Captain Cook Challenge race report: April 24, 2016
Distance: 1-mile swim, 2-mile trail run, 32-mile bike, 4-mile run
I moved to the Big Island of Hawaii in July 2014. The first place I called home was a coffee shack at a friend of a friend’s in Kealakekua in South Kona District. I shortly had to move out of that and found myself living on Napo’opo’o road in the Kealakekua Bay Estates. The gated community was a bit weird for me, but Napo’opo’o, Middle Keei, Painted Church, Honaunau, “Two Step”, Manini Beach, and so many other precious and sacred landmarks to that historic area will forever have a place in my heart. If I was reborn in Hawaii, the birthplace for me was in Napo’opo’o.
I would train in that area in the sweltering humid heat and the downpour rains and even through the hurricanes. I would swoop up mangoes and papayas from the ground and fruit stands on long rides. I’d drink coconut water from the coconut stand and eat bananas from neighbors. I’d swim in Kealakekua Bay alone, at sunrise and sunset. Manta rays, dolphin, honu, and even a shark once, joined me for these swims. There is a real spiritual connection to the ‘āina in that area for me. When I heard there was a race called the Captain Cook Challenge, I had to do it. It had been a must since I moved her. However, I fell sick with the flu in 2015 for that race. So I had been waiting for this one for a long time.
Shortly before race day I found out that Billy Barnett and Bree Wee would both be racing. I wanted the course-record holder, Chris Gregory to come out again to race, but I wrote his splits on the back of my hands so I could virtually race him anyway. With Bree and Billy, I knew it’d be an interesting race anyway.
We go to the Ka’awaloa trail head before 6am to drop off our trail shoes. Team Mango Races has hosted this event for 34 years and apparently they used to make you carry all of your own gear. Luckily now they will take our trail shoes to the monument so that after our point to point swim, we will have our shoes waiting for us. They also would have water for us down there, but that’s it. They’d take back our goggles, but no wetsuits. There was but one sole aid station on this course that the bike portion crosses twice and the run hits once. This is a renegade race. Riding on these roads are not for the faint of heart. Running the killer T2 trail is brutal with 1400’ of climbing. The final 4 mile run is also killer on an unshaded stretch of road in the middle of a lava field. This course is arguably the most beautiful course in the world—but that scenery comes with a brutal price.
The swim was stellar. We had to stumble in some slippery big boulders into small crashing waves with plenty of us banging our ankles. Bree and I started our warm up swim, but like Carl “Gecko” Koomoa stated, the race starts at 7:00am—and he held true to that. The horn blasted and caught all of us off guard. Bree and I went. We charged
She left me quickly and I found myself alone gliding solidly for a few minutes. The Captain Cook monument (a white phallus to remind us of the arrival of Captain Cook and his buddies) is very easy to sight off of. I had no problems going straight. And my clear (not tinted!) goggles were divinely suctioned to my face with no leakage. Then a little porpoise comes up! A little shrimp! That’s 9-year-old Aiden Akrum, Adam and Laura’s son! What a speedy little dude. He started overtaking me, but I said no—I’m drafting off this grom. But nope. In 10 minutes he was widening our gap. I still came out third of the water, behind this beast and Bree in less than 24 minutes. I was so inspired! The tiny jelly fish stings were just electric shocks to help us go faster. These little sparkling specs got all of us, but nothing to stop us or slow us down.
Let me tell you about this deep blue though. At one point for about the middle half of this swim the water is so deep (400ft) and so clear and deep blue that it’s very hard to know that you’re even swimming in anything. It feels like what I imagine it to be like floating in space. Sparkling stars (jellies) and nothingness. Purity of the cosmos underneath us in liquid form. I had to look up to make sure I was still on our little planet earth. A big jelly fish way down below also reminded me of where I was: Paradise.
The crew helped me out of the water via an old ratty rope while I made sure not to step on coral or wana (sea urchin). They handed me a water bottle and I slowly put on my socks and shoes. Aiden’s dad who was Aiden’s relay partner had already taken off in hot pursuit of the queen mermaid, Bree Wee, running up that lava hill. I messed with my watch for a little too long (rookie!) and stumbled after them. I was trying to beat Chris Gregory’s 20-minute climb time. What a beast! Hats off to that old Hilo resident who is racing some serious Olympic distances in elite level speeds. I was only a little off target finishing that run at 21 minutes and change. I caught Bree, Adam, and Buddy the dog about 1.5 miles up. It was fun racing with them for a couple minutes! I never looked back after that. Biking this course was next and I know every turn, pothole, and shoulder-less section of this area. It’s aero-time baby.
