First Triathlon: A Personal Record to SMASH in September!

About 6 a.m. Boca ANA Lanikai Triathlon. Walking to the start.

All photos by John R. Bender, the Hubs, the Spouse, the Gear Head, the Chief Photographer, the Dude Who Cleans Up My Bike When I’m Done And Can Hardly Move. Yeah, He’s THAT GUY!

I have three blisters on my right foot following this morning’s ANA Lanikai Triathlon, organized by the super nice guy Raul Boca and Boca Hawaii. It was a fine gathering, well organized, and not a single element was left to chance. Police escorts were everywhere, lanes were coned, the buoys didn’t blow away.
They could have. At 6 a.m. Raul led us all down the beach to the start by Lanikai Boat Ramp, a squall blew in sideways stinging rain that poked fun at us, gusty winds that mocked us in our nearly naked swim gear, and the choppy seas seemed eager to devour us.

Spectators sought shelter under the lifeguard tower during the morning squall.

This was not the picture perfect weather for a triathlon event that will sell glossy magazines. My results weren’t so great. Last in my age group, but 286 out of 346, so not Dead Effen Last, or DFL as we like to call it in polite company.

It was my first, so 01:41:33, by default, is my personal best.

While I was swimming I could see the sun break through the clouds. I thought it was beautiful, even though I was freaked out.

Three minutes after the men were launched, the women and teams’ beach start was triggered. Arms, legs, torsos, waves, all flail at once. It is chaotic, riotous, frightening, and invigorating all at the same time. I was in the middle and I couldn’t get going because of swimmers in front of me. I fought to get outside, and I swam too far out. I swam back toward the pack, and I realized I was swimming too fast. When I got to the first buoy, I thought it was the second, and I was so disappointed. I had that much more to go. My heart raced, my arms spun, I tried to breathe, I felt myself panic. I looked around for water patrol but saw none. I wanted to hang onto a surfboard and I wanted to quit. I DID. I thought to myself how I wanted to swim to the beach and get out and go away. I WANTED TO QUIT.

A rainbow appeared after I took off on my bicycle. The weather was dramatic: stormy, windy, rainy, and cool for the run.

Instead I did breast stroke just about all the way to the second and final buoy. I told myself that the breast stroke will help me calm my heart rate, that I’ll still be moving forward, I just won’t be the fast and seasoned swimming pool masters champ that I am in my mind on Tuesdays and Thursdays evenings at The Oahu Club.  I got to that buoy, kicked into freestyle and swam straight toward the timing mat on the beach. I felt slow and dizzy as I emerged, and was certain that I didn’t get in at 10 minutes as planned. I was right. Three minutes too long. Maybe if the ocean wasn’t as stormy. Maybe if it was morning glass. Maybe if I got used to swimming with scrum.

Overhead, an iwa.

Solution #1: I’ll be swimming in the North Shore Swim Series, so I’ll learn to cope with the crowds.

Transition to the bike, which, did you know, is something done in SLOW MOTION? LOL. I rinsed off my feet, slid them into my shoes, dropped the cap and goggles, strapped on my helmet and sunglasses, and unhooked the bike from the staging bar, and ran to the bicycle path, out to the street, and to the speed bump, which I had to cross before mounting. On the bike and my right shoe’s Speedplay pedal wouldn’t engage. After a few hundred feet of trying to click in, I stop by a puddle and wash off the pedal and wag my shoe in it to dislodge the dirt. I still couldn’t connect. So I did the 20k on my bike with my left foot engaged but my right foot going along for the ride.

Had we known about the pedal before I even went swimming, I would have panicked. John would have tried to get it to work, and I would have possibly thrown in the towel. But instead I dealt with it. And I did pretty well. I passed quite a few people. I love riding. It’s my best skill out there. I could be on a winning team if I was the one on the bike!

Overall winner Tim Marr: 55:16. Whoa! I wonder if he had a martini today? His team wears jerseys with what look like martini glasses on them!

I saw Tim Marr coming back from his bicycle ride, clearly well in the lead. I wasn’t  even halfway through with my ride yet! And having never been on Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe, I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it was, and struggled up that kick-ass hill with only one foot clicked in one pedal. I managed, through the rain and the wind, through the puddles and one really nasty smashed Budweiser beer bottle. When we got back to the park, we had to get off right before that same speed bump again, and walk/run our bikes to the timing mat, then to our transition areas for the run. I got passed by four people on foot before the mat, four people I had passed on the bike! Ugh! I am so feeble on foot!

