Monday, October 7, 2013

The Kona Effect

People are, in general, pretty funny. Funny may not really be the right word I suppose; maybe what I'm looking for is amusing.  I guess now that I think about it, most people aren't really "funny" per se, although many of them think they are.  Regardless, the point of my thinking-out-loud-when-I'm-typing-a-blog-thought-process is simply to state that the human psyche is amusing.

Motivation is a curious thing; it gets us up in the morning, it gets you through the day, it encourages you, it emboldens you, it heartens you, it ____ (insert any number of good verbs here) you.  Motivation is an ever present force in our daily lives.  Sometimes it may not be overt or it may not be intentional but it is always there.  For example, I am currently sitting on the couch in the morning after drinking a couple of cups of coffee.  I am about to get motivated to get up and head down the hallway to the bathroom.  Motivation, in a nutshell.

But I am not really worried about people in general, I am worried about triathletes.  Triathletes are a very unique group of people that in many ways are characterized more by their quirks than anything else.  As with all endurance athletes (or athletes in general), triathletes need motivation to get the work done.  The long (or short) hours spent training are usually motivated by the prospect of a competition.  I myself would not be as interested in training if I did not race.  The desire for improvement, the constant quest to better oneself or beat your competition keeps us all going through the fall, winter, spring, and summer months (wait, isn't that ALL the months?).

I am not sure I know the statistics on the following statement, but it certainly seems to me that many triathletes feel like the "ultimate" race is an Ironman.  One hundred and forty point six miles of swimming, biking and running.  I get the feeling that many triathletes feel like that distance is sort of the end-goal.  You start with sprints and then do a couple of olympic distance races before attempting a half-ironman.  At that point one decides (frequently) that it is then time to attempt an Ironman.  This write-up isn't about whether that's a good idea or not so I'll leave it at that.  I myself attempted and finished my first iron-distance event (Beach 2 Battleship '09) in my first year of doing triathlons and my first true triathlon was a half-ironman (NOLA 70.3 2009) so I definitely was a little eager beaver about doing an Ironman.

In part I feel as though that model is so frequently seen simply because triathletes roam around in groups.  You tend to do what your training buddies do.  That is the way of the world; it's not necessarily "peer pressure" there is just the desire to do what your friends are doing.  I only signed up for B2B '09 because I had been training a lot with friends that were doing IMKY '09 and so I consequently had some long rides and runs under my belt and a new friend suggested I do B2B since I was "already training for it" and thus, history was made.

B2B, however, is not the perfect example for the message of my blog-post.  WTC events ALWAYS carry more weight.  They are more important, they are bigger, they are "better," they are more expensive, they are a lot of things.  They are also qualifiers for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

That last sentence is the most important thing I've said so far.  Every athletes that competes in "Ironman" events has, in the back of his or her mind, the thought of Kona.  You can deny it all you want but it is true.  I know this.  How can it not be? It is one of the most coveted race spots in triathlon.  Every person in a training group that has competed in Hawaii or qualified for Hawaii will always have that trump card.  Even if they are out of shape and slow "Well he/she did qualify for and race Kona twice so once they get back...look out!" or something similar to that.

Kona IS the apex of the pyramid for many people.  Qualifying for it IS the ultimate goal.  It is the reason why many people sign up for Ironman, period.  The goal to KQ is overwhelming in its simplicity but far more complicated than it should be.  Or rather, maybe saying it is complicating is appropriate to my point.

For several years I have seen athletes judge their success in an IM as to whether or not they managed to qualify for Kona.  I myself have been guilty of this; when I raced Louisville in '10 I had basically taken it for granted that I would qualify for Kona.  Unfortunately, my own ridiculousness got in the way of the goal which, in hindsight, would've been very difficult for me to achieve.

It is completely impossible to predict the possibility of a KQ.  There are so many variables present in an iron-distance race that trying to figure out whether or not you will get a spot is a dangerous proposition.  There are some aspects you cannot control, like who will show up, the number of competitors in your age group, the number of finishers in the older age groups, the weather...etc.  I could go on...and on.  What you CAN control is your own mental attitude and your own race.  That's it.  Nothing complicated, but the thought of a KQ can make many people's race process complicatING.

In my opinion, each race should be viewed in isolation. Each race is its own race.  Nothing more, nothing less.  That is not meant to detract from that particular race itself, it is just emphasizing that the way to think about each competition is purely for the sake of that competition itself.  Ironman is tough enough as it is, there is no need to already be worrying about the next race (or Kona) while you're currently engaged in a long day of suffering.  What Kona has done for many people, however, is to make them upset with results that they have no right to be upset about, simply because they did not punch their ticket to the Big Island.

If you have an Ironman coming up try to think about it as a single race.  Race it for the sake of racing that one race, not because you view it as a "stepping stone" to get to Kona.  If you've already raced an IM this year, realize that your results at that race are not indicative of your self-worth, they are not indicative of you as a person, they are simply the results from a race.  If you didn't qualify for Kona but wanted to...oh well.  There will be more races.  Just because you didn't doesn't mean you aren't good enough to do so (usually).


Glenn Hein said...

Found your blog from Heath. There is a lot of truth in this read. Nice write up...I'm currently focused on marathoning but the thought of KQ'ing is drawing me back to triathlon so this is a very refreshing and timely post. Thanks.

linda said...

Profound. Well said.