Thursday, October 17, 2013

Kona Trip Report - The Race!



On Friday we moved from Waimea to a place south of Captain Cook called the Dragaonfly Ranch. I never did figure out the town’s official name. (It started with an H and had a lot of vowels. Verses all the other places whose names started with a K and had a lot of vowels.) But the mailing address is Captain Cook so that’s how I thought of it the entire time we were there.

It was this funky bed and breakfast that was kind of like a hostel crossed with a tree house. Breakfast every morning was homemade bread and island fruit, much of it grown on the property. Plus organic Kona coffee for those inclined and oatmeal with lots of seeds and other things to put in it if you wanted.

There were no locks on the doors and our room had its own bathroom with a tub, but the shower was outdoors. I was dubious but it had hot water and that’s all I require in a shower.

The Manager has led quite a varied life and told us some great stories including being a child actor in Chicago with his friend Bruce Boxleighter. (They shared an agent.) We also talked quite a bit about Waldorf schools and triathlons (he used to do the swim and bike portions on relay teams when he was younger).

Friday we not only switched hotels, but we finally got to go to the Expo officially and pick up our volunteer t-shirts and check out the logistics of the race. There were signs everywhere saying “No Bags on the Pier” and we were also told that bags in the post-race area had to be smaller than 8.5x11 and no more than 3” deep.

I had nothing that qualified so, in addition to everything else, I had to buy a new purse just for race day. We were also very worried about parking and, during dinner at the famous Annie’s Burgers, I plotted out our early morning strategy.

I was supposed to also swim part of the official swim course and bike part of the bike course. But it was way too hot and I was exhausted so that never happened. I was starting to think that I had schlepped this bike all the way from California for nothing, but not even that thought was getting me on the Queen K in that heat when I had to get up the next morning at 4:15 am.

Saturday we got into town and I missed the turn off to our secret parking street. As I went to turn around, I found a spot right there in town. Parking, after all our fretting and plotting, turned out to be a breeze!

We walked to the swim start and found a spot on the wall. This is where we found out that they were letting in bags after all, just searching ones that were a certain size. My new bag was small enough not to be searched and that was nice. But it was annoying that I bought it for nothing.

The swim start was fun. There was a lot more ceremony than at a typical Ironman with drums and outriggers and such. There were also a ton of helicopters making it hard, at times, to hear the announcer.

First the Pro men went off and I started my Garmin watch. We were going to track the pros later in the day at mile three for coach Jim Vance of the TrainingBible Coaching and needed to start our race clock. They were a minute late so it’s a good thing we were actually there and not just assuming they went at 6:30 am as they were supposed to.

Then the Pro women went off. For them, we tried to give them their own race clock. Both my mom and I used the stopwatches on our phones. But first I started mine when a wave crashed against the wall and not when the cannon went off. I didn’t have time to reset it before the cannon did go off. She started hers properly though. So we did have one good clock for the women. We thought.

Next it was the age groupers turn and I was pleased to see that they were still doing them as a mass water start. I don’t care what anyone says, I think that is the safest kind of swim start and much less iffy than starting people in self-seeded corrals and all that. Water starts let you spread out in a way that beach starts do not.

So the swimmers were off and we soon couldn’t see anything. The plan was to go around to the swim finish and watch them come out of the water but we couldn’t get to where I wanted to be. At every turn we’d come upon security people who'd said we couldn’t go that way.

Eventually we gave up and went out on the bike course to what the announcer was calling the “hot corner”. Bikers went by four times there, out on the course and then back around on one side and then out past us and back around past us on the other.

I was looking for some club members and thought I saw one and screamed his name but I’m sure he didn’t hear me and I wasn’t 100% sure it was him. I never saw the other one I was looking for but the last one was easy to follow. Harriet Anderson is the oldest woman racer ever so they announce her all the time.

They announced when she came out of the water and when she left T1. She was out of the water later than I expected but out of T1 about when I expected based on knowing her swim time. She came by us on the bike course around when I expected too.

I yelled “Go Harriet!” and waved my sign and I think she smiled but I doubt she had any idea it was me, given that she was whipping by on a bike and that she didn’t even know I was in Kona.

At this point, all the swimmers were out of the water so we decided to make our way to mile three to start recording run times. We wanted to get there by 11 am even though I was pretty sure the guys wouldn’t be coming by until 12:30 pm. Still, I wanted to be there by 11:30 am at the latest (in case they came by as early as noon) and so aiming for 11 am seemed like the best way to guarantee that.

We headed out and, damn, it was hot. It was so hot that it took forever and we abandoned our plan to have lunch at the famous Poke Shack, but just stopped somewhere on the way with AC and a bathroom.

