Welcome to the sun, the sea, the wind and the lava fields! Welcome to Kona coffee and Mai Tai’s. Welcome to swimming with turtles and tropical fish. Welcome to the home of the Ironman World Championships. Welcome to the Big Island of Hawai’i.
For me and a few of my Sydney friends, it was just the half Ironman distance that brought us to the Big Island for the Honu70.3. (Named Honu in honour of the green sea turtle of Hawai’i.) As we were are in USA, then the 70.3 breaks down into a race a 1.2mile swim, 56mile bike and a 13.1mile run (not the 112mile run stated on the event kit). For the metric amongst you, the 70.3 is more familiar as a 1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21.1km run.
The race venue was about 45mins north of Kona (the home of the Ironman World Champs), centered around the stunning Mauni Lani resort on the Kauhali coast. We would swim at the beautiful Hapuna Beach State Park, yes along with the turtles! The bike course then takes us out onto the infamous Queen Ka’ahumanu and the top half of the Ironman course, heading for 28miles through black lava fields and green oasis’, upwards to Hawi (pronounced Hi-Ve) before turning and coming back. The 13.1mile run would then take us all over the golf course and Mauni Lani resort.
Arriving a week in advance gave me time to relax and acclimatise and get my bearings. The trip started in style as on the first morning, whilst swimming off Dig Me Beach (the beach in Kona where the full Ironman starts) a turtle swam underneath me! Amazing! This was going to be good! The next few days were spent familiarizing myself with as much of the course as I could, as well as resting and relaxing.
Race morning arrived and I was feeling surprisingly (and a little worryingly) incredibly relaxed. The famous Hawaiian winds were already present, and much stronger than the previous days. However it didn’t really phase me. The swim at Hapuna Beach, was about 10km away, resulting in a split transition for the race. There were shuttles transporting us down to the start, however the shuttle pick up stop was a little further from our accommodation than expected so I was grateful for the lovely lady who stopped to give me a lift as I walked. I wish I could remember her name, so I could have found her after the race to thank her again but it was a typical and lovely gesture and one I will remember.
As we stood on the beach ready for the start, they played the Hawaiian State Anthem and then the American National Anthem.
Then it was all go. The Pro field (men and women) started on a hooter, followed 3mins later by the Age Group Males. A cannon signaling the start of this race. It was incredible to watch the guys set off. A huge mass of splash, spread some 200m wide. The Age Group Female wave was a further 7mins behind. I got myself to the front of the field and hopefully in a good position for the first buoy which. The cannon also started our wave and soon enough it was the usual splashing and flailing of limbs. As I was at the front, and swimming isn’t my strongest, I partly braced myself for getting hit and swum over, but found I got away with out any incident and found myself staying at the front with no issues. I could see a couple of girls just stretching ahead on my left and right, and I stuck to the plan of not going out too hard and taking it pretty steady. The swim was just stunning. Crystal clear water. There were loads of buoys too along the course. Mainly just sighting boys but really clearly marked which was great. I soon found myself swimming through the back of the men’s field, this was even before we left turned around the first buoy and then for the rest of the swim I just found I was swimming through more of the men’s packs. I couldn’t really see any other pink female caps about. We turned the last buoy and headed back to shore, blinded by the rising sun sitting just above the land. I couldn’t see a thing, but then I knew that if I couldn’t then no one else would be able to either and that everyone else would just ‘blindly’ follow the person in front. What I could see was some ‘shiney’ things on the land, the sun bouncing off and reflecting the light. I made what I felt was the logical assumption this was the car park (located next to transition) and so used this to guide me as I knew the swim finish was just a little further to the right. As predicted, most of the swim pack were doing the usual bow shape curved swim back to shore, I managed to hold my line and hit the finish straight on. Literally straight on! I was swimming and suddenly it went dark, like the sun had gone behind a cloud, and I was in shadow. I looked up to see the final buoy (just a marker in front of the finish arch) towering above or rather pretty much on top of me!)
