Saturday, October 26, 2019

Kona Reflections

Charles Dickens put it quite well in A Tale of Two Cities when he began the book with: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..., and I feel that pretty much encapsulated my race at Kona. The experience of racing the best in the world was absolutely amazing and very humbling. The course was as hard as I expected and I kind of think that got into my head a bit too much, leading me to give in to the conditions, rather than push through. 

Here is the Cliff Note version if you'd rather not read for a while! 
Swim: 1:12 - I know my swim isn't strong, but had hoped that I'd be under 1:10 after a 1:04 westuit swim in my qualifying race. There was definitely a swell out there, and after the race heard that it was more of a 'bumpy' swim than usual.
Bike: 5:05 - My strength, and the plan was to target around 220 watts. However, I was never able to get into the 11 on the cassette, and as a result spent more time freewheeling than desirable, especially on the descent from Hawi. As a result, I lost quite a bit of time on the downhills and finished the bike 15-20 minutes slower than I'd hoped.
Run: 4:03 (YIKES!!) - Usually pretty solid here, but the heat eventually got to me and led to walking all of the aid stations from the Energy Lab on, and aiming to hold under 9:00 miles in between the aid stations. I actually felt great for the first 7-8 miles, but then slowed progressively. Honestly, I'm not sure if it was the heat/humidity or just not being able to suffer and push on through. The goal had been getting to Kona, and I kind of feel I somewhat gave up on the run once I realized I wouldn't be able to hit my goal time(s). 
Final time: 10:32 - much slower than I'd hoped. I honestly felt that if things went well I'd be closer to 9:30 than 10:00. Not my best effort and feel I may need to return for a bit of redemption. 

Ok, now back to the lengthy version! Overall, I had a fantastic time during our five days in Kona, including the few days leading into the race, the race itself, and the brief time after the race before we headed home. The vibe in Kona leading into the race is hard to explain unless you have experienced it. In most races I'm a big fish in a little pond, but here it was definitely the experience of a little fish in a very big pond. Just about everywhere I looked there were athletes who were far fitter than me, and many of these folks had Kona as their A race for the year. For me, qualifying for Kona was the goal, and the training for Kona wasn't as good as for my race back in Norway in June. This included a stomach bug 3 1/2 weeks out from race day, which led to four days of no quality training, and then a few days easing back into things. I'm really not sure how much of a real impact that had, but it certainly didn't help. The lengthy trip just a few days prior to the race certainly isn't helpful in terms of having your best race either, but that was what worked for us. 
As teachers, taking time off during the school year is far from ideal. As a result, we didn't arrive in Kona until Wednesday afternoon. I'd guess that we were some of the last to arrive on the island for the race. We flew from Boston to LA, and then another flight right into Kona, arriving around 1:30 PM in Kona. After getting all our stuff and rental van, we headed into town. We probably passed at least 50 folks out on the Queen K riding and many folks running as well. We got to our hotel, Uncle Billy's Kona Bay Hotel, which definitely isn't the Ritz. However, the location couldn't be beat, and we were able to easily walk to everything during the week.  After settling in, I went for a quick run on Ali'i Drive, joining lots of other folks out there. I don't think I've ever sweat so much in a 3.5 mile run, and wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. Katie and the kids went to the pool for a quick dip, and after the run I headed out to do a bit of grocery shopping.  
The kids were asleep before 5 PM in Hawaii (11 PM back home), and Katie and I followed suit by 6 PM. It was a good thing, because Hannah announced at 3 AM on Thursday morning that it was time to get up. We tried to get her back to sleep, but she then said something like 'There's food in the's breakfast time.' We were all soon up, and I guess I really hadn't needed to worry about laying out my biking and running gear in the bathroom the evening before. After hanging out with the family for a bit I finally headed out for a ride a bit before 6 AM, followed by a short run and swim. Everything felt pretty solid, the HR was in check, and I actually felt pretty decent in the water. After the workouts I headed over to the King Kam to complete registration. There was a Team Zoot breakfast we went to, and I got a chance to meet Ben Hoffman. It was also nice to finally meet Fred Doucette, who I've known from back in our Beginner Triathlete days. Later in the day we headed a tiny bit north of town to Keiki Beach, which was a little tricky to find. We spent a little time playing in the water, and the picture shows me looking out on the swim course as Jackson lounges in the water. We eventually headed back into town and had another early bed time - good thing, as Hannah's wake up call was the same time on Friday morning!

On Friday I did my best to stay off my feet after getting in a short morning ride and swim. Katie took the kids out for a good chunk of the day to the beach right in front of the King Kam - Kamakahonu Beach. It is nice and sheltered and was also the starting point for swimming on Friday as the usual Dig Me Beach wasn't open - I guess this is a change from previous years. I can't express how much work Katie did during our time there, giving me time to set up the bike, do my race prep, and try to stay off my feet on Friday. We did spend a little time going out as a family, and tried to get a picture in the village right across the street with the Kona sign. Hannah didn't want to have any part in this, as can be seen in the above picture!

