Dispatch: The Baker’s Dozen Aloha Style

It’s the final quarter of my year of racing project–aka the Baker’s Dozen, or 12 races plus one during the 12 months of 2013.

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“Dispatch” is an online column from Triathlete Editor-at-Large Holly Bennett that features pro updates, industry news, happenings afield and otherwise random reports related to multi-sport. Look for “Dispatch” every Thursday on Triathlete.com. Look back on the other “Baker’s Dozen” entries from Bennett.

It’s the final quarter of my year of racing project–aka the Baker’s Dozen, or 12 races plus one during the 12 months of 2013. What better way to tackle October’s commitment than to follow in so many triathletes’ footsteps and race in Kona? But you see, I’m a bit short on the speed needed to qualify for the Ironman World Championship. Nor have I toed the line at a Kona qualifier in nearly four years, adding to the unlikelihood that I’ll ever race there. And to be honest, I can’t really imagine forgoing the fun of Kona week for the feet-up focus necessary to compete in such a grueling event. Instead, my Kona competition takes place one week prior to the race known as the “big dance.” Each year I tackle a slightly less intense struggle along Ali’i Drive–the PATH 10k.

The PATH 10k is actually my favorite way to kick off Kona activities–a fun and friend-filled event that marks the start of Ironman race week. It’s a chance to reconnect with triathlon industry friends from around the world and to pump up our own fitness before facing the barrage of uber-buff Kona pros and age groupers whose mere presence threatens the body image confidence of us mere mortals. The heat and humidity of Kona helps me sweat away the fog of travel as well as shed a few pounds of excess water weight. The race is an opportunity to experience a stretch of Ali’i Drive that the world’s top triathletes will traverse one week later–albeit at a cooler time of day and minus many more hours of swimming, riding and running. And while running a 10k on Ali’i is not exactly easy (the slant of the road is runner-unfriendly and the heat and humidity is harsh, even at 7:30 a.m.) it’s a piece of cake compared to the Ironman. But it’s still competitive.

I warmed up for the race with BFF Michellie Jones and then said sayonara to the 2006 Ironman world champion, who bolted off at the start on her still-speedy legs. I’m not stupid enough to have Michellie on my competitive radar–I already know I’m no match for her gait. Instead I focused on the gals in my age group, and even more intently one guy–Eric Olson, husband of top pro Mary Beth Ellis. The hint of a challenge between Eric and me has been brewing, spurred by his wife’s comment that I could “take him” after she watched my Challenge Penticton race (thanks for the vote of confidence, MB!). We’ve lightheartedly discussed going head to head in a few triathlons next year, so the 10k was a perfect time to throw down the initial gauntlet.

It’s fair to say that I went into the race with an advantage. I’m coming off a summer of intense training, and although my efforts were distance rather than speed focused and I have rested more than I’ve run in the six weeks since racing Penticton, I’ve still logged a lot of miles this season. In contrast, Eric has spent the majority of his time stuck on airplanes due to his travel heavy job. So even though I was the odds-on-favorite at the start, I still took pride in dropping my adversary at the halfway mark and winning our little battle. Hopefully the butt-whooping will inspire Eric to join me on several more start lines, where I’m sure he’ll have a chance to even out the rivalry and the well-intentioned egging-on.

The next day I was trounced in turn–not in a competitive sense but by the unstoppable ultra-runner Mike Rouse, completing his annual birthday run. Each year in Kona, Rouse runs the same number of miles as his age to raise funds and awareness for a variety of charities including the Blazeman Foundation for ALS. This year marked his 61st birthday, which meant six-plus laps up and down Ali’i Drive. A number of Rouse’s friends ran alongside him during the daylong effort, but none of us matched him step for step. I made two appearances and logged just under 28 miles in total, after which I needed a nap. Rouse, in contrast, ran straight to the best bar on the island for happy hour, where he celebrated well into the night (and where I joined him once I recovered).

All told, the two days of running kicked off an incredible week, ticked another box in my Baker’s Dozen tally and caused some seriously swollen cankles. Mahalo, Kona!

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