by T.J. Murphy

American triathlete Linsey Corbin is once again qualified and preparing to toe the line at the Ironman World Championship in Kona. Since 2006, Corbin, who currently resides in Bend, Oregon, has been a regular, citing one of her favorite Hawaii Ironman performances being 2013 when she finished 10th after year-long struggle with a stress fracture.

Although she wasn’t able to compete in 2015, last year she took up the opportunity to watch the race from a unique point of view: As a volunteer, including helping out with the body marking. It surely must have given some of the racers a bright moment in the nervous moments before the start, when a woman who had clocked an 8:42 Ironman (Ironman Austria in 2014) was writing a number on your leg.

[Corbin spoke with LAVA about the ups and downs of 2015 on the podcast]

Along with volunteering, Corbin also watched the 2015 race with her husband, Chris Corbin, and, as the told Bob Babbitt in Kona on Monday, it was a Looking Glass experience for her.

“I kept asking my husband, ‘Is it always this hot?’”

She also was stunned as she watched racers collapse from the heat and effort. It offered Corbin a layer of insight on how best to approach the event: Self-management and patience are the ball game.

“You have to keep it together mentally,” she said. It’s why, she explained, that one of her favorite triathletes is Rachel Joyce. “I think it’s because she has an attorney background.”

Kona is a particular beast in this regard because of the competition, Corbin explained.

“A lot of Ironmans I’m the favorite.” The Ironman World Championship offers the veteran a different perspective. “[Making the turn in Hawi] I hear ‘you’re in 17th place’ or that I’m 25 minutes behind Chrissie or Daniela. It’s humbling. You hear those deficits and you think, ‘No way.’ But there is a way.”

Corbin’s goal on Saturday is pretty straight forward: Be steady. Manage the nutrition. “Focus on myself and focus on my race.”

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The following are the observations Corbin had watching the Hawaii Ironman as a volunteer and spectator in 2016 from her blog.

It’s pretty freaking awesome. I said to Chris one morning watching the kazillions of fit, lean, strong & tanned athletes run past our condo pre-race, “This has to be one of the largest congregations of the most fit people in the world in one place at one time.”

Pressure. You could cut the tension with a knife on our plane flight in. You can see it in all the athletes eyes: driven, focused, serious. The amount of pressure and emphasis that I saw placed on this race was incredible. Being on both sides of the fence now, personally, this is something I hope to alleviate moving forward. My hope it to treat Ironman Hawaii like JAR = Just Another Race. The truth is, Kona is just another Ironman – it just happens to be really tough and have a World Championship attached to it’s name.

Nutrition & pacing matters. No questions here. The athletes that nailed their nutrition plans did great. There was a lot of suffering on the Queen K during the marathon. A large portion of these mistakes came from not fueling properly, mis-pacing and overheating. These are mistakes that are super challenging to rebound from, particularly in Kona due to the harsh conditions. This was really evident the last 15km of the run. If you can get to the last 15km of the marathon prepared to be running – or at least moving forward in a reasonable matter – you’ll make up a ton of time on others. 

Put your blinders on. In the professional field, a few athletes in particular had incredible days due to racing with blinders on (or at least it appeared that way). I noticed that all day they were calm, collected and most importantly appeared to be in control. Neither of them were affected by what their competition was doing, where they were at in the field, or splits to the lead. They were focused on themselves all the way to that line and ended up with some nice umeke bowls (top-10 finishes).  

It was a hot marathon. The conditions this year were really hot. I wasn’t far out on the bike course, so I can’t speak for the winds, but it appeared to be not as windy and hotter-than-hot with zero cloud cover for the marathon. This changed the dynamics of the race compared to the past few years where we have seen a bit of cloud cover on the run.

Kona takes no prisoners. The best way I can describe Ironman Hawaii is that it is like drawing from a deck of cards – everyone goes in with a blank slate and you really don’t know what hand you will get. I felt really bad for some of the professional athletes that I know personally, to see their days ended early or badly due to unfortunate luck, bad mechanical juju, the elements taking over, etc… Kona doesn’t seem to discriminate when it comes to success or bad races. 

Spectating is fun. Witnessing the spirit of our sport: athletes suffering, pushing limits, feeling personally challenged and then rebounding (sometimes multiple times throughout the day), the support of others carrying you in times of need, competitors helping fellow competitors, champions rising, champions falling, acts of resiliency, tenacity, grit & grace. This. This is what it’s all about.

For more of Linsey’s writing, go here.