... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ironman 70.3 Hawaii 2015 Race Recap

After so much preparation, it's tough to put a big race into words that adequately describe the experience. Such is definitely the case here. Although I've done several triathlons and races in the last year, including Hilo triathlon, XTerra, and the Hilo Marathon, none of them have had that feeling of being BIG that I got before my first sprint triathlon and Lavaman Keauhou. Perhaps that is the nature of moving up in distance.

All my gear, ready to go
I had trained pretty impeccably. I didn't skip workouts (except for one bike ride when we were so exhausted we could barely think and just knew our bodies needed rest more than training) and I've been eating well so I went in feeling like I'd done pretty much everything I could, but the days before the race I still ended up with significant butterflies darting around my stomach. This race was important to me, and it felt like it. I was also ridiculously excited, and spent Thursday and Friday driving around blasting pump up music and dancing in my car to Ariana Grande, Pharrell, and LMFAO. Please don't judge me.

I scheduled my bike check-up for Wednesday before the race, but got an unfortunate call from BikeWorks that night saying that my brakes were about to go out (news to me, although they had felt awfully flimsy recently) and my deraileur was bent nearly beyond recognition (this I knew, but had been avoiding it -- Rich at Bike Works had bent it into submission so that it wouldn't stick but did rob me of my highest gear). At their strong urging I told them to go ahead with the repairs, and they promised to have it done in time and bring it to their Waikoloa store from the Kona one so it would be easier for me to pick up. Big thank you to Bike Works for making that happen.

The logistics of race day were much different than what I had done before, with bike check-in the night before, and dropping off T2 bags at the athlete check-in on Friday because there are two different transition areas. It seemed really complicated until I did it, and then it all fell into place pretty easily. I picked up my bike in Waikoloa, tried it out (holy cow, brakes! Extra gear that hadn't worked in 2 years!), and headed over to Hapuna to dorp off our bikes. The T1 transition area was bigger than any I'd ever been in before, and I marked and re-marked where I'd put my bike when dropping it off so I wouldn't get lost the next morning. Then, we headed home to rest, eat, and get to bed early. I started sipping Gatorade the night before in hopes of loading up on electrolytes.

I half-slept, half imagined myself racing most of the way through the night. I've long since given up on getting a good night's sleep the night before a race, so I tried to just relax and picture positive outcomes. We were back up at 4AM to eat (half a cinnamon raisin bagel, yogurt, and part of a Naked Green Machine smoothie, my go-to race morning meal), gather our things, catch the shuttle bus, and go to our transition area to prepare. Since I've had trouble feeling woozy and getting cramps on the bike in several races, I was determined to fuel more before the start, so I kept drinking my Gatorade and had 3 Clif chews, including 2 with added salt.

Starting at Hapuna, where I've done countless early morning swims, was surprisingly comforting. It felt like visiting an old friend, and as the sun rose I walked down to the water to take it all in. The sky and water were bathed in purple and pink, and the sand felt familiar between my toes. I looked out over the water, thought about all of my workouts there and how many beautiful mornings I'd spent with the ocean brushing over me as I swam, and felt a nice calm settle over me. I took a deep breath and walked back up to the transition area, just in time to grab my swim cap, goggles, one more chew, and kiss Sean goodbye and good luck as he headed to the start chute. (Young men start first, then older men, then young ladies, and finally the older women.)

I swear, this is my normal smile!
The next part is a little fuzzy. Somehow I got down to the start chute, where I smiled for what I thought was a cute photo but now laugh about because you can see the nervousness written all over my face. Before I knew it, I was in the water. As always, I seeded myself about a third of the way back from the front of the pack. There was a cheer as the countdown began, and then, with a cannon blast, we were off!

The swim is also a bit of a blur. I remember seeing someone backstroking in the midst of the mob kicking and flailing around the first turn and thinking it was weird (I found out later, after asking around, that it is a technique that is highly unnecessary if you're just an average age group athlete not vying for a podium spot designed to help you make a clean turn -- back stroke just past the buoy, then flip over onto your stomach facing the correct direction). I remember seeing a lone white swim cap far, far below me on the ocean floor, and wishing there were some fish around to look at (so weird, the things that cross my mind during a race!). I remember when I passed my first male competitor, and the rush I felt. And I remember elbowing some All World girl as hard as I could because she and her other All World friends had intentionally created a V-shaped line up in the water, to prevent people from passing them. Yeah, I was mad. It made me feel better when I beat them out of the water. Otherwise, my memory of the swim fades into "go, go, go, go, keep up the pace, keep up the pace..." My arms and lungs felt the burn but I swam hard because I knew it's my strong area and I wouldn't need my arms for the rest of the race. By my count after the race, I came out of the water 17th in my division of 56. I was happy.

T1 went smoothly -- I doused myself in sunscreen and ran my bike up to the mount line, which was placed cruelly on a short but steep hill. Volunteers were helping athletes get balanced on their bikes and then pushing them to get enough momentum going so as not to just tip over. I felt the push, pedaled hard, and off I went. A big thank you to everyone who volunteers, as I probably would have ended up on the ground without you!

