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The road to Kona is different for every athlete. First-timers share the stories of their journey to the Ironman World Championship.
Depending on who you ask, you can get a spot in the Ironman World Championships with skill, dogged determination or simple luck. Five athletes heading to Kona for the 2014 race share their stories of how they qualified for triathlon’s most prestigious event.
Qualified at: Ironman Lake Tahoe
Qualifying time: 12:32
I wasn’t trying to qualify for Kona. Ironman Lake Tahoe was supposed to be my final Ironman after 10 years of racing. I showed up race weekend ready to enjoy my last Ironman experience before I retired.
Due to inclement weather, we weren’t sure if we would get to race and an already gnarly course became even tougher with the conditions we were dealt. I soaked it all up, every single bit of that course—from the snow capped mountains and ice covered sand at the start to the excitement and war stories at the finish. It wasn’t until roughly 90 minutes post-finish that I was reunited with my friends and phone where I learned I finished second in my age group. Until that point I was just so happy to have a good race. Everyone was telling me that meant Kona. I was dead set on retirement, but when I learned there were two Kona slots for my age group, I couldn’t turn it down, I just couldn’t. Ultimately, I feel incredibly lucky to get to finish off my Ironman life racing the World Championships with some of the fastest and toughest girls (and guys) around the world.
Kona excitement: My family and boyfriend get to watch me race an Ironman for the first time. Up until now, I’ve raced solo or with friends. I’m excited they get to experience my last Ironman with me!
Qualified at: Ironman Texas
Qualifying Time: 9:18
I was actively trying to qualify for Kona for the better part of two years. My journey to Kona has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was a multi-year commitment. For me, the qualifying process was a steady progression from the day I started working with my coach. There wasn’t a single breakthrough, but rather a series of milestones as I got fitter, faster and smarter about racing. I finally put it all together in my eighth Ironman. Joining Team Every Man Jack this year was a big boost to help push me over the top.
Advice for Kona hopefuls: Never give up on your dreams, and don’t be afraid to fail along the way. Qualifying for Kona doesn’t happen overnight for most people, and can take years of work to achieve. You have to love the process, or it’s not worth it.
Qualified at: Ironman Florida
Qualifying time: 10:34
You could say I have had a mental 180 on my path to Kona—there was a time in my life where I was very depressed and suffered from an eating disorder. I didn’t have any hope for myself and lost all my mental toughness. I have recovered and am far away from that, but it’s amazing to see where I have been mentally to where I am now. I’ve worked really hard for this race, and it’s going to be an experience of a lifetime.
My journey to Kona has been amazing. It’s been filled with a lot of great races, great friendships and great challenges for myself. I have loved it all. I feel passionate about this sport.
Advice for Kona hopefuls: Believe in yourself. Work on your mental toughness. You can prepare the body to peak performance, but you really have to have a strong mind as well.
San Francisco, CA
Qualified at: Ironman Lake Tahoe
Qualifying time: 14:15
I started running in late 1999 at the age of 41. I did my first sprint in 2000 and subsequently bought a road bike. My first Ironman, Florida, was in 2004, followed by Ironman Arizona in 2008, on my 50th birthday. In both of those Ironman races I finished in the middle of the pack. I did Honu/Hawaii 70.3 in 2009, and have gone back every year since then. I had hopes of qualifying for Kona at Honu and thought at least I would know what it is like to race on the Big Island if I ever qualified. I sat through every roll down, just in case.
When I signed up for Ironman Lake Tahoe, I wanted to do better than finish in the middle of the pack and I knew it would be a more challenging race than I had ever done. That is when I began working with a coach for the first time.
Tahoe turned out to be a legendary and unusual race. The coaching I had, the training I had done on the course, the knowledge of how to dress for dealing with the cold and the focus I had placed on that race all came together and paid off.
Advice for Kona hopefuls: My advice is to get a coach that has prior success, that you can communicate with well, and that you have confidence in. Equally as important is to do what your coach says, even when it is counter intuitive. Although my coach gives me the credit for the hard work I put in, coaching was the key to my success at Tahoe.
Qualified through: Physically Challenged Lottery
I will be the first blind woman to complete Ironman Kona with a female guide, and the first American blind woman to complete the race. My intrepid guide is Anne Thilges. Together we will make history!
I was pretty much in shock when the lottery email arrived. For the first time in 25 years as a lawyer, I screamed at work. Really, I felt then, and feel now, a mix of joy and fear. I want nothing more than to show that I am worthy of an appearance on such a great stage. I feel the way I imagine minor leaguers feel when they get called up to the big leagues.
I have been training very hard, but I think the biggest way that my training is different from my other Ironman races [Ament has completed five Ironman racs in four years] is that almost every workout (in the pool, on the tandem bike, on the bike trainer, or on the run) I try to imagine how it’s going to feel doing this in Hawaii.
Kona excitement: I am so excited about taking everything in, standing on the beach with athletes whom I have admired for years, and completing an event which I had thought, since I first heard about Ironman, was for superhumans and could never be for me. I also can’t wait for the swim-up coffee boat!