The fam with the coffee boat in the background.

The 'my name on the poster' picture.
Gear check-in for me started at 2:30 on Friday afternoon, so I headed over a little after that. It was pretty crowded, and the process takes quite a while, as every athlete gets a 1-1 volunteer to go through all the steps. Below is the bike and run gear outside the hotel room. All in all, it took a bit over an hour standing out in the heat to get through dropping off the bike and gear. It was a very cool atmosphere and I ended up chatting with a friend, Subramani Vankatesh, who was checking stuff in at the same time. He ended up having a solid race. 

Checking in the bike

Racked and ready!

After dropping things off at the pier it was back to the hotel to have an early dinner and get to bed a bit after 6 PM. Again, the kids were fast asleep well before then. In most races when the family is along I always set my morning stuff up in the bathroom the night before, and did this again, but it certainly wasn't necessary. The troops were up right around when my alarm went off at 3:45 AM, and we had a nice snuggle before starting to get ready. Katie took the below pic with Jackson and Hannanh around 4:45, right before I headed over for body marking and putting nutrition and hydration on the bike. In terms of nutrition I had an aero bottle on the seat tube with 600 calories of Infinit. In my bento box I had 4 tubes of Cliff Bloks (800 calories) and two PowerBars (440 calories). The plan wasn't to take all of those calories in, but to have what I felt I could stomach as the race progressed. Back in Norway I carried 1400 calories, and ran out with around 30 minutes to go on the bike - I didn't want that to happen again. I had a Precision Hydration 1500 in my rear bottle and had another one at special needs on the bike to aid with salt intake. During the 90 minutes prior to race start I also had another bottle of Precision Hydration. Every 30 minutes on the bike I also took in a salt pill. I'm definitely a salty sweater, so have found I need to be on the higher end of salt consumption on race day and on long training rides. 

Race morning on the pier
After setting up the bike I headed into the King Kam, where a friend, Hans Larsson, had a room. I hung out with Hans, Colin Cook, Elliot Kawaoka, and Lucas Pozzetta. It was Hans' and Lucas' first Kona as well. Colin and Elliot have done this rodeo several times! An hour or so went by pretty quickly, and we headed down toward the start. I was starting at 7:00 AM, and ended up sitting and chatting with a few folks in my AG prior to heading into the water. We only had around 5-6 minutes between the time we got in the water and when our wave started - not much time for any real quality warm up. I tried to get a few little bursts of strokes in, then lined up a few folks back from the front, treading water until the cannon went off.

My goal for the swim was to be under 1:10, which would have been six minutes slower than the 1:04 I swam in Norway in a wetsuit. I actually felt pretty decent in the water, and at the turn-around to head back toward the pier I glanced at my watch and saw just under 34 minutes. I hoped that would translate into under 1:10 when I exited the water, but two things happened in the second half of the swim. First, I believe you are swimming back against the current, which slows things a bit. Second, my swim skin began to chafe me a bit under the arms, and I think this led to me slowing a bit. Regardless, when I came out of the water I wasn't all that psyched to see 1:12. Into transition, bike shoes on in the tent and ran to my bike. I didn't rush, as I knew I wasn't going to be setting any records! I was onto the bike and out to the mount line in around 5 minutes in T1 - not great, but certainly not the transition debacles from Norway that almost cost me the KQ I got there. 

The bike course does a short loop around town and an out and back before eventually heading out and up onto the Queek K highway for the next 100+ miles. The plan was to target around 220 watts AP, which is around 5-6% lower than I'd normally aim for in an IM race, hoping that may help out in terms of heat. One thing that I noticed at the start was that I couldn't get the rear cassette into the 11. I had the bike tuned up a week before departing and my guess is that the cable may have stretched a bit. I didn't feel like stopping to try and adjust something like that, so I pressed onwards. I felt good and made a point of starting to fuel and keep up with hydration. Fueling was every 15 minutes, alternating between Infinit and Cliff Bloks or PowerBar, and taking in two salt pills per hour. This totaled around 1200 mg of sodium per hour.

Heading out on the Queen K - felt pretty good. Think I need to work on the
bike position for next year, aiming to get those arms up a bit and get a bit more aero. 
I didn't really notice much wind until we got near Waikoloa. At that point there were some pretty decent cross winds coming off the mountains, and the wind definitely picked up once we reached the left turn at Kawaihae. From that point it wasn't all that far until the climb up towards Hawi began. All through these sections I was hitting every aid station and taking two bottles of water - one to drink and one that I poured over my head, body and arms, then tossed the bottle at the end of the aid station. On the return back to Kona I ended up dumping two bottles of water during each aid station - glad the aid stations were so plentiful and so well stocked!!

