This weekend was a big deal in distance running events. And no, I'm not talking about the Olympics - the Rio Olympics and Paralympics are long over and done. Right now I'm talking about Kona and Chicago.
Chicago is one of the major marathons, a series of six races where elite marathon athletes (and normal back-of-the-packers like you and me) compete in a championship-like competition. Win one of the major marathons and you take home a hefty purse, world acclaim, and major bragging rights. McCrae and I flipped on the TV just in time to catch the first elite finishers - a total sweep in the men's and women's divisions by Kenyans, including a brother/sister duo who both finished third in their respective divisions.
The beautiful thing about these major marathons is how accessible they are. Set in downtown Chicago with a huge, organized course, the Chicago marathon welcomes a wide range of athletes into the race with well over 40,000 finishers in 2014 and millions of spectators. Imagine racing with the greats! (#lifegoals)
- Abel Kirui (Kenya) - 02:11:23
- Dickson Chumba (Kenya) - 02:11:26
- Gideon Kipketer (Kenya) - 02:12:20
- Florence Kiplagat (Kenya) - 02:21:32
- Edna Kiplagat (Kenya) - 02:23:28
- Valentine Kipketer (Kenya) - 02:23:41
Full results: http://results.chicagomarathon.com/2016/
Oh to race with these great athletes! I'd go total running geek fan.
Speaking of fandom, one of my favorite events of the year was also held this weekend: the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. You think running a marathon is hard, try swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles and then running a marathon! Yikes!
When I visited Hawaii last year we spent a few days on the Big Island at a resort near Kona. Big Island is sparsely populated so we made the 20 minute trip down to Kailua-Kona a few times during our stay. During one of the visits I found the Ironman Kona World Championships start and finish lines and I might have had a minor freakout. "Omg, the most incredible triathletes have competed right here!!" I exclaimed a little too enthusiastically. My mom thought I had actually lost my mind I was so stoked to have found this little spot. I've been trying to work up my courage to do a sprint triathlon (it helps if you don't crash your bike on every ride and you can actually swim...), so the idea of an Ironman seems like a crazy incredible feat. Add that to the immensely talented competition and the harsh Hawaiian landscape, and yes, I was having quite a moment.
Big Island's landscape could be likened to Mars with tumbleweeds - the lava fields spread long across swaths of the island, twisted into rope and ribbons and cracks as the lava cooled unevenly over time. The bike portion of the Kona Ironman runs along the western edge of the island along the coast, south to north and then back. It's an exposed route that's vulnerable to headwinds and sidewinds and all sorts of winds and gusts. Honestly, I want to go back to Big Island just so I can photograph the landscape (this was before I figured out how to actually use my camera outside "Auto" mode).
The marathon runs south out of Kona towards the black sand beaches and then turns around, all along a mountainous volcanic route along cliff edges that drop to the bright blue sea (and headwinds!). Past hairpin turns, past coffee plantations, past the ruggedness of the desolate paradise island.
And the swim! 2.4 miles in open water? Terrifying! Sharks and coral and other people's elbows and knees knocking into you, slapping the air out of you and the water into your lungs?!
Oh man, I want to do an Ironman one day.