Sunday, October 13, 2013

Kona Chronicles: Part 5

And they're off!
Ironman is not a spectator sport. I know I am stating the obvious, but, wow, it just isn't. Like many sports events, it is the palpable excitement of being there that draws people in, even when such an event is better watched on TV. The most action was in the first 90 minutes where we saw three separate swim starts (pro men, pro women, age groupers), the swim itself, and then the droves of people precariously rounding the Hot Corner (the junction of Palani Rd and Kuakini Hwy) and back again. The riders zoomed by so quickly it was somewhat of a game to pick out who they were.

And, then, that's it. The athletes were gone into the abyss and there was nothing to do but wait for some information to trickle in. Even though we were right there, we could've been anywhere.

Beautiful morning to spectate

After a run to the Energy Lab and back we had nothing but time. The wireless networks were bogged down with everyone trying to get updates, rendering us ignorant of what was transpiring just a few miles away. I had to text other people located elsewhere for information about how my athletes were doing and to find out how the pro race was unfolding. The Athlete Tracker was almost impossible to bring up due to the overwhelming overload. Every now and again, one of us could pull it up and that person would whoop like a lottery winner.
Damn funny!

All of that internet searching caused my phone to bleed battery life. It would drop 10% in the blink of an eye. All around me, people were cursing at their phones and iPads. As my battery was about to breathe its last breath, I stopped into a shop, gave my sad face, and asked if I could plug my phone in. It was a common sight at the restaurants to see people with their phones charging. Next time, I will have an alternative battery plan.

The crowd on Alii Drive

We stood along Alii Drive waiting for the athletes to come through. Among both the pros and the age groupers, the pattern was similar, some people looked so smooth and happy while others wore the pain of the day on their faces. Some people ran tall, other were stooped over. It was easy to pick out whose quads were trashed, whose hamstrings were cramping, and who managed their ride well enough to run with relative ease.

Of all the runners that ran past, none looked better than Mirinda Carfrae. She makes running look effortless; she is strong and solid and runs with confidence. It was a sight to behold.

My athletes fared well. Two had Ironman PR's, one said "I raced to my level of fitness" and another had to face the Ironman demons. Overall, it was a successful day.

Lessons of the day:
1. Spectating an Ironman is hard. I always knew that, but now I really know.
2. Reapply sunscreen on a regular basis.
3. It is easy to forget to eat and drink.
4. The photographers are really good at what they do. I missed just about every photo op; the athletes go by too fast.
This is the only action photo I managed to capture.
5. Pick your spot on the course wisely and stay there.
6. Bring phone battery back ups and sell them for large sums of money to desperate spectators.

All in all, a fun and successful day. I hope to do it again next year!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Kona Chronicles: Part 4

Since I arrived on the island, the best word to describe how I have felt is reminiscent. Every place I visited, every person I bumped into, every nook and cranny that I passed created an overwhelming sense of nostalgia with a funny or sad or exciting story attached. Nothing made me miss racing here, though, until yesterday at 2pm. When I walked by the finish line, I felt a catch in my throat, and I envisioned myself running under the gantry in the tired and elated state of an Ironman finisher. The feeling left as quickly as it arrived and I came to my senses as sweat trickled down my body in the unbearable heat and humidity of the afternoon.

Yesterday morning we skipped the Kona pier and headed north to Hapuna Beach. The vast nothingness that surrounds the beach is stunning in an ugly sort of way.

We ran along a connector road and met up with another that took us to the quaint town of Puako. The madness of Kailua was nary a thought in our minds as we ambled down the road admiring the houses, foliage and unique smells.
Brandon and I laughing at a joke during a run.
Nothing like a running selfie!
After our run, we cooled off with a swim at Hapuna Beach. The cove is huge with crystal clear water. Unlike Kailua Bay, there were few fish to view, just endless sand and the bubbles created by my hands entering the water.
It is hard to imagine the desert directly behind this beach.
The Big Island, particularly the Kona side, is infamous for vog, a form of air pollution that results when sulfur dioxide and other gases and particles emitted from the erupting volcano react with oxygen and moisture in the presence of sunlight. In the past, I rarely noticed the vog. This year, the vog has been wreaking havoc and causing my asthma to flare up and blocking my sinuses. The result is that I have been wheezing and coughing changing my voice from its normal timbre to that of a husky, pack a day smoker.

Yesterday afternoon I finally took some time to do nothing. I lay on a couch in a friend's condo and stared at the ocean. I guess that qualifies as relaxing.

Today is race day. I am psyched to see how everything unfolds. More later...

Friday, October 11, 2013

Kona Chronicles: Part 3

Kona is a vortex; or, perhaps, it's vacation in general. My awake hours account for about 18 hours of each day in which I have been spending 90 minutes exercising and 2 hours working. I have not seen a TV, read a newspaper, browsed the internet, done housework, taken care of the dog or cooked a meal. Clearly, I am not busy. Yet, the time here flies like I am. It is truly vexing. Perhaps it is the fact that every task seems to take twice as long as it should. The beauty of not racing is that I don't care. I have no particular schedule to follow. It doesn't matter if I skip a meal or spend too much time in the sun or walk too far.

