Phew, it’s been a long trip to Hawaii. I’m not going to complain - you’ll never hear me complain on this blog - but it almost feels like it’s been TOO long. We arrived in Hawaii on September 29th and we are right now on our flight home on the evening of the 23rd. So yea, it’s been a while. 10 days in Kailua-Kona followed by 14 days in Kapalua, Maui is definitely a jam packed month of hotness. I mean that both literally and figuratively, as Hawaii has been hot and humid but also hot as in full of stolen goods. No...wait, that was wrong. Lots of fit people have been the name of the game. Lots of FAST people. I suppose that should be taken for granted when you’re competing in two World Championship events (world championships because the companies that produce them CALL them world championships, mind you) but it didn’t really quite click for me until racing my own.
Race week itself had a lot of rain. It rained at various points pretty much every day we were in Maui but I feel like late Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday contained about a day’s worth of rain. I read somewhere that this part of Maui (northwest) gets about 400 inches of rain a year (which is insane), and I believe it after our two weeks here. Oddly, if you go just a bit further south to Lahaina (the biggest town on the west side of the island) it is mostly sunny. This paragraph is called foreshadowing, by the way.
The bike course (and the run course, which starts out on the same trails and finishes on similar trails) has a lot of...well, it has a lot of mud. There’s a mix of different types of mud: clay, volcanic, sticky, icky, gooey. All of those ended up being present on race day with the aforementioned rain. I made some hasty tire changing decisions (had to buy a new front tire and swap my formerly front tire onto the rear) and some emergency hacks for preventing mud buildup (thanks Ryan! Spray silicone held off the gunking mud for longer than if I hadn’t had it, i am sure) but other than those things there wasn’t all that much I could do. It would be a grip it and rip it kind of day on both the bike and the run. My honest goal was simply to make it through the bike course with my machine intact and functional. I didn’t have a time goal, or even a placing goal; just get to the finish and stop as few times as possible and don’t break any of my expensive bike s***.
The swim, on the other hand, kind of excited me. I’ve never done a rough water ocean swim triathlon, but I have swum in plenty of rough water ocean. Our family's’ time at the beach growing up was going to help me navigate the surf much better than my counterparts, or at least that’s what I hoped. I was also banking on my superior non wetsuit swimming abilities as compared to XTERRA Utah, which was wetsuit legal. Wetsuits let a lot of people who aren’t fast in the water pretend to be fast. No dice on that for Maui.
I did bike course recon, obviously. What I saw was not especially impressive from a technical standpoint, it was just plain difficult. Lots of climbing (3200’ of elevation gain) from sea level up to a high point of about 1500’ nestled in the West Maui mountains. Most of the trails are on private land (upper section) and are not used regularly (if at all?) and so aren’t really “ridden in,” so to speak. That goes doubly for the “lower section” (first 3.5 miles and last 5.5 miles of bike course), which is “cut” the week of the race through the tall grass on the old golf course (seriously, there are golf balls EVERYwhere) and is only packed down by the athletes that week. So, consequently, it feels like a slow rolling bike course. Very soft, in some ways. But the takeaway during practice (lower section on Monday, upper section on Wednesday, lower section on Friday) was how absolutely disgustingly sloppy the course could be with lots of rain (especially noticed during Friday’s ride, which prompted the emergency changes to the bike setup!). It really does not drain well, if at all. There are sections with standing water that is near shin deep and essentially (by the time race day rolled around) were just gigantic mud pits. I actually came to a physical stop in one of these on race day and my bike made that comical “sucking” noise when I pulled it out of the mud. So in summary, when Christine asked how long I’d be out on the bike for her planning purposes as super spectator, I said “anywhere from 1:45 to 2:30” depending on how dry or wet the course is…
Fast forward to race day. 9:04am start in Hawaii time (it is VERY weird being on HST for almost a month, by the way. You never realize how many junk emails you get each morning until you wake up at 7am HST but it’s already 1pm EST. Also, football is on at 7am. Also weird) for all males under age 39. This was nice, as it meant waking up at 6am gave me plenty of time on race morning. I had a couple of cups of coffee (not a fan of Kona coffee, I’ve decided...after having it a LOT these past few weeks), some breakfast, and then rolled my bike down to transition (we were staying in a golf villa about a 15 minute walk from transition, pretty awesome!) before running back up to the villa to relax a bit before getting back into the fracas.
