It was like 2011 deja vu all over again, only this time without the cute bunny rabbit or Bill (though he did run past me in a fluffy santa hat), and with more smiles and a happier ending. I swore off the Honolulu Marathon in 2011 (that worked well) after hobbling back from Hawaii Kai with debilitating calf cramps that led to an achy achilles and no running for almost 6 weeks. This year the goal was simple: run for a PR (<3:41) or blow up trying (check!), but at all costs, NO INJURIES!! It is one thing to miss a goal, and another thing entirely to miss a goal then limp away with an injury that takes you away from something you love, for weeks or months on end. So this year, when the twinges started in my calves at mile 8, I took a deep breath, let the thoughts of a PR go, and told myself to run smart and get to the finish line safely.
The start was brilliant as always, fireworks and friends and fun fast cool dark easy miles. I love the downtown Christmas lights, the excitement of the beginning of a marathon, and the possibility of a great day to come. The first 8 miles felt effortless, smooth, and I was so optimistic. When the twinges started I acknowledged them but stayed positive. I needed to stay on pace until at least mile 14, since Miki was waiting (and had to get to Kailua to swim), and I told her I’d see her between 6:55-7am. Showed up at 6:57, said hi, and tried not to cramp for the picture. While these calf cramps are definitely a physical phenomenon, they are also totally triggered by exciting things happening in my brain, like seeing friends. At the half marathon a few weeks ago I saw Brenda at the fountain on the home stretch, got so happy (yay!), and immediately both calves cramped and stopped me in my tracks. And on Sunday, even the thought that Miki was approaching (or I was approaching Miki) made my calves start twitching. If I really focused and tried not to get overly excited by the very thought of seeing friends (realistically, nearly impossible for me), I could get through the brief 2.5-second visit cramp-free.
Reached Hawaii Kai still full of hope, especially after seeing Big Lou (a self-proclaimed oxymoron) cheering on his bike at the beginning of the loop. Interestingly I did not cramp seeing Lou, even though his appearance was obviously incredibly exciting. Good thing too, since he took a video, of what would become my last good mile (dramatic foreshadowing). After Annamarie’s house and my awesome sign (thank you!!), Jules and Barb saved the day as they so often do with a couple emergency salt tabs which Barb RAN to me after I requested them and then proceeded to run on by (who does that?) Thanks you two! My e21 stash was disintegrating from all the water and sweat, so I was oh so thankful!
I reached mile 17-ish near the Oahu Club and knew if there was any hope of getting to the finish line in one piece I needed to put my head down and focus. This was sad since one of my favorite parts of running is being engaged with the race going on around me. Watching the race and seeing friends gives me energy (and apparently, cramps). But focus I did! I slowed to a pace that allowed me to run without cramping, and when I did cramp, I stopped, stretched, and walked it out. Two years ago I tried to run through the cramps, making things worse and eventually leading to incredible pain from repeatedly landing on a wickedly contorted foot (when my calves cramp my feet take on a life of their own and go in crazy directions!), and no running. Arrived at the pink boca bikini brigade at mile 22, hugged them and begged them to let me stay and hang out (denied!), then moved slowly on to the gas station and apologized to Doom for being late. From there it was run/cramp/walk/jog/repeat my way towards the finish. Doom kept me laughing (because really, what else could I do at this point?) and in high spirits, and I shared the ridiculous agony of Diamond Head with Tammy until she took off down the hill. Arrived at the last aid station (mile-almost-26), asked the gatorade kids if I could get a ride to the finish line (denied again!!), then crossed the line in 4:12, relieved to be done, pain-free, and excited to find my friends and hear about their days.
What is remarkable to me is just how much harder this course is for me on a normal day, than your average marathon, on a bad day. Last year I ran Boston in a record heatwave 15+ minutes faster, and CIM in freezing torrential pineapple express downpours, 20+ minutes faster. Boston and CIM have tons more hills, and both 2012 races presented arguably epic conditions. I ran both races much faster, with less fitness, and with way less thoughtful training than Sunday. Therefore my only possible conclusions are that the HM difficulty is all in my head (probably), it’s my brain that’s cramping (possibly), or the Honolulu Marathon hates me (obviously).
