10/21/15

IM Kona '15 RR - 112 mile bike

Thank you Erin  for the pic. 

As I rolled away from the transition area, I noticed that my power meter was not picking up on my Garmin 810 and all I could see was speed (this season, I haven't worn a HR monitor when I race). This is not the first time that this has happened as sometimes power meters just don't pick up and I have to restart my computer.

I made the mistake of trying to get the power to show in the most "technical" part of the course - the first 8-10  miles in town. I should have just waited until I was on the Queen K hwy with no distractions instead of trying 3-4 times to turn it on, wait, turn it off, turn it on, wait, turn it off...

Although several athletes were "racing" right from the start, Karel and I both used this first section to find our legs. I tried to avoid the thoughts of "how am I going to feel on the bike" while swimming so instead, I used this first section to wake up my legs. I kept the effort easy and light on the pedals and despite a lot of athletes around, I didn't let anyone affect what I was doing. I changed my position several times in this town-section (from the start of the bike to the climb to the Queen K, to the climb to Palani, to the downhill on Palani to the climb on Kuakini to the downhill on Kuakini after the turn around and then on the climb on Palani to the Queen K) from aero, sitting and standing to not only wake-up my legs but to also move my pelvis around to get comfortable for the rest of the ride. 

After I (safely) got through town, I hit lap on my computer as I wanted to focus on only 20-25 minutes at a time to help with better pacing. I continued to hit lap about every 20-25 minutes.
However, with my power never showing up, I just forgot about it as if it was meant to be to not focus on power and I just rode by feel (which isn't hard since that is how we do a lot of riding here in Greenville because of our terrain). And because power meters love to fail on race day, Karel gave me the tip of having an interval screen that did not have power on it so I set it up to only show lap speed, current cadence, lap time. This way, I didn't have to look at an empty screen with no power showing up.

Prior to the race, I changed my screens on my Garmin so that I had 3 screens as to what I wanted to see on my Garmin (if I had power I was going to look at normalized lap power, 3 sec power, current cadence, lap time, lap speed). This made it easy to scroll the pages so that I wasn't looking at data that was not useful (like elevation gained, calories burned, average speed, distance covered or total time - these things don't help me pace better or race smarter). 

Anyways - back to the race.

I instantly felt strong on the bike. With almost 30 miles or so before our next turn, it was time to get into a rhythm. I stayed on top of my liquid calories with 300-ish calories and 1 scoop salt in each 24 ounce (throw-away) bottle. I chomped on a few Clif blocks here and there and doused myself with water at every aid station and also drank about 1/2 bottle of water at each aid station. Every time I finished a bottle on my bike, I tossed it at an aid station.
Karel had a similar nutrition strategy although he also consumed gels (Power Gels and Enervite cheerpack) and a power bar (he can tolerate almost anything, except he doesn't prefer Gatorade, on the bike)

I was quite confused by the weather which is no surprise in Kona - although the temperature may not change on paper, the winds are another story.

It felt as if I was getting a little bit of a push but it wasn't true tailwind - it almost felt like crosswind that was not necessarily helping us go faster but not too crazy difficult to ride in. Historically for IM Kona, the wind direction is tailwind going out and headwind coming back, except for last year (from what I can recall) when athletes had headwind going out and tailwind coming back (but crazy winds in Hawi in both directions).

The winds in Kona are what make this race so unique in that it is nearly impossible to pace yourself - why?

Because the winds are constantly changing as they did for us/me this year.

And to make things a bit more difficult, my swim time was not fast enough to put me with a pack of fast cyclists so there was a lot of passing/being passed going on. 

