Mid-morning on Thursday, March 26th, I arrived at the Kona airport and began my journey to the Hilton Waikoloa Village. My cab driver, Jay, was very friendly and informative as we drove down the stretch of road that would not only be the bike course, but also serves as part of the bike course for the Ironman World Championship.
I was here. It was time. The excitement and anxiety was mounting.
When I arrived at the Hilton, I was blown away. It is by far one of the nicest places I have ever stayed. It consists of 3 hotels, the main lobby, large conference center, several pools, a lagoon coming in from the ocean (complete with fish, sea turtles, and other wildlife from the sea), canals with boats to take you around the resort, a tram to do the same, a golf course, several lawns, and a dolphin area. Yes you could swim with dolphins (for a price) right there at the hotel.
I explored the hotel while waiting for my room to be ready. When I got to my room, I began to prep my bike. I took it out of the carrying case and removed all the bubble wrap. I did not reassemble it, as we were going to have a team bike build meeting the next day.
That night, I met my TNT roommate for the weekend Jerry. Jerry was on the Alberta TNT team and had ran Lavaman the previous year. He could see my mix of excitement/anxiety and did a great job keeping my focus on the excitement portion.
The next day was a very special day for me. I touched on it in my training update post. 3 years ago, on March 27th, 2012, Abi passed away. She had always wanted to go to Hawaii, but unfortunately, she was unable to. Several of us changed our Facebook profile and cover photos to our favorite pictures of Abi. This one is always my go-to:
This picture was used for her obituary as well as at her funeral. Pastor Melton's observation of this picture will stick with me forever. He said that in this picture, Abi was either laughing or crying, but despite which one she was doing, she was doing it with passion.
That is how Abi lived.
And it's how I strive to live my life. It's how we should all strive to live. Not only because it serves a great example to others, but because we are living. Not everyone is blessed with a long life and there are no guarantees that we will be blessed with one either. We have no control over the quantity, so let's strive for quality of life.
That morning, Jerry, Tee (a fellow TNT teammate from Vancouver), and I met with Andrew to assemble our bikes. Andrew gave us some great pointers and helped to calm my nerves a bit more.
After the bike assembly, I made my way to the race expo. After I checked in, I attended the first option for the Mandatory Pe-Race Meeting. During this meeting, the announcer and race official went through the course and course rules. There were some course 'gotchas' that I will talk more about when we get to them. One of the things he talked about that worried me was the drafting rules, or rather the no drafting rules. During the bike leg, you had to stay 3 meters behind the person in front of you, unless you were passing. If you were passing, you had 15 seconds to do so. If you completed the pass in the allotted 15 seconds, the person being passed had to drop back 3 meters. If you did not complete the 15 seconds pass, you had to drop back 3 meters. He informed us that unless you were in a huge pack, you would not need to worry about this too much.
The rest of the day I pretty much relaxed.
Saturday morning was an early start. We met in the lobby at 7 to head to the beach for a Team in Training practice swim. This would be my first official open water swim. It went very well. The salt water added so much extra buoyancy it was easy to keep correct body position. The water temperature was cold, but I knew from my pool workouts that it would warm up pretty quick once I got going.
I practiced my stroke and felt pretty good. When I needed to rest, I found that side stroke worked better for me than breast stroke. I decided to use that in the race as well.
When I rounded the last of the practice buoys and turned to face the beach, the sun was coming in at such an angle that I could not see the course buoys. Andrew informed me that the best thing to do was to pick a landmark to use for sight lines. I picked 2 distinct palm trees.
As I approached the shore, the amount of rocks and coral increased (and got in my way). Without realizing it, I had a small cut on my foot, one on the side of my middle finger (than ran the length of the entire finger), and 2 tiny spikes in my index finger. I don't remember ever stepping on or grabbing anything that would have caused these injuries. But now I had a new fear. My anxiety about being out in deep, open water was gone. I felt fine being out there. My fear about the swim in general was gone. I knew I could do it, I just knew it would take me a while. My new fear was exiting the water and getting cut up. I would have to be very careful to avoid touching anything on the swim.
After the swim, Tee, Jerry, and I took our bikes out for a test ride and breakfast. Then it was back to the hotel to prep my gear for race day.
