The first time you race Kona, you have no idea what to expect.  You hear the stories about the challenges you will face but you think -- I'm different.

As an athlete who squeaks into the "big dance", I took a humble approach in my first attempt but regardless, it was a less than stellar performance.

2012 Ironman World Championship Finisher Medal

With a Kona under my belt, I arrived here last year with a cocky attitude.  I thought, "I know what it's about!" and Kona kicked my ass.

Back for more this year, I thought about what I wanted to do.  In the end, I realized this is the greatest show on Earth and I wanted to enjoy the fruits of my work with a solid marathon performance. 

In order to pull that off in conditions that do not suit me, I would need to take it easy on the bike.

That was the plan.  

There were moments prior to the race when I thought "I can do [this] or [that]".  And that's the problem with being a goal oriented person but I quickly reminded myself of my past two visits and I went back to the singular goal of running a solid marathon.

In the days leading up to the race, there was the standard chaos plus some additional chaos which threw me into a panic for an entire day.  Things eventually settled down though and once again, I found myself floating in the water waiting for the loud bang from the Cannon.

Kona Swim Start

Kona Swim Start

Kona Swim Start

Kona Swim Start

Bang!  No wait.  It wasn't a bang.  There was a cannon #fail and instead it was a "GO GO GO!"  Probably better for me anyway since the cannon is really loud and it scares me.  I'm usually as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs and the sound of a cannon going off really doesn't add to the situation.

If I were a cat, I'd be a hairless cat for most of the year but definitely a multicolored cat now.  With shaved lines.

And someone I've managed to go off on a bizarre tangent about my subtle cries for attention.

Anyhow...

The swim was probably the most polite out of all of my IM's.  You heard me, people were being polite.  It was odd but I think I've been a bit overdue for a swim that didn't resemble a UFC title match.

Out of the water in a surprisingly slow 1:08, I shrugged off the time and proceeded to T1.

I hit the showers to wash off the salt water, grabbed my bag and I ran into the changing tent.  Prior to leaving, I was absolutely certain I had been covered with sun screen in order to survive what started off as a very toasty ride into the lava fields.

Kona Bike Course

Kona Bike Course

As I started out on my slow trek towards Hawi, I watched as I was passed by men, women, children and the elderly -- they were passing me in droves, drafting droves. 

At one point, a long train passed me, I began coasting to adhere to the rules and like a good little boy, I dropped back.  Seconds later, I heard the sound of a motorcycle.  It pulled up next to me and I thought -- seriously, I'm taking a penalty? 

I looked over at the motorcycle and the marshal gave me a thumbs up and commended me on racing clean.  And then they moved forward and they started slashing numbers.

As the miles passed by, I could feel the heat of the sun slowly cooking me and I had little doubt my approach was smart.

Making the turn at Kawaihae, heading towards Hawi, the skies were cloud covered and the ascent into Hawi was a little chillier and windier than what we had experienced on the Queen K.

After the turnaround, the descent out of Hawi was fast, cool and the wind picked up several times to the point where I wanted both hands firmly on the bars.  Feeling fresh as a daisy, I felt I could lift the effort while I had the shade of the clouds.  But as soon as I got back out on to the Queen K., I could feel the heat once again and I dropped the effort.

By this point in the day, it was obvious who rode too hard because the field was already starting to come apart.  The only real challenge I faced was getting around the mobs without taking on a penalty.

Not feeling any real sense of urgency, I just timed my efforts in order to leap over the groups.  It worked quite well and riding under my normal power made it quite easy to drop the hammer for a minute or two.

As I got closer to home, I started doing the math and for a moment, I questioned my choice.  Would I be able to capture the lost time on the bike with a faster marathon?  I let that question go unanswered because the suffering from last year, the suffering I could see on the faces of those around me, was fresh in my mind.

Kona Bike Course

The final hour seemed long even for me but I eventually made it back to transition right around 2PM (or 7 hours into the race).

"Oh geez, what did I do?"  I have to be honest, that thought briefly went through my mind but it was quickly replaced by the fact that I was fairly certain I could run a 3:30 marathon.

I got through transition and I felt awesome.  I felt like I had just taken a joy ride to the start of a solo marathon.

Once again, I was absolutely certain I got covered with sunscreen and then I headed out for the run. 

Leaving transition, I could see that people were already starting to come unglued but I had a huge smile on my face because I understood that I had made the right decision.

In the first few miles, I saw Maria and my buddy Dave. Dave asked how I felt and I think I said: "I feel fresh as a daisy!". And I wasn’t lying. I was ready to reel in a very large group of people who passed me on the bike.

Kona Run Course

Kona Run Course

[the smiles are coming, I swear....]

Averaging out the group, I passed 12.5 people for every one mile.  It was very motivating to say the least.

As I ran by our condo, I saw the Mrs. and I was all smiles.  I looked good, I felt good and my heart rate was very controlled.  Despite feeling good, I remained cautious until I hit the bottom of Palani.

Kona Run Course

Kona Run Course

Kona Run Course

Kona Run Course

At the base of Palani, my plan was to take it easy for fear of taking heart rate up too high.  I chugged slowly to the top of the hill and I felt great which is a first for me here.

