Sunday, March 20, 2016

TI Swim Camp, day #6

The Total Immersion swim camp schedule offered an optional Saturday morning swim, but I opted to ride the Honu bike course instead. Hapuna Beach to Hawi and back. I'm glad I did. Having done it once will make race day a bit less stressful. In the process I grappled with one old challenge and encountered a new one, the legendary winds of Hawi.

My plan was to rent a small SUV for Saturday, drive up to Hapuna Beach, ride to Hawi, have a little lunch, ride back, drop the car off, then relax and enjoy what was left of the day. Well, things don't always go as planned.

I needed to pick the car up in Kona, not the airport. The first few companies I tried were only open Saturday morning, and closed all day Sunday. I was pleased to discover that Hertz was open Saturday and Sunday morning, and because they are in the King Kamehameha Hotel (where the swim camp was held) I could drop off the car Saturday afternoon and leave the keys at the front desk.

Next came how to park. I did not request a parking pass when I rented my room, because I was not planning to have a car at all. Once I decided to rent one for Saturday I was never free when the office was open. I thought about riding to the King K with my extra gear in my back pack, but I was not too keen on renting a car dressed in my bike gear, pushing my bike through the hotel lobby. My solution was to show up looking like a normal guy, drive back and park in the lot next to the open market -- about a hundred yards from my hotel, go up to my room, change, walk the bike and gear back. Minimum time, one hour, for $5.00. I had a five dollar bill and four ones. The parking robot only takes ones, or a credit card. I am uncomfortable giving my credit card to a parking robot (gas dispensing robots are trustworthy -- go figure), so before I could park I headed for the Starbucks drive-through for change and a coffee to enjoy on my drive to Hapuna. The line went out and around the block, so I parked, went inside, and was out and gone in the time that the line moved one, maybe two cars.

Upon arriving at Hapuna I could not resist walking down to the beach to compare conditions with Thursday. It was like night and day. The wind was still fairly brisk, but nothing like the howling gale we had earlier. Plenty of people in the water, splashing and relaxed, having fun. Too bad I did not bring a bathing suit. But it was getting late, anyway. Almost time for lunch and I had planned on being at Hawi by noon. Good thing I packed a couple of Bonk Breaker energy bars.

I punched the start button on my Garmin at 11:26. Immediately I experienced one of the most important lessons of the day. Riding from T1 will be hard. Very challenging. The road is steep, and the winds are against you. There is no possibility of an easy warm up. I was in power zones 6 and 7 from the first crawling pedal stroke trying to go fast enough to prevent getting blown down. Be patient, it will get better.

My goal for the day was to ride as much as possible in power zone 2, a good workout but well below race pace. Honu is not what you call a flat course. I did manage to do a few stretches at a steady 2Z, but the more typical profile was rolling hills, and I do mean rolling. My normalized power for the ride up to Hawi was 112 watts, and 101 for the return. My zone 2 goes from 89 to 120, so my average was pretty much spot-on in the middle, as planned, but I was really hitting 3Z and 4Z fairly often on the hills. Naturally the race average should be up in 3Z. Some of that can come from pushing the climbs harder, and some from keeping the power on during the descents. I need to practise those strategies.

I did make one little goof on the ride up. I stopped my Garmin to take a picture and forgot to restart it. So I lost about thirty minutes of data. Oh well, I have it in my head, and that's what counts.

The old challenge I hinted at earlier was double vision. I have been struggling with this for several years. So far I have found two remedies. First, pretreat my eyes with artificial tears. Second, relax my face. I have had pretty good success with the eye drops, normally not needing to reapply even on rides as long as this one. The face relaxation is a new thing. I think it helps, but it is too soon to say for sure. I packed my Visine but forgot to apply before starting, and forgot to put the bottle in my pocket. I was halfway to Kawaihae and nearly blind when I realized what I had done. I remembered Coach Bill saying there was a convenience store there, so I pressed on hoping they would have some. If not, I would have to go back and start over. As it turned out they did have some eye drops, just not a name brand. Probably nothing more than purified water, because they made my eyes wet but did little to correct my vision. I had to do all of the fast parts with one eye closed. Flying down the highway on the return with one eye closed was pretty scary, resulting in braking when I should not be.

