Week 1

I went out to Saturday morning brick today just to drop off a team gift I’ve been working on. I thought it would help me to see everyone, and it mostly did. I would be lying to say that seeing the people I care a lot about kicking ass on their bikes and running didn’t make me feel like curling up in a ball. It is a bittersweet lollipop – I am genuinely happy that so many of them are still working diligently toward their Ironman goals, and I am genuinely jealous/sad that I am not one of them anymore.

This week has been one of the most sucktastic weeks I can remember. Without Netflix, my phone, my computer to distract me, I’ve had way too much time to sit and think. My doctor warned me that depression can be a side effect of a concussion, and for those of us with depression already, it can be a lot worse.

I honestly can’t remember a time within the past 5 years where I have felt this low. I have tried very, very hard to counteract the negative thoughts with positive ones. A lot of my mental conversations go like this:

Me: “I cannot believe this happened to me. This is SO NOT FAIR.”

The other me: “Well, at least you are okay. You’ll heal and this is totally not the worst thing that ever happened to you.”

Me: “It sure feels like I’ve lost everything,”

The other me: “Good lord, come on. It’s no big deal. So you missed your goal race. There’s another one or four hundred next year. Get a grip.”

Me: “If you tell me this is just another race, I’m going to throat punch you.”

The other me: “Other people have real problems. Shut up.”

And so on.

Because I’ve had a lot of time to think, I’ve been able to figure out why my depression is so intense right now. I’ve gone through some hard times, but as I was telling a friend yesterday, this is a kind of shit sandwich of epic proportions.

First, I am devastated over the “failure” to reach my goal. I am proud of my performance up until the moment I crashed, and I know that all of the hours and sweat and dedication I poured into getting ready for the OBX half resulted in the kind of race day I was having. For those of you who train and race – I know you understand that it isn’t really about the race day itself. It’s about overcoming all the negative inner-speak and convincing yourself, minute by minute, that you can accomplish that which you seek. I know that had I not crashed, I would have finished the race. There isn’t a doubt in my mind. But . . . there is a period missing from the end of a sentence, an open door where one should have been closed. I grabbed a t-shirt from my drawer to go to PT yesterday. It happened to be the shirt from the race that says “half” on the back. I wore it for about 5 minutes before I started to feel so badly, I had to take it off. Simply put, I spent all of this time and energy working on something that I mostly completed, and it feels really, really bad. 54.2 miles of 70.3 . . . ugh.

Second, my routine is completely different. I went from working out 6 days a week, much of it with people I really care about, to do nothing. My body is in some state of shock. Every time I cross over the James River, I start to tear up because I want to be in it so badly. I see a cyclist on the road, and I feel genuine despair. I pretty much hate to run these days, but even runners are making me mad. Why do they get to do it when I can’t? It is a whirlpool of self-pity and anger.

Related to #2, I miss my second family. A lot. Cyndi told me that I could come on Tuesdays and help out with class, and run SAG for the team on Saturdays, and I still am planning to go to Florida in November to cheer on my teammates doing IMFL. I am going to do all of those things when I am sure that I won’t be doing any more public crying because that’s just not fair to anyone else. I ran into Jackie today. She’s been plagued by injuries all year, and she was out riding. I saw her and talked to her for a few minutes about what she’s been through, and promptly started crying – AGAIN. She told me that during one of her injuries, she cried off and on for four days straight. I can relate. Seeing the people who have helped define one of the most successful years of my life felt really good, because it feels like a giant void in my life has opened up. It also reminded me of what I can’t do right now.

Fourth, I am mourning the loss of my self-confidence. I figure by the time I crashed, I’d ridden over 2,000 miles this season. I started to feel like I was no longer a beginner cyclist. I understood a lot about my bike. It felt like an extension of my body. I felt the kind of joy riding that I had seen in my other teammates’ eyes. I couldn’t wait to get on the bike 99% of the time, and I’d usually spend the last few miles of every ride pep-talking myself into how great the run was going to be after. When I went more than a few days without my bike, I would miss it badly. I admit that sometimes I’d just go into the garage and look at it, or ride it around in circles in my driveway. I liked my bike *that* much. There are more selfies of the bike than of me or friends over the past 10 months. It’s not like it’s some super expensive, ultra-serious tri bike, but it’s mine, and I’ve made a lot of progress on it.

It has been sobering thinking about it since the crash. It feels like a kind of sore in your mouth, where you poke at it with your tongue, seeing how much it hurts. You can’t help but mess with it, even though it doesn’t feel good. I compare my thoughts about cycling now with what they used to feel like, and I’m scared. Since I don’t know what happened, I am left with a general sense of terror about it. Will it happen again? Did I really not learn enough over the course of 2,000 miles to not be wobbly and careless? When I finally let go of my fear and really started to push my speed, look what happened. Even writing about it makes my heart race. I don’t know if some of my memory has returned or if I’m recreating what I think happened, but I do have one small moment where I am seeing my aerobars and feeling absolute dread and fear. This memory is sandwiched between the last thoughts I can remember having, and waking up seeing Renee.

I want to love my bike again, and the positive and determined person inside me is saying that I will. Many of my team have experienced crashes, some of them serious. They are still out there riding. I don’t plan to cave in to the fear, but I am so sad that I am afraid, at least right now.

Finally, I feel a loss of purpose. Cyndi mentioned that it would have happened to some extent if I had finished the half. It’s like post-partum depression. I spent some of my energy thinking about and planning my triumphant return. I allowed myself a few minutes every day to look at race reports and descriptions, and I am thinking about doing Steelhead 70.3 in my home state of Michigan or maybe an early spring half followed by a full.  It helps channel my emotions into something more positive.

The training self inside me is a generally positive person. I don’t whine or complain a lot about training. It has been one of the most fun and satisfying things I have ever done, so it feels alien to have such negative and defeated feelings about it. I have resisted talking about it to the majority of people who have reached out. I don’t want to be seen as a negative person, and truthfully, I don’t want to hear another person tell me it was “just a race” or that I’ll be fine or how grateful I should be that it wasn’t worse. I know all of these things and I know that crossing the finish line whenever I can will be extra sweet. Right now, I need to just be allowed to get through all of these emotions and sort them out without feeling another layer of guilt for having them in the first place. To those of you who have just hugged me or asked me how I am honestly feeling, I am so appreciative of you. Even though I haven’t been able to talk extensively to more than a handful of people, knowing that I could tell you that I wasn’t doing great FELT great. Putting on a brave face and acting like everything is a-okay is kind of exhausting in and of itself.

d11f730c149492349a29ce176ad30f98That being said, I am looking forward to getting back to my normally jovial self. Pre-season is right around the corner, and I want to be back in the saddle, literally and figuratively, by November. In the meantime, I’m biding my time during my house arrest, repeating the mantra that “this too shall pass”. Also, I’m looking forward to riding Kermit style.

 

Advertisements

When you have to write what you don’t wanna write.

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.

21742857_745609238959388_7841817594783104621_n

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.

21731196_746066205580358_5417726959792911394_n

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.

IMG_4530

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.

IMG_4531The 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.

 

 

Ready Set Go

I’m 4 full days out from the Half, and I’ve been spending my time alternating between excitement that it’s finally here and a sort of nausea-fueled dread that I actually am doing this thing. I’ve spent some time trying to figure out the “dread” part of it, and I’m fairly certain it’s not dread, but a little bit of fear of something going drastically wrong and me not finishing, or being so miserable I want to quit the entire day I’m racing. I don’t think either of those things are going to happen.

Someone asked me how well I had trained for this race. My response was, “I did 98% of everything that was asked of me.” I rarely missed a team workout or class, I followed my training calendar obsessively, and with the exception of the 6 weeks I took off to heal my running injury, I kept at it with a sort of idiot’s obsession. A teammate commented about how inspiring my dedication was – I told her, “It’s not really dedication, it’s fear-based training. Meaning if I don’t train my ass off, I won’t complete this thing.”

When I’m not making fun of myself, I can admit that I was truly dedicated, and it wasn’t just fear-based after all. I wanted to do this, and I wanted to do it right. The work going into the race prep was actually more important to me than race day. All of that training would finally answer the question I’d been asking for a few years: Could I do something really, really hard, and enjoy it – excel at it – love it?

While I am now officially in taper, I can say that yes, I did something very hard, and I enjoyed it, and I got better in all three disciplines. More importantly, I made some awesome new friends and realized that my body and my mind can do WAY more than I ever thought it could. I spent the first 36 years of my life not doing much in the way of physical activity. It took a separation and subsequent divorce to get me serious about running, and the rest of this is all downhill, so to speak. Once I started running, I never stopped. Running is now the sort of red-headed stepchild to me because it hurts a lot of the time, I’m still pretty slow, and I get frustrated with my inability to get “good” at it. I’ll also admit that when I finish a run, nothing else makes me feel the same way. It does something to me mentally that I crave.

So with the help of my trusty Garmin, I figured out the approximate amounts of my training. This will also explain why I’ve been a little AWOL this year, as I started training in earnest in November.

Miles Run: 378.40
Pool Meters Swum: 128,200
Open Water Meters Swum: 35,189
Miles Biked: 1,961.05

Putting that down on electronic paper made me feel better. I’ve definitely put in the training. I missed a lot of stuff this year to do so, like picking up my kids from their activities at times (Edwin helped out a bunch and so did Nicole), watching practices, helping with homework, housework over the weekends, and spending time, in general, with my family and friends. I appreciate all of those who have been patient with me. One thing you don’t really think about when embarking on a training plan like this one: being a slow runner stinks; it stinks even worse when it takes FOREVER to get in your long Saturday runs because you are hammering down an 11:30/12 min mile pace.

I’m going to mentally check out from as many things as possible until race day; I am trying to go into it with a “just another training session” mentality and also, oh yeah, have fun while I’m doing it. Riding in the Outer Banks – running with like-minded people – plus a beautiful (I hope) swim in the sound? There’s nothing better.

 

 

 

Almost there.

I haven’t written lately, primarily because I’ve been in the throes of training and traveling to see other people accomplishing big goals, like Ironman Mont-Tremblant (#IMMT). I’ve written about it some on Facebook, and I won’t bore the same 3 people who read my blog with the topic again. It was quite an experience being there and seeing the kind of race Ironman puts on, as well as how incredibly difficult completing one of those things is. Tracking an athlete online is a lot different from seeing them multiple times throughout a 13-16 hour day. I saw my teammates struggle, rebound, fight, accomplish, overcome – all in one day. It made me totally want to do one, simultaneously making me not want to do even the Half I’ve signed up for. I probably felt similar to many of those who were actually doing the race – wondering why they started in the first place, followed by the joy that comes from accomplishing an almost unbelievable goal.

I also struggled with feeling silly about “just a half”, even though I know this happens all the time. There’s always more, bigger, harder. I mean, people do this crazy 5-Ironman- races-in-5-days thing  – I even know someone personally who has. Does this make an Ironman . . .”just” an Ironman?

It doesn’t, and there’s no such thing as an easy triathlon. If there is, I’ve yet to experience it. Each race has its own challenges, and even the mini-tri I did in March with my daughter was hard in its own way. So, I tried to stop thinking about my Half as just no big deal, even though it kind of felt that way, after watching my teammates out on the course working so hard to get it done.

