They came. They left. And they're coming back again. The Ironman triathletes, that is. But this time, you want a piece of the action. You watched them swim in Alta Lake or cycle along Pemberton Meadows Road. You saw them sweating buckets. And now it's on your bucket list. With the event returning for another four years there's still time to get your game on.
But there may be a few things holding you back. A few extra pounds. A nagging cold that's been dogging you for weeks. Perhaps an affinity for lazy weekend mornings nursing a cup of coffee in your bathrobe.
Finally, there's the weather. Old faithful, Meadow Park, can be relied on for training year-round. But with the recent dumps of snow in both Whistler and Pemberton, the cycling and running aspects of your training regimen could use a little motivation.
Enter Kona. This beautiful district on the Big Island of Hawaii is where you can get your vitamin D and your training in at the same time. In Kailua Bay, home of the swimming portion of the annual Kona Ironman in October, there is a proper swim course — dotted with marker buoys — used year-round by resident athletes and plenty of part-time ones. Bonus: pods of Hawaiian Spinner dolphins often spend their mornings in Kailua Bay and swimmers can find themselves surrounded by these playful creatures, which sometimes "escort" swimmers along the route.
Cycling equipment can be rented at Bike Works Kona (www.bikeworkskona.com), or Cycle Station (www.cyclestationhawaii.com), and staff can orient you to the numerous weekly training events on the Island. They also assemble and ship bikes — be sure to book well ahead of the big triathlons for maintenance. Cycling Hawaii organizes weekly cycles for all ability levels. You can cut your teeth on the "Lava Man" in March (which also has a kids competition for ages seven and up), or the Team Mango Races, a year-round race series with shorter distances than the Ironman. On the other end of the spectrum is the annual Ultraman in November, a competition that is the double the cycling, running and swimming distances of the Ironman, with 40 invitation-only competitors from around the world.
Accommodation options in Kona are plentiful. The key is location: it's much easier to incorporate training into your "reju-vacation" if you're close to the action and training area. The Marriott King Kamehameha (www.konabeachhotel.com) is right at the Kailua-Kona Pier where swimmers train and is the Ironman starting point. In the middle of the bay is the affordable Kona Islander Inn (www.konaislanderinnhotel.com), just a short five-minute walk from the pier, but also closer to one of Kona's best coffee houses: Java on the Rock, with its award winning Three Stone 100-percent Kona coffee. (It's US$47 a pound for the beans, but judging by the long morning line-ups, well worth it.) Finally, the Royal Kona Resort (www.royalkona.com) is a 15-minute walk from the pier and as one of the few oceanfront hotels on Kailua Bay, you can hear the waves crashing from your room — all the better to get your rest before race day.
When your training is done, head north to the white sand beaches of Hapuna or Mauna Kea to relax, or enjoy the culture of the Big Island by way of one of the many luaus or slack-key guitar performances that abound in Kona.
February is the best time of year for humpback whale watching, or enjoy a manta ray night snorkel year-round. The Kona Coast is one of the best areas in the world to view mantas. Excursion boats travel just outside Keahou Bay (10 minutes from Kailua-Kona) at dusk, and shine bright lights on the ocean surface. The lights attract plankton, which then attract night-feeding manta rays. These striking, acrobatic fish are benign to humans — good to remember when one approaches you spanning four metres.
The Big Island is one of the few places in the world with an actively flowing volcano: Kilauea has been erupting continuously for over 30 years. Hawaii is geologically the youngest of the Hawaiian Islands and 500 acres of new land have been created since 1983, due to constant volcanic activity. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a 2.5-hour drive southeast from Kona.
Local Hawaiians will be more than happy — and proud — to teach you about their unique history, from King Kamehameha to their beloved Queen Lili'uokalani. While you may always be a haole (outsider), a vacation spell in Kona will stay with you — even when you find yourself back home in your bathrobe, sipping 100-percent Kona coffee.