I have almost caught up on sleep so I am finally coherent enough to sit down and write about the amazing time I had training in Kona last week. When I boarded the plane early Friday morning, all I had with me was my bike and a back-pack full of workout clothes. I knew it would be a long 5 days of pure training without distraction and I could not wait.
About an hour after I landed and dropped my stuff off at the athlete house, we were headed to Kealakekua Bay for our first ocean swim. It was a picture perfect afternoon in the refreshing, clear, sapphire-blue water.
I hadn’t been in the ocean in a long time and I almost welcomed the familiar taste of salt water on my tongue. I was swimming with the fish and the coral and felt at home again in the water. We used the swim to determine our level of swimming compared to the other athletes at the camp so we could find a swim partner. I found Kelly and little did we know that this was the start of a swimming bond I will never forget.
Following the swim was a short hour run. I haven’t felt that great on a run in a long time. Even though it was rolling hills, I hardly noticed. This is obviously from training at altitude in Colorado, but you don’t understand the benefits of that training until you have the opportunity to go back down and train at sea level. I was holding a solid pace and yet my lungs weren’t burning and I was not gasping for air…strange.
Day 2 of camp was my biggest hurdle and probably the one day I was not really looking forward to. This was the day of our 10k swim from Keauhou Bay to the Kona pier where they hold the Ironman World Championships swim course. I never doubted that I could complete all 6.2 miles, but I knew it would be painful and extremely long. Not being the strongest swimmer, I had no idea how long it would take me. We arrived at Keauhou Bay early Saturday morning and Kelly and I talked strategy while watching the sunrise.
Every group of swimmers had a kayak escort which was an essential part of completing this swim. We had Michelle’s husband who is very experienced with this kind of thing and this helped to calm my nerves. He not only guided us on the most direct route (with my inability to swim in a straight line, I probably would have been out to sea without him) but he carried all of our water and nutrition.
When Kelly and I started the swim, the conditions were beautiful. The water was clear and calm, no clouds in the sky, the swim felt like butter. It was almost effortless to glide through the water, I have never felt so serene. Kelly and I had agreed to stop every 45 minutes for a water/nutrition break and after our second stop, an hour and a half into the swim, we couldn’t help but boast about how great we felt and how amazing this swim truly was. We blew through the first 3.5 miles. Then, very abruptly, the water turned choppy. I thought maybe a large boat had passed and we were stuck in the waves from its wake but after a few minutes, it did not let up. I popped up, Kelly stopped to. The clouds had rolled in, the wind had picked up, and the water was anything but calm. What happened?!?
The conditions of the last 2.5 miles were exactly the reason I had dreaded this swim in the first place. I have swam in the ocean in nasty conditions before and it soon becomes a fight to survive. Turn your head to breathe and get smacked in the face by a wave. Swallow a bunch of saltwater. Get sloshed up and down. Try to swim left but the wave pushes you right. Feel glimpses of helplessness. My only saving grace was Kelly. Just seeing her out of the corner of my eye and knowing that she was pushing through the same thing saved my mental state. She looked so strong, like none of this was affecting her. I had to stop a couple of times and hang on to the kayak to grab more water and nutrition. Fighting the waves was starting to take it out of me. We only had half a mile to go and we could see the finish, but I was struggling to stay positive. Kelly kept me straight. She told me I could do it and we could stop as many times as I needed. She was awesome. And then we made it, 3 hours 54 minutes. My arms felt like jello, my tongue like sandpaper. It was like I had gargled saltwater for the last 4 hours but I still had a sore throat. But I had finished something that up until this point, I wasn’t actually sure I could do.
To celebrate, all of the athletes headed over to the Kona Brewing Co. to have a few beers and eat a lot of food. I was starving. I took a deep breath, worst part of camp for me was over.
I woke up Sunday morning excited for the long bike ride ahead of us. We planned a 110 mile ride on the Ironman course and, based on my poor performance there back in June during my half-ironman race, I had a few mental blocks I needed to work through. I wanted to conquer the climb to Hawi and prove to myself that I am a capable cyclist. Truthfully, I have been judging and questioning myself as an athlete ever since this bike ride back in June. This time I had my power meter and a better perspective on how to tackle the gusting cross-winds.
After 30 miles of relaxed pedaling in the group, we hit the turn-off for Hawi and I immediately got in the zone and took off. I didn’t tell anyone my plan or give any warning, I just wanted it to be me and the road with no distractions.
The wind was impressively strong, just as I had remembered, but I dug in and took control. I kept my focus, maintained my power, and nailed the ride. Sometimes your biggest enemy is your own sub-conscious and I can now happily say I left that enemy in Hawi.
At mile 80 I learned an important lesson about myself. My coach and I were drilling it back down the Kamehameha Highway into a fierce headwind. We were each taking 3 minute pulls and it was getting to the point where my 3 minutes of drafting was not giving me any rest. I was dying and I could not keep the pace any longer. I had nothing left in the tank. We backed off and she immediately told me to eat something. Wow, I hadn’t eaten in a while, it was something I was not paying attention to. After a little while of taking it easy and eating I felt my pep come back and my strength rejuvenate. It was amazing! Keeping up on calorie intake is so essential and now I understand the consequences of forgetting that key part. I ended the ride feeling strong, even though I had gone very hard for the majority of it.
Monday consisted of 70 more miles on my bike seat, something that was extremely painful to be on at this point. After Monday, all I wanted to do was pack up my bike, put it on the plane, and then maybe not unpack it for another week.
Like a whirlwind, the last day of camp came and I couldn’t believe it was almost over. I was secretly looking forward to this day all week and not because it was the last day but because it was the long run day! I was so excited to do a long run back in Hawaii considering how painful my long runs have been in Colorado. I was craving a flat road at sea level. I woke up Tuesday morning to an uncharged Garmin watch and my mood turned sour. I had a goal pace that I wanted to hit on the run and now I would have no way of tracking that. My coach, on the other hand, was ecstatic that I had no watch. In a desperate attempt to give it a little juice, I left it charging with one of the girls who was leaving the house a little later than us, hoping she could bring it to the run. I later found out that my coach intercepted my devious plan and I was seriously going to run 15 miles with no gadgets, no headphones, no music. Very organic I guess.
I had three pivotal learning experiences during this training camp. The first happened during my push through the final 2 miles of the swim, the second happened at mile 80 on the bike, and the third happened in the last 7 miles of this run. I had gone out at what felt like a great pace and by the turn-around point, I felt like picking it up and really pushing it on the way home. I was keenly aware of my body and the feel of my legs, I had no distractions. I thoroughly enjoyed running along Ali’i drive and even though I don’t know exactly what pace I was going, it felt fast and fluid. I have never felt so satisfied after a run, this was one of the top 5 runs I have ever had. I finally finished a run putting in an amount of effort based strictly off of how I felt and not influenced by a time, a heart rate, or a pace.
We all finished up, showered at the beach park, and headed out for celebration burgers and beers.
I met some amazing people on this trip and have new friends that I can now keep up with and follow their crazy training and racing lives.
And then I got on the plane a few hours later and headed back on a red-eye flight. Of course I pulled my least favorite stunt of getting off the airplane and heading directly to work. Thankfully I wore a long skirt to hide these bad boys.