Out of the water, a run up the beach to the carpet, which took us up the hill to T1. My bike was first slot in the first row as you entered T1 from the swim so there were no worries in missing it! My new Huub speed suit was off, and into the ‘bike kit’ bag with my goggles and cap. My Oakley Radarlock sunnies and helmet on, and we were off.
The mount line was at the bottom of another short hill, so I just ran the bike to the top of the hill rather than trying to jump on at the bottom straight into the climb as everyone else was and wobbling about! This gave me a bit of clear ground.
From T1 we turned right onto the Queen K highway for about 10km, heading back in the direction of Kona and T2. Just after turning onto the highway I spotted Matt Ward, a fellow Bondifitter. Easy to spot as he had Hawai’ified his Bondifit tri suit. It was great to see Matt. At the turn off to the Mauni Lani resort (T2 / Race finish) we turned and headed back north towards Hawi. The first part of the course was rolling hills with a few pinches in there. I was loving it though. I was down on my aero bars and cruising along at a decent pace. I felt comfortable and was passing all the guys. I passed a couple of girls but there were very few, so a little bit of confidence grew inside that I must have had a decent swim compared to the rest of the female field and come out near the front.
I was loving it! (Did I say that already?) The plan was to go out at a good pace and use the hill up to Hawi to my advantage, but whilst still being sensible so as not to blow myself up and burn too many matches (I was just in the middle of reading Ironway too!) then to ramp it up on the way down the hill and back to T2. My HR monitor wasn’t working, as it was reading anything from 0 to 32, so it was very much lets just race on how I feel and what feels good and it did just feel good. So relaxed. Starting 7mins behind the men was great as I now I was just cycling past the men and feeling great. We started the climb up to Hawi. I’d driven it in the car a few days prior so was pretty ready for it and telling myself it wasn’t too bad and it wasn’t and I was still passing people. The worst section was right at the top, there was a long steady climb up into a head wind. This bit wasn’t much fun but I knew we couldn’t be too near the top. I was starting to watch the other side of the road to see the Pros coming back down so to judge roughly how far from the top I was. Craig Alexander appeared first, with a clear distance and significant lead. On reaching the turning point at Hawi, now the fun part really started as we headed predominantly down hill from here back to T2. Again all good and was feeling great. Pretty much at the bottom of the hill and it flattened out a little, and all was going good, then we hit the head wind! That wasn’t meant to happen. How can you have a head wind in both directions!!
The last 1.1mile of the bike course was a no passing zone. As I approached this section I was also approaching a group of about 4-5 guys. I was about to pass them when I think they all realized the no passing zone was approaching, so they suddenly all upped their speed and started chopping and changing positions in an attempt to get to the front. I got myself into third as we entered the no passing zone. It was a narrow coned off section of road. We were going at a decent pace, but the guy at the front who had probably been at the back just before we entered the zone but almost sprinted past to make sure he was at the front, then started slowing up and taking a drink and some food. Not impressed. One guy behind me decided he’d go outside the cones and go past. To be honest he probably only gained about 10m, but it was all just a little frustrating that they guys (and I’m sure the girls would have been the same) felt they had to act like this. However I was feeling great and was very much looking forward to the run. My bike split was 2.36hrs and although I’d been hoping for more the 2 1/2 hours (or under) I knew I hadn’t gone flat out on the bike and I knew I now felt good for the run.
