Race Week in Kona

I’m a TEASE! Here’s a post about the week leading up to the big event. Race report still pending (and honestly, I have little of substance to say about my race. My report will only expand on the central theme of “WHEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”).

Leading up to my departure on October 5th, I missed most of my workouts thanks to hectic weeks of trying to wrap things up before taking off for my vacation. I had several appointments to get to in the middle of the day, including a race check for my bike the Get A Grip Cycles and getting my awesome Enve race wheels (courtesy of the even more awesome David Kholi and Perfect Circle Cycling) put on before dropping it off for Tri Bike Transport on September 26th (so early!). My teammate, Kristin Bagley, loaned me her bike for a week, which allowed me to get in a few rides on the lakefront, at least. I had to complete or wrap-up all of my pending work projects, drive to and from Notre Dame for a day of research and site visits, and answer my boss’ thrice-minutely progress update requests. A final tune-up with my wonderful acupuncturist, Tim, and I was ALMOST ready….  It was a pretty bumpy road, those last few days.

The weeks were filled with all kinds of pleasantness, too, including amazing and generous gifts arriving by mail and messenger from friends and acquaintances: my aunt sent me a cool gift from Resource Revival; Fons adopted a baby otter in my name; Lore compiled a bag full of necessities and my favorite things (sunscreen, candy, more candy) on behalf of my IMOO’09 friends and others. Every time I feel invisible and like this whole triathlon thing is a silly game, someone out there proves they’re really pulling for me. Nga and Nick gave me MORE CANDY and magazines for the plane ride and, after a final panic-stricken packing session, dropped me off at the airport.

Russ and I traveled together to my sister Sara’s place in Oakland, CA on Friday night, then took off for Kona via Maui on Saturday morning. It wasn’t a very restful trip, but as soon as we got off the plane(s) in Kona I felt like I took a deep breath, exhaled, and left everything behind.

Saturday October 6: A new reality smacked me in the face while we were taxiing into Kona on the Queen K and, while watching the grass on the side of the road blow sideways, we caught a glimpse of Natascha Badmann on her Cheetah (this is my fave video of her, when she starts talking to her bike at 3:30-4:00). We drove on and by several Ironman landmarks –Queen K, Palani Road, the King K hotel (race central), the pier, the banyan tree, Ali’i Drive. OMG I’M REALLY HERE!

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Russ and I dropped off our stuff off at his condo and packed up for a day of fun downtown. Industry people were there setting up for the week, slapping banners on any flat surface, but it was pretty quiet, athlete-wise. What looked like a dark rain cloud obscured the volcano, but the town and coast were under full, wonderful sun. We met up with Russ’ friend Alex to go for a swim off the pier after a pretty entertaining trip through the King K hotel.* Swimming was amazing. A few times I forgot to breathe or take a stroke, having lost track of what I was doing, distracted by amazing fish and corals. As we swam away from the pier and into deeper water, the color changed from milky blue to bright turquoise then slowly faded to deep saphire. I kept thinking “THIS is my favorite color blue, and I get to swim through it! … no THIS is my favorite color blue, and it exists in nature!… OMG no THIS is the best color blue….”

Yeah I liked swimming there. My only disappointment was not seeing any turtles on that trip.

Alex, me, Russ
*pro tip: a full week before the event, the King K hotel is quiet enough that boys can change into Speedos in the stairwell, and you can leave your bags in the gift shop office…

20121027-064855.jpgLater that night we met up with some Wattie Ink.s and industry people for dinner at Humpy’s. It was great to meet Wattie and Heather Jackson, finally, and the Leavitts Three. Our first meeting kinda devolved after the jello shots came out, though. Humpy’s was celebrating Octoberfest that night. I’ll decline to post some photos, here, but there was a limbo contest (Heather rocked it), a beer stein girl slalom course (eventually closed for public endangerment), and a sausage eating contest that Wattie fully committed to (I think you’re supposed to get disqualified after you puke the first time…). Lots of fun. By about 9pm (2am CST) we were preeeeettymuch ready to head back to the condo. I slept like the dead that night, until 3am local time, that is.

Sunday October 7: Russ got up early to swim, then watched Alex run the PATH 5k. I slept, duh, and woke up with a tight back. I started stretching, ate some breakfast, then headed to the finish line of Alex’s race. We stood around waiting for the awards ceremony, staring at the sea and the vog. I kept stretching and trying to crack my back. Something was slightly out of place.

