Thanksgiving weekend usually means a big dinner of turkey with all the trimmings, but for me it means a trip to what can be a brutally hot and windy competition amid lava fields and volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii more affectionately known as The Ultraman World Championships.
Unlike the Ironman championships there is not thousands of Triathletes descending on quiet downtown Kailua Kona, there is just 35 Ultra Triathletes and probably the best women’s field ever in the 10 years I have been doing it! I feel well prepared as I had been doing the Californian Triple Crown series and local trail runs in my new home of Southern California.
My pre race preparation went well, we (my husband AL) and I rented a mini van took out the seats filled it with bike supplies, cycling clothes, running shoes. Had 2 coolers full of ice and my nutrition Perpetuem, Hammer gel and the most important electrolytes!! My other crew member was Eve who was an ironman veteran and turned out to be a great team player. Her job was to mix the fuel, run with me on day 3, keep track of my electrolyte intake and keep me focused on moving forward. She even provided a French press for freshly brewed Kona coffee each morning!
Race day approached with little fan fare other than 35 athletes clad in Neoprene wet suits with their crew vans and kayak escorts at Kona Pier! I was putting on my Profile Design by Aquaman Wetsuit when in my haste I did the unthinkable rookie move and but my finger nail through the leg of my wet suit... darn I thought extra ventilation for the water to seep through!! Raffa was my kayak escort Al gave him my Hammer gel flask, endurolytes and water. Soon we were all standing in the ocean waiting for the signal to begin the sun was just peeking over the volcano and I was off on my 10th Ultraman event!!
6.2 miles swimming, What ever way I look at it 6.2miles is a long way to swim! Cory Foulk (another veteran of Ultraman with 13 on the line) had emailed everyone to say the swim would be favorable conditions yet here I found myself swimming in what seemed like thick soup. There was not a ripple it was calm and deceiving I thought I was doing good progress until I saw the little blue church on the coast line I saw it again and again!! Soon it disappeared and Raffa as usual was calm and would only stop me every 30 minutes for my nutrition, I began counting to my self and singing funny little songs to try to disassociate from the present. Soon the orange turn around Buoy approached and I could smell the finish of the swim just keep going I thought and just as I thought I could not swim one more stroke Al was there to take my hand and guide me up the carpet to the bike transition! I had done a 4hours and 18 minute swim it will not make the history books but I had survived!
The bike transition went really well; I showered and put on my Pink Hammer clothing, and before I knew it I was climbing up Kamehameha 3rd road up to the Highway 11 which would eventually finish at Na Makani Paio campground 90 miles away!! As I climbed to Hwy 11 I took in water, and ate a Hammer bar, my crew van came around me and as they past encouraged me to eat and hydrate! Eve put my mascot the Pink Energizer Bunny out of the window and shouted Keep Going Keep Going Keep Going which was going to be the mantra for the 3 days of pushing physical limits! I had a really good solid ride to the Volcano I kept with Perpetuem, kept well hydrated and had my crew always near by when I needed them! At mile 69 I found my self on a long steady climb of 19miles Al and Eve were hooting words of encouragement as I was on course of setting a fast Day 1 bike record... That is until 5 miles to go this wind came out of no where and I went from being Lance Armstrong to survival mode. I began painfully counting the mile markers trying to keep up a good cadence I just wanted the pain to be over and like the swim when I thought I could not go any further the finish line of Day 1 was there! I had successfully put in a 6 hour and 8minute ride. My personal best for this course! I was elated! It was great to finish in day light and see faces and not headlights!! My crew and I went to check into the Volcano House were we had a reservation we ALL ate well and I was tucked up in bed before 9pm!
Day 2 consists of a 171.4mile bike ride, it was definitely cold and I had added to my pink hammer gear arm warmers and legwarmers. After the race brief the group rolled out of the Campground back onto HWY 11 for a very fast 25mile descent. For safety the first 3 miles the group stays together then after leaving the volcano park no drafting rule comes into effect, saying that there was a huge pack of riders who took off together~ I just wanted to get down safely as last year the Japanese athlete had taken a nasty spill descending this part and broken his collarbone! I reconnected with my crew at mile 25 they gave me fresh Perpetuem and lots of encouragement! As I was heading towards the Pahoe, my friend Cory over took me; he looked awesome and had had a hip replacement!
Just as he passed me a few more feet a white truck came out of a side road and Cory had no where to go but turn left with the vehicle, after a few moments of confusion Cory hit the truck and went airborne and came to the black asphalt with a thud! I stopped long enough to see his crew had it under control and I continued a little shaken but okay. As I approached the Red Road which consists of 15 miles without crew support I stopped to take spare tubes etc and nutrition, this part of the bike is beautiful and scenery awesome.
A lot of little rolling hills to contend with , it was at the beginning of this road that my left foot started to have problems, I could not put any pressure onto the pedal, so up hills were a problem. Not good at this stage in the game and I began thinking I would not be able to run! I cycled conservatively the next 14 miles and was so grateful to see my support crew. I stopped on the side of the road 62miles into the 171.4miles, I took off my shoe and Kimmie Rouse helped massage my foot while Al and Eve stocked up my bike and gave me Kool n fit spray for my foot. I was instructed to use a different pedal stroke for the next 10 miles or so... this was going to be fun I thought! By mile 82 the pain had subsided and I was approaching Hilo.
I think I managed to hit every red light there was (8 in all) before finally passing the Steel Bridge and on to the Hamakua Coast line (route 19)The next 57 miles are full of rolling hills and gorges really beautiful coastline my crew never where far away and they kept putting the Energizer Bunny out of the window and shouting Keep Going Keep Going!! Made me smile and took my mind of things.