Now this isn't to say that I need a fast group to draft off but competitive endurance triathletes know that you can gain so much by being "pushed" by a faster group - and this can happen by riding alone and constantly passing people (as weak swimmers/strong cyclists experience) or drafting legally with a strong group/rider in front of you to set the pace (in Kona we can use the road reflectors to distinguish what is legal drafting - between two road reflectors on the ground).
When you have to slow down, every time you or passed or make the decision of "do I have the energy to pass this person?" and this happens for miles and miles, it is really hard to get a good rhythm. This is why many athletes prefer riding alone in a race (at the front) so that they can race their own race. In my case, when I come out of the water in a fast time (typically in an hour in my wetsuit swims), as a less-strong cyclist (although I am improving), I am motivated to push because of the other athletes in front of me.
I tried to not let it affect my race but I felt I was spending more time pulling back or passing people than just riding my own race.
For Karel, he is doing a lot of passing at his IM races but in Kona, he didn't get stuck on power or anyone around him and he didn't get upset if anyone passed him - he just focused on how he felt and really focused on not taking risks. 

The miles just passed by and before I knew it, I was making a left turn at Kawaihae to start an 18-mile adventure up to the town of Hawi.

Weeeee. Wow - now that was a nice push of wind from behind for a mile!

We made a slight right turn to officially start the 18-mile climb toward Hawi and it was nice to see the professional  men (and eventually women) making their way back to town. This was a nice boost as the Queen K is very limited in crowd support (aside from a few cheers from people outside their resorts along the Queen K).

After miles and miles of only the ocean, lava fields, a few palm trees and mountains in the distance keeping me company, it was really exciting to see the professionals.

Back to the race - 

When I started my climb toward Hawi, I noticed that there were no white caps to indicate strong winds. This gave me comfort but then again, when Karel and I rode last Saturday in Hawi (1 week before the race), we said the same thing and then nearly got blown off our bikes a few miles later.

With several rollers on the road along a steady, not significant, climb toward Hawi, I finally felt in my element. And thanks to Paul Buick who gave me some excellent bike handling tips in my private bike session on the Thurs before the race, I felt extremely comfortably on my bike, handling my bike really well while climbing with a few manageable gusts of wind in the last 7 miles.

I continued to stay up on my nutrition and kept a good mindset. I felt as if I had executed the first part of the ride really well as I still felt really strong and fresh.

As I was riding along, I spotted Karel making his descend in his aero bars and my first thought was to cheer for Karel "Go Karel!!!!!" He smiled.

My next thought was "it doesn't look too bad on the descend" which gave me a lot of confidence for what was to come after the turn around in Hawi. 

I did notice that Karel flipped his Giro attack shield up on his helmet (magnets) and then I questioned why he was riding without his shield???

Well, a mile later I figured it out as I was being cooled by drops of rain from the sky. 

And those drops turned into a downpour with a few gusts of winds making this bike ride very eventful. The rain was welcomed but it certainly affected my confidence as I was a little scared to descend (especially if we were to get crosswinds) in the rain. 

After the turn around, I switched into a lighter gear to stop at special needs (bottom of a little incline).  I rolled up to my bag as a volunteer was already standing there with it. The volunteer who helped me with my bag was awesome and boy, was he quick! I stopped, straddled my bike and asked him to put my bottles into my 3 empty cages. Done!
And off I went.
We could not do this without the amazing volunteers!
(Karel stopped at Special Needs too)

On the way back, the rain was still coming down but it slowly stopped. And before I knew it, I was hot and dry again. However, I do think that the rain helped because my body did not feel toasted like it had in previous years. Little did I know that this rain shower was the last time I would feel "cool" before the race was over. 

I felt very comfortable during the next 18-miles and actually rode most of it in my aero bars (aside from getting out of the saddle for a few short climbs). At this point on the course, I felt alone with very few athletes around.

I didn't really worry too much about having to ride the last 30 miles or so alone (mentally that is tough) as I was anticipating tailwind going home (based on the wind direction going out) so I figured it would be an "easy" and fast ride home.

Ha. So wrong. Thanks Madame Pele.

After passing by the gas station and only a mile or so before the right turn onto the Queen K hwy for our 31 miles or so back to town, I climbed the steepest and longest climb of our bike course (also the hottest part of the island on our course)  and felt really good. Karel took this climb very casually and although I planned to do the same, I just couldn't help but get out of my saddle and do my normal "climbing-style" which is most comfortable for me.

