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The Ironman competitors you need to know

These athletes each have a unique reason to swim, bike, and run to the World Championship finish.

The IRONMAN triathlon distance—2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run—is grueling no matter where in the world it takes place. The king of all IRONMAN races, though, is in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii each October. To qualify for the World Championship, one must finish another IRONMAN near the top of their age group (though there are exceptions). While pro athletes flock to the starting line each year, there are some “regular” folks that beat the odds to earn a coveted spot in the race each year as well. It’s those not-so-average Joes that we’re celebrating leading up to the 2017 race, happening on Saturday, October 14th. Here, meet three—with unique perspectives—that’ll jump in to Kailua Bay this weekend, plus their insights into the evolution of the sport and top travel tips for spectators and fellow athletes alike.

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  • Making It a Family Affair

    Making It a Family Affair

    Back in 1993, Victor Renard lived in Oahu—and he set his sights on the IRONMAN World Championship. He missed qualifying by one place. Now, the Kennewick, Washington-based 49-year-old has redeemed himself, earning a place in the 2017 race just five weeks ago in Coeur d’Alene (CDA). “On my morning ride on the Queen K [aka Queen Ka’ahumanu) highway, the hair on the back of my legs was standing up from how excited I am to be here,” says Renard. 

    The evolution of the sport 

    “The equipment and accessories are getting better and better and there are many more options to select from. The coaching, nutrition, and ability to collect data and quickly analyze it is amazing compared to what was available in 1993 or 1986 when I started racing.”

    Race expectations 

    “I qualified five weeks ago on a grueling, hilly, and hot course for the IRONMAN CDA. I realize I am not anywhere close to fully recovered, therefore I am going to give it my best effort and enjoy the race. If all goes well I hope to break under 10 hours. My daughter, Nicole Renard, is the current Miss Washington and is volunteering at the finish line to hand out awards. Can’t wait to have her give me my medal.”

    Tips for other amateurs

    “Get good coaching. My coach Chris Johnson at Zeren PT is a master at programming his athletes to have them race-ready. Find a coach who knows what they are doing. Trust them, put the hard work in, and enjoy the ride. Mastering hydration and nutrition are a must. Figure out what works for you and practice it.”

    Big Island travel intel

    “There are some great açaí bowls that local vendors make. I am looking forward to connecting with my wife and daughter when they arrive and enjoying some of the bowls. We also have a waterfall slide on our radar.”

     

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  • Celebrating Good Health

    Celebrating Good Health

    Completing the IRONMAN Lake Placid at 60-years-old was a way to celebrate beating breast cancer for Mary Houbolt. “I wanted to do something that seemed monumental to me, and appreciate that I was able to swim, bike, and run and be outside,” she says. “I was not sure I would actually be able to finish, but I did and I was privileged to share the experience with my younger daughter who also competed. And, I managed to win my age group at the same time.” Now at 66 years old, the Plymouth, Massachusetts-based athlete will take on the World Championship.  

    The evolution of the sport

    “I think equipment and nutrition products have evolved a lot since I started training. There are a lot of new ones on the market and a lot of information to sift through.”

    Race expectations

    “My main goal in Kona is to finish and hear Mike Reilly say, “You are an IRONMAN!” My challenge is to have a very good bike ride and try to keep the negative voices quiet during the run. And in my dreams, I’d love to make it onto the podium. Kona is a race where you need a lot of plans, not just “a” or “b.” The sun, heat, and the winds make it a challenge and it’s different each time you race there. Your reaction to the stress can also interfere with your nutrition, which can quickly unravel lots of bike and run fitness. You have to have a lot of ways to cope.”

    Tips for other amateurs

    “Strength training is important. The long hours on the bike trying to hold it upright in the Kona winds require a lot of core strength. Learn that less is sometimes more in training.”

    Big Island travel intel

    “I look forward to training swims and swimming out to the coffee boat. You see amazing schools of fish, coral reefs, dolphins jumping, and even sea turtles. I go to Hawaii with my husband and often my daughters join us. We’ve traveled around most of the Big Island. It has so many microclimates—there’s so much to explore. I really recommend a trip to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, a view of the volcano at night, and a hike across a lava field.”

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  • Putting His Science to the Test

    Putting His Science to the Test

    Pahnke has unique perspective on the Kona course—at least when it comes to the sports drinks that will be offered along it. As a scientist at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, he has provided guidance on the race's Gatorade Endurance Formula. Since 2003, the now 45-year-old has been working with Kona athletes to perfect the drink that he’ll now be relying on himself.

    In 2014, Pahnke missed qualifying for Kona by two people and tried again in 2016; he missed it by a single person. This year, like Renard, he finally earned his spot at the IRONMAN Coeur d'Alene just a few weeks ago. “I don't know if I can fully express how it feels to finally qualify and really hit your ultimate goal in triathlon,” says Pahnke.

    The evolution of the sport 

    “Customization in nutrition is huge. There is no real average sweat rate or average sodium loss—the reality is there's such a huge range in losses that the average means absolutely nothing. Now we have the tools to know what individuals need to have (the mix of water, sports drink, gels, and whatever else they’re consuming), so we can build the plan to meet those needs.”

    Race expectations

    “My plan is really all about enjoying the race. I'm not going all out like I did for my qualifying race. It's really about enjoying the island, enjoying the scene, what's happening. This is where everyone wants to be, so I want to enjoy it while I'm able to compete.”

    Tips for other amateurs

    “If you understand your body, you can do testing on your own. The other side is consistency. It took me years to be able to qualify and get here, and you'll hear probably from every qualifier, it's get out of bed, day after day, have your plan, your goals, and work towards those. For a race like IRONMAN, the bike is extremely important, not only from the physical side but nailing your nutrition, putting those together, spending a lot of time on the bike, setting yourself up for a good strong run.”

    Big Island travel intel

    “I've been to many races around the world, and there's nothing like being in Kona, and seeing people out training every morning, seeing the best of the best: legends Dave Scott, Mark Allen, and then seeing the athletes we work with like Luke McKenzie.”

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