The irony is that my marathon PR is still on this course. Despite our troubles, I don’t hate it, and I’m not giving up on it. I believe this is a relationship that can absolutely be turned around. All I need to do is stop cramping :)
Fortunately, Stefan taught me to take joy in the success of my friends. Watching Cheryl and Jade evolve into happy, healthy, confident runners over the past year and then exceed their expectations on the day made Sunday exceptional. Seeing Jane complete the marathon, immediately jump in the ocean and swim to the windsock, then show up full of energy the very next morning for a sunrise swim workout in her 70th year is inspiring. And special shout outs absolutely must be made to Franzy for running an amazing PRBQOMG 3:20, to Lectie for a 3:16 (!!) PR good enough for 20th female overall, to Deb for a beautifully paced 7-minute PR, to Tanya for the most consistently fast marathon finish time I’ve ever seen, and to Rachel for making the best of a hard day by pacing a friend to a PR and the Kamaaina win. Thank you friends, thank you coach, and I love you Honolulu Marathon!! See you next time :)
My 2013 New Year’s resolution was to learn Japanese. Now it’s November, and relying solely on my half-Japanese intuition hasn’t gotten me very far. Everything I can say or read in Japanese is related to food, which did me a lot of good on my 5-hour journey between Osaka and Obama involving 3 trains, one bus, and this map.
Thankfully, I play a mean matching game (that kanji looks like an ice cube tray, I must be in Umeda), and eventually made it to lovely Obama City on the sparkling Sea of Japan, where they adore our President almost as much as Hawaii does.
But I came for more than the hula, delicious fresh saba (mackerel) and super pointy hashi (chopsticks, to get under those tiny fish bones!) My trip was the first site visit in a 5-year project with the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, investigating the interdependencies between water, food, and energy. It’s an international project, 50+ scientists, 5 countries, lots of big questions, even more personality types (I’m definitely only half Japanese), and very ambitious goals.
This field visit was all about the project’s central natural resource: water. The Obama community is intricately tied to its groundwater resources, for drinking, farming, and melting snow in the winter (grateful I was too early for a live demonstration). And at one point, vibrant fisheries. Today groundwater levels are diminishing, and so are the fish. These connections, and policy recommendations to restore them, is one focus of our work.
There were a lot of important scientific meetings and presentations (something something mizu something something denki something something sashimi), but I learned the most by observing and exploring. We visited several public water spigots, where water flowed freely to a community who has never paid for water. Culturally, water is a part of their identity, not a commodity to be bought and sold. Economically, it is not hard to explain the diminishing fish stocks and the compromised quality of their groundwater wells. And luckily, the Obama city government is an eager and active participant in our project. I’m optimistic about finding solutions.
Colorful lights used to catch squid (ika! see, i speak food) at night.
Caught the sunrise every morning running this coastline (except the last morning where I was lost somewhere in the rice paddies in the freezing rain, saved only by hot coffee served out of delightful Japanese vending machines that show up everywhere, even in the middle of nowhere).
Given that today is 11/12/13 (!), I’m reneging on last year’s resolution and making an early one for 2014: before I show up for my three-month research fellowship in Kyoto next fall, be able to do more than order lunch :) Ganbatte!!
It’s hard to write this race report because doing so acknowledges the end, and it’s sad to let go. What made Kona spectacular was my group of 14 pink friends, the opportunity to train and learn from Rachel, and the spirit of Kona itself. Pictures are worth a thousand words, and our thoughts are worth more. I’ll do my best to share both.
Oahu club tough, one row above new champ Rinny!
I began my day at the King Kam beach, swam around the pier as a warm-up and lined up far left of the buoys. Starting far left meant I swam longer, but had a perfect clean start, never got touched, and felt smooth and relaxed the whole way. Exited the water happily in 1:19 to cheers from Ryan, Lectie, Pomai, and Angela. Laughed with the change tent volunteers about my toe socks (I know, I know), skin-tight cooler shirt, gobs of sunscreen and multiple homemade musubis. If you were looking for a fast transition, these were not ideal choices (each 7+ minutes), but to me it was worth the extra time to start each part of the race as calm and comfortable as possible. And am happy to report no sunburn, blisters, or chafing!
