My Road ID bracelet, in addition to having all of the pertinent contact and medical info, says, “Be Positive, Be Grateful.” That sums up how I approached Ironman Hawaii 70.3 (“Honu”).
Roll back the reel to the beginning of April, when I badly strained my Achilles tendon. I’d end up not running a step until five weeks later. I’d signed up for Honu months earlier, and I faced the prospect of possibly having to walk some or all of the run portion due to my injury. In my prior blog post I wrote about the value of pool running. That “aqua” running, along with a great PT who was a triathlete himself, got me to Hawaii with a few pain-free miles on my feet. My longest run in May was just seven miles!
In the past I’ve typically started triathlons with a somewhat anxiety-focused vision on the end result. That mentality added to the incumbent stresses of race day. Although I’d had some gratifying results, the stress sucks up energy needlessly.
In the week prior to Honu, a friend (and fellow Honu competitor) shared a Mark Allen article about “The Connection Between Mind and Body.” It talks about how to let go of negative thoughts during a race, focusing on the present without self-judgment. I also read about race-day mentality in Matt Dixon’s great book, “The Well-Built Triathlete.” The strategy is to focus on the race-day journey, task by task (e.g., T1 prep, swim start, swim and finish, T1 tasks, bike miles, T2 tasks, run mile by mile), not on the desired outcome.
The Honu swim is at beautiful Hapuna Bay, with the typical clear, warm Hawaiian ocean water. I’d arrived a week before the race to prepare, and I learned that I loved swimming in that ocean! While it was some of the typical race congestion, it was a relatively stress-free swim, followed with a run up the sandy beach to the showers (rinse off the saltwater!), sunscreen (lots!), then onto the bike!
The bike miles are on the legendary Queen K highway; part of the same course the athletes ride in the October Kona IM World Championship each year. On this day, the infamous crosswinds were virtually non-existent. We rode up toward the turnaround near the little town of Hawi, passing through the pleasant petrichor of a recent rainfall. We were either ascending or descending; no flat sections here! We often had views of the beautiful Pacific, and I was constantly reminded of the spectacular place I was experiencing at this race.
The last miles brought us to the grounds of the Fairmont Orchid (this is a split transition race), where the half-marathon in the heat and humidity would take us onto the golf course grounds. Thirteen miles is a long way to run at any time, and with the heat, humidity, and limited miles on my recently healed foot, I knew I had to execute a strategic plan that wouldn’t have me ending up dehydrated, heat-stricken, and/or limping into medical. I started taking salt tablets, stopped at every aid station to put ice in my trucker hat and tri kit (top and shorts!), and drank either water, cola (I never drink sodas otherwise!), or the on-course Gatorade (I also never drink that otherwise!) every mile. I also had made the decision to focus fully on my heart rate in those conditions, not on a desired pace. These decisions had me feeling better and better with each passing mile, as I saw more and more athletes succumbing to conditions and slowing to a walk, or even requesting medical help. Into the second loop of the run, I felt great. It was fun seeing a big herd of the wild island “lava” goats grazing on the golf course grass. As I got to mile 10, I knew I had it to make it to the end; I felt better than I did when I started. Each of the last three miles got faster and faster. I didn’t think I would have been able to break six hours on this course, but as I ran through the most beautiful flower-filled finish arch, with the ocean just feet away, I raised my arms flashing the Hawaiian “hang loose” sign with each hand, and heard my time of 5:58.
Preceding awards, everyone was entertained with hula dancers performing in the bright island sun. I ended up with third in my division, and was the recipient of a treasured Umeke bowl, which is the tradition at this race and the World Championships.
The positivity and focus on the journey had brought me to an outcome that exceeded my goal. I’m filled with gratitude for the generous and wise advice I’d been given by several people. The published race results might have just my name showing, but behind it is a list of names that helped get me onto the podium.