Hawaii Winds are Serious Business

I never thought the World Championships were easy, but after having spent the past few days training on the Big Island, I have a whole new appreciation for the athletes who race in Kona every October. This course is no joke. In fact, it kind of sucks. Okay, it doesn’t kind of suck. It really sucks. Parts of it are scenic (I am in Hawaii, after all), but most of the bike course is along a desolate stretch of highway surrounded by taint-scorching lava rock that makes me feel like I’m cycling on Mars. The heat isn’t bad (I raced in 96-degree temps in Costa Rica) but the humidity is demoralizing. Oh, and have I mentioned the wind? Yeah, let’s focus on that for now.

I’ve heard plenty about the famous winds here–how they’re absolutely brutal, how they can change direction without warning, how they can blow people across the road and even knock them down–but hearing about them and experiencing them firsthand are two different beasts entirely. My only previous experience with strong winds was the demoralizing Boise 70.3 in 2010, in which I got manhandled for 56 miles and only managed to bust out a 3:27 bike split because the gusts were so bad. Those winds, as bad as I remember them being, are nothing compared to the winds here. Good grief.

For our first ride, Jas and I headed out onto the highway and couldn’t help but laugh at how absurd it was to ride at an angle along the shoulder as we leaned against the wind that was hell-bent on shoving us into the road. I managed to stay calm and kept reminding myself to keep a clear head and remain focused and that freaking out or panicking would just make the situation worse. We got to the turnaround point in our ride and I clipped out my right foot. Teresa was in the middle of explaining the race bike course to us when a giant gust of wind blew at us from the right and knocked me down like a domino. Since my left foot was still clipped in, all I could do was get slammed to the pavement and pinned by my bike. I emerged with no scrapes but a few lovely bruises, although I’m happy that I got blown down while at a standstill vs. cruising along at 20-30 mph.

Becca fall down, go boom. (No scrapes, just a lump.)

On our way back, the crosswinds went from trying to push me into the road to attempting to shove me into the guardrail and onto the lava rocks, which actually made me more nervous than being shoved onto the highway (at least I could hope that a car would see me and swerve around me–crashing into a guardrail, on the other hand, seems like a profoundly no bueno situation). I felt a sense of accomplishment for having survived a gnarly bike ride against the famous winds, but the idea of riding an additional two hours in this mess wasn’t exactly thrilling.

The next time we tackled the Queen K highway, the winds weren’t as unpredictable but were still as strong as ever. I hit a steady headwind on the way out and was flying along the highway on the way back. I couldn’t really take advantage of the free speed because I was paranoid about a sudden crosswind coming along to take me out, so I struggled a bit as I tried in vain to anticipate how the winds would be blowing (an impossible feat). My bike splits have become the strongest of the three disciplines for me, so I’m hoping I can stay strong and steady among the field since they’ll have to battle the same conditions as I will tomorrow (I’ll just have to keep reminding myself that).

I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the swim portion of the race (when am I ever?), but after flailing around in the ocean this morning I’m less confident about the swim leg than I was before I ventured in to try the swim course. Going out to the buoy was fine, but when I tried to head back to shore, I felt as if I were swimming in place because the current was so ridiculous. After making what felt like zero progress, I started hoping that eventually my teammates would take a head count, realize they were missing their Mediocre Athlete, and send a rescue party out for me. Ultimately I dragged my half-drowned ass to shore and began mentally adding several minutes to my once-hopeful swim split. I’m a slow but competent swimmer so I’m thinking my mantra will be “You can survive this.” At other races I’d be able to endure the swim by telling myself that once I get on the bike I’ll be more at ease, but these stupid winds are taking away that comfort zone for me…*shakes fist*

I’m thinking tomorrow will be a mental battle more than anything. I must keep reminding myself that I am stronger than these winds, keep Florence + The Machine’s “Shake It Out” in my head, and claw my way to the finish line. We’ll see how it goes–stay tuned!

2 Responses to “ “Hawaii Winds are Serious Business”

  1. bets says:

    Great job today!! A friend of mine (who also follows your blog) and I think you need to change your name to “really better than I tell people athlete.” 🙂 Hope you had fun!

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