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The day before the race I told someone, maybe Ciaran?, that it was going to be a windy day. I hadn't looked at the forecast or anything, but I just knew. About one mile into the bike Cowboy James passed me and said “I said you couldn’t pass me in the swim” ahahah!! The first 7 miles are just crazy and I think I drank an entire bottle of OSMO in those 7 miles. Muddy was there screaming that I was 83rd. I thought, Oh boy, that’s a lot of counting! Going up Palani I smiled and sat up, knowing that this section of the race MEANS NOTHING. The one alarming thing was that my heart rate monitor wasn’t working. It just kept saying 63. In 12 ironmans, my HR monitor has never gone on the fritz. This was frightening because I can handle no power, in fact, I don’t even have power on the PR6 yet, but no HR was a pretty frightening concept, I ride by HR. Muddy isn’t really into the HR thing and whenever he can he tries to get me off of it. So I had done a fair amount of training, especially in the last month, without my HR monitor. Know thyself. I repaired it to the Garmin… no dice. And then I just realized…holy moly, this is supposed to happen! I have to do this on my own today. It’s a test from the triathlon gods. Do I know my stuff, do I know my body? Can I do this all on my own? The tri gods are telling me that if I want that salad bowl, I gotta go it alone. Once I had that little talk with myself, I was committed to riding by feel.

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The first 30 miles were a bit of a mess. There was a fair amount of drafting. You could tell people were sorting themselves out. There was a lot of that “early on the bike” energy where a chill pill would be a good idea for most. I went by my good friend KK and she was like “Sonja will show me how to pace this thing” and I’m thinking “no HR monitor….I don’t think I’ll be evenly pacing ANYTHING today.” I caught Ciaran and he was like “I don’t know who drafts worse, the men or the women.” That got me really laughing because it’s my 5th Kona and I know the scene. But I also know that by Hawi it’s a complete different story and that’s when the real racing starts.

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The wind was legit. Usually we start off the day with a tailwind on the Queen K. Not this year. There was a headwind the minute we hit it, and the more we rode, the stronger it got. When I passed Hailey she gave me this look like “Holy crap, and we exchanged a few words on just how windy it was” I didn’t worry about her though, because I know she always rides steady, well, and smart, so I knew she would come through fine.

Amy and I were going back and forth a lot and that was a good thing. She rides like a boss and if she and I lived in the same town I think we would ride together a lot. I also like that when I passed her she would get legal distance behind me before repassing, and I would do the same.

We got to one section after Waikaloa and the wind was trying to rip us off our bikes. It was gusty and we were going like 11mph. Worse than I had ever seen and here’s the crazy thing. I started laughing, like a serious case of the giggles. I looked behind me up at Madame Pele on the volcano and I said, out loud, mind you…”THANK YOU MADAME PELE, I WAS MADE FOR THIS.” I LOVE adverse conditions on a race course. I always perform better with adversity because if I’m good at one thing it’s staying tough when things get brutal. It was then that I knew Madame Pele wanted me to get my bowl, that she was looking after me today, that she knew I needed this sort of wind to separate myself from a big chunk of my competition. I thanked her every few minutes for the rest of the ride. And honestly, because of that, the ride became more of a spiritual endeavor than it's ever been for me.

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The wind up to Hawi was all head (barely cross) and strong, as it was through the rollers leading up to Hawi as well. Thank you Madame Pele I said. I hunkered down and really enjoyed not having to look at my garmin. No HR, and on a course I've raced 5 times, I know every hill and every turn on that course and for the first time I could really just enjoy getting the most out of myself out there. Rolling into Hawi I was looking for my ditch tour guide CJ to show him I was wearing his ring. I didn’t see him, BUT, there was my Uncle Norm screaming at me GOOOO SONJA!!!! I was like “WHAT!!!! AHHH!!! AWESOME!!!” because he was the last person I expected to see up there. Then after special needs he was on the other side of the road yelling at me “you are in 8th.” I was stoked. I could work with that!!

Coming down from Hawi everyone around me seemed skittish and I put my head down, put it in my biggest gear and spun my butt off. Thank you Madame Pele I said over and over. This is about when things start to get hard and where I usually really key into my heart rate monitor and just try to drive it up up up for the last 50 miles. So without that to use I just repeated “Feet, form, focus, thank you Madame Pele” over and over and over 1000+ times. I did some back and forth with Andrea in the Aussie kit. She asked me “how’s it going” in her cute little Aussie accent and it made me think of Bern and Liz in Melbourne which made me smile.

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Eat, Drink, Feet, Form, Focus, Thank You Madame Pele….over and over and over, all the way home.

The wind was really interesting coming home. We had a 15 minute stretch, usually a headwind section, where I was going 38mph on flat road. I was in full tuck, taking full advantage, and then the road turned and I was going 16. It was just strange. The wind all the way back home was typical Kona conditions in my opinion. It didn't let up after the airport this year, but I'm always prepared for that, and I was just so darn happy to have a challenging ride.

Some years in Kona are gazelle years, and some years are bulldog years. I knew if I waited long enough through the gazelle years, I would be treated to a bulldog year where I could thrive, and this year was just that. A bulldog year.

In the last mile a guy pulled up next to me and said in a European accent “You are a very strong rider.” In my head I added “for a girl” and told him “Thank you” I got out of my shoes and heard the cheers at the hot corner. I rolled down Palani, and huck my QR at a volunteer and take off running. Man, I’ve got that dismount down. All SMILES!.

Running through T2 no less than 5 volunteers said to me “Great smile” or “I love the smile.”

I really really enjoyed that bike ride this year. I feel like it was made for me and I was so proud of the way I rode out there without my HR monitor, just listening to my legs and my heart. It was awesome and I wish I could do it all over again. Also, I think the gap from the AG men was AWESOME. The first 30 miles were still a mess but I think that most of the ride was much more fair for us age group ladies. The separation was nice and I’m hoping they keep it like this.

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