Kona 2019 – Unfinished Business

I got history there and we’ve got unfinished business.

-Beast Mode

Professional runner Ben True has always been someone I admire and can relate to.  He claims his relationship with running is “complicated.”  Many highs and lows, ups and downs.  All through high school and college he split his time with cross-country skiing and running.  He walked away from running after breaking four minutes in the mile. As a cross country skier, his 15 minute shake-out jogs reinvigorated his love for running.

Ben joined a running group in Eugene, but it reiterated that he had to do things on his own terms.  He moved back to his hometown in New Hampshire, away from all the big running groups, and trains solo (well, he does have his superstar wife, Sarah, to give him company).  There is a YouTube video which describes Ben as the “Lone Wolf.”

Like Ben, I found the love for my sport I never knew I had by moving back to my hometown in Washington. I removed myself from the triathlon clubs, social media pressures, I am self-coached, and I train and race on my own terms.  Most importantly, triathlon has become fun and exciting again.  I don’t obsess over any results but my own.  Everything just seemed to “click” this past year as I had some breakthrough performances, including qualifying for Hawaii for a third time.

Just about that action, boss.

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Ohana means family, family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.

– Lilo & Stitch

Ironically, Ohana was the theme of this year’s Hawaii Ironman.  Although I never lived in Hawaii, many generations of my family have grown up on the islands and one trait of utmost importance is family. We are always there for each other through hardship, celebration, good times, and bad.  I’m a pain in the ass the days leading up to an Ironman but I know my family will always be there on my side, supporting and cheering for me.

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Ironman was just a small facet of this trip and moreover a celebration with my Ohana.  We stayed away from the craze at the Four Seasons of Hualalai, about 25 minutes away from downtown Kona. This was, hands down, the nicest resort I’ve ever been to.  Accustomed to the roach-infested, redrum Uncle Billy’s hotel, this place was complete serenity and luxury.  From its polar plunge, spa, private beaches, extravagant pools, free apples and nuts, golf cart excursions, fancy restaurants, amazing fitness amenities, and a lap pool…  we truly spent a week in paradise.  Alistair agreed.

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Training for Hawaii went well as I continued sticking to my new motto – don’t take myself too seriously, have fun, and enjoy the ride.  Fresh and loose. I raced several local races post-Canada to maintain my motivation and fitness.  Although my presence online is nonexistent, my love for the sport is stronger than ever and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every race adventure this year.

Jitters kicked in race week.  I left the island five years ago feeling defeated and demoralized, vowing never to return.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the hype and circus here.  On top of that, the warm, humid, and windy conditions make it an extremely tough place to race.  While it’s an amazing experience for both spectators and racers, it’s easy to get flustered and overwhelmed by everything– not to mention some of the hype is real and I’m racing the fittest long course athletes in the world.

I treated this race like any other — in peace and quiet, away from the crowds, and with family.  It’s getting extremely tough to qualify for Hawaii and I wanted to soak in my experience.  This is the “Super Bowl” of triathlon and I felt very privileged getting to toe the line for the third time.

My attitude toward this race was completely different this year.  While I felt extremely fit, my main intentions were to give it a good effort and, above all, finish with a smile on my face — much easier said than done.  For me, there really is nothing else after Kona and I was not going to “dig myself a grave” like I would at a qualifying race.  I was going to celebrate and have as good of a time as possible, avoiding being carted off in a wheel chair and ending up in medical like I do at other races.

It was Becca’s first Kona experience and she was in heaven.  We toured the expo, walked around downtown, saw many pros, swam the pier, ran along Ali’i, and collected as many freebies as possible.

We were starstruck running into some of our favorite athletes in the sport.

Ali, The Don, Mark, Cody, and Lucy!

The Kona Underwear Run:

Happy fifth year Run-niversary to my Auntie and Uncle (Alva and Lee).  It was the 2014 Kona Underwear run that inspired them to start living active lifestyles.  Five years ago, the thought of running in their undergarments terrified them and they were uncertain they could run the 1.2 mile course. They’ve ran the Honolulu Marathon several times since this date and are now avid runners.

People have regularly asked what has kept me motivated to be in this sport for a decade – it’s these types of stories that have left a lasting impression on my “why” when things get tough.

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Family –

Our family has some deep roots in Hawaii.  It’s on the Big Island where we had our family reunion when I was a little kid.  It was also the year my Grandpa passed away and this reunion will be forever remembered.  Although I was still young, I seemed to fully grasp the gravity of the situation as I still have vivid memories of this trip — our frog hunts late at night, fishing in the ocean, and fun times at Waikoloa.