The house at which I am staying is a coffee farm. I was half hoping that coffee beans would be in abundance, overflowing in every cabinet. Alas, much to my chagrin, that was not to be, as all of the beans were given away in the last harvest.
Coffee trees and farm animals.
Yesterday, I swam the course and then did a short run with Team JZ. Everyone seems to be relaxed, which is a good sign. Pre-race nerves are natural, but a relaxed nervous is imperative to a good race.

Happy faces before the run.
Somehow, breakfast materialized into brunch, as we did not eat until 11. And, right there, is a perfect example of the "vortex". We swam at 7, ran at 8:30, and then what the heck did we do until 11? I do know that I was terribly disappointed to arrive at Huggo's, a restaurant that serves potent coffee that I can only assume is laced with speed based on the reaction that I had the previous day, and find that they were closed. I was looking forward to another cup of their coffee that got me so amped up 6 hours later I was still talking at warp speed.

Instead, we made the requisite trip to Lava Java, the most in vogue spot on the Island during race week, a perfectly good reason not to go there. I was pleasantly surprised by the haste at which they took my order and served my food considering the length of the line.

The Lava Java coffee was good, but not Huggo's good.

We did manage to spend some time off of Alii Drive and away from the race mania. A trip to the cliffs and the beach were the afternoon activities. We did some video taping for our Race Ready Coaching website at the cliffs. The backdrop was perfect. My hair was not. The humidity and salt air have combined to create a chemical reaction that doubled (tripled?) the circumference of my hair. We kept patting it down and then tried various hair ties. Eventually we gave up and just let it do its own thing.

Yup, I am in a two piece. And, my hair is a planet.
The color of the water at the cliffs is something you see in movies. The contrast of the blue water and the black lava is stunning.
Seriously, doesn't it look like someone dropped in blue dye?

People do actually jump off the cliffs. I am not a thrill seeker, so I just watched in awe laced with a little fear.

This guy jumped from a low level. Another guy was doing back flips off the top.
We spent a pleasant evening with a group of friends who gathered to celebrate Teresa's birthday.
I despise leg photos, so here is mine.

Nothing to say here.
I fell into bed, exhausted and confident that I would sleep all the way to 4:30. Nope. I was wide awake at 3:30.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Kona Chronicles: Part 2

The view from the house
Today I woke up at an entirely more civilized hour: 4am. Somehow that has a more humane ring than 3am, the time at which I awoke yesterday. I love the solitude of the morning, though, and today, there is a hush in the house, where the only sound is the whir of my ceiling fan.

The house at which I am staying is a coffee farm located at 1800 feet above sea level. It is probably 10-15 degrees cooler than Kailua and the views from above the town are magnificent. The house is nestled into the hillside, with an access road so steep it could qualify as a high level ski run should global warming ever cause a blizzard here. Sleeping, for the few hours I have managed to do so, is a different experience here, with perfect temperatures, utter darkness unmarred by streetlamps or other houses, and complete quiet.

When people come to Hawaii, they leave with souvenirs of coffee or chocolate covered macadamia nuts or ugly shirts that seem to fit in on the Island but never look right anywhere else. My special memento of the Big Island, one that stays with me long after the tan fades and I've slept off the jet lag, is a cold sore. In my dozen trips here, in spite of all my efforts and use of various lip tinctures, I start to feel the telltale tingle in my lip that signals it is going to erupt. This trip is no different and within 20 hours of my arrival on the Island, I started to feel sensitivity in my angry lower lip. That now precludes me from eating anything remotely spicy, lest it touch my lip causing me to scream and disrupt the other diners.

Yesterday was a busy day. I went to the pier to swim with Jen T, Jen C and Scott, three of the four athletes I coach who are competing here. It was so nice to see them and listen to them swap stories of qualifying and I could just feel their general excitement about the race.
Jen T and Me after the morning swim

The buzz at the pier was so familiar, even though so many of the faces were not. I had not swum in open water in three years, so yesterday's swim was particularly exhilarating. The clarity of the ocean meant that I felt like I was swimming in an aquarium. I was absolutely giddy with delight as I moved through the swim course, craning my neck to make sure I didn't collide with anyone. I even stopped to talk to one of the paddlers manning the course to share my enthusiasm.
I don't think Scott will mind that I stole this photo off his Facebook page. Or, will he?

One of the best parts of yesterday was running into old friends and acquaintances I had not seen in so many years. We have all added age to our faces, but we greeted each other with gusto and with genuine interest in what transpired over the last many years.

C'mon, you know I have to put up at least one sunset shot!
My trip here has been purposeful, fun, and in so many ways cathartic. As I sat on a friend's patio, admiring the sea view, the island whispered in my ear, "What took you so long?"

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Kona Chronicles: Part 1

I arrived in darkness. I sit here typing, overlooking the vast expanse of Kona sprawled out below, also in darkness. There is a certain sameness about it; the yellow lights, the impossible stillness, the fact that I cannot sleep past 3am every time I come here. The Big Island, with all of its changes, just seems so unchanged.

