This is not a post I am supposed to write.
And honestly, I kind of don’t know where to begin. When I am sad, or upset, or seeking answers, writing has always been the place I have turned. I am hopeful that the process of writing all this down will help guide me into some better frame of mind where decisions can be made. I’ll also try to find the humor and grace that this experience has provided, mixed in with the truth, which at times is not overly positive, funny, or graceful.
After being paralyzed by an overwhelming amount of packing, I finally got it together Thursday night and had everything put into suitcases and bags and my bike strung from one side to the other in the van, lest anything rub up against it or hurt it. Friday morning we picked up Nicole and Craig and headed to Manteo.
Preswim day – Friday September 15
I was oddly calm going into the weekend. I know everyone likes to say “You’ve trained well, all that’s left is to enjoy the day” – but I’ve never been able to really embrace that. This time, I did.
We got to Manteo early and checked into our rental, then I headed over to packet pick up to grab our stuff and do a quick pre-swim of the course. The water was beautiful, calm, and the perfect temperature – even if it wasn’t wetsuit legal.
Getting the in water and swimming for a bit calmed all of my nerves surrounding a swim in the Sound. I was worried the water would be completely different than any of my OWS practices, but the brackishness of the water felt exactly the same as swimming in the Rappahannock had – thanks to Olivia and Steve for all the access to the river they provided!
The swag was great at this race – they even had arm warmers for participants, and I was thrilled that my t-shirt said “Half” on it. I wanted something to commemorate my 70.3!
The pre-race meeting and coordination of everyone took longer than expected, so I decided to silence my need for social interaction in favor of a quiet dinner at the rental house. It was the right decision for me, and allowed me plenty of time to get my gear together for the early morning. The house was full by that time – Jennie and Renee doing the half, Juanita doing the half Aqua Bike, and Michelle doing the Oly Aqua Bike. A ton of the team did this race, but the rest weren’t staying with us.
I lay awake most of the night wishing I was sleeping, and annoyed that I wasn’t. I wasn’t even worried about the race, and couldn’t figure out why I was having so much trouble sleeping. For the first time in my triathlon life, I felt 100% ready for a race, even if I was a little apprehensive about how it would feel.
My amazing team!
Race morning came early, and we headed over to the Dare County Airport where much of the action was taking place. Transition set up went smoothly, and I was able to help another woman doing her first Half when she realized she had forgotten her goggles. I had an extra pair, so I loaned them to her.
My teammates and I gave each other hugs and high fives and got some water updates from Derek, who also was extremely helpful in that he could see the buoys (I am so short, I couldn’t see over the people), and confirmed that they were, indeed, drifting and that I should not, indeed, follow the sight buoys unless they fixed them. I also had an emotional moment when I realized that one of my favorite team members, Rhonda, would probably never race with me again as she is moving. I hugged her and cried and told her I loved her. She has been a huge part of my journey, and I have been honored to train with her and grow to call her a friend.
Then I spent a moment just looking at the water and realizing that all the work I’ve put in over the last 11 months was for this moment, and I allowed myself to just be grateful I had the opportunity and the health to do it. We watched the men’s wave go off and all of a sudden it was time for us!
From the beach, the water looked deceptively calm. The course was shaped like a triangle, so we swam at an angle to the shore to the first turn buoy, then out at an angle to the next, then back in again. The first leg was great. I found my rhythm, had plenty of space, and had the presence of mind to just quiet myself and enjoy every moment. The water felt great, the scenery was beautiful, and everything was quiet. Oh right, it was also quiet because I took Cyndi’s suggestion and decided to use ear plugs. I’ve been getting really dizzy after swims and she thought it might help with that. She was right, as usual.
After the first turn buoy, things started to get a little harder. The chop had really picked up along with the wind, and I was having trouble staying in a straight line due to the current. Normally OWS swims during a race don’t feel like they take a long time, but this one sure did. The yellow buoys seemed like mirages to me, moving farther away with every stroke instead of closer. Someone’s boat or jet ski was spewing out gasoline fumes, so every time I came up for air, I was sucking in smoke. I was feeling nauseous and tired. I kept telling myself that it would get better when I rounded the final buoy.
