Local athletes relish their Ironman moment

  • West Hawaii Today file photo Kona's Michael DeCarli.

It’s finally go time.

After a week-long parade of events commemorating 40 years, the Ironman World Championships is set to kick off tomorrow morning at 6:35 a.m. and will feature what has been known as one of the most iconic single-day sporting events in the world — a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run.

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It is considered the “Super Bowl or Holy Grail” of all triathlons — arguably the most anticipated race of the season as competitors test their fitness, mental fortitude and perseverance against a course of dramatic contrasts and punishing elements known only to the Big Island.

It all starts with a rising Hawaiian sun illuminating from behind Hualalai Volcano. More than 2,500 athletes anxiously treading water in awe and inspiration as they await the heart-pounding canon boom signaling the start. Fueled by thousands spectating and cheering, hovering helicopters, and energetic announcers – this is the moment when dreams become reality. Without a doubt, a chicken-skin moment!

From here, athletes begin their full-day of racing with a pummeling 2.4-mile swim followed by what has notoriously become known as a hellacious hot and windy 112-mile ride through ancient and barren lava fields along the famed Queen Kaahumanu Highway, to the turnaround in Hawi, and then back to Kona. After that comes the “hard part”— a soul-drenching 26.2-mile run amidst the sweltering heat and humidity. But fortunately, there is a finish line, and oh, what a finish it is.

Saturday’s race will embrace “40 years of dreams” – 40-years since its debut in 1978 along the tranquil shores of Waikiki, Oahu, and 40-years of finish lines cemented in the memories of thousands of athletes from all over the world whose dreams have turned into reality and will forever believe the Ironman mantra that “anything is possible.”

In addition to a pro field highlighted by the defending champions, Germany’s Patrick Lange and Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf, approximately 2,500 age-group athletes are registered – the largest international field in race history representing 82 countries, regions and territories.

Hailing from the Big Island are 11 Iron-competitors — both veterans and newbies — ready to etch their names into the history books at this year’s iconic event.

A week out from the “Big Dance,” I had the pleasure of chatting with these amazing athletes as they shared some of their thoughts and advice about Race Day.

1. Peter Bresciani, Bib No. 159

Age & Hometown: 70, Captain Cook

2nd Kona IMWC

Who will be the first person you’d like to hug after the finish line?

This one is easy. My wonderful wife, Heidi.

Being that this is your second go at the IMWC, what is your favorite race-day food item?

This one is hard. Other than a breakfast of granola, yogurt, and fruit, and my nutrition during the race, I do not eat. I don’t really have a favorite food item, and I get in too late for dinner.

2. Jeni Winegarner, Bib No. 375

Age & Hometown: 61, Kailua-Kona

4th Kona IMWC

Do you have a pre-race ritual that you stick to?

48-hours prior, I do 15-minutes each of swim, bike and run, wearing/using all my race day gear, and focus on the little details. It gives me confidence that everything is race-ready. My last big meal is 15-hours pre-race. Then, two hours before the race, multigrain hot cereal and lots of fluids. Meditate and focus on gratitude.

What has motivated you to get through some of your tougher training sessions?

Feeling blessed to be able to accomplish what I can. Knowing many others wish they were able to participate in triathlon, but due to illness or injury are on the sidelines. It’s a gift I don’t take for granted.

3. Steffen Brocks, Bib No. 595

Age & Hometown: 50, Kailua-Kona

13th Kona IMWC

As a 13-year veteran of the IMWC, if you could make one change to the race, what would it be?

I would change-fix-widen the width of the bike rack wheel holders in transition – every year they need to crow bar them to get the wider rims like the Zipp Firecrest to fit.

What is your favorite race day food item?

Sour Gummy Worms, without a question.

4. Michael DeCarli, Bib No. 1272

Age & Hometown: 43, Kailua-Kona

2nd Kona IMWC

What will you be thinking about the night before the race?

Oh you know, just going over the game plan for the race so that I am mentally prepared to keep race day going smooth.

Kona is known for its blistering heat on the bike and run. What will be your sun-protection strategy?

Sunscreen, sunscreen, and more sunscreen. And I’ve been taking BioAstin three-times a day, one week out from the race to increase my skin protection from the UV rays.

