The Road To (and From) Kona

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

What an amazing week or so – I was finally able to realize a long-time dream of completing the Ironman World Championships in Kona Hawaii.

This is the “big one” in the world of triathlon – the top athletes – the lava fields – the heat and wind – the history…

When I was a young elite-level up-and-coming triathlete “back in the day” – I held a professional license and would qualify to compete at Kona on a nearly weekly basis. But in those days, I was also a starving student and couldn’t imagine being able to afford an expensive plane ticket to Hawaii – so I always passed my slot down to the next athlete.

As I got older and moved along in my career, I kept competing (though not at the elite-level) as a way to stay in shape physically and mentally. Racing triathlons became a family-affair and an “excuse” to travel to some amazing places for events in New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, South Africa, and many more – but the qualification slot for Kona became very elusive. Now that I could afford to fly to Hawaii, I wasn’t fast enough to secure a qualification!

After 22 Iron-distance events, I finally secured a Kona slot through the Executive Challenge program at Ironman Chattanooga in 2019 – but then the worldwide COVID19 pandemic caused the cancellation of Kona in 2020 and 2021 – so 2022 was special in a lot of ways for a lot of people.

After over 3 years of training and waiting, it was simply magical to experience Kona in all its glory. We had great weather – hot as expected but not nearly as windy as it could have been. My objective going into the race was to ENJOY the entire experience. I have a habit of going too hard on the bike portion (my “best” event) and then struggling on the run – so this year, I wanted to follow a plan – enjoy the swim (and look at the reef fish), ride steady on the bike (and take in the lava field vistas), run conservatively (to avoid the death march), and offer support and encouragement to my fellow competitors (it can be a long day out there and every “atta boy” helps).

I’m happy to say that the day went 100% according to plan – I enjoyed the entire experience and came across the line with a smile on my face (a big part of that smile was having my wife of 28-years, Julie, there to greet me at the finish line – she has been my biggest supporter over all these years and there is no way that I could do any of the things that I do without her).

Everyone second-guesses their race – thinking about where they could have saved time (I spent about 30min in transitions and aid stations) – or where they could have gone faster (I probably could have pushed harder on the bike or run more of the uphills) – but at the end of the day, it’s whether the overall experience is a net-positive or a net-negative, and I have to say that Kona 2022 was hugely on the positive side for me.

I think that it is also important to look at triathlon as a metaphor for life – not just about your finish time on the clock – but more about the entire journey – with yourself mentally and physically – with your friends and family who support every aspect of your training – and ultimately with how having a hobby like this helps to enrich your life and the lives around you.

Thanks to everyone who followed me during the race (and before and after) – I could feel your good vibes pushing me along and lifting me up! Mahalo!

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

  • Mahalo, Shawn.
    Over the moon for you! I remember you mentioning this many times and how special it would be to compete. I’m so glad you got there and enjoyed the experience. Wonderful to have you as the model for us to follow concerning our dreams!!! ?? ??

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