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Biking Around Oahu (and a mid-year review)

July 1, 2012

I have to blog about my cycling trip around Oahu. It was fantastic training, but it was also an incredible way to see the island, meet some locals, and enjoy my vacation time. Definitely one of those rides I will remember for a very long time. Before I get to that, I want to share my mid-year training totals. As of June 30th, halfway through the year, my training totals are: 832 miles biking, 117 miles running, 22.5 hours swimming (approx. 30,000 yards), 7 olympic lifting weight classes, 39 crossfit WODs, 10 hours rowing on the erg, and 1 yoga class [at least those are my totals insofar as I’ve managed to keep track of it on beginnertriathlete.com]. Those totals might seem high to many people, but by Ironman training standards, they are extremely low. But what those totals don’t show is intensity. Most of those miles are in interval workouts and other high-intensity work.

So back to my trip around Oahu. I rented a Specialized Roubaix, the same bike I had used the week before in California. When I picked up the bike from the shop the day before my ride, the guy helping me asked where I was planning to ride. I told him I was thinking about riding around the island, it looked like it should be possible. He explained that it was possible, but that some of the roads going up the middle of the island (you can’t actually go on the coast the whole way because there’s a segment of several miles where the coastal highways don’t connect) can be a little dicey. Narrow shoulders and fast moving cars. The Oahu Century ride follows an out-and-back route up the west side of the island instead, and he would generally recommend that as better riding. But he knew how appealing it sounded to cycle around a whole island. And he knew many visiting cyclists who are in good shape say “I can do that.” And if he was a visitor, he would probably want to do that. So then he said “if you’re going to do it, here’s the safest route to follow.” He gave me two maps, one for the beginning of the route and one for the end, that he had prepared. He also warned me that it was much safer doing the route clockwise, because it wasn’t safe to cycle north to south down the highway in the middle of the island. I said I’d consider his advice, but I’m sure he could already tell I was going to go for the whole island.

Before leaving I mentioned all the climbing on my route in California the week before and said I wasn’t going to see that kind of climbing here. He laughed and said if I was interested, he did have a map of a mountain loop in Oahu that many cyclists train on. Bingo. Let’s try that. I was the only person in a long time that took all three of his maps! That night before bed I laid out my stuff for an early start. Out the door by 7 am. Sunscreen on and more in my jersey pocket, also carrying various food, water, and other essentials. I started the ride with the Mt. Tantalus loop (see my full route map, as best I could reproduce it, here). What an incredible way to start the morning. My legs could definitely still feel the fatigue from the mountains the week before in California, but I felt strong up the mountains. I was surrounded by dense forest as I continued up the mountain, and I passed numerous turnouts and trail heads. I’m guessing there must be great trails there. I was also rewarded with some fantastic views of Honolulu that most people never see (I later told Jeremy we had to go back there in the car, it was that good, and that’s how I got the photo).

Back at the base of the mountain, I continued on my way through downtown Oahu and on to Pearl City. At some point I got a flat. And wasted 40 minutes trying to find the hole in the tube before giving up and just using my spare tube. Lesson: if you want to go fast, forget about patching the tire, at least if you have a spare available. But of course the risk is then you’ve used your spare up if you only have one. It was my first road-side flat in years (since until this year I hadn’t been riding seriously for a long time). Frustrating but better to get the practice in training. Fortunately the shop I rented from had another location I was coming up on. So I stopped there, bought another clif bar and a replacement tube, and had them check the rear shifting which was not as smooth as it should have been.

Then on up the middle of the island. My spirits and energy were still high, it was still early enough in the day, and I had an island to go see! I passed the Dole plantation along the highway (I later went there with Jeremy), but was not stopping that day. The ride through the middle of the island was not particularly exciting. It was beautiful, but relative to the rest of the island, just kind of average beautiful. Not as breathtaking as everything else. At least I did get some hills in by riding there. And a nice, long downhill stretch as I made my way onto the coastal highway along the north shore (I think I got up to 40 mph).

By this point it was around 1 in the afternoon. I still felt strong, but I was getting a little concerned about finishing the ride on time. I was supposed to return the bike by 5 pm, and I was only about halfway through my anticipated 120 miles! Fortunately I knew almost all of the climbing was behind me and hopefully no more repair issues. I pushed on. It was reassuring that I began hitting 18-20 mph consistent as I rode along the now flat highway. And the views of the beaches were incredible. Waikiki might be far busier, but I’ll take the North Shore beaches. Amazing clear blue ocean, fantastic waves, sand, and not as crowded (see the photo I took later when Jeremy and I visited those North shore beaches). And I had miles and miles of highway that ran right along the coast. Most of the time there were trees between me and the beach, but I got continuous glimpses of beach and ocean, and off on my other side, mountains and forests. When spin instructors say “imagine yourself in a happy place?” I was there, I didn’t need to imagine (unfortunately it didn’t really make the riding any easier. That heat was still killing me.)

