Wednesday, October 24, 2012

IMWC Part 3: The Bike

          The bike begins with a little loop-dee-loop in down that is about 10 miles long.  The nice thing is that is creates the "hot corner" at the intersection of Palani and Kuakini brah - i mean Kuakini Dr (can't say Kuakini without adding brah after #fact).  Each rider goes through this intersection 3 times within the first 10 miles.  As a spectator, this is the spot to be.  My plan for the bike was again based on previous bike plans from Placid and Florida.  The primary difference was to be especially conservative in the opening half and get down a minimum of 4 bottles within the first hour.  There aren't any aide stations until around 17 miles so I began the bike with 3 bottles out of a possible 5 that fit on my bike.  My plan is to ride an average of 153 -bpm +/- 7 beats.  While staying focused on those numbers I also have a plan for each aid station - bottle of perform to the aero drink, bottle of perform to a cage, bottle of water to a cage, bottle of water to the body. Because it is so hot so early I have to be sure to keep my core as cool as possible.  Just as quickly as you dump a bottle of water on your body, it dries up.  The spare bottle of water was for in between aid stations.

          I manage to stick to the plan early on by bringing my heart rate down as much as I can.  By biting the bullet and going extremely slow at first my HR drops faster instead of going at a mediocre clip for much longer time and my HR never getting low enough.  By the time I get back to the top of Palani where the long stretch on the Queen K begins, my HR is essentially where it needs to be and I settle into a comfortable aero position and continue drinking.  Within the first hour I was able to get between 5 and 6 bottles down (and didn't have to pee yet).   Many people have told me that everyone crushes the bike early on and pays for it much later.  In fact, when I was in the expo a few days prior I saw the legendary Mark Allen (6 time Hawaii Champion!) and I had to approach him.  I asked him for advice as a first timer and his response was, "...the race doesn't start until about mile 80 of the bike.  If you go too hard early in the bike you will have a tough time getting home."  I remained ultra conservative (although the tailwinds still allowed for a pretty nasty pace) and focused on fluids.  This stretch on the Queen K is nothing more than rolling hills, lava rock all around, volcano to the right, ocean to the left, and drafting age groupers all around.  Don't believe me???

         The wind and the heat aren't really bothering me as I clip off mile by mile on the Queen K (most likely because I can't feel the heat because the wind is pushing me around at 25mph).  The aid stations come fast and frequently and as a result my nutrition intake is following suit.  As I continue riding I hear someone passing me that shouts, "Paul? From Massachusetts?" Its Eric Hodska.  Eric is a former pro from CT that I have raced numerous times.  Had he not yelled my name I never would have known it was him; what can I say, our kits are just that much more noticeable!  We exchange a few more words but I know I can't stick with him on the bike and I let him go.  As the Queen K continues to meander I go back and forth between being focused on the race and experiencing these "pinch me" moments.
          The race course approaches a sharp left turn at the end of the Queen K as you near the village of Kawaihae and I remembered another bit of advice from Pat...
"When you make the turn at Kawaihae and climb, if you can see white caps on the ocean, get ready for a crazy descent."
After taking full advantage of the new found tailwind I continually looked to the ocean to my left.  No white caps, still no white caps....nooooo white caps, this descent may not be so more chec....welp, there they are, those are definitely white caps...looks like the descent will be fun after all!  One more right turn and it was up to Hawi.  Hawi is at the top of a 7 mile climb that just keeps turning and turning.  The more you turn the more the winds change.  As I was making my way to Hawi I began to wonder about the pro race as I figured (hoping) I would be seeing them soon.  Shortly after that thought I saw the lead vehicles along with the lead riders.  For those of you that don't know, I am mildly obsessed with the pro races.  I tend to identify them pretty easily whether they are in their race kits or street clothes.  I usually know what type of bikes they ride and shoes they run in.  As the mens' race came by I began to pick them out one by and bone and almost commentate the race and predict how it was going to play out.  There were 2 things that stuck out in a very big way: the first was the absence of Macca, and the second was seeing Crowie in no man's land just like in 2010.
          As the climb neared the top I summarized my observations of the riders that were ahead of me and descending in the winds; it went something like this... Well it was definitely windy, the heavier riders seemed to have more control, that one dude practically go blown across the street... Just as I was figuring out how to approach it, I remembered another bit of info..."Just commit to the descent.  It may be kinda crazy for a few minutes but you will survive..." or something to that effect.  I skipped special needs as everything was already out on course (and as such I kept my streak alive of never packing a special needs bag for the bike).  Just over the tiny climb after the turn around I began the slight descend.   As I was doing so I saw Jim coming up the climb, followed shortly thereafter by Andy, and a little while later by Elena.  When I saw Jim I became even more motivated to descend like a bat outta hell.  You see, Jim has caught me on the bike of every single ironman race we have done together (which is every one of mine).  In LP '08 it was expected, in FL '10 he was surprised and just as he had suspected something was wrong (couldn't get my HR down due to a constantly full bladder), and at LP this year nothing was wrong and while I expected it, he still didn't.  Side note - following our last 3 hour ride together before leaving for Hawaii, Jim said the Kona course would suit me better and he likely wouldn't catch me.  I figured every course is Jim's kind (some more than others) and he would definitely catch me.  I decided to put in a little extra push on the descent and use my weight and my gearing to my advantage.  I passed a lot of people during this time.  Some would eventually pass me back while others never did.

