Friday, October 19, 2012

Race week in Kona

Reflecting back on the 'week that was' and I'm not too sure where to start. It was such an amazing experience from the moment we landed in Kona and were thrown the keys to our hosts old red pick-up truck, to the training runs along Ali-i Drive with free product stalls on the side of the road, to knocking back a Lava Java shake and engaging in the mandatory 'he-looks-fitter-than-me' not so subtle up-and-down checking out of each other, to brushing shoulders with the pros walking along the street, to the underwater wonderland of colourful fish, turtles and reef that welcomed me each time I swam in the bay, to the bike check-in where you first walk down a gauntlet surrounded by people counting the number of various brands of bikes, wheels and components and then get your own volunteer who walks you through the entire transition area. Oh yeah, and the race itself! The whole week felt as if a triathlon magazine had exploded all over the street and come to life, so for me I felt like a kid in a candy store!

We quickly slipped into Hawaii mode (which was easy given the glorious blue skies, palm trees and laid-back locals) and engulfed ourselves in everything the town had to offer: like the 'undie Run' (created to raise money for local charities and to take the mickey out of triathletes who have been here before and used to wear their speedos into cafes, supermarkets and other places where they just did not belong) where I got to ham-it-up with the now famous 'Wattie Girls'.

A trip to Kona also wouldn't be complete without swimming off shore to the 'Coffees of Hawaii' boat for a mid-swim coffee!

I did that swim with my wife on Friday, turned my back for a second and the next thing she has struck up a conversation with Pete Jacobs' mum (Jenny)! (Pete ended up being the winning pro on Saturday). Jenny was so down to earth and proud of her son - until she mentioned his name you wouldn't know her son was one of the best in the world. She was very humble, engaging and enigmatic - the apple doesn't fall far from the tree and there's no guessing where Pete got his laid-back but driven demeanour from. It was funny to hear here talk about Crowie and Macca the way my mum would talk about Marcus Randall and BD... "Crowie always looks strong and you know he comes prepared, but I think Pete is looking the best he ever has. I am his mum though so I might be a bit biased" (turns out she was in fact spot on!).


By the time race morning rolled around I was feeling ready to go. I had managed to get a few of my training sessions in on parts of the course and prepared for a hot and windy day (I told myself if I expected that then anything else would be a pleasant surprise!)

Standing on 'Dig Me' beach and walking into the water, hearing the war drums beating behind me with the sound booming through the bay, looking around at the crowd, the smiling and nervous faces, hearing Mike Rielly's voice carry over the speaker, was an experience that created an amazing hum of energy that coursed its way through every part of my body.

The swim - 1:08:12

The cannon boomed (actually, Mike Rielly started us with "GO GO GO GO" as the cannon had miss-fired and went off about 10 seconds late) and it was a wash of arms and legs all around me! This part of the day went smoothly as I kept my calm (made easier with all of the coral and reef to look at) and almost enjoyed being wedged in a constant battle with people all around me. As it was a mass start of 1950 competitors there were A LOT of us heading off at once. Next time I would have more confidence in my ability as I self-seeded behind a few people that actually slowed me down until the turn-around. It was a human traffic jam!

The bike - 5:11

Through town and out onto the famous 'Queen K' Highway, what a buzz! This is what I had seen on TV for so many years! Sections with nothing but huge stretches of rolling hills in front and black volcanic rock paving our way on either side of the road. I felt good heading North towards Hawi, doing my best to keep working through the groups of bikes that were building up. It was a draft fest in parts, with single lines of riders as far as my eye could see. 

Looking back now I realise how naive I was, but at the time in that first third of the bike I was becoming more and more amazed at how good I was feeling. "Soul-destroying, windy lava fields? I'm the one destroying it today!" I was going so well that as I got towards the halfway point I remember thinking "I'm a good shot at cracking 5 hours here! Under 5 hours on the bike at Kona - you beauty!". Here comes the Big Dawg, right? 

Famous last words - the Big Island heard me and for the next 10k as I climbed to the turnaround I was brutalized by ferocious headwinds,  side-winds, and every kind of winds as madam Pele tried to crush me into submission! By the time I had made the turnaround and was heading back along the Queen K, I was more like a ragged little puppy with his tail whimpering between his legs. "Ok ok Island you're right, I should respect you more". With 60k still to go into this punishing hurricane I was wondering how I was going to get back into town (let alone get off the bike and run a marathon!). With a bit of patience and food I started to come good again and like a horse knowing that home is just around the corner I was able to push it out for the final 15ks.

The run - 3:25:24

The first part of the run is great as it snakes through town and the crowds of people lining the streets are going crazy! Seeing some friendly faces along the way (Al and YoYo) also puts that extra bit of spring in your step. At about the 16k mark I saw Al and couldn't help but laugh at how unglamorous this sport can be - sweat, salt marks, snot dripping from my nose, sticky gels on your hands and face, cold sponges shoved down my top. Funny when you think about how much effort many triathletes put into looking 'the part' pre-race - shaved down, tanned, svelte ("haha guilty two out of three!")

The joy of this run is that the final 23k are pretty lonely, out onto the highway and through the infamous 'energy lab' (isolated and HOT). When the waves of thoughts telling me to stop rolled through my mind, I reflected on the things that had gotten me to this point, the people, family, friends, the sacrifices I had made and my wife had made. When that didn't work I promised myself I could walk through the next aid station. And when that didn't work I set up the whinging part of my mind with a mircophone in the corner so it could keep gibbering on but I didn't have to give it much attention. After all, here I am running at Kona! This is awesome! How lucky! It is definitely a race of attrition, as the further I got into the run the more the course started to reflect a war zone with bodies littering the sides of the road giving in to cramps, the heat and the mind-gremlins. I pushed it hard through the final 6k and played that fun game of balancing cramps and extending full stride

The final 2k is pretty much downhill, winding through town and then along Ali-i Drive through packed crowds and over the finish line. You feel like a rock star! (this didn't stop through the day, and in fact became more like a massive music festival as it got closer towards the midnight cut-off. Unbelievable). 

Total time - 9:53:22 (70th in AG and 292nd/2039 overall).  

Before I came here I wasn't sure if afterwards I'd think "that was great, I've accomplished a lifelong dream, job done" or "that was great, I can't wait to do it again". Safe to say it is the latter! I think I will wait a few more years before trying to qualify again (that will give time for the memories of the pain and suffering to fade and the glory to remain) but I am very keen to experience this again. There has been nothing like it in my life. 

I have no regrets with my race, I left it all out there. But one of the things I love about this sport is that you are constantly learning, evolving, growing and challenging yourself. This race has highlighted things I can improve on, given me the confidence that I have so much more room to develop as a triathlete and (at the risk of sounding too philisophical) also filled my heart with a enduring sense of what I can accomplish as a person. 

On that note, I'm off to put my feet up, savour a few cold beers and take in a world that's not focused on the next training session or race. See you when I resurface :)

Big thanks to the guys and gals who have supported me along the way, put up with my tiredness and lack of availability, and been there when I needed you. Without my wife, family, friends and coach this not have been possible. Thanks also to ChainGang Performance Bikes, Mizuno, Shane and Geoff at Edge Marketing, Three Girls Skipping, Reddog Triathlon Training and Active Stride.