Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012 Ironman World Championship Photos

WARNING: This is the longest post to ever appear on this blog, grab some popcorn and a drink and settle in.

Sometimes I say "Ironman" in conversation and people think I'm talking about the comic book hero.  It makes me laugh that a fictional character is more interesting to the general public than these athletes that strive for personal excellence on one of the most punishing race courses in the world.  If given a choice between spending a day with "Ironman" Robert Downey Jr. or spending a day watching the Ironman World Championship in Kona...hands down Kona wins.  This isn't a slight Mr. Downey, he's a great actor and I'm sure a fabulous human being, but the Ironman athletes have won my heart.

According to the Ironman World Championship website, NBC was going to be rebroadcasting its coverage of the 2012 championship race today.  I watched when it aired back in November but have since cut my TV service.  If you want to watch the coverage in full you can always order a DVD from the official store.

As inspiring as it is to watch the race on TV from the comfort of your home, nothing compares to the energy and emotion of watching it live.  If you've ever wanted to see the race live or visit Hawaii, start planning your trip now!  It is a special place and being there during Ironman really is indescribable.  The best place to start planning a trip is at Hawaii's Official Tourism site  That isn't a paid endorsement, I just love the site and it is a good resource, especially for first time visitors to the islands.  If I ever make it back to Ktown during Ironman I plan on volunteering for the race, you can find out how to do that here

Ali'i Drive at 6am 10/13/12.
Ali'i Drive on race morning.
Sea wall and beach adjacent to Hulihee Palace.
Sea wall and beach adjacent to Hulihee Palace.
Getting up at o'dark thirty on the second Saturday in October and walking through the streets of Kailua-Kona with crowds of people has an almost reverential feeling to it.  Everyone starts congregating as near to the swim start as the barriers and other fans will allow.  The sea walls were packed, the tide pools were crawling with people, the sidewalks, lawns, and trees (yes trees) around the start and the King K hotel were packed.  Volunteers, race officials, and the press were all in a frenzy to make sure everything is ready and that the starts go off without a hitch.

The wall of people on the far side of the banner are all members of the press.
Panoramic view of the swim/bike transition area prior to swim start.
There were hundreds of volunteers, many of whom were out on the water on surf boards, paddle boards, kayaks, jet skis and boats to help mark the route and look for distressed swimmers.
The men's pro athletes swimming out to the starting line.
The athletes waiting for the cannon to start the race.
The moment the cannon sounds and the ceremonial drums mark the start of the race.
The pros jockeying for position during the first few minutes.  The red capped swimmers by the surfboards are the pro women lining up to start their race.
The start of the pro women's race.
Just before the sun rose over Mt. Hualalai the men's professional race was started by a cannon firing and traditional drums urging the athletes on.  Five minutes later the women's professionals got their start.  Half an hour later the age group athletes got their start.  The athletes swam out across Kona bay and turned around at the 1.2 mile mark to swim back to the start.

All the pink and blue swim caps are the age group competitors lining up to get into the water.
Athletes have until midnight to finish the entire race but there are cut off times for each leg, if you don't finish within the allowed time you cannot transition to the next leg of the race.  The cut off for the swim is 2 hours and 20 minutes after the age groups start, the cut off for the bike is 10 hours and 30 minutes after the age groups start, and the cut off for the marathon is of course midnight.  The youngest athlete was 18 the oldest was 82.  In the 80+ age group there were 6 registered athletes, 4 of them finished the race in its entirety.

One of the ceremonial performers leaving the starting line after all the final starting cannon.
My friends Sandee and Scott ( best powdercoaters in Southern California) waiting for the the first of the pro swim/bike transitions.
After the athletes leave the water they have to change into their bike gear and locate their bike among some 2000+ tri-bikes waiting on the pier.  This is the first transition of the race.  If you look at the photos closely you'll see that most of the athletes clipped their shoes onto their bikes before the race and their feet aren't even in them during the transition.  After we watched the pro men's and women's swim/bike transition we headed back to the condo for some breakfast and a chance to check the race standings online.

A view of the other side of Ali'i Dr. at the start of the bike race.
Here's a video of the scene just before the bike race started.

And a video of the chase pack hot on the heels of the leader Andy Potts.

A barefoot competitor just trying to get on his bike and put distance between himself and the chase pack.
The beginning of the chase pack in the men's pro competition.
This is really just a shot of me trying to stay out of Scott's photos.
The cycling leg of the race has the athletes biking along Queen K highway up to Hawi, where they turn around and bike back to Kona.  This is the longest section of the race and the athletes who complete it will have biked 112 miles most of which is through the parched deserts of the Kohala coast where the Ka Makani O Kohala, the ferociously hot and dry trade winds that scour the Kohala coast, dish out grueling punishment.  Temperatures along the bike race this year reached well over 90F with the humidity factor of up to 60% it can feel like it is over 100F.

