Saturday, October 26, 2013

EOA Conference

This past week, I participated in an online conference called Evolution of an Athlete.

Now in its sixth year, EOA is a unique five day online conference with two speakers per day speaking for up to 90 minutes.    This year, the speakers ranged from coaches to athletes, scientists to professors.  The conference was designed for individual and team coaches at both the developmental and elite level. 

I look forward to listening in next year and highly recommend this to any coach or athlete.  Coaches, to learn more about the “softer” skills of coaching and athletes to learn more about the process and belief systems behind how you’re being coached.  It wasn’t cheap but it was well worth the time (and, you can still purchase the conference and listen to all of the presentations). 

I thought I would pass along some of my favorite takeaway points from some of my favorite presentations.  Enjoy!

Tim Noakes:  Brain Regulation & Exercise Performance
  • The brain will only allow you to exercise as fast as you’ll be safe exercising
  • Many top athletes speed up at the end of the race indicating control by intent not by limitation (you always have a reserve).
  • If you think you can, you can.
  • Once you say “I don’t think I can”, your brain must work within this constraint.
  • Franz Stampfl:  Training is principally an action of faith.  The athlete must believe that through training he will become fitter and stronger.  He must believe that through training his performance will improve and continue to improve indefinitely as long as he continues to train to progressively stiffer standards.  The greatest hurdle is the mental barrier.
  • Herb Elliot: To run a world record, you have to have the absolute arrogance to think you can run a mile faster than anyone who’s ever lived; then you have to have the absolute humility to actually do it.
  • Fatigue is the excuse we use to justify our lack of will.
  • Depending on your perception of yourself, you are likely to exaggerate or limit what you’re feeling.  You make a decision; you either become more or less tired.  Your brain produces symptoms of fatigue in a way that is unique to you.
  • Once you ask, “I don’t know if I can do it,” you justify quitting, the brain will then make you more tired & you’re more likely to report you were “exhausted” after the race.
  • When the brain says “we can’t do it anymore,” you don’t have to believe you can.  The best athletes never ask the question, instead they say, “No, I’m going to win this race”, the brain responds accordingly.
  • Your real contribution to an athlete, as a coach, is what you do to their mind. 
Craig Duncan:  Keeping the Message Simple
  • We need to present our message, as coaches and scientists, in a way that makes sense to others.
  • The ultimate goal is to give information in a way that makes athletes perform better.
  • Knowledge isn’t important if you can’t communicate it. 
  • Begin with an athlete with the end point in mind. 
David Martin: Physiological Manifestations of Belief Effects in Sports
  • All of the data available to us can make us feel very empowered but we, as coaches, can start to feel like we are programming a robot.
  • Even if we know the key variables that predict performance, success is not as simple as talent identifying the right athlete.
  • Sport is emotional, life is always happening – this gets in the way of models that predict performance.
  • When athletes succeed, it’s not because of technology or training, often it has to do with the emotional context and belief they have in themselves.
  • Coaches should maintain hope and instill belief in their athletes.
  • Eddie Robinson:  Leadership, like coaching, is fighting for the hearts and souls of the men and getting them to believe in you.
  • Good coaches talk about what they do to excel at leadership and keep hope alive even when athletes are struggling (as opposed to writing about their methods or workouts).
  • Placebo effect in sports is actually a belief effect; in sport if you strongly believe something will work, it probably will.
  • When you’re familiar with an active ingredient and take it – the athletes tends to believe more and feel a performance benefit from it.
  • Expectations influence sensations that you feel (ie., pain relief, caffeine).
  • A great coach is a great leader and creates an environment where athletes have purpose and believe.
Grant Jenkins:  Turning Worriers Into Warriors: Getting Good Trainers to Become Good Competitors
  • Coaching is more than sets, workouts, reps; it’s about the soft skills of coaching & getting athletes to connect to us.
  • A good “elite” competitor finds a way to win - always. 
  • A good “developmental” competitor does not give up, focuses on the process and implements new strategies for each new situation they face.
  • A good trainer does what coach asks of them in a manner the coach expects it to be done.
  • Good trainer + good competitor = they compete hard, they do as they’re asked and get results too.
  • Athletes may train well but not compete well due to mindset (see Carol Dweck’s book); some have been told they’re intelligent or talented and when in competition they might tank, find excuses or develop “injuries” to avoid competing so they are not exposed and can protect their “identity” as a talented/intelligent person.
  • Coaches should praise athletes for what they are actually doing – not innate traits or skills (ie., not being fast or talented).
