Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Ohio Triathlon

This past week I was in Ohio for work. I flew to Columbus and drove to the small town of Cedarville to attend an academic conference for two days. Ohio is very pretty and green and mostly flat!

As it happens, my cousin, a runner who is interested in triathlon, lives in Columbus. So, when I was planning to go to the conference, I figured I should try to throw in a race with her while I was there. We found a race in Alum Creek State Park not far from her place. She signed up for the duathlon and I registered for the tri.

Last Sunday was race day. It was a perfect day for the race: 20 degrees (68 F), light wind, scattered clouds. Annie and I made the 10 minute drive to the beautiful beach where the race started and were followed shortly by our cheer team, my aunt and uncle and Annie's husband and daughter. We had lots of time to get set up and we were both quite relaxed and looking forward to the race.

Annie started her first run at 7:00. My swim wave was the last one to go at 7:43. I walked down to the other end of the beach to the swim start and watched the rest of the waves go off. The swim was a straight line parallel to the beach for 800m. I did a little warm-up swim before my wave went and then we were off. The water was clean and warm. It was my first wetsuit swim of the year and I felt all choked at first but before long I found my groove. Then it was over before I knew it! 

I was on a rented Trek road bike for the ride (Annie made all the arrangements for the bike!). The course was 28.3 km (17.7 miles) of gently rolling, smooth road through the state park and into the surrounding communities. It was absolutely beautiful! We rode on tree-lined roads, across a long bridge over the lake, and past well-groomed, upscale acreages. At one point, the trees were hanging over the road so closely that it seemed like I was riding through a tunnel of green. I loved that ride!

The 5K run was great, too. It started on a loose gravel path, which made the footing tricky, but the path wound through shady, green woods until we came out onto a paved path alongside the road. That path took us to the dam at the south end of the lake, which we ran across. That was cool. It was high up and you could look over the edge and see the water rushing out the other side. The run continued onto a high stretch of built up land that held the lake back - great views from there! Again the footing was tricky up there because it was rough, grassy ground but it was only for about 1K. After the turnaround, we went back over the dam and through the woods to run the last 300m on the flag-lined path beside the beach to the finish. 

The post-race food was pretzels, twizzlers, tootsie rolls, mini chocolate bars, chocolate chip cookes, and bubble gum. Best ever!

I really enjoyed this race. The conditions were perfect and the course was spectacular. My chip time got messed up a bit and for some reason my swim, T1, and bike time got rolled into one and then it picked me up again when I was in T2. I'm guessing that my swim time was around 19.xx minutes, my T1 time around 3 minutes and something, and my bike time 1:05 ish. T2 was 1:46 and my run was 35 minutes. My legs felt like lead but I didn't care. Having just done the half iron in Hawaii the week before, I knew I wasn't going to have a terrific performance here so I just let myself relax and have fun. My total time was 2:03.

After the race, we spent the afternoon sitting on the patio with a few bottles of wine. My cousin Heidi, Annie's sister, drove down from Cleveland to join us. We debriefed the race and Annie said she really enjoyed herself, too. We had such a good time talking and laughing and catching up on a lot of years. It was a fantastic day.

Annie gave me this awesome wine glass!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Ironman 70.3 Hawaii

Last summer, my friend Kim asked me if I wanted to go with her for a girls’ trip to Hawaii to race the Ironman 70.3 (affectionately known as the Honu Half) on the Big Island. Naturally I said yes to an offer like that! So, after much anticipation, we spent last week in Hawaii and did the race on Saturday, June 1. That race was the hardest thing I have ever done! Ironman was easier. But let me back up a bit…

We arrived in Hawaii in the afternoon on the Wednesday before the race.  As we drove from the airport to our hotel, we were amazed by the incredible landscape. Almost the entire west side of the island is covered with black lava fields. It’s surreal – like being on the surface of the moon – but it has its own strange beauty. Our hotel was located by the ocean in a little oasis of palm trees and flowers. We stayed at the race hotel, which was very posh and lovely. It turned out to be a great choice to stay there because of the access to the expo, race registration, and shuttles to the start, and the convenience of finishing right there.

The time before the race was unexpectedly relaxing. I hardly had any race anxiety. It was just wonderful to be there. We ate our meals at a restaurant beside the ocean with our feet in the sand. We went for a short run and ride. We swam with the tropical fish and the giant sea turtles (honu). Incredible! We built our bikes, went to the expo, prepared for the race and just had a lot of fun.

On Friday, we rode our bikes 12 km up the coast to leave them in transition for the night. We walked down to the beach to see the swim course. It was afternoon and the waves were pretty big and it freaked me out a little, although I knew that it would be calmer in the morning. We took a shuttle back to the hotel and went right away to the pre-race meeting. The meeting began with a weather report that called for high winds and heat. Then a couple of people got up to tell us how hard this race was going to be and how we should remember that we actually chose to do this! They said we’d have to dig deep to make it through this race. That didn’t do much to help me with the race anxiety that was creeping up on me at that point! After the meeting, we went back to the expo and I bought a new tri suit to wear for the race. We spent the evening relaxing. I slept fairly well the night before the race and whenever I woke up, I would say nice things to myself about how capable I was so I could feel confident going into race day.

We got up at 4:45 on race morning, ate breakfast in our room, grabbed our bike gear bags, and headed down to catch the shuttle. In T1, we set up our spots and then walked down to the beach. The water was indeed calmer and it was a beautiful morning. Kim and I ran into Randy, another friend who had traveled with us but was staying at a different hotel. We all hugged and wished each other good luck.