View of the race staging area on the pier.
The swim start/finish from the sea wall on Ali'i Dr.
An athlete racing up the ramp to the bike transition area.
Panoramic view of the pier.
Age group athletes nearing the swim finish.
Panoramic view of the pier and the bay.
This shot is pretty typical of what it is like to be in the thick of the crowd.
More age group athletes approaching the swim finish.
Ironman logos waiting to be affixed to the official race finish line area.
Volunteers decorating the waiting area under the big screen at the finish line.
The official race finish line all decked out and awaiting the athletes.
A view from outside the chute that leads to the finish line.
Looking down the chute towards the finish.
The transition from the bike to the marathon take place back at the King K hotel.  The race course has changed since the last time I was in Kona.  The bike race used to carry on down Ali'i drive in front of our building and then the marathon would come back along the drive.  So we weren't able to watch all three legs of the race from the lanai like we had been able to in the past.  But we still managed to cheer on almost every single athlete.

In case you can't read the sign is says "All smart. All witty. All blind.  1 Ironman."  There were banners, flags, and signs all over town.
Two of our sidewalk chalk messages to the athletes, on the road right in front of our building.  We met Team Dynamo (from Atlanta, GA) on the flight into Kona.  There were about 40 of them and the kind of turned the flight into a party, I got to sit next to their coach and asked her lots of (probably) annoying questions.
Another one of our sidewalk chalk signs.
Ali'i Drive covered in chalk and waiting for the athletes to finish the bike race.
Australian spectators, they were among the friendliest people there.
We're still not sure who these masked men were, but they were happy to let Scott take our photo with them.
Sandee snapped this shot with her phone, we were on the wall trying to get some photos of the age group swimmers.
The marathon course starts at the King K and runs South along Ali'i Drive, the 1st mile marker for the race was directly in front of our building.  The turn around on Ali'i is at Keauhou, then the competitors head North on Ali'i Dr. and then up Palani to Queen K and on to the Energy Lab where they turn around again and head to the finishing shute on Ali'i Dr. in front of the King K hotel.  In total the finishers will have raced over 140.6 miles in a single day.  That is incomprehensible to me.

#5 Marino Vanhoenacker was the first athlete to make the bike/marathon transition and had a commanding lead, but he cramped up later on in the run and couldn't finish the race.
#5 Marino Vanhoenacker.
#15 Faris Al-Sultan, he finished 5th overall
#8 Timo Bracht, he finished 6th overall.
#8 Timo Bracht.
#2 Andreas Raelert, he finished second overall
#45 Rasmus Henning, he finished twenty second overall.
And no, these guys weren't competitors, just a banana being chased by a gorilla.
Here are some videos of the marathon, taken on our lanai:

Make sure to watch this one to the very end.

There is a huge purse for the pro men's and women's winners but for everyone else the goal is simply finishing.  Many of the athletes run for the pure love of the sport, many more run to prove something to themselves, and yet others run to raise awareness.  Regardless of why they run or what their finishing time is, they are all amazing inspirations to me.  I can't even run a full mile without having to stop and walk, a 4 mile bike ride is a challenge, and swimming in the ocean without fins and a snorkel?  Forget about it.

It wasn't the most colorful or creative chalk message, but it was pretty sweet all the same.
This is truly and international race and you can find almost every nation represented.

#5 Marino Vanhoenacker. on his return back up Ali'i Drive, he is at about mile 9 in this photo.
#35 Jeremy Jurkiewicz, he finished fourteenth overall.
Panorama view of Ali'i Drive while the crowds wait for the men's pro chase pack to catch up with the leaders.
#101 Caroline Steffen, she was the first woman to make the bike/marathon transition and she finished fiftieth overall and second in the women's pro division.
#101 Caroline Steffen
#22 Andrey Lyatskiy, he finished thirty fifth overall.
View from the lanai looking South down Ali'i drive.
"Coach" the highly entertaining cheerleader in the ref jersey, some of the athletes, and a contingent from Team Dynamo.  The Team Dynamo coach is the lady on the sea wall with the green and yellow cast on her arm.
#101 Caroline Steffen making her return back up Ali'i drive, she is about to overtake #12 Marco Albert who finished sixty eighth overall.
#101 still going strong.  I'm still scratching my head and wondering how I managed to miss getting photos of the women's pro winner Leanda Cave and the third place finisher Mirinda Carfrae.
The crowd really thinned out after the first hour or so of the marathon.  Many of them migrated down to the finish line or headed indoors for a rest and some refreshment.  But they never went away altogether and we had the best seat in the house for people watching.  Several teams had supporters who were all decked out in colorful team t-shirts but my favorites were the tutus.

