Kona Moments – October 2-5, 2007
Sat, 6 Oct 2007 16:16:47 -0700
De’ja’ vu. That’s the feeling I get every time I come back to the Big Island of Hawaii. Maybe it’s the smell and weight of the tropical air that greets your lungs you as you step off the plane. Maybe it’s the realization that, once again, you forgot to pack a pair of shorts to immediately change into so you don’t have to experience that soggy, sauna like atmosphere in your pants as you wait for your luggage – idiot. Maybe it’s the Speedo clad athlete on a bike that you inevitably see as you make your first drive toward town. Maybe it’s the green, red of bougainvillea that stands out is stark relief to the black lava along the Queen K Highway that flash your brain back to past images of magazine photos and NBC shows accompanied by your own cranial home movies complete with vivid feelings of nausea, shredded quads, and that unmistakable smell of water, coke, vomit and Gatorade as it evaporates off of hot, black asphalt while well meaning liars with cups in their hands tell you that you “look good.” Then you remember that your days of suffering are over. You’re in Hawaii to do the things you’re supposed to do on a tropical island: play golf, surf, and sit around drinking endless cold beer while heckling all the poor suckers who haven’t figured it out yet.
We (Roch and I) arrived on Tuesday – a full 12-days prior to the Ford Hawaii Ironman World Championships. Why so early? We never even came this early when we were racing so what could possibly cause us to get on a plane even earlier? Three words: Mid Life Crisis – wait, is “mid” a word? Anyway, that’s right, Roch Frey turned 40 back in April and, like many men before him, has decided that his days on planet Earth are numbered and he better do something that will symbolically make him feel younger and, perhaps, a little less mortal. It shouldn’t matter that any imbecile could tell him that training for and doing an Ironman will probably speed his trip to an early grave but, no matter, he’s got his race wheels and has shaved his legs and is ready to party with Madam Pele. Idiot.
I, on the other hand, am here to be Roch’s towel boy. I’m here to cook, clean, and make sure he’s got warm milk and cookies before he goes to bed. Heather gave me explicit instructions on the care and feeding of Roch so that she and Paula could stay home and make the trip up to Susanville, CA for the Bizz Johnson Marathon (Heather) and Half Marathon (Paula). That’s right, the ladies were giving us 7-days of bachelor heaven in Hawaii. It could be bachelor heaven if the Canadian dog musher wasn’t doing Ironman. Now I realize how Heather Fuhr became the tough as nails athlete she is. She had to care for Roch for the past 20-some years! Now it all makes sense!
Anyway, if you want to know anything about the race and all the pros who will be contending to win, we haven’t got much to report. We’ve seen men’s defending champion, Normann Stadler because he’s staying out at Hualalai (where we’re currently ensconced) with his new sponsors. I’ve seen him a couple of times in the past two weeks and he looks as good as ever – in terms of fitness, I mean. I’m not checking him out or anything – not that there’d be anything wrong with it – but I’m not. Whatever – he seems calm and even keeled but it will be interesting to see if he can learn from his first attempt at defending in Kona back in 2005 and avoid getting sucked into the pre-race hype that seemed to consume him by Thursday before the race that year. Who else? We saw Normann’s training partner and teammate, Jan Raphael, who won Ironman Florida last year in 8:22 and then led most of the day in Frankfurt this year before slowing on the run to a 4th place finish in 8:19. At the age of 26, expect to see this young German up at the front during the swim and bike but fading out of contention during the latter stages of the bike and into the run – not bad for his first complete year at the distance. He looks like he’ll be keeping the German iron train rolling well into the coming decade.
What about Luke Bell? The Mellow Burn from Melbourne was down at the pier chillin’ with his wife, Lucy. Talk about a loaded gun…or perhaps a better Aussie description would be loaded boomerang. Here’s a guy who’s gone sub 3:50 for 70.3 (formerly half-Ironman), takes 5th in ’03 at the ripe old age of 25, takes home town hero, Oscar Galindez to the wire in Brazil in ’06, and then has another neck-to-neck race with yet another home town hero, Cameron Brown, ‘til 24-miles of the marathon at Ironman New Zealand this past March. He’s got more time going mano-a-mano on the run than most of the field and has, no doubt, spent significant time thinking about those races. If this guy has a mediocre day with no surprises, he’ll be in the top-3 – and that’s saying something when you consider the level of athletes who arrive on the starting line here every year. Last year he was 7th. Faris was 7th in 2004 before stepping up to 3rd in ’04 and then winning in ’05. Hmmmm.
Who knows – if you look at the progression of athletes from year-to-year you begin to see the patterns of careers on the rise and careers at plateau and careers on the descent. You can’t escape the bell curve in this sport and getting to and staying at the top of this distance before starting to fall off seems to follow a pretty consistent pattern for most of the top athletes. Aside from Luc Van Lierde, it seems to take time to figure out how to put together a day that is representative of one’s potential. Once discovered, it seems like an athlete who manages their training and racing well can sustain a competitive level for 4 to 8-years with the women seeming to last a little longer than the men. Dave Scott? He won his 6-titles from ’80 to ’87 and was 2nd in that amazing ’89 race with Mark Allen. Allen won his 6-titles from ’89 to ’95 but had done the race 6-times prior to getting his first win. Tinley? He won in ’82 and ’85 but was among the top three from ’81 to ’90 and has the most top-10 finishes (12) of any man.
They say that the times, they are a changin’ and that might be true. In recent history, Peter Reid won in ’98, 2000, and ’03 (that’s a 6-year span) but first appeared in the top-10 in ’96. Tim DeBoom first appeared in the top-10 (10th) place in ’95, was 3rd in ’99, 2nd in 2000 and then won the race in ’01 and ’02 – the first male to defend since Mark Allen. DeBoom then had the pleasure of passing a kidney stone in the ’03 race and has been fighting a stress fractured fibula since. This year he’s back and healthy. If you’re counting him out on age alone, don’t. Mark Allen won at the age of 37 and in his 13th attempt. DeBoom is 36 and on his 12th or so attempt at this event. He might be on the descending side of his career but you can never bet against a prior winner of this race – especially when it’s a healthy Tim DeBoom. What about Macca, Brownie, Al Sultan, Beke, Pontano, Llanos, Vanhoenacker, Vernay, Galindez, Lovato, etc., etc., etc.
On the women’s side, we’ve seen a bit of Michellie Jones. Roch has the dubious pleasure of getting flogged by her on the bike from Kawaihae to Hawi and back and will get spanked again as they plan to swim the course this weekend. It’s always fun to hear how effortlessly she drops him as he pursues his dream of a top 10 women’s finish. We saw Sam McGlone at Lava Java the other day with her parents and, along with everyone else in the triathlon world, anxiously anticipate the ’06 70.3 World Champion’s Ironman debut. Among rookies to watch, Sam and Craig Alexander have to be the most watched duo to take on the distance in a long time.
Ok, I could go on and on and will in another installment but, right now, it’s time to play another stressful round of golf…aloha.