We walked down to transition again, where I set up my run stuff and then we headed down to the beach to scope out the swim scene. Conditions were definitely LEGIT. This wasn’t going to be some glass smooth swim, no sir! The shore break was strong and the swells were pretty sizable even all the way out to the buoys. The course was basically an “M” with two triangle “loops” and a beach run to connect the two. After the various ceremonial stuff, we were all lined up and ready to rock and roll…
|Headed out to warm up a bit|
Swim - 24:06 - 1st AG (whooooooaaaaaa)
I was lined up on the front row on the far left, and there weren’t too many people around me. The announcer had said the current was moving strong from right to left (when looking out at water from beach, which is the “direction” the course goes) but watching the pros who had started ahead of us it didn’t look like there was too much of it, so I was content over there. I was expecting to get pummeled, but I made it through the shorebreak and there was NO one around me. Nobody to my left, nobody to my right…
|That's me raising my right arm on the left!|
Very strange. I ended up getting passed by either 2 or 3 guys before we got to the first buoy, but the gap remained relatively small as we turned and came back towards shore. The way back was easier than the way out, but I was still sighting on almost every single stroke as timing the swells was difficult, at best. I didn’t manage to catch any waves on the way in, but could tell there were more guys around me at this point.
|Making the turn to head out on lap 2|
|Rounding the flags|
Not too crowded though, which was nice. The next lap spread out everybody a bit more, and getting out of the shore break this time was VERY tiring after running on the beach for 15-20 seconds. I made it out to the second buoy without too many issues and turned around and headed for the finish. I had passed quite a few pro women and not a small number of pro men (at least, that I could see). It had clearly been a tough swim for everyone, as people were spread out ALL over the place.
|Headed up to transition|
Also, the distance on the Strava file is wrong, by the way. My running watch doesn't like being worn in the water for swimming and doesn't have the fancy algorithms the multisport watches do for wrist-worn swimming!
T1 - 2:24
The run was entirely uphill so I took it pretty easy. In transition I put on socks (didn’t want chafing with all the mud we were gonna experience) and went ahead and put on my gloves. Not the speediest, but didn’t waste any time really.
|Bur first, lemme get up this hill|
|Ready to roll|
Bike - 2:19:32 - 15th
I don’t want to get too long with the bike. Let’s describe this in terms of feelings, in rough order:
- Stay smooth, don’t go crazy
- Holy crap it’s muddy!
- Dammit, off the bike already?!
- Note to self, don’t hit ANY roots at a slant out here if you want to stay upright
- It’s kind of hot out here
- It’s raining again
- I didn’t expect to be walking my bike uphill this much
- Walking a bike uphill in slick mud is not fun
- Those athletes that have toe spikes on their shoes have got to be slaying it
- I can’t believe that pro woman just rode up this entire hill! Claps
- Yea I’m about ready to be done with this
- Can we please stop climbing? Please?
- See #11
- See #12
- Oh thank god, back on the lower section
- More roots, the sheer joy of this overwhelms me
- This is the hardest f***ing bike course ever, and not in a good way
- My bike hates me
- See #11
- Pull out the large tree branch stuck in my derailleur
- See #11
- Put chain back on for the 10th time
- See #11
- Finished, thank the tiny little gymnast baby Jesus
So yea, that’s it in a nutshell. It was a true struggle. I’m not sure how big a fan I am of the idea of a “world championship” course being so subject to weather patterns. When I say that was the hardest triathlon race bike ride I have EVER done (or ever hope to do) I am doing two things:
- Not exaggerating
- Not meaning it in a “fun” and “happy” way
That s*** was just plain ridiculous. My bike was COVERED in mud. My body was COVERED in mud (and I never even actually fell!). My nostrils had mud in them. In fact, every orifice in my body had likely gotten mud in it at one point or another. My lower back was on FIRE from all of the seated climbing (can’t stand up to climb because your rear tire gets NO traction) at low cadence and extremely high torque. My hands hurt. My neck hurt. My forearms and triceps hurt. My quads, adductors, hamstrings, calves, and achilles hurt (the latter two from the walking uphill). It was just ridiculous. I’d pass someone fixing their bike, then they’d pass me when I had to fix mine. People littered over the course with mechanical issues, just making do as best they could.
|Yea, a bit muddier than at the beginning|
But, I survived. And I still had a damn run to do!!!
