Each year thousands of triathletes around the world mark one special date on their calendar above all others: KONA.
The one they are gunning for all year. For some their ticket comes early in the season and with it the ability to relax during those mid summer races. For others it might be their nervous final race of the season that earns them the right to compete on triathlon's biggest stage.
The Ironman World Championships elevate a new group of athletes into the spotlight each year, as those who can battle the legendarily harsh conditions with the most precision, become the heros of October.
In celebration of this momentous and historic race, we sat down with our Brand Champion athletes to ask them about their year's journey and their gameplan for taking on Kona 2015.
• Liz Lyles - 2 X Ironman World Champion
• Cam Wurf - Professional cyclist + top age grouper.
• Steph Corker - Top age grouper
• Marla Zucht - Top age grouper.
Qualifying for Kona is a high-pressure mission, what was your strategy this year to making it and how is it different from previous attempts? Tell us about what it took for you to get here and what your goals for the race are. How will you know you had a good day?
Liz: "After finishing 7th place last year (2014) and as the first place USA female finisher, I secured a fair amount of points to only have to have a few good results to qualify again. I raced several half Ironmans in the spring, including a win at the iconic Wildflower triathlon. I then secured my Kona slot with a 2nd place at the Latin American Championships Brazil. I am always looking to build and improve year to year, so this year I want top 5! In all honesty, it’s an honor being able to compete against the top women in the world. I will be satisfied in myself knowing I gave 100% of everything I have come race day."
Cam: "Qualifying for Kona has always been a dream of mine. Fortunately in 2015 I've had some spare time to do some different events and Ironman Whistler fit into my schedule. I'd never done an Ironman before so I had no idea what to expect apart from the fact it would be a long day!! Fortunately it took me less time than most and I qualified for Kona in the process!!"
Steph: "Getting to Kona as an amateur or as a pro I think is really, really tough these days -- especially as a female. I raced Kona in 2012...and I've raced 7 IMs since in my quest to get back here. 2014 was a tough year - I scrambled at 4 different IMs missing a ticket to Kona by 1 or 2 spots each time. So for 2015, I switched my focus to one race only: Whistler. I spent hours on that bike course and thought that if I had a great day, I'd have a shot at top 3 which would be good enough for Kona. I ended up coming away with the Age Group win...and to honest, that might have been the highlight of the year. My metric for success now is simply to run every mile with my whole heart + cross the finish line with a smile. This will be my 13th Ironman race and I still feel 13 times lucky + grateful for being out here doing something I love."
Marla: "I focussed my training on more strength and speed work. In order to do this I had to constantly push myself to get outside my comfort zone. Like most of Iron triathletes, we’re comfortable with endurance but moving my training into higher intensity and speed workouts was what I knew I needed to do to go to the next level of my performance. My goals are to go to Kona mentally and physically prepared for the race, to stay focussed and to enjoy myself and be thankful for the opportunity to race amongst such an amazing field of athletes."
What does it mean to you to race at Kona? How do you feel accomplishing your goals at Kona will develop you as an athlete or personally?
Liz: "Racing in Kona is a huge honor. Every Ironman, especially Kona, is a huge learning experience. I think competing against the best in the world makes me a better athlete. As long as I finish the race giving all I have, I know I can conquer anything life throws at me in the future."
Cam: "For an endurance athlete like myself it's a dream to partake in Kona. I've already been to the Olympics and world championships in 2 other sports so it's an incredible feeling to be lining up for my 3rd different sporting world championship, specially one as special as Kona."
Steph: "Kona is more than a race and more than an island. This is a very special island and a very sacred race -- the legends of the sport have all competed on this very course. I haven't raced in Asia-Pac, but from what I know of other IM races in North America, the conditions in Kona are absolutely relentless. And it takes guts to grit it out in howling winds and scorching hot temperatures. I believe the same guts that keep you moving on your bike translate into every other area of your life -- for me, it's how I run my business and chase the rest of my dreams -- relentless passion knows no bounds! I also recently learned that of all IM finishers around the world, approx 2.5% qualify to race in Hawaii -- and only 25% of that small number are female -- so to be honest, this feels like an unbelievable privilege to start this race."
Marla: "Racing the World Ironman Championships in Kona is a dream come true. It is the culmination of years of mental and physical training and I’m so excited and honored to get to compete shoulder to shoulder amongst the world class group of athletes that will be in Kona. I know I’ll be riding on the Kona buzz for years to come."
The swim at Kona is unique -- once the water temperature exceeds 71.5F (pros) and 76.1F (age groupers) you are not allowed to wear a wetsuit, sleeves, or bottoms that go below the knee. The water temperature is currently sitting at 79F and many athletes are looking for tips on how to train for this and what to wear on race day, what do you recommend?
Liz: "The biggest issue with racing in the warm water is how much more dehydrated it can make you feel. Luckily, I love to be warm, and the pool I swim in is heated to 80F, so I am very used to this feeling. There are strict rules about what the pros can and can’t wear, so I will wear my WTC legal Roka swim skin, with my Sugoi speed suit halfway on underneath."
Cam: "I have no idea what to expect. To prepare for the swim better I've swam less in the pool and more in the ocean."
Steph:"I actually think the swim in Kona is less about water temperature and more about strength required to swim with the waves/current that is expected. Realizing that you will not have the added buoyancy of a wetsuit means that your swim training leading into the race is slightly more important. A strong, efficient stroke is amplified in a speed suit. And is someone going to forewarn you of the distraction of swimming with dolphins – cause that will happen too."
