Like it or not, vacation is over. While I started my week in Hawaii with every day seeing a high of 90 degrees and a low of 75 degrees (every – single – day), I ended it in Chicago with an overcast 40something day preparing my garden for nights in the upper 20s this week and a freeze warning.
How exactly did this happen?
On Saturday, I returned from 12 days on the Big Island spent vacationing with my family and watching my husband and athletes compete in the Ironman World Championship. This is now my sixth time visiting the Big Island. I visited once when in my early 20s, 3 times when married but childless and now 2 times with child(ren). The Big Island is a great place to visit whether young, married or with children. There is something to do for everyone. And each time I visit, I explore a new place or learn something new. I also fall in love with the island way of life a little more. Now all I need is that money tree to start growing in my backyard and I’ll be set!
By the way, I should mention the 9 hours of air travel to get to and from the island. We did a layover in San Francisco for 3 hours each time to give the kids some time to runaround and get the sillies out. This actually turned out to be time where they licked signs in the airport and all pooped their pants. The flights were – well, interesting. Though we loaded 9 hours of Curious George and Caillou videos on to an iPad, Max watched about 30 minutes before he decided that putting the tray table up and down was far more interesting. Would it behoove them to install child locks on those things? The German woman in front of us was not entertained by this and after the tenth time she turned around to give us the stink eye, I lost it. Kindly telling her: I KNOW YOU’RE TRYING TO SLEEP BUT HE’S ONLY THREE AND DOESN’T KNOW ANY BETTER SO GET OVER IT.
So the flight over there went really well.
15 of us descended on to the island, including 4 children, my in-laws and my very own mother. All of this caused me great anxiety before the trip because how exactly does one vacation with their child, mother and in-laws. How, I ask you? By waking up every morning at 5 am to go exercise for 60 to 75 minutes which garnered me the label as the “over-exerciser”. Seriously, folks, there have been days of my life when I spent THE ENTIRE DAY exercising. One hour is what I call off season mental health mode!
As for exercising, I left my bike at home so I was swimming or running every day. It was during this trip that I feel I made the complete transition from “training” to “exercising”. Training is purposeful with each session building on the one before to build you better fitness. Exercising is just doing stuff to burn calories or pass time. Each session feels just as uncomfortable as the day before – which is pretty much how all of my runs went!
I did some swimming at the pier and also enjoyed the pool at the Kona Community Aquatic Center. There’s something about watching the sunrise over Mauna Kea, rising over 14,000 feet above sea level – what an inspiring way to start the day. I did some fantastic swims – some with friends, others solo. It helps, too, that swimming there is free! I also did plenty of running. Some runs were in the dark along Alii before sunrise looking up at a sky of stars so rich while other runs were along a trail I found that involved a locked gate, dozens of feral cats and a Kapu sign.
All of us stayed in a very large house about 1000 feet above Kona. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about staying in the mountain but it only took a few days to realize that it had many positives. The driving down to the race area/Alii was much easier and quicker than staying on Alii Drive itself. Traffic on Alii can be very congested whereas we just had to sail down Palani or Henry. What made this drive extra fun was that the car rental place was out of vans so we ended up with 4 beige Crown Victorias. Yes, the same car your grandmother drives. Another nice thing about where we stayed was that it was routinely about 3-5 degrees cooler and less humid in the mountain. This also made for much better sleeping weather. The downside of staying up there was that every night, starting at 1 am, a large posse of cockadoodle-doing roosters, gobbling turkeys and/or howling dogs would breakout in a most unmelodic symphony to interrupt our sleep for the next 5 hours.
I didn’t sleep through the night for 12 days, people.
The days were filled with many beach trips. Hapuna Beach was great for body surfing, sand play and just spending time on one of the most picturesque beaches on the island. Beach 69 was suggested by a local as a place great for kids with small tide pools, gentle surf and plenty of shade (but also a $5 parking fee). Kikuau Point is a controlled access beach which makes for a smaller crowd, clean restrooms/showers and pristine sand. The surf is gently contained by a cove and at low tide the rocks even make a smaller wading pool for the children. Kahaluu Beach is a favorite we call “turtle” beach because of the shallow areas where the kids can play and watch turtles feed off the rocks. For adults, there is plenty of low key snorkeling. Magic Sands has excellent body surfing because of the rougher waters. We spent some time at the beach every day. I avoided any sunburns because of my new favorite sunscreen: Sun Bum. This stuff worked really, really well. Unfortunately, I will be cleaning it out of my pores for the next few weeks.
