It’s difficult to describe the opportunity to compete in Kona to a non-triathlete. It’s like describing the feeling of making it onto the field of the Super Bowl to someone who’s never experienced the joy of watching a football game.
It is a unique opportunity to compete on the same day, and on the same course, as many of your idols. You get to live the dream of swimming in the beautiful but grueling Kailua Bay, to pedal against the unforgiving trade winds on the Queen K, and to endure the brutal, soul-burning heat flowing from the lava rock that flanks the Energy Lab. And to your left and right, there are your heroes, racing alongside you. At Kona, you don’t just stand on the shoulders of giants, you get to run with them.
Getting to Kona is no easy feat. Even before preparing for the most iconic triathlon event in history, hours, days, weeks, even years of training have gone into just being able to qualify for the opportunity to arrive at the starting line.
So what does it take to get there, and what does it take to finish the most challenging race in triathlon? When evaluating the habits of the elite athletes treading water off the coast of Dig Me Beach, awaiting the cannon fire signaling the start of the 140.6 mile journey to the finish line, you’ll find a direct correlation between the habits of those high level competitors, and success on the race course.
Do YOU have what it takes to qualify for Kona?
Kona qualifiers are consistent with their training.
Highly successful athletes understand that training consistency is an integral part of their success. They prioritize their training, schedule their sessions properly, and make few exceptions for deviation from that training plan. Kona qualifiers understand that training adaptations are a long-term process that requires dedication to the ‘big picture.’ A missed training session does not derail their mindset, as they understand that the long-term consistency will trump any marginal gains or losses from a single session.
Kona qualifiers do the RIGHT training.
A Kona qualifier does not simply swim, bike, or run on a whim, and they don’t follow just any structured training plan. They follow the RIGHT training plan for THEM. A Kona qualifier's regiment takes into consideration their personal strengths and the areas in which they require the most improvement. Training hours are allocated to maximize an athlete’s potential in each discipline, optimizing their efforts to achieve the best race result.
Kona qualifiers make quality choices for their nutritional needs.
Like a highly structured training plan, Kona qualifiers also follow a structured regiment for their nutritional needs. Highly successful athletes understand the nutritional demands of training, and properly fuel their bodies not only to execute an important training session, but to also rebuild and recover from the accumulation of training stressors.
In triathlon, nutrition is so crucial to success it is often considered the fourth discipline of the sport, as GI distress can wreak havoc on even the most physically prepared athletes. Successful athletes will practice their race day nutrition in training sessions leading up to race day the same way they might practice an open-water swim. They practice both the quantity and frequency of consumption of the nutrition products they plan to utilize on race day, leaving no part of their preparations unpracticed.
Kona qualifiers are proactive in preventing injury.
Successful triathletes understand the importance of prevention and recovery, and implement these components into their training regiment. They don’t wait for an injury to arise, and instead try to preemptively mitigate risk by following some core methodologies, which include executing a proper warmup and cooldown before and after training sessions, focusing on efficient movement patterns within each discipline, and utilizing recovery methods that are suitable to their body’s needs. They understand the fundamental movement patterns of the body, including proper range of motion, and points of failure, and they strategically incorporate functional strength work to identify and correct muscle imbalances which further assists in the prevention of injury.
Kona qualifiers practice mental toughness.
While it is clear that Kona qualifiers condition their bodies on a daily basis, they also exercise their mental wellness! Not only is triathlon a physically demanding sport, but it’s also a mentally taxing event. Highly successful athletes practice grit and determination in training so that their mind is as sharp as their body. They visualize success; they imagine possible hurdles that they could encounter during race day, and then mentally work through how they would handle a situation should it arise during the event. They learn to be comfortable with being physically uncomfortable, and not allowing the mind to give in before the body does. They turn their mind from a potential enemy into one of their greatest assets on the race course.
While Kona is well known for being one of the most physically and mentally demanding races a triathlete can participate in, finishing is one of the most satisfying achievements in the sport. Just getting to the starting line is an opportunity not many triathletes get to experience, and while it can be an utterly daunting race to complete, with the right preparation and proper habits, even a new triathlete can eventually make their way to the Big Island to compete alongside their idols.
Elizabeth James is an Ironman World-Championship Qualifier, a USAT Level 1 Certified Coach, and a TriDot Coach. She made the transition from running marathons to triathlon in 2012. She and her husband, Charles, live in Wylie, Texas.