And then, we had the fastest ride to Hawi ever! All tailwind, no crosswinds. Near the gas station in Kawaihae James came FLYING by me, screaming LIVE LIKE DUDA! I cried, out of pride for James, and overcome with emotion over the race. Here we were, really doing it, and I was so grateful. Hit the halfway point faster than I expected in 2:45, still feeling comfortable and relaxed. Stopped in special needs to re-apply sunscreen and grab more nutrition. Light winds made for a voggy and hot day on the bike, so I was doing everything I could to stay cool and protected. Grabbed at least 2 waters every aid station, one in the cage, one squirted all over head and body. I chose not to wear an aerohelmet to stay as cool as possible, and was happy with that decision.
The descent from Hawi was fast and fun. Around Kawaihae I got a wicked headache, the kind that hurts when you touch your forehead. I was very hydrated, so maybe the heat, or vog, or effort, or everything. I concentrated on staying relaxed and cool, and tried to get back to the pier as quickly as possible using the least amount of effort. It’s a tricky tradeoff! I had done this entire ride in training 5 weeks before, and remembered how I felt after pushing pretty hard all the way home. I erred on the conservative side, staying within my comfort zone and breathing easy. In hindsight I probably could have pushed a bit harder here, but made the call to play it safe. In hindsight I’m also pretty sure that I thought I had a lot more time in the bank than I actually did :) That stretch from Waikoloa home is eerily quiet, amazingly hot, and mentally very challenging. Unfortunately, I think I lost focus for a good stretch between miles 90-100-ish. I stopped looking at my watch or the mile markers, put my head down, and focused on my breath and staying calm. Snapped out of it when I heard screams and cheers from my Waimea girls OD and Nohealani, then Jules right as I arrived back to town. My bike time was a bit slower than I hoped (6:27), but I stayed positive and was optimistic about having a great run. In T2, more sunscreen, new toe socks (!!), new shorts, shoes, and visor and I was excited to run.
The first 8-ish miles of the run I was absolutely positive I could run 9min pace ALL DAY LONG! Legs and lungs felt great, I left my headache on my bike in T2, and the energy from the turquoise bocas, try fitness gals and other oahu friends on Kuakini and Alii was electric! I felt smooth and strong as I passed Hines (YES!), all the way to the turn-around at St. Peter’s. Michelle and Roberto rode by cheering, Sam screamed at me from a pick-up truck, and everything in the world was awesome.
Awesome would not last :) After the turn-around my stomach grumbled. No panic, this happened once at IMCdA, in and out of the beach park potty and I should be good to go. I was in, I was out, I was not good to go. I stayed positive, kept up the fueling and hydration plan as best I could, and focused on getting to my bocas on Palani. Made the right turn up, saw the happiest sea of blue friends ever, smiled and ran (jogged) up the hill. I remember Ryan saying “that’s the way,” and Felipe saying “think good thoughts,” and I knew it was about to get real :) The next several miles were some of the hardest of the day. My stomach was angry and forced me to stop a lot, and twice I almost didn’t make it between porta potties. Cold sweats are an overwhelmingly bad feeling when you are hot, trying to move forward, and concerned about having a terribly embarrassing accident right there on the highway. Somewhere around mile 13 Aaron found me on his bike, and asked if I was eating and drinking. I remember whispering a quiet “yes.” But the truth was it had been a while. I was afraid to take anything in, as it was going right through me. Michelle came back by on her bike and I must have looked as bad as I felt. She yelled in a very commanding and all-caps tone “THIS IS THE PART WHERE YOU SMILE BECAUSE YOU ARE DOING THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS.” She was right, and I needed to get it together. I had tried a lot of things along the way, but not everything. I stopped eating meat when I was an 18 year old environmental studies student working at a health food store in New Orleans. And at mile 14 of the Kona Ironman, I threw idealism to the wind and slammed my first cup of chicken broth in almost 20 years. It was warm, salty, and quite possibly the best decision I made all day. Within 10 minutes my stomach settled and I got my first “burst” (these things are relative) of energy since the happy bocas on Palani.