Taking my slot at Vegas
T2, and I racked my bike, helmet off, trainers on, race belt on and visor. I’d put 3 Shotz gels into my race belt but as I put the belt on, I noticed I’d only got two. A second check just a few seconds later as I ran out of T2 and now there was only one. This last one I then took out the belt and secured somewhere else making sure I didn’t lose this one too. The run took us all over the resort winding it’s way “through modern golf greens, past ancient petroglyph fields and fishponds, and the historic Ala Loa foot Trail”. Probably about half the course was over the rolling golf course and greens and half on the resort roads. They had aid stations just about every mile and having lost my gels, I grabbed any nutrition I could over the first few stations. I think I probably panicked a little having lost my gels and just grabbed what I could. I probably really lost the plan in my head and just ended up running rather than having the plan and structure I did on the bike. This is certainly something I will change for the next race. I also decided that concentrating on the mile markers was better than thinking about the race as 21km. Well 13 is less than 21.1 right? It’s stupid what comes into your head as logic in a race. Obviously, the mile markers are just further apart, and some of them I swear repeated themselves, particularly around they 6 and 7 mile markers. I’m sure we had two 7’s! However, I continued to pass people on the run. This surprised me again. I was feeling pretty good and although everyone was a little more spread out at this stage I seemed to still be moving up the field. There were a couple of out and back sections and I could see one other female ahead and then one a little way behind me. At about the 9/10mile mark we headed out on a long out and back road section, about 1.5miles long (maybe more) with a slight decline. I think it was affectionally called Death Valley! I’d run this section a few days early so I was prepared and really didn’t find it too bad, although it was longer again than I remember. It did give me chance to see the lead female bike coming the other way, and then the 2nd and 3rd place. The 4th placed female Pro was only about 50m ahead of me at this point. Rounding the turn around we then had the long drag back up the hill. I put in an effort on the return section, passing the 4th placed Pro in front. From here I knew it was only 3km to go, nearly there. The last mile (1.6km) was probably the longest ever. We were back on the golf course and you could pretty much see the finish, but it just didn’t seem to get any closer. Finally, the gorgeous floral arch came into view and there was the finish. 4hrs 55 on the finishing clock, minus the 10mins that we started behind the Pros. Such a good feeling to finish. I think all the caffeine had kicked in still as I felt really good. This also then made me worried I’d not pushed myself in the run sufficiently and that my coach Spot would have something to say about that. I guess I was so happy to finish and be 4th female outright across the line, I was also a little disappointed with the time as I’d hoped to be nearer to the 4 ½ hours mark. All the mix of emotions that go through your head I guess as you cross the line and in the first re minutes after.
On crossing the line, I was obviously happy and buzzing, but it was odd too. Normally racing, there’s a few people you know at the finish, but I couldn’t see or find anyone. I kind of just wandered almost a bit lost, looking for someone to talk to be it athlete or spectator. It was great though to then see the rest of the guys finish, in various states of, how do I put this nicely…. I must say there were a few choice words as they crossed the line…”never again”, “too hot”, “ridiculous run”! (They are the polite versions. Ha ha!) I think I was still high at this point and just pleased to now see people I knew and the guys from Bondifit or pb3 who’d also had a good contingent racing.
The finish of the race being based in the resort grounds meant that post race everyone just hung around on the grass and beach areas. Guzzling down the free beer and food (yes!) and the telling the usual post race stories.
The race presentations were also very Hawaiian specific, which as a ‘tourist’ made the race extra special. We were treated to some traditional Hawai’ian dancing first and then the top 5 of each age group were recognised on the stage. We were given Umbeke bowls. Beautiful wooden carved bowls and a small lei.
Thanks to Wiggle and Boardman for my bike. I love it. It just gets better and better. Thanks to Darryl and the team from Shotz for setting me up with a great nutrition plan at short notice (I’ll try not to drop the gels on the run next time!) Thanks to Jo and the Turbo Studio team for their constant support and belief. Thanks to Chris Hannrahan and Huub for the last minutes speed suit for the swim. Thanks to Spot and Bondifit for being the best coach and group to train with. Thanks to the guys who made the trip too and made it such a great few days, Gary, Matt, Lisa, Lizi, Karen!
I can’t wait for my next race which looks like it’ll be the World Championships in Las Vegas! Bring it on!