For six months or more, people like me train for an Ironman 70.3 triathlon somewhere on this planet. On Saturday, May 30, 2015, I participated in the Ironman Honu Triathlon 70.3 on Hawaii Island. It was my third time.
My first race was the fastest. Is it because I was younger? I feel like I’m in better shape now. I had a different and heavier bike back then, and that bike leg was my fastest. I’m happy that this year I beat last year’s time and that I made it across the finish line with 11 minutes to spare. Each year it had been my goal to finish under eight hours. Alas.
I was calm before the race. Packing is time consuming, but I didn’t forget anything. When I arrived in Kona and got my rental car, I drove to Target to pick up food: half and half for coffee, bananas, turkey lunch meat, veggie cream cheese, mini bagels, pickles, Lay’s wasabi-ginger potato chips, several bottles of water with electrolytes, and a big bottle of Starbucks cold brew coffee.
I checked in at race headquarters at the Fairmont Orchid resort, got my packet, dropped off my run bag (forgot to put in my visor), and attended the athlete briefing at 2 p.m. with some of my Boca Hawaii teammates. Then I crossed the grounds to get my bike, loaded it on top of my suitcase in the back of the Nissan Versa, and headed a few more miles up the road to the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. It was getting late. I filled the mini fridge, and got dressed to ride my bike to be sure all was well. It was. It felt good. I watched the sky change colors and the shadows grow across the lava fields as I went up and down the hills and up and down the gears.
Early to rise on Friday for a last morning swim with teammates in Hapuna Bay. Gorgeous, calm, clear. Is there a color somewhere between azure, turquoise, aquamarine and bluetiful? It should be called Hapuna. The Boca Hawaii folks work tightly in the months before an A race. But when it comes to the actual event, we’re encouraged to find comfort alone. During a race, a triathlete is truly working off the training and motivation that had been fortified all those months. Being alone isn’t a big deal to me. I can manage to be alone at a party and it’s OK. There were no big pre-race gatherings, just catching up with each other at race check-in, bike check-in, at the swim start, hollering for friends while M.C. Guy Hagi takes a breath.
The swim: 48:04.
Women in the oldest age group went last, and that would be me. We watched the first four groups launch and then it was our turn. We were ready for the cannon. And yet… when the cannon fired the women in front of me froze. WTF, I thought? That means GO, I said and swam through them. It was a difficult swim for me. It was hard to get out of the thrash of limbs to survival and a clear space of my own. Kicked in the head. Scratched in the legs and arms. Several times I kicked hard to get other swimmers off my legs. At one point, a woman kept swimming into my left side, pushing me out to sea. My smooth rollover resulted in no pain except that she stopped, popped up her head and called me a BITCH. Such bad manners. Clearly you do not train with Boca Hawaii. Rookie.
I was happy to pass guys in white, blue and green caps, and then women in pink caps. It is worrisome to pass the guys who should really be well over half-way done by the time I get to them. This swim time was better than last year. I felt great, despite the viciousness of some encounters. As much as I wanted to go faster in transition, it was really important to me to not be frantic. So I took advantage of the shower, got out of my speed suit, got dressed for the ride without any snafus and got launched on the bike leg with two really great pushes on my ass. I wondered how sore those guys would be later that day.
The bike: 03:51:09.
This is my favorite part of triathlons. I have always loved to ride a bike. My coaches helped me develop strategies for up and down hills. They’ve convinced me that eating on the bike is key to survival and I have learned to do it even if I don’t feel like it. This ride was great. No stiff cross winds, no slick roads, successful bottle catches and refills, no punctures, no penalties. My passes went well and sometimes I’d pass two or three others before getting back over. Love shifting efficiently enough to keep my cadence as close to 90 as I climbed the rolling hills. Love building momentum as I pushed hard on the downhill for the next climb.
Just after my turn into the Mauna Lani Bay complex, I reached down and slid each foot out of a bike shoe and rocked the rest of the ride with my feet on top. I had a serious case of hot foot because my front straps were too tight. It felt really good to wiggle my toes! When I got to transition the velcro of the right shoe held tight to my sock when I dismounted. You can’t make this stuff up! I put that shoe on the handlebar, left the other one on the pedal, and ran toward transition 2.
As an aside, something isn’t quite right with my ride. I should be faster. I think I need to do more core.
The run: 03:25:30.
I have the vision of being a fine and easy runner. The execution is way off the mark. I took off from T2 with a pretty good trot, but I couldn’t catch my breath. The hot and humid air was oppressive. My heart rate was really high. After I got through the golf course lined with friends, critics, teammates and coaches, I started to walk. It was embarrassing, but I knew that I had to walk without shame. I didn’t plan on power walking, but that’s what I did. And toward the end, I was clocking in negative splits, some of which were faster than my runs. As much as I wanted to start running, I knew it would slow me down.
I know going into this race that I have to do well on the swim and bike to bank time for the run. I knew how much time I had for the run, and so I had to build up my walking speed to under 14 minutes. Half-way through I asked to sit down to get the lava gravel out of my left shoe. It wasn’t gravel. It was just really bad blisters.
This triathlon is famous for its Road to Nowhere, but actually, the whole run is pretty crazy. What does it feel like to run through lava fields? Like you’re an ant working your way through a hot pan of brownies. When we would meander back on the golf course, the heat would radiate from the ground, it felt just as hot. Plus, the Road to Nowhere is desolate, except for the smiles and cheers from friends and volunteers and the GOATS. Last year, I asked others if they had seen the goats on that road. Everyone humored me and figured I was hallucinating (sure, the run does hurt, but not that much!). But this year others heard and saw the goats! Bleat! I didn’t expect to see them all over the golf course, trimming the greens! There’s a solid herd of goats at the Fairmont Golf Course. We have chickens all over Oahu. They have goats.
During this segment I continued to check my Garmin and my watch to be sure I didn’t slow down and that I would make it to the finish on time. Soon, I could hear Guy Hagi announcing how there were only a few more minutes left. With less than half a mile to go, I zipped up my shirt (pictures!) and started to pick up the pace with a slow run. Don’t. Fall. Down. Don’t. Feel. The. Pain. Do. Not. Have. A. Heart. Attack. Do. Not. Let. Down. Your. Team!
The deadlines for each wave had fallen one by one, and I had very little time to make it to the finish line. I told myself the whole way that it would be inexcusable to do all that training and NOT finish in time. So I really pulled out everything I had and got in 11 minutes before the race was wrapped up. My first Honu was 8:12:25, my second Honu was 8:23:56, and this Honu was 8:19:00.