On the way out, I got a call from Jim. Apparently the Queen K was unusually calm and the pros were smoking it out there. He was predicting they’d be by mile three well before the 12:30 pm we’d figured was the absolute earliest and wanted to be sure we’d be in place. No problem, I told him, we’re half way there already!

Oh and by the way, they’ve renumbered all the male pros. Yeah, they’ve gotten rid of number 13 and made the original 13 be number 14 and then all the pros after him are one number higher. Seriously? Personally I’d jump at the chance to be number 13 just for fun but I guess someone decided it would be unlucky and they had to change and we had to renumber our scoring sheet. Geez.

Anyway, we kind of limp into mile three and it’s not a bad spot to wait and watch the race. It’s by a sea wall so there is a breeze and some shade. There is also a Pro Fluid station and … an official timing matt!

Oh. That’s new. (Last year it was at the turn around.)

I text Jim to see if he still wants us there or wants to use the official times and he does. We continue to wait. I am tracking the race on Ironman.com so we don’t get caught unawares and looking for the lead motorcycle.

When you are looking for a motorcycle, all of a sudden it seems like every dude who owns a motorcycle in Kona is out on Alii Drive!

Eventually the first pro shows up and it’s someone I never heard of. But we mark him down and his time and we continue like that. It turns out to be pretty easy because they are spread out enough. Once in a while they don’t have their number showing so I have to give my mom the number once they are past. And one guy has only part of the number showing but we figured out he has to be number 6 and his bottle is covering up nothing (even though it looks like it’s covering up part of a number). But we manage.

We get 14 of the 15 pros and then we have excitement. Two male pros are running together and we aren’t sure which one will be first and one has no number showing! So we time them both and figure out the one without a number is Jordon Rapp so I can look up his number.

As we are doing this,  Pete Jacobs, last year’s winner runs by so I figure we should do him too – a kind of “current champion respect” thing. Thus we end up with 17 times instead of the 15 we had to get. This is what happens when you send out two Type A overachievers, one of whom has a degree in statistics to do a simple job.

After this, there is a bit of a gap before the first women come by. At this point we find that their race clock had been reset somehow. Luckily we had checked earlier while waiting for the men and knew their clock was exactly five minutes ahead of the guys. It meant doing math later, but at least we could give accurate times.

I knew when the women hit mile 1 though because Jim was tweeting and they were posting his tweets on ironman.com. We go on high alert 10 minutes later and a few minutes after that the motorcycle for the lead females comes through and we start timing the women.

They were slightly harder because they are mixed in with male pros and some male age groupers too. From a distance you can’t always tell if it’s a woman or a man running up. Sometimes it’s obvious – they are wearing a skirt or pink or have pigtails. But sometimes it’s not remotely obvious at all.

You have to look at the hips and that helps a lot, but sometimes running-hips are funny-hips and you just can’t tell.

Sorry all you guys we thought were women and vice versa!

We did catch them all though. The lead women had only 11 seconds separating them and were smoking it. But not as smoking as Mirinda Carfre. I was pretty sure right then and there she was going to win, because she sure didn’t look like someone who was going to blow up later in the race and she had plenty of time to catch the remaining women.

We got the first 12 women without a lot of issue but those last three were killer. They just wouldn’t come. We waited and waited. Lots of male age groupers. Still some pro males. Finally the 12th woman. Then another gap. And the 13th.

During this time, guess who came by to chat up the timers? Chrissie Wellington on her Canondale!

I didn’t realize it was her until she was leaving. That looks like Chrissie Wellington, I thought. Oh it couldn’t be. Then she said something. It is! I was going to say “Hi Chrissie” but she took off and that was that.

More waiting and more waiting and finally we got all fifteen pro women that we were tasked with getting. We are transcribing the numbers onto our official sheet as the 16th pro woman went, by so we timed her too.

But something is wrong. We have 16 numbers on our scratch paper but only 15 on the sheet. We go over and go over the numbers and can’t figure it out. Finally we notice there are two 113s! I am starting to panic as one of the 113s is in the top five and now we’ve screwed up Jim’s research and … Wait, could that be 115, my mom says? It’s her hand-writing so she should know but I’m convinced it can’t be.

We look at the splits posted online for the bike and, sure enough, there is a 115 in the top 5, but not a 113. So we change the number and it’s all good.

At this point I attempt to text pictures of the sheets back to Jim and tell him we are on our way to meet him with his clipboard. We start making our way down Alii Drive and it is hot as all getout and full of runners.

We start going slower and slower and I am sure my mom is going to have a heat stroke. I keep trying to get her to stop at various restaurants with AC but she wont. At the same time she is bitching up a storm, which is not like her at all. I am perplexed and frustrated and concerned.

