Monday, February 1, 2016

Kona! Kona! Kona!

by Gina Kehr

The Ironman World Championship… I love the race, I love the venue. I have been blessed to have competed in that race 10 times. I feel like I know the race and the venue as if I have been there my whole life. It so ingrained in me that when I take a GU while riding or running I literally feel myself on the Queen Kamehameha Highway. In an instant, I can picture the lava fields, I can see the flowering bushes blowing in the wind. When I hear a helicopter overhead I get a rush over me and can instantly feel the energy of the swim start. As clear as day, I can see the pier to my right, the hotels to my left and even the rocks and the way they are lined up as I swim out to the start line. If I was an artist I could probably paint the entire sea floor of the swim course.

My history with Kona goes back as far as 1991. I came over to the big island to visit a college roommate who was working as a dolphin trainer. It was on that trip that I fell in love with the island and saw the official swim start sign of Ironman. But it was in 1994 when I came to back to the island that I arrived coincidentally on the weekend of Ironman. I watched the race from the swim start until o-dark-thirty. At that time I had no idea that my life’s path would take me down that finish shoot so many times. During my career I had three years where I had to sit out due to injuries or pregnancy. I came and spectated each year I was on the sideline. So, in honor of the Ironman World Championship coming up this weekend, below are my top 10 reasons that Ironman Kona is the best Ironman race venue -- for both as spectators and competitors.

For a spectator, the following are unparalleled:

  1. The finish line energy and all that comes with the Alii drive finish
  2. Alii Drive - For its shops, food, Banyan Tree, Queen Kamehameha house and the many other things to do on that 1-mile strip
  3. The sea life - Swimming with dolphins, manta rays and all the beautiful fish is amazing
  4. Palani Road - A great place to watch the bike and run portion of the race
  5. White Sands beach - The main beach in Kona where everyone is during the bike
  6. Turtle Beach - The other main beach that offers sea turtles and lots of great snorkeling
  7. Family activities - Luaus, dinner cruise, snorkeling, manta ray dives surfing, paddle boarding
  8. Secret coffee houses - There are many coffee houses in town but travel up the roads that come off the Queen K near town and you will find some gems
  9. Happy hour at the local hotels and resorts during the week and race
  10. The weather - It is always warm and there is nothing better than shorts and a t-shirt at midnight

For competitors:

  1. Again, the finish line energy and all that comes with the Alii Drive finish!
  2. Alii Drive - Miles 2-9 of the marathon; the crowd is amazing, the ocean to your right
  3. The swim start - The small area and the ability to see to the bottom; one year we had dolphins with us
  4. The weather - You can get everything from mild to extreme from heat to wind
  5. Palani Road - Great place to ride and run and see the crowd during the race
  6. Heading into Hawi on the bike course; looking out to the ocean and seeing the line of white caps revealing the wind that you are about to encounter
  7. The dead zone on the bike course - Heading back into town once you turn back onto the Queen K; lots of good mental talk goes on here
  8. The Energy Lab - The fact that it is called the Energy Lab is enough to love it; it’s the area of the marathon where things get serious
  9. The dead zone of the run course - Coming out of the Lab and hitting miles 19-23; another great area to have good mental discussions
  10. The history of Ironman Hawaii and the World Championship title

To all of those competing in Kona, may you enjoy the day and all that it brings no matter how experienced or inexperienced you are. Aloha and Pomaika'i!

Gina Kehr was a professional athlete for 15 years, competing in events ranging from Olympic Trials to Ironman World Championships, where she achieved five Top 10 finishes in her career. She coaches athletes of all levels and all distances. Her experience comes from her journey as a novice age group triathlete who quickly worked her way to becoming an established professional triathlete. Gina also works with the Stanford Tri team, is a coach with Stanford Masters and leads a squad of short and long course athletes. You can read more about Gina at
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