Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kona Camp recap

I didn't get a chance to blog while in Hawaii, partly because I had computer issues, and mainly because the days were busy!  I'll give fair warning that I'm going to be very repetitive on positive adjectives in this write up like "amazing", "unbelievable", "incredible", ...  Yeah, it's nauseating to me as well, but it's hard to do this trip justice on just how amazing, unbelievable, and incredible it was.  I'm also going to promote next years camp.  I'm typically terrible at self promotion, so this should just let you know how much I feel that people should experience this trip.  Plus, we posted a bunch of pictures on my Facebook EH Coaching page and I have already received quite a few inquiries for next years trip, so I thought I'd get some early info out so that people can begin planning.  I was a bit apprehensive about moving my winter camp to Kona this year.  Tucson is a great place to train and I really enjoy it there.  It didn't take long though to realize that it's not comparable to Kona.  
Because the group would be going from a cold climate to the heat and humidity of the Big Island, i knew that pacing them daily was going to be key.  This meant that we couldn't start right into 6+ hour training days.  A training camp should make the athlete stronger, not tear them down to the point where they have difficulty recovering.  I also encouraged the group to go more by feel and to ignore there tools.  First, trying to sustain set wattage zones on the bike could get you in trouble given that we weren't acclimated.   Next, i wanted my athletes to get a sense of their perceived effort.  And of course, i didn't want the group staring at their toys instead of the incredible surroundings.  We began Day One with a one hour morning run along the beach path from our resort.  The sun was just coming up, there was a breeze off the Pacific, and we were running in just shorts and singlets for some.  The path is gorgeous and as we made the turnaround and headed back towards our resort, we saw humpback whales diving off the shoreline.  I knew right then this was going to be an amazing camp.
Our resort was conveniently located near two shopping plazas, one with a market that rivals Whole Foods, as well as a great bike shop.  We shot over there to get some breakfast and stock up on some supplies for the week, then we assembled bikes.  Next, we were riding down the Queen K highway, on the official Ironman course, biking the 27 miles into Kona to check out the pier where the swim takes place.  After some fish tacos at Lava Java, we rode back to the resort.  Then we piled into the van and I took the group on a hike into the Waipio Valley, where they saw black sand beaches, waterfalls, and a Monk Seal sunbathing on the beach, one of the most endangered animals.  After the aggressive hike out of the valley, we swam from the beach at the resort.  This is the one main thing I've been missing at winter camp; swimming in open water and mainly salt water.  The water off the Kona coast is so salty making you extremely buoyant, and also ridiculously clear.  A dinner of more fresh fish and a few local beers made for a perfect day.  
We began the next day with a longer four hour ride where we first headed up to Hawi and then back down the Queen K, again on the IM course, followed by a short brick run.  After lunch, I took the group over to a beach which has been voted by the travel channel as one of the top ten beaches in the world.  This beach is sandy and crystal clear with a light swell, and we did an open water swim again, and then just hung out on the beach in paradise.
I won't go into detail on every day but we did a long run on a trail through the lava fields to a hidden cove, took a twin engine sea raft to the top voted snorkeling place in all the Hawaiian islands, on the ride back, the boat captain steered the raft into and out of lava tubes with unreal precision,  while educating us on the history and culture of the Island, and I even spotted an eight foot hammer head shark hanging out in some deep water.  We rode on the course and off the course on some of the most scenic roads you can imagine while climbing up the sides of volcanoes, swam from the pier on the official swim course which could pass as a swim/snorkeling excursion given the amount of fish swimming around under us and the over 100 feet of visibility under water there.  We did a hike to another secret beach where we saw over fifty sea turtles swimming in to sun.   We ran on the Queen K and into and out of the Energy Lab.  We visited the Kona Brewing company, ate some incredible food, and laughed our asses off.  
This was, bar none, the best camp I've ever hosted.  We had a smaller group of athletes  who all had the right attitude, which is they never complained about the work, they loved the adventures, they checked their egos, and they all had great sense of humors. Kim, who was amazing on this trip considering she didn't know anyone, was the only woman, and is fairly new to the sport, was the camp mvp.  She did everything well and with a smile.  She also brought along her husband who planned on just relaxing pool or beachside, but ended up joining us on all the excursions, and did every run with us as well, including one day where we did a double run!
The weather was quite perfect; mostly sunny and in the 80's, some cloud coverage once in awhile and one day where it drizzled on us a bit while riding in the mountains, which was welcome!
Everyone really enjoyed the opportunity to experience this course, given its history.  There were quite a few athletes out there with the same idea, training on the course.  However, we never saw any other athletes on the training we did off the course!
I already reserved the hotel again for next year.  The camp will be February 28th through March 7th.  I'm definitely going to keep it small again, limiting the size to ten, as i feel that for this camp, the smaller group keeps things more personal, and enriches the experience.  And spouses will definitely be welcome. This year, most of us booked our airfare for around $800 for the round trip, which is very reasonable considering I paid more than this back in 1996, my first trip to Kona.  If you want a spot, send in a $100 deposit.  Those that attended this year are grandfathered in if they want to re-attend in 2013.  The remaining spots are first come, first serve.  
My goal was to not only provide a solid week of base training for all the athletes that attended, but to also show them parts of this island that I've discovered and fallen in love with throughout the years there.  Mission accomplished.  