The first part of the course is an 8-mile total down and back in the opposite direction as most of the ride. I was getting passed quite a lot during this portion, and I couldn't decide if I should be disappointed in how slow I was biking (that all these people were faster than me on the bike) or extremely happy about how fast I swam (that all of these people were slower than me on the swim). I tried to choose happy but was a little frustrated.

As we completed the out and back and headed up toward Hawi, things settled in. I was feeling good -- none of the nausea or dizziness that has haunted my previous bike starts. I attribute this to fueling more before the swim. I stopped getting passed which made me feel better, too. For quite a while there, it seemed like everyone was riding at nearly identical pace, which very little movement in the order of riders. The wind was manageable, for which I was incredibly grateful.

The rest of the ride up to Hawi was uneventful except for one unfortunate fellow who seemed have completely missed all discussion about passing rules, as he blissfully rode out of line to the left, in the passing lane, with no intention of passing whatsoever. He was slow, but I was unwilling to take the risk of getting a penalty for going triple-wide to get around him so I tried yell as politely and quietly as I could, "excuse me! Passing on the left!.... excuse me, I need to pass.... sir, you're in the passing lane..." until I realized I was running out of breath and patience and just screamed "get the fuck out of the way!!!" which sure enough, did the trick.

Mile 25 ish
As we reached The Hill, the 7-mile uphill stretch into Hawi, I was incredibly grateful for my intimate familiarity with the course. All of those hideously painful rides through that area were suddenly worth it as I watched athlete and after athlete struggle to choose a gear, as I sailed past them in my perfectly rehearsed gear routine. Right around this time I also started looking for Sean coming downhill the other direction, figuring the timing would be about right. I started feeling nauseous about 2 miles from the turnaround, but didn't realize it was because I was riding looking sideways for Sean until it was too late. Luckily at the halfway point my landlord, Don, and former neighbor, Evelyn, were waiting for us with signs, cheers, and encouragement, which perked me up at least temporarily.

This was where we approached the first aid station, something of an X-factor for me on the bike. I didn't know a) how to grab a water bottle while moving except for what I'd read online and b) whether the water bottle would fit into the cages on my bike. I decided to gamble and grabbed a bottle, tossing one of my own (crappy) water bottles into the trash area. It did fit into the cage, but much to my chagrin the well-meaning volunteer had completely ripped off the top of the cap, presumably to make it easier for me to drink out of but actually making the water trickle out as soon as I put it into my horizontal bottle-holders. Once it reached the point where the water level was below the cap when horizontal, it seemed to be okay except for big bumps, so I tried to focus on conserving a little and decided I'd be fine.

At this point, unfortunately, my nausea was hitting me full force. All I could do was push through, but I couldn't stomach the thought of eating another gummy block or drinking my electrolyte drink. I don't remember much else on the way back down the hill, just nausea (but no cramps!).

Surprise T2 reunion!
As I reached the turn off to the Fairmont, my stomach finally eased up a little and I got a nice second wind of energy. I went in to T2 focused and ready to run, and when I heard my name and turned around to see Sean's parents waving and pointing downward, I was briefly perplexed before I realized that they were directing my attention to Sean, who was sitting up against the fence in T2 getting his running shoes on. He was extremely sick, but headed out of transition as I racked my bike, put on my shoes, and put my number on.

I had planned to run between aid stations, stopping to walk through them and perhaps a minute more before returning to running. Just before the first one, I saw Sean's back and new he was in rough shape. I flirted for a moment with the idea of going on ahead because I was actually feeling pretty good at that point, but couldn't do it. I knew we had to finish together since we had the chance to do so, and I'm so glad I made that decision. Together we slogged through the long, hot run. Around the resort, through condo roads, all over the golf course... I kept pushing us to run more, he'd tell me when he needed to stop. He somehow managed to not vomit.

The aid stations in the run were an absolute delight and godsend. Sponges soaked in icewater to cool us, water and gatorade, and buckets of ice... oh my! This 13.1 miles actually felt significantly easier than most of my training runs because I wasn't ever overheated! I didn't eat a thing the whole time, but each aid station I alternated water and Gatorade, and my stomach stayed under control.

Again, I enjoyed covering familiar territory around the Mauna Lani area where we'd done part of our long training runs. It was fun going all over the golf course where we usually aren't allowed, and the grass was short and beaten down into a path of sorts, nothing like the long, squishy nightmare grass of the golf course we had to run on at the Keauhou Lavaman that had struck fear into my heart. That was quite a relief. At one point, near a pond, was a herd of at least 30 wild goats who seemed perfectly content to watch us in our efforts as they lounged about in the (unreachable) shade.

Around Mile 11 I started getting excited. All of our work, all of our training was about to come to fruition. Barring disaster, we were going to finish! And, to my surprise, I was going to finish in under 7:30 if we kept up our pace. I told Sean of my time goal and he gamely kept running despite being sick. As we crossed the lawn headed toward the finish his dad appeared and ran with us a little ways. All of my tiredness dissolved and I just felt elated. The last quarter mile I could not have been happier, and as we reached the finish line together I couldn't stop smiling. What a wonderful, powerful feeling it was.

The next wonderful feeling came when we hit the showers and I felt the strong stream of cold water wash over me, sweeping away at least a couple of the layers of sweat and grime that covered me.

So there it is: I have finished my first half Ironman, and all I want is more.

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