  • If someone creates an identity that they are a competitor, they will do what’s necessary to protect that identity.
  • As a coach, learn to change threats into challenges for athletes.  Instead of looking at a competition or test set as a test of who you are, view it as an assessment of where you are.
  • If you can change the perception of an athlete, you can change the result.
  • It’s the mind that is the athlete, not just the body.
Paddy Upton:  Leadership Essentials for the Progressive Coach
  • Athletes prefer less instruction and more collaboration, focus more on the athlete personally than their game/sport.
  • Coaches give too much instruction; too much focus on the visible/skills/strategies/tactics.
  • Focus on an athlete’s inner experience and build from that rather than just instructing them.
  • People management will take performance to the next level, NOT technology.
  • Traditional coaching models create non-thinking athletes.
  • Coach needs to support athletes to think; ask good questions, give quality feedback, add input as only the last option (don’t decide for them).
  • The more an athlete becomes secure about who they are as a person separate from the sport, they more they are able to let go of the need to do well; the more they can free up and express themselves on the field unattached from the results.
  • Create intentional relationships with athletes: do your job to serve athletes to be the best they can be (as athletes and people).
Alex Hutchinson:  The New Recovery: Protocols and Periodization
  • Prevention works better than cure: doing proper warm up is more effective than post-workout massage, ice bath, compression.
  • Prevention can also simply be better training design (gradually increasing intensity, load, duration).
  • Ice bath best done for 10-15 minutes at 10-15 degrees Celsius.
  • Contrast baths are not effective.
  • Ice bath “belief effect”: if your core body temperature drops and you believe the ice bath will help, more likely to perform better next day. 
  • Massage best done immediately after workout for best recovery of strength, less inflammation.
  • Massage does not flush out lactate or bring in fresh blood (that’s not how it works).
  • Recovery aims to speed up the repair process, lessen inflammation.
  • Recovery short-term determines your adaptation long-term.  Still unanswered: do we want to interfere with this recovery process?
  • If you train hard for 60 minutes and do 30 minutes of “recovery” to remove some of the stress resulting from training, is this interfering with the adaptation?  Some research says YES.
  • Periodize your recovery like your training.
  • During base when goal is adaptation, use proper sleep/nutrition but scale back recovery modalities (don’t use after every workout).
  • During competition when goal is performance, increase use of ice, compression, massage in addition to proper sleep/nutrition.
  • Aim for the minimum effective dose of recovery that enables you to achieve your goals in the next training session (more recovery is not always better).
David Hodge: Harden Up Your Soft Skills
  • No rapport with athlete = no influence = no change.
  • Goal is to get change from an athlete in a positive manner.
  • Soft skills are widely underemphasized by very important.
  • Most coaches know technical, tactical, mental, physical side of coaching very well but soft skills allow coach to take knowledge of those 4 and be a better coach to an athlete.
  • Soft skill is a personal attribute that allows someone to interact effectively with athletes.
  • Many new coaches try to take data/research and just apply it to an athlete; this doesn’t work.
  • Observing/reading/hearing information does not equal experience.
  • The goal for a coach should be high performance, not just high knowledge.
  • You need to know what to do with the knowledge and when to use it.
  • Coaching is not just about knowledge, it’s about building relationships. 
  • Once you have a strong relationship, you can maximize strong results.
  • Coaches work with people; look at them as people first and then deal with them as athletes.
  • Reflect on your coaching to learn more about your philosophy and how you work with athletes.
  • If you have to repeat yourself often as a coach, you’re teaching it but they’re not learning it. 
  • Coaches need to develop committed and compelled athletes (but not cross the line into obsessed athletes).
  • A sign of experience is admitting you’re wrong or saying I don’t know (this allows others around you to do the same).
  • Better athletes come to coaches for more information.
  • Often there will be a conflict between data and what you’ve observed – data isn’t everything, soft skills help you see athletes as unique.
  • Get to know an athlete (their birthday, personal life, favorite things, interested, etc). 
  • Communicate with athletes in a way that they prefer not how you prefer.
Good coaches know that good coaching is more than just understanding the science, skill and physiology of your sport.  You can find countless courses, webinars or books on how to write workouts or how to design a training plan.  But what about the other side of coaching?  The one that realizes that coaching is first and foremost about the athlete?  This conference was a refreshing education on the importance of that other side - the art of combining psychology, communication, motivation within the context of what you know technically/scientifically and what the athlete is trying to achieve in a way that resonates with the athlete so that both coach and athlete can achieve results. 

