40 hours. 600 miles. Good times.

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My first time on the Big Island was in 2007 for the Honu 70.3. Aside from making a heart out of white coral with Michelle, I’ve little recollection of anything.

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Last week I traveled back to the Big Island for a Kona Training Camp. Everything was new.

Arrival
Keish Doi (teammate on Team TriBike Transport) picked me up at the airport on Thursday night. We made it swiftly to his place in Kailua-Kona, where we enjoyed some good conversation before resting up for a big day of training.

Day 1
Swim 1.2 miles + Bike 36 miles + Run 7.3 miles: 3 hrs 38 min.

We began our day at the pier to swim 1.2 miles of the Ironman swim course.

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The current was a bit combative, and there wasn’t great water clarity. Still, I saw two dolphins!

And then, as I finally reached the sand, I stood up, thinking “Wow! 1.2 miles and I feel great!!” Then I was knocked over by a wave. And then that same wave hit the retaining wall and seemed to return for one more strike, knocking me down again as I was proceeding to stand. It was one of many reminders that I’d receive over the next week: don’t get cocky. Don’t underestimate anything on this island.

For races, I completely trust TriBike Transport to take care of my bike. For this training camp, however, I had to trust myself with transportation and assembly of my bike.

IMG_5392.JPGAfter monkeying with my headset for two hours, I destroyed a bearing on my bike. So we went to see Grant at Bike Works. His mechanic, Jason, replaced the bearing and undid a few of the other things I mistakenly mucked up.

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Finally, after a long day of bike assembly and repair, Keish and I rode 2 hours on the Queen K.

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About 15 minutes into the ride, I was slapped in the face by the wind. I heard a sound like the crack of a whip and later said to Keish, “Is this wind typical?”

Keish, who has a talent for calming my fears, said: “Oh, this isn’t wind. The north side of the island has all the wind”.

(Tomorrow we planned to ride the north side).

We dismounted our bikes and went for a run along Ali’i Drive. It felt so good to run where so many great athletes have run before.

IMG_5533.JPG(That’s Faris Al-Sultan on Ali’i Drive in the 2009 Hawaii Ironman).

For dinner Keish and I each ate about 2 pounds of poke.

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Day 2
Bike 108 miles + Run 5 miles + Swim 750 yards: 6 hours 53 min.

Our morning began with a group ride at 7 AM. I was dropped twice. Despite pushing 400 watts, I couldn’t hang, went anaerobic, and reached my threshold. My legs were officially rubbery.

(It’s important for me to be humbled. Fortunately, I enjoyed many servings of humility while on the Big Island).

Instead of returning to Kailua-Kona with the group, Keish and I decided to keep riding the Ironman course to the turnaround in Hawi.

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Over the years I’ve watched the NBC broadcast of the Hawaii Ironman more times than I can count. (I DVR each broadcast, and I own many of them on DVD as well). In the broadcasts, the bike course doesn’t appear to be very hilly.

All I can say is this: there were significantly more hills than I expected on the course. The wind is fierce. And loud. It whips around your ears and helmet like a tarp flapping in the wind.

Note: Make friends with the wind. Learn to move through it. Don’t push against it.

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By the time we got from Hawi to Kawaihae, I was bonking. I spilled a Red Bull on the counter at a gas station. Gross motor skills.

Thank goodness the gas station had fresh coconut mochi!

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Note: The sun is HOT. You’ll need to hydrate significantly on race day. Tomorrow you must hydrate more.

We finally made it back. 108 hot, humid, windy miles. Now it was time to run 5 miles on Ali’i Drive.

Note: Mile 3-4 (of today’s run) was tough. Same as yesterday. Prepare for that.

Swim. We still had to swim. Keish says those who swim in the afternoon from the pier might be fish food. BIG FISH food. But I’m on a swim streak, so I needed to get at least a few strokes in.

Note: You are swimming slower for some reason. Tomorrow work on alignment, body positioning, and pull. Be strong tomorrow. Go fast.

Day 3
Swim 1.2 miles + Bike 108 miles + Run 2 miles: 6 hours 37 min.

I swam faster today. Finally. Still not fast enough. Need to pull harder and faster. I’m starting to realize that the last 750 meters to the shore are especially challenging, as there is a strong current.

Today we biked well to Kawaihae. And then we continued onto Hawi. 108 miles again. The biggest difference? I hydrated much more purposefully than yesterday. The result: I didn’t spill Red Bull on the counter. And I didn’t require any coconut mochi.