Once all my gear was prepped and ready, I went back to the race expo to get my numbers marked on my arms. This was pretty cool. Usually, unless you are a pro/elite athlete, you just write your own number on your arms with permanent marker. Not here. One volunteer stamped the numbers on, while another touched them up with a brush. This would make amazing an lines later. I joked about how detail oriented they were. I asked if they were going to be doing face painting later and asked if I could be Spiderman.
Later that night was the TNT inspiration dinner. I always love these. The support and team spirit among TNT athletes is always inspiring. The guest speaker was a TNT participant from Los Angeles named Audrey.
Audrey shared her amazing story of an ongoing, 12 year battle with cancer. She underwent it all, from multiple chemo treatments, bone marrow transplants, radiation treatments, painful medications, and surgeries. Her attitude was astounding. Throughout all of this she had completed 43 events with Team in Training.
Here is a woman fighting an ongoing battle with cancer while fund-raising to cure the very cancer she was fighting. And training for an amazing number of endurance events on top of that!
I would call that living with a passion.
That night, I could not sleep. I was not feeling anxious. I had exchanged all those feelings for feelings of excitement. What little sleep I did get was interrupted around 2 am by a headache. Luckily by 5am (our meeting time), the headache had subsided.
The team met at 5am in the main lobby of the hotel. We got some good pics and tried to focus and steady our nerves.
We rode our bikes in the dark to the transition area. As we were setting up our transitions, we were treated to a great sunrise over the volcano.
My transition was in a great spot, about halfway down the first row. I set up my area and placed an orange BC Lions towel over my handlebars for sight reference. The guy next to me looked pretty professional (based on his bike and helmet). Whenever I would accidentally knock the towel off my bars, he would put it back immediately. I thanked him and his responded with,
"No problem. It's my point of reference as well."
After I got all my gear set up, I taped Abi's key chain/bracelet to the backboard of my transition (See the story behind the key chain in my Goofy Challenge Recap).
Note: Transition 1 (T1) is the change over from Swim to Bike. Transition 2 (T2) is from Bike to Swim. Although both are done in the exact same area, they are referred to as 1 and 2 to denote which leg of the race you are on.
After I got my transitions all set up, Tara (another fellow TNT teammate from eastern Canada) and I decided to walk the transition sections. We started at the swim exit, walked up the sandy beach, turned left and up toward T1. Once out of the sand, the roadway was very rocky. Even the sidewalk right before the entrance to T1 was pretty bad. We made a mental note to "run gingerly" through that part. We walked through T1, checking for visual landmarks to help us see out bikes. Again, mine was easy, first row, bright orange towel. We walked past out bike to transition exit. We could not see the mount line. This is he line that designates when to mount and dismount your bike. On your way out, you cannot mount your bike until after the line. On the way back, you have to dismount before you cross this line. We asked a race official and he showed up where it would be. We turned and walked back, simulating coming into T2, simulating coming in from the bike and exiting for the run.
I saw the Montreal team and one of them asked me how I was doing. I told him my pre-race goal was to not throw up.
After I felt comfortable with the walk through, I made my way down to the beach. I met up with Andrew, Tee, Jamie, Tara, and Jerry. We went for a quick warm up swim to loosen up. I made note of 2 white tents set up along the same line as the swim exit. These would be my sight landmarks for when the sun blinds me to the buoys. When I exited the water, I noticed it was clear of any rocks or coral. Turn out, the white tents (and official swim exit) was further to the left than where I exited they day before on the practice swim. This calmed my fear about cutting myself on anything.
After one last photo, we made out way to the start line.
Tee and I were in the second wave start. This being my first race, I was not gong to try and swim with the pack. I positioned myself in the back and to the right.
The start gun went off and my triathlon had officially begun.
At the beginning of the swim, I was just focused on finding a pace that felt good and trying to stick with it. I felt pretty good. At this point, I was unaware of any kind of speed, getting passed, or passing anyone. Once I needed a rest, I began to swim side stroke. I found that I was stronger and more comfortable swimming side stroke on my right side over my left. This was advantageous given that the buoys were always on my left and I could see where the pack was.
It was about this time that I began to notice that even though I was swimming side stroke, I was still keeping up with the pack, and even passing some people. If this was my "rest mode" swim, I wondered what my normal swim pace was. As soon as my head went in the water to began freestyle again, I looked down and saw a sea turtle. I began to focus in the sea life going on about its business underneath me as I swam along.
As I got into another rest mode swim, I did a quick sight. I was coming up on a large buoy. I began to get excited thinking I had made it to the turn. Upon a second sighting, I realized I was only halfway to the turn. No worries, I could keep going.
When I did reach the first turn buoy, I stayed a bit to the right. I knew from watching race coverage online, that if you come in tight around the turn, you risk getting pinched between the buoy and the pack. There is nothing wrong with this, just not something to do on your first race. I rounded the turn, did a bit of rest mode swimming, and rounded the second turn buoy. And just like the day before, the sun was right in my eyes, blinding me from seeing the buoys on the tail end of the swim. But I could see the white tents in front of me and I could see the pack to the left of me. That was all I needed to keep me in a straight(ish) line.
At one point a jet ski went wizzing up the center of the course. I did not think anything of it, until a few seconds later when I was negotiating some jet ski wake. I found out later that a swimmer had had a heart attack and had to be hoisted onto one of the med boats for CPR. I found out today that Paul Reynolds passed away a few days later from complications of his heart attack.
As I approached the swim exit, I was careful to keep the tents in front of me, the pack on my left, and to evade any and all coral/rocks. Suddenly, my head hit something. It was the guide rope for the right side of the swim exit. I had kept my position exactly where I wanted it. I swam until the water was about a foot and half deep, then stood up, and ran.
I should have waited until the water was a bit shallower, but it's my first race. I was just happy to be done with my swim. As I exited the water, there was a slight incline. On the left of this incline was a mat put down over the sand. I ran to it knowing it would make running up a sandy embankment easier.
As I turned to the right and ran down the sandy beach (the same path I previewed earlier that morning), I saw Andrew and his partner Brenda (who had been training with me). Andrew had his phone out and snapped this picture:
Andrew was beyond excited. He looked more pumped than I did. He just kept screaming "You are awesome Joe! Yeah!!" I fed off that energy as I ran on the rocky part of the path.
I don't remember that section of the path being as rocky as it had been earlier. It most likely was and I did not notice. I'll chalk that one up to adrenaline. As I was visualizing what needed to be done in T1, I made use of the kitty pool they had set up to get the excess sand off your feet. Then I grabbed a water from the aid station, washed it around in my mouth, checked over my right shoulder for other athletes, then spat out the water to rinse out the salt from the swim.
As I entered T1, I knew exactly where to go. First row. I knew exactly where my bike was. Orange Towel. I put on my helmet, sunglasses, wiped off my feet, put on my socks, put on my shoes, and was about to put on my gloves when I hear the announcer say "Tee Kow." I looked up to see where Tee was. I assumes that he was running into T1, so I looked to my right to see if I could see him. After a few seconds I realized he was not there. I finished putting on my gloves, grabbed my nutrition and water and was on my way out of T1.
Once out of the course, I felt amazing. I had logged so much time training on the bike, I knew I would do well. Andrews voice kept ringing in my ear, "Focus on driving those knees up" "Keep your upper body relaxed" "Remember to pull with the hamstring to give your quads 'mini breaks'" "Feel the pedal all the way through" "When you finish a climb, be sure to spin it out for quicker recovery"
As people passed me, I made sure to encourage them. As I passed people, I still made sure to encourage them. I was surprised how many people I passed while going uphill.
Early in the bike, I passed Tee (on an uphill). When I heard his name announced, he must have been leaving T1. I didn't know it at the time, but he took a video of me passing him.
This is what happens when I don't train and joseph does. Awesome bike ride joseph!
Posted by Tee Intraining on Sunday, March 29, 2015
I stared to see several people on the side of the road changing flat tires. I kept hoping that it would not be me. I know how to do it, I just did not want to have to do it. I found out later that Jerry had a flat right as he was coming out of T1. He changed his tire, but had a pinch, and later had to change to it again. He made up that time on the run though to beat me by 1 minute.