          At the end of the descent we went back through Kawaihae and despite my hoping and praying, the winds had not changed and that climb out of town back to the Queen K also had a nasty headwind.  Once that was over and I was back on the Queen K I got more and more excited to get off the bike and start the marathon.  My average HR was hovering around 159-160 (which is much higher than planned, but I still felt like I was well in control) and the miles were still clicking off.  With about 30 miles to go the winds became more noticeable and my pace began to decline.  The good news was that Jim still hadn't caught me, the bad news is I was slowly down pretty significantly.  At one point my average speed was 22.1, at this point in the race it was down to 20.6.  I tried to stay positive and look for landmarks that told me I was close (these two giant mounds to the right between the Queen K and the ocean, the airport, and the energy lab).  Eventually I saw all of those landmarks and my attitude never drifted anywhere close to where it did the second lap of LP.  At this point however, I was feeling the heat more and more and trying to get as much water on myself as possible.  To put it in perspective, I had consumed around 15-17 bottles at this point and still didn't have the urge to pee.

           I guess when you hear the war stories and how brutal a race this is and watch the coverage on tv, you put together this picture in your mind that is the most challenging course you can think of.  When you prepare yourself mentally for the worst of the worst, the actual conditions may not even compare.  The addition of first timer's awe certainly played a huge part.  Remember those pinch-me moments I spoke about earlier, this entire bike course was one of them.  Nearing the end of the bike made my mind change gears and that was to prepare for the run.  I remember reading in Macca's book how you have key workouts during your training and you remember them and file them away in order to draw strength from them later.  For me, my marathon PR at Lake Placid following my worst IM bike split ever (including my first) was one of those moments.  I thought about how my legs were feeling at the end of the Queen K and thought, "They don't feel nearly as bad as they did at LP, maybe I can run even faster..."
          A right turn onto Makala boulevard, a left turn onto Kuakini Brah Highway and one final turn down Palani and I was home.  And by home I mean a sauna filled with tens of thousands of people, with a small percentage ready to run a marathon.  I got to T2 with my feet on top of my shoes, dismounted rapidly and had my helmet off and in my hands before entering transition.  It was another long run through transition and into the changing tent.  I opted for a hat instead of a visor or buff so that my face was covered and I could put ice in my hat.  I tried utilizing a 2 bottle fuel belt for hydration in between aid stations and grabbed a fresh pair of sunnies.  This time I was wise enough to ask the kind volunteer for some sunscreen which he retrieved right away.  A little slower than T1, but I was off and running...literally

Next up, the run

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