Saturday, October 20, 2012

Kona from the sidelines

Since 2007 I have been going every year to race the World Championships- except for 2008 when I was supposedly going to take a break from Ironman but later regretted it and raced Arizona (sound familiar? Hehe)

I was often asked if it’d be hard to watch the race live without even mildly yearning to be a contestant. The answer is no, because despite the low back injury that ruined my season- and continues to plague me 4 months later- I had established after I had a great day there last year that I would not return to Kona simply to participate as a pro. I had no delusions of garnering enough points my first pro year to make it there in the first place, and even if by some miracle I did, it’d be a guarantee I’d toe the line tired and without a chance to contend. I don’t race unless I believe I can place…and yes this whole year every race I did I convinced myself beforehand that my back “issue” was sorted/in the past, and I’d get a chance to show the fitness I knew I had, and thus place.

But I digress- this won’t be another post centering on my health, or lack thereof. This post is a fun and inspiring one- primarily about the AMAZING time I had on this trip as a spectator of the Ironman. I trained…errrr exercised….heaps, and drank/stayed up seriously more than in all my college years combined.

I arrived to Hawaii mid September, thanks to my awesome friend Cody who let me crash at his house for a month! He bought a scooter sometime in the summer too, which I more than borrowed through my stay. Believe it or not, chilling in Hawaii for a month I was actually saving money- at the minimum on driving/gas.
The first 2 weeks I was there the Ironman swarm had not arrived- just a few pros like Leanda Cave, Luke McKenzie and his wife Amanda, Natascha Badmann, Marino VanH., Bruno Clerbout…and less than a handful of other pros or ag’ers (you can never tell, everyone is so FIT!).

The atmosphere at this time before the race is my favorite…you can sense the race is near, there’s excitement in the air, there’s always a group to swim with in the morning at the pier (but no so large a crowd that you can barely find clear water), you can count on someone wanting to run or ride for any given distance, but there’s not the uber packed psychosis of compression/spandex/visors/race kits. Here's a pic with some local Kona friends at Humpy's plenty of days pre madness, and another with the good-lookin' French Canadians ;)

Before I get into who I trained with and what I learned from them, let me explain this “training” of mine. First and foremost, I firmly believe that miles you bank don’t disappear. There’s not really such a thing as training without purpose so long as somewhere in your future there’s a goal you’re aiming for. What I mean is, despite knowing that after this trip I’d take some time off the bike again and focus 75% or more on strength/mobility, getting in a ton of s/b/r now would still benefit me further down the road. Your body forgives, it does not forget.

I got in some solid masters swims before the pool closed down for a few days, and some ocean swims with a few pros and ag friends. Twice I was lucky enough to swim with two pro women whom I greatly admire and respect- Natascha and Jessica. In short they taught me that we are all the same on race day- we all get nervous, we all have our weaknesses, doubts, and pressures. We carry unique motivators that drive us to succeed, and that we count on to lift us up through those bad patches in the race. This was eye opening for me because it made me realize that even those girls that I see as literally made of Iron, are not. Without any disrespect, we are all breakable.

Who knew ocean swimming was a place for such enlightening conversation, huh? ;)

The bike- oh the bike- thank you, thank you Amanda for the numerous rides to Waikoloa shops and back. It was standard to ride 3hrs pretty much every day. Taking my road bike to Kona was a double edged sword. My upper back/shoulders/neck were literally destroyed right around the 3hr mark, my low back still hurt on certain rides without relief….but fighting the headwind and trying to keep up with people on their aero little TT bikes made me strong! Often times I found myself angry that I was riding so consistently and felt so strong, because racing is something that I know I still cannot do.

Running I did alone, focusing mainly on 45min or less with lateral drills on the grass and plenty of stretching after. I also did a few Pilates Reformer classes, which if you haven’t done and want to prevent a back injury go do Pilates! It is something that I will definitely keep doing throughout the year.

I am also grateful for getting to see Dave Dyrbshire for treatment/assessment on my back. Never discount a part of your body that’s entirely “separate” from where you feel pain for being the root of your problem. My back issue according to Dave: caused by the 4 years of imbalance/compensation since my accident in 2008 where I broke my right collarbone, and fractured the L5…root: collarbone.

Suddenly, race week was here! Now I get to dive into the real fun, and some awesome sessions that were not training at all- they were about people with a passion for living, enjoying life.

Monday I swam with Kim to the second to last boey (Kim & I in pic above post swim!), got an acai bowl (pic2) at BASIK, and on my way home saw Mike Rouse, some Zoot peeps, and Hillary keeping him company for the initial miles of his birthday 60miler. I scooted to change into run clothes, caught them right before Magic Sands, parked, and ran 15 miles in 2hrs with the group. That was the longest run I’d done since Ironman training and the most enjoyable in a while! It went by so fast and Rousey had it made with Kimmie (his wife) set up at mile marker 1.5 with a cooler full of drinks, the Powerbar and Cytomax houses/stations, and random water fountains all spread along Alii Dr. Not to mention, the tons of people all over town. Mike is incredible- and the dude eats hot dogs to fuel these epic runs!