Looking forward to “attending” next year!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Vacation RR

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!

Sunday, October 06, 2013

It's Kona Time

While everyone has been training or tapering for their late season races, I’ve been training for my off season A priority events:

Oktoberfest and Kona spectating

Both require serious conditioning, freakish endurance, laser-like focus and tolerance – for alcohol, sun and long periods of time either standing or shouting zicke zacke zicke zacke hoi hoi hoi OR you’re almost there (I challenge you to say either of those 6 times with a straight face)! 

I’ve assessed my data, I’ve looked at my performance management chart and all things are trending towards peak performances for the next two weekends!


Yes, folks, I am no longer at race weight and I have lost tons of fitness.  Probably due to the “training” I’ve done which has required a fair amount of indulgence and my new favorite workout, the task of deciding what sort of junk food should I have today? 

Feel free to send me a page from your Food Fantasy Log and I’ll make or eat your dreams come true.

I’d tell you how much fun it is to be surrounded by a few people tapering for Kona but I don’t want to spoil it should you ever get to experience it yourself!  Trust me, it’s a special kind of craycray!  In the past 2 weeks, my husband has done two things proving his taper is right on track.  First, he made the bed. This is one of the marital “discussions” that will go round and round until death do us part.  In his defense, he’s right – what is the point of making the bed if only you’re going to get back into it 16 hours later?  In my defense, the day has not begun until the bed is made!  Turns out tapering makes my husband finally see my logic or get desperate enough to fill his time with anything now that he’s doing less training. 

It gets better.  The other night we went to the World of Beer to get some sampler paddles.

Did you just get drunk off of 14 ounces of beer?

He did.

We depart in a few days.  And by “we” I mean: 4 children and 11 adults.  Do the math, folks, that’s 15 people.  Just when you start to get jealous of the 11 days I’ll spend in paradise, I want to add this: most of the 15 people are my in-laws. 

I’m packing fins in case I need to swim to another island.

Our last trip to Hawaii was back in 2011.  I was on the other side – competing.  With my job as tapering, resting and doing as little as possible, I was completely hands off with everything – cooking, cleaning and watching my child.  This started the moment we stepped into the airport and realized I had left behind my suitcase.  The one with ALL OF MY RACE GEAR.  Leave it to my husband to drive 30 minutes back to the ‘burbs, grab said suitcase from the lawn and still make it to our flight on time.  We had our then 15-month old child whom Chris walked up and down the aisles of 9 hours worth of flights.  Chris has reminded me of this many, many times and I’m expecting that the demands might get a little outlandish. Like the time he crashed at a criterium and demanded sponge baths for a week.  The point is if you see me walking up and down the aisle of the plane from San Francisco to Kona, I’m either entertaining my child or getting more peanuts for my husband. 

