Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Aloha! Kona #5 is in the books

Each time I race in Kona, I swear off the event forever... as I sit here on the lanai of our friends' house at Hualalai 48 hours later, I'm casting my mind towards what I will do differently next time.  Ha! I'm already reversing my words even before the soreness from chafing and DOMs subsides. It's unlikely that I will try to qualify for 2017 but maybe 2018 could be on the cards ;)

This year I was fortunate to arrive in Kona 10 days out from race day which I had hoped would help me acclimate to the hot and humid conditions. But, who am I kidding, the environment here does not suit me, and however many days I spend in advance sweating my ass off, I still feel like I'm going to keel over whenever I run. Completing a marathon in these conditions seems unfathomable... until of course, you get off the bike after 112 miles and it's suddenly your reality.

The Saturday prior to the race I participated in the Ho'ala swim for the first time... essentially, a practice swim that takes in the full Ironman course. I was in two minds whether to do the race since I didn't want a *preview* of my swim time the following week but coach, Matt Dixon, encouraged me to do it and gave me a 5,000 yard swim workout the day before to ensure I was fully tired! It ended up being a great idea for me to race, mostly for the mental practice of the 2.4 mile swim. I *cheated* and wore the Roka SIM shorts as my back had been giving me some trouble for the last few weeks and I was trying to spare it as much as possible. I finished the swim in 1:12:59 (4,214 yards) and felt like I swam it fairly easily, though I must admit that I was bummed with the time. However, it was a healthy reminder that swells and conditions in Kona can result in highly variable times.

Ironman Hawaii: swim --> 1:10:30 (PR for the course, Garmin 4,193 yards)
Fast forward a week and I was stoked for having done the Ho'ala swim and having a better sense of what it feels like to swim out to the far turnaround. It was also useful to experience another mass swim start, though, the Ironman race with 700 or so women was a much rougher start! I was pulled and clawed a few times to the point where my watch strap loosened so I stopped at the far turnaround point to reposition it and glance at the time. I hit the second turn buoy at 33:50 which was similar pacing to the week prior, however, in contrast to that swim, I was feeling fresher and more effortless in the water. There were people around me the entire time, including lots of men from the prior wave to swim through. I saw 1:10 on my watch and I knew immediately that it must have been a fast swim but I also had a mantra for the race of *not judging myself*... which meant in this case, don't read anything into the swim time. However, a PR always helps the mindset!

In 2005, I swam 1:24:23 here so you could say that my swim has come a long way in the past several years. Take a look below at the evolution...

2005 --> 1:24:23
2009 --> 1:20:17
2010 --> 1:18:21
2013 --> 1:11:12
2016 --> 1:10:30

The consistent improvement in my swim times have stemmed from some simple things in the last few years:
- swimming more --> I now average 12-15k per week of swimming whereas in the past it was less than 10k
- swimming with a group --> I swim 3x a week with a group of people that kick my butt in the pool
- swimming with a pull buoy --> I swim about 80% of the time with a pull buoy. I feel better, it protects my back and it makes me enjoy swimming more.

Taking my own sweet time out of the swim
Ironman Hawaii: bike --> 5:39:56 (not a PR but watts were solid)
Someone asked me pre-race what my bike split might be and I answered +/- 5hrs and 30mins. With the exception of 2009 (when I had crashed my bike badly a couple of weeks out from the race), I seem to bike around the 5:30 mark!

2005 --> 5:30:37
2009 --> 6:11:27
2010 --> 5:35:21
2013 --> 5:28:19
2016 --> 5:39:56

Out of the swim, I got to work on the bike in a calm as fashion as is possible when you're riding through town and there are people screaming your name everywhere! On the climb up to Hawi, I passed a friend, Erin, and was promptly passed by another friend who is a super biker, Jana. I actually picked up the pace and stuck with Jana to the top of Kuakini as the power felt okay but perhaps a tad aggressive for how I wanted to start. I let Jana go on the downhill and settled back into my personal race plan! I was all smiles on the bike... I really was having fun and trying to enjoy the day... there's even photo evidence! Thanks to a great family friend, Alex Wassman, my bike was tuned to perfection. He assisted me in choosing wheels (Zipp NSW 404/808 combination), tires, tubes and sealants for the race, as well as dialing in the shifting pre-race. It was a joy to be on a perfectly tuned machine. Mahalo Alex!

This was my first time racing at Kona since the amateur field was split into two waves, men's and women's, and it was a very noticeable difference to me. The course was much less crowded and it was mostly a case of me yelling "on your left" as I passed fellow competitors on the bike... female athletes and men from the older age-groups.

