Finding a clinical trial that is just right


Last night my triathlete friend Karen asked me what the deal was with clinical trials. Like, why do I have to shop for a clinical trial to help me find a cure for my cancer? She was correct in thinking that there is an established treatment for melanoma stage 3a. However, the advantage of participating in a clinical trial, as explained to me by my surgeon yesterday, is that medicine recently approved by the FDA for those with cancer stage 4 could potentially be tested on those of us with stage 3. The FDA approves a substance to battle cancer if it shows promise. The purpose of a clinical trial for those of us in stage 3 would help principals determine if a new treatment is more effective than the established treatment.

The website lists all of the trials going on — for everything, not just cancer. Type in a keyword (malady) and a location (Honolulu) and watch the results come up. For me there were a few but they were closed in Honolulu. We would consider a trial on the Mainland, but transportation and lodging costs would be tough to handle, especially if it were for a year or more. Plus, I have two teenage daughters. One will graduate in June. I want to be here. I want to see that.

Using the keywords melanoma, Honolulu, and surgery, I sifted through the pages and found three clinical trials that might fit and emailed the links to my oncologist. One was closed to adults, one focused on a vaccine and was in its first phase, and another one was not yet open, but was exactly what I needed. However, there was no indication it would be in Honolulu:

High-Dose Recombinant Interferon Alfa-2B or Pembrolizumab in Treating Patients With Stage III-IV High Risk Melanoma That Has Been Removed by Surgery

This is a double-blind study, so if I were to enroll, I would get either Interferon or Pembrolizumab. If I don’t participate, I would be administered Interferon, because it is in Kaiser Permanente’s formulary. What do I have to lose if I get the one I would be prescribed or Pembrolizumab, which is being tested?

The page indicated that the study would happen in September, but, since it isn’t yet recruiting, I sent an email to the principal. His nurses sent his responses back to me, including that the SWOG-sponsored study will start in a few weeks, including here in Hawaii. Kaiser Permanente participates in SWOG studies, and the nurses told me that the study will begin here about the same time as it would at various locations on the Mainland.

The fine print at the Clinical Trials website for this particular study indicates that my surgery would have to be within a 98-day window. I’m 30 days beyond my last surgery, so it looks like I will make the cut. Other things such as a full-body physical, blood tests, and the imaging that was conducted before the surgeries will also be part of my application. Fortunately for me, Kaiser has an oncology research area here and they are already helping me get ready for enrollment. Yesterday was the first time I had heard of CareEveryWhere, a secure network that facilitates the sharing of patient medical information, which is truly necessary as trials blend patients and facilities from different healthcare organizations.

Consider me optimistic. My glass is half full most days. I will not deny that the dark clouds of funk do find me and psyche me out sometimes. At yesterday’s final post op, my surgeon said she was pleased at how well I am healing. The first cut behind my knee surprised all of us by healing well enough to not need the skin graft. That was a big, deep hole! She said I have a good attitude, which is HUGE when it comes to battling cancer or fighting fat or training for a triathlon. HUGE.

You know what else is HUGE? That my friends and family have been so supportive. High school classmates who are survivors told me their inspiring stories. I have friends who share information about holistic healing and miracle foods (hello turmeric). One classmate, whose son is in residence in Cleveland, asked him to help me find a trial. He asked three other doctors. I was so pleased when the one they thought best was the one I had found myself. Nearly everyday I get a greeting card from someone. And my friend Michelle, who lives here in Hawaii and is one of my Boca Hawaii teammates, has been sending me colorful Hawaiian postcards signed by various coaches and other teammates! Crack me up! One had a recipe for a pina colada. Others are just beautiful shots of our Island home.

Finally, yesterday I was given the green light to begin walking on our treadmill for 30 minutes at a time. Once my wounds are fully healed I can start swimming again, going the distance at a leisurely pace before working on speed. I can’t get on a bike yet, at least for a few months, because the lymph node surgical site is right at the bend of the hip and the torso. You can still see my stitches. My body is not yet ready for it. My trainer is home and eventually, I’ll set it up and start riding in the backyard to prepare myself for getting back into my Boca Hawaii workouts.

I am able to cook. We are enjoying #EatAtMoms meals as often as possible. I won’t know how I’ll feel once the immunotherapy begins. Stay tuned. I may need to lean on you even more.


The Skin I’m In


I’ve been hesitant to share this because of the infamous Facebook happy birthday syndrome. I don’t want everyone to go OMYGOSH! If you were to think positive thoughts, pray to your holy entities, or burn a swatch of herbs and dance naked on sacred stones in the light of the full moon to signify to the universe that healing vibes should come my way, then please do. Use your bandwidth to save the world, OK?

I don’t know how long this mole had been behind my right knee, but about two months ago I noticed it. I was holding up my leg doing a stretch and felt it when I clasped my hands behind my knee. Hmmm, a bump. You know how it goes: I guess I better get this checked out. And then you forget about it. About three weeks ago I thought it looked bigger, so I went in for a full-body skin check. The dermatologist used the CO2 can to freeze some spots and the treatment of other strange things were postponed because of the mole that stole the show. A punch biopsy was taken and it was determined to be a 1.13mm melanoma. My dermatologist stitched it up nice. Then she referred me for surgery. On Tuesday the stitches came out. I have a scar about the size of a dime.

