Ultraman Race Report: Day 1
Day One – 6.2Mile/10K swim and 90 Mile/145K Ride
Heading into this race, as I mentioned before, I was set on trying to race it. The distances were new to me but the effort was not. I had been spent most of my year training life@steady and after completing events that were ranging from from two hours and under to over 24 hour+ races this year I felt most comfortable pushing after the four, five and six hour marks. I guess it must take me a while to get warmed up. I had zero pace, power or placement goals. I just wanted to get to the point where I felt like I was putting in a solid race effort (no slowing, stopping, or walking) across the three days. Pacing is everything. The race part, of course, was against myself and I was excited to see where it would get me and what I would find out along the way. Most of that started to become clear after we got started on day one.
The only strategy I had for the swim was to stop every 20 minutes for water/vitargo/nuun and try to keep forward progress while I saved something for the currents and waves in the final miles. I knew ripping my arms off would come soon enough so when we all started I used the first few hundred meters as a warm up and tried to find Monique in the Kayak as we all got sorted out along the pier. I had some hesitation when I noticed we were far away from the shore and it felt like we were going wide around the bay but everyone was going in the same general area and this was part of the race. I needed to trust my paddler, my team and I should just start doing that now…its going to be a long three days.
The first 2.4 miles went by pretty fast and was a solid warm up! I kept thinking that I should have been swimming this much before my Ironman races this year! Monique and I started to work out hand signals and better ways to get calories and breaks in along the way. For the majority of the paddle, Monique would stay either on the left or right of me but we kept eye contact the entire time. This is one of the things I loved about this race. It was a true team event and Monique was with me along every single foot of the course. We had a few issues where she would go ahead of me when we needed to change directions or we were passing/being passed by someone and for some reason I always managed to swim right into the back of the boat after a direction change. I ended up hitting the boat about four or five times and cutting open my left hand but we got better as we went along (I got slower and more patient).
I got to mile 4 feeling relaxed and smooth and was in new territory for my longest ever swim. I starting taking in the race, my friends all around, the clear blue water and the rhythm of my swim stroke that only comes after a couple of hours of swimming. Miles 4-5.5 were absolutely glorious! Deep blue open water between crossing fish filled reef points. There is no other place in the world I would rather be swimming and the nervousness of the start now had an outlet. We were doing it and it felt good to get started. Getting to mile 6 was interesting. My mind was engaged, my body relaxed and fueled but my shoulders started to give out. I have ripped my arms off before but I have never had this feeling. . . or lack there of in my ability to get my shoulders moving. “do what I tell you arms, do what I tell you”. I felt like I was having to huck my arms out front to slap the water and get enough momentum under water to repeat the process. I started kicking more and just trying to focus on form. It was a tough spot for me and after a few short stops Monique told me she could see the buoy ahead that marked the turn into Keauhou Bay towards the swim finish (looking back I realized I was behind on the calories and hydration I planned for the swim. We had loaded 5 bottles of fuel and I only finished one bottle and a sip from another). I picked up the kicking in my legs, enjoyed the shallow water views again and lifted my effort to finish the swim strong. Get me out of the water!
Finishing the swim, I was greeted by Keevin who helped me back into a vertical world and over the lava rocks along the beach. I was quick to ask, “where’s my bike”? He was telling me something about getting over to the showers to rinsing off and sit down. “Where is my bike”!? Did he say lets sit down and get your shoes on. . . ? “WHERE IS MY BIKE? Get me on my bike and let’s GO! I WANT TO RIDE”! Did I mention I wanted to come to race? I am very thankful for the support and comfort we had among our team. We got to the point at times where we didn’t even need words (maybe a good thing!) and we would adjust and acknowledge on the fly. This was a start on me trying to inch up the urgency of a three day race. I didn’t rip my arms off to take down some food and a shower before the ride. We would talk at bottle hand-offs and I could get my calories at the same time. I was not worried about riding with some salt on me and my tri shorts were comfy enough to ride the 261.4 miles in with no need to waste time changing out of them on day one.
It was a good thing I was excited to ride because we started with a climb right out of the water picking up about just over 1500ft of climbing in the first several miles. That got the blood moving from my back to my legs in a hurry! It has been a rare thing for me to have my heart rate over 150bpm (even running) all year but I was holding a steady at about ~160bpm when I got on the bike. “Racing is for racing”!
I passed a few people in the first 10 miles or so and had to ask myself a few times if I was going too fast. My power numbers were still looking manageable for a climb or power PR for an Ironman effort but it felt easy enough to keep it rolling with the next two days of pacing on my mind. As we made our way down to Ocean View I passed a couple more people before heading into no-mans land for the rest of the ride. What I did not know is that I would be heading into the gnar already on the first day. I was looking forward to some downhill and rest before the final 4000ft climb up to Volcano. Unfortunately, by the time we rolled by Wai Ohinuat about 50 miles into the ride the luxury of a downhill had been replaced by some of the craziest winds I have ridden in before. I thought that the winds in Hawii were the worst winds on the island…I was wrong.
By the time I reached the final 19 miles of climbing I had ridden through the cross winds and now was in a battle with a direct headwind…and then it started raining. Seriously? Progress of 10-13mph in a grind uphill into rain and reaching the end of an almost eight hour day of racing with two more days to go was not exactly the glory I was feeling at mile 3 of the swim earlier that morning. This was hard. This was the gnar. This is where my team shined and made sections like this over the three days pass quickly and even with some laughter from time to time.
Pulling into the finish of day one I was just about as shocked as anyone to realize that I rode in with the fastest bike split of the day and after getting out of the water in 9th place I moved into 3rd place overall. Crushing my dreams on day one already? The swim really took a toll on me and I realized later in the ride just how behind I was getting on calories. The concerns about the run started to get to me already thinking I would have the same issues that I experienced on during the swim. My mind was ready, my aerobic system was willing but my muscular endurance was just not going to hold up at the pace I set out to keep. The run however was on day three and the next day was all about the bike. I felt like I raced the first day and was excited to get going with a long ride the next day.
After chatting a bit at the finish we headed in for dinner with the Ultraman family, got massages and then hit the local general store before going back to our bed and breakfast. This is where I got to eat more, get some rest and Monique and Keevin kept working. In many ways, I had the easy part. Ian has a good insight to what it is like to be on the support side and it is not easy and they put in longer days than most of us racing yet they were always encouraging every time we passed by and Ian was even offering me cookies and brownies as I rode by on day one. I just kept thinking…what are they feeding her?
The reality of a three day race was setting in because the clock does not stop after the race on day one. Keevin spent most of the day doing all out spirits handing me bottles so I would not have to slow down while riding by and when we finished they got busy planning the next days route and taking care of maintenance items. The next day would be the most stressful day for them in trying to keep me from getting lost and getting caught up in the excitement of the race.