At one pint in the race, I looked over and saw the pro/elite racers coming back. They were going so fast. Their bikes sounded like small aircraft as they wizzed by.
When no one was around me, I managed to get into the aero position a few times. I still felt a little unstable when in that position. I know it is something I am just going to have to practice more.
I also realized what adjustments to my bike are needed for the next race. First, I need to do a different, more accessible hydration set up. And second, I need to adjust my bars. My shoulders were killing and my left hand kept falling asleep.
Throughout the bike, I was mindful of the drafting rules. If I was passing, I made sure to do it in under 15 seconds. If I was being passed, I made sure to drop back. At times, I was passing someone, as someone was passing me. This was not a problem as everyone on the course was very courteous.
"On your left" Was said quite often.
The downhills were fun. Once I got the apex of a hill, I would keep my bike in an easy gear to ensure that I kept moving to recover from the climb. Once recovered, I would go into a very low gear and fly down the hill. At the top of one hill I was greeted by a goat. On the way down, I noticed a guy with bright green socks and complimented him on them.
A couple of kilometers from T2, as I was on the tail end of a great downhill, I saw a woman running her bike. Her back tire had locked up and she had decided to run it back in. That is passion.
As I approached T2, I saw Andrew and Brenda again. Andrew was just as pumped as at the swim exit. Yelling encouragement and snapping photos.
I dismounted before the mount/dismount line and began to run into T2 and a saw girl unsuccessfully clip out of her pedals. She went over her handle bars and landed on the line. Race officials, of course, ran in to help.
Once in T2, I racked my bike, took off my bike shoes and gloves, took off my helmet, replaced my water bottle and food, put on my run shoes, and was on my way.
I grabbed a cup of water from the aid station just outside of T2 and dumped it on my head.
The Run (From Hell)
The swim was in water. The bike had a breeze. The run was HELL.
As soon as I left T2 I could feel it. Something was off. I poured water over my head and began to run. The first part of the run was a little trail through black lava rock. I was getting hit by heat from the sun, as well as heat radiating off the ground. I decided to walk until I hit pavement.
Once I made it to the pavement, I began to run again. I saw the women with the locked up back wheel running into T2. Then I saw Andrew and Brenda again. Andrew was screaming "You're doing it Joe!! You are awesome!!"
Once I passed them, my energy dropped again. I had nothing. I could not figure it out. I have done so much running. This part should be the easiest of all!! Then suddenly it dawned on me. I did not drink enough on the bike. I was going at such a fast clip, that I was keeping cool, not thinking to drink. Not realizing I would need it later. Rookie mistake.
I trudged on. Grabbing water and electrolytes at every aid station and sucking them down.
Around kilometer 2.5, I began to walk with a woman named Kristina (or Christina). She has been part of a relay team and was walking the 10k route to stretch her legs after the bike. While we chatting about training and races, we heard the occasional "Go Team!" from other TNT athletes on the course. She asked me, "Do you know all these people?" I explained to her what TNT was and how it worked. She was impressed by the amount of support and team spirit strangers were giving to each other. I encouraged her to look TNT up when she got home. I hope she did.
A bit later I saw a man collapsed on the side of the road, with 2 medics. One medic was holding up an IV bag, while the other medic was putting the IV in. The heat that day was no joke.
On my way forward, I saw my green socked buddy coming the other way. "Great job Superman!" He yelled. I replied with, "You too Sock Buddy!!
At about the 5k mark I was feeling good enough to start running. I saw Tee coming the other way on the course. He looked surprised to see me. He explained that he had run out of energy on the bike and was spent. After a kilometer or 2, I was beginning to get into the zone. I met a girl who was running her first tri with her high school tri team. I learned later that Kona was starting to add triathlon to their track & field competitions.
At this point we were rounding Buddha Point, a spot on the far north side of the Hilton. We ran long the path of the hotel when suddenly we were directed to drop down onto the shore. Here comes those 'gotchas' I was talking about in the race meeting. This was the ancient Kings Trail. Parts of it were only about 6 inches across and very rocky. Certain sections were washed out completely and they had race volunteers helping people over it. Needless to say, I walked this portion.