About an hour later, I was lying in the grass doing a full yoga routine, trying to get my hips and back to relax, but they kept tightening. A few minutes later, I couldn’t breathe or move. My lower back was officially spazzing out.

This has happened before –I’ve got a weird sacral issue and a few extra bones that makes for some fun muscle imbalances—but NOT THE WEEK OF THE BIGGEST RACE OF MY LIFE. Efffffff. Russ picked me up off the grass and we walked very, very slowly down to the pier, each uneven step hurting more than the last. We thought maybe trying to swim would help loosen things up.

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This is actually more of a gimmace than a smile. Fooled ya, didn’t I?

Yup, no. Didn’t help. Also, no turtles again.

20121027-064928.jpgOooooooohmahgerd what am I going to do about my back? I was pretty panic-stricken at this point, until I remembered my Wattie teammate, Shelby-from-Boulder, mentioned her acupuncturist guy would be on the island. A few frantic texts later I had an appointment set up with Todd Plymale-Mallory, LAc for the following morning.

We walked back to where TriBike Transport was set up and waited to be able to pick up our bikes. Russ napped in the grass and I just stared up at the palms hoping I could still race on Saturday. Would It be that bad if I couldn’t? Disappointing, sure, but at least I’m in HAWAII.

Luckily biking didn’t hurt my back at all. Quick change back at the condo, and we headed to Kona Brewing Company for a late lunch. Steve Johnson –who earned 3rd in his AG at Kona in 2011— showed up, so Russ and I (both first-timers to Kona) joined him for a beer and got some sage advice about the course and what to expect (upshot: the unexpected). He mentioned where he would be lining up for the swim (mental note taken), and said the Energy Lab was his favorite part of the run course (interestiiiiing… not something I had EVER heard before from ANYONE before). I told him about my back. He was like “you should really see my guy –he’s coming in tonight…Todd….” Yup, got it. So glad I set up that appointment already!

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Monday October 8: It was an uncomfortable night’s sleep, but I got myself out of bed to go wait in line for a free Rudy Project Wingspan helmet. Pretty awesome schwag, that. At one point I was standing on the street corner with my bike when a portly Texan walked up to me and said “hi, I’m John Cobb. I designed your saddle. Thanks for riding it.” OK! I saw him and his wife later and we talked about saddles (I should really be on something narrower), and the Wingspan helmets, which he also designed. He told us “it’s not going to be THAT hot, only 95 or so” so we should keep the grill in the front and the panel in the tail for aerodynamic savings. That was some pretty awesome advice from THE. EXPERT.

By 10am I was off to the condo Todd was operating out of for my massage/acupuncture session. He did a quick assessment and said “I see you’re in a lot of pain.” Physical? Yes. Mental, too. He determined that among other things that my gall bladder channel is blocked. Gall bladder: that would be the meridian in charge of decision making. Sounds accurate: I’ve been about as indecisive and foolhardy as they come this year.

The treatment was great and I felt some immediate relief, but my back still needed a little time to stop spazzing. We set up another appointment for Wednesday morning. I went for a quick swim to test it out –it was still very painful, especially in hyperextension while coping with the swells and sighting. And still, no turtle sighting.

More athletes were flooding into town by the hour. Russ and I spent the day meeting vendors set up near the PowerBar “store” (i.e. where as a member of the PowerBar Team Elite we got to grab a ton of nutrition products, stickers, gear, etc.), including DZNuts, Tony DeBoom’s Endurance Conspiracy, and Rudy Project.

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That night we went to a little expo of Hawaii’s cultural legacy at the King K’s luau grounds. Great (free) food and show, thanks, Ironman! Paula Newby-Frasier, Julie Moss, and a bunch of the Ironman/WTC honchos were standing around, and I invited Mike Reilly and his wife to slide up to our table. We talked for a bit and got a picture before taking in a cool luau demonstration and making a new friend.

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Tuesday October 9: I met up with the lovely and talented Michael Folan of infinIT Nutrition for breakfast at Lava Java. I’ve used infinIT for years as my sole source of nutrition on the bike, and had met him a few years ago in Chicago, but we bonded recently via Twitter over a mutual love of Modernism. Mr. Michael is my new fwiend.

