Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Post 196 - Kona day 4 - Heroes, beaches, and arrivals

Our condo was fantastic. It had a fantastic lanai (a Hawaiian word for balcony), which faced north, so it was nicely shaded. We had breakfast on the lanai, in shorts and t-shirts. Listening to the ocean. Planning the day. Breakfast was exotic and superb fruit salad using the fruit we’d bought at the market yesterday. And also some less exotic (but no less superb) toast and peanut butter.

Funky fruit

The plans for the day were to go and meet a great guy named Lance who works for BlueSeventy, to pick up a couple of swimskins (full explanation later), and then head to a beach about 20 miles out of town along the Queen K. I had thought about cycled out while Deirdre drove, and then putting the bike in the back of the wagon while we were at the beach. I decided against this as I didn’t want to leave the bike in the wagon in a car park at a remote beach. I’d need the bike later in the week…! After the beach we would come back to the condo, I’d then head out for a couple of hours on the bike, and then we would go and pick Steve and Natalie up from the airport. We’d zoom back to the condo, drop their stuff off and then head to the “Heroes of Hawaii” event (again more on this later)! A busy day planned…

When the water is above a certain temperature, wetsuits are not allowed in Ironman racing. This is to avoid overheating in the water. At UK/Irish races, we never have the problem of the water being too warm. Back in the golden olden (and less expensive) days of Ironman world championship racing, everyone simply swam in a pair of swimming shorts, or triathlon shorts, or a swim suit for the ladies. Before getting on the bike, they’d throw on a cycling jersey. Nowadays, most people use “swimskins” in the water. These are nifty hydrophobic, water-repellent, tight-fitting swim suits, that (apparently) make you a little bit more buoyant in the water, and which go through the water a little bit faster than bare skin. You’d maybe save a couple of minutes in an Ironman swim. Sounds great, until you hear what they cost… upwards of $300…

As a Kona qualifier, I had a 40% discount code from one of the leading manufacturers. Even with that, I couldn’t bring myself to buy one. I’d probably only ever use it once in my life. I wasn’t going to be threatening any podiums. Did I really want to buy a couple of minutes, at a cost of about £3 per second? Not really, was the answer to that. No-one I knew had one I could borrow. Wetsuit manufacturers usually offer wetsuit rentals. So I contacted the manufacturers and asked if there was any possibility to rent one for Kona. All the manufacturers would likely be there in Kona at the various expos and stalls. To be fair to them, they all got back to me, but they all said they didn’t offer rentals.

Then Lance from BlueSeventy got back to me. He said he would fix me up with one to borrow in Kona. I was delighted. Especially since all my wetsuits have been BlueSeventy, and my current wetsuit is absolutely fantastic – a thermal top-of-the-range piece of kit that has meant I have never felt cold in the waters of UK ironman/triathlon events. Lance was as good as his word. A great guy. What a hero. I met him at BlueSeventy’s stall on Ali'i Drive and we had a good chat. He gave me two different sizes and a few pointers on use, sizing, strategy etc. We agreed we’d meet after the race to hand them back. And off I went with about $700 worth of high-end kit.

We headed for the beach. We missed the turn-off. There was nowhere obvious to turn. You couldn’t just do a U-turn on the Queen K! We saw a sign for “Scenic Point”. I’d heard of the scenic point, one of the few landmarks on the Queen K. We pulled into the lay-by and ahead was indeed a marvellous scenic view. The road dropped down from our fairly elevated position, cutting like a ribbon through the lava fields up ahead. The sea was other-worldly bright blue. As was the sky. Black and brown lava dominated the views, with some scrub managing to grow amongst the barren-ness. Unreal. This would be a good bike ride, out to the scenic point; it would be about an hour out and an hour back.

Hawi, the bike course turning point, is away off at the top of the hill in the distance.

Great scenes, huge wagon

Ahead, to the north, lay Kawaihae, the climb up to the village of Hawi, the turning point, the fast descent back. Uncharted territory for me. I’d not cycle further than the scenic point before race day. We turned our back on it and headed for the beach. It was a scenic side road down to Manini’owali beach. It was scorching. Plenty of sun cream was needed. I had to keep reminding myself to drink lots. Don’t end up dehydrated and knackered.

The beach was picture perfect. Unbelievable. Crystal clear water, white sand, blue sky. The water changed from turquoise where it was shallow enough for the blue water and white sand colours to merge, changing to darker blue further out. The beach dropped quite steeply down to the water, which meant waves were breaking. Not quite surfing waves, but big enough for a bit of body surfing. We should have brought the body boards from the condo. Oh well.

There were no fish to be seen, and the bottom was sandy. It was brilliant. We messed about swimming, playing with the underwater camera, and riding the waves back to shore. The sea might look benign, but it’s a powerful force. Standing in the shallows, all of a sudden one powerful wave knocked us both off our feet and under water. A reminder from the ocean – enjoy but respect me. Applicable to the Ironman as well.

The colours were unreal

Did I say the colours were unreal...?