With Max being 3 years old this time around, we had to keep him “entertained” a bit more than 2011. In 2011, he wasn’t talking or walking, he just went along in the stroller, napped every day and was content to watch everyone else. Nowadays, he is high energy, nonstop and very, very verbal. Kid has an opinion or story about everything. We took him to the Adventure Playground in Waimea which was a large wooden structure that he could run around. There’s a nearby garden where you can hunt for snails – another activity the kids enjoyed. Higashura Park, a few miles south of Kona, was another great play structure for all ages. Lastly, there’s a nice playground by the KCAC within walking distance of the pier. My parental theory was to pre-tire the kids out the park, eat lunch and then spend the afternoon at the beach. This worked well. By 5 pm, Max was ready for dinner and then bed soon after sunset.
By far, the best part of the vacation was the guided kayak tour we took to snorkel in Kealakekua Bay. It was well worth the time and money. While the guide told us stories about Captain Cook, we sat in our kayaks only to be circled by hundreds of dolphins. As they got more comfortable with us, they swam under our kayaks, surfaced right near us and the juveniles played. We landed our kayaks to the left of the monument, did some snorkeling around the amazing coral and then returned to the launch site. We told the guide we were in a bit of a rush to get back to our kids so they let us set the pace while trailing behind us. There were 6 of us in 3 separate kayaks and when the guide gave permission it was like an unspoken start gun had been fired and we all took off. Just a few hundred yards from the launch site, the guide caught up and said I had to haul ass to catch up to you guys!
Aside from all of the adventures, there was plenty of coffee, shopping and ice cream. Maybe a few drinks too. It was relaxing yet at the same time chaotic with so many people in the house. It seemed like there were always dishes to put away, always a mess, always screaming children. Family vacations are unique and enjoyable in their own way but after 12 days I was ready to return to my own home and quiet routine. I guess that’s the sign of a good vacation – when you are so vacationed out that you want to go home!
Of course the purpose of the trip was for my husband to race at the Ironman World Championship. He spent his days before the race like many athletes: packing his Bento Box, counting out salt tabs and obsessing about small details on his bike. After a summer of being the Iron Widow, I was ready for him to get this Ironmaning thing out of his system and return to his normal, non-manorexic, beer drinking, home on the weekends spousal self. In other words, I was OVER it. And come Sunday, I was glad he would be too!
To add fun and fashion to our day of spectating, Chris’ workplace requested we wear specially designed “promotional” t-shirts for the race. I’m willing to do anything for anyone, as long as it’s on my own terms. I suggested we personalize our t-shirts. 5 dollars of pony beads later, I added my own flair with some beaded fringe. Not only did my nieces love the shirt (and request their own) but I got more than a few comments while spectating! My favorite was from Todd Byers – at mile 22 – your shirt, look at it! I know, it’s fabulous! And I can do it to your race kit for next year FOR FREE!
On race morning, a few of us came down for the swim start and bike start. The swim start is something that you cannot describe in words – you can feel the thickness of anticipation hanging heavy in the air and as soon as the cannon sounds, it’s like a big release of emotions and energy that you can see with every arm stroke in the bay. It’s impressive, nerve-wracking and inspiring. The bike out and back on Kuakini is fast and packed. Everyone feels good in the first 10 miles! After the bike, we headed back up to the mountain for some rest before watching the run. My idea of “rest” was taking my brother in law on a run through a hilly mountainside shantytown. He loved it and then cursed me for the next few days: what did you do to me on that run?
Back down to the race, it was time for the run! The run in Kona is where it all happens. We situated ourselves on Hualalai around mile 1 or mile 10. Everyone looks great going down the hill – many smiles and fast strides. When Mirinda passed, I told my father in law there goes the winner. He asked how I knew that and I said because of her stride. Watching her run was like looking at a work of art. A thing of beauty and speed! Next, we walked up to the Queen K to offer some encouragement and observe the race unfolding. New this year, they closed off the road for spectators from mile 13 to 22. I can’t help but think they made a lonely part of the race even lonelier! More than ever, the run became a mental game for many competitors.