Probably spent a bit too much time out of aero :(

Trying to stay cool!!
At the start of the ride, my goal bike split was around 4:45, which I felt could happen if conditions were not that windy. I was averaging 24 mph at the left turn at Kawaihae, but the speed began dropping after that point, as the winds picked up and we eventually began the climb to Hawi. I averaged 230 watts up the climb and quickly hit special needs for another bottle of Percision Hydration 1500. The return downhill section leaving Hawi was where I really missed the 11 gear in the cassette. There were long stretches where I could have kept up the power, but I ended up just tucking and free-wheeling at a bit over 30 mph. Looking back at the power file, there was over 20 minutes in the ride of under 25 watts - I would have been quite a bit quicker if I had that extra gear to go with. I also can see why some folks go with a 55 front chainring for those long downhill sections - maybe a 54 or 55 front chainring may be in the future should I get back to Kona. At the turn in Hawi I was down to averaging around 23 mph. I was trying to do the math in my head and new that the return to town was a net downhill, but that we would probably hit headwinds. I hoped I'd be able to average that speed or more on the way back, but as it turned out I lost quite a bit of time, finishing with a bike time of 5:05, 15-20 minutes slower than what I had hoped to ride. Overall power for the race was 207 AP, 220 NP, quite a bit lower than planned. I attribute quite a bit of that to simply not having that extra gear to push at 33-35 mph when needed.

Feeling good along Ali Drive - not to last...
Heading into transition I was at least 20 minutes off of where I'd hoped to be. My goal had to be off the bike and onto the run in under 6 hours, but it was over 6:25 of total time when I headed out onto Ali Drive to start the run. In transition my bib # broke on one side and when I saw Katie I asked her to get some electrical tape - she had it on my return along Ali'i (outside assistance?). A mistake I made in transition was neglecting to grab my Cliff Bloks in my T2 bag, and I didn't realize this until the first aid station. That was the bulk of my run nutrition (400 calories), so I realized I'd have to eat off the course - not a great start to the run, mentally. I actually felt quite good in terms of legs on the out and back section, and it went by pretty quickly. I was averaging around a 7:45 pace and knew at that pace I could still get under a 10:00 finishing time. I was keeping a close eye on my HR and trying to keep it right around 150. At each aid station I took some Gatorade, water, and used the cold-water sponges and ice profusely. My plan was to walk a majority of Palani Hill once I got there on the run. There are two steeper stretches - the initial part to the aid station, then the top part. The mile that included walking a good chunk of this section was 8:40 - not great, but overall pace was still under 8:00 at that point. However, once I got up to the Queen K my HR remained elevated to the point that I was forced to run over 8:00 pace to stay around 150 BPM for the HR. I was able to maintain that pace all the way out to the turn into the Energy Lab. Soon after entering the Energy Lab I saw Colin heading out, and he looked pretty strong. I also saw Elliott a bit later on his way out. At the turn around in the Energy Lab they only had Red Bull - no water or other hydration - and it was around that point - mile 16 or so that I began to slow considerably.

Think this was heading down into the Energy Lab. I
still felt ok at this point, but was slowing...
I'm not sure if it was a mental thing once I began to slow. I was keeping the HR right around 150, but the pace at that HR was hovering around 8:20. I had 10 hours as my B goal in terms of time, and by the turn in the Energy Lab I realized that wasn't likely unless I was able to pick the pace up a bit. I think at that point I kind of decided that there wasn't all that much difference between 10:02, 10:10, 10:20 or 10:30. I decided to walk each aid station (and they're pretty long!). The goal became to run under 9:00 pace and then walk through aid stations, taking in ice and enjoying some of the 'ice water showers' the awesome volunteers were handing out. Even though that last ten miles was slower than just about any ten mile run I've ever done I enjoyed it, soaking in the experience. I thanked lots of volunteers along the way, high-fiving a few of them. At the top of the 'Mark & Dave Hill' I saw Starky sitting next to the road, and said hi. He said I looked good, which I know was a blatant lie. Down Palini I went, hung a left onto Kuakini, then a right onto Hualalai. The next turn is the one all triathletes know of onto Ali'i Drive and then 1/3 of a mile or so to the finish. This final stretch is akin to 'right on Hereford, left on Boylston' to the running world, and it was awesome! Katie, Jackson and Hannah were waiting around 1/4 mile from the finish. Jackson and Hannah began running along next to the barrier and were going faster than me! It's a bit embarrassing when your 3-year old does that!!

Waving to my favorite supporters!