At some point, I pulled into the parking lot of one of the beaches. It had been a while since I had seen convenience stores or anything. It made for very peaceful riding, but I did need food and water. Score! Taco stand! I ordered a single small taco and a water bottle. While I waited, I chatted a little with the clerk (and had her make sure my sunscreen was on right when I reapplied it — I probably applied sunscreen 2 or 3 times during the day, so didn’t get major burns, but did get a bit more color than I planned to, and of course with funny tan lines). The clerk said the roads should be pretty good for riding all the way back to Waikiki, and that there was a supermarket just a few more miles down the road. That taco tasted amazing; salt, protein, carbs, everything I needed right then. And then at the supermarket I picked up a banana and a jumbo water to refill my bottles. A bit further down the road I passed the shrimp trucks and wished I could stop. But that would have to wait for when Jeremy got to the island (we did stop at those).

I continued on, making good time, holding my average around 18 mph. Given how long I had been riding, how hot it was, how tired my legs already were when I started the ride, I’m pretty happy with that pace. But as the day wore on, the incredible views were helping less and less. My body was just dead tired. Around 80 miles into my ride I had to turn off the GPS on my watch. Its battery was almost dead (it had been on for around 7 hours already), and I wanted to make sure the watch itself functioned even if I didn’t have GPS. I was loving the ride, but the heat and humidity were sapping energy from me. And I was getting back to a point of needing provisions. I stopped at a tiny convenience store and the clerk there yelled at me that I couldn’t bring my bike inside. “Just leave it outside.” We argued. No, I’m not going to leave my $3600 rental bike outside. I can’t afford to buy that bike, and I’m definitely not buying it because it got stolen! Fortunately, as I was going back and forth with the clerk, someone else walking in asked “do you want me to get you something?” “Yes, a large water.” He got me a large water and I grabbed crackers at the register and paid. Done.

Despite feeling like my energy was sapped by the heat, I never felt close to bonking. I never felt like I was at a point I wasn’t going to be able to continue. I actually held a pretty good pace, even when I was sore and tired. So at least my nutrition seemed to be working. Most critically, I was putting nuun in all of my water (the taste was getting to me by the end of the day though) and having salt stick caps every hour or so. By the end of the ride my clothes had salt streaks all up and down them like I haven’t seen before, but I never crashed — good thing I was replacing all that salt loss, otherwise I would not have made it. I also had 5 or 6 clif bars, a banana, crackers, that taco, some fruit, some nuts, and some gels. Wow, that sounds like a lot. But I was on my bike all day.

At some point I called the bike shop. I wasn’t sure if I could make it back by 5. Fortunately they said it was okay if I just returned it first thing in the morning. (As it turned out, I didn’t get to my hotel until a bit after 6 pm, so definitely a good thing I got permission to return the bike the next day.) Around 100 miles in, my right hand really began bothering me. I had to keep stopping to shake it out (I later learned I got carpal tunnel syndrome from the biking! All the intense downhills with a lot of braking over a couple weeks had gotten to it.) It was a good thing I was close to the end. And at that point I was on the southwest corner of the island. So many breathtaking views from the highway there. It’s incredibly scenic and well worth just driving it. And you can see a lot more when you’re on a bike. My legs were exhausted, my hand was numb, my body was all over sore, but I still had energy, and that little voice in my head was getting louder “the harder you push, the quicker you’re done.” Auto-pilot engaged, and I just kept riding.

About 5 miles from the hotel I got lost. So close. And yet Diamond Head stood between me and the hotel. And the road I was on was going straight up the mountain. Oops. I knew there was a way around the mountain, but I wasn’t sure which way that was. I backtracked half a block and found someone working on his car. He was very friendly, gave me good directions to get to the highway along the coast, where I could easily ride into Waikiki and avoid the climb up Diamond Head. As I was leaving he said “enjoy your ride.” I wanted to say “I’ll try, but I’ve already been out all day, I’m at the end of my ride.” I probably didn’t need to say that though. I’m sure my clothes spoke for themselves. The final mile of my ride took me along the Ala Wai canal. I found myself thinking “with a little less wind and chop, this would be a great place to row.” I later learned people do in fact row there! The rower in me will never die. I always evaluate water for its rowing potential.

And then I was finally back to the hotel. Amazing ride. 120 miles, 6800 feet elevation climbed, and 15.9 mph average moving speed for the 80 mile chunk my Garmin recorded. And at that point I was so glad to be done and back. It was over 11 hours since I left the hotel. And Jeremy was arriving in a couple hours. Quick shower, quick dinner, and shuttle to the airport to go meet him! I was very grateful the next morning when he offered to drive me to the bike shop in the rental car. I mean it was only 2 miles from the hotel to the bike shop. But as anyone who has done a long ride like that knows, the next day you don’t really want to get back on the bike.

140 Days till Ironman Arizona!!

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