Aside from watching the race, I did get a chance to try out the P’tit Train du Nord, a 200km cycling path. It was amazing, and I wish it was in my backyard. Incredible views, wildlife, and opportunities. I got to bike about 24 miles on it and run 12. The temperature that day never got over 65. I was in heaven. If you are ever near Montreal or that area, and you like to cycle, definitely try it out. I’d love to make a vacation just on the Train du Nord, and go from inn to inn.

Yesterday was my last long ride of my training season. I was supposed to do 70, but some of the #IMFL people were riding 80. I’ve been tossing around the idea of Florida in my head for three months now. I knew I had time to train if I wanted to do it, and the training schedule for the Half isn’t radically different until the very last 6 weeks or so. IMFL people cycle 100 at their longest, and run 22. Half people do 70 on the bike, and 14 on the run. So . . . because cycling and swimming have been going pretty well, I figured if I really put my mind to it, I could scrape by on the run. Going to IMMT gave me a lot of time to think about doing a full. The main motivation was thinking about waiting another year and how much work it is, as opposed to just buckling down and doing it this year, since I’m already so far along in my training program and feeling pretty strong. My running injuries, knock wood, have stayed away, due to some diligent PT work on my part and avoiding speed work.

I told myself that if I managed to do the 80 mile ride and felt okay, I’d look into Florida. My crazy idea was to pretend I was going down there to just to watch, and then race instead. I’ve been planning to cheer on my team anyway; it wouldn’t have been that hard to pull off if I included some specific people (like my coach). It would, in essence, silence those in my life that weren’t thrilled about it or would spend the time between now and then worrying about me dropping dead, neglecting my children, or losing my mind.

I had a great ride yesterday. I felt good all the way up until about 70 miles. At 70, I was physically fine except for some knee pain and the usual aches you get from sitting on a bike for 4+ hours (hating the taste of your liquid nutrition, feeling like your ass is going to fall off, the usual tingling and numbness from one part or another refusing to move blood anymore). I was just bored and wanted to get on with the run part of the day, the part I usually dread. Aside from feeling my usual “wiped out on Saturday after a brick” status, I was fine. I reached out to my coach, asked if she thought I could do Florida with about 8 weeks to go, and waited for the response.

She said she thought I could definitely do it and make the cut off times, but I’d have to adjust my training schedule and use the Half as another training day instead of tapering for it like I am planning to do as of now. I headed over the IMFL website and got ready to register. My heart was pounding out of my chest – I felt like I was about to be caught watching porn by my parents or something as I furtively looked for the registration button.

And then I found out that the only spots left for IMFL were the Community Fund spots – for a whopping $1400. (My coach told me that it’s a tax write off, but OMG, $1400)

713LZylH6QL._UX522_

Saw a guy wearing this at #IMMT. Appropriate.

I’m mostly glad it didn’t work out this way, because some of those people who are worried about me dropping dead also would probably want to be around to see me not drop dead at the finish line. (This is me asserting that I don’t think I will drop dead at the finish line, or anywhere else for that matter, and that I don’t think endurance sports are going to kill me, and I’m not insane for wanting to do this). But I would be lying to say I wasn’t pretty disappointed, and kicking myself for not registering two months ago when I had the option to do so. I knew I wanted to do it even then, and it was the perfect race for me with the type of training I’ve been doing. Hills aggravate my back problems on the bike, so a flat-ish course is the best thing for me right now. Florida and OBX are very similar in terms of the bike and run.

This means that if I want to do one next year, I can ease off my training for a few months, then kick it off again in November and December and do this – plus a lot more – for another season. I need a couple of months to lose all the weight I’ve put on while training (I know, this is not supposed to happen, right?) I’m not sure I have another year of hardcore training in me, but I’ll deal with that in the fall when I have had a chance to complete OBX and assess the likelihood of Edwin divorcing me or my kids disowning me if I do it. In the meantime, I’m planning a road trip for the first weekend in November to see my amazing teammates conquer Florida.

I have one final long run next weekend, and then it’s taper time, baby. I could use a break. I’m looking forward to dialing back the aerobic exercise and picking back up again on strength training. I miss the weight room.

No, I will not pee on the bike. Yet.

I’m about two months out from OBX Half Ironman and the reality of it is starting to sink in. I have some big distances in front of me – one 70 mile ride, one 12 mile run and one 14 mile run. Once those three milestones are in the books – OBX, here I come. The rest of my workouts are manageable.

While I don’t feel intimidated by my many teammates who are training for various IMs, I do feel a little weird cock-a-doodle-dooing about my own distance and milestones. I am not the type of person who is all “I AM THE BOMB”. I have the opposite problem. Milestones are such a big deal to me because they are living proof that I can accomplish more than I ever think I am capable of. Today I had a 60 mile ride/6 mile run brick on the calendar. My IMMT teammates are on their taper – and they have 50 and 10. So . . . it’s all relative.

I was a little keyed up about today’s workout. I did 50 miles previously without any major issues – this distance shouldn’t have freaked me out, but it did. I’ve been having some significant back pain issues over the last couple of weeks and I am still trying to figure out what’s up with that, but my back will occasionally seize up on the bike and when you are miles and miles away from home, it’s unnerving. I was also riding out in a larger group, and I knew that 85% of them were much faster than me. I spent a lot of time in my head, worrying about how I would keep up. I ride these roads plenty so I wasn’t worried about getting lost, but I will admit that sometimes when I ride with people much faster than me, I get demotivated and tend to give up. I was determined to not let my back or my brain work against me today, so I tried very hard to have a positive mindset before starting the ride.

