by Matthew on October 11, 2012

The Kona Women

Rolling Down Hawi

What can I say?  I love the Wilson sisters out of Seattle, and this is one of my favorites in their discography.  It also provides us backdrop for the first of our two athlete profiles of the Kona Crew this year.  We lead it off with the ladies of Dynamo Multisport, since after all, these two make Erik, Drew and me appear better than we probably are and keep things a bit more classy in general.  Yes, the Ron Burgundy classy, but still at least some class.

Kathryn Honderd – Women’s 25-29

I first met Kathryn while I was coaching a Masters workout in the spring of ’09.  We were doing a drill set with the triathletes, and when I stopped her to provide some specific feedback on the drill, she had this “Really?  Eff you,” look on her face like I had just spit in her lane and called her an ugly Republican.  What I would soon learn when I began coaching her in June of that year was that she’s an information person who prefers (a) a lot of information on the how’s why’s and when’s and (b) new information packaged with a bit more advanced notice.  Beacause of this trait (and some others) I often have told Kathryn that coaching her is like coaching my sister whom I worked with at Stanford for two years in an equally fun, entertaining and at times combustible relationship.

In her first contact with me via email about coaching, she peppered me with very thoughtful and thorough questions which distinguished her immediately.  Her questions, I would find, were a sign of her commitment and her drive to do things completely and at a high level.  We, as a team, tease her about this trait, especially me, but I do so knowing that her inquisitiveness comes from the most pure of places – a drive for success.  Her background as a Division III softball player at Amherst excited me.  I love working with ex-college athletes who have performance goals because more times than not, these folks have “lived” consistency in their sporting backgrounds.  And that ability to do the work day in and day out gets you 80% of the way there.

I often tell folks that she’s the model athlete for our program.  She came in early to Dynamo Multisport.  She quickly turned into an emotional leader for our team.  She is our lead recruiter, on the forefront of reaching out to others about our program, sharing her passion about our culture with others and inviting folks (usually succussfully) to see what we’re all about.  Athletically, she is a model example.  Kathryn does the work.  She does it as prescribed to the minute to the intensity.  In fact, she does it so precisely that she often is teased when out training with a group about how to the letter she does the work.  She gets much of her confidence from the plan itself, and that confidence is fortified by completing the plan to every last detail.

Her progression to Saturday has been planned since after our first season with each other.  In her second season, she evolved into a racer.  In a second place  AG showing at New Orleans she literally ran through the women’s field, picking off competitor after competitor on the run.   Even better, was that she told me she loved that feeling of running people down.  We’ve seen it time and time again since then.  Her strength is a formidable bike leg coupled with her biggest asset, a metronome precision and consistency in running well of the bike, which is a result, I believe, of an incredible mental strength.  Simply put, the girl loves to find a way to make her body do what her mind wants it to.  This is her biggest asset for long course racing.

In that second season she went to Clearwater, if anything as a fact-finding mission.  It was her first World Championship event and we wanted to get her some experience in that environment so that when the time came for Kona, she would have seen what that “the circus” entailed.  As I like to say, “Let’s go see the circus.  Everybody loves the circus.”  Kona is indeed a world class circus.  In year three (2011), the focus race was Ironman Florida that November.  She raced the Eagleman 70.3 in June, laying down a phenomenal bike split and a “usual” solidly consistent run to place 6th in a stacked AG field at the fastest half-Iron distance race on the eastern side of the Mississippi.  In the midst of her build to Florida in late September that year, she had another breakthrough, placing 3rd in her AG at Augusta but finishing in the top 10 overall while also securing an option for a pro card with her 3rd overall amateur finish.  It was a huge confidence boost going into the final weeks before Florida.

At Florida, everything came together for her first Iron-distance race.  She executed the race plan, just as she executed each workout all season long, with precision to every detail.  She came out of the water with a great swim, the result of a lot of hard work at the discipline and a lot of time with Maria’s deft hand and impeccable eye in the pool.  Looking at her power file from the bike versus the race plan was like seeing an overlay.  In her first marathon, she took to the distance exactly what she had done race and race before at shorter distances.  Mile after mile, she turned out consistent, steady running.  She had, quite honestly, a model marathon leg.  Ten hours and twenty-three minutes later, she had finished her first Ironman, placing second in her AG and punching her ticket to Kona.

Haley Chura – Women’s 25-29

If Kathryn is like coaching my sister, I view my relationship with Haley like I do with my relationship with my daughter, Elle.  We’ve both done a lot of growning up – Coach and Athlete – with each other.  She came into the program as a 23 year-old swimmer, one year removed from an Olympic Trials swim that she had completed while finishing her second year as an accountant.  The first real memory I have of Haley was when I hopped into the water at Dynamo coming off of an extended break from the pool.  We were doing 100 repeats in adjacent lanes.  She was absolutely destroying me.  Except she was doing backstroke.  When she decided to give this triathlon thing a go, I was fortunate enough to have her come on as athlete #3 in the program.

Haley’s strength isn’t her world best swim.  It isn’t a bike that continues to improve season after season.  Nor is it a run that we’ve seen develop some professional-quality speed this year.  It’s the unmistakable forest fire that burns in her stomach for sport and racing.  She loves to race.  She loves to race warm-up, she loves to race the race, she loves to race the car ride back home from the race!  Did I mention she loves to race?  This fervor, even fury, for racing which I would liken to one of her idols, Steve Prefontaine, sometimes gets the best of her as she takes things out a bit hard.  It is both an asset and it is a liability, but it comes from the best of places.

Haley’s progression, like Kathryn, has been steep.  After Betty qualified for Hawaii in year 1 – 2009 – we sent Haley up to Rhode Island on a whim after they announced they would be providing Kona slots.  She went up to Providence and took it to the field, leading wire-to-wire and winning her AG by almost 20 minutes.  I think that was her 4th triathlon ever.  Her 2009 Kona has a bit of a mythical quality to it on our team.  Saddled by the worst of GI distress she walked a better part of 16 miles of the marathon.  That day, more so as a father than a coach, I ran out onto the Queen K a good 4 miles in to check with her and walk with her a bit.  She was in a bad place.  Not in a dangerous place but in a “I don’t know what and why my body is revolting against me” scary type of place that breeds some fear.  We talked about finishing to honor the race, to honor the Island, to honor her competitors, to honor the Champions, to honor her teammates, to honor her family and friends, and to honor herself.  She finished the race.  And to this day I believe it’s one of her proudest achievements in the sport.  For me, I know it is.  For our team, as I alluded to in an earlier post, it set the bar for our expectations of our athletes.

When we got back home from that ’09 race, somebody told me they never would have sent her to Kona to do her first Ironman.  The race was too hard for your first, they said.  When they asked me if knowing how she would have fared now, would I have sent her.  I told them unequivocally, yes.  I wanted Haley to see Hawaii and experience the sacred nature of the Island and the race.  Her performance was secondary.  The experience was all that mattered.  I, personally, wanted to see if it stirred her, if it tickled her soul and made her want more.  I don’t want to speak for her, but I know it did.  She loves Kona.  She loves this race – the tradition, the history, the heroes, the environment, even the circus.  She loves Ironman Hawaii.

To list Haley’s accomplishments in the time between then in 2009 and now in 2012 is secondary, really.  What you, the reader, need to know about her, in my eyes, is that she is a racer, and the one place, the one race she would rather race more so than any race in the world happens once a year on the first weekend after the first full moon on the Big Island of Hawaii.

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