Surgery is Monday. The newly healed skin will be cut back open and then some. Am I full of dread? Not really. As you might guess, I’ve been reading a lot of stories about melanoma, lymph nodes, the stages of cancer, alkaline vs. acidic diets, baking soda cocktails and tales of survival.

After having met my Kaiser Permanente surgeon, I am completely confident in how things will go. A nuclear medicine doctor will inject a dye to determine which lymph nodes are involved; I’ll meet with the anesthesiologist and get poked for general anesthesia; I’ll get a cut that might look like this: <===O===> (that’s an eye shape, in case you don’t see it). The procedure will end with a skin graft from my other thigh. Why? The site is too close to the bend in my knee and my skin is too taut for it to be sewn back together without limiting the movement of my knee. I wonder if I’ll need crutches? Maybe I can convince them to take a piece off my butt, where there is a little spare skin. J/K. #Triathleteproblems. #Muscularlegs. #Smoothskin.

It won’t be for another two weeks until we know if melanoma is in the surrounding skin or lymph nodes. My surgeon said I have an amazing 92-percent chance that it’s all gone. Isn’t that great? If I fall into the 8-percent realm, I will be placed in a clinical trial and/or immunotherapy.

Life is on hold, and admittedly, I have cabin fever. Not being able to work out, ride my bike or go for a swim is kind of driving me crazy. I go to the Boca Hawaii studio on Tuesdays for the turbo bike training so I can hang out with my friends, encourage them and fill their water bottles. Sometimes I dance. They let me be the DJ.

School is out, so I’m not missing work. I look around and see things I really should take care of, but, instead I have to find a happy place, ignore the weeds and enjoy this summer before the total high school experience happens with both girls at Kaiser HS.

Dark moments come and go. But more often than not I don’t even think about it. I feel pretty good. It would be great to surf along at “pretty good” while all this is going on, white knuckling through the bumps, and coming out stronger at the end of the ride. Stronger and wiser.

If you see me, chances are I’m in cooling-arm sleeves and capris. I wear a hat. Pretty soon I’ll shop for bottoms and tops with UV protection for swimming and riding. I’ll be that woman in the North Shore Swim Series next year covered from head to ankle.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a peeling nose and sunburns every summer in New Jersey. Here in Hawaii, I’ve surfed and swam sloppily smeared with sunscreen. I am sure this has its roots in small-kid-time summers in just a swim team suit at the pool or the beach from dawn till dinner.

This always happened to others. If you are fair like I am, or if you worked on your tan ever, then you should get your skin checked. What if this were somewhere else, like on my scalp? Things can go undetected for so long. Are you scared yet?

Ironman Honu Triathlon 70.3 2015, the download


A beautiful place.

A beautiful place.

For six months or more, people like me train for an Ironman 70.3 triathlon somewhere on this planet. On Saturday, May 30, 2015, I participated in the Ironman Honu Triathlon 70.3 on Hawaii Island. It was my third time.

My first race was the fastest. Is it because I was younger? I feel like I’m in better shape now. I had a different and heavier bike back then, and that bike leg was my fastest. I’m happy that this year I beat last year’s time and that I made it across the finish line with 11 minutes to spare. Each year it had been my goal to finish under eight hours. Alas.

The only tattoo I ever get is the temporary race number. This year: 530.

The only tattoo for me is a temporary race number. This year: 530.

I was calm before the race. Packing is time consuming, but I didn’t forget anything. When I arrived in Kona and got my rental car, I drove to Target to pick up food: half and half for coffee, bananas, turkey lunch meat, veggie cream cheese, mini bagels, pickles, Lay’s wasabi-ginger potato chips, several bottles of water with electrolytes, and a big bottle of Starbucks cold brew coffee.

I checked in at race headquarters at the Fairmont Orchid resort, got my packet, dropped off my run bag (forgot to put in my visor), and attended the athlete briefing at 2 p.m. with some of my Boca Hawaii teammates. Then I crossed the grounds to get my bike, loaded it on top of my suitcase in the back of the Nissan Versa, and headed a few more miles up the road to the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. It was getting late. I filled the mini fridge, and got dressed to ride my bike to be sure all was well. It was. It felt good. I watched the sky change colors and the shadows grow across the lava fields as I went up and down the hills and up and down the gears.

Buoys on the bay ready for the swim, two days before the race.

Buoys on the bay ready for the swim, two days before the race.

Early to rise on Friday for a last morning swim with teammates in Hapuna Bay. Gorgeous, calm, clear. Is there a color somewhere between azure, turquoise, aquamarine and bluetiful? It should be called Hapuna. The Boca Hawaii folks work tightly in the months before an A race. But when it comes to the actual event, we’re encouraged to find comfort alone. During a race, a triathlete is truly working off the training and motivation that had been fortified all those months. Being alone isn’t a big deal to me. I can manage to be alone at a party and it’s OK. There were no big pre-race gatherings, just catching up with each other at race check-in, bike check-in, at the swim start, hollering for friends while M.C. Guy Hagi takes a breath.