My Grandpa was the one who initially taught me to run.  He made me run up and down my driveway with newspaper in my armpits because I used to run with my arms flailing everywhere.  He also taught me (along with Uncle Derek) how to ride a bicycle and always promoted an active lifestyle.

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We had many trips to Hawaii growing up and family has always been of utmost importance to us.  I owe everything to them for supporting me all throughout all these years.

After qualifying at Canada, I was hesitant on pulling the trigger and signing up for another Ironman in the same year.  It’s never been my forte doing multiple Ironmans in the same racing season, partly because I value other things in life besides training all the time.  My family all said they would make the trip to Kona if I decided to race.  To top it off, Uncle Derek surprised me by paying for my registration!  Knowing my family would be present, in full support and love, gave me the motivation to go back to the promised land.

Courage

I was very relaxed until the night before the race.  I had flashbacks of my past races here and got emotional.  I was visually shaken up as I could not get that feeling of 2014 out of my head — walking the lava fields, throwing up, and crying.  Becca came to the rescue by giving me sentimental gifts every day leading up to the race. A personal card, a “Good Vibes” coffee mug, Epson salt baths, a countless array of candy, pictures of our journey together, home cooked meals every day, and lots of hugs and kisses.

Thanks my Boo!

There are many Hawaiian traditions and one of the common ones discussed is Pele, the goddess of fire, lightning, wind and volcanoes.  She is believed to be responsible for things like the day’s wind, various forms of karma, and some even think she helps with their results.

I wasn’t messing around this time and hoped Madame Pele was on my side.  Becca and I found a secluded part on a beach the night before the race as she gave me this poem, which requested good fortune and safety. I carried this with me in my jersey pocket for the race.

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Goddess of Fire,

Kamapua’a’s desire

Creator, destroyer

Tumultous lover

I pray for your favor

No ohelo to savor

These words are my offering

Mahalo for this journey,

Through salt, wind, and fire.

I boldly accept my destiny,

Though Ohana is all I desire

Bold and untamed,

Much like your old flame,

Grant me safety and speed

To the loved ones I need.

Knowing my Ohana would be there for me no matter how the day went meant everything.  With their love and support it gave me the courage and confidence needed to take on this extremely tough endurance event.  With all the craze surrounding this race, it’s hard not to get extremely nervous.  Everyone wants to be perfect at this race. Though, being perfect is not about the “scoreboard” out there. For me, it’s about my relationship to myself, my family and friends… and knowing that I gave my best efforts to train and prepare for this race.


Prior to the race, I met Becca and Derek in a room at the King K hotel, along with Colin and and other racers (Thank you Hans for sharing your room with us!). Having the quiet room, away from the madness and nervous energy outside, kept us calm and collected.

Swim:

This year was the first time Hawaii has utilized an age group rolling start.  After the pro waves went off, we were the first age group wave to start.  There’s nothing like this place walking through the corrals, Hawaiian drums beating, helicopters ahead, and a huge crowds around the pier.

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This race was all about focusing on my own abilities and staying within myself.  In the past, I feel like I’ve overexerted myself trying to hang with the big boys, but simply failed to match their abilities.  Any amount of overextending, especially in the heat, wind, and humidity, can be detrimental here.  My overall objective was to finish the race with a good effort and smile… which is much easier said than done in the notoriously tough racing conditions.

Swimming out to the start line, the nerves vanished as I kept reminding myself – this is like any other race—it’s simply a 2.4 mile swim and I was very confident with my swimming abilities entering this race.  The countdown began as the first age group wave was off.

It was a hectic swim with lots of contact.  It’s the only race this year where I felt like I could never get away from the huge mass of swimmers.  Everyone seemed to swim my pace people seemed super aggressive.  My ankles got yanked on, I got my head shoved, plenty of people touching my feet, lots of side-to-side contact, and never felt like I could get into a good rhythm.  The water seemed a lot choppier compared to prior swims here.

About three-quarters through someone pulled on the zipper on the back of my speed suit and it became undone.  I briefly attempted to zip it back up with no luck.

I kept my cool most of the swim, but it was not the relaxing, nonchalant, smooth swim I’m accustomed to.  I’m really not sure what I would have done any differently racing here again.  I wanted a good position to start and began towards the front of the wave along the buoy line.  The amount of fighting for positioning and congestion in the swim is something I never have to deal with… except at this race.

T1:

Out of the water in 1:01, a personal best here, but amazed to see all the bikes already out of transition.  The competition at this place is unreal and it always humbles me.  While I feel like I’ve made decent gains in the water this year, it’s here I realize there are a lot of people with the same work ethic, same lifestyle, and just as (or more) talented than me.  Having the right mindset this time around, I soaked it all in and admired all the great athletes around me.

