The Lavaman Triathlon Sunday, April 10, 2016
The Lavaman Triathlon was held at Waikoloa Resort, just North of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. My “big race” had arrived! By “big”, I mean there were over 1500 racers registered, and at least double the viewers, event staff, team supporters and resort guests in attendance. There was a lot of energy and excitement in the crowd, clear bright Kohala Coast sunshine, and a well-organized race course ahead of me.
I had just spent 6 months training and preparing, so I was ready! As my carpool made its’ way North on the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway, I noticed there was a fairly strong wind. Although I felt physically ready to race, and had rehearsed my race plan, I began to obsess about being blown off my bike and wiping out in the gravel, or getting pushed into fast moving highway traffic! The highway remained open during the entire race. And like most racers, as the start time approached, I became very aware of everything going on inside me and what was going on around me. It’s all a little overwhelming, but thankfully, a teammate reassured me they had “never seen anything like that happen”…so with that, I could set my mind at ease and pay attention to the details of my race.
First things first in order to prep for my first “big”race, I had to start my day at 3:30 AM. An early start is all part of the race plan. Get up with my alarm, shower, dress in my tri-suit, and have a good breakfast. Now the thought of eating breakfast at 3:45AM was not very appealing, but previous experience taught me the value of eating well before my race. I’ve learned to fuel my body and help sustain me for the day. Breakfast, being oatmeal with fresh fruit, eggs, cup of coffee, and a sustained energy drink was a great start, and also helped settle pre-race jitters.
When my coach arrived, (lucky me I didn’t have to drive myself to the event!), I was packed and ready to go…or so I thought. When I arrived at the staging area, while unloading my gear, I realized I’d forgotten my changing stool and the bath towels that help make transitions between segments much more comfortable and easier to manage. But nonetheless, a crucial part of participating in events like this is to remain flexible. It was GO TIME, so the only thing to do was to stay calm and focus on the start of the race.. All I could think of were the words of E.E. Milne’s character, Winnie the Pooh. “Oh, bother.” and just keep moving!
The day before the event, I was assigned race number 1163. I set out to find the parking place for my tri-bike, located in the transition area. Talk about good fortune! My place was located on the end of a row of hundreds of bikes. From there, I could easily position all my race gear and supplies…bike shoes, running shoes, socks, portable nutrition, sport drinks, and bike helmet. From there, I checked in with the race officials and was given a timing chip to wear on my ankle. I set out to warm up and prepare for my first stage – the swim.
For those of you who’ve been following my blog, you already know there are three segments of the Lavaman…thus a Triathlon! Swim. Bike. Run.
Stage 1 = 1500 Meter Swim:
After surveying the start line, I decided to position myself on the outside of my race group. This way I wouldn’t be caught up in a mass of flailing arms, kicking legs, and moving bodies. And although my race line was not direct, my position paid off and I was able to swim relatively unimpeded, turning in a time of 30:45 for a 1500 meter swim. This was my fastest time in the water and gave me confidence for the next segment.
Things were going great! But when the swim ended, and I started to run toward my bike in the transition area, I managed to stub my right toe. Hard. Another “Oh bother” crossed my mind. Remember, due to the stroke, I have trouble picking up my right foot. Well, my thoughts may have been a little stronger than “Oh, bother,” but by then, my adrenaline had kicked in, literally, and the pain didn’t last long at all!. My transition time was a bit slower than other races because I’d forgotten my changing stool, as well as an extra towel to dry my feet, and for some odd reason, I decided to wear socks! Trying to put on compression socks over wet feet was a bad idea. Thankfully, I had help from two team mates not participating and was ready to ride!
Stage 2 = 40 Kilometer Bike:
As a newcomer to not only the sport, but also navigating a customized racing tri-bike, (provided by my sponsors at Bike Works Kona and Waikoloa shops) my skills and times are continually improving. But biking is arguable my slowest segment. Prior to the stroke, biking for fun was a no-brainer. Lavaman was a whole new experience. In spite of the strong wind, balance challenges, a somewhat bothersome toe, and legs feeling worn and heavy post-swim, I covered the 40 K distance in 1:26:29. My plan was to complete the segment in 1:30:00, so overall, not a bad ride. And true to my teammate’s words, I did not get knocked over by the wind!
I got this! Again, with help and encouragement from my teammates, my second transition time was better than the first, and had no complications gearing up for the run. Even a bit of hi-jinx humor from my teammates sustained my motivation…As I think of it now, I can see several ways to practice and improve my transition times. But at race time, there was no time for analysis or any place for self-doubt. My mind and body was in the “zone” and I visualized myself crossing the finish line. I was ready to run!
Stage 3 = 10K Run:
Leaving the transition area on foot, my quads were letting me know I’d just finished a 1500M swim and a 40K ride! I started cramping up, stopped, did a little stretch, and ran slow for about 1.5 miles. The cramps eventually calmed down then subsided, much to my relief! I’d never experienced cramps during a race prior to Lavaman, and I realized I had to be do the right things for my body and remain calm to accomplish my goal of finishing the race. So at every aid station along the route, I dumped cold water on my head, put ice down the back of my shirt, and drank the electrolyte drinks offered by race support. The majority of the 10K was open road, but the last mile was single track – lava and coral. Passing was nearly impossible. With a sluggish right foot, the terrain was a challenge, and I just about fell down twice! To make things even more challenging, the last 300 yards was marked by soft, deep, unleveled sand. Aha, another item for practice notes. All this said, I finished 10 Kilometers in 56:45. Again, one of my top finishing times for the distance!
During my time competing, one thought kept coming to mind: I want to do triathlons so I bring hope to other stroke survivors. Even when challenges come up, I don’t want to quit. There is great reward for continuing whatever path is set before you -whether it is working to regain speech, doing endless physical therapy exercises, or showing up willingly for occupational therapy sessions. Sharing your story and your personal mission is a gift. In the big picture, my finish time and place become irrelevant. Why do I run Triathlons? Because I am a stroke survivor, and stroke survivors CAN!
As always, I would like to thank by sponsors Bike Works of Kona and Waikola, Rudy Project, and XX2iXX2i. Special thanks as well to my coach Rick Rubio, my team mates, and Team Kevin! Without all of you, reaching my goal of racing a triathlon would not be possible! With all of you, I can bring hope to so many!