The swim: 48:04.

Women in the oldest age group went last, and that would be me. We watched the first four groups launch and then it was our turn. We were ready for the cannon. And yet… when the cannon fired the women in front of me froze. WTF, I thought? That means GO, I said and swam through them. It was a difficult swim for me. It was hard to get out of the thrash of limbs to survival and a clear space of my own. Kicked in the head. Scratched in the legs and arms. Several times I kicked hard to get other swimmers off my legs. At one point, a woman kept swimming into my left side, pushing me out to sea. My smooth rollover resulted in no pain except that she stopped, popped up her head and called me a BITCH. Such bad manners. Clearly you do not train with Boca Hawaii. Rookie.

I was happy to pass guys in white, blue and green caps, and then women in pink caps. It is worrisome to pass the guys who should really be well over half-way done by the time I get to them. This swim time was better than last year. I felt great, despite the viciousness of some encounters. As much as I wanted to go faster in transition, it was really important to me to not be frantic. So I took advantage of the shower, got out of my speed suit, got dressed for the ride without any snafus and got launched on the bike leg with two really great pushes on my ass. I wondered how sore those guys would be later that day.

A late afternoon test ride down the Road to Nowhere and back.

A late afternoon test ride down the Road to Nowhere and back.

The bike: 03:51:09.

This is my favorite part of triathlons. I have always loved to ride a bike. My coaches helped me develop strategies for up and down hills. They’ve convinced me that eating on the bike is key to survival and I have learned to do it even if I don’t feel like it. This ride was great. No stiff cross winds, no slick roads, successful bottle catches and refills, no punctures, no penalties. My passes went well and sometimes I’d pass two or three others before getting back over. Love shifting efficiently enough to keep my cadence as close to 90 as I climbed the rolling hills. Love building momentum as I pushed hard on the downhill for the next climb.

Buh-bye! I've learned so much from my coaches about my ride. It was a flawless ride, but I wish it were faster.

Buh-bye! I’ve learned so much from my coaches about my ride. It was a flawless ride, but I wish it were faster.

Just after my turn into the Mauna Lani Bay complex, I reached down and slid each foot out of a bike shoe and rocked the rest of the ride with my feet on top. I had a serious case of hot foot because my front straps were too tight. It felt really good to wiggle my toes! When I got to transition the velcro of the right shoe held tight to my sock when I dismounted. You can’t make this stuff up! I put that shoe on the handlebar, left the other one on the pedal, and ran toward transition 2.

As an aside, something isn’t quite right with my ride. I should be faster. I think I need to do more core.

The run: 03:25:30.

I have the vision of being a fine and easy runner. The execution is way off the mark. I took off from T2 with a pretty good trot, but I couldn’t catch my breath. The hot and humid air was oppressive. My heart rate was really high. After I got through the golf course lined with friends, critics, teammates and coaches, I started to walk. It was embarrassing, but I knew that I had to walk without shame. I didn’t plan on power walking, but that’s what I did. And toward the end, I was clocking in negative splits, some of which were faster than my runs. As much as I wanted to start running, I knew it would slow me down.

I know going into this race that I have to do well on the swim and bike to bank time for the run. I knew how much time I had for the run, and so I had to build up my walking speed to under 14 minutes. Half-way through I asked to sit down to get the lava gravel out of my left shoe. It wasn’t gravel. It was just really bad blisters.

This triathlon is famous for its Road to Nowhere, but actually, the whole run is pretty crazy. What does it feel like to run through lava fields? Like you’re an ant working your way through a hot pan of brownies. When we would meander back on the golf course, the heat would radiate from the ground, it felt just as hot. Plus, the Road to Nowhere is desolate, except for the smiles and cheers from friends and volunteers and the GOATS. Last year, I asked others if they had seen the goats on that road. Everyone humored me and figured I was hallucinating (sure, the run does hurt, but not that much!). But this year others heard and saw the goats! Bleat! I didn’t expect to see them all over the golf course, trimming the greens! There’s a solid herd of goats at the Fairmont Golf Course. We have chickens all over Oahu. They have goats.

During this segment I continued to check my Garmin and my watch to be sure I didn’t slow down and that I would make it to the finish on time. Soon, I could hear Guy Hagi announcing how there were only a few more minutes left. With less than half a mile to go, I zipped up my shirt (pictures!) and started to pick up the pace with a slow run. Don’t. Fall. Down. Don’t. Feel. The. Pain. Do. Not. Have. A. Heart. Attack. Do. Not. Let. Down. Your. Team!

The deadlines for each wave had fallen one by one, and I had very little time to make it to the finish line. I told myself the whole way that it would be inexcusable to do all that training and NOT finish in time. So I really pulled out everything I had and got in 11 minutes before the race was wrapped up. My first Honu was 8:12:25, my second Honu was 8:23:56, and this Honu was 8:19:00.

Ironman 70.3 Hawaii Honu 2015 finisher medal.

Ironman 70.3 Hawaii Honu 2015 finisher medal.

Boca Hawaii Triathlon Training Weekend 2015

Awaiting our flight from Honolulu to Kona.