From there, it was a few more stops, and broth at the next several aid stations. Stopping was difficult. I was uncomfortable, the porta potties at this point were the stuff nightmares are made of, and it was hard to get a good rhythm going from a stand-still. Running into the energy lab, the sun was setting and the scene was surreal. I felt remarkably serene, probably delirium, but possibly relief because my stomach had finally settled. Looking back, I wish I could have found more focus in the energy lab. When it’s dark and things hurt, you’ve really got to want it. I think with more focus and a stronger commitment to a time goal I could have gotten in and out of this place faster, both literally and in my head. Conservative was the play of the day. No regrets, just acknowledgement of decisions made in the moment, and lessons learned. I don’t think I could truly understand this feeling without experiencing it. Now I know. And next time, I will dig deeper.
I did eventually emerge from the energy lab :) At this point it was pitch black dark except for the fluorescent bobbing glow-sticks running by. A volunteer handed me a glow-stick, I accidentally dropped it, and there was simply no way I was bending all that way over to get it. And just when I was really starting to lose hope and despite my darkness, they found me. Raul, Felipe, Aaron, and Lectie were suddenly surrounding me, encouraging, loving, supporting. I was so happy to see them, jogging a little too easy and asking about Mariane’s day, Amy’s day, asking how they felt, and reminding them to go for Eddie right behind me. Raul suddenly seemed super annoyed. “You know what Kim? If you can talk like this, you can run faster.” I shut up and picked up the pace. And when I tried to walk through the aid stations to enjoy my newfound love of all things chicken, Raul in his most authoritative voice directed me to run, not walk through. “Do you know it’s not even 7pm yet? Do you even know where you are or how far you have to go? Keep track of your pace, do not lose focus.” It was exactly the tough love I needed. Aaron promised one more light, one more hill. There were actually two lights, and two and a half hills, but it didn’t matter because I was within a couple miles of the best finish line in the world, so finally bid them goodbye, took a moment to acknowledge the privilege of racing here, Duda, my Grandma, my 14 pink friends, and my own efforts to get here, and started running as fast as I could down Palani, Kuakini, Hualalai, and finally, Alii Drive.
I remember my heart beating loudly as I ran through the finish chute. I remember thinking how grateful I was to Raul and my friends who found me after the energy lab for getting me moving. I wanted to come closer to 12 hours, but had promised my Mom, Deborah, Joy G, and others I knew would be watching that I would be done by 7:30pm. I saw the clock in the late 12:20’s, smiled and wondered if it was even possible to get through this race alone.
With Team Bugajohnson almost immediately after finishing. At this point, Eddie’s not sure what he thinks of standing that close to me.
Sunday was spent recovering at 69’s with Nohea and my giant cookie medal (thank you Bonnie!). I wish I could say I shellacked that beautiful cookie and will keep it forever, or that I shared it, but I can’t.
My pink friends were wildly successful. Lori settled a longtime score by finishing super strong; Kathryn, Mariane, Amy, and many others had breakthrough races; James finished 3rd in his division in the universe; and we were all done and hugging by 10pm that night. Monday we swam together, said goodbye, and gave thanks for the gift that was Kona. I do hope to one day return to this race, with more experience, and more mental strength. Until then I will be cherishing these memories, and dreaming in pink.
After the weekend at tutu’s, it was a relaxing 25 minute flight home to swim in the annual labor day Waikiki Roughwater swim. It was hard, I was slow, but still glowing from the weekend so ended happy:
After the swim, it was a relaxing 25 hour travel day to Bangkok, to hear this:
Dad’s a chemical oceanographer so I only understood about 30% of the talk, but my take-aways were that polonium can poison you and may be the reason cigarettes kill people. He’s got a solid PR team.
