I don’t remember when we hatched the plan originally, but Dusty and I raced Honu 70.3 last weekend! He had raced it in 2011 and wanted to revisit the island. I’m never going to turn down a trip to Hawaii (though, I’d love to go there for something not triathlon related one day). We registered for it soon after I returned from spectating the Kona Ironman World Championship in 2013.
“Honu” (hoe-noo, not ha-noo) meaning “sea turtle” takes place on the Big Island and shares a lot in common with the Kona course. The swim is NOT off of the iconic Kailua-Kona Pier, but rather over 30 miles north in the small crescent of Hapuna Bay. The bike course overlaps the upper portion of Kona’s on the Queen K Highway –or more accurately on the Kawaihae-Mahukona Road, aka the notorious miles of rollers plus seven-mile-climb up to Hawi and back. The run is a different beast entirely, held on the fairways, golf cart paths, and access roads surrounding the Fairmount Orchid Hotel in Waikoloa, about five miles south of the swim venue. Nonetheless, the run still feels similar to, say, the most stagnant and humid portions of Ali’I Drive, the sun-baked miles on the Queen K, or the rough, mind-numbing descent into and climb out from the Energy Lab.
But really, if you are a masochist who NEEDS TO FEEL the very same heat and wind all the Mr. and Ms. Octobers do, Honu is the spot. (Kansas 70.3 is also a good simulation, just minus the turtles and sharks and general awesomeness of Hawaii.)
This race was a big one for me, and most of my story about it lies in the eight-or-so month run-up to it. That’s all pretty boring, though, so I’ll just say: with a renewed enthusiasm for the sport, and since there are both Ironman and 70.3 World Championship spots on the line, we targeted Honu as my A-race of the season (or, of the first half of the season). This, plus the general conditions of the race, added a bit of pressure to get fit. I’m far from the best shape of my life, but I’m probably the most healthy I’ve been in a while, both in terms of attitude and injury management.
Sport-specifically, my swim is as good as it has ever been while doing only what I would consider “base yardage.” My bike is probably the fastest setup I’ve ever had, and I’ve made great gains in power over the off-season. My run –my biggest problem area—isn’t too far off where it once was. I’m still hauling around extra weight, which *if* I shed would probably make me better at all three disciplines than I’ve ever been. BUT that’s where the healthy attitude comes in: for the time being I’m not ready to become OCD about calories and body composition. I like good wine and dessert, gluten and bacon, even more than I like winning. Yeah, there’s probably a happy balance I could achieve somewhere in a lower weight class, but I’m not there. Yet. C’est la vie.
On to the race!
Dusty and I arrived at the Hapuna Prince Hotel (near the swim venue) a week in advance. It was nice to be there BEFORE most of the Ironguys showed up. I was already tapering, so my first workout on the island was a 50 minute run in the heat with a few miles at race pace. I felt great, so accidentally did a few BONUS miles at race pace. The rest of the week was less successful-feeling. Swims were excellent, but the wind and temperature kept picking up through the week, so I became increasingly uncomfortable on my rides and runs. Then my back spazzed out, as is its way. I tried to just wait out the days, knowing through experience that the pain tends to melt away sometime during the race.
Race morning was easy: I downed some canned coffee product, took in as many calories as I could chew (only about ¾ of one Pop Tart), and sprayed myself silly with sunscreen. We had already checked our bikes at T1 just down the road, and our T2 bags the day before. Dusty and I walked over to T1 to get everything set up. Part of the new routine we’ve worked up through plenty of mishaps is to swap out the batteries in our Quarq powermeters. We figured it was a foolproof way to not get any whack readings as we’ve both had in the past.
No such luck. I fired up my Garmin and it wouldn’t read my powermeter. It just BLINKED at me all “no powermeter found” herpa-derpa-doo! I rolled my bike out of transition, hoping that getting it away from any conflicting signals would help, but nopers. I waved Dusty over to FIX IT DAMMIT, but he couldn’t. My chest tightened and (I hate this, but) I started crying. I wanted everything to go well for my big A-race but it was already FUCKED.
I attempted to collect myself on our way down toward the water with fellow Watties, John and Dillon Hollinger. Luckily, we also ran in to Joy and Aaron Sherrick, who are both Dark Horsies coached by Steve. Joy was Sherpa for the day, so I asked her to let Steve know MY DAY WAS RUINED! Luckily he was monitoring his phone so texted back (paraphrasing) “it’s okay, just go by feel, no big deal, calm the fuck down.” =)
Dusty and I got in the water and took a few strokes. He had to line up for his wave, which went off seven minutes before mine, so gave me some last minute advice to swim easy so as not to drown (hard swimming+verklempt=certain cardiac arrest). Luckily, I was able to relax during those intervening seven minutes. I lined up at the front and a few yards off the inner buoy line, tried not to bite anyone’s heads off as they “accidentally” drifted forward, and kept pointing at the first buoy: from our perspective, the two turn buoys at the far end of the course were pretty close together and could be confused during the coming melee.
SWIM 30:00 (and 1.29 miles), 1st F35-39
The cannon went off without so much as a countdown, so …uh… I guess we’re swimming now? As always, there were some fast women who took it out pretty quickly. I found some feet and tried to hang on while we (already) started weaving through the slower men. As we approached the first turn buoy, I was shaken off. There was a bottle neck of swimmers coming from 180 degrees: it seemed that some of the men swam to the wrong buoy first, then had to backtrack so were T-boning us at the buoy.