Awaiting our flight from Honolulu to Kona.

What, besides three sports, do triathletes have in common? Actually, not much. What unites us is a desire to swim, bike and run. You know, the kind of stuff we did as kids. What separates us is the rest of our lives: family, friends, professions, physiques and political affiliations. I think we are also comfortable with being by ourselves, alone in a crowd. When you are training, even among fellow triathletes, there isn’t much time for talking. There’s a lot of introspection. Somehow, we manage to achieve a cohesion of overachievers and struggling wannabes united by commitment, heart and passion.

A boardroom of bikes.

A boardroom of bikes at the Hapuna Prince Hotel. 

In May I will participate in my third Ironman 70.3 triathlon on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast. This past weekend, about 60 Boca Hawaii athletes were joined by coaches and generous family members as support at the Hapuna Prince Hotel for a training weekend that would mimic and exceed the intensity of the event itself.

Resting at Hawi.

Resting at Hawi.

This was my second Boca Hawaii training weekend. I got there Thursday evening so I’d be fresh for the Friday morning bike ride to Hawi. Throughout the weekend we had scheduled bike rides, swims and runs. For me, this was the weekend where the bike route finally clicked for me. During last year’s race, I had an awful bike ride. But having done the ride twice during training weekend, I’ve figured out a way to budget my calories and effort to make each stroke count. No longer was I telling myself that the finish was just around the bend. I knew already. I credit this to riding my bike several times a week since January with super handsome coaches and equally attractive freshmen cyclists. Hey that sort of thing keeps me coming back! By the time endurance triathlon training came around, we were all bike ready.

My side of the room. Love the beds at the Hapuna Prince Hotel!

My side of the room. Love the beds at the Hapuna Prince Hotel!

My swim has gotten progressively better, despite the 30-60 second freakout at the start. I injured my wrist a few weeks ago. It didn’t help that it got slammed a few times this weekend while we were swimming in tight-knit clumps to get the feel of spinning arms and kicking legs, courtesy of our loving teammates. One thing I learned from masters swimming was to swim with as narrow a profile as possible. The motion keeps your arms close to your torso and head and can protect you from the novices’ deadly frog kicks. Whenever we swim in the ocean, I always feel someone touching the bottom of my feet as they draft in my bubbles. I often wonder about the person who ran their hand down my legs. Pausing to check would waste valuable seconds. So I just wonder.

My view from Tower Four includes Tower Three and a slice of beach.

My view from Tower Four includes Tower Three and a slice of beach.

Normal triathletes (well, typical triathletes) usually have one sport that is harder than the others. For me it’s the run. My cardio is strangely insufficient and both of my knees are bums. Add the stifling heat of baking lava fields, and I feel as though I am drowning, never quite able to breathe sufficiently. It hurts a lot.

Sunset at Hapuna Prince Hotel.

Sunset at Hapuna Prince Hotel.

How is it that some people can run so effortlessly? I envy them. I am trying to get to that point. I’ve lost some weight, so I expect it to get easier. I need to lose more. And what helps me lose more? More running. This weekend my runs scaled from OK to crap. When I got started on the last long run, my plan was to run out an hour and run back an hour to catch our plane. I started and three of my coaches passed me on the rolling hills with words of encouragement. Then Coach Felipe snuck up on me. I certainly didn’t expect him, but it was the most perfect time for the most perfect person to get to me. I was heaving, my heart rate was soaring, my legs were dragging, and I was melting. He assured me that I could never finish a 13.1 mile run breathing so laboriously. He made me slow down and catch my breath, he had me push out the CO2 to help my body get more oxygen, and he put my head in the right place. Then he moved on. I was motivated, as I always am, when a coach take the time to work with me when I am struggling most. I didn’t have a good run, but I did have a better perspective.

This TED Talk helps, too. Emily Balcetis, a social psychologist, talks about why some people find exercise harder than others. I watched it because I think I have a block about running. According to Balcetis, I should keep my eye on the prize and not be distracted by my surroundings. Is it that easy? Sometimes while running I come to realize that I was in a little zen zone for a while. And like a dream, it slips away as I desperately struggle to reinstate it. I am again reminded of how heavy my legs feel or how hot it is or how long the race is. Balcetis says that if one focuses on the goal, the finish actually seems closer.

My goal for the next month is to work on my run, build strength in my leg muscles, and preserve my knees. I hope that will result in a solid event and a personal record.

I have a theory about triathletes, based on my personal experience. We’re all a little crazy. We love to suffer together. We’re competitive, but we enjoy each other’s accomplishments. It’s a solo sport best prepared for en masse. Training our bodies is only part of the equation. If you can stand the person who you are while racing, then you’re that much closer to happiness.


Lanikai Triathlon, Part 3

Look closely. There are two of me! This is getting out of the ocean and running toward transition one and the bike ride.

Exiting the ocean to transition one and the bike. John Bender photo.

Not that I’m getting super casual about being in triathlons, but when you’re training for a half-Ironman (70.3) a sprint triathlon doesn’t even qualify as a workout. The Lanikai Jamba Juice Triathlon was last Sunday, hosted by our coach, Raul Torres of Boca Hawaii. He and his tough team of coaches crack their whips all week long. Doing a sprint triathlon without the usual prodding would be fun. We were told to ride our bikes for two hours later that day, because, DO MORE.