He walked me to athlete check-in. WOW! It’s always an exciting time to check in at Ironman –to get your race number and pile of stickers, bags, and instructions— but at the World Championship is really something else in terms of languages/accents overheard and the excitement level. Everyone was all smiles. The woman who went over my paperwork with me flies in with her husband every year just to volunteer –they don’t do tris or any sport, but love the atmosphere of Kona during Ironman season.

That afternoon we were off for a 2 hour bike ride with Matthew Shanks, an 18-24M who Russ met at Ironman Mont-Tremblant. We rode north on the Queen K for a bit of a race preview. It was hot, windy, and gorgeous. My back felt great on the bike (I think because my hip flexors are nice and contracted in aero position, so they weren’t trying to stretch out and pulling anything else out of whack), so I went off the front a few times. The Queen K is so nice and wide, with huge shoulders and glassy smooth bitumen… a big change from Chicago!

20121027-065309.jpgThat night we missed the Parade of Nations, unfortunately, but headed to a really cool (and free) Paula Fuga and Mike Love concert at Hulihe’e Palace sponsored by a bunch of our new friends from the expo. There was food, too, catered by Skratch Labs’ Biju Thomas (Alan Lim’s partner in writing this collection of yum). It was a great night in the sea breeze and under the stars with Russ, Jackie, Matt, and Henry.

I think later that night the expo opened, so we wandered around in search of free stuff. There’s lots of it.

Wednesday October 10: My parents arrived from Oahu really early in the morning, so we caught up and headed to Lava Java (what can I say, really good food and coffee, and it’s the epicenter of The Scene). It was great to have them there, and they made it clear they were a phone call away if I needed anything, but otherwise they would remain out of my hair. Perfect support crew!

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Later, I had my follow-up appointment with Todd, who noticed my back and everything had made good progress in the last few days. He had his work cut out for him, but I was feeling much better.

That afternoon, Henry, John, Kimber and I drove clear across the island to Hilo to fetch John’s rental car and to see some sights. Wellllll it was a bit of a boondoggley road trip, but I highly recommend driving the Saddle Road. It follows the slight valley between the Big Island’s biggest volcano mommas, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. It’s a really fascinating trip ecologically and geologically: you pass through a bunch of different climate zones and above the clouds. The road passes over the intersection of the volcanoes’ cones, and the Mauna Kea side looks like the Sangre de Cristo range, while Mauna Loa looks like the MOON. A few blackened trees on outcrops of pahoehoe and backlit by white clouds looked just like Chinese watercolor paintings. Uh-mazing.

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We raced back across the island to try to make it back to Kona in time for a (free) sunset cruise on the Body Glove boat, thanks to Leon. More food and booze, a lot of fun, and a school (pod?) of spinner dolphins to give us a show. No turtles.

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Thanks to mom for meeting me downtown with a change of clothes. I was pretty determined to look like a girl during the non-sports-related events.
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Watties vs…

Thursday October 11: Well, first thing was the Underpants Run (UPR). Basically, everyone sports a bunch of flesh and runs around downtown. Hijinks and laughs ensue. It was pretty hilarious. Good clean fun, all for charity.

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…Wattie’s Hotties

My back felt pretty uncomfortable, still, even during the 1.2 mile UPR. I went for a swim afterward, and it felt better there, but not 100%. SIGH. I stopped by the expo and got taped up with KT tape, hoping that would help.

That night was the famous welcome banquet and “mandatory” course talk. Cool kids tend to think they’re too cool for school, but the show and banquet was fantastic and the course talk was really helpful. Russ earned us two free tickets and two VIP passes, so we sat in the VIP area (at the empty PowerBar table), and passed the tickets along to my friend Stacey Mullins –wife of my college buddy Mike Mullins, he who most inspired me to Ironman. Stacey was in Madison in 2011 to catch me at the finish line, and came to Hawaii to support her friend and catch me again! Awesome.

welcome banquet
Turquoise is the hot color in Kona right now. Stacey Mullins, center.

PAIGE AND ZEV arrived too! After I saw them in Austin in May, they decided to come to Hawaii to support me AND celebrate their 2 year anniversary. These two do it right –they landed and went straight to sushi, and met me on Ali’i with chocolate-covered macadamia nuts in hand. Fantastic.