Learning from Lavaman last time, I had only 200 calories in my aero bottle and water in the other. I stashed only one caffeinated Gu in my pocket too. The swim used up my first Gu of the morning so I was feeling ready for proper nutrition this time around. That all worked out perfectly. I could feel it the whole ride, but I had to make sure I took in all of my water. This of course was happening all the while I stayed in aero position on everything except for the 90 degree turns and the up hills. The down-hills were mine. I hit 45mph twice and hit two 5mile sections in less than 9 minutes. Bree called me a dare-devil. I didn’t feel like one. I was just doing what was comfortable. Praying to the goddesses and going full throttle. Really I was targeting about 250-300watts and staying in high zone 3 or low zone 4. That worked for me!
The scariest part of the ride was when I was squished on the one-foot shoulder with trucks on my left and coffee field cliffs to my right. That’s just a day in the life on the roads of south Kona. No big deal. It was the bee that stung my left knee that really freaked me! It was a sharp stab that I’ve never felt before on a race. I thought I pulled something. I scraped out the stinger and spit my water on it, pretending I was some survivalist master. What’s funny to think though is that I was going about 35mph at the point of the sting. That’s way faster than any bee could fly. So really it didn’t sting my knee. My knee rammed into its stinger!
On the second descent I was all fueled up and feeling 90% fresh for the run. Gently placing my bike down into the grassy basketball field (yes basketball field) of Kealakekua Bay Park, I put on my running shoes with my socks already on from the ride. Oh yeah this was the first race I road with socks! It was nice and comfy. A little squishy. I chugged the second half of my Hawaiian Ola Noni Energy shot and yelled to Gecko that I was tossing it and he gave me the thumbs up so he would come grab it. I refuse to throw trash on a workout and have it sit there for more than a minute before someone picks it up. It’s bad for the image of triathlon when we are throwing trash on our ‘āina with no one around to pick it up. The volunteers and Gecko were awesome in keeping this race low key and low impact on the village.
The run started out hot. No breeze, no shade, no mercy. It was time for two miles out and two miles back. I was already off of Gregory’s 2014 course record by 3 minutes, so I knew I couldn’t make that up on my run. I would have had to run low 5:00 minute-miles. Not this race. I turned around and saw Bree. She was second by a few minutes. She yelled at me, “It’s now officially Wild-Wee!” She was referring to my old saying of “Wee-Wild!” Because she would normally get first and I would be second (in the swims this is and will probably always be the case). It was rad to get her high five. Bree Wee is an inspiration, a mentor, a role-model and a great friend! I ran my last three miles at 6:36min/mi pace after the first one going 6:15. I was super content to run i to the park with a well-deserved win in a community I will always call home.
I came in first place overall with a watch-time of 2:38:55. I’ll post the official Team Mangorrsults here once they become available.
Next year, I expect Chris Gregory to come back and attempt to break his record. I plan to be there right next to him while we do this. Who else is up to face the Captain Cook Challenge? Come prepared with humility and thick skin.
The friends who raced and volunteered were top freaking notch. I really love the triathlon scene on the Big Island. I always speak highly of it. This race proved no exception. I am so grateful for the people who make these events happen. We are just a bunch of nuts trying to express our love of health, the land on which we live, and our community.
I learned after the race that Kealakekua means “the God’s pathway”. I felt many gods on this race. I felt them playing with the land and with us. I felt their resentment of the humans who have destroyed this land. But I also felt their pride in those that take care of this land and treat it with respect. The gods know who are swimming in their waters, running up their trails, riding down their hills and running through their lava flows. They could easily end us at any moment. I felt their power through this whole race and bowed down. I remain humbled beyond any words that my little blog can express.
Thank you Bike Works Kona for keeping me confident while bombing those hills all in aero position. The bike work they have done for me has made me feel 100% safe on my bike no matter how many times Bree calls me a “Dare Devil.” Thanks to Hawaiian Ola for the support and energy that comes straight from the fruits grown in Captain Cook! Lastly, thanks so much to Team Mango Races. I encourage everyone to check out their races! Here is their 2016 event schedule. They are supreme training races that are family-friendly, newcomer friendly and can be super competitive all at the same time. Not to mention, they take place in some of the most beautiful places on earth.
Here are the details for my endurance-data-freak-like-me-friends: