For years, I’d heard about the Lavaman Triathlon in Kona, HI and had secretly wanted to participate. When my friend Sally’s husband Todd organized a team to do the Lavaman and raise $100,000 for a leukemia and lymphoma research in his wife’s honor, I decided to join the cause. In addition to training to successfully complete this Olympic distance event, I would also be faced with the challenge of raising a big chunk of money and convincing my husband to support this BIG, expensive adventure. I reasoned with Dave that this trip would occur in the month of our 20th anniversary so might be a great way to celebrate this milestone.
Fast forward six months and I’ve accomplished all three!!
While preparing to get to the start line, I faced some BIG challenges. After nearly, 19 years as a SAHM, I started a full-time job in early January. Balancing my new schedule with a busy training schedule -as well as a family and home to care for — was daunting. I adjusted my goals from getting faster (a real stretch for me) to just being able to do the event and feel good at the end. In the midst of all the training sessions and fundraising, my seven year old Honda Odyssey with nearly 220,000 miles broke down and needed a $1500 repair. With plane tickets to buy, a bike to ship and trip expenses, we decided to garage the ailing vehicle and divert the repair money to the Hawaii trip. Fortunately, my 19 year old daughter had left behind a car when she moved last fall and we were able to put it to use. I booked my mother to watch the boys, arranged time off from my new job and talked my husband into joining me.
The Trip – April 7, 2016
Hoping to arrive before nightfall, I had booked an very early flight through LA with several connections. Realizing only later that this early flight meant leaving the house at 3 am to catch my 5:30 am flight, I understood the wisdom of paying more money for a direct flight. Note to self – saving money is not worth the extra travel time or early departure. Arriving early enabled me to participate in two days of bike and swim workouts, rest up, acclimate to the hot weather and connect with team mates. On Friday morning, I joined the team in the lobby of the Palace Tower to hike down to the beach for the swim. It was quite a hike – about 1 1/2 miles – along the beach and a rocky lava rock path; a trek which provided an excellent preview of the final run section of the race. After a brief talk by our coach, we jumped in the ocean and swam a lovely half mile around a buoy in the distance. With the exception of the taste of salt in my mouth, the swim was very pleasant.
Despite warnings about avoiding the coral near the shore, I managed to cut my toe on my way out of the water. At the time, I noticed that my toe hurt but didn’t realize I needed medical attention until after a three mile walk and finding a pool of blood in the shower. Having packed only carry-on bags, I had not brought a first aid kit. Note to self — don’t forget band aids and Neosporin! Fortunately, our team coach, Mary Carey, rescued me with the needed supplies and advised me to sit out the Saturday swim. The cut looked pretty nasty and was very bothersome considering the extensive walking required to navigate around the huge Hilton property. I worried about getting it infected and the possibility that I might have to quit the race. With such an investment in time and resources, I focused on letting the cut heal and tried to be positive about participating on Sunday.
Race Day – April 10, 2016
The 4 hour time difference between Denver and Kona made it relatively easy to get up before dawn to meet the team in the lobby at 5 am — a full 1/2 mile and an elevator ride from my hotel room. We had been instructed to bring head lamps for the mile ride to transition in the dark but afraid that I might crash before the start line, I decided to bypass this challenge and walk the mile to transition. Confident that the weather would be Hawaii warm in the predawn hour, I didn’t wear a long sleeve shirt and later regretted this decision since it was a windy, chilly 68 degrees. But no matter, I got everything set up, networked with my rack mates, applied sunscreen, drank water, stood in line for body marking, got my timing chip, took photos with team mates, and enjoyed the view of the Mauna Kea volcano silhouetted in the distance.
Choppy Swim – .9 miles
By 6:45 am, we marched down to the shore to start lining up for our waves and do practice swims. Initially, I thought about skipping a warm up swim to avoid a chill but later, changed my mind since my wave was slated to start 30 minutes after the start. Jumping in the water helped stave off some of my nervous energy and provided a good distraction since the water was warm and calm. Of the many triathlons I’ve participated in through the years, this was one of the nicest and more picturesque starts. I knew I could do it and only hoped I wouldn’t come face to face with a shark in the water. For this reason, I kept my eyes closed when my head was in the water
At 7:45, our wave was called to get in the water for the deep water start. After a few minutes of treading, the signal sounded and we were off. As usual, the start was a tangle of arms and legs and churning water for a few minutes until I found my space. I had no trouble rounding the first buoy but later had difficulty seeing the course so resorted to following someone ahead of me. Unfortunately, I passed them and had to take a few moments to breast stroke and look around. Several times, I think I was actually sighting the swim patrol’s paddle boards and not the buoys. Why do they use SUPs that are the same color as the buoys? Halfway through the course, I noticed that the water was getting choppy much like the drill we’d practice in the pool with a lane of swimmers churning the water with kick boards while we swam through. Simple — I can do this!
