Thursday, 26 November 2015

Kona 2016 - part 1: "If your dreams don't scare you, they're not bigenough"

 Well it is better late than never. The reason for my extremely late blog about the biggest race of mine and many others lives can only be excused by me writing my book. I did not realise the difficult undertaking writing a book was and in true Hollie style I left it to last minute. I also found it extremely tough mentally as I hadn't even got my head around Kona and what I achieved there. It was an emotional 2 years of my life and it was over. I needed time to reflect. As well as that it is an incredibly raw, honest and emotional book to write so it was emotionally difficult as well. I ended up doing the majority of my writing 2 weeks after Kona, having to extend my deadline by a few days. However, thankfully I managed to get my 80,000 word book handed in so the suspense now begins as to when it will be released but it is due to be early 2016.

 I am also a little in fear here of repeating what is in my book within this blog, although my book will go into a lot more detail. I do however owe the readers of my blog particularly the ones who have been there since the beginning an account of what is the most infamous triathlon race of them all and the one I had personally been leading up to...and what a day it was! Here is part 1...

 I travelled to Kona alone on the 24th September, 16 days before the main event. It was decided that all I was doing was waiting in Lanzarote to go, so it made sense to travel out a further 10 days before in order to acclimatise. This notion was agreed by friend and qualifier Aled and we luckily found a lovely apartment for little money on Ali I' Drive. I had competed in the Ironman Lanzarote 70.3 the weekend before flying to Kona which I am going to run over as it was a truly awful race. Despite a podium it didn't help me mentally as I hoped it would and I struggled on the bike and run. The months off in the summer after my operation had not boded me well. However, I only wanted to finish Kona, there was no pressure and no expectations. I had already proved myself.

 The flights to The Big Island were long, over 20 hours in total, but I was ecstatic to be going. It was only until I could feel the plane prepare to land into Kona that I began to get emotional. As the lights of Kona came into view 'Love you 'Till the End' by 'The Pogues' played through my ears. I cried and wiped away the tears rolling down my face. The reason as to why I was there hit me hard and the journey I had been on flashed though my eyes. Rosie was the only thing on my mind but I had to remain strong - I was there for her.

 Kona airport is tiny and as I walked off the plane into the open airport the heat and humidity even at 9pm took me away. I was sticky and uncomfortable within minutes. Aled had arrived half an hour before me and despite a car hire issue we were on our way. It was a surreal feeling being in Kona and we both kept saying to each other, "I can't believe we're actually here". It was a moment we had dreamt about for so long. Our apartment was perfect and we soon made it home. The 10 days before my other friends arrived, including Nathan, were spent training, sleeping (I was always tired due to jetlag) and exploring downtown Kona. The first breakfast at Lava Java café was so surreal. I had heard so much about this popular spot. I still could not believe I was there and even looking back on it I cannot believe I was. It was a truly magical moment and I had to have a moment where I sat on the wall overlooking Kona Bay. We had really made it Rose, I felt like I was going to wake up from a dream.
First breakfast at Lava Java

The bay from Lava Java
 I visited the famed Digme Beach where the swim starts, running into 2014 Kona winner Sebastian Kienle on one of the days. I managed to finally track down a swim skin that would fit over my thighs, definitely not a generic skinny triathlete and wow did it help. Swimming in the pacific ocean from the pier was amazing. The water was like a bath and seeing the fish swimming beneath in their reefs was incredible. This was paradise!

In my swim skin at Digme Beach
 I was worried about cycling and running, particularly running for a good few days. I felt so inadequate. My body insecurities getting the better of me. There were Greek God looking athletes gliding up and down Ali I' Drive with their tops off and I just felt like a slob. I wasn't confident going out on the bike alone for a while but soon manned up and loved pushing myself along the infamous Queen K. What was evident was what the course can throw at you. I am used to harsh winds from Lanzarote but this was another level. You don't get rewarded as you do in Lanzarote as the wind is temperamental. You can go for 30km out with a headwind, turn and when expecting a tailwind get a headwind instead. This was unknown territory and when recceing the course it was instantly noted that it was a boring course. Out for 56miles on the Queek K and back the same way. The climb to Hawi was undulating and daunting. Despite on paper being the easiest Ironman course I was competing in it worried me.

 Running took a bit longer to gain confidence and I only got out because I decided to go early one morning, 6am early, in the hope of avoiding many athletes. I was surprised by the amount of people out but it didn't deter me and I enjoyed my run and was going quicker than my usual splits, saying hello to everyone I saw. It was however stifling, even at 6am. The humidity actually took my breath away. How was I going to do a marathon in this? I came back absolutely drenched. I went out for longer runs, including 2 hours worth but always going away from town. There was no way I was running past Lava Java, a spot where I knew I would be assessed and in my head judged.

 Exactly a week before the race there was a practice swim of the course. I ended up finishing in 1h17 which I was pretty disappointed with as I was at the halfway mark in 30 minutes. I knew on the way back I was doing some shocking sighting but what was I doing for 47 minutes? However, it was still a non wetsuit swim which is said to add 10 minutes on and the currents were definitely evident. It was however only practice and I could only hope I could improve in a weeks time.

