Racing With Turtles

Touching down in Kona in our wee puddle jumper was a bit of a relief. I must admit, I had to do a little quiet breathing the first 15 minutes to avoid pulling out the white bag and upsetting all 6 other passengers on the plane. A packed flight it was.

But it was in Maui, our stop over to Kona, that I was reminded why this race was going to be a special one:  the winds.  Trailing a 60 lb bike case, with another 45 lbs of duffle bag on top of it, I thought for sure that thing wasn’t going anywhere. But as Bob and I shuffled off to the Commuter terminal, the wind cleared the bike case of its own baggage …. and we didn’t even notice for 20 ft. The winds were angry that day my friends.  And they stayed that way for four days.

We met my parents in Kona and the week was spent relaxing, and relaxing some more. Outside a few swims, bike rides and runs, life pretty much was at a stand still leading up to the race. Fortunately for all of us, there were plenty of delicious places to do our relaxing; and the beaches and inifinity pool saw plenty of my dad.

After a few white knuckling trips out on the Queen K, I was ready to be tossed around on race day. Wind? What wind? It’s not like i’d be the only one of the course feeling 30 mph cross winds.

A few great swims at Hapuna Beach, more lazying around on the sugar white sands with the fam, and then the goggles are tucked away for race morning.

My trusty steed was as ready as she was ever going to be for a serious trip up to Hawi. I felt good. I’d done the best training I could do, inside of a warped work schedule and hectic last 2 months of family stuff, and so it was just about smiling and leaning into the beauty of it all.  I was, in fact, very lucky to be out there doing what I was about to do, and i promised myself, I would pay more attention to my own strength, power and energy as I felt less more like being out on the course the next day. 😉

So I tucked in my trusty steed, and bid her adieu until race morning.

3:45 am.  Normally I don’t need an alarm for race morning.  Maybe I was too relaxed? How did i sleep right up to 3:45?  yep.  i was already killing myself with drama. I had to stop.

4:15 am breakfast getting in me and I’m feeling good. I get chilly when I’m anxious and i start to feel like I need a jacket. which, of course, i don’t have. I’m in Honu. Who brings a jacket to the islands?

5:00 am arrive at T1.  some last minute issues with the bike/water bottles but I get squared away. I have a major e-gel blowout in the pants pocket I’m wearing so I have to relinquish my iPod to hubby for clean-up. he’s not happy about it, as it is spendy electronics after all, but he’s a love and let’s it go. he knows I know he’s not pleased…but now is not the time.

 SWIM:

200 ft of visibility in 60 ft of water. Deelish.

Mano a mano with 100 aggro top men for 1.2 miles, not so delish.

I never got out of the pack. No clean water. I swam centimeters within 2 or 3 men’s shoulders for the entire 1.2. At one point I was just timing my breaths to make sure I didn’t get clobbered again by the guy to my right (his elbow had knocked my nose and goggles on 3 separate occasions). I tried getting out of the tight pack, but found myself to far off course, and veered back in. Even swimming wide at the start did me little good. Lesson #1… still working on clean swimming for better times.

Third out of the water in my [new!] age group — so I was pleasantly surprised to hear that after the race.

BIKE:

“Remember, treat it like a ride with your buddies. Focus on your nutrition and just don’t hammer it. Remember, you have a great run waiting for you at the end.” – Coach Lesley Paterson to me before the race.

That’s exactly what I did.  I spun on the hills. I nailed my nutrition. I kept taking in the necessary food and electrolytes to keep me from cramping (like i had on every other half im i’d ever done). And i giggled. Yep. I was laughing. I laughed when the headwinds picked up the last 5 miles to Hawi. I smiled when I heard Kristin Mayer pass me and yell my name. I was going to watch her…learn from her. Follow her lead. She wasn’t hammering either.

I held back when my instinct was to push harder, ever harder, to go faster. As the day heated up, I remembered my hard work in my training runs and was just waiting to put in a great run. I enjoyed every last minute of that bike ride. When I saw the sign for 50 miles, I saw I was on a PR time for that bike course. I could push it a bit harder and knock 15 minutes of my previous bike time here from 4 years ago. So, i did.

15th off the bike in my age group. woo-hoo.  I was ready for the run.

RUN:

T2 – and I can’t find my run bag. After a few feeble attempt to find it, and ask for help from a volunteer, another woman already strapping on her shoes tells me to yell – ‘take the bull by the horns girl’ she says. feeling like i had permission now, I scream for help to find my bag….which arrives in the form of an incredibly kind older woman who tells us both what an inspiration we are to other women, and wishes us both good luck on the run course. I apologize immediately for being an a** and smile at her with eyes that were imploring for forgiveness.

Immediately out of transition I get a taste of how hard the run was going to be.  The heat and humidity on the grass (of the golf course) was sweltering and my cadence slowed right away. Then the hills. Up. Down. Up, up, up. Down. Sure, these are fun when you’re in a golf cart – it’s like a little roller coaster. After a 1.2 mile swim, and a 56 mile bike on the Queen K?
It was time to get my head in the game. This was mile 1. Heck, it was mile .10.

It was a slow go for the first 5k. I stopped looking at my watch. The wheels were coming off the bus…things were not going as planned no matter how much “hay in the barn” Bob told me I had put prior to race day.

I opted for optimism instead of self-criticism. I had a list of positive things that I’d counter my negative-self-talk with, and I was going to start using em.

No cramping. Check!  Eating good. Check! Still moving forward. Rock on! And then the 10K is down.  After passing the 7 mile mark, I am cheered on by a fellow female racer who says “Just 6 little ones left!!”.  Which perks me up and gets me going a bit faster.

I’m smiling now thinking that i “only” have 6 miles to go and that I even THINK that. I marvel at my strength, speed and sheer willpower. If I can do this, if other women can do this — why the heck can’t we do all the other things we think are so hard to do? I was thinking of all the women who told me their life-transforming stories about how GOTRIbal had changed their lives, how they were sharing their endurance sports journeys and accomplishments with other women, and I just started smiling again.

I thought of my sister, fighting cancer with fortitude I’d never seen in a person, and my family’s strength to help her in her fight.

I was smiling in and through my physical misery.  It was electrifying.

During the 3 mile “death march” (miles 9-11.5) I picked up my speed and cadence. I was tired, but I had this weird second gear. It felt like a fast tempo run. I was getting my rhythm….at mile 9.

At the onset of the hills and grass, that cadence and rhythm stopped. I was back to slogging through the run. But as I saw the ocean start to unveil itself beyond the last slope, and hear the announcer at the finish, I just told my legs it was almost over – I spoke to my off-the-charts-beating-heart and asked for 5 more minutes of oxygenated blood … just get me across the line.

It was at mile 12 when I started to see I might do this thing in under 6 hours. Four years ago that wasn’t even a possibility. Was I going to set a PR for this Honu course? Is it possible?

Crossing the line at 5:55 was a deeply emotional experience. I hugged Bob and cried a bit. I had done it. Working for the first time without a goal time.  Working, instead, on goals other than time; to focus on the little elements of each part of my race, to race for my sister, father, uncle and mother (those who can’t race), to be happy and ENJOY what I’m capable of, and to feel the strength and power of my body even as I get faster in my ‘old’ age! Who said we get slower as we get older!!!

My family was a major contributor to both my enjoyment during the whole week and my love of sport my entire life.  I give them, and my hubby, thanks and love for all their support and unconditional love as I continue on my endurance sports journey.

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