domenica 28 ottobre 2012

Eva Kovacs, "l'Ironman? Un'esperienza memorabile!"

CREDERCI! "If you can dream it, you can do it!".
Chi è Eva Kovacs?
Nata 43 anni fa, sono cresciuta in Ticino, più precisamente a Minusio.
A 19 anni ho lasciato il Ticino per studiare Scienze Alimentari al Politecnico di Zurigo. Dopo gli studi mi sono trasferita in Olanda (Maastricht University) per lavorare nella ricerca scientifica, nel campo dell’ alimentazione sportiva (Isostar) prima e del trattamento dell’ obesità poi, dove ho anche conseguito il dottorato. Per circa 10 anni, di cui gli ultimi 6 anni negli Stati Uniti (appena fuori New York), ho lavorato per la multinazionale Unilever come Nutrition Manager occupandomi dei prodotti SlimFast e Lipton.

Lo sport è sempre stato importante per me. Ho praticato l’atletica leggera (nella Virtus di Locarno) per quasi 20 anni, sprint e ostacoli. Il primo contatto con il triathlon l’ho avuto nel 1986, a 17 anni, quando ho participato al triathlon di Locarno (allora chiamato Ironman Locarno, anche se era una distanza olimpica ;-)) senza nessuna preparazione o equipaggiamento specifico (ho usato la bici con cui mi recavo a scuola). Erano altri tempi… Ho cominciato ad allenarmi più o meno seriamente per il triathlon quando mi sono trasferita in Olanda. Nel 1998 ho partecipato al mio primo Ironman, a Roth in Germania. Un'esperienza fantastica. Nel frattempo ho partecipato in 21 gare di distanza Ironman, in Europa e nel Nord America (spero in un prossimo futuro di gareggiare anche in Australia e Nuova Zelanda).

Per me il triathlon è una passione, una maniera di vivere. Mi tiene sana nel corpo e nella mente. Mi ha dato l’ opportunità di conoscere triathleti di tutto il mondo e, tramite le gare e i campi d’allenamento, ho potuto visitare posti fantastici. Non ho aspettative di vittoria o di grandi prestazioni a gare importanti (a Kona sono arrivata tramite la Ironman Legacy Program), ma ogni volta che arrivo al traguardo di una gara, e in particolare di un Ironman, la soddisfazione è enorme, perché il mio obiettivo è semplicemente quello di superare gli ostacoli che incontro e di non abbandonare mai. Spero anche di essere un’ispirazione per altri atleti come me. Quelli che sono nati senza particolari talenti e che magari non hanno le possibilità di allenarsi come “professionisti”, a causa di lavoro, famiglia o altri obblighi. Credici: “If you can dream it, you can do it!”

Il report di Eva sull'Ironman

Dear friends,

I am back to “real life” after participating in the 2012 Ironman World Championship in Kona and spending a week of vacation on the Big Island that brought me to see very impressive places such as the Volcanoes National Park, several National Historical Parks and beautiful beaches and to swim/snorkel with beautiful aquatic creatures (including turtles and manta rays).

The week leading up to the Ironman race was exciting and nerve wracking at the same time.
Exciting because Kona was filled with triathletes, professionals and age groupers from all over the world, most of which arrived at least a week prior to the race to acclimatize to the weather and to adapt to the time difference, and exhibitors showcasing tons of triathlon related products – always a very tempting experience “Do I need a new pair of shoes? A new bike jersey? Compression socks? A GPS watch? Etc.”
Nerve wracking because on my first day I woke up with a very stiff neck that would not allow me any head movement without major pain. Not ideal just a few days before the race. Thanks to the stretching and the adjusting (‘cracking’) by the ART (Active Release Therapy) team every morning leading to the race, I was luckily pain free on race day.
My training during the pre-race week included no runs and only one bike ride on the Queen K Highway to get an idea of the to expect temperatures and winds (which were blowing opposite to what we would experience on race day). But I swam every morning in the clear ocean waters with hundreds of other triathletes. I also stopped a few times at the catamaran that served coffee in the water a few hundred meters from the shore (indeed, you drink your coffee while you are in the water and not on the catamaran). Other pre-race activities included the Parade of the Nations (where I paraded with the Swiss team), an interview with a travel blogger (, the Legacy Athlete Reception, the Mandatory Pre-Race Briefing, and the E Komo Mai (Welcome) Banquet.
During the Legacy Athlete Reception I had the opportunity to meet some legends of the triathlon sport, like Paula Newby-Fraser (eight times winner in Kona), “Aussie” Greg Welch (the first non-American triathlete to win in Kona), Heather Fuhr (one time winner in Kona), Julie Moss and Kathleen McCartney (both back 30 years after that legendary 1982 Ironman race that inspired and started so many people in the sport of triathlon), Mike Reilly (the Voice of Ironman) as well as Diana Bertsch (the Event Director) and Andrew Messick (the WTC Director who created the Legacy Program). A special occasion were the Legacy Athletes who were selected to race in this edition of the Ironman World Championship were praised for their determination “You might not be born with the speed, but you are tough, determined and never give up!”.

But more about the race… What a memorable day!

As usual for any Ironman race, the day started early with the alarm going off at around 4:00 am. The condo was on Ali’i Drive so it only took about 15 min to get to the start/transition area. After getting the bib number (#1236) on my arms, having my weight measured, bringing my nutrition to the bike and making the necessary stop at the porta potty, I couldn’t wait to start the day. The professional triathletes took off at 6:30 am (men) and at 6:35 am (women), while nearly 2000 age groupers were waiting for their turn to get into the water for the start at 7:00 am.