5. Keish Doi, Bib No. 603

Age & Hometown: 51, Kailua-Kona

13th Kona IMWC

IMWC swim starts are known to be brutal. What advice would you give to an IM rookie on how to seed themselves at the start?

The swim in Kona is one of the most roughest and violent swims I’ve ever done. It is very important to seed yourself based on your swim speed and ability. The area near the buoy line is the most crowded, so it’s best to go out as wide as possible. Good luck!

Having done the IMWC 12 times, what aspect of the race is most enjoyable for you?

The finish line in Kona is magical. Completing any Ironman is an incredible accomplishment, but finishing in Hawaii is very, very special. Enjoy the moment!

6. Dan Gampon, Bib No. 2392

Age & Hometown: 23, Kailua-Kona

2nd Kona IMWC

If you could turn into a superhero on race day, who would it be and why?

If I could turn into any superhero on race day it would be Dash from The Incredibles. It would be cool to be Dash for race day because he’s super fast, he’s witty (just like me ha-ha), and his endurance is very good.

As a veteran of many triathlon competitions, what will be your go-to meal on the morning of the race?

My go-to meal for race morning will be “Can’t Beet Chocolate” Oats from Picky Bars. Just the right amount of calories, carbs, protein, and fats before a fun day of swim, bike, and run.

7. Jose Graca, Bib No. 1287

Age & Hometown: 43, Kailua-Kona

7th Kona IMWC

What will be in your special needs bags?

Nothing. I use everything that is offered during the race — Gatorade, water, gels. My race clothes this year do not have pockets. During the bike I have two bottles on my bike that carry most of my calories made up of Rocktane powder, BCAA (branched chain amino acids), and EFS. On the run I take salts, gels and Gatorade. But I’ll have nothing in my special needs bags.

Who do you predict will win this year’s IMWC race?

I think it will be Lionel Sanders. I think it’ll be a lot like last year with Lionel and Patrick Lange, but I think Lionel is stronger this year. For the women, definitely Daniela Ryf.

8. David Wild, Bib No. 2008

Age & Hometown: 31, Kailua-Kona

1st Kona IMWC

If you could meet anyone in the sport of triathlon, who would it be?

I want to meet the future Ironman winner 10 years from now, so that person would be a high school kid right now. So I would like to meet the future winner of the 2028 Ironman World Championships right now.

Being a teacher at Konawaena High School, what is one lesson you have learned through your IM journey and would like to pass onto your students?

I think the lesson would be to really listen to your own body. I mean really listen to it like deep down, and learn how to ignore the outside distractions of technology, hype, marketing, I mean everybody. Just really learn how to pride yourself from the inside and really respect that.

9. Michael Vrbanac, Bib No. 346

Age & Hometown: 60, Waikoloa

1st Kona IMWC

What do you plan to eat on race morning?

I plan to drink water, a cup of coffee and eat a bowl of berries, yogurt, nuts, and I might eat an egg too. Generally, I don’t eat much before races. For Olympic distance races, I don’t eat anything except maybe a gel if I feel a bit hungry.

Do you have a pre-race ritual that you stick to?

After the usual of getting up, showering and eating, I arrive at least 1.5-hours before the race, setup my bike with nutrition, pump tires, clip in shoes and then do some exercises to warm-up my body. I like to swim at least 10-minutes before racing. When racing short course, my warm-up is longer and more intense.

10. David Mattice, Bib No. 506

Age & Hometown: 59, Volcano Village

3rd Kona IMWC

They say many lessons are learned when training for an IM. What have you learned about yourself?

I think I’ve learned to not be so hard on myself when training isn’t going well or isn’t what you want it to be. It’s easy to get down when you think you haven’t put in enough time or aren’t making goals. But it’s important to accept what you’ve done as the best you could do at the time, and move on.

What do you plan to eat the night before the race?

Don’t know for sure but I’m thinking Thai with lots of sticky rice.

Other Athletes:

Marcie Eynon, Bib No. 1238

Age: F45-49

Jean Orlowski, Bib No. 773

Age: M50-54

(Will not participate)

Michael Brown, Bib No. 1448

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Age: M40-44

(Will not participate)

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