We all spread out within the first couple of miles, and I was left with a smaller group of about 10. After the first 20 miles of thinking that they were holding back for me, I let it go and just started to push my limits to see how I would do. The great thing about doing 60 today: it’s 4 more than I have to do in the race (although I didn’t have a half marathon following my ride today so…). I didn’t pay much attention to my watch, because when it felt like I had already gone 40, I was barely at 24. I stopped looking at the distance deliberately at that point.

Something amazing happened on the ride today when I stopped counting miles or landmarks, and just rode. My teammate Michelle S. had put together the route, and I almost chose to not ride it because it had two roads on it with notoriously hard hills. The first time I rode Shallow Well, I had to walk up two of the hills – a new version of the Walk of Shame. The second time I rode them, one of my coaches rode behind me and taught me how to gear the hills properly, and I made it up – but with quite a bit of trouble. It was hard to convince myself to add a hilly section of the course when I already was riding 60.

However, I figured I’d really feel accomplished if I could do 60 – WITH the hills. And lo and behold, this was my third time on them and everything was markedly improved! In addition to the hills, 23 of the 60 miles were at 17 mph or better – most in the 18s and 19’s. That’s the fastest I’ve gone for an extended period of time, and it’s about 3 miles faster per hour than I was riding when I was starting out with TRIgirl/TRIquest. And while today wasn’t “easy”, it wasn’t impossible, either. I never felt like I couldn’t do it (except at mile 28 when I realized I STILL HAD 32 MILES TO GO AND WHY WAS THIS TAKING SO DAMN LONG). I felt challenged and pushed but not demoralized. My self-confidence went way up today – at least for the bike.

About halfway through, I had to pee – badly. Everyone was egging me on, trying to get me to pee on the bike. For those who don’t know about this very special triathlon skill, the lines for port-a-johns along the bike courses in races can be notoriously long, so many racers will just pee while riding their bike. Someone in our group keeps a water bottle especially for this – after they relieve themselves, they just hose off with the bottle and spray their shoes down. I of course was horrified when I first heard of this “skill” and swore I’d never do it. For someone like me with zero chance of a podium appearance, saving a couple of minutes in a race versus peeing in my bike shoes was not even a question. Then I started to experience back pain that worsened whenever I stopped on the bike or stood up from it, and I started to reconsider this whole peeing on the bike thing.

1513557145-RW_poster-6

My version of an inconvenient truth. 

Today was not that day. I thought about it, then headed for a thicket of pine trees. The only problem is that right as I dropped trou, two cyclists came by me on Manakin Road. I managed not to give them a full frontal nudey show, but they were laughing their asses off. When I finally emerged, I was covered in pine needles in my hurry to stay out of sight. They had sealed themselves to my neck with my sweat. I’m thinking peeing on the bike would have been a better alternative. Maybe I’ll save that milestone for my 70 miler.

 

Around mile 40, Edwin drove by me with the kids, who were waving and shouting, and that gave me a little extra boost to finish strong.

Unfortunately, in both the 50 miler and today’s 60, the weather was very hot by the time I finished the ride. The 50 was much worse – the heat index was well above 105 that day and it was all I could do to walk 2 miles. I thought I was going to cook right there on the sidewalk. Today it was cooler, but the humidity was so high. I managed to run about 60% of the first 3, then started to walk. It was particularly infuriating because my legs still felt good – even after the long ride. I just could not move enough oxygen through my body to get myself to run. I managed to eke out 4 miles before calling it quits. I’m hoping that one of these long rides will happen on a day with slightly less humidity and slightly lower temps so I can accurately assess how I will do. And my fingers are crossed (SO HARD) that the temperature for the OBX race will not be 100. If it is – so be it, I’ve certainly trained in this soup all summer.

While I am euphoric about any milestone I hit, I also would be remiss in not telling the whole truth.

I am getting tired.

I have been doing this for 9 months straight. It will be 11 months by the time I hit OBX. I am looking forward to being done with my big race and cutting way back on the training. I miss going to the gym for strength training. I miss the luxury of taking a yoga class on Sundays, and I miss sleeping in. I look forward to not feeling like a truck hit me 50% of the time on Saturdays after a brick (though it has definitely gotten better – I used to feel like that 100% of the time on Saturdays, and I’ve been assured by people with way more experience than me that it continues to get better and better). I get weary worrying about if I can eat this/drink that the night before a long workout. And I’m looking forward to not having my active wear outnumber my normal clothes in the laundry by a 4:1 ratio (or doing the same load of laundry twice because it’s so vile it requires that much to get clean.)

I am sure that spectating at Ironman Mont Tremblant in a couple of weeks will reenergize me. Watching teammate Tammy complete IM Santa Rosa was an amazing and inspirational experience. I was glued to the live stream and her tracker all day, just as I was when Michelle D. did IM Maryland last year. And I admit freely that I cried when she went through the finisher’s chute. Having trained with these people and experienced first hand, to some extent, the kind of dedication and tolerance for discomfort this takes, I have a very solid appreciation of what it takes to complete an Ironman distance race and still smile when crossing the finish line. I am very excited to be there to cheer and offer whatever assistance I can.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to finishing up my last three long distances. I am not looking forward to peeing in my bike shoes, however.

 

 

The good, the bad, the ugly, and the pretty.

I’ve been in a kind of stressed-out stupor since Rev3. I realize that’s an oxymoron, but that’s how I feel. I’ve also struggled over whether I want to write about this area of my training, but I think it’s important, because it’s been one of the hardest things for me.

I was just talking to one of my friends who recently started training. She’s doing Pink Power next month. She was telling me about a ride she did – her longest distance to date – and how it was a life-changing event. “I used to worry about my body and think, oh, that jiggles, and oh, that’s not perfect. Now I look at my body and think, WOW, I can’t believe I can do all the things I have done, and I appreciate the strength in it.”