Because Ironman is a mass start, normally you have people in front of you, behind you, to either side of you, and occasionally swimming on top of you. This can be a frightening and claustrophobic experience. Luckily the start was much less dramatic this time. Many of the participants were age groupers that qualified by reaching a top ranking in an earlier Ironman race, meaning that most of the participants would swim far much faster than I do. This made it for a relatively quite swim as I “only” had to fight the swells for 2.4 miles (3.8 km). My feeling was that I swam well, but my time was somewhat disappointing (1:46), though I understood that this is not a particularly fast swim course. Nevertheless it was a very enjoyable swim in clear ocean waters with lots of colored fish to look at.

The transition from the swim to the bike went smoothly. Volunteers help you with pretty much everything and their support is always greatly appreciated. Sunscreen was applied twice but it seemed not enough against the unforgiveable Hawaiian sun. Some spots were missed and I got sunburned here and there, as usual.

The bike started with a short loop through town (this already provided an indication on how tough the bike portion would be) before we made our way toward Hawi on the Queen K Highway. The course took us through lava fields. For miles and miles you don’t see much else than black lava on both sides of the roads. There is little vegetation and barely any buildings, so it was nice to occasionally see spectators along the road. The bike started well since the course didn’t appear too challenging and the winds were mostly favorable. However, things changed dramatically when we started the slow ascent from Kawaihae to Hawi where strong head- and cross-winds slowed us down and were accompanied by rain which persisted for a little hour (I wasn’t prepared for the rain but I didn’t mind its somewhat cooling effect). After the turnaround in Hawi it was a fairly smooth ride back to Kawaihae. This is where the hell started for me - full exposure to sun, heat magnified by the radiation from the black lava along the road and foremost the strong head- and cross-winds. The feeling was that I was barely moving forward and that the aid station were not coming early enough. I thought that my bike computer was broken since the numbers indicating the distance seemed to remain the same for too long and my pace was only a 10-12 km per hour at times. My feet were screaming and my legs started to give up. This is where the demons started talking to me “Is this what triathletes train for, year on year? Is this what triathletes call one of the greatest experience in their lives? Is this the goal and dream of almost every triathlete? Really?”. It was tough, painful, challenging, tiring, still a long day ahead “What is great about that?”. Then my thoughts went a few years back, when I started racing triathlon, when I had to go on training camp early in the season to be able to keep up with my team on their training rides, when I barely could make the cut-offs at races, when most of the times I would race against a handful of athletes because none of the “commoners” would sign up for a race that had a 6-hour cut-off on a half and a 14-hour cut-off on a full Ironman distance triathlon, when finishing second or third to last was my only goal, etc. When I however also decided not to give up the sport I loved just because it wasn’t always easy or fun. Several years later here I am, at the 2012 Ironman World Championship, and I am going to get to the finish no matter what. The bike time ended up to be a disappointing (but not surprising) 7:20, but I was glad to be back in the transition area.

The transition again went smoothly. Me and fellow Legacy Athlete Susan were in the transition tent at the same time and started the run together.

The marathon course took us first through downtown Kona on Ali’i drive for a total of ca. 15 km. Many spectators were cheering along this portion of the course. I was also very fortunate to see a beautiful sunset while running. I also got briefly videotaped and interviewed, but I doubt that it was for the 2-hour recap that will air next Saturday on NBC. When I was back on the Queen K Highway, the sun had already gone down, meaning that I had to run (and walk) the last ca. 25 km in complete darkness and with barely any spectators along the road. Fellow Legacy Athlete Larry joined me for a few miles of running/walking under a sky filled with starts “what a great sight”. The Energy Lab was tough enough even at night. I can only imagine how brutal it must be to run through it in daylight under the excruciating sun and heat. Finally I was running back to Kona with a light tailwind, only a few miles more to go. Once in Kona, we had to make a small loop were spectators were shouting, applauding, dancing, and making all kind of noise. This was nothing compared to the welcoming cheers on Ali’i drive. The last few hundred meters made all the suffering of the day worth it “Really? Yes, really!”. I was so happy (see photo) that even forgot to check my time. The time was not important, moreover it seemed that this was an extremely difficult edition of the race. Just for the record. my official time appeared to be 15:09:59.

Some other memorable moments…
Harriett Anderson beat the 17-hour cut off by only 40 seconds. She was the last finisher and, at age 76, also the oldest female finisher. Unfortunately, Sister Madonna Buder, age 82, didn’t make the cut-off on the bike, but I am sure that she will be back next year. She remains my hero. Three out of five athletes in the 80+ male division made it to the finish under 17 hours, with the winner Hiromu Inada of Japan setting a new division record in an impressive 15:38. But most impressive is how young and fit these “oldies” look - very inspirational.

This was ironman distance race #21. People have asked me what’s next on the agenda… The 2012 season that started with IM 70.3 Panama in January, and was followed by IM 70.3 San Juan in March, IM 70.3 Eagleman in June, IM Austria in July, IM Mt. Tremblant in August and finally IM Kona (yes, a long list) has come to an end. So next on the agenda is some time to recover and to set new goals for next year and beyond. But surely I will be back with more races and stories…

MAHALO to everyone who shared with me this journey, whether in person (as personal supporting crew, spectator, athlete or stranded passenger on our way from Newark to Kona) or through the many messages with useful advice, motivating messages, good luck wishes, congrats, etc.


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