Windy Bike – 24 miles
As I exited the water, I knew I’d completed the easiest part of the race for me. I’d forgotten my watch in Denver so I had no idea what my time was but figured I’d done well enough when I saw that most of the bikes were still in transition. Once I reached my spot, I shoveled down a pb&j, guzzled some water, took some salt, slathered on sunscreen and put on my socks and bike shoes – all somewhat difficult being wet. After buckling my helmet, I ran down the lane to the bike start and started to face my bike fears. These fears had prevented me from adequately training on the bike and now that I was actually facing a 24 mile bike ride, they were pushing forward in my thoughts. During the mile ride out to the main road, I kept telling myself, “you can do this, you can do this, you can do this!” These magic words must have helped because once I reached the highway, I was OK and happily able to focus on pedaling, enjoying the view, feeling grateful to have gotten this far and knocking out this portion of the race. As expected, I was slow and nearly every woman I knew on the team passed me on the bike course; each one of them saying “hi” as they hurtled past me. I tried to congratulate myself for doing well on the swim and to just be OK with the fact that I am weaker on biking and running.
The bike ride was a very straight forward out and back course with relatively easy hills compared to my hilly home state. The only negatives were the few goats that ran out into the road and the strong head wind on the ride back. The views were spectacular and I especially enjoyed seeing the Anaeho’omalu Bay on the ride back to Waikoloa. At the turn around, I decided to get off my bike for a few minutes to drink water — a move I might not have had to make if I’d actually done enough bike training ahead of time. Upon passing the 20 mile mark, I cannot tell you the sense of euphoria I felt as I approached the entrance to the road back to transition. With one mile to go, I had made it without a flat tire, without dying of exhaustion, without falling — I was almost to the final leg of the race!!!!!
As I approached the transition area, I hit a speed bump a little too fast and all the stuff in my stem bag exploded out onto the road. This mishap took a few minutes to recoup from but did not compare to the inevitable deflation I felt as I got back on my bike and faced the stream of competitors packed up and heading back to their rooms and cars after completing the race. Uggh!!! “It’s OK”, I had to tell myself, “they started earlier than me and besides, I am here to have a good time, not win!”.
Whew!! I got off my bike and ran to my spot, peeled off my helmet and bike shoes and quickly, changed my shirt, ate the other half of my sandwich, tied my running shoes and dashed off to the run start. By this time, the teen volunteers staffing the run zone were busy texting, socializing and unaware of us stragglers heading out. I had to stop and shout for directions. “Which way? Hey, which way is the run course?” Hmmm….being near the back of the pack does have it disadvantages! I was finally pointed to a path across the lava field adjacent to the transition area.
Hot Run – 10k
I could tell right away that the day was heating up and this run was going to be a hot one. After so many training runs during winter conditions, I wasn’t going to complain a second about finally being able to wear shorts and a sleeveless top. Thankfully, the route was well staffed with water stations and abundant bags of ice which I positioned at the back of my neck or down the front. About two miles in, I ran past the aid station where my husband Dave was working and briefly said “hi” as I slogged past. As I proceeded, I saw many of the teammates who had passed me on the bike, heading back on the run course toward the final leg of the race along the shore. Such is life!
Finish Line on the Beach (!)
Our coach had warned us to try to pick up our pace earlier on the run since the final section along a narrow dirt path just above the rocky shore followed by a trail of chunky lava rocks would necessitate a much slower speed — walking for me! It was a hot slow journey but lovely, nonetheless. Halfway through the run, I was so happy to have made it this far and still feeling pretty good. As I ran past our wonderful coach at about mile 5, all I could say was “I’m getting hungry!” The last mile seemed to take forever — especially the final 100 yard dash (?!) in deep sand. I crossed the finish line, stumbled toward cold water and the shiny medal. After that, I searched for sustenance, grabbing some cookies and fruit and then, headed to the shore for a quick dunk to cool off.
The water was miraculously cool. After hoisting myself onto the beach, I sat in a stupor on the sand for about 10 minutes. I noticed someone like me (in a sweaty tri suit) with a plate of food and realized that there was some real food for us; not just cookies and fruit! I mustered the energy to get up, search out the buffet and gratefully, loaded up with a burger, chips, fruits, coleslaw and more. I found another team mate and together, we parked our weary bodies in a shady spot to eat and recap the race. Later on, my husband appeared to finish off what I couldn’t eat and wait in the line for beer. Sitting about 20 feet away was a group of other Team Sally members, including Sally, Todd and their daughter, Hannah, I wanted to go over to congratulate them and take photos but once seated, I was immobile for almost an hour. The toughest part of such a big athletic endeavor often comes after crossing the finish line. The getting up, the trudging back to transition to collect one’s bike and gear and then, getting back to home base all seemed improbable after over four hours on the race course.
The Icing on the Cake
While Dave waited in the long food line at the Kona Brewing Co beer tent, I decided to take one last dip. As I waded in, I heard a voice over my shoulder say “Hey, you passed me on the bike course!” I turned putting my hands up and shook my head, “not me!” The real truth is that everyone had passed me on the bike course. But as I looked up, my eyes fell upon the most handsome shirtless man in the race – God’s gift – looking straight me. “No, you passed me!” he said, “Some of you gals are so fast!”. No way, I thought. I took a deep breath and just decided to go with it and enjoy the moment. We chatted about his hopes to do an Ironman in Sydney, his 18 year old daughter going to USC and my plans to do a half marathon with my sister. As we turned to say goodbye, we shook hands and exchanged names. His name was Murray. Thanks Murray for that undeserved compliment — it was almost as good as earning the Lavaman medal. A nice ending to a long, fun day.
Stay tuned for a recap of my second Lavaman in March 2018!