I also found out that Cory had been allowed to continue and he was quoted as saying the truck had stopped the creaking noises in his bike!! I passed the sign for Honokaa and knew there was 10miles of climbing before hitting Wiamea I bean to pick up speed and even pass a few cyclists! My left foot is giving me problems and I decide to pedal a few miles with my foot on top of my bike shoe! As I approached the final climb of the day the wind started picking up Al stopped the van and told me to pullover he quickly changed my front Spinergy for a Spinergy low profile wheel and I continued up the Kohala Mnt Road. I am so light that when a gust of wind would hit me I would lose control of my bike and be swept across the road. So I traded my bike shoes for my Brooks running shoes two full water bottles were put on my Cannondale bike and continued the ascent with caution. At the crest of 3,564 ft, Eve wanted me to put on my bike shoes, I just felt more confident with my running shoes so for the hair raising 13 mile descent I went with sneakers all the way to the Kohala Inn were my time of 10 hours and 4minutes was another personal best!! Just one more day to go...We relaxed in the Inn had my favorite food Pizza and had an early night.
Day 3 is a 52.4mile run from Hawi to the Old Airport in Hawaii for Ironman athletes this is the return bike route of Ironman Hawaii! I was thankful it was the run as I do not think in reality I could have sat on my bike again I was hurting down there.. my own fault as I had not used the A&D cream which was very prominent for the run!!
I started the run in Pink! As pink is the color of Breast Cancer which I represent for Avon of Puerto Rico!
We started the run with all the athletes in a circle and support crews forming an outer circle Virginia traditionally blows the Triton Trumpet shell and then we all go to the left side of the road and at 6am sharp we begin to run from Hawi to the Kawaihae shopping center with the traffic. The early start on Day 3 means we start in semi darkness but soon the daylight breaks through and runners are soon spread out like a string of pearls. I keep looking at my Polar 625 as I am trying to keep my heart rate below 150, I focus on my breathing and every mile I see my crew waving and giving me the thumbs up sign! As I pass Kawaihae and begin the ascent to the Queen K, I decide to walk this part and take in water my crew is wanting me to eat but I cannot, my stomach is churning and bathroom stops are made quite frequently
. 33miiles to go and I am being plagued with gastric distress which I blame for not eating a substantial breakfast. So I tell my crew from now on only Perpetuem every mile and electrolytes every hour. With that I set off and began to feel better I actually started enjoying the run. I caught up with Mike Rouse who is a fantastic runner and we exchanged a few words together and also ran a little with Michelle Santilhano and that is the beauty of Ultraman the comeradie between athletes everyone is hurting and it really is not a race but an event which will give you an experience like no Ironman ever will, It will humble you and make you stronger, and it will be mentally challenging as well as physically demanding that is what drives the Ultra Triathlete! The last 26miles are kind of fun, Al keeps stopping every half mile and every mile I am sponged down with icy cold water and a few sips of Perpetuem.
Still having a little difficulty with my left foot which resolves itself when I run on even ground! I pass mile marker 82, (Look out point) Hualalai resort (31.1 miles to go) then the airport, Eve is looking at her watch and calculates I can do under a 9.30 run meanwhile I am in survival mode just Keep Going I tell myself not far to go. I pass the Natural Energy lab , then I am passing the harbor entrance oh my goodness nearly finished I dig deep into the pain box and pull out a few more miles I finally see mile marker 99 and know it is nearly over. My crew and friends all put on my Energizer/ Avon shirts and run with me the final mile with me I am crying as I see the clock 9 hours 16minutes I can not believe it! I hold the Energizer Bunny high we all cross the line and my husband gives me a big hug and tells me I am his hero today!!
Finish line photos are taken, hugs exchanged it is the finish line of my 10th Ultraman Hawaii with a total time of 29 hours, 46minutes and 49 seconds!! Another personal best time and the first time I have ever broken 30 hours I am really happy and Tim and Nikki greet me with their massage table! I am the only woman to have been here 10 years in a row and I hope I am blessed to be able to be here for at least 5 more years!
After the race is over the awards done I get to be just another tourist in Kona. The day after AL and I hike into Waipio Valley and enjoy Black sand beaches, (the hike out was painful but worth it!), we visit City of Refugee, go scuba diving, do a night dive with the famous manta rays of Kona, we rent a double kayak and snorkel Captain Cooks. And catch up with the local people who make this possible for me to do 10 ULTRAMANS
I would like to say a huge Thank You to Avon of Puerto Rico as with this race I have successfully covered 2,326.30 miles in swimming biking and running as AVON pledge $7 per mile they will donate a check for $16,284 to the American Cancer Society for cancer research, also the Energizer Bunny for Keeping me Going and going and going! Hawaiian Tropic Sun care, Hammer Nutrition, Tri all 3 Sport cases, Profile Design & Aquaman, Fuelbelt, Spinergy Wheels, Rudy Project glasses and helmets, Brooks running shoes, Polar heart rate monitors, Kool n Fit sports, serfas tires and my husband AL. Also Tom and Gordana for the hospitality, Chett for Thai massage, Tim and Nikki for post race massage, Chuck for the diving, Eve, Ron, Michael and Raffa for the crew support and the mermaids up at Mc Coys plantation!!
AL is already thinking of next year!!!
photo Dan Vernon
Youtube Video Alex's Hidden Journey
level the playing field in terms of gender
Image by NordicFocus
photo Dan Vernon