Zone3 Kona Diaries: Part One

As the BIG ONE approaches, The Ironman World Championships held in KONA HAWAII annually has the uncanny ability to “grip” the entire triathlon community worldwide like no other race can.

Yes we have the Olympic Games Triathlon, yes we have the ITU’s WTS Series but nothing comes close to what is THE pinnacle of what the sport of triathlon is all about.

The name IRONMAN says it all. What a trade-mark name to have behind your event. If ever there was one word to best describe an event, it’s IRONMAN.


Brief Heritage: How did Ironman Hawaii (KONA) come about?

For those that don’t know the story. One man and a few of his friends decided to challenge each other.

Who is the best athlete – the swimmer, cyclist or runner?

Let’s duel over a 3.8km swim, 180km cycle and 42km run. The guy to cross the finish line first at the end of this epic 226km sports challenge shall be called Ironman”.

A storyline so simple when conceptualised, yet we doubt the founders – John and Judy Collins – would have ever dreamed it be so big today as we head towards the 2018 Edition of a race that started way back in 1978.

15 starters in 1978 – over 2400 starters 40 years later.


Where is KONA?

We pretty much all know where Hawaii is right?  For the lesser informed, a couple of hours flying time off the US coastline, stuck somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

  • Kailua-Kona is one of six regions that make up the Hawaiian chain of Islands.
  • It’s a small town with a relatively small population (out of race week and season that is) situated on the BIG ISLAND on the West Coast of Hawaii


How do you get to KONA?

There is pretty much only one way to travel to the island, short of an extremely long boat trip, and that is to fly in. In terms of time zones vs the rest of the world (excluding some parts of the USA), you cannot go much further away in terms of time zones than KONA.

Flying Time Approximates from around the globe (times and duration-stops may vary within each country/region/continent itself)

  • UK to KONA – 18hrs flying time with at least 1 stop
  • Australia to KONA – between 9 and 12 hours depending on where you live in Aussie
  • Cape Town South Africa to KONA – 1 day 7 hours and at least 2-3 stops
  • Los Angeles USA to KONA – this is as close as it gets from a major metropole – 5hrs +

It’s far and there is a lot of flying involved with this one – part and parcel of this magical journey to KONA we would think.


How has the KONA IRONMAN grown to become what most consider, the most prestigious triathlon on the yearly calendar?

The PRO’s from the 1990’s to the early 2000’s will remember that back then, only a handful of Ironman Full Distance Events existed. The below-listed events are just some of the more well-known races that the top tier PRO’s and age groupers competed at:

  • New Zealand
  • Australia
  • Roth
  • Japan
  • South Africa
  • Malaysia
  • Florida

Fast forward in time and we now have over 40 IRONMAN races spread out across the globe. Take 85 000 athletes from over 90 different countries that register for these events annually and you suddenly realise just how big this sport of IRONMAN FRANCHISED EVENTS has become.

If you have ever done an Ironman before – or even a 70.3 distance event for that matter – you will/should have a desire to at least visit the BIG ISLAND once and compete in the World Ironman Championships. A dream for many who spend almost all they have just to book their ticket over to the Big Show which takes place around mid-October each year.


The Mystique of KONA

Why is it that each year, every IRONMAN PRO, MALE and FEMALE push themselves so hard in training and racing to get that most sought-after entry slot? The Age Groupers are no exception and the stories that one hears are almost unbelievable. For some, it’s the ultimate sacrifice – willing to give up almost anything and everything just to line up and say they competed at KONA.


What makes KONA so different from the rest?

  • The History – this is where the sport of Ironman was born. It makes sense that if you compete over ironman distance event that you would want to compete at its original birthplace
  • The race course is TOUGH. Not many PB’s are accomplished on this course. The wind and extreme heat and humidity make this a race experience like no other.
  • Whilst the spectator support on race day is very good, there are many Ironman events elsewhere that attract far larger gatherings of supporters. BUT they are not KONA. KONA stands alone and above the rest and will always be the pinnacle of the sport that we call IRONMAN for both competitors and spectators.
  • The Competition amongst the athletes is at its very best. You don’t just get to enter this one. Only the best of the best get to come to the island and compete against one another. There are only so many slots per category – there are no weak athletes – they are ALL good Whether you are racing PRO or simply within your age group division, the competitors you face will most likely be in the best shape of their lives.



