I've been to the Big Island several times. Although the bike course is not rated as difficult as some of the other Ironman courses, when you ask a finisher who's just battled the heat, humidity and terrific winds, they may differ with that assessment. A lot. The Kona Athlete Guide notes " 'Challenging' and 'inspiring' are terms often used to describe the IRONMAN World Championship presented bike course."
They also note "Kona’s highways are only two lanes, and drivers are not accustomed to large numbers of cyclists and runners on the roads. The IRONMAN World Championship has become famous for special care of athletes during the race. This “Aloha” is given freely by our 5,000 volunteers. When training, please be courteous and aware that those sharing the roads with you are the people you will count on during race day to fulfill your physical and emotional needs. Please ride single file." Hmm, the athletes help the volunteers; turns out life really is a two way street.
With the swim behind him or her, the athlete heads north for Kawaihae and ultimately the turn around at the village of Hawi where they experience a great sense of relief knowing that in one sense, the race is half over.
Their hair is drying, they're thinking about the first bike aid station, their fueling plan, not getting a drafting penalty, stuff like that when right by the roadside, living in the lava so to speak, they get a glimpse of something they've not seen before.
|A solitary cross on the Kona bike route|
And they don't ride more than a couple more miles when they spy:
If they were to come back after the race, stop and carefully examine these, about 35 of these lava memorials are found on the Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway north of Kailua-Kona. Many are anonymous but some have elaborate poems, contents that likely belonged to what you can only assume is a lost loved one. There are basketballs, base ball gloves, necklaces and hats. You learn that many of these are for children. Children who used to play with that basketball or those beads.
This 112 mile bike is unlike any other. The whole Hawaiian experience, Kona is so much more than just another race.