Friday, March 02, 2012

Kona Camp

I've been putting on triathlon camps for 12 years now.  In tri years, that equates to 84 years.  I've taught others how to run camps, and the key things to pay attention to (for example, as nice as receiving swag is, it's become quite evident that at the end of the camp, this is very low on the chain of what the attending athletes will remember when they are reevaluating their experience). The camps are hard work, yet I've enjoyed every one of them.  And as excited as I have personally been to put on a camp in the past, this one that begins tomorrow is the one I've been waiting for.  
I did my first ironman in 1996, and it was Hawaii.  I had been racing mainly sprint and Olympic distance races for a few years and was having fun with this, yet I also just got married, started my own business and was looking into buying our first house.  I figured my triathlon time was limited and that I wanted to, no, needed to do the one race that got me involved in the sport in the first place.  I don't discuss Hawaii too much because I don't want to be one of those ass holes that brags about racing there and tosses out the cliche "its the Super Bowl of the sport".  The fact is that there are many amazing ironman races around the world now, one less than a five hour drive from my door.  But as amazing as these other ironman races are, the reality is that they are Bridesmaids.  Most of the triathletes who say that the Hawaii ironman is over rated have never been there, and all those who say they have no desire to do it are lying, or maybe a bit scared or both.  
Back to my race in 96'; The first five hours felt good and were actually fun.  Then I spent the next four and a half hours swearing I'd never do something as awful and stupid as this race again, only to spend the last six minutes of the race thinking about how I was going to convince Lisa that we needed to come back again in 97'.  There is no other finish line like it.  The thing is that Lisa benefitted from the experience as much as I did, and the time we spent on that island pre and post race was amazing!  Every time we went back to the race, we had a new and incredible experience, learning more about the island, the beaches, the hikes, the food, the ocean, the race.
The history of this sport all points at Hawaii.  That is why the one race each year where you can count on all the best triathletes in the world going head to head with each other is simply described as Kona.  And I also realize that many may never get the opportunity to race there.  
As I sit here on this plane in the middle of the Pacific, I'm like a kid on Christmas eve.  We have a fun group for the first Kona Camp consisting of those training and hoping to qualify to those who just want to go out and experience this amazing course.  But what I'm really fired up about is showing this group this island that's been such a major part and has had such a big impact on my life.  And if you are a triathlete, there really is no better training environment anywhere than on the Big Island (and no, this isn't up for debate).  
I know I've been quite lame at blogging, but I do plan on updating our experience each day during this camp.
Cheers, EH