As typical for this event, the wind was howling and the sun rose behind a bank of clouds. It sprinkled as we set up our transitions along the bike racks under the glare of spotlights in the early morning. Most normal people are still in bed on such a Sunday. Why be normal?

Good morning chop for crazy triathletes!

Good morning chop for crazy triathletes! John Bender photo.

After a briefing (be nice, don’t draft, don’t break the rules, don’t say mean things, don’t be an ass), we walked down the beach to the boat ramp at Kailua Beach Park for the beach start of our 500-meter swim. How intimidating could it be? The conditions were victory at sea, my favorite. I love the chop and the swells and I try to take long strokes to take advantage of their power. Somehow I managed to stay inside the crowd. Other years I’d swim outside, and it was way too far. This time I made a dash for the last buoy and got to transition one at 11:38 minutes. Not bad for this kid.

I ran to the bike transition. I tried to put on my bike shoes but D’uh! I had put my spare bike tube in one shoe and socks in the other, which I totally forgot. So I tried to put my feet in my bike shoes and they were getting all jammed up. I grabbed the stuff and put it in my bag, got my number belt on and ran across transition to run through the park and out the back to the road for a 10-mile ride, which took us to the gate at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, through a winding road badly in need of repaving, over a big-assed hill, and back toward the beach. Just like my friend and coach Lectie recounted in her blog here, I, too, could hear coaches Ryan and Alika: “Am I pedaling fast enough? Am I pushing a high enough gear?” Dudes. You are so in our heads. I kept thinking I would see the leaders on their way back but then I realized we were going up Mokapu and across the saddle, a pretty substantial hill that didn’t kill me. I killed it! This was a good ride. I think they should keep this route for future triathlons. I hammered Mokapu. Take that.

I love riding the bike, I was so happy when I turned down toward the end of the ride and coasted down to where we were to dismount. Right pedal out, left pedal, stuck. I fell on my left wrist, my left hip and okole, and the bike was carefully cradled between my legs and didn’t suffer a scratch. Whenever I fall I think about how crumbly my bones are or how I could just be crippled for life. But I was able to get up and run to transition, although my pride was quite bruised at this point. That had never happened to me. It sucked. My wrist still hurts.

After I brought down the bike rack. I always do this little cup shower thing. Mahalo, Edna, for the photo.

After I brought down the bike rack. I always do a little cup shower. Mahalo, Edna, for the photo.

At bike transition, already flustered from the fall, I tried to put my bike on the rack and the whole rack fell to the ground with one other bike on it. I tried to right it for like two seconds and figured, “Fuck it.” My nose was dripping half the ocean and I shoved my feet into my shoes and took off for the run exit. I was determined to beat last year’s time, which beat the time from the year before.

Transitions are kind of crazy for me. I’m very disoriented. So, this was good practice for me. I need to figure out a way to get my head screwed on right. If the rack falls, just say fuck it. Observe, detach and move on.

Running across the sand in the final stretch to the finish.

Running across the sand in the final stretch to the finish. John Bender photo.

The swim was great, the bike was almost great, and the run is my achilles heel. I took off, had to be redirected by the volunteers, and headed toward the Lanikai Loop, which has a few baby bump hills during the first half and a revisit to one of them on the way back. Tonight I ran for an hour and twenty minutes and it felt OK. I’ll ice my knee, but, it wasn’t excrutiating. Neither was my run in the triathlon. However, I felt as though I were suffocating. Did I use my inhaler in transition? I really ought to take a hit from my inhaler before my runs. This was just a 3-mile run, which is about how long I have to go before my legs feel OK. As I came out of Lanikai and ran across the beach toward the finish, I was happy to be getting so close to being DONE. Then this lady passes me with some young guy. I didn’t know who she was, but, I thought she was old.

So yeah, I have this delusion that I’m actually 40. I swear to g*d. There is no way I am not. I am way too fun and hip and silly and goofy and crazy to be anything else. It blows my mind, which is, you know, 27? And it’s why I do all this training. If I lay off, gravity wins. Must resist.

As I trailed other triathletes and approached the final berm of sand and climbed toward the finish, my friend Caroline comes running down the hill to whip my butt with “GO GO GO” and it really helped me get up that hill and across the finish. I expected that hill to trip me up, but it didn’t.

Across I went, a minute and 24 seconds faster than the year before; but 20 seconds behind the woman who placed third on my age group podium with my friends Faye and Yvette. The lady I thought was old!  WTPho?

Next year.


Kawela Endurance Triathlon

Elated at my finish, pouring water over my head.

Elated at my Kawela Endurance Triathlon finish, pouring water over my head.

Hit refresh; I made some edits.

Yesterday I completed Boca Hawaii’s inaugural Kawela Endurance Triathlon. This was my third 70.3 mile event, and my best time so far. Everybody gets a personal record, “PR,” the first time they do an event. That was all of us yesterday. Yay!