I wanted to pass along some thoughts on the race in Kona.  Hopefully if you’re racing now (or in the future!) you’ll find something to help make your day go by a little better.  Here goes!
The days leading up to the race are an awesome display of everything triathlon – companies are out in full force at the expo and along Alii Drive.  Every morning there will be a pre-race swim at “the pier” – the small beach by the King K hotel.  There will be a two hour window for gear check in but you can swim at your own risk any time of the day.  Don’t leave your stuff unattended though.  The swim will make you rethink how you survive staring at a black line all year in your indoor pool.  You’ll encounter coral with colorful fishes before a drop off where you can see dolphins or turtles. 

One of my favorite pre-race workouts is to park across from the Energy Lab (there’s a street off of the Queen K by an orchard), do my bike along the wide shoulder of the Queen K and then run a bit in the Energy Lab.  There’s no bikes or cars allowed in there.  Run in and take a look at the incline leading out with the volcano rising boldly in the background – it’s really an impressive sight. 

Take the time to drive the courses.  Rush hour traffic is a real thing in Kona so try to get out after the morning rush but get back before the afternoon rush starts.  The drive to Hawi will allow you to see the entire bike course as it rolls through a few different landscapes.  If you’re looking for a great place to shop or eat along the way, turn off at Waikaloa.  You’ll also be nearby one of the most beautiful beaches in the area: Hapuna Beach.  In Hawi, there’s a small coffee/ice cream shop.  If you’re ambitious and can’t resist sightseeing, head to the where the road (literally) ends after Hawi and hike into Polulu Valley.  It’s not long but it involves some stairs.  You’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of Waipaio Valley on the other side of the island.

Race week can be a lot of time on your feet walking back and forth to the pier, expo, registration, etc.  There is very limited parking close to everything you need to do.  The best place to park is by the grocery stores up Palani or behind Lava Java.  Still, expect to do a lot of walking.  Wear your walking shoes and don’t forget sunscreen and hydration even on these “little” walks to get things done.  The walking will add up.

Even with all of the walking, try to avoid too much time in the heat – acclimation should have been done before you left!  When you get to Kona, it’s time to stay inside and store rest.  Stay out of the sun and don’t make the mistake of trying to acclimate by living without the air conditioning or training during the hottest part of the day in Kona.  All that will do is leave you depleted and tired on race morning. 

As far as what to bring, very much like Disney World: half the clothes, twice the money.  Island life isn’t cheap.  Expect to pay over $3 for a basic cup of coffee.  And remember too that you’re on island time.  Which is about 10 time zones slower than Chicago time.  Relax.  The beauty of an island is that no one is in a hurry.  You shouldn’t be either.  Hawaiian culture has a rich history and connection to the natural world.  It’s something that you can truly feel crackling through the pavement when you’re there.  Soak it all in along with the spirit of Aloha and be respectful of it.  Remember that you are a guest in this truly magical place!

Race morning will arrive before you know it.  For some of you, it’s been a year or maybe lifetime working for this moment.  It’s like the kid on Christmas morning feeling: today I get to race an Ironman!  You’ll get dropped off a little before Basil’s (restaurant) before the road will be closed down.  You’ll have to walk behind the King K (which is about a 5 minute walk) to drop off your special needs bags.  You’ll see a lot of volunteers with number stamps to stamp your race numbers on to your body.  Next, you’ll get weighed.  Do yourself a favor – cover your ears and close your eyes.  You don’t need to know the consequence of tapering, carbo-loading and heat edema! 

Then, you’ll head to the pier by walking on the other side of the King K.  It will be busy but the crowd moves efficiently.  The sky will be dark (sunrise around 6:15 am, sunset around 6:15 pm, all year round) but quickly brightens with the sunrise.  Transition will be quiet and serious compared to other races.  Don’t forget the top notch pro watching (or drooling).  If you don’t like the hubbub in transition, a great place to relax while waiting is behind the King K restaurant.  There’s an outdoor hallway where you can sit away from the crowd and bonus that it’s right near an indoor bathroom.  Bring headphones and relax.