On the way back I see both Keish and Tana and yell encouragement to them and they both see me and say “hey!” and smile and keep going. I have no sense at this point as to what point we are in the race or how they are doing time-wise, just that they look good.

We meet  up with Jim and hand over the goodies just as they are whipping up the crowd for the first finisher. Jim takes off to see it and my mom finally agrees to go to the KBH hotel lobby and wait for me so I can watch the finish too.

I deliberately see the top three guys finish and then try to find my mom. Making my way through the crowd and getting stuck in a few “you can’t go here” spots causes me to see all top 10 male pro finishers or at least hear their finishes. I do eventually find her just as my cell phone dies for the evening.

We hang out at the hotel until our volunteer shift trying to recover from the heat. We eat something, drink some smoothies, pee as often as we can (real bathrooms – no port-a-potties!) and even take a nap sitting up. My mom stops looking beet red every time we have to walk somewhere and I stop worrying she’s going to keel over and die on me.

Dear Stepdad

I took mom to Hawaii and killed her. Sorry about that.

Love,

Mac

We went out for our shift and it was crazy town out there. We were to give out medals and t-shirts, we were told, but actually we were not on the finish line where such things normally happen during Ironman races but back in the post-race area with the “pre-swim” bags. So we gave them back too.

This means those poor athletes, after swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 and running a marathon in the Kona heat, only get a lei at the finish line and then have to make their way back to the post-race area and figure out themselves what to do next.

Some of them were quite confused too and one collapsed right in front of our table. That was scary.

But we gave them their medals and made a fuss over them and gave them their t-shirts and gave them back their Morning Clothes bag (which they called the Pre-Swim bag which confused people too) and directed them to the massages and food.

My mom said that a couple of the women wouldn’t let her put medals on them because they were “too grungy” so they put the medals in their bags. I only had one guy not want me to put a medal on him but that’s because his family wanted to do it. His pregnant wife ended up doing it and I thought that was fair. After all she’s a lot younger and prettier than me. I’d rather have her put on my medal too!

I mostly fetched pre-swim bags though. I liked that job better. I tried to stay away from giving out t-shirts. It seemed too crazed trying to find the right sizes and they did run out of Women’s Mediums at some point in the evening before our shift was over.

We got to see Hines Ward finish and everyone clapped when he got his medal. That dude has quite the gut on him, by the way. I did not realize. They must normally shoot him so you can’t see it. The rest of him is rock solid though. And much smaller than in his football-playing days.

We probably also saw Gordon Ramsey finish but didn't realize it.

The World Championships are not really like a regular Ironman where you get all types. The “I just want to finish” dudes have all been weeded out for the most part. This means that by about eight o’clock, most of the athletes had been through. Our shift was over at 9:00 pm but we had gotten there early so we left a bit early too.

At this point, it was raining. It was a real rain, but Hawaii rain is never so heavy that you get soaked through just standing there. Still we were tired and hungry and couldn’t find the volunteer food tent so we went to Quinns and asked to be seated in the room with AC.

After a nice dinner and some AC, we had recovered a bit and it was almost 10 pm so we went out to the finish line to cheer on the late finishers. Those are my mom’s favorites anyway. Plus I always stay up to see Harriet finish when I’m at home so I was darn sure I was going to see her finish in person!

It was still raining but we didn’t care. It was like a party out there. They were throwing free crap into the crowd and we were beating the boards in time to the music and getting wet and just having fun.

They announced who different people were but often it was after they finished so we didn’t always know whom they were as they went by. I recognized some of them and sometimes they’d pre-announce them but we didn’t really care. We screamed for everyone.

I had gotten Harriet’s splits at the halfway point and knew she would finish at 11:45pm if she stayed on that pace. It seemed likely she would slow down a bit, but just in case I started watching for her about then. And right at 11:46 or so the announcer told us she had been spotted turning onto Palini Drive!

We cheered even though she wasn’t there yet. And got more free stuff. And did the YMCA dance. (Or maybe that was earlier.) And yelled and pounded some more.

My mom was sure Harriet wouldn’t make it as it got closer to midnight, but I knew she would because I knew how far it was and that she had time. Plus she’s experienced on the course and knows how to pace herself.

When she was spotted in the shoot, I started screaming and the announcer told everyone it was her and the crowd went absolutely NUTS. Just nuts. Screaming her name and yelling and pounding.

There was some guy running in with her. I have no idea who he was. Poor dude.

We screamed “You. Are. An. Ironman.” when she got to the finish. And then took a breath.

Anyway, she made it with three minutes to spare and at that point we started worrying about the rest of the people on the course because time was getting tight.