The Swim
After waiting for the pros and the men to start, the women went off at 7:00. There were only about 500 of us so we weren’t too bunched up. There was a lot of room to swim but there wasn’t much of a draft pack. The course is a single rectangle that goes out parallel to the shore, turns to go out a little farther, then runs parallel to the shore again (for a little longer on that backside), then heads back to the beach. The water was pristine and you could see the bottom the whole way – coral, rocks, and colourful fish. The first stretch was calm and lovely and the turns were fine – not too clogged with people. The stretch on the backside was much wavier. I couldn’t catch sight of the next turn buoy. Whenever I tried to sight, I couldn’t see over the waves so I followed the group and trusted that someone knew where they were going! Strangely, the waves were coming from the shore and since I breathe to my left, I got the waves in the face quite a lot and swallowed a bit of the ocean. Still, I felt calm and strong and kept going until I finally saw the turn. The stretch back to the beach seemed to take forever but I swam side by side with another woman the whole way. I just love that when you are perfectly paced with someone else and you just glide through the water together.

My swim time was 1:00:36. What the heck was I doing out there? I thought I’d be under 50 minutes! I wasn’t sure what the reason was that it took so long but I found out afterward that others were out there for a while longer than they expected, too.

The run to T1 was about 500m, across the beach and up a hill. I got ready for the ride and slathered on some sunscreen - not enough as it turned out!  The bike course started out with a short, steep hill so at the mount line, they told us to get on and clip in and then they gave us a running push to get us going. That was great! Time was 7:06.

The Bike
The bike course is an out and back route that heads north up the Queen K highway toward Hawi (pronounced Hahvi). Here’s where we experienced how windy Hawaii can be! The wind speed was 40 km/hr, gusting to 70 km/hr. The wind was from the east/northeast so we had a strong crosswind, which was quite often a headwind. It was work all the way and sometimes it was hard to keep the bike upright. There’s one little stretch, about 1 km long where you head straight west, with all that wind power at your back. On that stretch, I was going 65 km/hr without pedaling! That didn’t last long, though, and we turned north again. About 7 miles from Hawi, we started a long, gradual climb against the wind and this was the only spot on the course where it also rained. That was just brutal but I just told myself that at Hawi I could turn around and enjoy the ride downhill! That short little fast stretch that we had going out was, of course, pretty nasty on the way back and I just kept grinding till I got to turn south again for the last 15 km or so back to T2. I realized that my expected bike time of 3:45 was a dream at that point and I wondered if I was even going to make the bike cut-off!  I told myself that I better make it since I had bought a Hawaii 70.3 bike jersey before the race (which I was thinking might have been a bad idea) and I had to earn it. Thankfully, I made it with just over 10 minutes to spare. My bike time was 4:12:11 – so much slower than I thought I’d be but that was just no ordinary ride. Wow!

Parked my bike. Put on my runners. Had to get my head around the fact that I had made it in time to do the run. Wondered if I could do it in the 3 hours I had left. Didn’t think so but, what the heck, I had to try. T2 time was 4:01.

The Run
Hot, hot, hot! It was in the high 30s out there with the humidity but I knew I had to keep running if I wanted to bring this race home. The run course is almost entirely on a golf course, with a few short out and back loops on road. You feel like a hamster out there, running circles on the grass! I had no sense of where I was at all but the course was well marked and there were a lot of people out there with me so it would have been hard to get lost. I picked off the mileage signs and calculated my time and progress constantly. I felt good, despite the heat. I walked all the short, steep little hills but otherwise I ran. At the aid stations, I drank water and coke but didn’t eat anything other than two pretzels and a couple of orange wedges. The run volunteers were amazing – they showered us with cold water, poured ice down our tops, and kept us supplied with icy sponges, which I squeezed over my head and then put under my hat. I passed a lot of people. I said “I’m good. I’ve got this” to myself. Between the 9 and 11 mile markers, the course went out on a service road into the lava fields and it was so hot and desolate and brutal and for that little stretch I felt all the pain of that run. But when I got back onto the golf course at the 11 mile mark, I knew I was going to make it. I just ran. Near the finish, the path goes over a bridge and curves around by the ocean and then there’s the finish line! I pulled in under the arch with a smile on my face and a run time of 2:53:56. Kim was there waiting for me and she gave me a hug. I said to her that I was never so happy in all of my life to have a sucky time – 8:17:50. I was just so happy to have an official time. She said that that race was the hardest thing she had ever done (and she's done 4 Ironmans) and I agreed!

After finishing, I walked over to the pool and got in. Nice! Then I ate the world’s most delicious cheeseburger, rested a bit, collected my bike, and took all my stuff back to the room.

That evening, we relaxed and talked about the race and how incredibly hard it was and how proud we were of ourselves. Kim figured her time was about an hour slower than normal and I knew my time was not what I could do under better conditions. During the race, I had a moment where I thought I didn’t have what it took but afterward I saw it differently. We earned our medals – and I earned that jersey!

After the race, we had a couple more days of vacation. On Sunday, I had a massage by the ocean. Heaven! In the afternoon, we went into town to shop and then went to a luau. The food was very good and the Polynesian dancing was incredible. On Monday, we had pedicures to pamper our feet, which had served us so well on race day, and we swam again with the fish.

What an incredible week it was. Such a beautiful place. Such a difficult yet satisfying race experience. So cool to be there in Kona, the Mecca of triathlon. It was truly the trip of a lifetime.