My Honu half Ironman Triathlon.

The day before the race John shot a photo of me with the Ironman rocks at the entrance of the Fairmont Orchid Hotel. Eager and anxious.
The day before the race John shot a photo of me with the Ironman rocks at the entrance of the Fairmont Orchid Hotel. Eager and anxious.

I was reminded the day before this race that a year ago I blogged about having Honu Envy while I watched online as my TryFitness teammates complete the Honu half Ironman triathlon on the Big Island. I was thrilled for them as I watched their times update, and I was sad for those who didn’t make the cutoff as each leg of the event concluded.

Having worked out with these women for quite a while, I knew of their strengths and weaknesses, drives and doubts, and the commitment to themselves while pursuing careers, raising families, and keeping up with meals, chores, laundry, children’s performances, and teacher and doctor appointments. Life is full, so of course we should do more.

The Red Firecracker at rest in the rack, the day before.
The Red Firecracker at rest in the rack, the day before.

Fast forward to early 2013 and I get a chance to make this desire a reality. On Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays we met for our group workouts. The schedule also had assignments on the other days of the week, too. Usually we got a break on Monday, and maybe another on Friday. We didn’t necessarily have to do those workouts on the days we weren’t with the group, but if we wanted to be our best, they were heavily advised. Hint. Hint. They would be a swim, a run, a ride, some isometrics and ab workouts, or a combination. The schedule, refined over the years by our mentor and coach, Kristin “KC” Carlberg, is designed to deliver each of us to the best we can be on the morning of our event.

We visited the bay at Hapuna Beach State Park the day after the race. What a gorgeous place.
We visited the bay at Hapuna Beach State Park the day after the race. What a gorgeous place.

So last Saturday on June 1, I finally got my turn at Honu. I had eight and a half hours to complete the 1.2-mile swim, the 56-mile bike ride, and the 13.1-mile run. My swim was about 48 minutes, my bike ride was 03:38:51, and my run, which is my weakest side of the triathlon triangle, was 03:32:07. The full event, including transition from swim to bike and transition from bike to run, took me 08:12:25. They turned out the lights at 08:30:00, so I was thrilled to make the cut.

Oh, it's just some bracelet I got for being an athlete.
Oh, it’s just some bracelet I got for being an athlete.

I was also thrilled to know that I would be worthy of wearing the logo wear I had purchased  at the event expo, LOL.

Your mileage, your experience, may vary. But here’s how this works for me. Sure, I’m competitive, but I’m realistic enough to know my limitations. I’m in my mid 50s, and let me assure you this does not mean you’ve got one foot in the grave. I do have a few maladies to contend with: Left leg plantar fasciitis. Right leg persistent knee problems thanks to the full Achilles tendon burst in 2010. And emotionally, I can be riddled with all kinds of negativity. Until this event I realized how easily I was giving bullies permission to diminish my accomplishments and to plant doubts into my psyche. For the past few years my husband has been doing his best to help me get through this emotional cesspool. During these last few months Coach KC had also taken me aside to help fortify my mental game and to help me realize that I should know in my own soul how I can achieve this and that I am worthy.

In my first triathlon, the Lanikai Triathlon in 2012, I panicked in the water. A squall had passed through and the ocean was churning. Throw several hundred triathletes in the water and it can get overwhelming. I wanted to slip under the water and never come back up. Of course, I sure as hellas do not want to miss out on what a great life is in store for me and my family. I pulled myself together and got out of the water. It was a slow race for me, but I finished and I was so proud.

For the Honu swim, I felt good. I stayed back a little bit at the start to avoid the thrashing, but then I managed to work my way through at my own pace with just a few minor punches and grabs. When I got out of the water, I was really stoked about my time. John, KC, and my teammates cheered me through to transition where I became a bicyclist.

The workouts up Pineapple Hill, Sierra Heights Drive, Kilauea Avenue, Kamiloiki, “Heartbreak Hill,” and Makapu’u, paid off in spades as I climbed the Big Island’s Kohala coast toward Hawi. The persistent winds for the last few months meant that I’d be able to withstand the headwind that resisted our efforts all the way back toward the second transition. When I saw the cones directing the bicyclists toward the Fairmont Orchid, I came to tears because I was so happy to be almost done with the ride. As I was racking my bike, a young man passed me draped in maile lei. It was the overall winner, Craig Alexander. I said, “You’re done and I’m just starting my run!” He took my hand gave it a squeeze and said, “You can do it!” And of course I could.

I slid into my running shoes, had the sense to put on my visor and change my sunglasses, put on some lip balm, forgot my belly bag and my gels, and gingerly started my run as I was  still on my rubbery bicycle legs. Our team’s support crew and my coach cheered me on as I took off. KC asked how my legs were and I told her I couldn’t even feel them. I was so charged, I was so happy, I knew I could complete the 13.1-run in less than the three and a half hours that were left on my clock. Other people can do that run in remarkable times, but it’s not easy for me. As I was running through the lava fields, over the golf course, under roads and through tunnels, I thought how it would be great if I could finish this triathlon in less time than it took me to do the Honolulu Marathon in December (08:10:25). Dang, I missed it by two minutes. As I approached the finish, I could see the clock was already at 08:22 and counting. We would deduct 10 minutes from the clock because the women’s start was that much behind the pros earlier that day when the whole shebang begun.

I’ll take 08:12:25 for my first 70.3 Ironman.

Honestly, I didn’t think I’d want to do it again. When I was done, I was so happy that I danced to the music while waiting for my finisher T-shirt, hat, and medal. I wiggled while waiting for my free beer and cheeseburger. I giggled while I ate solid food for the first time in like 20 hours. My husband was so relieved and was as happy as I was. He used that long lens on his camera to spy me on my final approach and I could see from a 1/4 mile away that he was as happy as me.

So, yes, I’m going to do it again next year and bring our daughters along because we missed them so much while we were enjoying the beauty of the Big Island.

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. Congratulations on your gutsy performance. Great swim, especially, and great job all around. Can’t wait for the rematch!

  2. so awesome!!! and i’m super jelly that crowie grabbed your hand and spoke to you!!! did someone get a picture of that?! hehe

  3. So proud of you as I read with tears streaming down my face. You did it, Woman. I’m so glad you soaked it in and enjoyed the moment! You are an absolute rock star! XOXO

  4. Way to go Paula! So proud of you. I know firsthand what 50 something’s are like, hehe and find you to be courageous in tackling even a half ironman.

  5. I’m flipping out here!!!!!!!
    You are courageous, determined, smart and funny. In your mind, I hope you finally view yourself as the winner we always saw.
    And with that in your heart, there is no stopping you now!

  6. Y.E.S. !!!!!
    You are courageous, determined, smart and funny – and a tri-athlete, Baby!
    I hope you view yourself as the winner everyone else already knows you to be.
    There should be nothing stopping you now, Paula!

  7. Hey, Paula. Congratulations. Glad you made it within the time period. Quite an achievement. We’re proud of you.

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