Mike O’Reilly started running down the shoot to encourage people on and running up the shoot with them. He did that for the very last woman, a gal with an artificial running leg, but she did not make it.

Ha had us scream her name a couple of times, but he was very careful not to say “You are an Ironman” and it was kind of sad because she only missed it by maybe 30 seconds or so (going by my Garmin).

I found out later she missed it by 48 seconds and that also she had qualified as an able-bodied athlete, not a challenged athlete!

A Japanese dude came running up during this time and we yelled for him but he didn’t get any announcing and at least one other guy finished while they were doing the Fire Dance that they do at the end.

Man, when you are tired and just want to go home, that darn fire dance goes on FOREVER.

Eventually, it ended and we started to leave even though there was more stuff – a woman singing and who knows what else. Whenever a runner would come by, everyone streaming up Alii Drive to their cars would stop and clap and yell for them, then resume their trek.

There were still quite a few people out there and my mom and I had a conversation about whether or  not we’d continue if that was us or stop. (Her answer … Oh, I’d continue. My answer… it would depend on the course and how far out I was.)

We found our car and it hadn’t been towed and most people were gone by then so it was very easy to get the heck out of dodge and back to the Dragonfly. We wandered in around 1:30 am and collapsed into bed.

We had this idea that we’d get up early to swim with the dolphins but we also didn’t set an alarm (on purpose). So it never happened.

Instead we had breakfast and talked to our fellow guests including a couple from France whose daughter was in the race and my mom packed and we loaded up the car with her stuff and headed into town.

Once there, I finally got to bike on the Queen K. It was windier than the day before. Probably a normal wind for that route.

It reminded me a bit of Route 1 out of Santa Cruz. The wind was a factor and for a “flat” course there was more Up than I was happy about (because of the headwind) but it was manageable. The heat that had intimidated me so much the whole trip wasn’t really a factor as long as I kept moving.

I’m not sure exactly how far I got. I just turned around when my Garmin said 5 miles. I didn't quite make it to the Energy Lab or the airport, but I got pretty close.

When I got back, we went souvenir shopping and I put my feet in the water at the swim start. I really wanted to swim at that point and was sorry I didn’t have a bathing suit with me.

Then we had some dinner at the famous Lava Java and I took Mom to the airport and went back to the Dragonfly to do my own packing.

It was raining again down south and that made getting my bike out of the car problematic but I did it eventually and started packing it. I didn’t get the whole thing done before it got too late and I had to stop, but I got a good start.

The next morning I woke up without an alarm around 6 am and thought about swimming with the dolphin even though swimming by yourself is not safe but ended up falling back asleep.

I had one last outdoor shower and one last organic carbfest breakfast and went back to packing up the bike. Oh my goodness. What a monstrous task. I owe Mr. Mac big time for packing it up the first time.

I ended up getting help to get the handlebars off as I couldn’t unscrew the bolt myself. And when we had the whole thing packed and ready to go, I kept finding bits and pieces that belonged in the box!

I put them all in my suitcase as there was no way I was opening up that box again.

Back in the car, back to the airport, back to check in. This is when I found out that the box weighed more than 50 pounds and so the airlines should have been charging me more than they had to ship it. Lucky me!

The airport was full of triathletes. And bike boxes. All much smaller than mine. Jealous.

It’s in the plane now and so am I and I hope to never see it again. Mr. Mac is meeting me at the airport so I won’t have to figure out how to get it to the car with just me. It’s not heavy but I have two hands and three rolling things. You do the math.

I’ve been chatting with a few of the triathletes at the airport and on the plane. I asked most of them if they had a good race and most of them said “No.” They were all first timers and instead of saying “the bike was so fast compared to past years” they said, “It was so hot!”

I have decided that I am going to do this race. I have the bug now. I’ve had to before but now I’ve seen the race and been on the course and I really want to come back even more than before when it was all theoretical. I’ve decided I want to qualify in five years for the 40th anniversary.

I’ll be 61 and I think I can do it. Right now at a lot of races there is only one finisher in that 60-64 category so I just have to make sure that one finisher is me.

This may be harder than it looks though as there are a lot of wicked fast women in my age group right now and I don’t see them all suddenly retiring in the next five years. But some of them will. I just have to make sure I’m not one of them and that I stop getting injured and I think I’ll eventually have “that race” where it all goes according to plan and I do qualify.

In the meantime I have to heal my head (more on that later) and I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I think if I can get my running up to its full potential and work more on my swim technique, it will really help with my Ironman times.

Both of those seem completely reasonable given past experience. It's getting faster on the bike that is going to be the sticking point, I think.
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