7 months of training.
Now, that's somewhat disingenuous because I start training in January regardless the distance. What happens between January and race day depends on the race. But none-the-less, the date and distance of race day is forefront during that 7 months. It's most evident in the "excuse-making" arena: shorter distances can be more forgiving of excuses.
"Finish happy." This is always the goal of tackling a new, more aggressive distance. "Finish happy" means that time doesn't matter - it is all about training to be able to complete the distance without dying, without agony, and knowing that next time, you KNOW you can do it better/faster/smarter/more awesome, and to finish yearning for the opportunity to try.
Last year was a challenge - the year's races in limbo for so long that training was last minute an frenetic. Learned a lot, particularly about how much and how hard of training I can take, and what increased levels of performance I can get out of those sessions. All boded well for this year, with a real triathlon goal this time.
New gym, new schedule. Less commute, earlier swim time: 5 am open. Much warmer water.
Go faster AND longer? Hmmm.
We laid out the training schedule in February, marking distances by month and sport until taper and race day. It was well laid out, and executed exactly to plan.
Race Day - August 7, 2011
Usually, I feel crappy and unprepared come race weekend. It's almost something I can rely on, and know that means I'm ready. I have waves of feeling prepared, and waves of nausea about what I'm about to do. I have additional waves of added nausea because I DO feel sort of prepared and don't know if I should chalk this up to finally trusting my training, or to dreaded overconfidence. My ambivalence causes me some concern. I'm ready, I know. My data stacks up - my training is to plan.
|Medical Lake, WA, Troika Morning, August 7, 2011|
The drive is easy, being somewhere around 5 am in a small town in eastern Washington. I'm strangely unemotional. Of all things, I thought tackling this distance, this farthest of far, would have me feeling emotional. I decide to be happy I'm not freaking out, because you know - I can do this thing.
We get there early. It's cold, and the scene informal. Although we got there before transition officially opened, the race guys were setting up and had no problem with me putting my bike in transition before the appointed moment. I hung out nervously with Dad, took a couple of pictures (the 365 can't be forgotten even for this, and that sunrise was B-E-A-YOO-TIFUL), paced around...in and out of the car. Warm then do something. Prep on this, fuss over that. Fuss to have something to fuss over to take time and energy that could go into worrying. Things are set up fine. Wait for bathroom. Get intimidated by the other athletes (they always look so fit, and everyone always postures and sizes each other up).
The swim buoys look far, but hey, I know I can swim it. At this point, all races look "far", so it doesn't mean anything. It doesn't psych me out.
Before I know it, it's time. I haven't even had adequate time to get nervous. I make my stomach jump just to make sure. It's odd.
The gun goes off and I splash out into the water, avoiding the seaweed and before I know it, I'm out far enough I don't have to worry. As usual, I remind myself that I should slow down and swim slow - it's going to be a long race.
The swim is long enough I get to remind myself of that a whole lot. Over and over. In fact, to the point that I am wondering how long this thing really is. The first half of the loop, I'm able to keep a very straight course, and get annoyed with other swimmers meandering all over. By the second half, I notice I am less straight, and cutting the buoys rather wide. Rather than get mad at myself I just swim closer and correct for next time....but next time I look up, I'm wide again. I just keep correcting. And finally, I'm on someone's feet and decide to stay there. She turns out to be pretty on course and I draft the rest of the way in.
I'm tired. This swim is not over yet and I'm tired. I'm a bit confused and tell myself it's just perception - the beginning is always hard. I have a long race ahead and don't be intimidated by it. The training is in the bank and this is it.
Finally, my hands reach bottom, once, twice, three times and I stand up to run to transition. I don't feel like running. I am way more tired than I thought I would be. Did I swim too hard? I check my watch to see - it reads 47 minutes. WHAT? 47 minutes? The swim should have taken 35 - 40 at the most. Why was I so slow? But at the same time...that's probably why I'm so tired...
"No worries," I tell myself. "I don't NEED to run to transition. Just jog. It's a long race, so don't worry." I think, honestly, I was too tired to worry. I got to my bike and took my time. Ripped off the wetsuit and very methodically grabbed the rest of my gear, put my socks on, shoes, sunglasses, made a point to shove all the new things I needed for a much longer ride into my tri jersey, including a Clif bar and some gels. It was this process of shoving big items into tiny pockets that I realized I needed a long distance race jersey and got on my bike.
I saw Aaron on the way out, snapping pictures as fast as he could, and headed out.
This is my fancy bike - it feels different. I feel tired. I know I need to settle in, and there's no rush because this is 56 miles through the wheat fields and forests of eastern Washington, so just take it easy....so much easier said than done.
I'm headed out on a little out and back before heading from Medical Lake to Spokane for the point to point bike course. There is wind. The pavement is rough, which makes everything seem harder. I get to the turnaround. A lady tells me my timing chip is on the wrong ankle. I try not to be annoyed. The race packet said wear it on your right ankle, but "everyone" knows if it's on your right ankle, it could get tied up in your bike gears, so you always wear it on your left. I explain my logic, then think better of it and say thanks, and tear into a Clif bar - just the first half. The first half doesn't go down so good. - my jaw is tired. How can my jaw be tired? I stop at the first third and shove it back in my pocket.