Almost there on Ali'i...

Finally, that finish line! I did rase my hands in celebration when I crossed the line, but there isn't a photo of that :(
My fan club!
After crossing the finish line every athlete gets two volunteers to walk with them. I told myself 'I'm never doing this race agin!' I got some water and slowly walked over to the area where food was for the athletes. There were a variety of food options, but I felt a bit nauseous. I ended up sitting down on the grass against a palm tree for at least half an hour - just sitting and feeling quite 'blah..' Eventually I got a little chicken broth and sipped on that for another half hour. I had a volunteer call Katie to tell her I wasn't feeling that great. At this point it was a bit after 6 PM, and I contemplated heading back to the hotel room. I also knew that bike checkout was at 7 PM, and if I went back to the room I'd have to soon turn around and walk back to get my stuff. I decided to hang out a bit more, feeling a bit better from the chicken broth. I eventually had a small ice cream as well and waited in line for bike and gear checkout. After another wait we were finally let into transition to get our things. I then slowly made my way around the finishing area and back along Ali'i to the hotel, arriving back there around 7:30. The kids were already asleep by the time I arrived, and Katie told me that Hannah was pretty distraught when they didn't find Daddy at the finish area. I didn't realize they had come to look for me. Looking back at some of the pictures from the race as well as thinking about the general experience I have a few thoughts. First, as my first time in Kona, I didn't know what to truly expect - of course I'd heard from lots of folks and read lots of reports, but until you actually experience it, it is hard to know how you will respond to those conditions. In hindsight I think that during the race I wasn't really present and focused on the task at hand. I wasn't trying to hold the best bike position at all times. My run form looks sloppy with lots of arm crossover in many of the race pictures. If I ever have a chance to return to the Big Island, I'll do more mental prep for the race, which I really think separates the very best from the rest.

The only turtle we glimpsed - I never saw one while swimming :(

Acai Bowl the day after the race on our balcony.

On Sunday the plan had been to drive to the other side of the island and visit Volcano Nat'l Park, but we realized that would take too long, and we needed time to pack up. I broke down and boxed up the bike and took the kids out for a bit so Katie could pack up their clothes. Later that day we headed to Greenwell Farms, a coffee farm that was about 10 miles south of Kona. Our hope was to go on a tour, but that didn't work out, as Hannah was asleep by the time we got there. We ended up buying some super expensive coffee for ourselves and a few family members, and then stopped at an amazing playground that we had driven by en route to the coffee farm. The playground was super expansive and one of the best ones that we've ever found. So, if you ever travel to Kona to race or otherwise, and have kids, plan to head around 6 miles south of town to the Kamakana Playground - it's awesome!

The kids had a great time exploring this wooden playground and playing with some local kids who were there. 

Apparently we got a few hats on the trip!!!
We departed Hawaii on Monday morning, flying to Honolulu and then had a very long direct flight back to Boston - over ten hours on the plane! The kids slept for at least half of that flight, but Katie and I really didn't get any sleep. I tried a bit, but it's not all that easy when you don't want to wake a sleeping child on your lap (plus your legs are a we bit sore). We got into Boston at 6:00 AM on Tuesday morning, and after getting all of our things, we got the shuttle to Park, Shuttle & Fly. We then had to fight traffic to get home. We made a quick stop to get milk and bananas before arriving home just before 9:00 AM. We all slept for three hours, and then forced ourselves to wake up. Bedtime was before 7:00 PM, but I had a very hard falling sleep, as after five days we were nearly adjusted to the six-hour time difference in Hawaii. I was greeted back at school on Wednesday with an awesome poster my students had made for me. It was nice to be back, but I certainly wouldn't have minded a few more days in Hawaii.

Looking forward, it's time for to certainly let the body rest up a bit. Training volume will definitely be way down while I think about the next season and begin to rebuild the engine. It's time to refocus on the family after putting so much time into getting to Kona. Triathlon is a very selfish sport, and I need to devote a lot more time to being present with Katie and the kids. One thing I'm going to implement going forward is some strength work. I am not getting any younger and know that two strength sessions a week will help out. I also plan to start up more Zwift racing - I always have fun pushing myself in those races. One more thing that I'm going to try to commit to is improving the swimming for next year. I usually slack off a bit over the winter months, but I plan on trying to get to the pool at least twice a week. I don't see an more Ironman races in my future for a while - maybe when I age up in four more years. I'll stick to 70.3 and shorter races for the next few years, trying to set some PR's in the process. My goal for 2020 will be qualifying for the 2021 WC 70, which is in St George, via Maine 70.3 Now, regarding that 'I'm never doing this race again' thought, I may feel a little different about that now. It's funny how quickly we forget pain and discomfort and want to get back at it again. 

No comments:

Post a Comment