From there it was palaces, monks, spicy lunches in huts in the clouds, hiking in the highest thai rainforest, and 35m swimming pools (hard interval math!) bookended by goddess statutes:
And then, in Chiang Mai, Pap tricked me into “taking a picture with the nice elephant”:
Elephant kisses are 100% as alarming as they sound (think hairy, scratchy, warm, wet, all complemented by a unique, lingering aroma only an elephant can love), but you can’t stay mad at them long when they break out their paint brushes:
Thai people are some of the kindest in the world. My dear friend Pap not only took us up and over mountains to show us the beauty of his country, but woke up hours before sunrise to make sure I could run in places where I would not get flattened by tuk-tuks on the narrow dark roads, or bitten by one of Thailand’s 50 species of venomous snakes, or both. I arrived home safely last week to a thank you card from tutu, and with a new appreciation for elephants, Pap, my healthy and adventurous parents, and with a solid dose of heat training (100 zillion degrees and humid). And polonium.
Sunday was race 1 of the fall marathon readiness series: 15k up, over, and around diamond head. While it was not my fastest time on this course, it was a great day for lessons in pacing (don’t go out too fast: when will I learn?), and an appreciation of running healthy. After a couple years of struggling with running injuries and setbacks, and lots of advice from friends at JACO rehab, I realized 3 things: my form needed (serious) work, I needed to strengthen core and glutes, and I needed to take better care of my body in between training and racing. Through a year or more of trial and error, this led to a consistent routine of twice-a-week strength training, periodic check-up running analysis sessions with Marissa at JACO, and monthly-ish visits to my massage hero Fernando and chiropractic wizard Dr. Zen.
The routine began with Marissa at JACO. When I first came in for PT for a running injury a couple of years ago, I was a running disaster. Through treadmill video analysis, Marissa was able to help identify the elements of my running form that were breaking down, causing inefficiency and eventual injury. The analysis slows you waaay down on video (scary!) and pinpoints exactly where things begin to fall apart. Therapists at JACO then show you how to isolate and strengthen these areas. The beauty is the analysis really never ends, as Marissa will continue to
harass remind you about your form any time she sees you training, racing, or even running in a picture. The love at JACO is eternal, and I highly recommend them for both PT and running analysis.
The strength routine is simple and straightforward. Twice a week Brenda, Deborah and Kim come sweating and laughing post-run into 45 minutes of lunges, squats, light hand weights and lots of reps, always wrapping up with 10-15 minutes of core. It’s not super intense, and it’s no cross fit, but it’s just enough to keep the kinetic chain firing, well-connected, and happy. And who doesn’t love a great massage? Fernando is an extremely talented, hard-working, and affordable (ask for Kim’s price!) massage therapist with a natural ability to move the tension and accumulated muscle fatigue right out of your body. He takes incredibly good care of me, and now a whole crew of my friends. If you have not tried him yet, you should! Finally, I am fortunate that UH’s insurance covers chiropractic care with Dr. Zen, who not only provides excellent therapy and adjustments, but closely follows my training and gives me ideas regarding form, posture, and other small changes to consider (things to do while driving and at your desk!), based on what he observes during the adjustment. When my hips start sinking towards the end of a run or my neck starts hurting at the end of a long ride, I go back to his suggestions, remind myself to engage, and am often able to save myself from pain later. It sounds like a lot of maintenance, and it is. It is also a lot of exercise, and 100% worth it.
At the end of the day, the 15k was a grand success: Saturday’s torrential downpours stopped and the rainbows came out, Jade and Cheryl ran their 2nd race ever in faster times than they could have imagined, and I officially declared myself worst-volunteer-ever for the good folks at REAP, for totally ditching my sign-in sheet duties in favor of post-race socializing. If you have not checked out REAP’s recovery tent magic, be sure to stop by after the 20k for some recovery pump love! And in the moments captured above**, near the fountain on the home stretch, I was being seriously harassed by my friends Brandy and Brenda (because they love me and want to see me succeed, I think). Lesson: when you start too fast, you cannot kick at the end, or speak (but you can still smile). Smiling because although I knew it would not be a PR, attention to strength, form, recovery, and help from my smart coach would get me to the finish line healthy and ready for more running (and swimming, and cycling). And with Kona less than 8 weeks away, that’s exactly what I needed.