 I greeted my friends from the airport that night and it was amazing to welcome Nathan who I had missed. During my moments of low confidence I knew I could have confided in him and he would've helped me through my feelings with me. He has been a huge support to me when in Lanzarote, more so than anyone can understand. I'm not the confident, loud and happy Hollie everyone sees and his belief and love has helped me through the past year, quickly becoming part of my family. 

Me and Nathan
The gang
Two of my girls
 Soon enough I was in race week. The athlete buzz around Kona had slowly begun to build over the days we were there and it increasingly grew within that time. Lava Java was no longer a restaurant style café and food had to be ordered at the bar due to being Ironman week. The main Ironman expo had arrived and the stalls were beginning to be erected and stock delivered. It was exciting and the atmosphere was electrifying. Ironman finisher t-shirts were seen everywhere - an easy way to see who was competing.

Netball anyone?
Just a start
 I bought near enough the whole Ironman expo out when it opened, my rationale being I wasn't ever going to get another chance to. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. On the Monday Bob Babbitt's 'Breakfast with Bob' began and every morning on race week his show would stream live online as he interviewed the professionals and legends of the sport such as Dave Scott and Mark Allen. I was in 'Irongeek' heaven. Every morning I showed up at 'Huggos' and sat watching overlooking the bay in real life as opposed to through my computer. I loved hearing their race tactics and was great to chat to them personally, get some autographs and obligatory photos. 

Me with the legend Dave Scott

With the 2014 Ironman World Champion
 I of course took part in the infamous underpants run. This was set up in 1998 and has since become an annual event before Kona's big day. It was only a 3km run along Ali I' Drive and back but it was fun to do it in pants with my best friends.

The Underpants Run
 I also took part in the parade of nations were I stood proudly with the GB members meeting up with friends and walking along downtown Kona with our tshirts on and flag raised high.
The Parade of Nations with good friend Tom Ward and Nathan

Team GB
Bit chilly
 I also explored Mauna Kea with my Ironman groupie Yuliya. This is the largest mountain in the world at 13,796 ft and holds some of the worlds' most important astrological observatories. The 40 degree heat in downtown Kailua-Kona was soon replaced and I had 2 layers of trousers on, 2 jumpers, a huge coat and gloves as we watched the sun go down at the summit. It was breathtaking and the pictures don't do it justice. We then spent nearly 2 hours doing my favourite thing; stargazing. I have a love of stars and could sit and watch them for hours. The tour we went on was so knowledgeable and I felt a sense of peace there. I was the closest I would ever get to Rose on life as I knew it. I made my prayers to keep me safe during the race as I was still fearing this brutal course. Just because I had competed 4 Ironman's previously does not mean it was a given I would complete a 5th. So many things can go wrong during an Ironman. Failure was not an option for me but I prayed that there would be someone looking out for me as well as looking after myself. 
Truly breathtaking
 Having my best friends there that week was truly amazing and I felt very blessed to have so many who cared come and support me. My parents, sister and brother and law arrived on the Wednesday and Thursday and again it was amazing to have them with me. This was an emotional time for us all particularly for my sister who hadn't been to spectate me in an Ironman since that fateful day in Tenby 2013.

My mum and I
We all knew why I was there and one morning in particular the emotions got to me and I had to walk away on my own to have a cry at the top of the hill we were staying on. I had many chats with my friends during that week and the course my life took since that day in Wales was so evident. As I looked back I could categorically say that I would not be there with all my loved ones if we had not lost Rosie. I was so happy reflecting on where I was and who I was with but I could not help but think that I would have taken it all away to have her back.

The girls

 I had registered on the Monday where I received my Ironman World Championship rucksack which is probably the most expensive bag ever but it really is priceless.
Before long it was time to rack my kit in transition which I did with relative ease, made even better that you had a personal escort. I wasn't nervous and everything seemed so calming. Even when I saw the finish line I had dreamt about go up I wasn't nervous. It was as if I was watching everything happen through someone else's eyes. I also wasn't rushed throughout the week and ate fresh food everyday. I have to say I adored the food there and I didn't eat the American influenced fried food, in fact I rarely, if at all, touched it. The fresh fish was delicious and the Thai influence on the island was a fantastic being one of my favourite cuisines. Nathan and I later found out that the influence came from Chinese, Japanese and Korean migrants who came to work in Kona in the 1800 and 1900's.

Soon enough it was the day before the race. I had some homemade pasta and went to bed. I didn't feel nervous as such I just wanted it over. There were so many unknown's; the heat, the terrain, the wind. I honestly couldn't be bothered to race. Although I wasn't nervous of the race as such I was scared of not finishing and letting people down, mainly Rosie. I didn't feel any pressure from others but I felt pressure on myself just to finish. I feared it as much as I did before my first Ironman; just like then (and actually before any Ironman) there were no guarantees I would finish and this consumed me. What if I crashed on the bike and all my hard work was over? I had to stay safe no matter what and not get ahead of myself. All I knew is that I could not fail. I just couldn't. The day I had been waiting for for 2 years was imminent. The blood, sweat and oh so many tears was under 24 hours away...(to be continued).

I had to do my traditional pink streak

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