IM Kona: Under the Tent and Through the Lens

October 20, 2017

IM Kona: Under the Tent and Through the Lens

“It’s like going to the Super Bowl!”

Being from Cleveland, the well-meaning sports analogy didn’t hit home like it was meant to (the Browns have hardly sniffed at a Super Bowl in my lifetime), but it was a good way to get an inexperienced triathlon fan hyped for Ironman World Championships.

“PLUS, there’s the most amazing poke. And duh, it’s Hawaii.”

Alright, alright, ALRIGHT, I’ll go...


Our little home-away-from-home on Ali'i Drive

Our mission for Kona was two fold, just like Nadine’s pump up speech was for me: Gain exposure in the tri world, and support Jesse and our Feed the Dream athletes. Easy enough, I thought. I’ve worked a number of events in my time at Picky, learning (the hard way, sometimes) all the nuances of talking to a wide variety of people about the product and company, the best way to chop bars for optimal sampling experience (1/20th), and how to pop up our massive canopy tent with only two people. It’s not rocket science, but sometimes when you’re knee deep in Cookie Doughpness with no FDA-approved way to wipe the sweat from your brow with your latex gloved hands, it feels something like it.

Triathlon events are extra intense, because triathletes are intense people. Plus they’re super well educated on everything - I mean EVERYTHING - that goes into their sport. And at the world-class level? Don’t even try to come at them with 4-to-1 carb-to-protein ratio unless you really know your stuff, because their coach or the internet or some nutrition for athletes book they read for funsies has already told them about the importance of macronutrient balance. They want to know why brown rice crisps (crunch and non-fructose carbs), what flavor require the least amount of chewing (Doughpness), and how many they can fit in their jersey pocket or fuel cell. (It’s a little storage compartment on their bike, in case you also didn’t know, and the answer varies from two to nine.)

Lucky for me I had my own little tune-up at 70.3 in Chattanooga last month, so I felt fresh and confident going into Kona.

*typing that sentence is the closest I’ll ever get to writing a World Champs race report*

So when we got to the island and set up that first day, armed with SPF and a well-rested chopping hand, I was ready. Bring it on, Ironman! Give me your best shot!

...TKO, first hit.

We were at the complete mercy of the foreign humidity from the start, tripping over language barriers and each other while we tried to keep samples on the table. The long days had us cross-eyed and tongue-tied by the end of the week, completely exhausted, and it wasn’t even race day yet!

Kona is no joke, man.

Kelli, me, and Juhi, one of our Feed the Dreamers!

But per our first M.O., we got to really connect with the heart of one of our biggest customer segments. There were so many interesting people with crazy cool and inspiring stories, folks from all corners of the globe either stocking up or offering to help us break into their home markets, and current customers and Clubbers stopping to say hi! Plus we finally got to in-person high five our Feed the Dream athletes ready to fulfill their dream! It was a blast and well worth the swollen legs and sunburn.

(And yes, the poke IS pretty amazing…)


Game Plan: 9 hours of sprint - wait - IG Story intervals

Early Saturday morning we hustled our way down to Ali’i Drive - promptly breaking a sweat that wouldn’t cease until nightfall - to watch the pro men, then pro women, then age groupers dive into their 140.6 mile journey. The place was a zoo! People everywhere jockeying for viewing spots, fiddling with wetsuits, getting herded by volunteers towards wherever they were headed. The voice of Ironman boomed over the PA system, and before we knew it the introductions were done, the anthem over, and the gun bellowed signaling the start of the men’s race.

Somebody should’ve checked my vitals. Cripes I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous! Nervous for Jesse, all the racers, and honestly to not f*** up our live coverage of Jesse’s race. As it turns out, I'm likely not cut out for elite athletics if just spectating shot my blood pressure through the palm trees.

As the day went on I tended to my phone’s battery with the same care one would their own hydration during a race, strategized our viewing spots and times based on Jesse’s expected arrival times with what felt like MIT-level calculations, and cursed Verizon’s overextended network as if someone’s life was relying on my tweets posting.

It was *ironic dramatic effect* EXHAUSTING. 

After our check-in at mile 10 of the run we popped into a bar to rest and recharge our phones and legs. I stared at the live athlete tracker screen, willing both my battery and the little "JT" dot to keep moving forward. He was deep in the pain cave and I felt a little guilty for enjoying an ice cold beer while he suffered, but liquid carbs are part of my nutrition plan, and I was told it’s important to take care of yourself out there, so that's what I did. Pro tip.

By the time we bellied up to the barricades lining the finish chute we’d seen him a total of seven times, all before the wheels appeared to start falling off. I silently chanted "come on Jesse" as my eyes darted between athlete tracker and battery life, head snapping up every time the crowd would cheer signaling an approaching athlete, even though I knew it wasn’t ours yet.

And then, eight hours and 44 minutes after watching a calm ocean bay froth with frenzied swimming, we watched a completely spent Jesse Thomas rally the energy for a line of high fives and a fist pump as he crossed the finish line of his second Kona World Champs.

Sorry about the ear-piercing screaming. Too excitable.
See the *almost* complete IG Story coverage here.

The video uploaded to Instagram just as my phone took it’s final lithium breaths, and I exhaled for what felt like the first time all day. With Jesse safely finished I finally began soaking in the incredible day we had. The overwhelming display of athleticism, months (years?) of dedication and sacrifice present on the course and alongside it cheering, and a passion so real you could almost grab it out of the muggy air and hold it in your sweaty hands.

Getting to witness Kona was a treat I never knew I wanted, and now I’m not sure how anything will top it.

Unless you know, the Browns somehow make it to the Super Bowl.