Somewhere in the midst of my muddled brain, I forgot that I didn’t have to keep the sight buoys on my left, so I was fighting what felt like a strong diagonal current to keep them there. It was exhausting. One of our teammates who came out to cheer said it looked like waves of swimmers were getting blown into the middle of the triangle. At once point, I redirected myself to swim way to the far right of the swim exit in the hopes I could counteract the current. I also noticed I was passing quite a few green caps – the men from the first wave – so I felt like I must be making progress.
You can see how much I was fighting to stay in line on the final leg – that is NOT a straight line.
At the swim exit, I saw Graham’s face, and I was so relieved to be there. Unfortunately I stepped on my timing ankle bracelet and almost pulled it off, so I had the usual flailing and falling I do at a swim exit every. single. time.
Swim time: 47:50 (2,248 yards = more than 1.2 miles. Thanks a lot, current).
This was a slower time for me than I expected, but I wasn’t upset because everyone was complaining loudly about their slow swims. The water conditions were definitely in the top 5 most challenging swims I’ve had.
I ran to transition, which felt like a long way, and took my time getting all the grass and dirt off my feet. I was feeling strong and excited, and couldn’t wait to get on my bike.
T1: 2:48! Pretty happy about that considering transition was .15 miles away from the swim exit and I had a lot of dirt on me.
Heading out on the bike, I again realized how lucky I was to be out on a day like this. The sun was shining, there was a breeze, and I was surrounded by smiling faces (and only a handful of douchebag cyclists). I loved the course – lots of loops, so I was able to see everyone on the team multiple times. I shouted out to them as they passed, and they gave me lots of encouragement too. I also played leapfrog with another woman and got to know her over the few hours we rode together. She kept me going and I encouraged her as well.
The course was mostly flat, but it was WINDY. And I mean WINDY. I felt like I was riding uphill for many miles of that course, because the wind was pushing so hard at me. During some of the marshy areas, the crosswind was brutal and I found myself leaning into it. I tried to stay in aero position as much as possible, but around mile 23 my neck started to really bother me and I wasn’t able to stay down without taking breaks every 2-3 minutes. My nutrition was spot on and I was going through about a bottle an hour, which was my plan. My goal for speed was to stay at a minimum of 16 mph, so I monitored my Garmin every 10 minutes or so to make sure I was staying above my goal.
When I started the second loop, I saw Nicole and Craig riding in the van right along the course, so it was great to talk to them for a minute and tell them how awesome I was feeling. And I was. Despite some tough wind conditions and a particularly humbling moment where I was literally going 5.4 mph on the bridge, I felt like I could go on forever.
By the time I’d crossed the bridge the second time, I knew I had nailed my goals and exceeded my expectations for the ride. The road after the bridge to the airport had recently been paved, and it was beautiful, smooth blacktop. I looked at my Garmin – 53 miles in, speed 19.2 mph. I got down very low into aero position and told myself to push as hard as I could for the last three miles of my cycling portion. I remember thinking, “Your training has paid off. You had a great ride. Enjoy every second left of it, because the shitty run part is coming next.”
As you can see from my Garmin stats above, my ride ended at 53.06 miles. Somteime after I finished that thought, my bike veered off the road.
I don’t remember anything between that last thought and opening my eyes. I was completely confused. Why was I sitting on the ground? Why did my head and body feel so heavy? Why was someone forcing me to get up? And why was Renee, my intrepid teammate and running partner and friend, staring at me, crying? Slowly it dawned on me that I had come off my bike. I could see it about 20 yards away from me, lying cassette down (that’s a new cassette!!! GET IT OUT OF THE DIRT!!!). I started trying to tell Renee to move, get on with her race, why is she standing there??? Words weren’t coming so I waved my arms at her. I felt like I was dreaming.
Later, I would be told by multiple people the following details. Some of them are probably incorrect. I don’t remember anything about the accident until seeing Renee’s face. I am very grateful that her face is the first one I remember seeing, because I felt immediate comfort knowing someone who cared about me was with me.