Expect to be called into the water early and tread for about 15-20 minutes.  Get suited up and in line earlier than you think you need to be there.  You will want the best shot at a position.  I’ve started in three places: far right along the buoys, far left, middle/front.  The worst?  Far right.  Everyone is swimming towards the buoys and the guys on surfboards will spend the entire race yelling at you to get off the buoys.  It was nervewracking.  The best?  Far left – I might have swum a little further but the “ease” of the swim was worth it.  In 2011, I chose the middle, front and it was chaotic but I was prepared for it.  In any case, mentally prepare for annoying and aggressive full body contact the entire time!  You can waste a lot of emotional and mental energy on this swim.  Stay relaxed and use the least amount of energy possible.  About one minute prior to the cannon, you will notice “the creep” – or the tendency for the entire race to start creeping forward beyond the starting point.  It is what it is, the race has changed, folks!  Once the cannon sounds, keep moving forward!  You swim out to a boat, swim a short distance beyond it and make the return swim to shore.  The way out will be faster than the way back.  Each year, the difference for me was about 5 minutes (slower on the return).

You’ll run up a set of stairs upon exit and through a series of hoses with freshwater.  Do take the time to rinse the saltwater off – it’s very chafing.  The changing tents are staffed with plenty of volunteers willing to help.  Direct them – politely!  Don’t make the mistake of relying on the race for sunscreen – pack your own and apply it liberally.  Any skin you can keep covered will also pay off huge later on in the day. 

The bike starts out by climbing the short (but relatively steep) Palani Hill before making a right turn at the “hot corner” on to smooth and fast Kuakini.  There will be tons of spectators.  But beware getting caught up in the rush of the race, spectators and pace.  The pace and energy will be frenetic.  These days, athletes will “gun” the first 40K to get into a faster “group” out on the Queen K.  Unless you plan on drafting, this isn’t a great strategy.  Like in any other Ironman, take the time to warm up into the race and let people pass.  Chances are you will pass them in the last 10K of the marathon. 

After Kuakini, you finish the short climb up Palani before making a left turn on to the Queen K.  This is where the work begins.  Settle down into aero and get ready for quite the ride.  The Queen K will roll out long, black and hot in front of you.  To your left, you will see the beautiful blue of the far off ocean.  To the right, lava in thick rolls with occasional wheat-colored tufts of grasses. 

The terrain itself is not difficult – think a series of long, gradual inclines or declines, you’ll stay aero and shift just a few gears.  The difficulty is that for all of the work you put into this course, you might not get any reward back.  In other words, just because you rode 20 miles into headwind, doesn’t mean you’ll turn around and get tailwind. The winds shift constantly – in speed and direction.  In my experience, I’ve had tailwind for the first 20 – 40 miles.  The road quality is smooth and with tailwind, the course can be fast.  Power is useful but you also need to account for the “work” your body is doing internally to stay cool.  A conservative strategy on the bike pays off in Kona because of this.   

You’ll ride past a few landmarks: the airport, Waikaloa and then you’’ll make a left turn at the sign for Kawaihae.  Here will begin a series of smaller but steeper hills before you make the gradual 9 mile climb towards Hawi.  It’s subtle at first but once you see the windmills on your left, you’re smack in it and probably noticed a bit of wind too.  As in, wind that is literally bending the plants over!  I remember climbing 9 mph at times, with the feeling of getting nowhere.  You’ll see an increase in power too.  Don’t obsess about it, just move forward relaxed but strong.  You’ll regain some of the time coming back down.  Stay mentally relaxed and stay aero when possible. 

The turnaround is just beyond Hawi at mile 60 of the bike.  The volunteers are plentiful.  I’ve always stopped to get my bag and refill bottles.  It might be wise to reapply sunscreen.  The way down from Hawi is usually quick with tailwind unless the crosswinds start blowing.  In that case it might be very sketchy.  To prepare, as you climb Hawi, see what athletes are doing on the way day.  Are they sitting up holding on for dear life?  Coasting?  This will give you a clue as to what the wind is doing. 

