Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Vacation Season - Hawaii and Florida Part One

 A friend said I should blog about my experience in Hawaii... so as you are reading this and laughing at my skill for making poor decisions you can thank Rachel.

As many of you are aware, I make an effort to raise funds for LLS (Leukemia Lymphoma Society). In the fall last year I got a message advertising an opportunity to raise money for LLS by participating in the Lavaman Triathlon in Hawaii. So in true Eric, I didn't think this through, fashion I signed up.

Now signing up for this even meant I committed to raising $4000, and committed meant I gave them my credit card number and gave them permission to take whatever I was short. Now I wasn't overly concerned about the fund raising. I cheated a little bit and used my company match. So I donated $2000 and my company matched the 2K and boom... I was in.

I committed to this event several months before it, so I had plenty of time to train and get ready. But a funny thing happened on my to train for the triathlon, it involved me not training at all. In fact, I did quite the opposite. I had spent the last few months trying to get as big and strong as possible, which for a 46 year old means I got really fat. I had gained nearly 40 pounds over the summer and fall. Still, I had plenty of time to train. 

Oh look... its March. I haven't trained for this at all.  I don't own a bike good enough to ride in this event, and I am not able to rent a bike, there are none available. I haven't been in the water since September and I haven't swam in open water in years. I haven't even ran farther than 6 miles. 

I am sure it will be fine.

My cycling outfit shows up at the house the week before the event. It is so tight, I can barely zip it. I look like a sausage bursting out of its casing.

Two weeks before the event, I go to the bike store to buy a fancy bike. I spend a small fortune on this thing. But I have to ship it to Hawaii. I look into shipping the bike, it is $700. Screw that. I talked to Delta and they said I can check the bike, I just need a bike case. I buy a case. I decide that the Sunday before the event, I will practice taking the bike apart and putting it back together. I will need to be able to do this to travel. An hour in, I give up. I can't get this fucking thing apart. Out of sheer frustration, I get on line and the same bike shop that was out of bikes, suddenly has bikes. YES! I rent a bike. One problem has been solved. Side note... you had to bring your own pedals for the bike rental, it literally took me an hour to get them off my bike.

So where are we. It is now the week of the event. I am too fat to fit into my suit. I have a rental bike, that I have never ridden. I will be wearing bike shoes for only the second time in my life, and that is going to be a problem unto itself.  Did I mention, I haven't swam in open water in years.

Just two days before the event and we get an e-mail. A swimmer was bitten by a shark in the bay where we are going to be swimming. This is my chance to opt out of the swim and not look like a complete wussy. 

It is now the day of, time to board the plane. It will take three planes and roughly 12 hours in the air to get to Hawaii. But I make it.

I get to Hawaii, I am exhausted but so excited. It looks like some sort of alien planet. A two lane road takes me from the airport to the hotel. We are surrounded on both sides by lava fields of black rock. Mana Kea in the distance. I don't do much the night I arrive. I grab a beer at the hotel bar and head to bed.

Jet lag sucks... I am up at 3 AM. Might as well go start the day. There is a practice swim in the bay at 8 AM. I sat around and waited till the coffee shop opened up at 6, and then I jumped in the pool for a little early morning swim. 

I make my way down to the lobby to meet the group to head out to the swim. It is a mile walk down the beach which does not have a single grain of sand, all rocks. I learn we will be crossing this same beach on the event.

I didn't get in the water for the practice swim, I was still pretty sure I was going to opt out. The only problem is there is no where to tell anyone that I am going to opt out. I go to packet pickup, they don't care.

Now, I needed to get my rental bike and it was 35 miles away. A taxi ride to the city was 100 dollars. I ask the event staff what is the best way to get my bike. "Let me introduce you to Frank, he has a car".

Frank was a 60 something guy, he was cool. I met his wife, a former collegiate swimmer. Frank was nice enough to drive me 70 miles round trip to pick up my rental bike.

