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Runnin’ with Rani: Ironman afterglow fuels inspiration for many

October 20, 2017 - 12:05am

While the “Road to Kona” may have come to a grand finale on Saturday for 2,400 athletes who crossed triathlon’s prestigious finish line, for many, the day and even the weeks following the Ironman World Championships marks the beginning of a personal and inspirational journey of their own.

Anyone who took a drive, stroll or run along the famed Alii Drive on Sunday, or a dip in the beautiful azure waters of Kailua Bay, probably noticed newcomers and old-timers to the sport — of all ages, sizes, and fitness levels — basking in the euphoric energy still lingering in the air.

While the magnitude of witnessing such an incredible display of perseverance, humility, and personal achievement may seem surreal for the thousands who spectated or volunteered, it is undeniable that the Ironman World Championship leaves lasting impressions of inspiration to us all in some way or another.

It is what I call the Ironman Afterglow.

Nicole Lewien, who had been volunteering with her husband over the last month to help Ironman organizers with setup and other details, admitted to being swept by the Ironman Afterglow after watching her first triathlon ever on Saturday.

“Before this we had never really thought about Ironman,” the 23-year-old Kailua-Kona resident said. “I’ve never watched a triathlon before. But we’ve been helping out and meeting a lot of athletes while doing it so there was a lot of anticipation beforehand.”

Lewien said that she and her husband volunteered and cheered for athletes from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m.

“It was amazing! We both now want to do one,” Lewien said. “Just watching the different age groups and the different disabilities who were competing was amazing. Before this, my husband said that he could never do an Ironman. But after watching all of these people, he’s now thinking, ‘I think I can do this.’”

Ben Halpern agreed that watching Saturday’s world championship race right in his backyard inspired him as well, and hopes to keep the motivation going during his run training sessions for the upcoming Reebok Ragnar Hawaii slated for November 4-5.

“Just the dedication and hard work that goes into it and also knowing that each individual athlete is doing it for themselves,” said the 32-year old of Saturday’s event. “Obviously the pros are out there to compete for prize money, but just the diversity of the competitors were pretty inspirational. I saw blind runners, paraplegics, firefighters, an 85-year-old Japanese man and 18-year-old foreigners coming in, so it was pretty inspirational to see all of that.”

Melissa Braswell, who has been the run course coordinator for Ironman over the last four years and also co-owns Big Island Running Company with her husband, Jason, was designated to drive the sag vehicle behind the final runners on Saturday night.

While Braswell admitted that the hardest part was watching competitors struggle along the run course as it got closer to midnight, this very inspirational display of the human spirit is what often brings newbies to join her Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday run groups the week after, all wanting to get fit.

This year was no different as a mass gathered in front of the Big Island Running Company store for Braswell’s Couch To 5K program that began Tuesday afternoon at 5 p.m.

“People see the race, whether they are volunteering or spectating, and just seeing people out racing they get inspired to start,” Braswell said. “They may not be tackling an Ironman soon, but maybe getting off the couch to try some running or find something that works for them. The Couch to 5K program is a great way to do that. It starts today and goes till December’s Jingle Bell Beach Run.”

Now in its 8th year, the popular Couch To 5K program is a free, nine-week run training program that basically gets one off the couch and properly trained to participate in the island’s largest 5K running event, the Jingle Bell Beach Run.

The program begins with walk/run intervals, and then progresses until participants feel confident that they can complete the entire 5K-distance (3.1-miles) without stopping.

Participants wanting to join the Couch To 5K program will meet at the Big Island Running Company store on Alii drive, Tuesday and Thursdays at 5 p.m, and Saturday’s at 6:30 a.m. Braswell also offers regular run groups for more advanced runners (year round) at those same times. All runs are free.

“This year’s Couch To 5K program is a little different as usually there is a week between Ironman and the start of the program,” Braswell said. “But having it right after Ironman really works, as it has every year, and we usually have about 15-20 people.”

For Lewien, the Ironman Afterglow already has her thinking about training for her first triathlon — like next year’s Lavaman Waikoloa Olympic-distance triathlon. But for now, she plans to continue running and increasing her distance with Braswell’s fun and sociable group runs.

“Right now we are just running. While I have a bike and rode a couple of times, I really don’t know anything about riding. And swimming is something we’ve never done so we are coming in a bit blind, but we definitely want to do a triathlon.”

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