Fegan’s trip to the Big Dance

The big dance, WTC World Championships, in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii – qualifying for this race could be seen as the triathlon equivalent of the sub 3 hour marathon,  although unlike the 2:59:59 you never know what actual time you’ll need on the day to punch your ticket. For those with the ability, like a runner that can knock out a low 2:3x marathon, it’s really all about getting to the start line fit and healthy, where barring some bad luck, ticking the box is never in any doubt. For the rest of us, there’s a lottery of picking the race that suits our abilities, consideration of who else actually turns up on the day, how many slots are available in our age group and whether or not these slots roll. The system is imperfect, with some age groups requiring just a finish to pick up the single available slot, others so sparse that a roll of two places can mean someone distinctly average punches their ticket, whilst in the same race someone else’s dreams are shattered by only a few seconds, leaving them replaying the race in their heads for months to come and cursing a slow transition or an extra toilet stop.

I remember after the inaugural Ironman Wales in 2011 missing a slot by two and thinking with a year’s work this could actually be possible. Then sitting with Nick Rose strategising for hours over which race to pick and getting it wrong by choosing France where I passed out from heat stroke whilst Nick scooped his second trip to the Big Island when he chose UK. When I then chose Tahoe I was determined not to leave it to luck. I wanted to be ready at the start in good enough shape to be in the top 3, giving me a little leeway for a couple of Californian rock stars to turn up (or a dreaded puncture during the bike). Thankfully the weather and altitude helped make Tahoe the ideal race for me and a second place in age group (and ninth male age grouper overall) secured me a coveted slot.

It’s been over a year since Tahoe and a lot has changed in that time. Certainly life events have meant that triathlon isn’t quite the focus that it was, but thankfully Epic Camp has meant I have at least turned up in a reasonably trained state if indeed looking “mildly unathletic”. But that’s OK, I’m happy to look like a legacy or eBay entrant, I’m not here thinking that this is my peak race; for me the qualification was the challenge and this is the reward for the hard work.

The 2nd flight of 3 on the 27 hour trip across
The 2nd flight of 3 on the 27 hour trip across

I’m happy to have that tick in the box, the status that goes with it and to enjoy the experience without getting serious about the whole thing. As I sit on this lovely Airbus A380 after a rather jammy upgrade, I am first and foremost starting a holiday with my long-suffering wife Ella, without whom there’s no way I’d be sitting here just now. My work doing SBR has been matched and definitely surpassed in the effort she’s put in watching not only our two young boys but also Katie, my eldest, who turns 18 tomorrow (5th October). So thank you Ella for all your sacrifice and Katie for letting me indulge a good chunk of the weekends we’re supposed to spend together out on the bike. A very Happy Birthday to you! I’m very proud of the well rounded and sensible young adult you’ve become, which is no small part thanks to the guidance of Ella. I’ll take the blame for any faults.

Jammy upgrade - sweet as bro!
Jammy upgrade – sweet as, bro!

So my expectations for race week are; to skirt the periphery of the circus, do the underpants run, bump into a few people down at Dig Me beach, laugh at the guys in speedos and compression socks in the supermarket and try to enjoy the race itself as much as possible.

I won’t place highly, that’s for those for whom just reaching Kona isn’t the challenge and this is the big race. There is always an element of competition between Adam and I, but it weren’t for his recent back problems I honestly don’t think there’d be much of a competition. I denied him the opportunity to soundly beat me in Germany earlier this year, so it would have been fitting for him to show how quick he has become in my last “serious” long distance race. Slipped disc or not, I still won’t be surprised to find him grinning at the finish line when I cross; he’s the most stubborn SOAB I know.

With a week to go to the B of the Bang, I’m thinking I won’t risk completion for a 10 minute quicker time. That I’ll moderate the bike and control the run to soak it all up, take time to look around and concentrate on getting that oversized medal round my neck and add the title Kona finisher to Kona qualifier.

But who knows what will happen on the day? Will the race head will reappear and all sense and caution be thrown to the legendary winds? Barring a serious emergency I’ll be at that finish line regardless of the time taken because there’s no pressure to get a slot, top 10 couldn’t happen even with the perfect race, so the only pressure is to finish.

Regardless of who crosses the line first, I’m uber-stoked to be sharing the experience with Adam. This is my one and only trip here – I’m sure Adam will be back, but to be able to share our first time on the Big Island together only 6 weeks after Epic camp is just incredible. I know the work Adam has put into getting here, mainly because I’ve done most of it myself.

Finally, a big thank you to our coach Scott DeFillipis – he’s taken both of us up a level to Kona qualifier standard, he’s held me accountable and guided Adam’s incredible work effort in the right direction. Anyone looking to take the leap and qualify would be hard pushed to find a better coach – just be prepared to work. Neither Adam or I wanted sugar-coated, ego-boosting coaching – just give me what it takes to come in the top 1.5% in an Ironman race. Despite all that life has thrown in my way, Scott has managed to do just that. In the 4 years we’ve been a team, this will be the first time we actually meet. I’m looking forward to the Tuesday post-race for a beer or 5 with Scott, Adam, Ella and Maria.

So, Kona – let’s dance!

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