It is the evening the night before the event. I ate dinner and I went to bed early. I still didn't know if I was going to swim or not. A friend said "What is the worst that can happen?".

I got up early again on Sunday morning. I packed my bag, grabbed my bike and headed down to the start. It was still dark, we had to walk our bikes down the road because there aren't enough lights to see. 

I am at the event, we are setting up our station changes. I still have not decided if I am going to swim or not. I gear up in my cycling gear. I see most people are going to swim in their cycling gear, those not wearing wet suits. I think to myself one last time... "what is the worst that can happen?". I headed down to the water to get ready for the start.

There is lots of nervous conversation in the starting pen. We are laughing about how we just want to finish. I am surrounded by people that you would not describe as athletes, they calm my nerves. If they can do this... I can do this.

As the pen starts to move forward, the nerves build. I am about to try to swim a MILE in open water. I clip my nose clip on and lock my goggles in place. I stepped on the start line and waited for the signal. 


Into the water. It is cool but not cold. The waves are mild, the water moves up and down about a foot or two feet with each passing wave. I start swimming. I was reading about swimming techniques last night in bed and I am trying to put what I read into practice. I am failing. The clip gets knocked off my nose. I am getting mouthfuls of water as I turn to breath. I am maybe 50 yards into the mile. I have made a terrible mistake.

I switch to swimming breast stroke. I am slow, but I am moving. I am in a pack of self-described slow swimmers and I am keeping up with the group. My nerves begin to settle. I am the only person swimming breast stroke. The lifeguard rides a jet ski over to me to make sure I am OK.

Just keep swimming...

The swim is a big upside U. We swim out, over, and back. I just keep thinking, just make it to the first marker. My shoulders and neck are starting to ache, but I am swimming well and keeping up with my group.

Just keep swimming...

Once I got to the first marker, I decided I was not going to quit. I just kept swimming. Nice and slow. I switch to side stroke and free style to give my neck a break and go right back to breast stroke. On the way back the waves are pushing us in and making the glide part of the stroke go farther. I can see the shore and I just keep thinking to myself don't quit.

I swam for 40 minutes. As I climbed up on the beach, my legs did not work. I could barely walk. They were so tired from that swim. 

I was so fucking proud of myself at that moment.

To the bike.

As I get on the bike I distinctly remember thinking to myself, OK... now you show them what you got.

Yeah... I got nothing.

The bike is my best part of the event by a long shot, and I am getting passed by everyone as they come out of the water. I keep thinking... "how are they going so fast?"

I put my head down and keep going. My neck is killing me from the swim, I can barely hold my head up, so I find myself just staring at the road. But I keep pedaling, I keep going. I am slow but steady. I manage to pass a couple of people, moral victory. But I spend the most of the next two hours mostly along on the highway. I am well behind the pack but I can at least see other participants.

The ride is long and tiring, my legs are exhausted. But the view is amazing!

I finished the ride after nearly 2 hours. I am well in the back of the pack. As I park my bike, I throw on a long sleeve shirt because I am cooked by the sun. Frank's wife sees me in the pen. 

"Hey... what was your time?"

She has finished you see, I still have 6 miles to go.

I start the run, and who am I kidding. I can't run. I try to jog and walk, alternating my gait. Nope. I am too tired. I walk. But I walk as fast as I can. I jog down the hills, but I can barely move my feet. I have blisters on my toes and heels. I found a woman moving at a reasonable pace and I just got behind her. She was in her 60s, a cancer survivor, a badass. She paced me for the next 5 miles.

I crossed the finish line in 4 hours and 40 minutes. 10 minutes after the course was supposed to close, but thankfully they did not pull me off the course. I would have fought them.

I got my medal and took my obligatory selfie. I sat down on a rock, and I don't think I moved for 30 minutes. Several people walked by and handed me bottles of water. A few folks even checked on me, to make sure I was OK. I have never been so tired. 

Everything hurt. My toes were blistered. My knees ached. My back and my neck hurt. I was so thirsty.