Out on the Queen K., I broke up the remainder of the run into segments:  

1.  To the top of the Energy Lab.

2.  Through the Energy Lab.

3.  The final 10k.

My pace was strong to the top of the Energy Lab but there were moments when the air stopped moving and I could definitely feel the heat.  HR was holding steady though with no decoupling.

I made it in and out of the Energy lab without doing too much damage and when I arrived at the top of the hill, I could smell the finish. 

I'm over 9 hours into the race at this point and I'm starting to realize the choices I made earlier in the day were spot on.  Finally, validation.

As the lap ticked over for the mile which included the run out of the Energy Lab, I saw an average pace of 8:30.  It wasn't peppy but I can only imagine what it would have been.

The next few miles were back on track with the consistent sub8 minute miles but the last few rollers leading back toward Palani were putting dents in my quads.

"Stay strong, you're almost home..." is what I kept saying and the crowd was incredibly supportive of my effort and my hair color. :)

At the top of Palani, I launched into a freefall toward the bottom.  It's time to be had if you're willing to let loose.  And I did.

As I rounded the corner on Kuakini, I saw my buddy Dave again. 

Hi Dave.  Bye Dave. :)

I'm home free at this point, I can hear the crowd cheering the finishers and after a couple of right turns, I will have the finish in my sights.

I'm smiling from ear to ear because I've basically accomplished what I set out to do -- I'm running a solid marathon in Kona.  

Back on Ali'i Drive, and within reach of the finish, I feel a slight twinge in my upper thigh.

Seriously?  SERIOUSLY?  I'm going to cramp in the finish chute?

I seize up for a second but I'm not stopping.  I grab my thigh and I begin massaging it while running.  Moments later, the cramping eases and I enter the chute.

I look around and there's nobody behind me close enough to mess with my finish photo.  Remembering all of the mistakes I've made in the previous races, I put my sunglass on top of my head.  I pull the zipper to the top of my kit.  I keep my hands away from my gadgets and I fake a smile (which totally looks fake but whatever).

Kona Finish Chute

I cross.  My slowest time here but only two minutes off my first and four minutes off of my second.  But I set out to run a 3:30 or better marathon and I ran a 3:30 marathon in Kona.  Mission accomplished!

2012 Ironman World Championship Finish

2012 Ironman World Champiosnip

It's funny because I always tell people that no matter what happens, if you have a good run, the race feels good.

I had a good run and this was the absolute best Kona for me so far. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for all of your support on Twitter, email, smoke signals and you weirdos who still use the telephone. :) 

Next stop, Ironman Arizona.  Yeah, I know.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

--

Some other pictures, out of order but worth posting --

The Kona Underpants Run is the absolute best way to blow off a little steam prior to the race.  With my brightly colored hair, I seem to draw the attention of the photographers and I managed to get picked up by Triathlete / Competitor / whatever they are....

2012 Kona Underpants Run

More of that nonsense can be found here:  http://triathlon.competitor.com/2012/10/photos/underpants-run_64104

Pre-race, the EC crew got together and did a shirtless group photo which could be the equivalent of a triathlon male calendar....

The Men of EC

The Mrs. plants herself outside of the condo located on Ali'i Drive and approximately two miles into the run course.  There's an aid station at that location and she took a few snaps of the volunteers....

Kona Aid Station

After the race, she was describing this one fellow at the aid station who was notably friendly.  When I saw his photo, I remembered him as well.  He's a good egg....

Kona Aid Station Worker

Along the course, there are a number of people who are doing their best to entertain us as we are suffering.  In front of the condo, we had the DJ crew....

Kona Aid Station DJ Crew

It's so trivial and it shouldn't mean anything but it represents so much more....

2012 Ironman World Championship Finishers Medal

After the race, I cleaned up and I went down to the finish with my friiends Maria and John.  It was the first time I had ever gone to the finish near the end and it was beyond inspiring.  So many people with so many different reasons for being out here....

2012 Ironman World Championship Midnight Finish

The next day, I got up and I went downtown for a swim and I saw the headlines...

West Hawaii Today, Kona

Me too Pete, me too. You just ran them down a little faster than I did. 

I did a short swim and then afterwards,  I looked down at my phone.  I saw a message from my buddy Mark, "We're at the Lava Java", "Now".  Mark has been doing this for quite some time and he knows quite a few people.  Sitting with Mark at the Lava Java, Bevan James Eyles from IMTalk and he is every bit as nice as he appears to be in his podcasts.  It's funny to meet a guy you've never met but you've heard so much.  I think I blurted out... "I know you...."  I do now....

Bevan James Eyles, Kona 2012

Later in the day, the Mrs. and I wandered back down to Ali'i Drive for some lunch at one of our fav places, Humpy's.  I don't think we've ever gone up to the second floor but the decor struck me as odd....

Humpys, Kona

But we're not really interested in the decor as much as we're interested in the food and the view....

Kona, View from Humpys

After lunch, we strolled through downtown and this basket weaver was busily working.  Seemed like a totally cool guy and he didn't mind me taking a photo when I asked....

Kona Basket Weaver

I've done a number of races in many locations but at the end of the day, Kona is the World Championship and it's really hard to beat this venue....

Kona Sunset

Thanks again for reading....