Army's Connor Wernecke Looks Back on Kona Experience
The NECTC had an amazing season this year, but it is important to highlight the successes of athletes outside the NECTC season. Periodically we will feature some of those accomplishements here on the NECTC news page.
The NECTC had previous athlete Owen Kendal (BU) and current athlete Connor Wernecke (Army) compete is this seasons Ironman World Championship in Kona. Below is Wernecke's post race insight for everyone!
I had the privilege of qualifying for and attending the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii this year, held on October 11, 2014. I flew out to Kona on Tuesday of race week, and the heat and humidity of Hawaii were shocking after a few weeks of cooler temperatures in the Northeast. The race venue was incredible. The athlete expo sprawled throughout the Kailua-Kona area and down Ali’i Drive and coffee shops displayed bikes from various manufacturers. The energy was electric and the atmosphere tense but excited. Every athlete on the Big Island was treated like a pro. During bike and gear check-in, various brand representatives lined the athlete-only entrance recording the number of athletes using their brand’s equipment, and gear manufacturers handed out shirts, hats, and water bottles to customers using their equipment. A volunteer individually escorted every athlete to his or her transition spot and gear bag locations. The transition area itself was incredible, set up on the pier jutting out into Kailua Bay.
Race day dawned damp but clear. The swim start was organized chaos, with announcements booming over the loudspeakers, divers swimming beneath the athletes, and dozens of lifeguards paddling along the start line. Soon the cannon boomed and we were off! The first half passed in a blur of churning water and fighting for position, and it was only after the halfway point that I was able to settle in a little and get into a rhythm heading back toward T1.
The first 10 miles of the bike passed quickly and soon I was on the Queen K highway. I had heard about the infamous crosswinds of the lava fields in Kona, but I was entirely unprepared for the conditions that day. The winds hit around mile 30, seemingly out of nowhere, and didn’t let up for the rest of the ride. It changed directions constantly and made the entire ride a grueling experience. To give an idea of how strong the wind was, the one time it became a tailwind on the way back from Hawi I was spun out in my hardest gear hitting over 40 mph on flat and rolling terrain. Unfortunately, this lasted for only about 5 miles and soon the winds once again became unfavorable and stayed that way all the way back in to T2.
Heading out onto the run was a daunting feeling. I had never run a marathon before, and had been fighting a knee injury for about 8 weeks before the race so this was the part I had dreaded most. I cruised through the first 10 miles and headed out onto the Queen K for the second time that day. The next 16 miles out to the Natural Energy Lab and back were much more difficult mentally than physically. After a couple hours on the Queen K, I turned onto the home stretch on Ali’i Drive just as the sun was setting, and ran down the finishing chute and across the finish line. It was definitely a surreal experience, and as cliché as it might sound, very difficult to comprehend how far you have pushed your body after your first Ironman. It is a great distance and I definitely plan to return to it many times in the future, but for now I am content to stick to the shorter distances for a few years.