Recently, I had the good fortune of racing Hawaii 70.3, affectionately referred to as Honu (after the sea turtle). I’ll post a separate thing about the vacation side of the trip, but here’s how the racing side went down!
For this race, I opted to rent a bike on the Big Island instead of flying mine in. I figured it was fine since I wasn’t going into this with a super competitive mindset. Even though this is technically my “A-race” and only race of the year, I wanted to maintain a good mental balance because it’s also a rare vacation with friends. So, while I put in the work and trained my butt off, I didn’t stress myself out with time goals or anything. Come race day, I’d just lay it all out there and that will be good enough.
The afternoon we arrived, I picked up my sweet Cervelo P2 from Bike Works Hawaii which was literally across the street from my Airbnb. I highly recommend these guys by the way. They adjusted the bike based on my Retul fitting measurements, put on my rental Cobb saddle (same model I have) and voila! I was ready to take on the world.
In the two days before the race, I crammed in a few shakeout rides and runs. This dufus managed to lose some skin, not on the bike, but on a training run prior to the race. Who does that?? I was busy reading a street sign and tripped over a curb. My ego was a little bruised but luckily nothing got sprained so I was still good to race. Consider this an early sacrifice to Madame Pele, please bless us with calm weather on Saturday!
Day before the race
Athlete check in and briefing was held at the beautiful Fairmont Orchid hotel. I wasn’t a hotel guest but couldn’t help but snap a picture of this beautiful view that greeted me upon entering the lobby.
They took the race very seriously.
Honu has 2 transitions about 7 miles apart, and requires you to check in your bike at T1 the day before. I rode my bike from where I was staying to Hapuna Beach aka T1 as my second shakeout ride (only about 9 miles). Bike check was only from 1-5pm, and I got there a little after they opened. At this race, bike racking is first come first serve – they don’t compartmentalize by bib number. Which is good and bad…if you are an eager beaver, you can potentially rack at a great spot. But come race day, it can be a little harder to find your bike. Good thing I had a bright green demo saddle to help me out, and I looked for visual landmarks so I could come back to this exact spot quickly. I picked the end of the Chris Hauth lane, in line with one of the few trees.
Let’s hope I’m the only green saddle around.
It was the hottest part of the day and understandably people were concerned about whether their tires would explode. I talked to my coach prior to this, and he said to pump it when I checked in and leave it overnight. That was my plan, but when I was in T1, everyone was panicking and letting all the air out of their tires. In fact, one lady came over and physically stopped me from pumping my tires.
Her: Excuse me, are you pumping your tires?
Her: You should stop pumping and deflate your tires
Me: According to..whom?
Her: They said so at the athlete briefing. Because it’s so hot out they said to let the air out or your tires could pop
Me: Well my coach explicitly told me to pump them so…..(continues pumping)
Her: Oh ok! Well in that case you’re probably fine
I texted my coach to triple check and he reassured me I was doing the right thing, and urged me to get out of T1 asap. Race day nerves, people! I have to admit the encounter left me second guessing myself, but ultimately I told myself “This is exactly WHY you have a coach. This is the time to TRUST HIM”.
The rest of the day was spent with my feet up at the apartment watching Law and Order SVU and hydrating. My friends had gone snorkeling but I figured this was not the time to exhaust myself. Plus I had some pre-race “meditation” to do. You see, I’d been mentally struggling with the swim part a lot more than I should have. It’s mostly my fault, because I had only done 1.5 “real” open water swims in this entire year so far. Honu is not a wetsuit legal swim, so I used that as an excuse to not get in the frigid Bay area waters. But because it’s not a wetsuit legal swim, I could no longer take solace in the phrase everyone always says to calm OWS fears: “It’s practically impossible to drown in a wetsuit”.
Remember that panic attack I had at the swim start of Lake Tahoe 70.3 where I turned around and started swimming for shore? It’s the most irrational thing ever and yet! I knew there was a chance my brain would short circuit and I’d want to abort mission. That and I realized I have a problem with being able to see how deep the water is. And the water in Hawaii is known to be pretty clear.
