Riding the Queen K

I have arrived in Kona, and so far I'm having fun.  The race completely takes over this town.  It's pretty cool...at least it is if you're associated with the race.  For others, maybe not.

My parents and Courtney's parents came out with us so we all chipped in and rented a house, which is just off Ali'i Drive about 4 or 5 miles from the race start so we're close to the action but also far enough out that we can get away from it.  We're right by Magic Sands Beach, which is a pretty nice little beach. 

One of the first tasks on the agenda was building my bike and making sure everything was good to go.  Then, early afternoon I headed out to ride the Queen K.  I wanted to wait for things to heat up and the trade winds to pick up so I could feel the famous Kona winds and get used to the heat.

The plan was a 3 hour ride with a 20 minute run.  Courtney would drop me off at Kawaihae and then I was going to ride up to Hawi where she was going to meet me at the high school so I could refill my water bottles.  Then I was riding back to a golf course just North of the airport (about 15 miles North of Kona) where I would meet her again and go for a short run.

The route.
For some reason, the Kona course has a reputation of being flat.  I knew it wasn't flat, and I knew that it was a 19 mile climb from Kawaihae up to Hawi, but I didn't realize the rest of the road had so many rollers.  

That's the elevation profile of my 60 mile ride.  The real climb up to Hawi is about 6 or 7 miles long.  The flat spot after the climb is me stopped at the high school refilling bottles.  Despite hitting my stop button, TrainingPeaks always shows that time (it drives me crazy).  But, as you can see in this profile, the course is constant rollers after coming out of Hawi.  None of the climbs were steep, not even the one going into Hawi, and I never needed to stand or coast which is part of what makes this course tough.  It's relentless.

The ride started at Kawaihae.  It took me a little while to get comfortable riding on the side of a busy highway.  I'm not used to that. But the shoulder is really wide and I settled in pretty quickly.  At this point, it was windy but not too bad.  The climbing is gradual and you're able to keep your speed up pretty high.

A gradual climb on my way to Hawi, before the big climb.

Once you hit the big climb, you begin really feeling the winds.  I'm not sure exactly what it is that shelters part of the island from the winds, but you leave that shelter while climbing up to Hawi so as you climb the winds get stronger and stronger.  I tried getting a good picture of me battling the crosswinds but it didn't turn out so well.  You can't see the grass blowing in the background as much I thought (I probably shouldn't have been taking pictures in the crosswinds - they can get a little sketchy, but I didn't find them nearly as bad as people make them out to be).

Me battling the crosswinds.  I wanted to smile for the camera but I was getting blown around a bit so this was a tricky shot.  You can kind of see the grass blowing in the background.  This is going into Hawi, and the winds aren't at their worst here, but that's only because you're climbing and not going as fast. 

Once into Hawi (about 20 miles into my ride) I met Courtney for some more water.

Courtney met me at the high school so I could refill my bottles.

The way out of Hawi is where the winds really get sketchy.  You start out with a tailwind, and it's strong.  I was climbing hills at 40 mph.  I knew at that point, things had potential to get tricky in a little while.  If you go back up to the map of my route, it's right around the 25 mile marker where the winds get ugly.  That's where you turn South.  You're descending and doing about 40 mph and this strong tailwind is about to switch to a strong crosswind.  I actually kind of enjoyed the challenge of it.  It's tricky and you have to pay attention, but I didn't think it was as bad as the stories you hear.  What I found was best was to stay aero and stay on the gas.  If you sit up and let off the power, you'll get blown around bad.  I saw the turn coming and knew the winds would get ugly for a bit, so I increased my power a bit from IM power to tempo and got a good grip on the aerobars and got my head down out of the wind as much as possible.  This is where the windmills are - the windmills are there for a reason.

After this, you have strong crosswinds for a few miles and that can be tough.  They gust and swirl, so it's not like you just have a steady 30mph wind coming from your right.  It's coming at you from all directions.  It can get sketchy, but like I said it's not as bad as the horror stories you hear.

There are rock formations that briefly shelter the wind, so those are good places to eat and drink quickly.

The rock formations that shelter you from the trade winds.

After you reach Kawaihae, the winds calm down a bit and they're not too bad on the return trip to Kona.  It's still windy, and they come at all from all directions it seems, but it's a lot more manageable.  The worst part of this section is that the scenery never changes.  The hills are rollers and you never have to stand or coast.  It's like riding the trainer.  You get no breaks, the scenery never changes and you don't feel like you're making any progress.  This section is more of a mental battle than anything.  Nothing but lava fields.

I met Courtney by a golf course North of the airport and did a short run on a desolate road cut through a lava field.  It was lonely and hot...perfect Kona training.  Courtney did her run on that road while waiting for me so she got a taste of hot lava fields, which was good training for her because she's doing a 5K while we're out here.

I plan on posting some Kona pics later in the week.  Hopefully I manage to get a few good shots to post.  I haven't seen any pros yet, but Courtney saw Michael Raelert getting ready to swim at the Pier and said he's one of the leanest people she's ever seen.  I don't think she got a picture of him though.

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