WAILUKU - Jodi Ottman's idea of fun is not like most people's - cycling for eight hours through west Maui, running more than 20 miles from her home in Paia to Lahaina and knocking out three miles of lap swimming. Then again, most people aren't training for the Ironman World Championship.
"Yeah it seems crazy, but once you do it you understand," Ottman said of her passion for triathlons. "It's kind of therapeutic and it mellows you out - you just get into the right head space and it feels good after a while."
She is in her final days of training before taking on what is widely considered the ultimate test of endurance on Saturday. The Kona Ironman - or simply "Kona" in triathlon circles - is a notoriously grueling course, challenging competitors with a 2.4-mile ocean swim, 112-mile bicycle course and full marathon.
Jodi Ottman, shown completing the South Maui Triathlon in June, qualified for Saturday’s Ironman World Championship with her finish at an event in Mexico in November.
David O. Baldwin / Hawaiiphotman.com photo
"People always ask you, 'Oh, have you done Kona?' " Ottman said. "That's the first question they always ask Kona's that race that people always talk about, and since this is my first one I have so much respect for it."
Ottman looks the part of a serious athlete. Every limb is packed with solid muscle that peeks out from her spandex shorts and neon moisture-wicking tank. On one wrist hangs a band with emergency contact numbers in case she's hurt while training, and on the other is an oversized sports watch to monitor her vitals.
The California native, who moved to Maui more than two years ago, is a YMCA fitness instructor and volunteer cross country coach at Haiku Elementary School. In addition, she runs her Salty Coconuts clothing line for fe-male triathletes.
At age 40, the mother of two says she's in the best shape of her life - but admits she will need more than physical endurance to complete the granddaddy of Ironman events.
"This is your best asset," she said, tapping her forehead. "I just try to keep my mind empty and keep my thoughts really positive. It's a big mental game."
Ottman qualified for Kona by finishing fourth in her division at the Ironman Cozumel in Mexico in November. It was her third attempt at making the cut, and after falling short in the past she decided to take a more casual approach.
"I didn't even focus on (qualifying) and I was just having a good time, which is my motto now. That's the irony of it all actually, that I wasn't focused on it and it happened," said Ottman, who finished 12 minutes ahead of her goal of 11 hours.
That time will be the target again on Saturday.
"In my mind the perfect day would be an 11-hour race," Ottman said. "But you know I'm not going to be surprised if I come in somewhere an hour after that or something, because you just never know with a race like Kona."
Ottman estimates she burns "easily 9,000 to 10,000 calories" during an Ironman race, adding that her body goes into shock afterward.
"It's like 'What did you just do to me?' " she said. "Then you don't sleep well that night because you're so amped up, and then you get a little bit of sleep and then the next day you get hungry and you're just eating and eating and eating. Your body is just like 'Oh my gosh, feed me.' "
Ottman said Maui's climate is an ideal training ground for the typically warm and windy conditions of Kona. She has also made two day trips to bike on the official course.
"I feel like I have a little bit of a hometown advantage. The wind here is kind of like Kona, and you can't not ride in the wind here, so it's similar in that sense," she said.
Ottman says she's been doing some light training in recent days, but is mostly focusing on mental preparation.
"I try to stay really Zen. I use yoga a lot, lots of deep breathing," she said.
Another challenge is staying healthy this week.
"My husband has a really bad cold right now, so I haven't hugged him or touched him in three days, and yesterday I was disinfecting all the sinks at our house. It seems paranoid, and it probably is," she laughed.
Ottman traveled alone for the Cozumel race, but will have a Kona support crew of more than 20 family members and friends from California and Maui.
"I always try and go kind of quiet, but this is a big race so no one's letting it be quiet," Ottman said. "When I'm doing a race I kind of keep it to myself and now it's like, mention you're doing Kona, and it's like a big deal, people know it.
"The fact that I'll have them over there is going to be great. I'm going to tell them where to be strategically on the run, the hard parts."
* Lehia Apana is at email@example.com