The way back from the out and back is really pretty - some winding, rolling hills - and I drop my chain downshifting. I try to pop it back on but can't manage. I'm on a hill and have no forward momentum. I can't get my feet out of my new pedals. Just as I'm about to fall over, I wrench my foot out of one and break my fall. I look at my hands and my white and pinky jersey. I grit my teeth and grab my chain as 12 people pass me while I put it back on the gear teeth. I get my foot back in, and in a big gear, I try to get momentum up the hill. "It's a long race," I tell myself, "no big - and when you get done, learn to pop your chain back on while riding." I try not to think about the grease on the frame.
|Mile 10 of the bike|
I pass a couple people on the ride out, up hill generally, and I make a point to enjoy. The wheat is tall and blowing in the wind. I can smell it in the air, and make a point to notice. I get held up with farm equipment and pass them (on the left, of course!) and start wondering where the bathroom stop is. I know a water/gel station is coming up and hope there are portapotties there too. Finally, trying not to go up the hill too hard, I see the refueling station - no portas. I grab a gel (just in case) and am full on water and continue. Aaron and Cappie are waiting farther up and shout their encouragement.
|Mile 20 of the bike|
Finally, I have headed down, missed one "side of the road" opportunity and decide, "next time there's an opp, I'm taking it." Half way up the next (and only) big hill, I stop, gingerly try to lay my bike down as fast as possible and dash behind two trees.
Another 15 people pass me while I'm enjoying what might have been the best pee that month for sure, possibly all summer. I come out, start getting on my bike and as people are watching me struggle to get started on a steep incline in a big gear, they call out their condolences on having to restart there. I tell them, with a big fat grin, "it is SO worth it."
I pass a couple of them before the top of the hill and continue on.
It must be 3/4 of the way through the bike ride and I realize...OUCH.
It's not the seat. Its chafing.
Again - the debate. Do I stop? Or suffer through? What would Chrissie Wellington do? I'm not Chrissie Wellington. Stop? Suffer? Stop? Suffer? Another few miles go by. I think of the half marathon awaiting me, and the heat, and the sweat, and more rubbing. I stop. I slather up. People ask if I'm ok. I wonder why I'm such an aberration that I had to stop to pee and to anti-chafe. I'm so glad I stopped - for BOTH.
You know - I'm still riding. It has been a really long time. I look at my watch. A really long time. I don't have a real good idea how much longer or where I am in the course except toward the end, and I feel tired. I realize my watch is now kind of useless because it didn't register some of the resets between the swim and the bike, so I remember I can go back to based on start time and get an approximation. It has been a long time. I'm disappointed. I try not to be disappointed. Finish happy. Finish happy. I'm happy.
I remember to blow a kiss to Grandma as I ride under the cliff her cemetery plot overlooks and I can't believe how much farther I still have to go - and then a half marathon. I'm really ready to be off this bike. I talk to a girl for a bit who's having a hard time in her first race on her new bike and I'm glad that we got mine set up as well as we did and that I had a practice race, but I relate to how our muscles just feel different on the different equipment.
I happen to see Dad as we finally hit civilization again and he is on the far side of the street in his usual khaki shorts and t-shirt.
|At bike/run transition with volunteers giving CLEAR instructions|
...I feel awful.
|I have not yet realized I'm still wearing bike shorts.|
Oh my god. I feel awful. I'm going to throw up. I'm drinking a bit, and I've got my electrolyte pills, and ...I think I might throw up. I start walking. It's a long race - there's a lot more run left, and I can walk now to run later. It's fine. I'll walk until the nausea passes. Why do I feel like throwing up? I've trained for this. I'm ready. I can do this. Why?
"You know the bike ride was 60 miles..." says a woman who is slowly jogging by me on the left.
"What?" I say. I'm not comprehending, and for more than just the words she just spoke.
"60 miles. It was long," she explains.
The words bounce around in the vacuous cavern of my mind. "It was long...60 miles...long..."
"Oh my god - that explains it." I say, finally able to come up with a conclusion.
"Yeah," she says, "as though it wasn't already long enough, you know?"
I agree. I agree with every part of my aching, nauseous body. She passes me.
The bike was 4 miles longer than it should have been...all sorts of things start going through my mind, from "4 miles shouldn't matter," to "how dare they!!", to what I can loosely term "math" as I tried to calculate how much longer in time those 4 miles cost me, each time coming up with a wildly different number only attributable to complex math without blood flow to the brain.
I was at a point to start jogging.