My Garmin results were better than the official results, but that’s OK with me. I finished in less than eight hours, which was my goal. My swim was fast for me, my bike ride was strong, and I left myself plenty of time to endure the heat during my run. In Hawaiian, Ka Wela means ” the heat,” a point founder Raul Torres wanted to emphasize in this event he plans on hosting each August. While the swim was cool in the early morning, and the bike was wet until we cleared Oahu’s east side, the run was spectacularly hot.

I must give a shout out to Raul and my coaches Alika Chee, Ryan Leong, Stefan Reinke, Tanya Florin, Felipe Rael and Chris Moore. The training of my body, mind and spirit came together yesterday and I feel positive about improving for future races. By no means am I a superstar when it comes to triathlons. Instead I am just a regular mom who wants to stay in shape, have fun, be healthy, and inspire her family and friends. And if I can do triathlons, what else could I do?

Third 70.3, best finish so far!

Third 70.3 triathlon, third place. My best finish so far at 07:44!

Yesterday, it was still dark when John dropped me off at Kailua Beach Park with my bike and swim gear. The plan was for him to meet me at 2 p.m. at Camp Erdman for my finish. John usually sticks around through my entire races, shooting lots of pictures and witnessing the victories of the top finishers, all the way until I get across the finish line. He is so dang positive when I get over that line, I don’t know what I’d do without him. I finish so far back in the pack that it’s easy to slip into despair.

Yesterday’s swim started in Kailua just as the sun rose over the horizon. The waves sparkled in the darkness, the stars gleamed between the dense clouds that moved with the brisk breeze. It rained while we set up our bikes at transition one (T1). Shades of Lanikai Triathlon. Seems to always rain just as we start our swim. I was very pleased with my swim. It was with the current, so I bet everybody’s results were fantastic. We got out half way and ran back to the start and got back in the water for one more lap. That way no one had to swim against the current. Smart.

Running to swim lap two as the sun rises in the east. Mahalo for the photo by Kim Burnett.

Running to swim lap two as the sun rises in the east. Mahalo for the photo by Kim Burnett.

By the time I got to T1 after my swim, the corral looked deserted, there were a few bikes left. I was calm. I didn’t have any jitters for this race at all. The day before I took The Great White to the back of Hawaii Kai and spent an hour getting in and out of my bicycle shoes that were attached to my pedals so I could mount and dismount quicker. Success! That was a big deal for me. I rode the last few miles on my bike with my feet cooling on top of my shoes. It was heaven. Credit Coach Alika Chee for my newfound skill.

The bike ride felt good, even though it was wet through the first 18 to 20 miles. But it was early enough that traffic was minimal so we could ride in the road and out of the puddles. Quite a few triathletes had to stop to fix punctures. Police throughout the race were on task and very cordial. I absolutely love it when each officer holds up their intersection for me to race through. Each time I sent up a shakka wave of mahalo and aloha to the drivers who patiently waited! Those officers were so great! I think every one of them cheered me through! Priceless.

The Great White needs a good cleanup.

The Great White needs a good cleanup.

It was a fine ride through the North Shore of Oahu, with just a couple of bottlenecks. At one point I got stuck in sand and did a big wobbly fishtail. Somehow I recovered. I swear this bike and I are an awesome team. I love my Cervelo P2!!! I ride with care and I have never had a puncture in a race. I know it’s more a matter of when and not if. It will happen. Sometimes I change out my tubes just so I remember how to do it under pressure!

When I got to Mokuleia, I was secretly bummed that so many participants were already running. The winners finished hours before me. But I am a triathlete who has to focus on completing and not competing. I came in third yesterday because one of my friends in my age group got too dehydrated to finish. I am sure she would have beaten me.

My T2 was long because I had to use the bathroom before I started my run. But, getting T2 and bathroom business done in less than nine minutes is nothing to be ashamed of, right? We ran from Camp Erdman to Kaena Point to Mokuleia Beach Park to Kaena Point to Mokuleia Beach Park to Kaena Point and finished at the camp. For the first lap I was trying to get my legs back. I didn’t feel horribly spent. I drank Coke and Mountain Dew, used my Power Gels, used their Power Gels, was fed an apple banana and pretzels by friends, and always had my hands full with ice and ice water. My coaches Ryan and Felipe kept me in ice cubes the whole way, and I poured a lot of it on me and in me! I was waterlogged by the final third of my run, which is a far better condition than being dehydrated.

When I turned onto the dirt road and made my way to the finish the first person I saw was John and it was the best thing ever!!! He ran ahead of me to shoot a few pix of my finish. I was so happy to be finishing that I cheered and poured more ice water onto myself and crossed with such joy at 07:44:31. I’ll take it! There were times yesterday during the run when I wanted a shortcut. But in my heart I knew I had to complete the whole race. Following my Ironman 2013 and 2014 finishes of 8:12 and 8:23, I am pleased with this result. I’m improving.

Race with Passion is the motto of Boca Hawaii. While it is a simple and sweeping statement, it also emphasizes how each one of us has personal dreams and goals. If you don’t have passion, then what do you have? I have really come to love the Boca Hawaii ohana.


2014 Honu Ironman 70.3: Racing Against My Own Demons

Finisher. For the record: 08:23:56, 12 minutes slower than last year.