After we rolled into Keish’s complex, we ran two miles. I was exhausted. Dealing with big-time sunburn and a chapped bottom lip.

Note: Make sure to use sunblock and arm coolers on race day. Apply sunblock the night before as well.

Note: Chunk the bike course like this: town, airport, cemetery, helicopter pads, Kawaihae, Hawi, and back. (For more on Chunking, click here.)

Day 4
Swim 1.2 miles + Bike 73 miles + Run 8.6 miles: 5 hrs 39 min.

Swam 1.2 miles at the pier. Averaged 1:23/100 yd. out, and 1:38/100 yd. back. The current on the way back is a real challenge. If I can get onto the feet of someone fast during that portion of the race, it’d be helpful. Until then, just work on getting stronger. Coolest part of the swim session: the guy saying to me, you’ve been swimming your whole life right? Saw you yesterday. You’re fast! Hahaha. That was generous of him.

It was time to ride, but my rear tire was flat. Bought a tube and then rode 74 miles to Kawaihae with Keish.

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Today we were supposed to run through the Natural Energy Lab. I didn’t want to run. I was hot and tired. But I had a Red Bull, fired up the tunes, and what can I say? Ran 8.6 miles on Ali’i Drive, averaging 7:16/mile. That is very encouraging. 2 or 3 miles were slightly sub-7. Given the heat, the hills, the road camber, and mental/physical fatigue, today was a major victory.

We have eaten poke every night. Shoyu poke, furikake poke, salmon poke, and wasabe poke.

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Day 5
Swim 1.2 miles + Bike 55.7 miles + Run 13.4 miles: 5 hrs 34 min.

Today it was like swimming in an aquarium. The water was a bit murky for the past four days. Today — lots of coral, and lots of fish.

Today’s ride was shorter. 55 miles. Flatted for the second time. Nice easy ride today. Still really windy and discouraging on the way back.

It was now time for the toughest brick of our Kona training camp.

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It was time to run 13.4 miles, which included the Natural Energy Lab. The Natural Energy Lab is . . . HOT.

One thing I learned from Keish is there’s no dilly-dallying. He parked his car on Palani, and before I’d activated my Garmin, he was already running up Palani toward the Queen K. Perhaps it was the days of compounded training, or just the fairly oppressive heat, but I wasn’t in the mood to run.

Herein lies one of the benefits of a training partner. Keish was already halfway up the hill. I needed to catch him.

The Queen K is essentially a highway bordered by black lava rocks. It is desolate. It is solitary. And if you dare look at the faces of the motorists driving past you, they have a look like “Why would anybody run right now? It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s windy”.

And therein lies the answer. August is the hottest, windiest month of the year. We are preparing for the Ironman World Championship. There is no better place, and no better time, than right here . . . and right now.

It’s about 5 miles from Palani — along the Queen K — to the Natural Energy Lab. These 5 miles are lonely, with long climbs and slow descents. It doesn’t help to look forward, as progress doesn’t reveal itself.

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And while there is a tailwind, the lava rocks refuse to lean forward like flowers and trees. So you feel something on your back — it could be a push forward, or it could be a warning.

I turn on my music. Try to find a rhythm. Work on the things I can control: my breathing, my stride, foot strike, and cadence.

I began with a full water bottle. I have half a bottle left with 3 miles to the Natural Energy Lab.

I know there is a water fountain at the Visitors Center.

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I dig deep, but I also do so sparingly, as the Natural Energy Lab has a reputation for compelling people to dig deeper.

My pace is reasonable. 7-7:30/mile as I make a left turn into the Natural Energy Lab. This place is legendary for zapping what strength remains from even the toughest competitors. A few years ago on the NBC Broadcast of the Hawaii Ironman, Andreas Raelert was featured in this section, described as “a hydration science project”.

IMG_5527.JPG Sweat didn’t drop from his face. It flowed. Like a waterfall.

I fill my bottle at the Visitors Center, knowing that I need to run approximately 1.5 miles (1 mile down to the ocean with a headwind, and then .5 mile along the beach until I reach the turnaround).

I run on the edge of the asphalt, which is reputedly releasing heat in excess of 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Cars drive toward me, moving to their left in order to afford me extra space. A few give me the Shaka (hang-loose sign). I interpret this to mean I’ve been accepted as a temporary resident on the Big Island. Or that my shoulders are tense and I need to loosen up a bit.

I get to the turnaround and prepare to do some real work. I squeeze an Apple Cinnamon carb-BOOM! into my mouth, chase it with a hearty blast of lukewarm water, and run toward the hottest one mile of the course. There is a crosswind coming from the ocean, but once I make the left turn into the heart of the Natural Energy Lab, it’s one hot uphill mile.