I completely agree. One of the ways I’ve dealt with a myriad of issues has been through physical activity in one form or another. Nothing like triathlon has ever soothed me to this extent, however. Part of it is the team I train with. I am surrounded by incredible women and men. They are the most positive group of people I’ve ever met. Some of them have overcome incredible circumstances in their personal and physical life to become who they are. Others have always been athletes, but put forth a significant amount of effort to help those of us who aren’t, uh, natural athletes. I have felt supported and cared for in a way I’ve never experienced. I remember one particular bike ride where I spent the first 5 miles crying because I had just found out I couldn’t run due to my hip issues, and at the moment, it felt like I might never be able to run again. A couple of the women around me understood exactly how I felt, but they also provided the right mix of “I feel your pain and sorrow” with “You’re going to get over this.” (I also found out how hard it is to cry at the same time as attempting an ascent.)

One major area of improvement for me has been in how I view myself and my body – sort of. I continue to be routinely amazed that I can do so much more than I ever thought I could, but I have also had to venture out of the safe zone of the way I ate for two straight years because my nutrition plan was no longer working for me. I spent the first two months of preseason feeling nauseous and woozy because a protein shake for breakfast and a bar for lunch was no longer enough to sustain me. I branched out and started eating small amounts of carbs again, which is akin to me fraternizing with the devil himself.

Fast forward 9 months and I’m up 15 pounds. There is one universal truth to tri training: you’re effing hungry.  A lot. There’s also a misconception that “Hey, I just worked out for like 4 hours – I can eat anything I want.” I’m living proof this isn’t true. Even more frustrating – Garmin tells me that swimming is only burning a small amount of calories compared to my perceived effort. It also conflicts with my hunger level. Running and riding don’t make me ravenous, but swimming sure does. You know the Bugs Bunny/Tazmanian Devil cartoon where Taz is looking at Bugs, but Bugs suddenly turns into a steaming turkey on a platter? Yeah, that’s me in the pool or OWS, looking at a teammate.

a18ace92daf5ba65449a5ce9b527f0c0--swimming-memes-truths-funny-swimming-memes

I mean, I’d eat a medal after a swim. It’s got minerals, right?

So what I’m saying is that on one hand, my self-esteem has never been higher, and on the other hand, I find myself feeling utterly dismayed over my weight gain, followed very closely by not giving a rat’s ass and eating a burger because oh yeah, I’m hungry again. Can I get some fries with that?

I’m not all that shy about sharing some of my personal “opportunities” (read: character flaws) with friends and some of my teammates. I have talked to a few of them about this exact issue. Because in the past, the one consistent thing that physical activity provided me was a way to shut down the part of my brain that is disordered and thinks about what I am eating or not eating every millisecond of every day. When my brain isn’t thinking about food, it’s thinking about weight. It never shuts the hell up. And working out was one sure-fire way to make it shut the hell up. During a run, everything is quiet and focused. During a ride, it’s a different quiet, but it’s still quiet. During a swim, I’m just focused on staying afloat. There is no time for anything else. Also, where did the buoy go?

I just got back from a family vacation. On a cruise ship. Attention people with food issues: cruise ships aren’t super ideal for you. I avoid buffets like the plague at home, but put me on a ship in the middle of the ocean with little else to do, and suddenly buffets and I are close friends. Everywhere you go, someone’s pushing a pina colada or a cupcake in your face. One day I ran 6 miles on the track on the ship. As soon as I walked back up the stairs, there was an 8 FOOT TABLE FULL OF COOKIES AND CUPCAKES ON IT. Thankfully I was so tired and cranky after that run I was able to walk on by it, but being around all of that food, all of the time – it’s like being a heroin addict in a drug den.

I fought against all that food by spending a significant time of my “at sea” days in the gym or on the ship’s track, but I still spent most of my vacation avoiding the camera and feeling like crap. One of the many truths I’ve found in my training is that while I am amazed at my own accomplishments, I am also amazed at how hard things I didn’t even think about would be (and not just bending over to tie my shoes after a long run). I didn’t think that struggling with body image issues would be one of the top 5 hardest parts of this sport. It is a work in progress, and I hope to make more progress soon.

ad01df546053f8480f2abfcbf2fcfc66e04367cade2bfa7ea173f0f833d050fe

Said no guy, ever.

Also, let’s face it – so many of my self-esteem issues are caused by the tri kit itself. It is potentially the ugliest garment on the planet.* It’s either showing off curves and lumps I’ve never wanted to think about or it’s rolling up in places no fabric should ever roll or it’s pinching something . . . you get the picture. I need to make peace with the tri suit, but right now, I want a war.

So . . . I’m back to trying to eat more like I did before all this tri training started. Minimal sugars, minimal carbs, and minimal alcohol. I’m sure that yes, I do need carbs to work out the way I’m supposed to, and I’m hopeful that eventually I will get the balance right.

*Except this one, which is cool:

d51ecca70e0288deeb25a949cb4e7edd--storm-trooper-suit-storm-troopers

Actually saw a guy wearing this at a tri. The white is a little see-through, TBH.

 

 

 

Rev3 Williamsburg Race Report

When I first got serious about triathlon, I was worried that triathletes would be a bunch of snotty pompous ULTRA SERIOUS ABOUT MY SPORT, BRO kind of people. This is probably because one of the first “serious triathletes” I ever knew was, well, a huge douche canoe.  I figured a lot of other people would be like him. Some are – maybe 2 out of every 100 I meet. It’s been a pleasant surprise to find out how awesome the tri community really is. It’s full of some terrific athletes who are also just normal, nice, friendly real human beings.

