Honu 70.3: The Old Man vs Lance

This race wasn’t originally on my calendar, what with its being four weeks after The Toughest Ironman EVER™, but two things changed my mind:

  • Lance announced his intention to do it
  • I remembered I was turning 50 two days before the race, and what better place to turn Five-O than the 50th state?

So we booked it, Danno.

I have a love/hate relationship with this race; I’ve never raced well here. My PR is from the first time I did it in 2006 — 5:26 — and that was with a 45-minute swim but a somewhat-redeeming 1:38 run. It’s been downhill after that: a disastrous 5:48 in 2008, followed by a mechanical DNF in 2009 (flatted a tubular and couldn’t repair). The conditions don’t really suit me — I always sunburn, since the Hawaiian sun is at its most intense this time of year, it’s windy, it’s hot, etc. — but on the other hand it’s hard to imagine a more breathtaking venue. I love the Big Island; if I could do my software gig from there, I would. In a heartbeat. But that’s not reality.

Reality hit hard on race morning, though, when it became clear just how windy the day was going to be. That made my use of deep aero wheels a particularly bad choice (don’t buy into the video Zipp put out about how the 808 Firecrests aren’t susceptible to crosswinds — I’ve got a Kona ’11, a St. George ’12 and now a Honu ’12 that say otherwise. Looking for new wheels. :-))

Too concentrated on my own race preparation, I didn’t have a pre-race Lance sighting, but I did see a woman in identical TrainingPeaks kit to mine, and it turns out it was fellow Ambassador Tyna from New Zealand. How cool is that! Other than that, got myself covered with sunscreen and lubed various and sundry parts, and pretty soon we were off.

Hapuna Bay has very clear water, so visibility is really good — you almost have to remind yourself that a race is underway lest you get distracted by coral and fish. I got a clean start and wasn’t getting pounded by anyone, so I count that as a victory. I went wide at the first turn buoy to avoid the scrum, and then things started getting rough thanks to a strong headwind that was creating some chop and slow conditions and a low-but-bright sun that made sighting difficult. I got a little too wide and found myself with no feet to follow (and draft off of), and that probably cost me some time. Still, I exited the water in 38:37, a usual swim for me in ocean water with no wetsuit, and looked forward to my two better events.

T1 involves a long run up from the beach to the bike racks, and I was reasonably quick but could definitely stand to improve. Off on the bike, it was time to put the hammer down. My race plan was to be aggressive on the bike, figuring that the run leg was going to be tough no matter what — I still had a little St. George in the legs — so there wasn’t going to be much in the tank regardless. The winds were pretty strong even early on on the Queen K, which meant a lot of fun was in store for us between Kawaihae and Hawi — where it gets really windy. I was averaging 220-230 watts in the first hour, which might have been a little too high, but at that point I was all in, so I kept working it.

The crosswinds normally start at the turnoff to Mahukona, but on this day they were at their fiercest between Kawaihae and the Mahukona sign — I almost got blown off the road a number of times on the return trip. While still going out, I saw the lead escort vehicles coming the other way, followed by Mr. Armstrong himself, then … no one. For at least a minute or two. It was clear he was crushing it on the bike. I was trying to do my own crushing and was feeling pretty good, working it on the climb to Hawi and waiting for the screaming descent that comes after the turnaround — with of course the accompanying white knuckling caused by the crosswinds.

Those got worse and worse as I neared Kawaihae, and once up the tough little climb that leads back to the Queen K, I was treated to … more crosswinds. This must be the year of epic race conditions.

Still, the trip down the Queen K to the Mauna Lani resort was quick, and I was soon working my feet out of the bike shoes before hitting the dismount line at T2 with a big bike PR (I believe my fastest half IM bike split, not that I’ve done that many) of 2:40:27, just under a 21 mph average. I’ll take it!

The winds did have one positive effect: they made the run a little bit less hot, and they also provided a tailwind on parts of the course. However, they also provided a considerable headwind on other parts, so that was kind of a wash. I felt decent but not exactly spry, so I set a pace goal for myself of 7:20-7:25 per mile, thinking that would get me close to 5 hours at the finish. That worked well for four miles or so until I hit the first long stretch of headwind, and then my pace, er, suffered. When the going gets tough, the tough focus on going aid station to aid station and on making sure they get enough fluids and electrolytes.

I was doing fairly well on that score, and around mile 9 I caught up to a guy whose number indicated he was in my age group. I had no idea what place I was in, but I was determined to make it one place better. He must have spied my number when he was walking through the aid station, because he surged ahead of me up the long gradual climb straight into the teeth of the headwind. I couldn’t do anything but bide my time and run my pace, and sure enough he started walking again after about a mile. I pounced and pushed past him, not daring to look back.

The turnaround finally came, and I looked forward to the downhill and tailwind that I’d been working to earn. The thing was, the tailwind just made it hotter, and I wasn’t feeling the easy flow that I normally feel on downhills, so I can only conclude that somehow they made it uphill both ways! I was really ready for the fun to end, though, and with about a quarter mile to go, it did — both hamstrings went into massive cramps. I’m pretty sure I yelled the f-word, for which I sincerely apologize to anyone within earshot.

People always have best intentions in willing you to go on, but with these kinds of cramps, even walking isn’t an option. I tried walking backwards — that didn’t really help. I popped a salt caplet and just waited. After what seemed like an eternity, with competitors streaming by me (fortunately, no one in my age group), I was able to jog, then run, again. I hit the finish line — finally — in 5:13:30, a course PR by 13 minutes, and 7th in my newly-joined M50-54 age group.

The icing on the cake was two-fold:

  • a post-race Lavaman Red Ale at the poolside bar, courtesy of my sweetie
  • a rolldown slot to the 70.3 championship in Vegas, so add that to my race calendar

This is turning into a fun race year — I’m two for two on races in epic conditions and on highest-ever age group finishes outside of smaller local events. The bike emphasis I started at the beginning of the year really seems to be paying off.

Not that Lance is worried.

For data geeks, my TrainingPeaks files: swim / bike / run

Some event photos (copyright © 2012 Jeanne Cooper):