A half marathon is a long event (perception is everything). It is especially long when you once again have to pee and there are no bathroom stops. I pass the time again wondering if I should wait for one or go on the side of the trail. By Mile 4, I'm opting for side of trail. I wait for a break when no one is behind me and dart behind a tree. I squat down...and realize I am not going to be able to stand up. Panic starts to overwhelm me. I reach through stickers and through sheer will I manufacture muscles that can fire and help me stand up. I know I'm not going to be able to do that again, and I have 9 miles in the heat to go.
|Mile 2 of the run|
The water stops are reliable, and each one has little treats. Granted, only athletes think that strawberry banana gummy gels are "treats" but when you're out in the middle of it, you'll take what you can get, even if you hate banana. What they run out of, though, is ice. 4 more miles without ice. I've turned around and I'm coming back. People are stopping to ask if I'm ok. They are offering me their water. I'm ok on water; I'm just hot. I figure it must be in the upper 80's and Seattle hasn't even reliably hit 60 for training purposes. (Later I come to find out the temperature peaked at 74 and wonder how it's possible I could think it was SO HOT.) I'm hot. My feet hurt, and I have so many more miles to go....
...at the turnaround I'm disappointed it is just a cone. I thought it would be a water stop, with amazing treats, and a port potty. But it's a cone. I say this out loud. A lady behind me cheers for me as I pass the cone. I cheer for her as she passes the cone. She passes me. I walk.
I walk a lot on the way back. I don't even know what it is really that's keeping me from running. I just can't bring myself to. I remember that the only thing that sucks more than running is walking because it takes longer, and I can't convince myself. I make friends with another guy walking. I feel the need to run and move ahead for a bit. I leapfrog with some girls from the Spokane tri team Team Blaze.
"There is NO way I could do Ironman," the one says to the other.
"Oh," the other says back, "I just signed up for Coeur d'Alene...." and trails off. They laugh.
At mile 12 I wind up passing them because one wants to duck behind the bushes to pee. At least I'm not the only one.
Dad is waiting as I get closer to the park and the finish. I suspected he would be there. I make sure I'm running. It's very gingerly. It hurts; I'm hot; I have to pull it together. Dad is taking pictures, and seems really proud I've gotten here. I try not to cry.
|Mile 11 of the run, 68 miles of the race (not counting the extra ~4.3 "bonus" miles)|
I feel a hand on my elbow. The old guy is catching me, pulling me along. "You can't let an old guy like me pass you - you can run," he says. I shake my head. "I can't." He hasn't taken his hand off my elbow. He gets me to run. He starts walking. "Oh no you don't - you can't get me going and then bail like that - come on!" We support each other through the longest mile into the park ever.
I crossed the line just in front of him and only a bit in front of the Team Blaze girls, and then right behind them was the guy I had walked with for about a mile.
|Mile 13 of the run, .1 mile to go|
There was no lake to cool off in - only the fountain the kids play in. I made my best effort not to kick any of them, rinsed, gathered up my stuff and trudged to the car. Dad took off in his direction and us in ours. I was quiet on the ride back, thinking.
I was in the shower back at the house when I realized - I didn't get my finisher's sweatshirt. All of a sudden it all flooded back to me. More than anything I wanted that sweatshirt - warm and fuzzy to curl up in, my "trophy" of having done this crazy painful thing...I finished my shower and got dressed as fast as I could.
"We have to go back down there - I didn't get my sweatshirt!!!!" I was near alligator tears. We jumped in the car and drove as fast as we could back downtown. I hobbled as fast as my aching body could go and found someone who could help me - fortunately they were still there.
But they didn't have any left. "We have XL if you want," this tiny young woman tells me. I think of XL, and I think of how big I am, and I think how much I want that shirt...and I'm hurt and mad and sad and all these things and all I can say is the equivalent of "OK." "So?" I say. She tells me she will make a special order and mail it to me. I am thinking "this is so inadequate", but I realize that yelling or anything won't make one magically appear for me, so I do my best not to cry and make sure that she writes something down so it feels like that will actually happen and hobble empty handed back across the park to go home. I ride home complaining about how because I'm so slow only fat people finish that slow, and I know it's not true, but it feels angry to say it so I do and I'm mad that I signed up early on and really, they should have reserved a shirt for me in my size no matter when I finished.
|Proof I did it.|
6 weeks later, my shirt did show up. And I wear it all the time.
So I didn't write about it because I wasn't sure what to make of it. I wanted to be happy, inside and out, immediately and lastingly, about having an awesome race. And all in all, it was so mixed. I was so mixed about it. I'm pretty sure the swim was long too, so adding another 4.3 miles to the race isn't minimal, and accounts for a big chunk of the "extra" time I wasn't happy about. If it had been shorter in the first two legs, it would have been cooler and I would have been less tired for my most challenging sport, so that might have been shorter too. I can think of this as a baseline for next time - I know to do longer runs during my brick workouts. I know to do longer and harder training rides to make the bike proportionally easier and set myself up to be stronger and have more energy on the run.
I am happy I did it, and I'm happy I finished. And yeah, I do want to do another one, which I should be happy about. I was so utterly disappointed in my standings, sport by sport, even in my strong sports, that it has been really hard to face what I really think is the "why" of doing triathlon when I am not fast, and might wind up placing in a category I so closely identify with "failure" on a personal level. I think this is probably the main question I need to resolve in my own heart, and probably in life in general. I think a lot of it has to do with my expectations, and that I had them more specifically than I should have.
Would I do this again if I knew I would finish last? What difference does it make where I place, and why does/did that make more of a difference than where I came from and this unique personal "race" or journey I am on.
Perhaps these are things I can sort out as I train for the next one.