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Lauren Vallee's Kona Experience

A competitor in this year's women's-only Ironman World Championships shares her race experience

Lauren Vallee - pictured second from right

Lauren Vallee is a multiple Ironman and 70.3 World Championship qualifier, a performance Triathlon coach, and Depth Psychotherapist. She shares her unique race week experience from Kona.

Observations from Race Week

The vibe of this year’s women’s only event was, in the simplest terms, easy. It felt like the anxiety that seems to build throughout the week at Kona was less and that was noteworthy and welcome. I was one of the first athletes to check in at 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning, and as I waited in the queue, it was quieter than I remember last year. It felt like there was more space between us physically and like we weren’t pushing each other forward like crammed in sardines. These are small differences, but over the course of the week seemed to really add up.

Race day was incredible. There was zero issue with men interfering with the age group or professional race. That may not seem like a big deal to age group men, but it really does impact the women’s race a TON. Daniela Ryf mentioned as much in the pro press conference. Weaker swimmers can be pulled up into the fight for the age group race and this can be a big deal on a race course like Kona. So knowing this wasn’t an option, or it wasn’t impacting the general race really changes the race dynamic as a whole.

Oh, and to be clear, the swim this year was one of the most brutal battles I’ve experienced here or anywhere else - so don’t tell me women aren’t competitive - I was psyched to come out of the swim without a black eye.

To hear that everyone got out to the water before the cut-off was incredible, and to hear there was a 2% DNF rate, speaks to the level of commitment these athletes showed in their preparation for this event. So honestly, anyone who’s been saying increasing the number of slots for women ‘lessens’ anything about the world championships or that Ironman just did this for the money is missing the point. The best women, and non-binary triathletes, made it to Kona, prepared.

Seeing the faces of children light up when their moms ran made me hopeful for the next generation of triathletes. I do think more women competing means the level of competition is going to be raised. This may not happen overnight, but give it a few more years and I think we’ll start to see the general average times for qualifiers and Kona finishing times drop.

Finally, there’s really been a lack of high-profile women coaches in triathlon. I think a women’s only race provided more opportunities for women coaches and supporting professionals (nutritionists, etc) to be seen and heard as the experts they are! Feisty Media did a phenomenal job providing race week content and coverage using the many women professionals in the field.

Race Week Anecdotes

I went to the Kona pool early race week. Last year, the pool management eventually had locals swimming in certain lanes and athletes in others. Knowing this, I walked up to a lifeguard to ask where they wanted visiting athletes to swim and the lifeguard (without hesitation said) “oh it’s only women this year, swim wherever you want”.

I was on a panel for Feisty Media with Craig Alexander. After the panel, we were chatting and he mentioned being asked multiple times what he thought of the men’s and women’s race being separated. I was thrilled when I heard him say that we need to let the women decide if it’s better or not. I wholeheartedly agree with him and I thanked him for saying as much.

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