Lentine Z. Kona 2008
Home at Last
And at last, I am sitting down and have a moment for reflection!
First of all, thank you ALL for your well-wishes, words of encouragement and “virtual high fives” as I raced with the best of the best in Kona!! And, for following along on the Ironman website on the 11th of October, watching the ups and downs of my journey through the Mother of All Triathlons.
The experience of racing in Kona is unlike any I have every imagined; the energy surrounding the race is like a buzz running through the tiny town, and everywhere you see are runners, cyclists and swimmers all amped up for the triathlon carnival of the year. The race itself is a fierce one — perhaps more intense than I had imagined in parts, and far more fulfilling than I could have hoped in others.
The morning began, as all Ironman mornings do, at 4am with the last minute stress that abounds as everyone prepares to meet their maker in the next 24 hours. For some, the beast chasing them will lose steam much faster than for others. But for all, the day began with a 2.4 mile swim in the Pacific Ocean with helicopters filming from above, photographers scuba diving below, dolphins and fish bouncing between us, and screaming spectators bathed in ALOHA all around. A glorious, chilly way to shake out ones’ nerves before spending the day in the sun. One-hour and seven minutes after the swim begun, I was out of the water, trotting towards my bike and in for some big, windy surprises.
There have been several years since “uber-windy” conditions have been reported on the Queen K highway; in years past, conditions ranging from gentle breezes to deadly gusts have plagued the field. This year, the island gave us a good dose of gustiness that proved to be all my little soul could endure. I can climb hills all day, I can spin with a steady heart rate, comfy in the saddle, with burning thighs for hours. But wind is not something that I am accustomed to and, with little time to ride the course between our departure from Okinawa and our arrival in Kona, I was cursing all that is holy out there. I felt nauseous, worn out, fearful that I would find myself dumped over along the 700ft climb to the turnaround in Hawi. I watched as the bikes ahead of me tilted sharply to the left and right with each gust, each time being righted by their riders – as the gust would past thanking my lucky stars (that’s LOTS OF STARS for LOTS OF GUSTS) that I was still upright and wailing out loud every once in a while to break my grit-toothed silence. It was a rough, humbling way to begin the day — watching as riders young and old, all on their state-of-the-art frames, whizzed past me as I did the best that I could, trying to push my limits but keeping in mind that I had a marathon ahead. Frazzled, I finished my ride in 6:40 and could not WAIT to get into my running shoes. My goal time shattered (I had wanted to finish the ride sub-6hrs) I turned my focus to having a GOOD race rather than a FAST race.
The run was glorious. Straight out of the chute, my legs felt new, my body ready, and the temperatures completely amicable for running compared to the drippy, brain-dulling heat of Okinawa. I took it easy (perhaps too easy….) on the first 10 miles to be sure that I had gas in the tank for the last hours of the race (which happen to be uphill.) So, I had some water, chewed some ice, walked briskly when my stomach felt sloshy and enjoyed a couple of saltines. Unlike in China, I felt in control, and ready to move, determined to finish and finish strong instead of being drug across the finish line.
The sun began to set just after I hit the halfway point…..and it seems that with that setting sun, the finish line seemed to begin screaming my name. I asked my bod to empty its reserves and, to my surprise and pleasure, it responded, still with happy(ish) legs, and a smile. The stars failed to come out, but with only street lamps to guide me along the pitch-black highway, the hills seemed miniscule. Ten miles became 7, became 4 became two and I succeeded out-ran mine in 12:37…….slower than I had hoped, but still respectful withing the limits of a good race. My marathon time in China was 5:20….and I dropped a significant amount (40 minutes) off of that with descending splits. I pat myself on the back for that one. The days that followed allowed much time to paddle surf, body-board, eat, drink and stew about my disappointing bike, the victory of my finish, a strong run, and the invitation that I earned to compete in Kona. What a crazy year. What a WONDERFULLY CRAZY YEAR!!
I went into Kona confident, mentally prepared, and proud of the year that I have spent becoming a “triathlete.” My quick success in the sport resulted in a bit of novice over-confidence….especially with a record of running difficult races and coming through unscathed. This course, this experience did a good job of seasoning me well for the next Ironman grilling. I am smiling as I write this. If I am invited to Kona again, I will be ready for the surprises of the Queen K. ESPECIALLY because I will be taking some time off this winter to recover, upgrade my bike, and plan for a great racing season in the Spring!
It is incredible to race, as a novice, against the best in the world. There are some crazy fast endurance junkies out there. And, you know you are in the right place when you aspire to BE SO CRAZY!!
I have competed in only two full-IM distance events and there are many differences between the two, but there are also many important similarities. The first is the way that these events never fail to reveal the beauty, depth and strength of the human spirit. The other is the way that my mind turns to all of you, waiting at the finish line, and how, in any given moment along that race course, conversations, moments and memories from past, and future urge the athlete towards the finish line. So, you are all there too, racing Ironman, whether you like it or not.