Once off the trail, were back on the resort path. We ran by the lagoon and the dolphin pool. As I ran by the dolphins, one of them began to squeak. I looked over at a family who was walking along beside the trail and said, "I hope that's the dolphin and not my knees." We all had a good laugh which gave me a little boost of energy.
Once on the south side of the resort, the course went back to the coast. This time there was no narrow paths, but the trail was a mix of sand, lava rock, and coral heads.
Don't worry, the picture above was taken after the race.
If the trail was mostly sand, I would run on it. As soon as it got rocky, I walked. I did not want to risk injury.
The trail took us through a little grove area. I was grateful for the shade. At the end of the grove was Ward (Jamie's husband). We had joked earlier in the week that he would spend the day at the spa, since he was not running. I asked him how his day spa was and replied with how relaxing it was, how his skin was so soft, and nails were clean. We had a good laugh as the trail left the shady trees and turned to 100% hot sand.
Luckily at this point I could see and hear the finish line. Then all of the sudden, there was Andrew and Brenda again. Screaming and taking pictures.
The sand was hot, and did not help my form at all. I decided to forgo form and just run however I could through the sand. I came into the finish line with a big smile on my face and tons of "Go Team" cheers.
I exchanged my timing anklet for a medal, found a tree, leaned against it, and realized what I had just done.
I just finished a triathlon.
My first triathlon.
Strangely, nothing was sore or tight. I was just exhausted. I downed a bottle of water and made my way back to the finish line to wait for Jerry, Tee, and Jamie.
Jerry came in a bit later, big smiles, and a big high five. He reminded me that I needed to check in at the TNT tent. I went, checked in, and got my TNT Tri pin. There was a girl there who looked like she had just finished. I asked her if she was ok. She said no, and with tears in her eyes explained to me that she did not make the bike cutoff time and was disqualified. I had no idea what to say to her. All I did was give her a big hug and let her cry. A couple of coaches came over and sat with her. I knew there was nothing more I could do, so I went back to the finish line to wait for Tee and Jamie. Tee came in later, looking rough, but he earned it eery step of the way.
I stuck around the finish line cheering in other TNT athletes. At one point, I walked out to the very start of the finishers chute. That is when I saw Ward running with is camera. I knew that meant Jamie was on her way. It was her first tri as well, so I ran up to a group of TNT people and said, "The next TNT person to come through, her name is Jamie."
As she ran through, all the TNT people started chanting, "Ja-mie! Ja-mie! Ja-mie!"
Once Jamie finished, we all went to the TNT tent again, and found the computer where you can print out your times.
Think back to my previous blog posting about training. I was worried about my swim, not at all worried about the bike, and was even less worried about the run. The run turned out to be the worst of the 3. The bike was about where I though it would be. But I was flabbergasted (yes I used that word, that should tell you something about how I felt), flabbergasted by my swim time. Drum roll please...............
Swim: 35:21 (included tun up to T1)
Transition 1: 2:42
Transition 2: 1:35
Not too shabby for my first triathlon.
Afterward, we all met with Andrew, Brenda, and Tara, grabbed some free food, ate, and shared moments (good and bad), from the race. I ran into Sock Buddy (also a TNT participant) and we had a great chat about the race as well. I saw my Montreal friend, who asked me if I ever threw up and applauded me when I told him I didn't.
After we had cleaned out our transition area, gone back to the hotel, packed up our bikes, showered, and napped, we all met up for dinner that night. More great chats about past races, we shared race photos, pizza, and a great time.
The next day was spend packing, going on a helicopter tour of the island, and a great afternoon on relaxing on the beach (ironically thinking about my next tri).
I cannot be more happy with the time I had on the course and the time I made on the course. Although disappointed in my run, I now know what to improve upon. I know what areas need work, what needs tweaking, and can focus in on those changes for a great race next time.
I made a ton of new friends and got to meet up with some old LA TNT teammates as well.
And I got to enjoy the beauty that is Hawaii. I wish Abi was able to see it with me, but in a way, she did. And I feel honored to have carried her spirit, legacy, and most of all, her passion with me on this experience.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. And remember to live with passion.
As promised Alice.....
Posted by Joseph S Hayden on Saturday, March 28, 2015