Finisher. Official medal and Cookies by Design edible medal from Bonnie Leong. For the record: 08:23:56, 12 minutes slower than last year. Swim, bike and transitions were minutes slower. But my run, despite my walking quite a bit, was faster. Amazing.

No matter how well you train, if your body doesn’t respond, react or deliver as expected on race day there really isn’t much you can do about it.

It was perplexing for me. Throughout the race my body was not responding to my directions. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, except that I worked so much the weeks before and didn’t get in enough rest. And believe it or not, it is possible for ME (YES ME) to not eat enough before and during a race.

I had the best training! I was part of a great (and large) group for Endurance Triathlon Training with Boca Hawaii. The fast kids were gracious, the well-established kids were welcoming, and the coaches were supportive. It was so incredible, that I signed up for Summer Triathlon Training, which begins Saturday, June 6, in preparation for the inaugural Boca Hawaii Kawela Triathlon later this summer. After my Honu results, and after a sort of decent night’s sleep (despite the high-maintenance cat), I’m feeling it.

I’m feeling that triathlon thing again and it’s all good.

Pros in white caps, men in blue caps, women in pink caps. Officials. Spectators. Photographers. Kids. It's crazy. We're all nuts.

Pros in white caps, men in blue caps, women in pink caps. Officials. Spectators. Photographers. Kids. It’s crazy. We’re all nuts.

Here’s my blow by blow.

When we arrived on Friday morning in Kailua-Kona and were driving north in our rental car to the Fairmont Orchid hotel, I was giddy. I was loving the hot, fresh-out-of-the-oven baked brownies look of the lava fields, I was admiring the beautiful deep blue ocean, I loved the dark and ominous clouds that clung to the volcano summits.

“I have to find a way to live here,” I said to my husband. “I feel like this is where I belong.”

We would need a few million dollars, that’s all.

We didn’t have much time to shop for a new home or to make a land purchase, so we went straight to the Fairmont so I could check in to the Ironman 70.3 event. I needed to get my race packet, sign several releases, get my race chip, pack and leave my run bag, check into the hotel, attend a mandatory race briefing, pick up my bike, sweet talk the TriBike Transport guys to put the new tires on my wheels so I’d have fresh rubber on the road the next day, and get dressed to ride my bike to Hapuna Beach Park to set it up at the bike start. After that we went to Foodland up the street to pick up some sandwiches and bottles of water. I slept well until 3:30 a.m. and had coffee and breakfast with John. We met our friends Rick and Lori in the elevator and they graciously gave us a ride to the start, so we didn’t have to take the shuttle bus. That was so great!

First swimmer on the beach. So eager! So ready! No idea how the day would go, but that's really how it is for anyone.

First swimmer on the beach. So eager! So ready! No idea how the day would go, but that’s really how it is for anyone.

I was the first athlete down the chute and to the beach. I heard the little beep as it read my race chip when I walked under the giant inflatable that hovered over the checkpoint for transition one from swim to bike. I was in my new Aquasphere skinsuit, I was at the most beautiful beach in th world, and I was eager to achieve a personal record on my second Ironman 70.3. My day didn’t go as planned. Before the horn blew at 7 a.m. for the women to start swimming, the wind picked up and the sun was hot on our backs. The weather had announced itself: hot and windy.

Honu 2014 women's start.

Honu 2014 women’s start.

I hovered in the back of the pack at the start of the swim, and I felt good as I worked my way up and through the other women. Before I got to the first buoy, I was already passing some of the men who launched seven minutes before us. In fact, I passed quite a few by the time I got to the finish. I felt like my swim was going well, I didn’t lose sight of the yellow buoys that I needed to swim around. I spotted underwater photographers taking our pictures from the sandy floor. I thought how so cool those photos would be.

Swim to bike transition. See how happy everyone is around me? I just realized my time was slower than last year.

Swim to bike transition. See how happy everyone is around me? I just realized my time was slower than last year.

I got out of the water and saw that my time was seven minutes longer than last year’s. I was so defeated. The evil self talk began and stayed with me most of the day. After all this training, how could I be so slow?

My transition from swim to bike was about two minutes longer, but I was changing out of a skinsuit, putting on sunguard sleeves and getting into a bicycle jersey while soaking wet. My coaches told us to slow down and be deliberate during transition because haste makes waste. So I didn’t worry.

Headed north to Hawi from the Mauna Lani turnaround, 50 miles to go.

Headed north to Hawi from the Mauna Lani turnaround, 50 miles to go.

The bike is my thing, most of the time. But it would not be the case during Honu. Last year I finished the bike segment in 03:38. This year it took me 03:57, 19 minutes longer, on a spiffier and lighter new Cervelo P2 bike, too. I have a very difficult time eating on the bike. I can’t stand it. I also don’t like to drink, but I force myself to use my aerobottle. By the time I got to Hawi, I thought to myself how I was so DONE with this race. It took me nearly two hours to get up there. How in the world would I beat last year’s time of 03:38? I was defeated. I used the bathroom, drank two Power Gel lime drinks and ate a Bonk Breaker bar. It was wonderful. I felt better and I got back on the bike feeling refreshed. I bet I spent 12 minutes up there, but I needed it. I couldn’t believe that it was taking me so long to get up to Hawi. I was worried it would take me another two hours to get back, and it just about did.