Perfectly timed

Time was passing and as we headed back to the condo, we changed our plans. Deirdre would drive out to pick up Natalie and Steve, while I’d do the bike ride. We got back, and for a late lunch we ate leftovers from yesterday’s massive dinner. I didn’t want to jump straight on the bike after eating, and time was passing, so plans again changed. I’d go for a run after picking Steve and Natalie up. After a shower and a clean-up, we headed for the airport. Great success, they had made it. Steve came running at me with an Ireland flag. I handed out really cool green Hawaiian shirts, and leis. We headed back to town.

I should have known better, but had underestimated how hungry they’d be. So we stopped at a supermarket, with a pizza place next door. We did our big shop, got our supplies in, got a bit of a feed of pizza and headed back to the condo. Deirdre had decorated their room, a nice touch – it was their (year late) honeymoon after all…! I didn’t have time for my run. Today would have to be a rest day. If you could call all of the above and below “rest”…

I decided I would make do with a bit of stretching. The others were relaxing. Then there was a knock on the door. Two people were here to fix the TV. We wouldn’t be watching TV. I didn’t want them in the place right at this moment. We were chilling out and I was stretching. They insisted they had to come in, so that was the relaxing at an end.

So we headed for Heroes of Hawaii. By now we had discovered a couple of car parks a bit closer to the action, which meant no more 2-mile boiling hot walks along Ali’i drive… Heroes of Hawaii is an annual event at the start of Ironman week. Unbelievably, it’s free. It’s down in the grounds of the King K hotel, right by the pier and the beach behind the pier, It’s an incredible setting. There are over 2000 people competing in the Ironman, each probably with an entourage of a support team, and yet Heroes of Hawaii only draws maybe a couple of hundred people. It was brilliant. It’s a cultural/activity/food/drink/speech type event where you can meet and chat to famous people from the world of Ironman. I had suspected Dave Scott and Mark Allen would be there (each 6-time Ironman world champions and Ironwar protagonists), so I had brought my Ironwar book thinking I’d get them to sign it.

And the first person I saw was Dave Scott. He was more than happy for a chat. I asked him for some tips. “Stand up as much as possible on the bike…” good advice – there are no serious “hills” on the course so you could easily sit in the aero position for hours on end, but standing up would help to keep things loose and alleviate pressure on my muscles and backside. Also, he said the bike doesn’t really start until you get out beyond the airport. Also good advice – don’t get carried away in the early miles around Kona and climbing up out of town on the Palani Road hill. I asked him to sign the book. He told me that both Mark and himself were in a legal dispute with the author over some of the contents. I had no idea. To his credit, he signed it anyway, and wished me well.

Then we got involved in all manner of Hawaiian cultural activities. Little traditional games. Island mapping. Food and drink. Music. Basket weaving. Bowl weaving. It was so cool. A girl weaved me a rose from a spiky leaf. And, of course, floral lei-making. I had bought quite a few fake leis for the trip, to give to the others. On qualifying at Ironman UK, when I accepted my slot, I was given a fake lei. Here, I was given a real lei. It’s hard to describe. It was class. It felt alive somehow. Fresh. Cool. Fragrant but not overpoweringly so. Quite heavy. It was brilliant. Incredible skill went into making it. We tried to make our own and they didn’t look anywhere near as good.

Bowls woven from leaves

And, for each little “activity” we did, we were given a free raffle ticket for later in the evening. There was a traditional band playing guitars and ukuleles and people started heading up that way. There was free food available. Fantastic. A luau started (traditional Hawaiian dancing, with other Pacific island dancing as well). It was such a good show. Then Mike Reilly (the voice of Ironman, who calls you over the line and says “you are an Ironman” to everyone, got on stage and interviewed 5 heroes of Hawaii: Dave Scott and Mark Allen (obviously), Michellie Jones, Paula Newby-Fraser, Julie Moss. 

I tried to get Mark Allen to sign my book, but because of the legal dispute, he wouldn’t. Fair enough. I got an Ironman poster signed by all of them. They started the raffle. Some pretty nice prizes. Ironman-branded stuff. A night in the King K hotel. We had plenty of tickets as we had indulged our cultural side, done lots of activities, and picked up lots of tickets. Just as I was saying “wouldn’t it be amazing to actually win something in a raffle…” we won a massive Ironman beach towel. Great success. As the evening was winding down, an English girl and her dad came over to chat. She had qualified at Ironman UK. A brilliant swimmer, faster than me. But then anyone who qualifies for this is going to be pretty handy in the water, on the bike, and on foot.

The evening wound down. It had been great. Quite chilled out and relaxed, which was what I needed after such a busy day. I was starting to realise that it was a bad idea to try to fit too much into a day. With the heat, and the time it takes to organise four people, and the car/driving/traffic/parking etc, with needing food and drink, with needing a bit of chill-out time, things were seeming to take longer than you’d think. It was no problem, but just something to be aware of. I finished off my stretching back at the condo and we headed to bed, with a rough plan that we would have a quick snack in the morning, head to the pier for a swim, and then have a big brunch at one of the places overlooking the bay. I’d also have to get a bike ride done…!