  • If you want your best race in KONA, travel to the island early. At least 2 weeks in advance is the common consensus amongst the tri fraternity. Apart from the jet lag and time differences, the body will need some extra time to adjust to the extreme heat and humidity, not to mention the wind when it decides to blow hard. Some key sessions done prior to race day will certainly improve your chances of a great on-the-day RACE Performance
  • The Nutritional and Hydration race day plan is the most crucial factor to consider when it comes to this race. No matter how finely the race engine has been tuned, if you are not supplying it with enough fuel and liquids to keep it running at optimum levels, it’s going to BLOW. Arriving early and getting in some of this much needed nutritional intake practice can only be seen as a very good thing
  • Make sure you swim some of the course – ride some of the bike route and experience what it’s like to run in the midday – late afternoon heat on the run route. Managing your race day strategy is a key element to your successful completion of the race course on race day.


Top 5 things to do in KONA besides TRIATHLON

Apart from the race itself, the “ultimate holiday” experience is part and parcel of this once-off dream vacation. Most athletes will travel with their family or friends. Yes, they have come to watch you race, but the “after” bits are what they are more excited about. Most of these bucket-list KONA items are best experienced after race day when the body needs the rest and you don’t mind resting.

1. Visit the MAUNA KEA SUMMIT. Measured from its base underneath the sea, it’s the considered the world’s tallest mountain.


2. Go visit Manini’Owali Beach, sunbathe and relax the day away.


3. Do some snorkeling and diving. The marine life amongst the coral backdrop is not easily matched anywhere in the world.


4. A trip to Makalawena Pu’u Ali’I beach is also a must-do item on the agenda – those white sands stretch forever.


5. A day visit to the Kaloko Honokohau National Historical Park is the professional tourist’s preferred place of choice. Why not join them.



Best Coffee Spots

A triathlon event would not be the same without the obligatory selfie taken outside the establishment along with your family or mates with those million dollar bikes resting up against the wall.

Make no mistake, athletes that travel to Kona WANT to be seen out and about.

  • LAVA JAVA. By far the most well-known of them all. If you are PRO groupie-hunting, this is the place to go and hangout and catch a cup of your favourite brew.
  • KONA COFFEE CAFÉ is another one that needs to be frequented at least once while you are in town as is.
  • THE FRENCHMAN’s CAFÉ – the European contingent is huge at this crib.


Best Food Spots

There are many to consider and visit – after all, this is a tourist town. The destination of choice will come down to one’s preference for food types we would think. Take 2400 of the world fittest athletes, they are going to potentially have some of the most extreme eating habits known to man They will come hungry, very hungry….

  • Ultimate Burger
  • Fish Hopper
  • 808 Grindz Café
  • Big Island Grill
  • Killer Tacos Incorporated

These are just some of the better-known eating establishments that are filled with hundreds of athletes in the weeks that surround this fantasy IRONMAN WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS event.



What would the World IRONMAN Championships be without record times? Records are there to be broken and used as benchmarks that we use to gauge our own performances against those of others. Whilst there are many age group records – each unique to their own grouping, it’s the PRO RECORD TIMES that we most take note of. This is the cream of the crop – we might not ever come close to these times personally but we can all aspire to what it might take to be the very best of the best.




OVERALL MALE FASTEST TIME:  Patrick Lange 8:01:40



Fastest Male

Swim = Lars Jorgensen 46:41

Bike = Cameron Wurf 4:12:54

Run = Patrick Lange 2:39:45


Fastest Female

Swim = Jodi Jackson 48:43

Bike = Karin Thurig 4:44:19

Run = Mirinda Carfrae 2:50:38


Fastest British Male

David McNamee = 8:07:11


Fastest British Female

Chrissie Wellington = 8:54:02


HAVE TO DO EVENT in the days leading up to race day

  • The UNDERPANTS run held each Thursday before race day is the place to go and see some eye candy. If you are a competitor and don’t mind a bit of showmanship – then this one is for you. Not too many of the spectators miss this one – sipping on your lava java coffee and catching an eyeful of these athletes in their undies is part of the fun. NOT TO BE MISSED AT ANY COST….


The 2018 edition is hotting up to be the best ever. The competition will be at its best. The heat, humidity and wind will play a major factor on race day with some athletes thriving and others wilting. Who will be this year’s World Champions?

Good Luck to the KONA bound triathletes – the mystical island and town of KONA awaits…