I felt super comfortable but the headwinds on the way out to Kawaihae were making themselves known so I knew it could well be a slower year on the bike. I passed a fellow W45-49 competitor, Angela Bancroft, near Puako and tried to yell hello but not sure she heard me! On the road to Hawi, the winds were modest, even during the last 6 miles when a block headwind can make it a real grinder. Don't get me wrong, we had some headwinds (unlike 2013 when it was a tailwind) but it wasn't harsh and there weren't many challenging sidewinds to contend with. The turnaround at Hawi was still a welcome relief and this is where I caught up with some AG women that I know - Mary Knott, Becky Paige, Erica McClurg and Julie Dunkle. All of those women were, in my mind, 1 hour swimmers, so it was a nice indication that I was making progress on the course. I even allowed myself to think that I might be riding well!

Still smiling on the road back from Hawi
I love the descent from Hawi and I think I ride this section well in races... I can be a bit wimpy in training but come race day, I'm head down, full aero position, focused on keeping up the watts and not worrying too much about the potential side gusts. The field had thinned out quite a bit by this point but I passed another friend, Kayla, just before Kawaihae and was feeling good that I was still making progress to catch up to the swimmers in the race. Once back on the Queen K, I was hoping for some epic tailwinds after Hapuna Beach, given the headwind on the way out, but it wasn't to be. We had a decent but not terrible headwind all the way back to town forcing me to focus on managing my power while keeping up with nutrition, hydration and cooling the body. My lower back was painful in the last 20 or so miles so I felt that I was riding a little compromised... the legs felt good but the other parts of me were not doing as well. Three weeks ago, I could barely ride aero so I was stoked to get as far as I did before having to deal with the back pain.

Riding on the bullhorns is not aero!
In the last few miles of the bike, I caught up with former pro athlete competing in my AG, Erin McCarty and I let myself believe I was having a good day. In fact, I came off the bike in 3rd in my age-group which was easily the highest up I have ever got off the bike in a world championship race (70.3 or Ironman). I wonder if the split waves made a difference in my relative bike performance on this course? Since I'm a 1:10+ swimmer, the stronger male athletes are usually up the road by the time I exit the swim, but the groups of AG men likely helped women swimming around the hour mark in past years as the course would have been so much more crowded around them.

Slipping out of the bike shoes - excited to run
Ironman Hawaii: run --> 4:15:47 (sub-par)
I got off the bike and I could barely move as I tried to navigate my way through T2 as my back was completely locked up. I was really worried that I wouldn't be able to run a single step. However, I hustled as best I could to the change tent and put on my run gear, hoping that run shoes would feel better than barefoot and that I would be fine.

I clicked off the first mile at sub 8 pace (dumb!), trying to ignore the lower back issues but that didn't last long and by the 1.5 mile mark I was ready to be done. I told myself I would run until I saw Blanco... but I missed seeing him on Ali'i Drive so suddenly I was 5 miles out and had to run back to town before I could quit... yes, the mental battles had started already!

Ali'i Drive running
By the time I got into town, the pro women were finishing and I saw Rinny run down Hualalai in 2nd place. I thought to myself that I should keep running since I would get a full update on the women's pro race as they passed in the opposite direction... I thought I saw the entire top ten but somehow missed seeing Sarah Piampiano so I was slightly bummed about her race. Turns out she had a solid race and placed 7th once again but I somehow missed seeing her.

By the time I got to the top of Palani, a 16 mile run out to the energy lab and back didn't seem like a big deal so I committed myself to finishing and stopped the negative, "I should quit" talk. However, walking aid stations and a couple of porta potty stops forced my pace to be around the 10 min/mi mark. 9 min/mi pace should come much more easily but I find the process of cooling and getting nutrition in costs me 30-40secs per mile in the back half of hot races. It's something I need to keep working on.

The run was a little bit of a disappointment and I fell from 3rd of the bike to 16th in my AG by the time I crossed the finish line. However, that was by far my best AG performance at Hawaii, having never finished in the top 20 in the past so I'm thrilled with the result. Perhaps, if I can avoid slowing down over the next 5 years, I can dream of a podium finish here one day :)

Finishing chute

2005 --> 4:06:35
2009 --> 4:46:17
2010 --> 4:15:51
2013 --> 4:07:24
2016 --> 4:15:47

Ironman Hawaii: total time --> 11:15:52 and 16th in my AG
Below are my past times for comparison and this was my 3rd best time on what appeared to be a more challenging day given the winds and warm conditions during the run... especially compared to 2013 which was very favorable.

2005 --> 11:11:10
2009 --> 12:55:28
2010 --> 11:19:39
2013 --> 10:58:19
2016 --> 11:15:52

Glad that's over!
Thanks as always to my number 1, #supportivedude and fellow member of #TeamBlanco, aka Blanco.

Supporting #50womentokona and TriEqual

My Supportive Dude!


I also couldn't look this good while racing without the support of Kristin Mayer of Betty Designs. Her World Champion kit and Kona 16 kits were some of her best ever designs and I was stoked to be wearing it.

Pia and I ready for the Underpants Run

The Ab Show with friends from all over the country


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  2. I am so proud of you and what you have done! I can't wait to see what next year holds for you!!!!

    Thank you for being my friend and most of all one of my Tri hero's.