No wetsuit. Lost my feel for OWS. Nervous about deep water.
I knew I was psyching myself out, but my strategy was to let me brain go to all those dark, scary, made up places. I forced myself to run through all the possible “worst case scenarios”. And every time I got to the point where panic would grip me and surely this was where I swam for shore, I forced myself to imagine a different ending to the situation, to imagine myself responding differently. Maybe I took a few deep breaths and put my face back in the water. Maybe I was uncomfortable the whole way, but I dragged my body along for as far as I could anyway. I can’t say that helped calm my nerves, but letting my brain do it from the safety of the couch hopefully meant it wouldn’t jump to bad conclusions on game day.
I made myself an early dinner of plain pasta, and was in bed by the time my friends came home.
4:30am and my alarm goes off. Once I stepped into the living room I was greeted by this beautiful artwork.
Seriously, they are the best support crew ever. I start the process of preparing breakfast, getting dressed etc. We had to drive to a parking lot near the hotel and take a shuttle to the swim start so I budgeted plenty of time. We were out the door by 5:30am for the short drive.
There wasn’t a super long line when we arrived at the parking lot 10 minutes later, but there was a line to get on the shuttle so our timing worked out well. Spectators had to wait in a different line so athletes could get to T1 first. I parted ways with my awesome sherpas, and began the lone trek to T1. Soon after, I saw some familiar faces – my SF Tri club folks ended up on the same shuttle! This was a sign of a great day to come.
Got to T1, checked my tires (they were fine, thanks coach!), put my hydration and food on and got in the porta potty line. Thanks goodness I have enough experience now to BYOTP, it came in handy! My sherpas showed up shortly before they ushered us out of T1. How could it be go time already?
Good luck send off from my awesome friend Carrie. I found the other SF Tri peeps from my shuttle, and we hung out together while moseying down to the beach. I almost forgot to lube up with the swimskin but luckily Norm had my gear bag and saved my life! I heard the thud of the cannon in the distance and it stopped my heart. First I was shocked that they used an actual cannon, and secondly how could it be go time already?? We were the second to last wave, and with every thud the earth shook and my heart stopped. Stay calm…you can do this….you’re among friends. I choked down half a banana for extra fuel and prayed I wouldn’t cramp up.
Honu is a deep water start with two buoys perpendicular to shore marking the start line. But I realized if you stand next to the buoy that’s closer to shore, it’s shallow enough that you don’t actually have to tread water. I waited, rinsed my Roka F1 tinted goggles, let the waves push me to shore and wait.
And then it began.
The water was in the high 70’s which was a bit nippy at first but I told myself my pool is usually 83F so it’s not a big deal. Once I got moving, I barely noticed it. The morning started out overcast and the ocean looked calm but in reality the waves felt choppy and incessantly pushed us towards shore. We had to swim along shore for the first part, then turn and swim out deeper, then turn again parallel to shore the other way and finally swim back into shore (ie, a big rectangle. Sort of). I couldn’t see any of the buoys over the crest of the waves, so I just followed people (bad strategy, I know). Eventually there was no one around me and I knew I was swimming crooked. Located a buoy, reoriented myself, and off I went.
I never once outright panicked in the water which I was REALLY happy about. Once I found my groove and just did my thing. Next thing you know, I was passing some of the slower men in the waves ahead of me. I took comfort in the feeling of my skin suit – it compressed like my wetsuit and at one point I told myself “Maybe they were lying to you. Maybe this thing actually is buoyant and there’s no way you would drown”. I was obviously in denial, but when you’re desperate you cling to anything that will get you through. When doubt started to creep into my head I thought of my Masters swim coach, Kathleen. She always told me I had a beautiful stroke (I don’t believe her), but that I was inefficient in the water (that I do believe). She always told me I was a good swimmer, or that I really had the potential to be one. And I clung to that when the dark, negative voices threatened to take over my brain. “Kathleen said you’re a good swimmer. She said you swim good! SO SWIM! YOU CAN SWIM!”.