Karen Thibodeau was the first woman to finish: 01:01:09. Smokin'!

Solution #2 Test ride the bike one more time the night before for technical challenges. We have more Speedplays at home.

So in my swim, I had a panic, and I got myself out of it. On my bike, I had reason to panic, but I rolled with it. I told one of the officials as I was launching on my bike that I couldn’t get my pedal going and he said it was OK, I had a big long flat to work it out. After that I didn’t want to let any one know about it because I didn’t want to get kicked out. Biking is my thing. I am so not going to loose this over THAT!

The crowd gathered under the pavilion for food and music before the awards ceremony. And to hide from the weather!

I worked hard on the bike, so when it came to my run, it took me about to the point of the aid station at the half-way point for me to start to feel OK about running. I never walked, but maybe if I had,  my walk would have been faster than my run. I got passed while running by those I passed on the bike. One sweet young guy said, “Good job, ma’am, keep it up!” I think he must have said something nice to everyone he passed. I didn’t want to scold him for calling me ma’am, as I get that a lot now that I’m north of 50.

Beach finish: 01:41:33. Room for improvement. And yes, I most certainly will.
The answer to the question: 42.
Salmon Poke Bowl.
Salmon Poke Bowl at Pa'ina Cafe in Hawaii Kai was full of yum and just perfect after a butt-kickin' morning!

I did just OK. My friends seem to think I am amazing. My husband says he is impressed. I guess it’s because this is my first. Two years after an Achilles tendon burst, and I’m celebrating its healing with a year of competitions. I see so much room for improvement, but I’m reminded with each Facebook update or Twitter tweet that I need to relax and enjoy what I’ve accomplished.

Already I’m considering training programs with Try Fitness, Boca, SOHI, Camp Bennett, you name it, to get better at this. I need to talk to my swim coaches about the anxiety attack I had 50 yards from shore in stormy seas. That was so not cool. There isn’t anyone next to you to say, “You can do it!” “Come on, Paula!” Nope. I had to do all that pep talk for myself. Thank goodness I found something inside of me to keep me moving when I felt like sinking and drowning. I did. I really thought I could die out there.

Thanks to John for being with me through all of this today, the last 27 months since my Achilles burst, and the last 23 years of companionship and marriage. He even said to me he doesn’t know how some people do this on their own. Right now we give him a K for being on Team Kouch! Snore, John, SNORE!

My results today? IMMA GONNA SMASH ‘EM!

The children are hungry. I’m back to being a mom again. Oh, yeah. That MOM thing!

By lavagal

Hawaii Kai wife and mom. Melanoma Stage 3a Cancer survivor. English Language Arts teacher, English Learners Coordinator, and Paraprofessional Tutor. Super sub teacher. Dormant triathlete. Road cyclist and Masters swimmer. Gardener. Mrs. Fixit. Random dancer. Music Curator. A teenager trapped in an aging body. Did you know 60 is the new 40? It is.


  1. So sorry about that jammed cleat thing. Some toothbrush therapy and a shot of teflon lube and it’s working slicker than (insert gross metaphor here), which didn’t help you with 20Ks and that hill at MCBH today. You get my special ganbatte prize for not pitching your bike in the bushes and hoofing it back to strangle the dang mechanic who didn’t preflight that system.

    Your times are bound to get faster as you work out the technical aspects of triathlon and hone your training, but you gutted it out under less than ideal circumstances, and I am so proud of you.

    You are a triathlete.

  2. Paula,

    The swim is hard. I’m a swimmer and sometimes get that panic feeling even so. I think it’s the adrenaline. I really try to just focus on technique, because it gives me something else to think about. And you picked one he’ll of a day to do your first Tri! No need to feel bad about a swim in those conditions!

  3. Paula,
    You’ll get better at being calm on the swim the more open water swims you do. I had my seat post collapse on my first tri. I think we all have experienced some kind of technical problem in the course of racing. It was great that you just rolled with your pedal problem. I’m sure it must have been a bit scary on the wet roads. What a great accomplishment to have completed your first tri after such a devastating injury. Keep up the good training!

  4. Sorry –just read you swim at Oahu Club and the finish with a poke bowl at Pa’ina is making me miss Hawaii! (And how about a ilttle mochi ice cream from Bubbies?) I hope to be back for this race next year. Well done–you should be proud! Elizabeth

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