- Teammate Angela came up on me shortly after the accident happened. She said she hugged me and saw that I was being attended to by two people in an ambulance, so she continued on with her race.
- Teammate Craig also saw me.
- Renee saw me, and stayed for awhile until I was able to convey that she should move on or I would kill her – as soon as I was able to walk.
- A race official standing on the road was looking the other way when I crashed near him. He heard a woman yell, “She’s down!” and he turned to face me. I was lying face down on the ground to the side of the road, not moving. It took him about 1 minute to react and get over to me, and another 3-5 to get me to open my eyes. The woman who yelled apparently stopped and helped him to sit me up, and the only person who saw me go down.
- Someone told the race official, or the race official assumed, that I had passed out on my bike. I do not believe this to be true, but that is what the ambulance crew was told, so they assumed I was dehydrated and hooked me up to an IV right away.
- Lab results from the hospital showed no dehydration or any issues with potassium, electrolytes, or anything else for that matter.
It took a long time for Edwin to be notified. One of the EMTs kept trying to call him, but her phone wasn’t working. I wasn’t really able to communicate at that time, and ended up just pointing to my Road ID (note to anyone who doesn’t have one – get one, and get it now). She was able to read his name and number and kept trying.
I am going to be honest here about a couple of things. Renee said that as they were trying to get me into the ambulance, I deadpanned “Does this mean I can’t finish?” Another teammate told me that I was crying on the ground, begging them to let me get back on my bike. They gently refused. I do remember looking at my bike on the ground and thinking, if I can just get myself over to it, I can totally get back on that thing and finish. I am so close . . . just let me get on it.
I also cried. A lot. I could not stop crying. I was scared, confused, and my head felt like it was being split in two. I couldn’t feel the rest of my body, but the base of my skull was throbbing and the front of my forehead was in agony. I told them I was in extreme pain and the EMT put some morphine in my drip. It was the nicest thing anyone did for me on the medical side the rest of the day.
They took me to a hospital, but it took a long time to get there. Edwin had heard from a teammate that I was “down”, but was confused about what that meant. Had I fallen and gotten back up? Was it serious or just my usual “fall at the dismount line” craziness? Unfortunately, he heard a marshall talking on his radio about a cyclist who had crashed. Edwin asked the guy for the bib number. It was mine. Edwin took off for the hospital with Nicole and Craig, followed closely by Michelle and Brian. My ride in the ambulance was pure misery. I was in a C-collar and going over bumpy roads.
I got a CT scan and a cursory look-over at the hospital. The road rash on my right leg remained full of dirt and gravel. No one ever cleaned it. I was starting to regain feeling in my body, and noticed my shoulder was hurting. I had some weird bruise/gash on my chin, and a long, painful line extending from the inside of my right wrist up toward my elbow. I had a large goose egg forming at an angle, extending from the middle of my forward down toward my eye. My head was exploding. I am not a person who likes taking medication, especially pain meds, so it is a testament to the level of head pain that I begged for a Demerol drip at one point. They handed me two Tylenols instead, after waiting a couple of hours for the CT scan results (which showed nothing terrible).
In one of my more stupid moves, I decided to ignore the fact that I had to pee from mile 24 on. I figured I could make it back to transition and go there. Unfortunately, this had unforeseen consequences – mainly that I would crash and end up in an ambulance without the ability to pee for another two hours. The hospital kept asking me to wait, wouldn’t let me get up (rightfully so), and finally relented, bringing a chair next to the bed and letting me relieve myself there. If I race again, I solemnly swear never to hold it that long again.
They diagnosed me with syncope and a concussion and told me to follow up with my doctor at home.
Thankfully, various members of my team had gathered up my belongs at the race and they somehow got home to me, including my bike. The lady I had played leapfrog with saw me on the side of the road and told one of my teammates how much I had helped her get through the bike portion and described me as the “nicest person”. I relay this only because it’s important to note that a few kind words on the course, here and there, can really make a difference to someone. I know it has for me. I spend a lot of time trying to give back good mojo whenever I race. I felt good knowing that I had helped someone.