T2 - 1:22
Not much to report here, pretty clean.
Run - 58:44 27th AG
Sweet salesman baby Jesus, the run. All I could think of the last ¼ of the bike was the fact that after ALL of that ridiculousness, I still had to get off that bike and run 6.5 miles on basically the same course. Do I sound excited? Well, I was. Knowing that the first half of the course went uphill, my real goal was just to survive that as best I could. With the cramping issues I’ve been experience on XTERRA run courses this year and last year, I figured I was likely due for more of the same. In spite of fueling pretty well and consistently on the bike, the sheer difficulty of the nearly 2.5 hours I spent on the bike was pretty overwhelming. When I WAS actually running my stride didn’t feel too bad, but I was really just managing various discomforts. My adductors being the worst offender, but also my right hamstring and both vastus medialis..es. I tried to manage as best I could, but definitely gave up quite a few spots in the first 30-40 minutes of the run. I’m not gonna lie, it is quite frustrating. Take it to the road and I can outride and outrun just about most people. Take it off road, however, and my road going stride just doesn’t quite cut it the same. Oh well #roadtriathleteproblems
|Slowly, but surely|
|The tortoise wins, right?|
Once the course trended downhill, I was able to pretty much run continuously with the exception of a nasty last climb about .5mi from the finish line.
The WORST part, however, of the ENTIRE run course was the 400m we spent running in soft sand on the swim start beach before getting to the sidewalk finishing line. I only ran it because the sheer shame of walking in the last 400m with all of the spectators watching would have overwhelmed me. Given that I have my name on my kit, the shame is very specific ;)
Despite all of these aforementioned #firstworldproblems I managed to cross the line, and feel quite satisfied about it. I was honestly just ecstatic to cross the line, both because it finished off the hardest race of my triathlon career, and because it meant I could stop moving.
|So muddy, you can't see age groups|
|Pretty much says it all|
Despite all of the complaining I have done in the previous 2200 words, I am pleased with this race. I have not raced a “world championship” level event before and, though I expected to have a humbling day, I was not expecting this level of course difficulty. I can’t even say that I think this type of course difficulty is even really good, as I would much rather RACE than simply survive. I don’t like depending on luck to make or break my race. I definitely have to say that XTERRA Oak Mountain is - to me anyway - a far better test of off road swim + bike + run, as the course is not AS dictated by the weather. But maybe that’s just sour grapes. I am very pleased with the result, as being top 5 american (although we only generally say that because internationals kick our asses so bad!) is never a bad thing, and I am really pleased and proud to have simply crossed the line. I’ve come a long way with my XTERRA racing and have showcased some great fitness gains and specific skills I’d never had previously, but I think it may be time to get back on the road next year…
|Uhh, THIS for 550 bucks and that hard of a race??|
That being said, I CANNOT overemphasize how difficult this race was. A bit of a broken record, perhaps, but I really want to try and put into words the feelings of this race. I would be extremely surprised if anybody was able to RIDE the whole course. I suppose it’s possible, but the feeling of getting off your bike and walking up an incline you barely get traction on in your bike shoes is, in a word, FRUSTRATING. The feeling of riding a bike that is so gunked up with mud and grass and other junk is like trying to wade through waist deep honey. Riding a bike up a hill that’s steep enough to require you being in your 30 x 42t gearing (easiest gear on many mountain bikes) at 60rpms is hard enough, add in 10 pounds of mud and s*** and slippery, often non existent traction is...hard. Professional winning times were 30 minutes slower than 2015. 30 minutes!! That’s a HUGE chunk of time. How the top guys went under 3 hours is beyond me. Usually on the road I can wrap my head around how much faster the fast people are than me because it’s really a mechanical equation. But in this? I have no idea.
|A little diry|
I encourage EVERYONE to try and race off road triathlon at some point. It will give you an entirely new perspective on what “hard” means. People think a half ironman is hard (myself included)...HA. Try racing through that s*** for 4 hours! My bike split was roughly time equivalent to a 70.3 (a little under 2.5hrs) but the physical stress of those 2.5 hours was exponentially more taxing. I have no power meter, so can’t quantify its training stress with watts, but ultimately those only tell an exceptionally small portion of the story on the mountain bike. It was a battle, and I’m tougher because of it.
Here are some great videos that recap some of the action: