So I get out of transition and it is a zoo out there! I don’t know which was more crowded, the race course or the sidelines. Both were jam packed. We had an out-and-back section on the Kuakini highway and people were several across. Drafting codes were not really being considered, it was just really jam packed. I just relaxed, sipped on my bottles, and took a chill pill.
I was lucky in that I had a plan. Chuckie and Angela had ridden the course in days prior and Chuckie sent me a really good email about patience. My plan was to ride the first 50 miles patiently. Additionally the goal was to keep a low profile, a low heart rate, and to lay in hiding. Then when 50 came, it was go time. Michelle spent a lot of time training on the course the last few days and she gave me a ton of tips about the windy sections of the course and the climb up to Hawi.
The first 10 miles were really about getting settled on my bike. People were flying by me. I wish I could figure out how many people went by me in those first 10-20 miles. It was oodles, it felt like hundreds, and it didn’t bother me one bit. I just let them all go, and I pretended I was a tiger in Africa, waiting. There was a few cat and mouse games with some ladies, one by the name of Kendra (a hoot this girl is). That girl cracked me up a few times. She was making friends out there, having conversations. At one point Kendra went by and said “Sonja, have you met Lauren”. There was a lady named Lauren riding next to us at that time. Lauren looked and me and said “Is she talking to you”, and I laughed and said “I think so”. It was just funny, here everyone was focused and Kendra was about to break out a Mai Tai!
Making the turn and biking up Palani is a total highlight of the race. I had people screaming my name the entire way up. Friends, acquaintances, blog readers. It was (to copy Raelerts 70.3 speech) "freaking awesome".
By 25 miles in most people had settled down. I was hanging out at the bottom or a bit lower than my Ironman heart rate range. I had the rented 808 with a PowerTap on the rear and was keeping my watts nice and steady over the hills right around 160. I will say that I didn’t feel “tttt-riffic”. I felt “normal”. Chuckie had warned me about this, that I may not feel snappy. It actually took a little bit of time to get my legs under me. But I had 50 miles to get there, and I wasn’t too worried.
I also entertained a few thoughts about the swim during those first miles on the bike. Part of me was really hoping to PR at Kona and I couldn’t help but think that I was already 3 minutes down from my CDA time in the swim. I let myself think about it calmly for about 90 seconds and then I released it, told myself that I have to move forward, and I put it behind me.
The Kona bike course is insane. There is LAVA everywhere. It’s on the side of the road, and in some places all you can see is black. I have to admit, I loved it. It was hot, but not Death Valley hot. I usually go through a bottle of fluids every one hour, and in Kona it was one bottle every 45 minutes. The aid stations were every 5 miles, and the first few were actually almost a little too often and I skipped quite a few of them. I definitely felt like all the dressing warm on rides back home was a good move. It was a pain in the butt, however is was paying off here.
The first “marker” that you are thinking about on the course is the “turn to Hawi”. I learned this week that in Hawaiian when a “W” is surrounded by two vowels, it’s pronounced like a “V”. So Hawaii is actually “Hah-vi-ee”, and Hawi is pronounced like Havi. So, I get to the turn to Havi and we are only 40 something miles in. Now I’m starting to get antsy. I’m warmed up, my mind and heart are ready to hurt.
At 45 miles I start picking things up about 1 heart beat per minute. I started playing “Ironman” in my head. I hit 50 miles and it was go time. It just happened to coincide with the climb to Hawi. This is the infamous section where people get blown off their bikes. It did not disappoint! The wind comes purely in gusts, and the gusts will knock you off your bike if you aren’t focused. I was glad that I was starting to hammer a bit harder here because strong pedaling and fast pedaling really helped me keep control of my bike through the wind.
And then it started...I started passing people like no tomorrow. All the way up to Hawi I was constantly passing while I worked my way into the upper section of my Ironman heart rate zone. It was fun to watch the average watts climb climb climb. People were really starting to hurt here. I watched people loose their strong cadence and start grinding at like 50 rpm. That's a sure sign of eminent implosion. I was fresh and jazzed and having fun hauling.
