Reading Mary Beth Ellis’ blog Anatomy of a Meltdown, which has taken her 40 days of soul searching to put together warrants a response not just for her, but for so many athletes, pro and age group, who walk away from Kona disappointed.
Honey Badger is one of the nicknames I’m most proud of. MB is fearless, tough, and relentless. A 9x Ironman winner and ITU LC World Champion she has had a hugely successful career taking down bigger and more talented athletes with a ‘I don’t give a sh*t!’ attitude.
However, the fact that after 40 days and she is still ‘in the cave’ tells its own own story: At Kona the Honey Badger does give a sh*t!.
From her very first Kona with me she has raced it with a different mindset to every other race. In looking for answers this is the dimension that killed the day, and kills so many age group athletes also.
Triathlon Mecca Kona is marketed (successfully) as the Greatest Triathlon Show on Earth. As such we see pro and age groupers prepared to make all kinds of sacrifices just to get there.
This in itself leads to over-expectations. It leads one to set goals with numbers on a course where the numbers fluctuate wildly depending on the conditions of the day.
At Hawaii you are dealing with big variations in chop and current. Bike numbers mean nothing depending on the winds, how strong they are and which way they are blowing. What you ‘think’ you should run is largely determined by the heat and humidity.
All factors that change dramatically year on year.
Despite this, at the ‘Big Show’ we see people consistently setting their goals too high or taking less account of the conditions than the race deserves.
Or, like MBE, we see many following the path of some great champions in other sports who in wanting ‘the’ title so bad it effectively shuts them down in their quest for the holy grail.
To use some Australian examples;
Greg Norman was World’s Number 1 golfer for 10 years. He never won Augusta despite having the game to tear it apart.
Pat Rafter won two US Opens, yet the serve-volley master could never win his favoured Wimbledon.
The supreme pressure player, Lleyton Hewitt, couldn’t win his home Major despite throwing the kitchen sink at it.
The list is massive, seen across sport’s and sport’s psychologists will tell you why the phenomenon is very explainable. But put simply: They are trying too hard.
However this is elite sport.
Nobody addresses the age groupers, many of whom come away from Kona similarly disappointed. That’s because you too struggle so hard to get there that once presented with the actual opportunity to compete, you end up paying too much respect to the race itself.
In this context small hurdles become monster decisions as we feel our Kona performance slipping out of grasp.
In a normal race we tend to make the changes we need to make. At Hawaii though many ignore the signals that our bodies send out as ‘this is Kona baby, we busted our buns to get here and we’re going to leave it all out there on the Lava fields’.
Unfortunately, most do just that. Even those that I believe have reasonable races aren’t satisfied. ‘No coach. I wanted this. I wanted that.’
So for those that went this year and were disappointed in their results. I suggest you rethink and work to qualify again. Then go to Kona to celebrate the experience, tone down the expectations and play the course. Adapt to the day. Don’t fight it, work with it.
Next year can be better with a different outlook. For MBE certainly, and I have no doubt she will. But more importantly you can do it too.
At Trisutto.com we call it JAR – just another race. If you can find a way to embrace Kona with this mindset, you’ll find the performance might indeed be enhanced.