Honu 2014 finishing the bike and telling John how I'm worried I won't finish in time.

Honu 2014 finishing the bike and telling John how I’m worried I won’t finish in time.

I saw my husband John as I was rolling back toward bike-to-run transition and I said, “At this rate, I don’t see how I’ll finish on time.” He smiled, encouraged me, and clicked off a few pictures. Later he told me that he felt I might be right.

I worked on the self talk. And fortunately, I had lots of teammates and friends on the course whose encouraging words put some steam in my steps. I am one of those people who needs the attagirls. You can look at my Garmin stats and see the points of encouragement. My pace picks up, my heart rate bumps up a little bit, and I get a little more positive. If it weren’t for my friends Janet, Kristin, Miriam, KC, Marcy, Karen, Lisa and Eric, I might have finished well outside the cutoff. Especially Janet and Miriam. Such compassion!

At the start of my run I realized I had a water bottle in my back pocket so I tossed it aside as I went by John. I also had a tire tube but I didn't realize it until miles later.

This year’s run was 03:23:59 compared to last year’s run of 03:32. I am amazed I was faster this year because I was truly struggling. But I was determined to finish in time and I had to get my act together. The running training paid off. I still have a lot of room for improvement.

Last year’s run was 03:32. I don’t think I did any walking except for at the aid stations and only until I was finished eating or drinking. I cannot eat, drink, and walk or run at the same time. Such a dork. I’d throw up. This year I did a lot of walking. The Honu run course weaves in and out of the hotel grounds, the hotel’s golf course, through lava fields, behind the shopping center, and back onto the golf course lined with beautiful homes where we run along the fairways. Yesterday it was so steamy hot that I dreaded walking on the grassy parts of the route. It seemed to radiate with so much heat. Finally the course dumps you on to what many of us refer to as Death March Road, which is hotter than heck possibly because it is through more lava. It isn’t smoldering, it is just black and very, very, hot. It was on this road, from miles nine through 11, that I saw a herd of wild goats. Now my friends think I was hallucinating. I wasn’t. They were there!

I ran the first three miles of the 13.1-mile course, then I started walking. First I saw Janet who checked on me from across the road. She was way ahead of me. Then my teammate Marian came up from behind me and cheered me on. We ran together a little bit and then I said to her, “You know, I might have to start walking again, so don’t worry about me.” She started walking at that point but I was still running. We had a good laugh about it. Eventually she passed me and finished before me.

I will be the first to tell anyone that running is hard for me. I cannot stand to run. But running has helped me dropped a little bit of weight, so I’m starting to see the value in doing it more often.

When I emerged from Death March Road, two course marshals told me I had 28 minutes to cover 1.5 miles. Even if I walked, I could finish on time. But I was in pretty bad shape. I was really sad. I thought I spent all this time and money training for my A Race and I was going to miss finishing it on time by minutes. My dream of coming in under eight hours was shot to hell.

Once again I wrestled with my demons. I started to run the best I could. It was more of a crappy jog, but it was faster than walking. I reached the last stretch of golf course and I saw two nene geese in the shade to my left. I love nature. I swear, I look around a lot when I do my triathlons. Maybe I should do less sightseeing?

First there was Lori and Rick and the TryFitness group to holler their support at me as I struggled to beat the clock. John ran alongside me for a little bit — barefoot in the hot grass — and told me that I had it, that I was going to make it, that I would finish on time and get that medal.

I turned the corner, made my final approach and finished the 2014 Honu Ironman 70.3  in 08:23:56, compared to last year’s 08:12: 25.

I wasn’t that upset because I finished before 08:30 the cutoff. And when I got through the finisher’s shoot, my Boca Hawaii coaches and teammates were cheering for me, which was the nicest thing ever — considering most of them had probably finished hours before me. What’s nicer than a group of friends lubed by beer and burgers anyway?

Triathlon is a mental game. Where the winners compete with each other, people like me compete with ourselves. But we don’t just compete against last year’s time or our personal records. We have to beat down the voices that diminish our effort. We have to tell our legs to shut up when they throb and feel too heavy to move. We have to protect ourselves from the flailing arms and legs in the swim and then, when we emerge from the ocean, beat the vertigo, get up on our feet without wobbling, and heave all the way up the sand to transition.

Each race is a transition in our lives. Finishing is an accomplishment that affirms we’ve got within ourselves something more powerful than we know. Part of my future training will have to include mental pushups that will keep me from slipping into the abyss of self loathing.

And (are you still here? still reading?) I also know that I have to not eat so much after a workout. That’s something else I can take care of right now.

I have some wonderful coaches in Boca Hawaii owner Raul Torres, and Ryan Leong, Filipe Rael, Stefan Reinke, Alika Chee, Ray Brust, Lee-Ann Watanabe and Todd Iacovelli. While I continue to improve physically, I want to also work on my mental fitness so that I can push the crap out of my mind faster and get on with my race.