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Banana Quarantine: Falling In and Out of Love With Ironman Kona

I qualified for the Ironman World Championship Triathlon in Kona the old-fashioned way: the train-‘til-you’ve-whittled-every-ounce-of fat-off-your-frame-so-you-can’t-help-but-be-fast way.

Above Photo By: Ian Matteson

I did seven races before I actually persuaded myself that I wanted Kona. I’m convinced the internal dialogue was the product of a few off-season nights spent bowling and drinking with my training partner, a pro. Regardless—shit got serious that year. Qualifying became an obsession.

I missed out in Florida by two seconds. I missed in Malaysia by one spot. Five weeks after Malaysia I flew to China. Third time’s the charm, right?  I got out of the swim, glanced at the clock—crap! Luckily I saw legend Ken Glah’s wild red tresses and heard “Don’t stop.” I didn’t. I finished the bike leg 66 minutes in front of the next woman. As long as I didn’t get lost on the run course, I was going to Kona!

I’ve raced on the Big Island a total of four times. I love the heat. I am built to ride through wind. Ocean swimming is my first love. I had trained 40 hours a week. I was prepared.

Usually when I get that 3 a.m. wake-up call, I’m famished. The morning of Kona nothing, not even peanut butter on a spoon, tasted good. I ate sparingly knowing I could fuel on the bike. Little did I know just how much time I would have on the bike to satiate my appetite.

I blame the nearly seven-hour bike I had that day on the banana:  that sweet, innocent fruit that even my Yellow Lab eats. Deviating from my usual nutrition plan because I had barely eaten, I took handups of bananas from every aide station on the bike. No matter how green they were, I ate them. I knew that the ‘banana quarantine’ signs were outdated and that the Bunchy Banana Top Virus (BBTV) was no longer rampant.

Kona1Photo: Jason Meredith

I knew that because they aren’t ripe, the sugars in green bananas are resistant starches, which are often better for people who need to control their blood sugar—seems like a positive in a long race. Unfortunately, what I didn’t know is that being insoluble, these starches function a lot like fiber.

I haven’t always been vegetarian in my race career, but I have always had two rules. One: Do not eat meat while traveling outside the US. Two: Do not eat fiber a few days before, and definitely not during, a race. I like to think I have an iron stomach—street food in Malaysia was a staple during race week, and in China I ate a fish that was pulled from its tank and stunned with a lacrosse stick. Leave it to the banana, even without its slippery peel, to send me reeling into seven hours of “On the bike, off the bike,” “Where is the medical van?” “Can I finish?” self-talk.

Coming to T2, I tripped dismounting my bike, nearly blacked out, and subsequently was stopped in the medical tent regardless of my protests of “I have to finish. I need my medal so I won’t come back.” I had to prove to them that I could keep food down. Gels didn’t work, and sport drink was a definite no. After 30 minutes, I managed to stuff some pretzels and pudding in my mouth and force a smile.

I didn’t eat a single banana on the run. In fact, I didn’t eat anything. All those months of diet and training dissolved as I shuffled along. I didn’t even deserve to be wearing Lycra, let alone pink Lycra. I know. I have photos.

I got my finisher’s medal. My name was even mentioned at awards, not as a top 10, top 3, or even a fastest leg split. I received the dubious honor of having the longest T2.

Kona was my last Ironman. I went off to race my bike and retired from triathlon. Recently though, a former pro appeared in Utah, a friend I haven’t seen in some time—and we had a drink.

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