It’s silly, but that kept me calm the whole way, until I emerged from the water some 40 minutes later.
Swim time – 41:27.
Not bad considering no wetsuit or anything, and only a bit slower than my previous time of 39:50 at Vineman 70.3 (wetsuit, river swim)
I was so proud of myself to just be DONE with the swim sans drama! I knew the day was only looking up from here. Coach told me to take the extra few seconds to rinse off at the showers because salt water chafes like a motherf*cker, so I did. Those seconds were very well spent IMO.
Up the carpeted hill back to T1. Chris Hauth, where are you?! My wonderful sherpas spotted me and watched me through T1. I almost forgot to take off my swim skin and rode off into the sunset. In all, T1 could have been faster but I knew it was a long day so I took the time to properly prepare.
T1 – 6:33
Out onto the bike and we were greeted by a short climb. I noticed right away that my heart rate monitor wasn’t picking up. Maybe the salt water finally killed it, but I realized I’ll just have to go off perceived effort. We were extremely lucky in that it was STILL overcast and not too windy. Everyone always told me about the heat and wind and humidity, but it was not nearly as bad as it could have been IMO.
The bike starts with a slight detour south on Queen K back to the Fairmont, before turning north and heading all the way to Hawi. Part of the reason I chose this race is that the bike course overlaps with the northern half for the full, and I figured this will be closest I’ll get to the big dance! (especially with that attitude) The road was well paved with a wide shoulder, but it had rumble strips separating the shoulder from the main highway. As I went over one of these strips about 2 miles in, one of my water bottles rattled loose and disappeared.
Uh oh. Welp there goes half my electrolytes!
Since I was passing someone and had another athlete right behind me (it was quite congested in the first 10 miles or so), I decided to let it go and focus really hard on not losing my only other bottle. I also carried two Osmo single serves with me, and I just told myself now I definitely have to stop at the aid stations and refill!
Except not 10 minutes later, I dropped my other water bottle too. This was the only negative to renting a bike – the bottle cages are so foreign and in my case, I’m pretty sure it was crooked too! This time I had no choice but to stop and recover it. There was no way I was riding 50 more miles with no water and those Aerohead bottles just weren’t gonna cut it. Since then, I made an extremely conscious effort in replacing my bottle after every swig.
Aside from that fun start, the bike was awesome! Rollers most of the way with no real significant climbs. About 15 miles in, dark clouds rolled over us and it actually started to sprinkle. It almost felt like home and I was just so grateful the sun was hiding and it wasn’t an inferno. Still, I managed my nutrition and hydration really well. I set a 20 minute timer on my Garmin so it would remind me to keep eating and drinking. This is only the second race I’ve done it (aside from IMAZ) but due to the heat, I was not taking any chances! One big swig, 1/3 of a Picky bar, 1 lick of Base salt every 20 minutes.
This was one of those miraculous rides where nothing really hurt, my shorts weren’t bothering me and I just put my head down and got to work. I even stayed aero 90%+ of the time, which rarely happens. Maybe it was the adrenaline? Without heart rate guidance, I didn’t push too hard especially knowing there was a long and potentially very hot run ahead of me. While the first part had been jam packed, once we left town everyone spread out and it was very manageable to ride legally. I always try to do my own ride anyway, but especially in this race I was extremely cognizant of where the rider ahead of me was. There were a lot of course marshals and they were not shy about giving verbal warnings or penalties, which I appreciated!
With 5 miles left, the sun was no longer hiding and my left foot had started to swell and hurt. I was worried it would blister up and couldn’t get to T2 fast enough! Once you enter the gates to the Fairmont Orchid though, it’s a no-passing zone all the way to the dismount line and I got stuck behind another rider. My foot had gone almost numb at this point and once I rolled in to T2, I dropped my bike off right away and ran straight for the changing tent.
