Hawaii according to Chrissie Wellington

Four-time Ironman world champion and all-round multisporting legend Chrissie Wellington tells us what she loves about racing in Hawaii...


Here’s a blast from the past with an October 2010 piece from Chrissie Wellington, 3-time Ironman World Champ and 220 columnist. Chrissie picks out all the things she loves about Hawaii…

As the 10 October D-Day draws ever nearer, a significant proportion of the global Ironman population starts getting the lurgy. No not the autumnal sniffles, but what my old coach Brett Sutton used to call ‘Hawaii-itis’. It’s an affliction common to Kona-bound triathletes and characterised by sleeplessness, anxiety, short tempers, overthinking and, in my case, frenzied fingernail biting. Severe cases threaten to derail months or years of meticulous preparation. So with a few weeks left to go, I try to focus on the things I love about racing at Kona and being on the island of Hawaii. Here are just some of them…

1 – The entire population of Hawaii seems to live in ‘slippas’, which are basically flip flops. In all colours. You’ve got to love a place where shoes are shunned in favour of letting it all hang out.
2 – Bikes (motor and push) are largely made for transporting surfboard-carrying locals. It never ceases to amaze me how one man can simultaneously pedal while holding a 6ft long board in one hand and a can of beer in the other. And traffic jams are practically non- existent. When they do occur they’re caused by drivers pulling over to take a picture of a whale/dolphin, sunset, bikini-clad babe or pro athlete out on a training run.
3 – Food. In Hawaii everything is supersized. Fortunately not only the offerings of burgers, fries and fizzy pop but everything else besides. They have avocados as big as my head, lychees, bananas, nuts, macadamia nuts in particular. Salted, roasted, made into butter, put in pies or covered in chocolate. Inspirational. And where else in the world can you go to a restaurant and order a ‘poke’ (raw fish salad)? There are 100 types of poke in Hawaii. But sliding down the culinary scale a notch, the favourite Hawaiian comfort food is none other than Spam. Yes, the infamous canned blocks of pale pink pork parts that come in a mind-boggling variety of varieties – Spam Classic, Spam Hot & Spicy, Spam
Less Sodium, Spam Lite, Spam Oven Roasted Turkey, Hickory Smoked and Spam Spread. So beloved is this ‘meat’ product it’s served at the island’s McDonalds. Supersized, I’m sure.
4 – Having studied geography at university I’m a sucker for all things environmental, and Hawaii boasts 11 of the world’s 13 climatic zones. According to one internet site, “you can hit the beach, soak up the sun and heli-ski at the top of Mauna Kea in the same day”. However, this site also describes Hawaii as “a place where you’re never too hot or too cold, but always just right”. ‘Just right’ is not how I would describe the weather while racing at Kona. ‘Bloody brutal’ would be a more accurate description.
5 – The clear blue ocean around Kona is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Here we have a swim course in which the underwater scenery is akin to being in an aquarium. Marginally better than the weed-filled, toilet-coloured, intestinal-problem-inducing water that characterises many other swim courses.
6 – Then we have the bike and run course over a lunar-esque landscape – a black, dried, cow-pat-looking sea of lava as far as the eye can see, only stopping when it hits the ocean or the green slopes of the volcano.
7 – Contrast the lava fields with the infamous Ali’i Drive. This is sacred ground, the road that stretches about seven miles south along the coast and the site of the famous finish line, from where Mike Reilly calls every athlete home. Along Ali’i Drive there are huge palm trees, hibiscus bushes and sugary white sandy beaches.
8 – At what other race do you get scantily clad men hang a garland of flowers, or ‘leis’, around the necks of every finisher? Every lei I’ve received has meant something to me; some of them I’ve framed and others I’ve returned to the land from which they came. To me, receiving a lei is the epitome of Hawaiian culture, their hospitality and deep connection with the natural world.
9 – And then there are the Mai Tais. A delicious combination of rum, curacao, lime juice and mint. Post-race happy hour indeed. After all… when in Rome.
10 – Last but not least, Hawaii is the magical, beautiful, hallowed island where I can put myself to the ultimate physical and mental test, and pit myself against the best endurance athletes on the planet. So as race day dawns ever closer, and an attack of Hawaii-itis threatens to choke me, I try and remember all the things I love about the island and relish the thought of a supersized helping of pale pork parts. Aloha!
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