It can be easy to come to the Big Island for the Ironman and become partially blind to where you are. Really, it is! You know you are on the Big Island because it's hot, you see the ocean on every run you do along Alii Drive as it winds its way along the Pacific, and you certainly are aware that this is not Kansas when you ride out along the Queen K Hwy, the road that defines the bike course.
But indeed blind you can become. As an athlete racing, your focus always ends up turning inward reading the dials that gauge how you feel and how you will deal with all this on race day. You can get a bad case of "body view only", that natural tendency to size up everyone you see swimming, cycling and running in the days leading up to this great race. It's overwhelming at times. Luis and I even joke in the months leading up to coming here that we have to get in shape to work the booth at the sports expo! Can't show up all out of shape with thousands of the fittest hordes on the planet.
But lost in this fabric of athletic wonderment parading around is the beauty and power of this island that makes Ironman Hawaii one of the crown jewels of all sporting events. Mauna Kea, the tallest of the volcanoes that make up this land, if measured from its base at the ocean floor to the top of its peak is over 30,000 feet tall, enough to overshadow even Mt. Everest. And Mauna Loa, the second tallest here, is the single largest mountain mass on the planet. You could fit something like 15 Everests inside it. Yes, there is a reason they call this place The Big Island!
I could never see the beauty here in my early years of racing. It was just the most unforgiving environment possible for a race. The lava was like a place out of hell that spoke no words of kindness to my soul. I gained no solace from being here, only intimidation and fear. But over the span of six years and six races the Island wore me down. In 1989 I came more in search of a way to feel good than to walk away with a victory. And that made a defining shift. I was indeed finally able to see the incredible beauty of the lava's starkness. I could feel an undercurrent of consciousness in the island that was watching all I did that was begging me to just say "Hi", to give an acknowledgment that it was just as much a living, breathing organism as I was. I was affected by the beauty of this land.
Armed with peace rather than feeling at war with Hawaii, a missing piece feel in place that had eluded me since first setting foot on the race course. It's a lesson I try to relate to our athletes. But it's also one that usually comes when all else fails, when the numbers in the logbook don't fend off self-doubt or questioning during the race about why you are out there. Seeing beauty all around you will neutralize the moments in the race when you want to quick and can bring back trust it will all work out okay. Noticing a flower when your quads are screaming "Stop' can flip the race switch back to the "on" position, carrying you to the finish and the realization of a dream.