After 2 recent trips to the Blue Mountains to watch me run stupid-long trail races and feed me in the middle of the night, Richard was starting to feel like he was always the spectator, never the competitor. And so, it was my turn to go and watch him in a race. I drag him to Katoomba. He drags me to Hawaii. Ok, seems fair I guess.
As soon as we arrived and I felt the heat, I was glad to be on the sidelines for this one. The Honu 70.3 is the only qualifying race for the Kona Ironman world championships that is held in the big island itself.
On race day morning, I boarded the shuttle bus with the competitors to go out to the swim start at Hapuna Beach. We were one of the first buses to leave. It was evident very quickly that our bus driver had no idea where he was going. He circled around between the 2 bus stops twice, and stopped to ask for directions 3 times before driving the bus down a metre-wide goat track in the dark, with 42 anxious race-goers yelling at him that he was going the wrong way. He was adamant that this was the right way, that they had been told to take the back road, and there would be an opened gate at the end. A few kilometres later, we made it to said gate. The gate was locked. If there was a secret back way we were supposed to take, this was not it. With no other option, the driver attempted to turn the bus around. It bottomed out, and got stuck in a ditch, all wheels off the ground, spinning. People were shouting to be let off the bus. “I’m not going to hurt anybody!” the driver yelled. After another attempt to move the bus, he reluctantly opened the doors and let us off. We trekked towards the Queen K highway, lucky to flag down a few of the other passing buses. In the melee, I lost Richard, but decided to jump on any bus I could, and find him when I got to Hapuna Beach. An hour after we left, we finally arrived at our destination, that should have only been 10 minutes away. As I stepped off the bus, I heard Rich call out to me in the dark. Sunrise was still about half an hour away. I stood outside the bike compound and watched from afar as he made final adjustments to his bike and gear. As the sun was rising, it was time to head down towards the beach. With 1905 competitors, the water was looking mighty crowded. I could tell it was going to be a hot day.
The elites set off first, and then 3 minutes later, Rich was away, in a mass start. 1905 bodies were thrashing through the water, making it the biggest race to date on the Big Island. and there was not much to see from the shore, so I headed up to the transition area to get a good spot before the masses got there. The first male, Brent McMahon, came out of the water with a swim time of 24:39, with a gap of a few minutes on the other elite athletes. I waited for the age groupers to start coming through. I was ready to start my stop watch, so that when Rich came through, I could shout out to him how big the gap was between him and the leading age groupers. I could see an athlete coming through the transition area. I realized it was Rich, the first age grouper out of the water, in a time of 27:34, the 3rd fastest swim of the day. No need to start the timer! I called out that the pros were only a couple of minutes ahead as he whizzed past me out of transition and onto the bike course.
The bike course follows much of the same course as the Kona Ironman course, along the Queen K highway, up to the turnaround at Hawi. While it is a challenging course for the athletes, it is not good for spectators, so I jumped on the next shuttle bus and headed back to the Fairmont. Thankfully, the shuttle ride back was not nearly as eventful as the ride out. I had about 2 hours to sit and wait until the athletes started to come in off the bike, so sit I did.
After a couple of dips in the pool to escape the heat, it was time to head over to the bike-run transition area. I could see all of the gear bags lined up, and managed to locate Rich’s bag in the row next to the fence. The Pros started to make their way in. Canadian Brent McMahon was still in front, with a commanding lead. A few more pros followed, then I looked up to see Rich making his way in. Bike time- 2:21:30. I could see that he was looking for his number to rack his bike, so I tried to jump and scream, and yell, ‘It’s over here!’ He saw me and headed over. Transition seemed to take forever, as he fumbled with his number, which had come off his race belt.
Much of the rest of the race took place across the Fairmont’t golf course, so as Rich left transition and headed out onto the run, I knew I wouldn’t see him again until he was coming up the finish chute, about an hour and a half later.
It was an anxious wait. The bike is his strongest leg. He had left in 5th place, and I was pretty sure that he was leading his age category, but without internet, I couldn’t follow the live race coverage.
By 10am the sun was scorching. It was heating up the golf course. The moisture in the ground from the fairway grass was making it feel like a sauna. Again, I was glad I was not running today.
I ended up seeking shade under a tent, and found myself next to another Aussie lady, whose husband was racing in the same category as Rich. She had internet, I gave her Rich’s race number and she looked it up. He was still leading his category. Her husband was coming second, and appeared to be fading. At the pace Rich was running, his expected finish time was just after 11am.
I wandered over to the finishing chute early, and got a good spot just past the finish line. Brent McMahon took the ribbon in a time of 3:59:35, with a 19 minute lead on second place. As I snapped pics of the winners from my optimum viewing spot, my phone battery died. Damn, I would not be able to get any pictures of Rich.
In the distance, I could see another runner making his way across the golf course to the finish line. His build matched Rich’s, but as he got closer, I saw that the colours were all wrong. False alarm.
Green shoes. Blue shirt. That looks like him! Rich skipped his way down the finish chute and across the line, in a time of 1:30:54 for the run, totalling 4:24:36. 5th overall, 1st Aussie and 1st in his age category. Kona Ironman here we come! We get to come back to Hawaii!
I was cheering and yelling, hoping that he would come over so all the people standing there would know that I was there with him! He did. So proud! We celebrated with a swim, a snow cone, beer, burgers and massage. We waited around a few hours for the presentation, so Rich could claim his Kona spot!
I’m looking forward to my next day of spectating duties, back in Hawaii in October. But until then, I’m happy to be the competitor, with at least 5 more events to get through before it’s my turn to enjoy a race from ‘the other side’ again!