In 2011, I had a 30 minute segment where I did very little pedaling and held about 90 watts.  Tailwind!  As you get back towards Kawaihae you’ll have those small hills to climb before you make the right turn back on to the Queen K.  This is a pivotal mental moment.  If you spent yourself heading up to Hawi, you will feel like the Queen K spreads out forever back to Kona.  If you doled out your mental energy wisely, you will be ready to stay strong and connect to the challenge ahead.

In my times at the race, this part from Kawaihae back to Waikaloa and then Waikaloa to the airport can bring some of the most challenging times of the day.  The winds will constantly shift.  You will sail at 20+mph with crosswind only to emerge 5 miles later pushing 15 mph into the headwind.  You might encounter rain.  Not only that but you just noticed it’s really, really getting hot. You’re staying wet by pouring water on your body and drinking adequately but the air you’re breathing in is warm.  Your body is working harder to keep any exposed skin cooler and if you didn’t get covered up or sunscreened, chances are your nutrition plan is sitting in your stomach not getting digested.  Mistakes multiply quickly in Kona.  Cover up, sunscreen, stay cool and pace yourself. 

Around miles 80-90 you will quit the sport, divorce your triathlon friends and have the overwhelming urge to ride into the ocean.  You will denounce your fuel plan and probably spit half of it out.  You will think to yourself, very honestly, I will be out here forever.  Or at least until tomorrow.  And then, you will see the palm trees leading up towards the airport.  It’s only 10 miles away!  You’ll find newfound skills in math when you start calculating how long that will take at your current pace.  You’ll see the boats, Makala, the Target and before you know it you’ll be dismounting as someone wheels your bike into transition.

And, then, it will hit you.  I have to run HOW FAR on these legs?  Don’t think about it.  Just run to get your bag and into the changing tent.  By the way, this is a somewhat long run around transition.

There will be an aid station right outside of the run start.   Use it.  Because the next one isn’t for another 1 ½ miles!  The run starts along Alii Drive.  This is perhaps the best part of the race.  It is lined with spectators, beautiful, along the ocean and you feel pretty good. You’re in Hawaii, doing an Ironman!  How could anything possibly go wrong out there!  It’s 5 miles out and back on the rolling terrain of Alii.  At the little blue church, you’ll make the turnaround.  There will be aid stations every mile laid out in the same pattern.  Pay attention to it so you know what to grab and when.  The volunteers are amazing – they will say inspirational things to you in the Hawaiian language.  Listen to them. 

After Alii, you make a right turn on to Palani and up a fairly steep and at this point long climb.  Some will walk.  Others will slowly chug.  Whatever gets you up the hill using the least amount of energy is what you should do.  This hill is lined with spectators and the Germans usually hang out on the corner at Palani and the Queen K with a couch and some fun techno music. 

Then, you’re out on the Queen K.  There are nearly 2000 other runners with you but you can feel very alone out there.  Unlike other Ironmans, there isn’t much walking nor much chit chat.  Occasionally someone will puke or poop.  You’ll pass a lot of people if you can just move forward at anything under an 8:15 mile.  It’s hot and people are tired.  By the time you get to this point in the day, you’ve been through a lot physically and emotionally.  Most people spend their emotional energy too early and don’t have any left for when you really need it – the second half of the run.  Which you just hit soon after getting on to the Queen K.

Break it up in chunks you can manage.  2 mile to the Kona Mountain Coffee Shop.  2 miles to the Energy Lab.  3 miles inside of it.  And once you hit the exit, it’s only about a 10K to go.  The terrain is rolling and will appear more uphill to you than it really is.  You might be lucky and cloud cover just rolled in or the sun might be baking in the sky.  Use the aid stations like your race depends on it.  Employ any cooling strategy necessary and take it mile to mile.  On the Queen K, expect to encounter very few spectators but many mental demons.  Stay in the moment, focus on what’s important now and gut the last few miles out.  Above all, don’t forget to enjoy them.  I always had the moment of wow, this is really sad, there’s only 4 miles left to my Ironman.  You never know when you’ll get the opportunity to do those last few miles again in Hawaii. 