By far the greater challenge was the wind. I have heard stories about the crosswinds, especially from 2012, the year we went to watch Lance Armstrong. Friends reported having their bikes leaning over so far they were afraid the pedals would hit the ground. What I experienced Saturday must have been the same conditions. It was hard enough on the way to Kawaihae, but after that it got even worse. The terrain is rolling hills on the slope of the mountain, so to flatten the highway the engineers cut into the higher hills and filled in some of the lower valleys. When sheltered by a cut the ride was manageable, but as soon as I came out into an exposed section the bike was thrown around like a toy in the mouth of a Great Dane. It tool all my strength to keep the bike on track. Luckily the shoulder is wide, about the same as most of Kalanianaole. On the right is usually dirt, but often a steel guard rail. On the left are a series of little cuts in the asphalt to alert cars they are drifting off the rode. Those things rattle your teeth out and slow you down like soft dirt -- to be avoided at all costs.

The typical sequence would be:
  • Gust from the right, bikes lurches left.
  • Lean bike right to correct. More, more, struggle to hold it.
  • Gust dies down or ride into sheltered spot.
  • Bike lurches right, lean and steer to bring upright and back on course.

Repeat above several hundred times. My arms were getting sore from struggling with the handlebars.

Then there are the obstacles.  In the cutouts there are always rocks to navigate around. Between the cutouts, in the exposed stretches, are keawi branches, complete with long, sharp thorns. There is never a moment you can take you attention off the road conditions, while at the same time keeping an eye on the grass to windward to see when the next gust is coming.

My nutrition plan worked well. My bike carries one bottle between the aero bars and one behind the saddle. I made a four hour Perpetuem bottle for the rear mount and carried water in the front bottle, plus a second water bottle in my bike jersey pocket. The Perpetuem was at 4:1 so I had to take in water whenever I had some, but getting the balance right is much easier than when I run with four scoops in 6 ounces of water. In each half, up and down, I consumed one and a half bottles of water. Since there will be aid stations on race day the extra water bottle will not be necessary. I kept lunch light, a small ham and cheese sandwich on a croissant, and that went down fine.

Did I mention it was raining in Hawi? I was not expecting that. About ten miles from Hawi I began to feel raindrops in the wind, in spite of clear skies. Then the sky slowly clouded over as I rode into the rain. By the time I got to Hawi I was soaked through. Tourists were genuinely surprised I was out riding in the rain, and shocked to hear I had ridden up from Hapuna. I expected rain on the entire trip back, but instead the process simply reversed itself; I rode out of the rain at about the same time the long downhill ends.

It was about 4:30 when I got back to Hapuna. As I drove out onto the highway I took notice of the terrain as we will be riding past Hapuna for eight more miles to the Waikoloa Resort. Two more climbs, then a long decent into T2. Good time to hydrate, spin, and recover for the run.

I am always surprised by how far things are on the Big Island. It seemed to take forever to get back to Kona. Did the same parking drill to unload, with enough time to shower, return the car, and walk back through town for dinner. That plan to relax and enjoy the rest of the afternoon was gone. I did enjoy dinner, but then it was back to my room with a cup of Kona coffee in hand to pack the bike and as much else as possible. That way I could sleep in a bit Sunday morning and still check out in time.

All in all it was a great trip. A bit costly in my frame of reference (I understand some people do this every year!), but well worth the investment. Best of all I finally got to work with fellow TI swimmers and get personalized coaching from TI certified coaches. A big mahalo to Coach Celeste St. Pierre and Coach Bill Greentree for your words of help and encouragement.

Update: On the following Saturday (yesterday as I write this) I did a triathlon bike handling workshop with Ben Williams. His advice is to carry a third bottle on the frame. The aero loss is more than offset by easy access to fuel. Having to pull a bottle from behind the seat every fifteen minutes throughout the ride will slow me down more than the aero losses from a frame mounted bottle. So, one water between the aero bars, same as before, and two fuel bottles.

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