I look to the solar panels atop the Visitors Center.

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They do not appear to get any closer. So I count steps, try to find a rhythm, and compel myself forward with the promise of water when I complete this climb.

The water finally comes, and after I fill my bottle, I turn right onto the Queen K for 5 miles. There is a fierce headwind, but it feels so good. My shirt is soaked. My shorts are soaked. The hot wind cools my body.

The closer I get to Palani, the more emotional I become. I see Mark Allen and Dave Scott gutting it out during the 1989 Iron War.

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I see Rick and Dick Hoyt.

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I see Paula, Chrissie, Rinny. I see suffering and triumph.

I’m almost to Palani when Keish pulls his car onto the shoulder. I know this is the right way to end today’s run. I haven’t earned the right to make that turn into town, where dreams are finally realized along Ali’i Drive.

I’m hoping, though, that on October 11, I will make that turn. And experience what many consider the greatest quarter mile in triathlon.

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Day 6
Swim 1,000 yds + Bike 107.5 miles + Run 2 miles: 6 hrs 8 min.

Swam short this morning. The water was a little cold. But it was clear. Swam a bit slower going out, but the current wasn’t as bad coming back in.

Rode to Hawi again. This time it was 107.5 miles, most of it with Ironman Whistler champion Bree Wee.

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Having the opportunity to ride four hours with a pro who has a legitimate shot at finishing top-ten at this year’s World Championship . . . what an awesome opportunity! I felt like I’d somehow made my way into Triathlete magazine, and I was now riding alongside a photograph. It was surreal and very cool, especially given how generous she was with course-specific advice and racing tactics.

Here we are re-fueling in Kawaihae:

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When we returned to town, I re-grouped with Keish. We ran 2 miles to finish off the day. Then ate poke and coconut bread. Again.

Day 7
Swim 2.4 miles + Bike 72.5 miles: 5 hrs 25 min.

Began the day with a 2.4 mile swim from the pier. We had an escort on a stand-up paddle board — Annalee — and she was awesome.

I breathe to my right, and since she paddled alongside me most of the way, keeping a distance of about three feet from me, I essentially would see coral and then Annalee. Coral. Annalee. This continued until I noticed her waving her arms at me and doing everything short of hit me over the head with her paddle. I stopped swimming, just bobbing there like a buoy, and she said, “Do you see the dolphins?” I looked to the left and saw two pods of dolphins. “They’ve been swimming with you for awhile now,” she said. “There are some babies in there as well!” Just as she said that, a baby Hawaiian Spinner dolphin, about ten feet away, leapt into the air, spun around, and landed on its side.

IMG_5537.JPGDefinitely one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time!

After the swim a small group of us biked 72 miles.

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We stopped halfway to have poke.

IMG_5458.JPG(That’s super-fast age-grouper Andrea Bess).

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IMG_5473.JPGPictured above are Sal Salmi, Mikey Brown, Andrea Bess, US Olympic Swimmer Daniel Coakley, Keish Doi, and me.

And then we finished the ride with frozen yogurt!

IMG_5475.JPGPictured above are Annalee Akagi, Andrea Bess, Bree Wee, Keish Doi, and me.

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Alas, it was time to fly home. On our way to the airport, I saw a Big Island sunset.

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I do remember watching the sunset with Michelle when we were on the Big Island together years ago. And I do hope we’ll enjoy another when we return in October.

As for this training camp, what can I say? It was perfect. I performed quite a lot of re-con over a challenging 140.6-mile course. I trained seven days with Keish Doi (ranked #1 in the world by Ironman for AG 45-49 in 2013). Keish helped me remember the value of a training partner. And while I should be exhausted after training 40 hours in one week, I feel refreshed, re-charged, and re-invigorated. It’s amazing how well you can train when there is nothing else to worry about. No job. No bills. No computer. No phone. Just swim, bike, run, eat, sleep.

It’s been said that we should write about something worth doing, or we should do something worth writing about. I have been dreaming of racing in Kona for over a decade — my hope is that the next time I write about the Big Island, it will be five weeks from now, after I’ve toed the line with the best in the world. I’m hoping for brutality, for conditions that are unforgiving. I want to enter the hurt locker, turn myself inside out, and suffer. I want to be tested. I want to be tempted to quit. And when I’ve no energy to go on, I want to find a way to move forward, to persevere. Ideally, that’s the next time I’ll write about this race — a few hours after I’ve crossed the line.

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