Which brings me to my next point. The real test during a race is seeing how well you do when things go off the rails (or threaten to go off the rails.)

Let me paint the backdrop for you. On Friday morning, I got up and dutifully knocked out my 2 mile Zone 2 run, then got into a minivan with Edwin and took off toward Glade Valley NC to pick the girls up from camp. It’s a solid 5 hour journey there, and we took the scenic route. I did my best to balance my need for hydration with the amount of rest areas that aren’t available. High point: I only peed on the side of the road ONE TIME.

We spent the night at a B&B near the camp that I love, and had one of the best pizzas of my life in Sparta, NC, of all places. Race anxiety dawned early and often on Friday night, and I spent the night trying not to think about flat tires and not finishing the run instead of sleeping.  At 7.15 the next morning, we were at Camp Cheerio picking up Lily and Arden. Lily was weeping and clinging to her friends and didn’t want to leave. Mother of the Year over here was all, “GET IN THE CAR WE HAVE TO GO NOW MAMA’S GOT A RACE, YO.” I did hand her a tissue once we got in the car though. I’m not completely heartless.

Haul ass to Richmond, drop the girls off at their dad’s house, switch cars to mine, which was already packed with all my tri stuff, shove some food down our throats, forget my purse at the aforementioned ex-husbands house, run back there, haul ass to Williamsburg in time to check in to our hotel and immediately head to Chickahominy State Park for the mandatory athlete meeting and bike check-in.

It was like 1 million degrees out on Saturday, so it was an uphill battle trying to stay hydrated. My sherpa  Edwin was getting cranky about all of the race talk and the heat, so we left as soon as we could. He got a quick workout in at the hotel, I jumped into the pool (fully clothed as I’d forgotten a swimsuit), and we headed to dinner.

Dinner, OMG. We went to Fat Tuna because I wanted to eat fairly clean, and seafood usually gives me no issues. The cioppino I ordered was the best I’ve ever had. The portions were huge so I probably stuffed myself too much, sad as I was to let any of it go to waste. I nearly wept when I couldn’t take it home in a doggie bag. If you are ever in Williamsburg and like seafood, that place does not disappoint.

Back at the hotel we watched a really crappy movie and I hoped I would be tired enough to sleep. But alas, when I wasn’t up peeing because of all the water I’d consumed, I was up thinking about (and actively trying not to think about) the race. Every time I’d see my tire going flat, I’d try to replace that mental image with one of me seriously kicking ass in everything and smiling and waving like the freakin’ prom queen of sweat.

The alarm went off super early and we got up and got moving. And here’s the part where I talk about the hardest part of race day being rolling with all the things that don’t go as planned: as I was brushing my teeth, I heard what would later be a slapstick comedy sound effect but at the time was a not funny, enormous slipping thudding crashing sound from the shower. That sound was Edwin wiping out spectacularly as he tried to enter the shower, simultaneously realizing that the non-skid strips so popular in hotels and for good reason, were worn down to just little flat, slippery demarcations. After I started yelling “ARE YOU OKAY?”, Edwin said “No, I don’t think so.” A few moments of silence ensued wherein I finished brushing my teeth (priorities) and I checked on him. He thought maybe he’d broken his elbow, but also maybe possibly it was okay. He finished his shower, got ready, and even figured out how to carry all of our crap down to the car using one arm only.

We put suitcases and my purse into the trunk, and he closed it. It was at that exact moment that I realized I had put the car key back into my purse, which was now closed in the trunk . . . and I was locked out. I literally almost had a cow, right there on the spot. I had white spots dancing in front of my eyes and I thought “THIS CANNOT BE HAPPENING. I have to be in transition in 30 minutes and I have locked myself out of the car.” Edwin was the hero of the moment, because he stayed calm and pointed out the fact that I had all of my tri stuff sitting at my feet. One bag of nutrition, one bag containing everything needed for transition. I spotted a girl walking into the hotel with the same race tattoos as mine, so I sprinted after her and said, “HEY STRANGER I DON’T KNOW YOU BUT CAN I GET IN YOUR CAR AND RIDE WITH YOU?” Turns out her name was Tara and she races with Fat Frogs tri group out of Chesapeake. She was awesome! She calmed me down, lied and said everything was going to be okay (hahaha), and told me a bunch of funny IM stories. Edwin was about to call Nationwide (on our side) to arrange for a locksmith to come out and break into the car legally. He came in right before my new friend Tara and I were leaving to tell me that I had, indeed, unlocked the car doors before putting my purse in the trunk so I had officially never locked myself out of it.

Sigh.

So . . . I took lots of deep breaths and told myself that this was it, my race eff up for the day, and really, how bad was it? I mean, Edwin’s elbow was apparently not broken, and we could drive my car, and were going to be mostly on time. LET IT GO, LET IT GO . . . I sang the most annoying song ever written all the way to Chickahominy.

Setting up in transition was super easy. I loved Rev3’s bike racks and I was lucky enough to get one on the end. 10 minutes later I was good to go.

19875579_714307358756243_9202296752157171391_n

There are a lot of clothes in my transition area. I know. It’s a race, not a fashion show.

I made the decision to wear three different tops during the race. Although it had an impact on my transition times, it was worth it. I was very concerned about the heat, and the tri top I wear is pretty heavy. It also makes me feel like the Sausage Queen of the South and after the horror of Robious Landing’s photos, I just couldn’t bear how grody I look/feel in a tri kit. I opted to wear a bike jersey on the ride and I borrow a TG super lightweight running tank from teammate Jennie (THANK YOU JENNIE!). I also made the decision to carry my Infinit run formula in a very concentrated mixture. The few times I’ve run in heat without it, I have regretted it mightily. So . . . yes, I carried my own hydration for “just a 10k.” Sue me, Elite Triathletes Everywhere.

