Some years it takes days to start to see the field of top competitors. Other times, you just seem to be in the right place at the right time as you wander through your days here and end up bumping into what seems like the entire universe of top athletes. Yesterday was one of those fortuitous days.
The first connection came as a crew of MarkAllenOnline athletes was doing the traditional run from the Energy Lab back into town on the Queen K Hwy. Seven of our forty-one member Kona 2008 team put in their time out on what in the race can be the toughest miles of the marathon. Doing it in training imbeds in your mind that these final six miles are not really that far, that long and are not really soooooo hot. If you wait until race day to experience this stretch of demanding road, it can seem insurmountably long. That’s why we do it…see how easy it is in training, and then the memory of it brings it back into the realm of possibility in the race.
Just as they took off for their one-way jog to town, Thomas Hellriegel (1997 Ironman World Champion and the one who made my final victory nearly impossible) pulled up to say hi. He was with Stephan Vukovich, the silver medalist in the Sydney Olympics. They both looked ready, and immediately proceeded to give me a rundown of the top men. I’ll let you in on that conversation later in the week when I give you my picks for top three men and women. Got to save some juicy news for another day!
In town I ran into Yvonne Van Vlerken. Not a name you know off the top of your head? Well, it might be after Saturday, and it should be already. She set the women’s world best at the Ironman distance earlier this summer with an impressive 8:45:48. She said she feels no pressure here, as this is her first Ironman in Hawaii. She’s leaving the pressure to the more proven quantities.
She wasn’t the only woman to come out of the woodwork. Natasha was spotted on her bike riding through town with husband and coach Tony in tow. We heard she is not racing, but the look she had (aero bike, aero helmet, lean and mean) was sending another signal.
Looking absolutely ordinary and out of context was last year’s champ Chrissie Wellington walking along a stretch of Alii Drive with a heavy backpack in hand kind of out in the middle of nowhere. In other words she seemed to be more on a trek between two spots than someone conserving her energy for victory #2. I doubt Norman has walked that far in total since his first victory in 2004.
That’s a small sampling of the sport’s elite just doing their thing. There’s less than a week to go now. The pressure is on as the reality sinks in. Ironman is not just something you train for, but a race that you must face on one single day. We can’t wait!