From there Hillary mentioned she was taking one of her athletes, Alyssa, to ride the Hawi section of the course, I asked to tag along and after another quick change of clothes and some food, hopped in the car with them to drive up to the Mauna Lani and start our ride. This is a ride I will never ever forget. We started at about 3pm, and ended at sunset. We got the one period of the day where the ocean/air is STILL and it was the most magestic ride in the coolest part of the Ironman course I’ve ever experienced. We literally rode back into the Mauna Lani with the sun setting!! BTW, Hillary cracks me up- that girl is on another level…she had run THIRTY miles with Rousey, and called this 3hr aerobic, but still 3hr not-flat ride, “therapeutic”. It’s how you choose to look at things. (pic of Hills & I riding back into sunset- thanks Alyssa for the shot!)

After our ride, we showered/changed at Hillary’s luxurious Mauna Lani abode, and drove down to celebrate Mike’s bday a different way- drinks at Huggos! We closed down Huggos that night :

Tuesday I think was the day we went to Lulu’s for Wattie/Heather’s happy hour- or maybe that was the day we went to Humpy’s and there was that pint holding contest that Heather took second in (pic below), and sausage eating contest that Wattie won.

Wednesday: trained some, helped out at the Expo, and there was another trip up to Mauna Lani with Jennifer- stud athlete from Austin (check out her nutrition coaching site: - to join some other fabulous ladies at Hillary’s vegan dinner at the Canoe House. OMG YUMMY. I am not vegan, not even vegetarian. I’m from Texas, and you’d have to kill me first before removing meat from my diet. But this vegan feast was delicious! For dessert they did this quinoa-peach tart that I could’ve eaten 3 of.
Thursday: ran around all day and helped out LAVA at the expo- so fun! I think this day I also got a morning run in with Andrew (from Beaker Concepts), Jason, and some Zoot people. That night was probably another Humpy’s/Lulu’s excursion.

Friday Beth and I rode the Ironman course  It started out great, and I was thrilled that she was on a road bike too. She borrowed Cody’s bike so props to her for riding 112 miles on a bike that didn’t fit at all! I was really concerned about my left shoulder/neck because the dang road position left it tender to the touch/not able to look right after a few hours- imagine 6! But Beth and I agreed that was just a get ‘er done ride and taking in the scenery. Okay. We made it to Hawi with just a quick pit stop at Kawaihae. Cold drinks up there, then a longer stop at Waikoloa shops on the way home. Each stop was a huge relief that allowed me to stretch out/ relieve pain (why can’t we have these stops in Ironman? I’d be able to race! ) After Waikoloa things went awry. The headwind was pretty intense, Beth got a flat somewhere along the airport and I felt like a turtle (speed, neck, shell for a back). No way in hell were we riding the 18% grade (pic is only the start) up to Cody’s house. We parked ourselves at BASIK and Cody picked us up!

Back home to shower, and get somewhat decent for the TGINR (thank God I’m not racing) Party at Huggo’s! First we got some killer sushi at Shiono's (pic1) with Tawnee, Cody, and Ben. At the party, they had these lychee-vodka drinks that I might’ve had too many of. They were killer because they tasted delicious and were deceptively hydrating- uh oh! Back at home around 11pm, Beth & were still a little hungry :P (pic2)

RACE DAY: Beth and I scrambled to get up, fix her flat quickly, and roll down to see the swim on time. I got a coffee at Lava Java, a delicious GF berry scone at this other hidden coffee shop by the pier, and watched the swim. I cried. I got the same butterflies and thoughts that I did last year when I was in the water. It was the first time I knew I had to be in that water again. I not only knew, I FELT how significant this race is to me. Ironman is a part of our identity. I don’t need a tattoo- Ironman tattooed me when I first crossed that finish at 19 in 2007.

From there, Tawnee, Beth and I scrambled up to the grassy area on Palani hill to watch the initial part of the bike. This revealed something to me that TV coverage/articles/tracker does not: if you’re not in the mix from the start, unless a lot of people bonk to pieces, you’re out of the race. You must be a TRIathlete. “I am a swimmer”, “I’m a biker”, or “I’m a runner”, works for the amateur race (drafting, cough cough) and maaaaybe for top 10 in the pro field if you’re super lucky.
I had promised myself after too many late nights out and consuming beverages that I normally don’t even sniff, that today I’d watch my friends finish, and be in bed around 8. Riiiiiiight.
From Palani, I was innocently walking to get breakfast when Rachel (110% Play Harder- best ice/compression recovery ever) and Hannah were at Bongo Ben’s already getting started on mimosas. Crap. I had breakfast and a virgin fruit smoothie. But then Kim Rouse came along and suddenly we had ordered a bottle of champagne and more juice. The funny thing is, when the runners started coming along, 5 min under the burning sun on Alii Dr and all the champagne from a mimosa evaporated from my system. I also began the process of losing my voice yelling for all the athletes.
It is harder to watch than to race. When you’re racing you’re moving and expecting to sweat. When you’re in regular clothes, standing under the sun baking, it is hell-ish.