Friday October 12: T-minus like… 20 hours to the start of the race by the time I woke up. Paige and Zev and I headed downtown for breakfast at… any guesses?

…Lava Java. Duh.

20121027-071048.jpgThen we wandered to the expo. I should have been off my feet, but I wanted to swing through and panic shop. I had my back retaped with massive amounts of PowerBar branded RockTape and sat in some recovery boots, bought some sunscreen, then went home to try to focus on the race. You can tell about how much of that I’ve done so far on this trip? Yeah, I was really unfocused….
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…oo, lookit, it’s Phil White of Cervelo with Mark Allen of Mark Allen. 

We had to check in our bikes by 4:30pm, as well as our helmets, T1 and T2 bags. I had a lot of work to do! Because my back was out all week, I didn’t do a lot of shake-out preparation. Note to self these workouts aren’t just for proper tapering, but also to make sure your shit is together. I hadn’t run all week, so had to dig out my Garmin and pack it. I had barely biked, so had some set-up yet to do. I hadn’t even decided if I was going to use my Speedfil or a regular bottle cage on race day (ultimately, I went with the later).

I was totally underprepared. Russ was ready to head out the door to check in his bike, but I just wasn’t. I told him to go ahead while I continued to walk around in circles. I couldn’t believe I had 13 months to think about this race and just HADN’T.

Later, downtown, most of the Ironman infrastructure had been set up. Ali’i was partially barricaded I had to get off my bike and walk it the last block to the pier, past the finish line. I caught my breath and got a little teary. Everything was suddenly really, really real.

20121027-065746.jpgBike check-in was LEGIT. There was a long line of athletes waiting to get onto the pier. They shuffled us through the bike count sluice where you walk past industry people who tally the brands of bikes, wheels, components, tires, pedals, saddles, you name it. I walked slowly through. A volunteer asked to see my T2 bag and my helmet, specifically, so I had to dig those out of my massive bag. I pretty much dropped everything on the ground in front of a bunch of cameras, which was cool. I looked up, though, and caught a glimpse of Wattie, who got a pic of me “locked and loaded.”

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Each athlete is assigned a volunteer chaperone through transition. Once they check to make sure you match your bike’s number and that you have a legal helmet, they put an additional special Ironman sticker on your frame. Then they walk you through each step of your transition set-up: swim exit, T1 bag, the route through transition, bike exit and entrance, the route back to your T2 bag. They escort you to your bike spot (mine was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay on the end of the pier, meaning I’d have to run a really long way with my bike in T1), watch you set up your bike (you’re allowed to keep your shoes on your bike! –that’s different from IMOO), then walk you through to set up your T1 and T2 bags. Again, it was really for real now, and the details started piling up.

Rhodsey and Crowie
Meta-verso. Picture of Crowie getting photographed getting filmed for teevee.
me Rhodsey Crowie
Meta-recto. Me taking picture of Crowie getting filmed for teevee on teevee, now a picture.

I planned to head downtown for check-in, then go straight to a team picture and dinner with the Well-Fit crew. However, I got caught up in the press scrum around Crowie (look for me in the background during the Ironman coverage). I also had to meet up with Lindsay Zucco to borrow her Blue Seventy swim skin (yeah, I would be wearing one for the first time on race day!). All these tasks, distractions, and the aforementioned unconsidered details kinda collided, and whatever stress I hadn’t felt all week finally broke me down. I found myself waiting on a street corner for Lindsay or her surrogate and missed our team picture. I just couldn’t be in two places at once. That hurt a lot–I was sorry to hold my teammates up and let them down. I was really proud to be a member of the Well-Fit Elite Team and associated with such fasty-fasts who I looked up to (still do), though I think wearing a different uniform doesn’t always reflect that or help endear me to my teammates. Sadface.

Anyway.

We met for a light dinner of spaghetti and meatballs and carpooled back to our respective condos. Thankfully, Russ was all settled and ready with his own stuff, so he was there to calm my nerves, help me focus, and talk me through setting out my things for the morning. Special needs bags were packed, my kit set out, and my breakfast all prepared in the kitchen.

I read a lot of good luck posts, Tweets, and texts, sent out as many replies as I could, and snuggled down for bed. My alarm would go off at 3:30am, Saturday October 13.

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