We had some business to take care of on the Big Island. It was not the race. Andy and I were married almost 5 years ago on Kauai and we spent our honeymoon on the Big Island. This was our first time back to Hawaii since we were married. For 5 years we have had a bag of sand from Kua Bay. We never opened it. It had to be returned to where it belonged. I thought the rule was you could not take black sand or lava rocks. However, you cannot take any sand. We felt bad about it. We were married in a traditional Hawaiian ceremony that talked about giving back to the earth and we owed this to the Big Island. Plus, I believe in Karma. I am not religious, I am spiritual. Hawaii is a very spiritual place. I was not going to return without bringing back what truly belongs to the land. We landed in Hawaii, explained why we had a bag of sand to the Agricultural agents (they said, "karma, right?"), got the rental car and went straight to Kua Bay before we did anything else. We returned the sand, stuck our feet in the water and felt much better after doing the right thing. I think the Hawaiian Gods appreciated our efforts but I still had to endure a very scary ride on the Queen K the next morning. Perhaps it was my punishment for taking what did not belong to me. If the winds were the punishment I got it and I understand, I will not take anything from the Hawaiian islands, EVER! Wow, I thought I was going to get blown over. Semi Trucks on one side, canyons on the other and horrendous crosswinds. It was a white knuckle ride. I was happy to feel it because if it came up in the race I would know (kind of) how to deal with it. It was also amazing because within 1 hour of finishing my ride the wind was gone. The wind was definitely a message from the islands and I heard it.
My preparation for the race went well after the first ride. I ran a bit in the heat, did some swimming and rested. We spent quite a bit of time laying in the shade at Hapuna beach and looking at Honu (turtles). I was totally relaxed and ready for a great day on Saturday. I was not really nervous, just ready to go out there and test myself against the elements. We drove up to Hawi for dinner on Thursday night so I got a chance to see the entire bike course. While the course itself is not super challenging (some rollers, nothing crazy) I knew the elements would make the course tough. The key for me was going to be riding strong, staying hydrated and fueled and coming off the bike ready to run well in the heat. I had confidence with this part. First, I was ready for a warm race since the first 3 races of the season have been chilly. Also, I have run well in the heat before and hoped to employ the same plan on this race. The plan being---build into the run and hold ice cubes in my hands. The ice cubes seem to help. I always cool off when I just stick my feet in a cold pool so I figure the hands are the same way.
Race day came and I slept well, had a relaxing breakfast, put on a ton of sunscreen and headed off to the swim start. I was happy to have done the Auburn Triathlon two weeks ago because it was also a 2 transition race like Hawaii. I was comfortable leaving my run bag at T2 the day before and then setting up T1 the morning of the race. I even had practice of bagging everything up quickly after the swim so it could be returned to the finish. Set up went well and before I knew it I was in the water for the swim start. This was the one thing making me nervous; a mass start of all the racers at 7am. I got in the front with the other Pros, the yelled at us to get back and then BOOM! the cannon fired and we were off. It was a bit hectic but I survived. We rounded the first buoy and it got wavy and hectic again. I, much to my dismay, became timid and backed off hoping for clear water. Wish granted, I lost the front group and ended up in no man's land for the remainder of the swim. I could see the group about 20 meters in front of me but try as I might, I could not close the gap. I told myself "it's a 5 hour race, don't freak out and get negative during the first 30 minutes." I came out of the water about a minute or so down from the leaders and jumped on my bike ready to have a good ride on such an amazing course.
I was really looking forward to the bike unlike other races in the past. I was not numb at the beginning of it and I have been working really hard on my biking so I was excited to see some improvement in this part of my race. I settled into a good cadence and got comfortable in aero. On this course you can be in aero for about 99.9% of the time. It has lots of straight lines. The only thing that made me come out of aero was just to stand up for a bit on the hills to switch it up or because the cross winds were scaring the crap out of me. A couple of age group women passed me at the beginning but after the turnaround at Hawi I caught them again and passed them. That is definitely new. I also noted how far behind I was from the women's leaders at Hawi and it was not that bad---a few minutes! More progress. I was motivated by this. I kept on top of my hydration finishing 3 bottles of Gatorade during the bike and grabbing water at two of the aid stations to gulp and pour over my head to stay cool. I felt good going into T2 and ready for a solid run.
When I hit T2 I grabbed my run stuff, shoes on and I was off very quickly. From the moment I started running I felt pretty light on my feet. I focused on taking quick steps and holding back just a little so I could be really strong the last 6 or so miles. I was confident I was hydrated enough and had consumed enough electrolytes. Andy told me that I was in 7th off the bike and to "run a few of them down." I had my orders! I passed two women before the first mile and came up on the woman in 4th (Sofie Goos) at Mile 2.5. She looked to be in a bad spot. I passed her and at another out and back got a look at the woman in 3rd. I wanted that spot! The course is up, down and around. Asphalt cart paths, road and grass. I have been running hills in California and I felt really strong. I caught the woman in 3rd around Mile 6 and did not look back. I was not going to give up that spot. I was enjoying myself. I was running hard and making it hurt---in a good way. I was also thinking of Andy. We have been living apart since the beginning of March. A big part of the reason for me moving was so I could get out to California and get in some good training for my races. We had made some sacrifices and I wanted to do well for me but more for him and the team that we are. I could not do this without his support.
Ultimately, I do not participate in this sport to finish in 1st place. I do this sport because I love to challenge myself in training and in racing. Some days I do great and some days it's not all there. However, that is part of the game. I accept it. In the end, no one is really going to remember what place I finished or how fast I went at any given time. My memories will be filled with pushing myself, overcoming challenges and getting through them with a smile on my face. A month ago a friend of mine asked me what my proudest moment in triathlon was and the answer was not the race where I had the highest finish or qualifed for my pro card. It was St. Croix 2009. I was sicker than I had been in years leading into that race and all I wanted to do was get out there and complete the race. No expectations beyond staying the moment. I try to find that mindset whenever I race now. That race taught me more about how to race fast than any other race that had come before it.
Honored to stand up with this group (Cocks, Granger, Wee, Deboom, Bell)
On Saturday I had a great race and finished in 3rd place behind two amazing athletes. It was honor to compete WITH them and stand up on the podium to accept my award. I made some progress on the bike and my run was AWESOME! A race is always that much sweeter when you end it well. Andy was surprised to see me come down the finish chute in 3rd place because they never announced that I had moved up during the race. He always thought I was still in 5th place. I was stealth out there.
Hawaiian Sunset at DinnerAndy and I had a wonderful dinner after the race and then packed up. On Sunday morning we met Hillary, the GCM and Belinda for coffee and breakfast and then headed to the airport. We were home that evening and Andy is getting settled into his routine here in Napa. We are officially here together and I am happy. Recovery and then back to training. Vineman up next and maybe something else between now and then :)