As the runners passed along, you could see in people’s faces who would crumble and who would prevail. This reminded me of what I’d seen through race week- people leaving their races in training. There’s the pros that have raced too much and get here exhausted. Or those that get greedy/panicked and do too much. Then there’s age groupers, close friends of mine, that have this false idea that the pros/top of the top train at least 30 hours a week, even 50 for the men. I heard some people riding 6hrs the week before because they felt they were young and could recover from it. It killed me. You see the potential, the great races they’ve had this year, the heart that goes into it, and in a few days, or in one session, they give it away.

Race week be the king/queen of lazy. See the podcast I did with Tawnee for Endurance Planet ( )

After about 3 hours of that, I walked down to a Thai place to get mango sticky rice (pay attention to the amount of sugar I consumed this day haha). That left me bouncing off the walls, I could barely sit still as I watched Rinny try to catch Leanda on screen at the Clif Lounge next door.
More time was spent down at the stretch to the finish watching/yelling as Pete and the top men come in, followed by Leanda and the women, and my amateur friends.

From there Rachel and I met at the King Kam- we tried to rinse off at the beach by the Pier but of course that was closed to only athletes/etc. So we got into the pool. Bad mistake- it was pee/sweat filled and I got out feeling disgusting. But, nothing a few pina coladas couldn’t fix! More. Sugar.

Then I went with Tawnee and Ben to that same Thai place for dinner, and some chardonnay. It was great talking to these two about how far our sport has come and how lucky we are at our young age to pursue this as work (as an athlete and/or involved in the industry). Neither of us sits in a cubicle all day, and we’ve all had our share of critics- mainly those from older people that either don’t understand this sort of “work” or are too bitter that they could never go after it. We want to live while we we’re at our prime, not when we have to limp around on a cane. We also came to the realization that we are a part of the future of endurance sport and how we present ourselves and what we innovate and carve out for the younger generations is extremely important.

Quickly thereafter I bought a cheap-semi normal, but kind of teenage-skanky looking, outfit at the ABC store to go to Huggo’s without looking like a 12yr old girl ready for soccer practice (my spectator attire). More pina coladas with some friends at Huggo’s and a late night taxi that took forever to flag down to take me home!!!

Sunday- swim, attempt to show Beth the gorgeous South Loop which was an utter failure because not even 30min into the very gradual Queen K climb to Keahou/Kam III, my back raised a huge middle finger at me. I unclipped and tried to see if I could just stretch it out but it was hurting to stand- feels like a wooden block inside. So I called Beth and said sorry but I have to turn around. Went back to the gym to stretch, and jogged an easy 30min. After that I had the whole day to kill so I went shopping, got lunch at the Thai place again(!), went back home to shower/change, had dinner with Rachel at the Thai place again(!!), and then thought I was going to see the awards once the pros were going up to stage. Wrong. At 7:30 they were barely starting the age groups! At last, I enjoyed the speeches…Leanda’s cracked me up, and Pete’s inspired me beyond words and made me teary eyed with his closing!

It was now time for the KSwiss After Party at Huggo’s! Honestly, my friends and I concluded that the best party there was in 2010. 2011 was meh, and this year was kind of a mess. The food is awesome as always, and you can’t really have too many vodka-cranberries, can you? Hehe…But really there was just something about our group in 2010 that made it rad. I made the mistake of heading to the Clif Lounge after Huggo’s closed down, but by then my buzz was fading and I was kind of over the whole thing and wanted to go to sleep! I kept finding people who were heading down Alii mile 4 to drop me off at the house but kept losing them so before I knew it I was in a taxi with some Aussies at 4am delirious.

Monday is a blur, I felt like crap- not hungover just dead tired. I went to bed at 6pm and slept 12hrs!Tuesday I felt great, was on the second day ordered by my new coach, Jesse (QT2), of no training for the week so I just lounged around. I had dinner with Jennifer and her husband at Huggo’s where I discovered they give out bbq ribs during happy hour. Coupled with the teriyaki steak I ordered after= food comma.

Wednesday I finally flew to San Diego where I’ll be until the 24th and then head to Texas to be with my family and watch my brother, Daniel, race Big 12 Champs next Saturday in Austin!

This trip taught me a lot and it allowed me to socialize with people in our industry that I never had the chance to when I’d go to race. If you’re a pro, you have to go to Kona at least once and watch/experience it from the sidelines. At the least, to give back in support for the many times others have cheered for you.