This year I had two athletes in Kona: Jennifer and Amanda. Jennifer, having been to Kona twice before, knew how the race would unfold and each time I saw her she had that gritty look of focused race face that she gets when she’s putting her mind to something. She had her goal and was going after it. I got one smile from her at mile 1. After that, she was all business. Amanda was new to Kona this year. Her smile stuck with her well into the late miles of the run when I watched her managing the conditions like a champ and getting the work done. At the end of the day, Jennifer went 10:45 and Amanda went 10:16 – strong performances that they both will flourish from for next year.
My husband was also on his third trip to Kona. He put in just enough hard work to reclaim the Ironman record in the household. But let me tell you – there’s only 18 minutes between his and my personal best record. One day, I will reclaim the record. Husband, be warned! I admire how Chris got up before 5 am every day, worked out through most of his lunch hours and had only one day a week where he would take time away from Max in the evening to get a workout done. As the race got closer, he did his best to be gone as little as possible on weekends. But what I really respect about Chris is his ability to maintain perspective with his it’s just a race attitude. When he approached me at mile 22, I knew he wasn’t having a great day. He had a decent day but like with many athletes out there, the run in Kona can be very unforgiving. He stopped running, walked across the lane of runners and came up to me, casually, like we were just in the middle of the street – talking – NOT in a race.
How’s it going?
I told him I was doing fine and asked how he was doing. He said he bonked at mile 12 but would make it through the day.
So where is everyone?
At the finish line. Waiting for YOU.
How are they doing?
They’re waiting for you. Get going so you can see them.
How did you get out here?
Don’t worry about it – JUST GET TO THE FINISH LINE!
He ended up finishing just over 10 hours and once he crossed the finish line that was the last he spoke of the race. He spent the rest of the time on the island planning our dinners and drinking beer.
As for myself, before I left I wondered how I would feel about watching the race. Would I regret that I wasn’t racing? Would it fire me up to want to get there again? Honestly, neither was the case. I went to Hawaii and I watched a race. It didn’t motivate me to try to qualify or make me sad that I wasn’t racing. I know the level of work and sacrifice it takes to get there and race well there. And quite honestly, now being on the “other” side since Vegas, I can’t say I miss that level of commitment. When you’re in the thick of it, you can’t see any other way and you capitalize on each day’s momentum to stay focused on your goals, to give up coffee or go to bed before 9 pm. When you allow yourself to slide over to the other side, where people “exercise” and drink beer and eat chocolate at breakfast, you realize that life is just as good, it’s just different. That’s not to say that whatever I choose to focus on next that I won’t focus on it with the same intensity, drive and passion that I’ve given goals before. It’s just to say that part of making your way through the life cycle of being an athlete – season to season – is to give yourself permission to let your guard down and be ok with yourself for letting go. This “letting go” is something I feel has allowed me to rise up to focus at the necessary level, year after year, when the time is right.
The downfall of many competitive athletes is not letting go a little bit each year. They latch on too early with too much intensity in their commitment, their demands and their lifestyle. They restrict too early, they take on too much too soon. I can go on and on about what it means to take an “off” season but mostly it should just be a time of being good to yourself. This doesn’t have to involve cleanses or yoga. Being good to yourself might mean sleeping in, indoor rock climbing instead of swimming or reconnecting with friends. Being good to yourself means accepting that it’s ok, you’re ok if you gain weight, lose fitness or whatever else happens in the off season that most are too scared to find out about! Us athletes can be overachieving, Type A, hard charging perfectionists – hey, it takes one to know one! But just be sure to take the time to be kind and good to yourself or you risk driving yourself and your body into the ground before you get a chance to reach your greatness. Give yourself time to indulge in life on the other side so that when it’s May and you really need to sacrifice for your upcoming big race, you have the mental energy and emotional intensity to do so!
Now, we’re back at home. My husband has plowed his way through most of a 6 pack of Founder’s All Day IPA in under 2 days. World championship level effort there! I ate chocolate chips at lunch time – you know why? BECAUSE I LIKE THEM. When the time is right, we’ll eat kale and set up our trainers but for now, I’m going to coast in off season mode for a little longer and watch my tan fade.
Hey, there could be worse ways to spend November!