A Most Excellent Hawaiian Adventure (part 1)

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We arrive in Hawaii, and I pinch myself awake.  After what feels like days of travel,we had finally arrived in Kona.  We were about to have a wonderful vacation, and I was about to embark on a quest of a lifetime.  We stop for a quick bite to eat at a cute little take out place on the Queen K Highway, and I think to myself, I have to ride and run on this road, and it feels like 1000 degrees,but I won’t get ahead of myself just yet.

It’s October 4, 2013, and Jeff is driving us down Ali’I Drive.  The scene is to say the least, surreal.  There are athletes everywhere, running, cycling, walking around in tiny bikinis (and every form imaginable of compression gear). It is possibly the most fit place on the planet.  I suddenly realize, I don’t belong here.  I am not worthy.  And yet, I know, I earned the spot for the IM World Championship, but I as a look around during the five-mile drive down the road to our condo, I have lost all confidence in my ability.

I am eerily silent for the next hour or so, trying to take it all in.  My friend, Ang Bancroft hooked us up with a beautiful condo directly across from the most amazing snorkel beach and the Ali’i Drive 5 mile run turnaround….it’s far enough out of town that I can actually breath a sign of relief to not to have to continue to look at these uber athletes, who all seem to be running sub 6 minute miles.  We are nine days out from the event, and I know I can acclimatize myself to the heat in a little over a week, as long as I am smart and make good nutrition and hydration decisions.  The fitness part, well, that’s another story.

Having just qualified seven weeks earlier at Mont Tremblant, as well as having a big missing week of training (Pumpkinman), and a trip to Bermuda thrown in there, I wondered if I had what it took to have the end result I was hoping for.  I was able to get in three long runs (18, 21, and 17); and four very long rides andnumerous intermediate long rides, but did I recover enough from Tremblant?  I had been wrestling with a calf issue and was attempting to keep an Achilles injury at bay, as well as nagging knee pain, I felt rested and antsy, which are always good signs for me.

BUT, this was KONA! How can every little ache and pain not try to creep into your mind?  How can one not look around this place filled with the WORLD’S CREAM OF THE CROP of triathletes and think can I do this?  Am I ready?  Can I even finish what will be the hardest test of my endurance fitness? And I was thinking all of this before I even unpacked our first suitcase!

So rather than detail the minutia that occurred for the next eight hours, I will fast forward to Saturday.  (See side note #1) We decided about two weeks before the race we would participate in the swim “race” of the course from Dig Me Beach.  The race was to start at 8am, with approximately 300+ athletes racing, but we had been up since the wee hours, so we decided to skip the race, and just swim the course at 7:15.

I have never in my life been so enthralled with a swim venue quiet like this.  I thought the course at IM Cozumel (which I did in 2010 and 2011) was amazing; well this was like swimming in a giant fish bowl! The coral and reef were beautiful with colorful yellow, vivid blue, and speckled fish everywhere.  We saw sea turtles diving and soaring through the deep blue sea, and as the sun came up,we could see everything below us crystal clear.  I stopped at the first large buoy after we got out beyond the pier and was practically in tears as I am not a confident ocean swimmer, but on this beautiful Saturday morning, I felt like a mermaid.  We weren’t swimming at all fast, but had settled into a nice go forever pace.

Jeff had not been swimming much this summer.  When we did the Lowell race together, our wave went off together.  He drafted off me that day, and the plan was to do the same on our 2.4-mile adventure.  I stopped maybe 30 minutes in and we treaded water for a bit and suddenly three large dolphins dove out of the water in front of us.

The fearful New Englander in me thought SHARK….but Jeff calmly reassured me and we watched them play for a minute or two.  When we started back swimming I looked down deep and there were at least 25-30 dolphins swimming effortlessly below us, mothers with their small babies and others of all sizes swimming all aroundus.  It was something I will never forget for the rest of my life (see side note #2).

When we finally got back to shore, almost 1:40 later, we wandered over to the Swim Race exit to watch the pros come out.  Pete Jacobs (last year’s World Champion), Jordan Rapp and Matthew Russell (IM Canada 2012 and Pumpkinman 2013winner) were all “racing” so it was exciting to watch them come out of the water in under an hour!  We had an opportunity to catch up with Matt and Gillian that evening for a wonderfuldinner at Huggo’s (which I highly recommend).

Side notes:

#1 Do not upon arriving in Hawaii, think if you go to bed at 6:30pm that you won’t wake up at 2:30am or in Jeff’s case 12:30am!

#2 Later in the week a 6 month seal pup decided to play witha couple of athletes, and actually bit them.  The 100-pound pup was removed from the bay for its safety.  I posted a picture of the newspaper article on facebook.

going to kona 13

swim start

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