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October 7, 2008

This is real!

Aloha! A first update from the Big Island of Hawaii. This will be a short summary of the trip so far, including the marathon travel session to get here, as well as some first amazing experiences. All in all, I’m still a little overwhelmed by all of this, but you’ll understand more as you read on.


We departed Jo’burg on Thursday late afternoon. Well, that was the plan. The cats and gnomes had other ideas. Qantas airlines had installed a new software system world wide over the week leading into our travel. Of course they did. Why wouldn’t they? What they neglected to do, or probably what happened, was that the fat cat who got the tender to train SAA (who share planes on Australia flights to keep them full) staff on the new system. If I tell you we queued for an hour to get to the desk, and we were 3 ½ hours early, and then stood at the desk for another 2 ½ hours to sort out our tickets, I’d not be kidding you.

We had 3 people come help us, and finally we got Mr Farrel of Qantas, the shining night in armour who saved the day. With a cool calm ease he sorted out as many messes as possible and got us 4 seats in a row. Bless. It was such a mess we left 4 hours late. The new system sorted people by what they paid for their seats, or even completely randomly. Families were split up all over the plane, and people were just a teenie bit pissed.

Even better was that they couldn’t book our seats on our next Qantas flight, so in Sydney, again, we spent 90minutes at the standby counter to get on a flight we booked and paid for 8 weeks ago. Standby. Oh, but only for 3 of us. They managed to get Marilu with a seat in Jo’burg, but not us. Naaaiice. We were split up again and sat in various places.

Airline food was top class as always and the options of chicken or beef became a little funny as we crossed the international timeline after 30 hours of travel and were back at 1am on Friday morning.

Get this, after 2 delays, 2 large international flights, a domestic flight with a 3 hour sit at the airport, we landed at Kailua Kona Airport at…..wait for it…… 1pm on FRIDAY afternoon, all a little delirious and giggly from being tired. The girls feet were twice their normal size but man, were we excited to be here. We had flown across the international date line and gained a day. Hence the reason for flying around this way.

Have you been through agricultural checkpoints?

We arrived in Kailua Kona quiet jaded, but we were here, in the place where it all happens. We drove on the bike course to the hotel, down Palani Hill, the place where the run gets really real. Really really real. Our condo is on the run route on Alii Drive. If you are a Ironman athlete, you’ll understand that it’s the equivalent of staying inside the Olympic Stadium for us.

Our accommodation is spectacular. Lets have a look at the views…

Mnandi.

On our first trip to the shops, we spotted Chrissie Wellington, last years world champ. Our first Ironman World Champ. Awesome. Since then Crowie (Craig Walton) has come running by, and we have had dinner with Belinda Granger, Luke Mckenzie and Luke Bell and Timo Bracht came riding past me today like I was in the granny gear. The standard and peer group here is different.

Oh lets head back to how beautiful Hawaii is. Its everything you expect. Palm trees, white beaches and the vibe is really chilled here. A definite retirement option. In fact, a definite option to come chill out for a few months, anytime in your life. We swam some of the swim route this morning and you can hear it as many times as you want, but this is the best swim in Ironman. I don’t care what other races lay claim to, but the water is like crystal, and there are fish the whole way out, not grey fish, but just real colorful tropical fish. You catch yourself staring into the water, completely unaware that yes, you are on the real World Champs swim route. You swim fast. The current are strong, but you swim like a champion. Its totally fricken awesome, and more than I can explain.

The thing about Kona is that its small, and there are 1800 strong athletes here. Add 300 strong athlete spectators who are here and excited about being here. The age groupers here are so unbelievably excited that they all hammer. I have never seen to many people hammering their bikes and sprinting on their runs. We had an eye witness report of an age grouper chasing Luke Bell (who incidently was doing 5 minute power intervals) up Alii Drive. Stupid. Luke Bell = top 5 potential. Age grouper = top 500 potential. Its hard not to get caught up in this storm but I guess its because the next superstar is our there, and there are so many top level athletes here, that everyone cant help themselves, they might just be running next to the next guy to break into the top 5. They want to test themselves, just for a few minutes, against that kind of guy. Who can blame them. They might never get that chance again. Myself – I’m doing my best to keep my head on and follow the paces I know I should be doing. Its really hard but I’m hanging on to sanity for the moment.

Today I biked out on the Queen K and ran on Alii Drive. I had gooseflesh as I ran where the greats had left their mark. Its as hot as they promise and more. Your feet burn. On the bike. We heard stories about Greg Welch doing a interview for TV in the Lab a few years back, where he fried an egg on the tarmac in under 3 minutes. The tarmac here is made from lava. I kid you not. Real lava. It lies everywhere in these weird shapes. Its awesome.

Tomorrow, I am going to run the Energy Lab (Triathletes bow in a moment of silence. Normal people, here comes the explanation). The place that’s claimed more Ironman souls than any other. Where Ironman champions fry eggs on the tarmac for TV. I cant wait. The excitement is tangible and I’m even a little irritable tonight as I type this in anticipation. I want it now. Bring the sun. I want to be where the champions have been made. To see what the fuss is about.

This week has obviously been full of thoughts of why I’m here, why Ironman of all things, a sport which makes you older before your time if you aren’t careful, that conjured up images of pain and suffering. Why want to do that to yourself? I am probably going to bury myself out there in a week. Take my body further than its ever been, which might be an unhealthy place. Realistically, it’ll do damage to my body. Realistically, I’ll want to give up, at least 3 times during the day, and push through that. Realistically, I’ll curse myself…………. A lot. This has been a real dream for 11 years now, so realistically, I’m prepared to take those chances.

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