Keep calm and collected, I kept reminding myself in T1.  Focus on myself.

Bike:

I was passed … a lot.

I’ve never felt good off the bike in Hawaii so I made a deal with myself before the race — no matter the conditions or the number of people passing me, I was going to stick to my game plan and not chase.  This is something I’m just not used to.  It felt like the entire field was passing me as I stuck to my power goals, kept my heart rate in control, and rode very conservatively.  I took very minimal risks throughout the entire bike leg.

Colin passed me right before Queen K, which was just about the same spot he overtook me in 2014.  While I had the verge to ride with him, I stuck to the game plan and let him go.

I’m the small guy in black.

It’s especially important in Hawaii to fully utilize all the aid stations to hydrate and keep your core body temperature down for as long as possible.  As I approached each aid station, every seven miles, I’d grab a water to spray water on my face and down my neck, grab another one to fill my aero bottle, and a third bottle to completely drench myself to stay cool.  I intentionally slowed down at most of these to ensure I got everything needed.

Although I was overtaken by many athletes, I was in good spirits, and for once, I was smiling here.  I feel like I thoroughly enjoyed and soaked in my entire experience on this course… a drastic difference from 2014, when I was soft pedaling most of the way back on the Queen K with zero energy, no confidence, and stomach issues.

T2

My head was in a positive place. I was excited and looking forward to the run.  I took my time in transition as a volunteer put a cold, wet rag around my neck while putting on my running gear.

I felt like a shark ready to attack.

 

Buuuuh Duh, Buuuhh Duh, Buh Duh…

 

Run-

I was happy. I felt spunky and full of life. FINALLY.

Beginning the run I saw my Mom, Grandma, and other family members as I smiled and gave them a thumbs up.

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Running along Ali’I was the best and most fun part of the day.  I felt strong and fast, as I was passing quite a few people in this early stage of the run.  I continued feeling good up Palani and up the Queen K.

Buhh duh, Buh duh…

I saw Becca and Uncle Derek up on the highway as I was still running well.  I honestly thought I had a low 3-hour marathon in me at this point of the race.

Running on the Queen K is a very lonely, torturous, and unforgiving place.  Approaching each aid station, it was amazing to see all the water cups and sponges on the ground.  I made a habit to grab as much fluids, ice, and sponges at every aid station.  I also ran with a cooling towel around my neck which seemed to help.  It was the first time here I was able to stick to my nutrition plan and stomach gels for the majority of the Kona marathon.  I knew getting calories into my body was key, especially early in the marathon.

Uncle Derek sunbathing and cheering along the Queen K:

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Entering the Energy Lab, it hit me. Legs felt wobbly, I got a stomach cramp, and I suddenly became very light-headed, and low on energy.  I did not panic.

I was now a baby shark just trying to finish.

I stopped to walk a bit as a witnessed everyone else around me struggling.  I’ve experienced this before, I kept reminding myself.  I took my time to ease into a slow shuffle again as I slowly snapped out of this funk.

It was a struggle the final 10k back on the Queen K but I knew I was on the final stretch.  It’s only 10k, it’s only 10k, It’s only 10k, I told myself.  I saw Becca with about two miles to go.  The Ironman shuffle was in full effect, but her motivation helped get me through the pain.  I ran down Palani and onto Ali’i as I briefly saw the all the sidewalk art my family made for me the night before the race. My support crew is legit.

I saw my family members as I entered the finishing chute, stopped, and gave each one of the them a hug and high-five.  My Grandma put a lei around my neck. It even made the NBC broadcast.

9:59:50, just in the nick of time.

My two seconds of fame (22 seconds in). I’ve officially made it in the sport.

My Ohana is the reason I continue racing after over a decade in the sport.  I cannot thank them enough for being there for me and having my back all of these years.   On a personal level, I’ve shifted my attitude towards bringing out the best me versus always trying to impress, outdo, or compare myself to others. At the end of the day this sport is my passionate hobby and I thoroughly enjoy the preparation and racing aspects of it. Triathlon can be a roller coaster ride, but with family and close friends in love and support, it makes the good moments oh so sweet.

I finally got the monkey off my back at this race — I finished with a good effort, had fun, and enjoyed all the moments and experiences throughout my entire trip. I finished off the decade with a bang – celebrating the sport’s most notorious event with my Ohana, with a smile on my face.

On a final note,

Happy holidays, Merry New Year, ya’ll have a great day.  It’s a great feeling to be back. Thank you.

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Now, time for vacation and some offseason fun.  See ya in 2020.

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Categories: Race Report, Races, Training

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