Bike – 3:08:57 – 8 minute PR!
So here’s the silly part. I ran into T2 pretty much smack in the middle of the athlete pack so you’d think this wouldn’t be an issue by now. I arrived at the changing tents, and the women’s side had the flap tied up (maybe to allow air in?). Knowing I wanted to change my shorts, I flagged down a volunteer and begged them to help me untie the flap (I was a little fatigued and out of it at this point). He hesitated at first but I told him no one else was inside so please hurry! He undid one of the straps but the darn thing was zip tied open! Why would anyone do that?? Even worse he then asked me (while the tent was still wide open) “Is this better?”. Um, no it’s not I absolutely don’t want everyone seeing my naked butt! Luckily a female volunteer understood and hurried over with scissors to cut the tie. I was so extremely thankful and hurried inside to change. Even though I could have done without, I opted for fresh run shorts just because I anticipated a very tough run and wanted to be as comfortable as possible. So worth the few minutes (and drama).
T2 – 4:17
Out of the changing tent fresh as a daisy and right away we are running on grass. They warned us there would be about 5 miles in total on grass so I was prepared but hoping to encounter it later in the day. The sun was out and it was getting HOT at this point, plus the golf course (yes, that’s where we ran) was very humid. As soon as I hit the first aid station, I started dunking water on myself and drinking one or two cups of water. My legs felt better than I could hope for coming off the bike and they just got right to work. I only carried a tube of Base salt with me, and took a lick every mile for the entire run which really, really helped. Otherwise I ran between each aid station and walked through each one, grabbing all the necessary items.
Come the second aid station and I started tucking 2 fresh ice cold sponges into my tank top and ooooh maaaan what a refreshing feeling! Unlike pouring water on your head, this was the gift that kept on giving! My body shuts down as soon as it warms up and definitely prefers working out in chillier conditions so the sponges were exactly what I needed. Every aid station I’d swap them out for fresh, cold ones (sorry, Earth) and I’m pretty sure that in conjunction with the Base salt was what kept me feeling surprisingly good throughout the run.
I really did. I felt good on this run, and that almost NEVER happens in a race. Mentally I was in a good place (I felt like I cheated with the overcast morning), and physically yes things were achey but I knew my legs could keep turning over. It was not a very fast run by any means, and it was not easy at all, but in my head I felt strong going “my pace” and my mantra became “just do the run you can”. I didn’t dare try to push harder to see if I could PR or anything, in fact I didn’t care what my time was. I was doing ok, and I was gonna keep it up for as long as my body let me. Whenever I got hungry, I’d grab a banana from the aid station but otherwise it was just salt and water and sponges.
The first loop flew by and I was still feeling positive starting the second loop. Shoes were getting squishy and it was hot so I got worried about blisters, but I just kept doing my thing. I saw my support crew as well as my SF Tri non-racers, and it was such a great energy boost!
Okay yeah, so they caught me slacking. Finally it was my turn to take the finisher chute split, and I was so relieved that I made it in one piece!
Ditched the sponges for the finish line photo. Carrie and Brian were right in front of the finish arch and I spotted Norm just behind it.
Run – 2:16:32
Total time – 6:17:46 – 5 min overall PR! Whaaaaaaaat!
They waited an hour for me in the heat, and I was so grateful see their beautiful faces at the finish line. Afterwards, I grabbed my finisher gear and took a nice cold shower. So awesome that they had one at the finish line!
I’m still a little in shock that I managed to PR, at this race, given I had zero expectations going in. Looking back I’d say the main contributors were 1) indoor cycling classes at Shift 2) all that Base salt 3) ice cold sponges and most importantly, the gratitude I felt during the entire race. I felt like I cheated death when we lucked out with an overcast morning and relatively tame winds. The race course was so beautiful and it was truly a blessing to have the chance to race in this beautiful place, in the company of awesome friends. I could not have asked for a better day, I’m glad Madame Pele took my offering of skin and blood seriously =P