I remember telling myself several times over the course of Saturday, "this is by far the hardest thing I have ever done". And last Saturday will most likely forever be the hardest thing I've done. I felt it during the swim, which might as well be renamed 2.4 miles of simulated drowning. During the bike, in the desolate miles coming back from Waikoloa when the winds started to pick up some. And especially during the run when, eerily prescient, I couldn't get the image of Paula's "I think I'm going to die" clip out of my mind as I trudged through the energy lab and through the final miles to the finish. But despite all of these things, I still loved the experience and the mental and physical test. Throughout the day, the lines from a Bastille song ran though my head:
This is your heart / Can you feel it? Can you feel it? / Pumps through your veins / Can you feel it? Can you feel it? - Bastille
"I feel alive!" I told myself as the lyrics rolled through my head. "I am at the World Championships in Hawaii, running on the Queen K and I am alive!" Little did I know that my enthusiasm would push me to heat stroke, a collapse at the finish and a life-threatening 108.5-degree internal temp.
I don't think think many people have pushed themselves to the point I found myself shortly around 5pm later that day. I never want to revisit that collapse and would never want to wish it on anyone but in some sort of sick way I'm proud of it. The last thing I remember is coming down Palani; I don't remember the last mile. At that moment in the race, for better or for worse, the head stopped working and it was all heart.
"A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more." - Steve Prefontaine
But let's back up.
When I got to the pier early the morning, it was an interesting process - getting body marked, weighed, dropping off bags, all very official. Once through the process, you could get to the pier to drop things at your bike. After a relatively quick set-up, it was all nerves and sitting on the pier waiting for the pros to get sent off. After the females are sent off, the age groupers are filed into the water, which takes f o r e v e r. With the narrow stairs to dig me beach, it took about 10-minutes to get down into the water. But even then, I got there with 15-minutes of treading water to spare. I was pretty far up and the pushing was incredibly obnoxious and people were kind of jerks about it and then I tried to make a joke about herding cats versus triathletes, which no one seemed to appreciate.
When the cannon fired, it was mayhem. I did a hard sprint and even then literally got swum over and dunked multiple times. It was hard because sometimes I was on someone's feet and had no where to go and people were still insistent on clobbering on top of you. While I did not like the swim at all, the only good thing (or bad thing, at the same time) was that there was always a group to swim with. So maintaining pace and staying on feet was always easy, minus the occasional kick (I may never be able to have children thanks to a strong kick to my lower abdomen), lots and lots of swallowed salt water and grabby hands. Seriously people—there is a way to stay on someone's feet without grabbing ankles each stroke.
But after another violent sprint finish where folks resume swimming over you again, it was up the steps... smiling over my 1:02 swim time, a quick rinse in the showers, through transition and out onto the bike course. Granted we got lucky with a not-so-windy day but I love love loved this bike course. It's really not that hilly and even the "climb" to Hawi seemed more like just a bunch of closely spaced rollers to me.
You haul up Palani, which felt a little like the Tour de France, with the spectators crowding in and cheering you as you pushed up the hill. From there you turn onto Kuakini for a fast little out and back where you can take a peek at folks just ahead and behind of you. And then it's onto the lava fields of the Queen K. We were lucky this year with the calmer winds so the legendary gusts weren't in play. I didn't feel good for the first hour or so but then Alyssa came by and said "stay with me!" so I picked up and surprisingly was able to keep her in my sights just up the road and then started to come around. Power was still a bit on the low side but I didn't worry about it since I was riding near Alyssa and soon came upon Amanda, both of whom I know are super-strong cyclists so if I was in their zipcode, I was doing okay.
Hillary, the Smash Ladies and my parents were all near Kawaihae, which was a huge push for me. Then the climb up to Hawi was fine, I skipped special needs again and then had fun bombing down a few of the descents. We came back to Waikoloa surprisingly quickly and then this was the time I started to make up a little bit of time, especially the last few miles passing the airport as I was exciting to get back into town and onto the run.
The only thing I did not like—and will not go into a ton of detail on because I'm sure everyone and their mom will be complaining about it—was the amount of drafting that was going on. The only thing I will mention in this regard was that because of the draft packs and wanting to ride legal, I made a few stupid moves on the bike. Mostly, making surges when I shouldn't have and burning multiple matches trying to get around folks sitting 4-across on the Queen K in packs 10-12 deep. That's all I'll say about that but trust me, there's a ton more I could say. Exhale.
I rolled into transition, super happy with my 5:20 on the course, handed the bike off to a volunteer and ran into the transition tent. It was a quick transition and then out to the hardest part of the day...