October 2017, by Claire Walton
Qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, is a seminal moment in any triathlete’s career. In the build up to the race I naively spouted, “getting there is the hard part, the race is about ingesting the Hawaiian ‘Mana’ and enjoying”. Silly woman.
Kona was brutal. And that is why the sport is so alluring.
Tracing the black line of a swimming pool for hours each week does not compare to the beauty of warm, Pacific waters, your fingers almost touching the delicate coral and rainbow-coloured fish. It was only the repeated kick in the face from thousands of hungry, lycra-clad competitors chasing an ever-so-distant buoy that reminded me it was a race. It was a very choppy current and my sea legs are pathetic. Exiting the 3.8km swim (if you ignore the extra distance covered from poor navigation on my behalf, and the powerful current from Kanaloa) was interesting, with my head spinning like I had been on the Waltzers for an hour.
And then comes the bike. My soul is still on the bike course; sucked up and spat out by the Volcano. 180km of 110mph winds was exactly the challenge that the World Champs wants: the psychological battle exceeds the physical at times like this. As Ironman is a non-drafting race (you have to remain 10 meters away from the competitor in front to avoid any shelter from the wind) you are left with your own demons. I have always told myself cycling is simply bringing one leg up, and then the other. I wasn’t quite so peacefully pragmatic when the wind left me with mild Tinnitus and the 40+ degrees reflecting off volcanic rock burnt me to a frazzle.
And so, to the run. Sunstroke is more debilitating than I care to regale, but overcoming these challenging is immensely satisfying. Similar to the bike, the run left you isolated on black tarmac roads with the burning sun taunting you. But the final 400 meters is worth it; the streets are lined with cheering people- a mass of colour and joy. It is so important to take a breath at the finish line and just listen.
The first Polynesian settlers on Hawaii chose this island because it had the potential that the luscious green earth provided for them. An eclectic mix of creatures surrounded them, and in turn they respected and cultivated the life around them. They revered Pele, the demi-goddess of fire in their volcano and accepted that when she exploded, her lava both destroyed and created new lands, rejuvenating the earth. This is what I feel now; I feel like I have more potential, but I needed to be pushed to my limits, to learn anew, to adapt to these extreme conditions and start building again.