... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Kawaihae--Hawi and Back Again: Take Two

The first ride I did after my move, and the one that informed me in no uncertain terms that cycling on Oahu does nothing to prepare you for cycling on the Big Island, was the 34.75-mile stretch from the harbor at Kawaihae to the town of Hawi, nestled against a mountain at about 1200 feet. When I started out I had imagined a 35-mile ride akin to the rides I had been doing on Oahu -- mostly flat with a few short but steep hills. I quickly learned how wrong I was. When I made it back to my house, my legs felt like overcooked spaghetti and all I could do was lay on my living room floor and gasp for air, so you can imagine the pervasive feeling of fear that was creeping into my consciousness when Sean and I decided to do it again.

This time, rather than start in Hawi and end on the horrible, soul-killing 7-mile-long hill leading up to it, we drove down to Kawaihae, parked the car, and started from there, thus getting the ugly part out of the way before ending on a satisfying downhill. Since I have been riding shorter 13-16-mile portions of this road in the past few weeks it had a familiar sense that made it less daunting. More importantly, I found that knowing that there was a 7-mile hill coming up made it much more manageable, if for no reason other than that I knew to abandon all hope of reaching a point of relief. In fact, any time I started hoping I was near the end I just repeated "you're going to be going uphill forever. You're never downhill again" to myself, and although that mantra seems depressing it kept my mind in the right place and allowed me to focus on pushing through rather than hoping for relief.

The ride down, as I remember it from before, is deceptively difficult. The first seven miles are (obviously) a glorious downhill, but at mile eight you quickly realize that long downhills can be a curse of sorts as well because your legs relax and feel unprepared for the uphills that are still plentiful on the return route. Whereas during the 7-mile hill your legs seem to eventually become accustomed to the reality of the situation and reach a new level of consistent strength/power/numbness, the up-down-up-down of the descent allow no such adjustment.

There are several observations that I think are important. Well, how important they are is debatable, but I want to write about them so here they are:

1. Bike fitting is incredibly important. I know, all of you cycling aficionados are rolling your eyes at me right now because obviously bike fitting is important, but as I mentioned in my last post my approach to triathlon up to this point has been more of a "take what you can get for free, make it work" philosophy. Now that I have a beautiful bike, it seems disrespectful to its engineering to not to have it in prime working order, which includes the fit. I had been having pretty severe amounts of back pain since I started using the bike, but I am happy to report that it has completely disappeared since they moved the aero bars closer to the saddle. Weird how stretching your back and neck too far for hours at a time results in pain... now I'm free!

2. I would like to once again sing the praises of clipless pedals. I did this ride faster than the first time, largely because of my new pedal/cleat/shoe set up. About ten miles into the ride I figured out how to hold my foot to really take advantage of the "pull" (upward) portion of the pedal stroke and my oh my, did it ever make a difference! Immediate speed change.

3. I have a very strange, borderline obsessive love of grape Gatorade. Outside of exercising, I think Gatorade is kind of gross. Watered-down and slightly salty is not my idea of a good beverage, but put me on a bike and suddenly it is the nectar of the Gods, the liquid embodiment of all things satisfying and delicious. I don't know how to explain it, but it's definitely weird.

So there you go. I am quickly learning that being familiar with a route is an invaluable tool, because mental preparation is hugely important. My next step is to go ride the Lavaman Keauhou course a few times. Perhaps by November I can have it conquered.

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