The energy lab is a buzzing place.  This is the point in the race where some breakthrough and others breakdown.  If you can mentally lock in to the task at hand without straying too far from  yourself, you’ll get through it like any other segment of the race.  You’ll run a slight downhill into the lab, make a short out and back at the end of the road.  And here, at mile 18, you’ll encounter your special needs bag.  Coming back out of the lab, you’ll notice the incline looks like a mountain and you’ll do anything it takes to run by the DJ booth just to see what your spectators typed in when your chip is read. 

Finally, the right turn on to the Queen K.  The crowds of athletes are thinning out and you can see Kona ahead of you in the distance.  These are the toughest, longest miles.  22, 23, 24 – they click off slowly along the Queen K.  Get gritty, dig deep and stay tough.  See how many people you can pass.  Don’t worry about your pace, chances are it’s dropped off a bit, that’s normal just keep digging to get what’s left out of your legs.  At some point, you’ll see Makala (almost there), Palani (run down it – watch the quads!) and take a left on to Kuakini.  This part is sneaky – it’s not long but not short either.  Turn right on to Hualalai and take note because your Ironman adventure is nearly over.

When you are finally on Alii Drive, enjoy the experience.  The crowd will be lined thick and going wild.  You’ll see the finish and once you run under the big tree, this is your moment – get across the line!  You did it.

Overall, this is not a difficult course.  The conditions are challenging but what makes this race difficult is two things: the heat and the fact that it’s Kona. 

For the heat, use any cooling technique possible.  Apply sunscreen before the race and in both transitions.  Consider reapplying at the bike halfway point.  Try to keep as much skin covered as possible (arms, back).  Stay wet to stay cool on the bike and run.  On the run, use ice in your hat, shorts, top, hands and on your neck. 

For the head, ego management is critical for staying focused on what you need to do to have a successful race.  Put your blinders on, head down and race yourself.  Remember that many of the athletes arrive in Kona tired –they’ve already done an Ironman and chances are they’ve panic trained their way into too much training or fatigue to prepare for the world championship.  When you’re tired you make many stupid, emotionally charged decisions.  Don’t follow.  Use your head.  Manage it but use it – connect to the course and focus on the task at hand.  If you’re struggling, don’t get caught up in the downward spiral.  Keep asking yourself what you can do to keep moving forward – do you need to drink more, eat more, slow down?  Let go of the outcome.  Whether you finish in 10:30, 11:30 or 12:30, no one cares, you got to Kona and they think you’re a rockstar for that.  Go and have your best day no matter what time you finish.  Expect to problem solve many times on race day.  Check in with yourself constantly by asking what’s important now?  And remember, anything you do to save a few minutes on the bike will likely add many minutes on the run.  Kona is a race that rewards patience and smarts: stay on top of hydration, fueling and expect to problem solve many times throughout the day.

After the race, it’s a little chaotic in the finish area so be sure to set a specific place to meet your family.  Give your family a likely, best and worst case scenario as far as your splits so they know when to look for you.  Enjoy a post-race massage and get your picture taken on the stands they have.  Then, get the heck out of there.  Shower yourself, find some food and get back out to watch the rest of the finishers.

The next day?  Eat a cinnamon bun at Lava Java (you’ve been eyeing it all week, go for it!).  Go buy all of your pictures.  Get some finisher’s gear.  And finally – enjoy yourself.  Mai Tais, macademia nights, sightseeing – the work is done, it’s time to celebrate!  Venture beyond Kailua-Kona.  There is so much more to enjoy on the island!  And by all means, mind the “3 week zone” after Ironman.  That would be 3 weeks where you make NO major decisions in your life, including:

1 – no haircuts
2 – no puppies
3 – no marriage
4 – no signing up for another Ironman

I, myself, got caught by #2.  GUILTY.

To all racing, good luck and enjoy every minute of it!  For those spectating, in the years past, someone has attached Twinkies to a piece of cardboard that they’ve posted on a street sign around mile 22 on the Queen K.  Remember, there are no aid stations for spectators!  Every damn one of those Twinkies was taken…