The biggest change since my last visit in 2006 is me. I have changed. My life has changed. I am no longer the nervous triathlete looking for another shot at glory at the Hawaii Ironman. I gave up on Ironman in 2008, realizing that the distance and my physiology simply didn't cohere. And, then, in 2010 I gave up triathlon altogether, realizing that my rib injuries were no longer compatible with riding a bike.

As tough as those realizations were, it opened up a world of challenges and opportunities that have given me purpose and a new definition of self. Indeed, the interview question I was asked most often? Where do you see yourself in 5 years. I was always befuddled by this question because the  answer seemed to simple, surely I would still be competing in triathlon and doing science.

Life is not that straightforward, though, and while 5 years is a long time, it is also the blink of an eye. Plans change quickly and we must adapt to the situations presented to us. Coming to Kona, in the role of coach, friend, spectator, observer, mentor, seeker of the beach, will certainly help me in my own formulation of my next 5 years.

I toil with mixed emotions about merely being here, yet I am excited at the new opportunities that abound around me. And, now, I must seek out a famous cup of Kona coffee and make new memories.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Twin Cities Marathon: Race Report

This is me at IM Arizona after getting a flat while winning the race.
Sport is difficult; it requires time, patience, a strong mind, and a sense of humor. The greatest challenge in sport comes from the fickleness that accompanies it, the fact that in a mere moment things can drastically change from good to bad. A triathlete can go from winning a race to getting stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire. A football team winning by 3 touchdowns at the half can still lose the game. Endurance sports are notorious harbingers of havoc. Post-race, stories are rampant with accounts of races gone awry.

As a seasoned marathon veteran, I know how marathons can unfold; and so, 20 years after my first marathon (Chicago, 1993), I still have a very healthy respect for the distance. I am acutely aware as one’s time goals get faster, you must race harder, take more risks, and thus, the potential for failure is even greater. Since I am not afraid to fail, I often go down in flames.

Coming in to this race, my biggest concern was my Achilles/calves.  I was lucky enough to have a quick recovery from the tear I incurred in August. With some concerted treatment and several weeks of Alter G running, four weeks after the initial injury, I was back on track. Regular treatment, stretching, and strengthening actually helped my calves so much I felt they were healthier than they had been all summer. I also wore compression socks 24/7, which often meant walking around looking like a poser when I wore shorts on the hot days. Or, perhaps, I am on the precipice of a fashion trend that will someday become main stream.

My race day plan was to hold 6:05 pace, which I successfully ran through mile 21. Everything felt comfortable – my breathing was relaxed, my form felt good – I was biding my time until mile 20 where I planned to get aggressive and tackle the hilly, last 10k with vigor.

I went through 20 miles at 2:02, a solid 2:40 pace. I was feeling encouraged that the race was unfolding according to plan. And then, BAM. Just like that, I got the dizzies. It hit me so hard and so fast, I was shocked. I started to push the Salt Stick tablets and drink more water, but the dizzies got worse. I found myself staggering along the course, weaving from one side of the road to the next. I was whimpering as I ran up the hills, and all I wanted to do was lie down on the pavement and nap it out. At mile 24 I was uncertain that I would actually make it to the finish line. The dizziness was overwhelming and the desire to stop was getting stronger with every passing step. It was very difficult to see my goals disintegrate minute by minute and to get passed and passed and passed by my competitors.
Running with the dizzies -- I am not too happy!
Why didn’t I stop? One simple reason. I am going to Kona to watch four of the athletes I coach embark on a brutal 140.6 mile journey through unforgiving terrain in a spectacle known as the Ironman World Championships. I came to the conclusion that I needed to set an example for them – finish what you start even when your goals go out the window. My inspiration came from their hard work and the desire to send them a message: Be strong even when you are feeling weak.

When I crossed the finish line, I immediately collapsed. The absolute worst thing you can do when you have the dizzies is to stop moving. So, naturally, when I stopped moving, I could no longer stand. It made for quite a dramatic finish and a trip to the medical tent for the first time in 5 years.
Courtesy of

In honor of upcoming Hawaii Ironman, this is me after finishing Kona in 1999 with the dizzies.
A running medical tent is very different from a triathlon medical tent. The biggest distinction? They are incredibly stingy with IV drips in the running med tents. When I came in, barely coherent, the first they did was start pushing water or food or Power Ade. Then, they decided I needed broth. I think there must’ve been a contest among the doctors to see who could off load the most broth, because they were handing it out to everyone unfortunate enough to be in there. It was disgusting. It was thick and lukewarm and I had to drink this sludge through a straw. They really need a Top Chef to work on the recipe. Surely, there must be a way to make bullion tastier. When I realized it was this broth or nothing, I gagged it down and an hour later I was on my merry way.

In hindsight, I believe the dizzies came on from the spacing of the aid stations during the first 20 miles of the race. The aid stations were every 2.5 miles, not nearly enough, even on a cool day. I just need more liquid. Plain and simple. I’m not sure which marathon I will run next, but one thing is certain. I will be carrying a water bottle with me.