There was a small crowd at the corner of 270 and 19 which was welcomed and brought a smile to my face.

After making the turn and soft pedaling to stretch out, I noticed a flag in the distance that was waving in my direction....and not the other direction.

Oh Madame Pele.....seriously, headwind....again?

For the next 28 miles - I experienced headwind. Just like on the way out - not a single push behind me but maybe a few pushes from the side (which didn't really help me).

Whereas in 2013, I experienced the same thing and felt absolutely exhausted, this year I felt strong. All of my hill training in Greenville was paying off. I managed to pass athletes (mostly on the incline sections) and I never mentally or physically felt extremely tired.
Sure, it was frustrating at times but I didn't feel like the wind was winning over me.

Not knowing what my average speed or total time was, I just embraced the elements and focused on checking off destinations. I made it a point to just get to the next destination - I focused on one resort to another, one aid station to another. Soon enough, I spotted the airport. When I passed the airport, this was an exciting time- only 7 more miles to go! At this time, I switched my mind into run mode and focused on easing up on the pedals and not overdoing it before the run.

I could feel my body getting a little tighter and I was getting a little more uncomfortable on the bike but I still managed to stay focused. I stood up out of my saddle a few extra times to stretch and finished off my last bottle to start the run properly hydrated and fueled (the best that I could).

When I made the right turn off the Queen K onto Makala blvd, I was looking forward to being off the bike. Because I didn't have the entire bike ride on my computer, I didn't know my total bike time or average pace so I could not make any assumptions as to how my ride went based on metrics.  But in terms of how I felt, my endurance allowed me to bike strong and I felt it was a really great ride.

After looking at the time of the day on my computer, I did a little math and knew that I didn't have the ride that I wanted to have (on paper). I ended up biking 5:44.08 (14 minutes slower than IM Kona '13).

But in racing an Ironman, it's a long day and anything can happen - good or bad. The race is not over until you cross the finish line.

As I was nearing the transition area, I could see a few top age group girls that I know starting the run. This actually gave me confidence that I was still "in the mix" (whatever that meant to me- I didn't know - but I was trying to stay confident and not let my swim/bike times get to me).

I dismounted my bike, removed my shoes (and carried them) and with the first few steps, I felt shaky in my legs. I knew this feeling wouldn't last long (or I hoped) so I just focused on collecting myself before the run.
I really needed to pee (I only had one good pee on the bike) so I stopped in the potty in the transition area before grabbing my run bag. Oh - it felt so good to sit and not move.

I then jogged to my run bag and into the women's changing tent.

My volunteer was great and she helped me with my hydration belt, hat and run shoes and I asked her to spray my Coola sunscreen (which I had in my bag since I like spray, not rub-on, sunscreen) on my back and shoulders.
OUCH!!
Oh boy - did I ever chaff in the water on my back and neck!

I thanked the volunteer, had a few sips of water for my mouth (and a few cups to cool myself on my back) and off I went for the most mentally and physically difficult runs of my life.

As for Karel, he was really happy with his bike. 5:06.50.
Typically he can push hard and recover quickly on the bike and he has enough bike experience to take a few risks but he had great respect to the race elements and didn't try to take any extra risks that would elevate his HR or body temperature. Even though Karel comes from a cycling background, he has managed to excel in Ironman racing simply from being smart with his pacing on the bike to have a great run.
He focused on short segments on the bike and managed each segment the best he could. Rather than thinking about it as out and back, he just focused on a smart execution within each segment. He didn't focus on his power or any metrics, it was all by feel.

On the way back with the wind, he said there were many guys who completely blew up so as he was passing them, he knew he paced it well. The only thing he complained about was once he got off the bike, the pier was soooooo long to run around (every athlete has to run all the way around it, the same distance).
Stay tuned for my 26.2 mile run race recap.