Some of you may know that I spent some time in Kona this summer staying and training with Hillary Biscay and her husband to be Maik Twelsiek. During their prolonged stay on the island, Hillary got the wild idea to end her season racing Ultraman. For those unaware, Ultraman is a 3 day race circumnavigating the Big Island of Hawaii. Just tackling the distance is a monumental feat. But in my humble opinion, taking on this event and attempting to truly race it, requires one who may be described as JUST this side of insane. Or maybe just THAT side.
I left for Kona the day after Ironman AZ. Planning on having 3-4 days of relaxation and recovery prior to Friday, race day. This was NOT what I got. Everything started fine. We met up the first morning at the pier with a bunch of athletes for a casual swim followed by some coffee. Then, it began. We started shopping for race supplies. Between race registration, crew meetings, and SHOPPING, we were literally "on the go" untill Thursday afternoon. I said it then, the shopping alone was exhausting. But by Thursday night, the crew consisting of Hillary's local cousin Amy, her incredible doctor Michael, Maiki and myself, had been assembled, briefed, and the vehicle somewhat packed. We were ready for it. Or so we thought.
Day 1: 6.2mi swim from the famous Kona pier, to the Sheraton at Keauhou, followed immediately by a 90mi bike ride with 7,600ft of vertical gain to the Volcano National Park.
If you know anything about Hillary, its probably that she is known for racing. A. LOT. And if you know one thing about her racing, its that the girl can SWIM.
|Pink cap barely visable|
|Rounding the last buoy|
|Note the half eaten banana|
For the 1st day, Maiki and I thought it would be no problem to just ride in the bed of the truck and thus have easy access to all supplies and the coolers and be ready to pounce on any unforeseen problems. In theory it was a great idea, and for the first 2hrs, it was in practice as well. But soon the cramped seating, less than forgiving surfaces and the fact that we were getting out and running every 30mins combined to cause some aches and pains. Our approach was to wait 10mins or so after Hillary left, prepare food and bottles, leap-frog past her and set up our "aid station" a few minutes ahead of her. We figured this would mean a stop roughly every 30mins and would be no problem. I mean, we were 3 professional triathletes accustomed to eating, drinking and restocking fuel on the bike. How hard could it be, right? We were wrong.
Error #1: We assumed Hillary would be operating at a relatively low intensity and thus be able to consume "real food" in the form of veggie burgers, PB&Js, pretzels, cookies, PowerBars of various varieties, & banana bread. Fairly soon into the ride it was readily apparent this was not going to be the case. The day's fuel sources basically consisted of PowerBar Perform sports drink, a few bananas, some gel blasts and a few cookies. Hillary was having a rough go of it as her stomach, not surprisingly after 2:20 in the ocean, was NOT happy. Stop after stop she would ride by us taking nothing more than sports drink notwithstanding the virtual buffet we had in hand for her. At one point I got her to take a few swigs off a Red Bull and judging by my elation, you would have thought I'd just bargained my way into six figure contract for the 2011 season. At times this was very frustrating and I was in no way prepared for what an emotional toll it took on us. Watching a friend suffer through a rough day when you are just a spectator is one thing, watching it while you are part of their "team" and tasked with keeping them fueled and strong makes it that much more painful.
Error #2: Assuming we would have no problems with the hand offs. Sadly, we had quite a few fumbles on the day and this necessitated quite a few full on SPRINT efforts trying to catch back up to her only to watch her slowly pull away. We would then rush back to the truck, and take off up the raod to set up a sooner than expected aid station just shortly in front of her. This quick stop also often necessitated another full sprint hand off as we would invariably find ourselves on a downhill or flat section where she was doing 20+mph.
Error #3: Assuming that Maiki and I could really handle all the hand-off duties. Even given the limited fuel sources Hillary was finding tolerable on the first day, on numerous occasions we found ourselves to be without the ONE thing she would actually ask for when she came through our lineup. This again necessitated another rush back to the truck and another quick stop like those described above.
You can see how this would be frustrating and consuming. And while I paint a pretty dark picture of the day, it is only because of the emotions I experienced watching Hillary battle the course, conditions, and her stomach problems. On the whole, the day was actually extremely enjoyable and some great moments were shared between the crew. We got to cheer on other athletes and try to help them in any way we could, and I got to see some beautiful parts of the island I have never seen. We even got in a coffee stop. But it was REALLY quick HB, I swear!
From the beginning of the ride, Amber and Shanna, Hillary's 2 biggest competitors began taking time out of her. This continued for a while and we began to wonder if Hillary could hold her lead while suffering through stomach problems and the brutal headwind. But then Hillary began gaining time back and our hope and enthusiasm returned. In the end, what began as a 20min lead over the other girls, ended as just 4.5mins. But she was still in 1st, well under course record pace. And Alive.