The Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle is known as “Honu.” It is also the name often used to identify Ironman Hawaii 70.3, which takes place on the Big Island the first Saturday of June each year. Honu are said to symbolize endurance, good luck, and longevity.
I did the race for the first time in 2016. It was a windless day – atypical for the race – and I had a great day, with the swim, bike and run all falling into place.
Having such a great time in 2016, I knew I’d be back this year. This time Honu was ready to really test my endurance and luck. Unlike the previous year, the days preceding the race were windy, sometimes bringing chop to Hapuna Bay, where the swim takes place, and offering cyclists challenges with the notorious crosswinds of the Queen K highway. I didn’t feel well for a couple of days prior to the race, but no excuses.
Race day brought the wind, although thankfully it was calmer than the previous day. I’d received tips for handling the crosswinds on the bike from a coach and from a friend, and I felt fairly confident that I could execute the race with some success.
But there’s something about the Big Island. It’s a special place, and along with its varied island microclimates, it can bring both joy and challenges, along with some introspect.
The swim course was changed this year to go clockwise instead of counterclockwise. I felt strong on the swim, although my time was slower than last year. I think I added a bit of extra mileage, plus the water wasn’t quite as calm (although I certainly wouldn’t call it choppy), and a beach start instead of a deep-water start may have been the culprits. I’d experienced some motion sickness in a couple of practice swims before the race, so I called it a victory when I got through the 1.2-mile course feeling okay.
Up the beach, with an attempt to rinse a bit in crowded outdoor showers, then onto my bike. The volunteers are outstanding, and the volunteer who was waiting to give me a shove on the uphill start was no different. I felt pretty good for about the first 20 miles.
Then we got into climbing into the headwinds and crosswinds. Headwinds are just tough, no getting around it. Just keep pushing, and know the tailwind will be the reward. It was the crosswinds that were more challenging for me. I adjusted my balance on the bike to offset the winds, and spun up towards Hawi. We turned around before reaching the center of Hawi where the full Ironman athletes turn around at the October World Championships. Although the crosswinds had been a bit challenging climbing up, it was the descent where things fell apart for me. Although I knew the crosswinds could be much worse, they still had me gripping the base bars and slowing my speed to ensure I kept control. Last year I’d flown down these hills, but this time there were few times that I felt that confident.
Along with my pace, my morale decreased accordingly. I wanted to be off the bike and out of the race. I knew I’d finish, but I didn’t feel competitive at all. The miles passed, and finally I was back close to Mauna Lani, where we’d make the final turns into T2. At least I could look forward to the run, where I always seem to catch up a bit.
I racked my bike in its designated spot, jogged to my T2 bag, quickly shed the bike gear and got set to run. Last year I had a good run, with each passing mile feeling better as I got my core cooled (relatively speaking) with lots of ice and fluids.
Onto the hot and humid golf course, where the majority of the run takes place. I tried to run with good form and settle into a pace. It can take a while to feel okay, especially in the island conditions.
But it just wasn’t clicking for me. I felt like my heart was racing, and I did some short walking breaks. My heart rate was a bit high, due to the heat, but not overly so. The entire first lap was miserable. I stopped at every aid station (one every mile in this hot race!) and got ice for my hat, top and shorts, had salt, fluids and kept soldiering on. I really wanted to quit, but knew I’d finish the dang race even if I had to walk it. I was depressed and decided it was the last time I would do this race. As I started the second loop, I finally began to feel better physically. As each mile went on, I got back into the good rhythm I’d had last year and started passing people. I caught just a few women in my age group, but I also saw several well ahead of me on the out-and-back section that my friend calls “The Road to Nowhere.” Back onto the golf course for the final miles, I passed the large herd of goats that were grazing on the golf course lawn. As much as I love goats and love seeing them there, it didn’t lift my spirits much as I was still somewhat in my grumpy space. I was glad that I was going to finish running, and not walking, but couldn’t wait to be done.
Finally, I was picking up the pace, running as strongly as I could toward that stunning floral finish line. It really is the prettiest finish line I’ve encountered in any running or triathlon race. We’re just feet from the tree-lined Pacific Ocean on the Fairmont grounds – paradise.
Just like last year, I raised my arms and gave the Hawaiian hang loose gesture as I crossed the finish line. My time was about 37 minutes slower than last year (although with the winds this year, I think a lot of people had slightly slower times due to the bike leg), and I didn’t make the podium like I did last year. I ended up eighth in my division – my worst placement yet, although I’m grateful to have finished in the top ten and in one piece. My competitors had strong races and I admire and congratulate them on their success. They inspire me!
So, in true Honu style, my good luck was that I stayed upright on the bike and got to practice some handling skills, I endured when I wanted to quit, and I plan to live long enough to come back to the magical Big Island again and again. And I’m usually not a “medals” person, but I’ve to say that I love this year’s finisher’s medal.