Top Tips straight from The Voice of Ironman, Mike Reilly!
For most arriving on the Big Island of triathlon dreams, the time-lapsed days begin pre-dawn, and lines of athletes show up at Dig Me Beach ready for a practice swim as soon as the sun breaks the horizon.
The mainlanders among us are usually done with our coffee by 4:00 a.m., waiting until it is light enough to jog down Ali’i Drive (enjoying the oxygen rich air) to join the crowd filing in to the water.
There is something magical about stepping in to the waters off of ‘the pier’ in Kailua Bay. Located on Ali’i Drive in front of the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel – which serves as Ironman headquarters and athlete packet pickup – there is always a group of swim spectators sitting atop the sea wall. Walking through the silty-sand of the gentle beach, the water is welcoming, enveloping you in her warm current, salty buoyancy, and un-thrashing ways.
However. In the chaos of Ironman World Championships Race Week, some human-powered thrashing may be had. Thus, here are some swim tips for pre-race swims:
- You may check belongings at the Ironman tent in front of the hotel from 6:30-9:00 a.m. each morning. This is strongly recommended. They also provide water and Gatorade. Please note the end time – you need to collect your bag no later than 9:00.
- Be sure to lube up with sunscreen, anti-chafe, and plenty of lip balm. The sun and saltwater really expose all your skin’s vulnerabilities.
- Safety kayakers are on the course each day 6:30-9:30 – take a moment to tread water, take in the view, and thank them for their help. (If you swim with your GoPro or waterproof camera tucked into your suit, the kayakers will take your picture!)
- Kayaker Jan, who lives here on the island, told us this year’s practice swim course is slightly crooked at the beginning – follow the buoys to avoid lava rock and coral near the shore, and all the boats in the bay. It’s really important to stay on the shore-side of the buoys to remain out of boat paths.
- Kayaker John, who traveled all the way from New York to volunteer as a safety kayaker and also cheer on a handful of athletes he coaches, advises keeping an eye out for sea life. On Monday, he spotted a large sea turtle just 100 yards from shore!
- 303’s Nicole Odell recommends visualizing that it’s race day and you are feeling good – try to feel any nerves that you might have on race morning melt away.
- Site Site Site. There are several traffic rules working concurrently during the practice swims. Always swim in a clockwise pattern. And always swim in a counter-clockwise pattern. Always pass left shoulder to left shoulder. Oh, and always pass right-to-right. In other words, near-head-on collisions are just part of the experience. It is a good day if you lift your head every couple strokes, and have several close calls… with no actual head bumps.
- The Coffee Bar!
Since 2008, Coffees of Hawaii has commandeered the Floating Espresso Bar anchored just a few hundred meters off-shore. From 7-9 a.m., Tuesday thru Friday you can swim up to the boat and enjoy complimentary cups of their coffee.
This is a great social experience, and a way to hang out and tread water with athletes from literally all over the world. Keep in mind the coffee is HOT, and can be a little rough on raw, salty lips…
- Get the feel of the swells – if you are drifting to one direction, try over-correcting a bit with your stroke. If you are new to ocean swimming, becoming accustomed to the rolling feel of the currents is important before race day.
- Swim early and swim often. Swim early for “flatter” water and smaller swells. Swim often because it’s HAWAII! Make the most of it!