... and there are fabulous places to race...
... and when the two come together you have the Kings Trail Triathlon in Maui.
This Olympic distance race happens on the southwestern, resort laden corner of the island. Bordering the nearly untouched black lava flow from the island's volcano, the course winds through some of the most picturesque roads Hawaii has to offer. The location alone is worth the trip but hey, there was a race to be run and a report to be written so, let's get on with it...
Over 350 athletes gathered at the swim start just after dawn. Warm breezes carried the scent of burnt sugarcane from the island's plantations. The sun had not yet risen over the volcano, Mount Haleakala, but the beach was buzzing with activity. Minutes before the race began an island minister in traditional dress, palm leaves, and conch shell gave the invocation and lead the athletes in singing The Star Spangled Banner.
The Swim: If there's a better swim location I haven't been in it. The conditions were perfect. Perfect. The water temperature was not too hot and not too cold. It was clear to the sandy bottom. Dozens of fish and the occasional giant sea turtle swam along the ocean floor. There were no chopping waves and no swells to add to the 1,500 meter swim challenge.
The start was an old-school run from the beach. The announcer gave a count down and my pulse began to rise. The minister blew her conch shell and it was race-on with a dash into the low surf. With only few dozen athletes in my wave --that would be the Men 40 to Death wave-- it was easy get away from the thrashing and find room to swim. Despite suffering from an aching left shoulder (more about that in a later post) I was able to keep up with the front of the pack and catch a draft from the leaders. Soon I caught up to the slower swimmers in the proceeding wave and was rounding the last buoy for the finish. I was out of the water in just over 29 minutes and onto the beach, up a set of concrete steps and onto the soft grass of the transition area.
After she swim I was 5th in my age group.
After she swim I was 5th in my age group.
The Bike: Once out of transition the real fun began. The two loop bike course is hilly and technical with several sharp and hairpin turns. It's a fun ride on a glass smooth pavement with just enough elevation change to put a burn in the quads on the climbs and a yahhoo! on the descents. One after the other I passed bikers in my wave.
There's no drama to write about on this bike leg. It was all push, push, push and fun, fun, fun. I wasn't wearing a heart rate monitor and my bike computer was back in Dallas so the only monitor I had was my perceived effort and how many people I passed (or how many people passed me) on the course. It felt good to feel good in a race.
After the bike I was 3rd in my age group.
The Run: The King's Trail Triathlon is named after the historic lava fields just south of the swim start. The barren, black, and sharp lavascape was formed after Mount Haleakala's last eruption in 1790. The kings of the time declared the fields sacred and walked them in an annual ritual of respect for nature's power.
Just like how the molten earth melted all in its path two centuries ago, so too did the fields melted my legs on the run. Within just a couple of minutes of getting off of the bike my quads cramped and my left foot became numb. Despite the pain, I passed the first mile in 8:50. That's when the cramping became so bad I had to slow just to keep my balance. Then my right foot started to numb and some of those I passed on the bike passed me and pulled away.
A simple one-lane blacktop road enters the state protected lava fields at mile two. There's no shade. No vegetation. No windbreaks. Just black lava for hundreds of yards on both sides of the course. One side forms cliffs diving into the sapphire blue ocean and the other side rises up the slopes towards the mountain's caldera. This is the kind of place that fills you with strength and energy, all the while, reminding you of the enormity of the earth's power and your relative minutiae on her surface. There, in that place, at that time, my mind turned from the ocean and towards the place of northern belle rivieras I often go. There were no competitors around me, yet I was not alone. The veritas of my confessions were heart-borne, unwavering, and secure. There was no doubt about it... there was only one who I wanted there with me. The small sterling circle of Empired love was safely attached as it had been for the entire race. Much was confirmed in two miles.
Any time advantage I built on the bike was swept away like a mai tai induced drunk... slow, steady, and sure. The push continued but any hopes of a podium finish was ahead of me and widening the gap. My pace had slowed. What started out as sub-9 minutes per mile became over 11 minutes per mile. My quads continued cramping and both feet stung from the pounding. Nonetheless, I was feeling good elsewhere and pressed the stride, only walking the water stations to fill my hat with ice and down some drink.
I crossed the finish line all smiles knowing I did my best.
My place after the run was 7th in my age group.
Was I disappointed by giving up four places during the run? Sure I was.
Was I happy with my performance? Sure I was.
You see... I gave it my all and left nothing in the ocean, on the road, or in the lava fields. And for that I have no regrets. None.