11 June 2014

What's next?

Of course it was fantastic - Hawaii is such a beautiful place what's not to enjoy?

But before we could kick back and relax, there was the small matter of making good on my aim of earning my Comeback Queen title.

The 70.3 course had been altered since we competed way back in 2008 so it was very much a case of "forget everything you ever knew" and starting over.

With two separate transition areas, run bags needing to be checked in early at the event hotel, event parking, shuttle bus schedules, back to front number tattoos, pre race briefings, bucketing rain for bike check time, reversed swim direction and a zillion other little things to take on board, my mind was on high alert as the lead up to race day provided much by way of mental gymnastics.

Add in a good dose of the "what on earth was I thinking" particularly as the wind continued to blow, my fear factor reading was also way over the top as race day approached ever so slowly.

"We generate fears while we sit.  We over come them by action.  Fear is nature's way of warning us to get busy."

And it was time to get busy when our race morning alarm (make that alarms) went off early.  Anyone who knows Supercoach can guess there was a "what if" buffer built in to that timing.

So at pitch black o'clock, we were on the the move and driving out to the event parking area at Moana Lani to catch a shuttle bus out to T1 at Hapuna Beach.

No we weren't first there and we were suddenly being guided by a well oiled team. Volunteers with glow sticks kept us moving and with instructions to pull in here, stop, park, walk in that direction and queue here for next bus!! 

The shuttle system was working like a dream, but as the bus drove out of the resort the cars of those who had slept a little longer were starting to bank up. On arrival at Hapuna Beach it was obvious that many had disregarded the instructions not to drive out there on race morning.  This traffic was then impacting on the ability of the buses to turn and return for their next pick up so I can imagine things were getting interesting back at the parking lot, and it also proved the value of adding in the "what if" time to our personal scheduling. 

T1 was hopping with combined energy when we got there.  The number of competitors exceeded even those of Ironman World Championships and the announcement was made that we were making history on the Big Island as participants in the largest ever triathlon held there.

First up for me was to get body marked.  My tattoos were in a sequence that had been made reversed so they had sent email instructing me to front for body stamping instead.  This turned out to be the longest, most laborious practice ever.  Oh how I wished for those nice neat tattoo'd numbers when post race I scrapped and scrapped to get that inch thick mucky ink off!

It didn't take long to get Ms Trek loaded and ready to go, sunscreen applied, a gel consumed and with the wind continuing to blow, it was soon time to head for the beach.

I wasn't alone!

The remaining time was spent exchanging pre race good luck with Daz, Josh, Tara, Tilly, Phil, Jo and Renee as well as fellow SOAS Racing ambassadors (we stood out in the crowd in our distinctive race kit) and others around me!

It also gave me time to take a deep breath and rejoice in being there on such a spectacular start line.  A little chilly as the sun rose, it was a fantastic feeling to be alive and about to do something I love. It was this goal that had kept me sane when the side effects of those last chemo rounds were particularly horrendous.  

I was happy to be sharing the moment with Daryl (we hadn't been on the same start line for almost two years) and his words of wisdom were firmly etched - have fun, enjoy!  

Anthems sung, Hawaiian drums beating, loud cheers and finally "boom", it was game on!

The pros went off first, followed by the age group men and seven minutes later the female wave was let loose.

I had decided to trust my judgement on sighting and aside from a few initial bumps and scrapes soon found enough space to enjoy the swim to the first turn buoy.  It was a little more congested at the 2nd and during the long back stretch I started to encounter blue caps of the slower men.

More and more guys were caught and passed as I reached the can to turn for the beach.  As predicted, sighting into the sun became impossible and it was a case of swim and hope.  It seemed to take forever to reach the beach so it was a thrill to finally stand up right and be where I needed to be.

After the swim, there is the beach to run across, then a line up for the hoses to rinse down, the aid station (where I stopped for a sunscreen touch up) followed by a steep slope to run up before entering the huge T1 area.

Gave myself a mental high five when all that was done and my gear stowed safely in my bike bag.

The next challenge soon came.  The mount line, situated on an incline, makes getting on your bike here not an altogether easy task.

I had my shoes attached to the bike and overtook many through T1.  At the race briefing we had been told "pushers" would be available to help at the mount line.

As I reached that area, the "pushers" were struggling with a couple of large blokes whose bikes were wobbling all over the place so I went to plan B, dodged around the danger area and continued to run up the hill until it flattened out and nailed my mount there, feet in first time!!  Yay for another small victory!

The road continues in the up direction towards the Queen K and with the wind up the speedo dropped to the teens almost immediately.

But it was the same for everyone and eventually we all settled into our ride comfort zones as we made our way towards town and the first bike turnaround. 

The bike course is one I know well and this helped I think.  Nowhere near as fit or as strong as when I rode this section during those heady days of Ironman, I held on to the belief that I could do it anyway!  

With my oncologist's warning to remain hydrated (since surgery last year, I'm powered by a single kidney), I made sure I took full advantage of aid stations and slowly but surely the kilometres ticked by.

The ride from the Queen K to Kawaihae was exhilarating, and I was grinning like a Cheshire cat as I sped down towards the town thinking at the time that if nothing else, it would help my speed average to look a little healthier.