**yes that’s a water bottle in my back, and yes I can reach it and return it during the race: long arms!
This weekend wrapped up the 25th annual North Shore Swim Series, a fantastic series of 4 increasingly longer ocean races hosted by the one and only Chris Gardner, race director extraordinaire. I have participated in this series for the last 4-ish years, and every summer it gets more awesome. More swimmers, fun sponsors, sweet prizes (for people that win), coffee, ice cream, rainbows, chocolate (!), dolphins, and a happy laid-back summertime vibe unmatched anywhere in Hawaii.
Like many triathletes, swimming is my Challenge (capitalization intentional). What I may lack in talent, I attempt to make up for in (extreme) consistency. I have been swimming with the Oahu Club Masters program every MWF at 6am for almost 4 years. Unless I am out of the country or otherwise incapacitated, I’m in the pool 3 days a week before sunrise. At the very least, I would round out the podium with Miki and Anna Marie for best attendance record.
In the beginning, I followed along with the workouts as best I could, but my mind wandered and I struggled with the sets, the intervals, and all the swim lingo like DPS and LCM and SCY and high elbows and breathing patterns and body position, kick-outs and IM and pace 50’s, etc. Every workout I would do what I could, but eventually would check out and swim back and forth until everybody stopped. I didn’t know my intervals, or what a best average was, but I loved the Flanagan brothers and the rest of the OC morning crew. Everybody talked about a “feel for the water,” and that if I did it enough, eventually I would feel it too. So I kept swimming, mostly to see my friends and catch up with Jane in the dark parking lot 15 minutes before anyone showed up, but hopeful that eventually, something would click.
At some point along the way in the last 18 months or so, I started paying attention. I learned my 100 LCM intervals, I paid attention to coach’s instructions, asked for clarification when I didn’t understand, and stopped sneaking my fins on every time coach looked the other way. I watched my friends. Miki’s rhythm and timing, Lectie’s height in the water, and her deliberate and frequent sighting, Linda’s high elbows and entry, and how she pulls the bubble-less water beneath her (and Lou’s claw hand, just because it’s funny and seems to help). At some point I stopped using swimming as an exercise in recovery (and a social hour), mentally prepared to try harder in the pool, and most importantly, brought awareness to my swimming.
I’m still not a fast swimmer. I may never place in my age group at swim races, and I will almost certainly never be able to swim with my fast fish-for-friends. But the awareness I’ve brought to my swimming has made it worlds more enjoyable and rewarding, both in training and in racing. Listening to a Flanagan spell out the main set used to instill either an immediate sense of dread, or go in one ear and out the other. Now, I listen closely, think about how to approach the set, and execute as best I can. I watch the clock, think about timing and technique, and write down the entire thing and how it went after the workout.
This intention and focus served me well this summer on the north shore. During the Summer Sprint (race 1), I realized it was the first time I felt in control of my ocean swimming, rather than the swim controlling me. It felt like a breakthrough. In the Waimea Swim (swim 2), I was able to draft a faster swimmer the entire way around the bay, and worked incredibly hard to do so. This gave me tons of confidence. Swim 3 I was able to swim stroke-for-stroke with (okay, immediately behind) my swimming idol Linda Kaiser, the entire way from Chuns to Waimea. This was inspiring, and something I absolutely believed was not possible. And Saturday, I saw the most beautiful sight on the way from Ehukai to Waimea: a large pack including my fast friends Franzy and Michelle A, approaching the rocky halfway point at the same time as me. I was able to jump in and swim right along with them, all the way up the sand at Waimea. This made for an incredibly happy ending.
Thanks to my many swimming friends who encourage me along the way. Special thanks to Miki for the creative bonus 1000’s I somehow got tricked into and now look forward to, to Michelle who first convinced me that watching a clock makes swimming fun, to Linda and Lectie for total swim inspiration, to Jim & Jane for making me start in the first place, to Franzy for pushing me that much harder, and to Rachel for helping me find my best swim. Til roughwater, happy swimming.