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Kona Day One: Perception Vs. Reality

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Online editor Liz Hichens provides daily updates from Kona leading up to the Ironman World Championship.

While most triathletes dream of one day making it to Kona, Hawaii to witness or participate in the Ironman World Championship, it is a rare opportunity that many triathletes do not get to experience in their lifetimes. I am thrilled to get the opportunity to cover the historic race for Triathlon.competitor.com. Upon my arrival to the Big Island, I was surprised to find that some of my perceptions of Kona and the race were not accurate. Here are a few things that I have discovered in my first full day in Kona:

The Energy Lab is an actual Energy Lab:
When I had heard about the Energy Lab, I thought it was simply a cool name for a tough stretch of road. The approximately two-mile stretch of road is quite literally an energy lab run by the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA). In fact, according to NELHA’s website, its seawater supply system is the only one of its size and capacity in the world.

Lava Java really is the place to be:
I know, I know you can’t read an article about Kona and the Ironman World Championship without hearing about Lava Java. As much as I had heard about it, I didn’t realize how much of a central gathering it truly is. Our first time at the restaurant, we ran into Normann Stadler and the entire Commerzbank Triathlon Team. Every time we walk by, there are dozens of triathletes hanging out and grabbing a bite to eat.

Kona is not a small town: While Kona is small enough that Ironman’s presence makes a noticeable difference, it is not nearly as small as I had thought it would be. The heart of Kona along Alii Drive has a small town feel, but the rest of the area feels like any other city. How many truly small towns do you know that house a Target, Wal Mart, Costco, Office Max and Home Depot?

Kona is not flat: I had heard so much about the challenges of the heat and the winds (and yes, it is reality that it is HOT and WINDY) that I figured the course was relatively flat. That is not the case. As we drove the course, I quickly realized that nothing about this race is flat. The bike course boasts 4,901 of climbing, and the run course gains 2,248 feet. While its not as much climbing as some other Ironmans, the hills combined with the heat and the wind can make for a long day on the course come race day.

Dig Me Beach is not a beach: This one was the hardest for me to understand. When we arrived at the Kona Pier, my first question was “wait, where’s the beach?” The first time you go out to Dig Me Beach, don’t bring your family and beach chairs. The beach is made up of a small patch of sand that leads into the swim. While the swim course is beautiful, the beach is not!