Then came the turn off to Hawi.  It was a slow ride, painfully so in some sections into the wind.  At one point I decided it was safe to go down onto my aerobars but as I removed my hand from the handlebar, a gust of wind caught me.  The death wobble Ms Trek kicked up made my heart rate go sky high but luckily I was alert and no one was around me at the time, so a potential ground inspection disaster was averted.

The wind aside, there were also plenty of opportunities for me to just enjoy the magnificent views and I made sure I did that for the entire ride.  

The return journey was much of the same, and again that dreaded stretch from Kawaihae back to the Queen K was a challenge.  I got it done just the same and felt immense relief as wellas elation as I turned onto the highway again.

Previous races I've kept a keen eye out for anyone in my category passing me but this time there was a change.  Oh, I was hugely interested in watching for the pros as they came back towards town, and I kept an eye out for and shouted out to all those I knew in the field, but this time I was just happy to be "doing" and enjoying the moment so, although wanting to do as well as possible, there was no pressure to know where I was in the field.

That was a blessing in disguise as the people I got stuck behind in the resort grounds (the no passing zone) would truly have brought my day undone if I was wanting anything more!   

As promised T2 was well signposted and volunteers directed me to my rack, and there was my run bag safely waiting. 

Race belt on, visor on, run shoes on, Gu in pockets, off I go.  Two racks down I realise I still have my gloves on and stuff them in my pocket rather than go back.

By the time I'm almost through T2, I have to make an urgent porta loo stop and the realise the grey area to my day is about to start.

Since surgery early last year when my colectoral cancer returned, the need for loo stops (mainly while running) has been a cause for anxiety. I resolved to just get on with it, and if loo stops were needed they were to be made and with so many aid stations on the course they were always going to be within easy reach.

The Honu run course is hard to describe.  The website tries with this gem:

"Beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe the run course as it winds through the breathtaking resort grounds. This is the only opportunity you will probably ever have to run on the gorgeous fairways of a world-class resort golf course without getting arrested! From rolling over hills of green grass, to feeling the ocean breeze along the stunning coastal bay, then heading all the way out to the petroglyph park, this run is truly a journey through paradise."

What it doesn't say is that it is also bloody hard!  It's a lot of up, down and around and, as well as the grass fairways to drag your weary feet through, there are bitumen roads with lava surrounds and also concrete pathways guaranteed to have your bones rattling by the end of the day. But hey, when you are just happy to be there, hard is a bonus!!

This is also a run course that throws up a lot of comraderie and I found myself in turn encouraging and being encouraged by those around me, some many times over as we each made our way around the course and slowed at different times!

Porta loos called again and then again, but not nearly as often as they may have (attention to pre race diet helped there) and soon volunteers were giving the thumbs up and indicating that the finish was "really close" until finally there it was! 

In the end there were no tears, no exuberant fist pumping - just grateful thanks that I was well enough to be on the beautiful Big Island to challenge myself both physically and mentally again in the sport that I love.

Daryl was there in the finish chute waiting for me after having had a great day out and placing 4th in his category (his new umeke bowl now in pride of place here at home).  

The Darwin crew all achieved impressive results and this shared experience will stay with us forever.  

Me - I managed a couple of tardy transitions to add to a swim of 42:07 (2nd place), bike 3:30:54 and dismount in 5th and after a run/walk of 2:43:43 finished in 8th in F60-64.

7 hours 07 minutes and 24 seconds in total and every minute was genuinely savoured!

The post race shower, food and beer was hugely enjoyed, along with the entertainment.  Definitely an awesome finish line atmosphere and one I would recommend you try!

Thanks to IronGirl turned IronMum Kylie, who never let me falter along the way.  Relentless as always, she was sending motivational messages even as she prepared to "Escape from Alcatraz" herself. 

Thanks to those wonderful people who encouraged me to reach my goal, especially back in the time when I was taking small steps and giving myself a pat on the back after swimming just 200m metres.

Thanks to the team at SOAS Racing I've been looking good (at 60+ I can say that) and have loved being part of the team. 

But mostly thanks to Daryl for his unfailing belief, love, encouragement and supercoaching.  He knew back then that I needed this goal and for that I can't thank him enough!

What's next?

First up, it's time for another round of check up scans and tests which I'll get out of the way and then I think I'll try and smarten up my run.

Challenge Phuket is a possibility. While I'm on a roll, perhaps I'll conquer my croc and stinger fear by participating in our local Fannie Bay swim which is coming up soon. 

But meanwhile I have a letter to write.  I'm sending a heartfelt thank you note to Dr Lumley, the extraordinary colectoral surgeon who went where others feared to tread and ultimately is the reason I now have my Comeback Queen title firmly in place. 

I want to send him a big thumbs up from me for that!


  1. Wow that is an awesome read. A truly inspirational journey - I think your surgeon will be both amazed and inspired by your story. Well done Robyn xx

  2. What an inspirational story. Loved it! Congratulations on your remarkable achievement and may you have many more :)

  3. Incredible! Wonderful story and great blog. Warm wishes from Ireland...

  4. So much achievement! Nice work Robyn.

    1. Thanks for reading my blog Tracey.