At this point, I had seen all of my teammates who were racing: Rick, Angela and Betty Anne doing the half; Graham and me doing the Olympic. Coaches Cyndi and Derek were there as usual, along with Heather who drove her ass all the way to Williamsburg at the crack of dawn and Jackie who has her own history with Rev3 Williamsburg, and Juanita. It was so nice having them there!

Cyndi is an absolute nazi about swim warmups, so before I knew it, she was pushing ushering me gently into the water and insisting suggesting I do “some sprints for about 10 minutes.” I hate admitting it but Cyndi is always right. Sprinting helps work out all the pre-swim jitters and by the time I enter the water for the swim, I am relaxed and in my happy place. I find it interesting that I had such major open water anxiety, and now I cannot WAIT to get into the water.

19875683_714552428731736_9101456840001268241_n

Me and Graham absolutely ROCKING those swim caps. Sorry ladies, he’s taken and so am I. Also pictured: Swim nazi Cyndi on the right of me.

I had made some mistakes at Robious and I was not about to repeat them, so I got into the water at the forefront of my age group, then moved myself to the second row of people. Cyndi had already helped me pick out some landmarks for sighting, and I was rarin’ to go. The gun went off (airhorn?) and so were we.

I decided to push myself a little harder on this swim than I have in my last two races. I have been swimming a ton in open water, and the classes I’ve taken with Cyndi and Michelle have helped immensely. I had a good feel for how hard I could go and still be fine for the rest of the day, so I played with that speed a little bit.  The first part of the course seemed to go on forever, probably because the turn buoy around the end of the peninsula flipped over at one point and was basically pointing down, underwater. Thankfully the trees Cyndi and I had picked out kept me right on course. (Cyndi really is right about everything)

Once I finally rounded the turn and could see the bridge, Graham had warned me to swim in diagonally instead of sighting off the pier. I listened to Graham (who is always right too), and started to really push the edges of what I felt I could do. It was right around this point that my hand hit something in the water. Yep. Mud. The water was so shallow that I was freestyling into the bottom of the river. A few minutes later and waves of seaweed and churned up mud started coming at me. I had seaweed in my ears, sides of my googles, my kit – it was disgusting. I realized that most of the people in front of me, with probably 100 yards to go, were trying to walk into the shore. I thought maybe they knew something I didn’t, so I tried to stand up – and sank to my crotch in sludge. NOPE. It was too shallow to continue swimming like normal, so I started to swim in this weird, breast-strokesque position. Every once in a while I’d try to stand up with the same result as the first time. I am one of the few people who belly crawled up to the boat ramp. At this point I was covered in mud, matched only in volume by the seaweed. Hey, fiber.

Swim time: 25:13

THIS IS LIKE 4 MINUTES FASTER THAN MONTICELLOMAN. And deserves all cap letters.

T1: 2:53

T1 was pretty uneventful. I changed into my jersey, threw on my shoes (after wiping off a bunch of seaweed and mud, paused momentarily to consider what could be done about the mud in my bra (absolutely nothing), and ran toward the bike start line.

As I clipped in and headed out toward the bridge, I took a moment to channel my inner Rhonda. Rhonda is a fellow TG and she has taught me so much about the power of positive thinking, as well as affirming that although this sport makes you HURT EVERYWHERE, the suffering is, in itself, a gift. So I shouted “IT’S A GIFT!” to some unsuspecting SERIOUS TRIATHLETES near me, laughed, and did my version of “gunning it.” The bridge over the river is beautiful and I was enjoying riding my bike so much. I remembered Cyndi saying to stay in aero as much as possible, so I complied.

Everything went fine until about mile 12. My neck seized up on the left side. When I say “seized”, what I mean is, someone is sticking a hot poker into the area between my left shoulder and back of the head. There was only one single position my head could be in that didn’t feel like I was being stabbed, and I could only hold that position for so long without it hurting anyway. Cyndi also says to love the pain, so I tried my hardest to “love the pain.” This led to me negotiating with myself for the next 15 miles – “IF YOU STAY IN AERO FOR THIS MILE, I’LL LET YOU SIT UP FOR ANOTHER MILE.” Sitting up was moderately less painful, as long as I held my head in a cockeyed stance that looked to others, I’m sure, as if I were the most quizzical cyclist ever. By mile 20 I was unsuccessfully in love with the pain and was seriously questioning my sanity in all of this, but especially knowing I’d have to ride 56 miles in the half, and at that moment in time, I couldn’t imagine doing that with pain like this. Note to self: I need to figure out what happened to my neck on this ride. Could have been that I was tense, spent too much time craning my neck to look up, or my fit is off somehow.

Every time I sat up, I told myself that I had to pedal harder and faster to make up for my loss in aero. I did the best I could, so I have to be happy with my result. My goal was to hold a 19 mph average pace. I ended up at 18.16.

Oh, and I got to see Graham on his run while I was on the bike. He looked fast and completely unfazed by everything. Graham is the man.

Bike: 1:29:53 (2 minutes faster than Monticelloman, which was hilly AF, but also almost 4 miles shorter than this course, so I’m counting this solidly as a win)

Coming into T2 was kind of awesome. I heard a bunch of people yelling my name and it was so good to have that, especially coming off a very difficult ride. That feeling of joy was short-lived, because I managed to get one leg over the saddle at the dismount line only to have the other foot slip on some sort of magical black ice that can form when temps are in the 90s. I completely wiped out while at a standstill. Thankfully I’ve had a lot of experience falling from a stationary position, and I protected my bike and my ass. My ego took a hit but I brushed it off and ran (more slowly) into transition. I did another change into my race shirt, my race belt, and my hydration belt. Had the usual trouble with socks on damp feet, heard Cyndi’s virtual voice in my head telling me to move my ass (though maybe she actually was saying it – she was around the transition area at that point).