I posted this a couple days ago, the white tank top says "Embrace The Suck"
She was supporting #1028 Anthony Fesche who finished 516 overall.  We loved it when people who stop and pose for us.

This kid was a trooper.  He was out on the road for at least 4 hours straight with a homemade sign cheering on the athletes.  I wish I had gotten a better photo of him.
A female pro and one of the para-athletes passing the mile 9 marker.
#136 Robert Verhelst (the guy in the firefighter gear, he finished 1877 overall, you can read his story here.
There were professional camera operators stationed all along the race route, as well as on the back of chase bikes.
#147 Kevin Mather, para-athlete, he finished 1450 overall.
#147 Kevin Mather.
#147 Kevin Mather.
The race doesn't end when the sun goes down, we kept on cheering into the dark.
To say the finish line at the Kona Ironman is emotional is a gross understatement.  Watching the athletes cross is emotional for the specatators, I can't even begin to image what it feels like for the athletes themselves.  Some of them are pumped up and don't seem to want to stop racing, some are relieved, some are elated (we saw more than one person cartwheel across the finish), some are so beaten down by the physicality of this race that they collapse as soon as they cross the ramp.  But everyone receives the outpouring of love from the crowd: clapping, cow bells, cheering, screaming, and cheers.

A finisher at the entrance to the finishers chute, speeding by so fast my camera couldn't get a good photo of them.
#2086 Michael Morales, he finished 1260 overall.
A pack of 4 athletes all finishing within seconds of each other.
She was high fiving people all down the chute.
#805 Masayuki Onishi, he finished 1277 overall.
Finishing strong.
Some people knelt and kissed the mat, some did cartwheels, some collapsed, some just had to stand still and take in their triumphal moment like this guy.
Finish with a friend, great show of sportsmanship.

The athletes had to qualify to even be able to enter this race.  There are a few exceptions to that rule.  The first is to win the lottery, no not powerball, the Ironman lottery.  The Ironman organization reserves 100 lottery spots for legacy athletes and 100 spots for age group athletes.  You can read about the lottery here.  The second exception is the Kona Inspired competition.  8 spots are reserved for Ironman athletes who didn't qualify for Kona but have an inspiring story to share with the world.  Athletes vie for one of these spots have to submit a youtube video and then the winners are selected by a vote from the fans.  Here is a list of the 2012 Inspired athletes.

#141 Annee Deering, one of the Ironman Inspired Winners, you hear her stunning story in her video here.
Way to go Annee, you truly are an inspiration, congratulation on everything you've accomplished.
#1559 Cyrma Hearn, she finished 1328 overall, and #1792 Marie Kirton, she finished 1329 overall.

One of the excited finishers who had enough energy for some finish line gymnastics.
Families and friends aren't allowed in the finishers area but each participant is assigned 2 volunteers to help them collect their gear and get back to their loved ones, or get them to the medical tent for professional help.  We watched at the finish line from about 7pm to 8pm and then walked back to the condo.  We sat on the sea wall on Ali'i drive across from the building and chatted with people passing by and congratulated a lot of finishers.

One weary athlete from New Zealand sat down next to us.  He told us he'd sent his bike and gear back to his condo with his family and had been recovering in the medical tent.  A volunteer had promised to give him a ride home but then the volunteer disappeared.  Ali'i was shut down to vehicle traffic until close to midnight and this man still had several miles to walk and could go no further.  My car was in the parking lot on the other side of our building so I volunteered to drive him along Kuakini then down Lunapule to where it meets Ali'i to drop him of as close as I could to his destination, which was about a block South from that intersection.  The police stopped me from going any further at the 3-way stop on Ali'i and Lunapule but the Ironman assured me that he could make it from there and hobbled off into the dark.

I tried to stay up so that I could be at the finish line for the last finisher at midnight but I fell asleep around 11:30pm and didn't awake until 6am the next morning.  I was sore and tired and all I'd done was watch and cheer, albeit we were cheering for the better part of 14 hours.  Thank heavens for the cowbells, because after 4 or 5 hours your voice starts to go out and your hands get sore from clapping, but it is so exciting you can't stand to stop.

More cowbell!  And now I'm in the mood for a little BOC "Don't Fear The Reaper"
Watching the athletes smile, wave, or give the thumbs up in acknowledgement is a thrill.  These aren't athletes with their pictures on Wheaties boxes, they aren't household names, they don't have multi-million dollar contracts.  They are hundreds and hundreds of talented and dedicated sportsmen and women who strived to meet or beat their personal best.  Not all of them finished, but every single one of them gave it every thing they had. 

To the race organizers, volunteers, fans, and especially the athletes of the 2012 Ironman World Championship in Kona...THANK YOU!  Thank you for one of the most inspiring Saturdays of my life.

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