Marla: "This is completely new to me, it will be my first warm water ocean swim so I’m looking for tips as well on what to wear for the swim. I’m guessing I’ll be wearing some form of skinsuit or a Sugoi RS Tri Race Suit. As far as the apparel for the rest of the course, I love Sugoi’s Icefil products so I will probably be wearing some of their apparel on race day since I’ve enjoyed training with it this year."
Kona is hot and humid and most of us are not acclimatized to these conditions, how do you prepare for and get through a race in this climate?
Liz: "Best way to prepare is to do some key sessions on the trainer indoors with the heat turned up, and practice hydration and nutrition. Also, running on a treadmill in similar conditions is a good idea. I also do some of my long bikes and runs in the heat of the day to get used to it."
Cam: "Yeah it's hot and it's windy, by all accounts it's horrible!! I love sitting in the steam room after a hard workout so I'm sure I'll be as well prepared as anyone else."
Steph: "No kidding! Bring on the heater + humidifier! I find myself in the sauna after swim practices and on my trainer with the heater blasting hot air at me. However, I must admit – those are not my favourite training sessions. So instead, I’ve decided to head over to the Big Island early and hope for some real-life acclimatization. The last weather report was tsunami and flash flood warnings though, so I really don’t know what sort of weather conditions we are in for this year. The only consistent here is: tough!"
Marla: "Coming from the mountains in Whistler, which now have fresh snow on them, Kona’s heat and humidity have been on my mind for the last month but there wasn’t anything special I could do or did do to try to simulate the weather conditions for race day in Kona. I will have arrived one week prior to the race to acclimatize to the temperature, but just like the torrential rains and frigid temperatures we had at Ironman in Whistler at the end of July, we can’t control the weather so I’m not spending too much time worrying about it, and am preparing to just take it for what it’s going to be."
What do you love the most about Kona and what are you most excited about for this particular race?
Liz: "I love that everyone in Kona looks like they could win the race. I love how this time transforms the island into a triathlon mecca with the fittest endurance athletes in the world strutting their stuff. I am most excited to soak in the experience and prepare myself to show up calm and ready on race day."
Cam: "First time so just excited to see first hand an event I've admired for the past 26 years, can't wait to feel the energy of the crowd!!!"
Steph: "Without being too cliche, Ali'i Drive is something I dream about....the banyan tree...the chalk on the road...the small town that becomes transformed by world class athletes running down their dream on fumes....to me, it is my most favorite part of this race. And I love that it comes at the end, because the more I enjoy the journey, the sweeter the finish line lei smells!"
Marla: "This will be my first time in Kona so I don’t yet know what I love most about it, but I’m most excited about just being a part of the electrifying energy and vibe that will a part of the event and experiencing it all with my family that will be joining me in Kona. I’m also looking forward to doing the underwear race."
What do think your biggest challenge will be this year and what are you doing to overcome it?
Liz: "My biggest challenge will be to stick with my race plan and remind myself it is a long day, so don’t try to burn any matches too early."
Cam: "I've got a broken foot so running will be difficult, I'd imagine that's going to be the biggest challenge I'll face on the day."
Steph: "Kona will be my 3rd IM in 3 months, so undeniably I am hoping I haven’t burnt all of my marathon matches yet this year. Throw in the special weather conditions and I expect a day that is nothing short of a very big challenge! In my opinion, the only way to overcome the inevitable challenge of race day is to stay insanely present on the mile you are in – I obsess about fuelling and effort, and try to enjoy the miles, because believe it or not, they do tick by quite quickly on race day."
Marla: "My biggest challenge at Kona may be the weather and may be nutrition, but I’ve got a plan for my nutrition that I will stick with and hope that my body cooperates with it."
Do you have any mental tricks or games you rely on to get you through this challenge when you’re feeling like it’s starting to get really tough?
Liz: "I count. I count a lot. For example, towards the end of the run I will count 100 strides 10x, then 90 strides 10x, all the way down to 10, then repeat. why, I don’t know but it helps!"
Cam: "As long as you're moving forward you're getting closer to the finish."
Stephs: "Lisa Bently offered me some sage advice at Ironman Muskoka earlier this summer – she said, “run with a happy heart and remember how lucky you are to be out there racing.” That was the best mental trick I’ve ever received because, hurt locker aside, it is indeed such a gift to be racing. I promise to not take that for granted for one minute! And I feel insanely blessed to have such a rad #irontribe cheering crew out on the course -- seeing them gives my heart just one more beat!"
Marla: "If it gets tough I have a mantra and a visual image that I use to keep myself present and on the task. I try not to think too far ahead in the race and stay focused on what I’m doing at the present moment. And to remember to smile and remind myself to enjoy and feel grateful for what I am doing."
Any last words of advice to your fellow racers and athletes with Kona aspirations?
Liz: "Stay within your race plan. Qualifying and finishing the World Championships is a huge accomplishment, so trust in your preparations, and stay calm and steady all day. Never give up the fight. Races aren’t won until someone crosses the finish line, so even though you may have a negative mind or a bad patch, stick it out. That is when the magic happens!"
Cam: "Encourage each other, we are all here to challenge ourselves, let's respect each other and help each other achieve our goals. "
Steph: "May the road rise to meet you + the wind be at your back …because when the lava gets hot and the winds blow in your face, I hope you never ever ever give up!"
Marla: "Believe in yourself, be kind to your fellow racers and volunteers, be present, look around and appreciate what your body can do! And have fun."
Congrats and good luck to all the athletes competing this weekend!!