time and holidays to come to Kona to help out the athletes. It's all so amazing, with continual smiles and everyone willing you to do your best.
Race day started at 5.30am in transition doing last minute bike checks, then my swim wave started at 7.20am.
There was quite a swell but I set off and settled into my stroke and looked for some feet to follow. It wasn't long before I followed some pretty much all the way to the first turnaround buoy. This was lucky as my toes cramped within 5 minutes of setting off, so to get a 'ride' was great.
Unfortunately, I lost these feet in the melee at the turnaround and had to battle the next 2km into the current on my own steam. It took me longer than I had hoped to complete the 3.8km swim: 1 hour 24 minutes. It was then into transition, grab the bike and head out onto the infamous Queen K highway to start the 112-mile bike leg.
Temperatures were now getting into the mid 30s Celsius with humidity 80%+. My plan was to go as hard as I could for as long as I could. I had unfortunately come off my bike 5 days before the race and strained my thigh so I was only able to bike for 20 minutes 2 days pre-race before cramping up. Luckily, I'm an acupuncturist so treated myself with needles which gave me enough movement to start the race and see how long I could hold on for.
By halfway at the top of the famous climb up to Hawi, the cramps were starting to set in. I wasn't going as fast as I was hoping but I was halfway now so time to hunker down and battle the winds on the return leg to Kona. I was relieved to make it back without a puncture and made it in 5 hours 59 minutes (and 59 seconds!) My legs felt like jelly as I got off the bike, made my way through transition and started on the 26.2 mile run leg...initially on the famous Ali'i Drive.
My leg was really tight now so I kept opening my eyes and savouring where I was; I was racing here in Kona, a dream for so many triathletes and I was here doing it! There was no way I was going to be miserable; sure I was frustrated that I wasn't racing as I had hoped, but I was still giving it my best, and that's all you can ever do.
I saw Gill on the bike and on the run twice and was pleased to see she was looking strong – which she was as she smashed her age group to take the win and become F55-59 World Champion. I also saw Annie and Jean from my club Zoom Tri Bournemouth who were running well and about 8 more of my friends who were out there racing. I took in the amazing sunset as I came out of the famous Energy Lab and had about 6 miles left to run. I had been really slowing up to this point but seemed to get a second wind – the spirit of Hawaii seemed to be with me – and I had a strong last 3 miles.
I relished approaching the most famous finish line in the world of triathlon and high-fived people while running down the finish chute. I had made it! My leg had held out. I had just completed the the Ironman World Championship in 11 hours 47 mins, a PB for me, and come 11th in the World in my AG.
The whole race experience was out of this world, but the spirit of the island and the people I met were what made this a truly extraordinary experience. I felt like this was my spiritual home, and I will definitely aim to return to this soul-enriching island as soon as I can!