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Post 195 - Kona day 3 - Exploring the epicentre

Day 3 - Sunday 6th October 2019

The first full day started with a couple of small snacks in the condo, followed by a walk to the pier along Ali’i drive. It was further than it seemed in the car. It seemed further than 1.7 miles. Maybe it was the heat. I didn’t fancy walking there and back every day. Fortunately we had a car, and we soon found a couple of car parks. So there’d be no more walking.

I couldn’t wait to get in for a swim. The entire swim course is permanently marked out, and so many people were down early, getting their swims done. There was a full-distance official practice swim on, but I didn’t feel I needed to swim almost 4000m at this stage. All the work was done. No point tiring myself out. Short swims would be fine.

I hoped the water was as warm as everyone said it was. Down the iconic steps at the pier and onto dig-me beach. It was like stepping onto the moon. It was warm. It was sparkling. It was crystal clear. It was somewhere fantastic to swim. I took the plunge, intending to swim out maybe 750m and back 750m, making 1500m in total. Then splash about with Deirdre and with the underwater camera. I had brought a few pairs of goggles to Kona with different levels of tint. The pair I had today leaked a lot. Which impacted a bit on the swim. Oh well. Can’t have everything. At least I knew not to use them on race day and at least I had spares...

"That's one small step..."

Swimming out

Swimming back

There were so many fish. Mostly yellow ones, mostly keeping their depth. There was quite a lot of coral. There were also meant to be turtles (honu, in Hawaiian), dolphins, manta rays, the occasional shark, a few eels. I’d settle for benign yellow fish and a turtle… and that was exactly what I got – lots of yellow fish on the swim, and then a turtle close in to shore. It was so cool. I got the underwater camera fired up and took a few photos and videos.

A "honu" (Hawaiian word for turtle) - apparently a sign of good fortune

The wee underwater camera was a great buy

I could have stayed in the water all day but it was time for a decent breakfast. And time to get out of the scorching sun for a while too. There was energy drink and water on the pier available for swimmers. We got changed in the shade and then made our way to the Fish Hopper restaurant, overlooking where we had swum. What a great feed of omelettes and pancakes we had, and what a great view we had too. And fairly reasonably priced…


...with a view

Free Kona coffee samples on Ali'i Drive. Shame I don't drink the stuff!

…unlike the gear for sale in the Ironman merchandise tent. T-shirts for $50, jackets for $150, all manner of Ironman-branded stuff for extortionate prices. Some of it looked quite nice, but I reminded myself I’d probably get a few freebies during the time in Kona, and I’d get a finisher’s cap, t-shirt, towel etc as well. Plus, there would be other cheaper souvenirs in the local shops. I got the "obligatory" photograph pointing at my name on the wall listing all the competitor's names. It was good to do this now when Kona was still "fairly quiet" - as each day passed, it got busier and busier until the queue at the wall was crazy later in the week - everyone wanted the wall to themselves for their photo...

Funky bike

We headed back via the Kona market and bought some fruit and vegetables. It was hard work carrying it all back in the heat of the day and we had to stop a few times. I had to keep reminding myself to drink. I had to keep on top of my hydration and my nutrition. I had to make sure not to get too much sun. I had to make sure not to over-do things. I had the Ironman world championships to do, I had put ten years into getting here, I didn’t want to mess it all up at the last minute. This wasn’t a “holiday”, this was “business”!

Then I built my bike up, intending to get out tomorrow for a spin. Much like today’s swim, I couldn’t wait to set my tyres rolling on the Queen K and see what it was like. How would the winds be? The lava fields? The smoothness of the road? The heat? All questions which would be answered tomorrow…

Customs/immigration/security had opened up the bike box when it was in transit. I knew this because the locks were secured with different cable ties. The box has a crush pole which, obviously enough, is designed to stop the box from being crushed together. The crush pole has to be installed carefully between the wheel spokes. I hoped when closing the box, the inspector had taken care not to ping the spokes with the crush pole. I didn’t need a broken wheel… It was all good and the bike got build without any issues.

With the bike built, we headed off to Huggo’s for dinner and sunset. The starter was a meal by itself – ribs that pretty much looked like a whole cow. Before I saw the starter, I ordered extra pasta with my main course. Shamefully, I could barely eat any of my main course. So I had it boxed up for tomorrow. Given the good value of the brunch earlier in the day, the dinner bill of something like $160 was a bit of a shock. So it seemed that brunch out was a good idea, but going shopping, self-catering and eating in the condo in the evening could also be a good idea, particularly as we had such good facilities for cooking, and such nice areas to eat – our living room, our lanai, and a really nice area down by the pool overlooking the sea.

Dinner with a view

I didn’t mention that when exploring the grounds of the condo, we found out there were two pools, one of which was down at the oceanfront. There was a private beach, with palm trees and flame things (see photo!), and a really nice area for dining overlooking it all. It was all so quiet. It always seemed like we had the entire place and grounds to ourselves. All you could hear was the ocean lapping against the rocks. And it was to that noise that the first full day in Kona ended. I could get used to this…