Don't get me wrong. I was basically on my feet screaming when Patrick Lange was poised to make the catch on Lionel Sanders. What a beautiful thing to watch -- athletes excelling at the highest level of the sport on the grandest stage. Lange, Ryf, Crowley, Charles, Potts -- these are the athletes who performed to their potential.
But what about everyone else? How did Ben Hoffman fare after months of absolutely batshit training and volume? What happened with Jesse Thomas? How did Pete Jacobs' final race on the Big Island go after half a decade of irrelevance? Was this not supposed to be xyz's year to run away with the overall amateur bowl? Most of those people did terribly. Who shit the bed in the women's race? Most of them! We all saw Frodeno crumble...that hurt to watch.
These athletes all failed and many of them failed publicly and spectacularly. Among the amateurs, not a single person on my facegag feed or that I irontracked did well -- by that I mean nobody did the marathon under 4 hours -- which is just such an embarrassing thing after a week full of UPR photos, selfie's in front of the wall of names, equipment laid out the night before, etc. Then came the follow up blog posts and reflections -- "Not the day I'd hoped for..." "I was defeated here once again" but then "I'll be back to finally conquer this race. It's Kona!" -- and it's just insanity.
Get a clue folks. You're never going to do well at this race! It's an absurd event in ridiculous conditions in a dumb place to be running a marathon, let alone a marathon in the afternoon heat and humidity after riding 112 miles and swimming a few more. No amount of equipment and nutrition optimization, training rigor, specific preparation is sufficient for the overwhelming majority of athletes to do passably. If you haven't done well once or twice, you probably won't do well ever.
Why is this race so important in our sport and in our culture?
First, because IRONMAN WTC. Did you know they lose money on this race? They lose a lot of money on this race. But this race is branded and marketed as the end all be all, the beginning and the end of all things triathlon, and despite being awful in every sense as a participatory event, the motifs of tradition and history -- IRON WAR! TOO MUCH GLOOOO -- and a carefully managed brand presentation are apparently intoxicating enough that this race has been called "more than a triathlon; it is triathlon."
Second, because commerce and profit for endemic companies. The Kona expo is a corporate circle jerk where triathlon's fastest and most influential (and wealthiest) athletes descend and get their bikes rubbed and egos stroked. The Rudy Project helmet gambit being the most notorious, this event is all about selling shit. Rudy Project doesn't care about your hopes and dreams -- they know you have two things: you have influence and you have money. Of course you have money. Because you're there. This race is so incredibly expensive it's painful, and nobody without serious means or supporters gets to go unless they make unconscionable choices to deprive or neglect other aspects of their financial lives.
Third, because it's a social construct and a cultural paradigm that nobody ever seems willing to subvert because it is reified in our language -- Kona! KQ! -- and in our lives by its maker and the companies that profit off its halo. Triathletes are sheep and follow the herd and the biggest flock into KOA each October, following the asses in front of them. Rudy knows this. Despite witnessing the train wreck of our friends' performance failure on our instagags, we still see the 15 hour finisher trying to do ten IRONMAN races just to do this one awful one.
There is not a more influential mechanism of social power than "Kona". There is not a less justifiable and more psychologically destructive cultural institution in this sport than this race. Except maybe Thomas Gerlach. But seriously, Kona is such a ridiculous thing and a psychologically destructive institution. Terrible for the sport and even worse for the athletes that fall victim to its wrath. If Foucault were alive and a triathlete, he'd have a field day with the 50 Women to Kona debacle.
Jesse Thomas was basically sobbing on his instagag feed like a total Sally. This race literally makes grown men cry. Dirk Bockel's wife was crying for him at the end of the great 2012 documentary that captured his maniacal quest to stand atop the podium in Kona. After Dirk's 2012 failure at Kona, Dirk's wife -- who seemed to be the greatest asset he had in either sport or life -- said: "Why do we do this? Why do we put ourselves through this pain? This is so hard. It is so hard." Sobbing, but in a way that is much more relatable than Jesse Thomas who needs to just not do this race, like the Wurteles. She is in love with someone who insists on harming himself in the name of achievement. I call it emotional abuse and shame on him.
We glorify the hardness, the toughness, etc. -- what a bunch of bullshit. Dirk Bockel is now divorced and living in a van and writing a book or something. Ben Hoffman was going on like a fool about how the race is mental -- yes, the race is totally mental, and you are totally mental -- and by the way, what happened to you last Sunday? And now the Hoff is out there again training just as stupidly as he did in the lead up to this race, like he didn't just get blown off the Big Island by the best in the world.
Watching Jordan Rapp fuck up this race every time out has been just so painful to watch but so predictable, because you can't show up to this race utterly exhausted from what it takes to get there and expect to bang out a top ten. And you can't show up with a head space so clouded and muddied by the personal and cultural import of this race that you can't see the buoys in the swim, which seems to be what happened to him every go. You have to realize that it's just a social construct and you probably won't do well, and the bigger head case you are, the more important that realization is for your performance and your sanity.
This race makes people crazy. The KQ is the acronym that defines the right of admission, which is itself just an invitation to embarrass yourself and fail to live up to your potential in the most public and wretched way possible. The only athletes crazier than those who get there and go is those who can't and don't. Those people hate themselves the most. Which is basically everyone. What an uplifting thing.
I did this race one year and let me tell you, it was terrible. Kicked and punched like none other for an hour in the swim. Draft fest on the bike -- if you were willing to draft, which I was not at the time, so I lost ten minutes to the 25-29 Euro pain train -- followed by lonely riding in the ugliest geography on earth, on a highway, in 85 degree heat. The run, or should we call it a "run" in quotes, because nobody runs the thing. Do you know what it feels like to walk 5 or 10 or in my case over 15 miles in those conditions in that place? It sucks. Don't do it.
There was nothing transcendent or uplifting about Kona for me, except maybe my parents being proud of me for finishing. That pride in my parents' pride last about 5 minutes before I was back to the drawing board, full of self hate and renewed determination to get back to this island and attempt this same ridiculous task.
This race made me feel like shit. And still does. Including the fact that I haven't been back since.
Now excuse me while I go drink bleach.