I found a few other pink caps to swim near, before we were separated AGAIN by a paddleboarder who took it upon himself to herd us onto a different line. Not your job, dude. Anyway, after the last buoy, I was just trying to find something on shore to sight on. I figured the huge PowerBar blow up was accurate enough –but everything else was washed out in the sunrise. As I got closer to shore I looked under my arms and noticed I was towing like four pink caps in with me. YOU’RE WELCOME LADIES. =/
T1 is a quick beach run, then up a hill over a green carpet. The transition area was TIGHT so there was a lot of “comin’ through! Watch your ankles!” I had to stuff my swimskin into a bag and take a few deep breaths before heading to the exit. I ran to the mount line where a helpful volunteer grabbed my bike and let me put my feet in my shoes before pushing me up the rest of the hill. Kinda cool!
Sooooooooo I had no powermeter and had to use my noggin as to how hard I thought I could push. Steve had assigned many many workouts that involved riding at race pace, so I SHOULD know how it feels by now, except that, as I’ve mentioned, I suck at holding watts outdoors. Meh, as long as I generally know I *could* push harder and still be within my comfort zone, it counts for something.
Two (or more) women of indeterminate age group passed me immediately out of T1. Another one or two from my age group (I think) passed me during our quick 4.8 mile trip to the south before the course turned north toward Hawi. Something like 2300 competitors were streaming out onto the Queen K, and, no, there’s no way to ride legally. It’s the same at Kona (sorry to shatter any illusions): it’s too dense with rollers that bunch people up in weird ways –not necessarily into draft packs, but into groups that yo-yo back and forth with each other as they climb and descend.
And, sorry, but there’s also the male ego to contend with. Some guys fail to realize that I’ve already “beaten” them as soon as I burst into the seven-minute bubble behind them, let alone when I (try) to pass them on the bike. On the way up to Hawi I saw a lot of the same characters over and over again, but one stood out. “CHUCKY” was written across his ass. We yo-yoed several times, him out of the saddle on the climbs, me sitting comfortably in my saddle but pushing over and downhill. We’d almost always meet just as another hill was tipping up. After several miles of this, I was on his left, making a pass. As soon as my front wheel broke the plane of his, though, he got out of the saddle and SPRINTED up the hill ahead of me, on my right.
“Don’t let your ego get in the way or anything, CHUCKY” I called after him.
I met him again at the top of that hill while he was coasting. “Wanna get on my right so I can pass you legally?” I asked, while he blocked the middle of the road. No response.
Another wiggle in the elevation separated us briefly until the road tipped up again. He came along side me on my RIGHT, again, and said “wow, you really can’t handle the hills, can you?” Yeeeeah, I’m not the problem here, Chuckles. Sure enough I came back up on him a few moments later.
“Are we going to do this all day?” he asked.
“Up to you. It’s your ego,” I replied. Predictably, I shot ahead of him on an extended flat section. I never saw him again, and can’t find him in the results, but I’d love to see this guy (Aussie, I think) retired from international competition.
At any rate, the non-passing-rules part of my bike leg was occupied with grabbing two bottles of water at each aid station, half to drink, half to pour over me, even if I wasn’t necessarily feeling the heat yet. The run was coming!
T2 was extremely nerve-wracking, only because I hadn’t even seen it before. Dusty had told me it’s basically just like Ironman: a volunteer takes your bike, another grabs your run bag, and you can sit down while they cater to you. Cue my shock when I rolled in to T2 and was confronted with racks in a layout I’d never seen. I tried to follow the signs while I called out my number over and over, hoping a volunteer would flag me down. That kinda not really happened, so I had to orient myself and portage my bike over a few wooden racks to my spot –a volunteer had been standing at it silently, just pointing at it, when I was counting on someone saying “HEY CRAZY GIRL! OVER HERE, DUMMY!” I sat down and jammed my shoes on, grabbed my gear and took off.
RUN WOAH NELLY 1:52something.
Usually, your legs just kinda spin and it’s easy to run too fast out of transition. Not here. Transition 2 and the opening portion of the run is on a fairway of the golf course. It’s a little bit like running on astroturf but without the energy return: the grass was soaked with rain and just zapped any energy I was putting into my stride.
I felt pretty good, though. When we got to some annoying roller-coaster like “hills” on the golf cart path, a guy I was running with said “I wish I had your legs” before crumbling into a light trot. I said it was pretty early in the day yet to say that… which was probably not what he wanted to hear, come to think of it. Nice compliment from him, though.
The run course is completely disorienting, winding about all over the resort. Kinda like the bike, but without all the illicit excitement, I could only go by feel. YEAH I had my Garmin to tell me my pace, but It meant very little over grass and the cart paths where you can’t carry any momentum. I felt I was just going from aid station to aid station. At a minimum I’d grab two cups of ice and two cups of water. Sometimes a cup of cola would land in my hand and I’d drink a sip. Occasionally I remembered I needed calories and electrolytes, too, so would grab a gel.
Mercifully, my ice hoarding techniques worked and I stayed fairly cool over the hot and humid miles. Miles 5 and 6 were slight grades on access roads, and I found a rabbit to chase and settled in to something close to my goal pace (!!!). #3 in my age group came screaming by me at about mile 8, and there was nothing I could do about it. Several more miles and I was in what someone on Strava has called “Lucifer’s Back yard,” or the Energy Lab-esque final stretch of the run. I tried to up my pace there, but it wasn’t working. Still, I felt strong and came across the line in a respectable-ish time. …I mean…kinda.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, I got 4th in my age group, and awards go five deep. I got a beautiful koa wood umeke bowl, and one of two spots to the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Mont Tremblant in September. Both of those goodies have distracted me nicely from dwelling on any mistakes or regretting only being seven minutes down (all on the bike leg, where I didn’t have the benefit of power) from the woman who took our one spot to Kona. NOPE, not dwelling on it at all. NOPE. =)
I didn’t even know there was a baby on stage because BOWL!