T2: 2:34

I’ve been dreading the run for a while now. I haven’t had a lot of time to get comfortable with longer distances (anything over 4 miles, is, to me, a “longer distance”) since my injury. I was worried about the heat, about whether I could keep up a decent pace, and whether I could just finish it without humiliating myself. My race plan was to run 4:1 intervals (run 4, walk 1), because lately my run intervals are between a 9:45-10:30 whereas straight running is around an 11:30 pace when it’s hot out. Cyndi, who again, knows everything, suggested starting with intervals and if I felt good at the 5k mark, running without them on the way back. I was feeling pretty good as I passed back over the bridge again to start the run course, but the sun was officially blazing at that point and I have learned enough to know not to change your race plan, especially when you’re semi-dehydrated and out of it. I stayed true to my intervals minus a 30 second disaster where my racing bib almost blew off the belt and my hands couldn’t figure out how to work together to put it back on, and when I decided to use the portapotty at mile 2 instead of the woods. Around this time, I got a wicked cramp in my right arch, and it plagued and irritated me the rest of the run.

To distract myself, I spent a lot of time yelling at the other tri teams I knew, and the few faces I knew personally. It was great to see so many Endorphin and RTC people out there, and a couple of Speak Up Race Team members. I also made sure to shout encouraging words to the many runners I saw struggling, and at that point, there were plenty. I will admit to getting passed by a man and woman pushing a special needs child in a race stroller. I was humbled. They didn’t just kind of pass me, either. They BLEW MY DOORS OFF.  Go on with your bad selves, amazing people – you deserve it.

At the halfway point, I saw Wynne (HI WYNNE!). It was so nice to see her there, and she told me I was almost to the turnaround. I still felt pretty good.

I will pause a moment to acknowledge that my brain will tell you differently. Running for me is like having two stubborn 5 year olds in my head duking it out for control of this skin and gut machine I have. My brain is all, “Stop it you idiot, this doesn’t feel good, you need to walk. Or better yet, lie down and call it quits.” Then I check in my body and my body is all, “WHATEVER. I’m totally golden. Let’s go faster.” This process repeats about every 30 seconds. It’s annoying.

So after 3.1 I decided to only run intervals if I couldn’t keep running. I think I stopped a few times to walk at water stops to shove ice cubes down my bra and tri shorts (sorry, teenagers working the water stops – I know that trauma will never leave your head).

At mile 4, I was in a line of three women – single file, me in the middle. On the other side of the Cap Trail were about 4 other people. Out of nowhere, a cyclist blew between us going what felt like 25 mph. He nearly took out the girl in front of me. I screamed my very original “REALLY??? REALLY DUDE???” while she let loose a string of obscenities. It was incredible – he could have seriously injured himself and the girl.

I walked up the first part of the bridge, and saw that I was at 5.64 miles. After that, it was ON. Every part of my brain was screaming “STOP” and my body started listening. Mercifully, as I crested the bridge, I heard a bunch of people screaming my name and I was not about to let them see me walk. I figured, how painful will it really be to gut out the rest of this at a run?

Turns out, it was kind of painful. Graham met me right as I entered the park and told me I was almost done and that I looked strong. This sounds stupid, but having people tell you that you look strong when you feel like you are literally going to burst into flames at that precise moment is very effective. Graham’s words translated in my head as “Go, bitch. This pain is almost over.” And a note about Graham: Graham is the guy you want at all of your races. He’s a calming presence, but still funny. He’s 100% encouraging. And he will yell at you when you need that too. He has been instrumental at the past two races to me. I hope I can be as awesome a teammate as Graham is one day for other people.

What seemed like 100 miles later but was probably 1/10 of one, I heard Edwin say my name and I think he even said he loved me. It’s possible I was hallucinating at that point. Then I realized the finish line was still so very far away. I told a volunteer that this was the longest .2 miles of my life. It reminded me of a Grandison mile – the ones where she says, “Oh, it’s just over there!” and 2 hours later, you finally get to where she wants you to stop. THAT PATH TO THE FINISH LINE WAS NEVER ENDING. I heard all the rest of the TG/TQ people shouting my name so I knew I had to be close, and I came in alone so I even got to hear my name on the announcements. Angels from heaven descended and dropped an ice cold towel over my body. Edwin showed up with water and I tried not to throw up on him. Some poor girl had to figure out how to get the safety pin off my timing anklet and some other poor girl had to actually touch my sweaty shaky body to put the world’s heaviest medal around my neck. Apologies all around.

Run: 1:11:53 (and I’m happy with that, because the last time I did a 10k and it was hot as hell, it took me 1:17)

Final time: 3:12:25

Graham had already finished and had a great race, and we waited around for Angela, Rick and Betty Anne to finish.

Some takeaways: I really like the Olympic distance. It’s long enough to be an endurance event, but not balls to the wall like a Sprint. It’s very challenging mentally – just short enough, just long enough – to make you question your will to live and race strategy.

As hard as today was, I realized that I almost might kind of be able to pull off the Half in September. It won’t be Speedy Gonzalez, but it will be steady and strong. Seeing the difference in my bike and swim times is really motivating to me, and considering where I was just a couple of months ago with the run, I’m happy there too.

I am so grateful to everyone who came out, and special thanks to Ashley (as in swim coach Ashley) who wrote me a personal note in my race bag that was very meaningful and made me cry. All of the advice and coaching since November has been priceless. I can’t imagine doing this without all of my TRIgirl/TRIquest peeps – nor would I want to. They all make me a better person, and a better athlete.