Here is where I also get real. I cried most of the time in the hospital. I cried on Michelle, I cried on Edwin, I cried on the nurse. Part of it was pain. The other part was crushing devastation that the goal I had worked so hard for this year was gone. I had made it 54.26 out of 70.3 miles. And I knew in my heart that I wasn’t going to get the chance to do another half this year – for physical, mental and time reasons. My season was over, and I had failed.
Yes, yes, yes. I know. I didn’t fail. But it sure felt that way, and it continues to creep in. Looking back, my race performance was beyond my expectations. I know I would have finished it. All of my hard work and dedication: I was rewarded tenfold for it. I am a better person for it. And no one can take any of what I accomplished away from me. But it is a flat-out lie to tell you that seeing others walking around with medals – unpacking my “Half” shirt from my suitcase – and seeing the words DNF next to my name – didn’t break my heart. It all did.
I made a dumb decision to go to the team celebration dinner I had put together. Even though I was hurting inside and out, I wanted to go see everyone and congratulate them in person. As time went on, I felt worse and worse. My head was still killing me and I kept breaking down and crying. I was embarrassed and done for the day. I ate my food quickly and bailed early.
I took some meds and finally slept.
When I woke up this morning, everything felt worse, and I decided to call it and leave the Outer Banks early so I can hopefully get in to see a doctor first thing tomorrow. I also wanted to go back to the course to see if I could figure out where I fell, and why. I needed to turn in my timing chip, and I wanted to talk to the race director to see if she could put me in touch with the course marshall who saw the accident happen. I wanted to prove that I hadn’t passed out on my bike, because if that was the case, there is a health issue I would need to deal with. I didn’t believe that could be the case based on how good I felt during the ride. I’ve had many other experiences where I haven’t had proper nutrition and I know what that feels like. This was not anything like that.
I talked to the volunteer who had told Edwin the news about me being hurt. I talked to the USAT referee who had heard what happened and was very relieved I was up and walking. I told her how much I had enjoyed the race, and then I started crying again. I talked to Jenny Ash, the race director, who was also relieved and promised to put me in touch with anyone who saw what had happened. And finally, I got to talk to the course communications officer, who in turn put me in touch, over the phone, with the course marshall who found me. He confirmed that the initial report was untrue. He didn’t see it happen, and he didn’t see me pass out, then crash. He only saw the immediate aftermath.
After seeing the area where I landed, I am convinced that when I dropped down low into aero, I was fatigued in my arms and wobbled a little bit. The part of the road where the wobble happened drops off drastically, about 4 inches. If I caught an edge of my front tire, I would have gone down, and gone down hard. The last reading on my Garmin shows me going about 19.5 mph. The marks on my bike make it appear that I went head over heels with it. Dirt is jammed into the aerobar shifters, meaning that part of my bike was upside down at one point. Part of my right cycling shoe is sheared off (dammit, I love those shoes). My helmet has a gouge out of the back of it (and this would explain the pain in the base of my skull).
Standing on the side of the road where it happened, I stood with Edwin and looked at the tracks the ambulance left. I felt an overwhelming mixture of sadness, amazement that I was walking around, and bitter disappointment at being so close to the finish line. For the first time, I also felt fear. Cycling, something I had grown to love so much, scared me. Looking at my bike scared me. The thought of getting back on it, clipping in, and ever getting into aero position again, was, and is, terrifying right now. Honestly, I don’t want to do it.
Then I began to mourn the loss of my confidence, and that is where I am right now.
Triathlon, and my training team, has given me a lot this year. New friends, the joy of finding out I can do so much more than I ever thought possible, the challenge of trying something new, the newfound love I have of a this sport. But I set a goal back in summer of 2016, and right now, I feel a profound sense of loss that I spent all of this time working toward this goal – one I did not complete.
I have a lot of decisions to make, and I’m not going to make any of them right now until I am healed up and not emotional. In the meantime, I am where I am. I’m not going to try to talk myself out of anything, good or bad.
Like I said, this is not the race report I wanted to write, but I also think it’s important to discuss what happens when things don’t go as planned.