Hawi is about mile 60 and it’s also where you get your special needs bags. It was raining in Hawi and I got soaked and a little cold. I just laughed and assumed that it would be the last time I was cold in the race. I picked up two new EFS bottles in my special needs and an EFS liquid shot and was off. the volunteers were awesome and they nailed the special needs exchanges. My style is to stop in front of the person with my bag, unclip, take what I need, and get going again. Some people take the bag and keep biking, but I think this is just asking for disaster. Especially with the wind.
Departing Hawi is a giant downhill and you encounter the same freaky cross winds. Again, I was glad to have lots of juice in my legs and to be able to pedal hard and fast. The giant downhill was so fun and yet again I was so pleased with my gearing as I did not spin out at all and passed many a dude in this section. It actually reminded be of descending from Ward with a big head wind, and well, I've done that with Chuck and Michelle a dozen times this year, I felt prepared for that descent.
Making the turn back onto the Queen K from the Hawi side is where the women start to get separated from the girls. This is where you find out how hard you trained, how many bike sessions you missed, and how tough you are. It’s miles and miles of hot rollers in the lava with a headwind. But I was focused, I was ready. I had paid my dues in the front half of the race and now was the time to push the watts and push the little voices in my head (which were actually pretty happy voices).
I counted down the miles, every one of them. I stayed really hydrated continuing with one bottle every 45 minutes. The road is so straight, and so desolate (even during the race) that I would put my head down and watch my Garmin for minutes on end. I would only have to glance up every 30 seconds or so. I thought about all the trainer sessions with my head drooping while I watched my Garmin. It was just like that. I shut down all other body parts except my legs and I stared at my heart rate and my watts and tried to ride the most even, consistent, and hard that I ever have. I kept telling myself "If you are going to do this, do it well, do it the best you know how, seek perfection".
I gave myself lots of pep talks here “Stay strong, stay even, you are doing this, just keep it up, relax, use your legs, just like you’ve been taught”. I really pulled out all the mantras out there. I also started making goals. I wanted a 5:30 bike split. Actually, I really wanted a sub 5:30 bike split to tell you the truth. Where did I come up with this number? Nowhere, it just came to me out there on the Queen K. Yes, it's 15 minutes faster than both my other Ironmans, but Chuckie had me ready, he had me biking really well and I thought 5:30 was in me for sure.
When I hit 4:30 on my watch I looked at my Garmin to see how many miles I had left, it was 20.1. Okay, I thought, you need to go faster than 20.1 mph for one hour and you will have that 5:30 split. I can do anything for an hour right? So, keeping my heart rate right at the top of the range, I went for it. Go big or go home. I’m glad I had this goal because it kept me honest. I rode so hard coming home that I swear I did not get passed once...guy or gal. I was focused. Every time I would hit a hill and I would be going 13 mph my heart was breaking, and then when I would go down the other side and I would be doing 27 I wanted to cry from joy.
With 7 miles to go I had exactly 20 minutes left until a 5:30 split. I really went for it here, there was no “sit up and spin your legs out”. Oh no, I was going for it. We came back into town and I saw my dad cheering and taking pictures. I went around the hot corner and to me it was just a sea of green shirts as my family lined the corner and screamed so loud that the announcer started cheering for me. They seriously took the whole cheering thing to a completely new level!
Around the corner, big Banyon tree, out of the shoes, hand off the bike, glance at the watch...5:30. Boo Ya Sonja, you made it. Okay, so I wasn’t quite under 5:30, but I was super stoked about my split. I worked really hard for it and I executed exactly what Chuckie had advised.
Two disciplines down, one to go. Just a simple little marathon. The heart of the Ironman is the run course, and the heart of the Kona Ironman is in places with names like Ali'i drive, Queen K, and Natural Energy Lab. These locations are cuss words in the hearts and minds of many. People are humbled, they are brought to their knees out in these places. How badly did these locations plan to hurt me?