The day started off pretty rough, I woke up about 1:30am with an extremely upset stomach and sweating my ass off. I’ll leave out the overly personal details, let’s just say I spent a good deal of time admiring the bathroom! Things were no better when we finally got up at 3:30. I did manage to eat some breakfast, a protein shake and a PB&J, but I was afraid to eat much more. There was notice posted on FB that the official race day water temp was 73.7, so we’re wetsuit legal…win! Around 4:00 I got a call form KB, she gave the morning pep talk and we discussed how to deal with the race, the heat, etc...
We headed over to the park about 4:45am. We got a spot in the parking garage right next to the park…win! When we came out of the parking garage the first thing we noticed was the wind…not a win!! So much for the 5mph winds the Weather Channel was calling for.
My rough morning continued, but I was thankful there were no lines at the porta potties this early. I headed into transition, because my spot was right by the fence, The Mom was able to hang out with me while I got setup. Because we flew in, I did not bring my large tire pump, so I barrowed one from another athlete and made sure Shadow’s tires were properly inflated. I got the bike setup, water in the onboard hydration, NUUN and Gu Brew on the back bottles. Salt, GUs, bonk bar in my bento box and 2 PB&J and a GU strapped to my handlebars.
The rest of my transition area consisted of my bike stuff, helmet, bike shoes, socks, sunglasses, small towel and some water to rinse off my feet after the swim. Then there’s my run stuff, hat, shoes, another pair of thinker socks, race belt with salt, another bonk bar, two small water bottles and my race bib hooked on. Basically I was all set. Except my stomach still hated me. The best part of all that was having Maranda “Rinny” Carfrae walking her bike into transition in front of me.
After one more potty break, we went to catch the bus over to the Swim Start. The busses were for Athletes only, so The Mom made the walk over to the Swim Start. I arrived and wondered around for a few minutes until I realized what they had said was a “Self Seated” start (put yourself in line according to your estimated swim finish time) really was just a huge line, no one was in line according to their swim time, a guy behind me was hoping to finish in 25 mins! The Mom found me standing in line. We were able to see the river from where we were. We also got to see “Rinny” run by again ion her way to the Pro Women Swim Start.
The swim was 350 meters up river, then a turn around and the remaining distance went down and across the river. As we got closer to the 7:00 start time, I squeezed myself into my wetsuit, decided on my clear goggles and once the line got within about 100 yards of the ramp, I gave my flip flops to The Mom and she headed back to the park. Clearly I need to spend more time going barefoot, it took about a dozen steps before my feet felt raw from walking on the asphalt. This got exponentially worse as I walked down the ramp, one section was a metal grating that just flat out hurt to walk on.
The actual swim start is pretty straight forward, walk to the end of the dock, find an open spot and jump in, feet first. I managed to pull this off pretty well, but someone behind me missed the part about “find an open spot”. I hit the water, obviously went under water and as I was coming back up, I got landed on by another athlete. He/she managed to put both feet on my left shoulder/arm. This did several things all at once, it scared the hell out of me, prompted me to try to take a breath, resulting in a great deal of lake water in my lungs as I got pushed back down. There was a very sharp pain in my shoulder as well as my lower back and neck, but I only felt it for a second before the total and complete panic of being pushed under water while choking took over.
I’m generally pretty relaxed in the water, even in the chaos that was the Steelhead swim (a guy swam under me!) But this was a level of panic I’ve never known in the water. My breathing and heart rate were completely out of control. I couldn’t put my face back in the water, it was absolutely horrible. I will very openly admit that if I could have found a kayak or paddle boarder, my day would have ended right there and then! Yes, I’m serious, I wanted out of the water. But for better or worse, there was absolutely NO support of any kind in the first 350 meters, everyone was out past the turn around. This became painfully obvious when I heard screams for help behind me. I stopped and turned around to see 3 or 4 swimmers trying to help a guy that was very clearly in trouble. They had flipped him to his back and were keeping his head above water while waving their arms and screaming. There was absolutely nothing I could do to help. I was ahead of them and barely keeping myself from going under.
I found a small floating dock out buy one of the buoys and hung on to it for dear life. I tried to calm myself, get my heart rate down and slow my breathing. I talked to myself, I tried to visualize I nice smooth swim, tried to calm my mind, but nothing was working. But there was still no help to be had, so if I wanted to out of the river, I was going to have to make the turnaround. I went from buoy to buoy and stopped several time in between, at one point I was doggie paddling! The best part was as hard as I was trying, I didn’t seem to be going anywhere and every pull with my left arm brought pain, sighting brought pain, turning my head to breathe brought pain. I was only breathing to my right and was taking a breath on every other stroke as opposed to my normal 3-5 strokes.
After what seemed like forever I finally made the turnaround. I made a beeline for a kayak. The mental argument in my head was insane. On one hand I desperately wanted out of the water, but on the other, I didn’t want to throw in the towel just because I was freaking out. I was 400 meters in at that point, clearly I was capable of swimming. The guy in the kayak asked me if I was ok and without thinking about it, I lied and said “Yea, I’m good”. I decided to basically go from kayak to kayak. I stopped over a dozen times for right around 10 mins total, but I kept moving forward and it was easier going down river. The pain in my shoulder/neck/back got a little better as I went. It seemed to take forever to get from the last regular buoy to the red one (which indicated the swim exit) Some absolutely wonderful volunteers help pull me from the water and get me moving up the steps into T1. And as a side note, my decision to wear my clear goggles based on the fact we were swimming away from the rising sun was flawed, with every breath, I would look directly into the rising sun! Now here’s the funny part, this was the absolute worse swim of my life, it was also a PR by like 76 or 7 mins! I had needed a really good swim, this was pretty good and would have to do,
The swim exit was roughly a ½ mile from where my bike was in transition, I had gone so far as to tell MK & MB to expect a long T1 time as a result. To make matters worse, my feet became more and more sore as I trudged along the concrete and blacktop, the mat they had laid on the hill up from the water to the parking lot that was transition was nice, but it was up hill. Now before you think I’m being al negative, did I mention they had strippers at this race? We didn’t have strippers at Steelhead! Stop thinking about scantily clad men and women, I mean wet suit stripper, volunteers who get the job of have a couple thousand soaking wet athletes flop down on their backs, throw their legs in the air said volunteer can rip their wet suits off! I’m not going to lie, this was wonderful!
I saw our Team Zero leader, Julie, on my way in and got a quick hug. I hobbled my way through the endless bike racks, about half of which were empty. The mom was waiting at the partition by my bike, I gave her the quick version of what happened while I scrambled into my socks and bike shoes. I sucked down a PB&J and a GU and chugged more mater than I really should have. I told The Mom I’d see her in about 4 hours.
I walked my bike to the “Bike Out” area and saddled up at the “Mount Line”. There was a small hill right out of transition, so I took my time and leg my legs get adjusted to being on the bike. About 10 miles out I got to see Sebastian Kienle on his way back into town, it was impressive! My only issue in the early miles was that after 3 sets of very rough train tracks, my nutrition on my handlebars came loose and fell. There was no time or safe way to retrieve anything as I had a herd of bikes behind me.
The course is listed as “Rolling”, there was nothing overly rolling about the first 15 miles, it’s pretty flat and pretty fast! In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to be averaging about 16.4mph without a huge effort. Now, once you get past 15 miles, it becomes a rolling course, but even then I was averaging 16.3, I’ll take that. I was hiving some issues with my shoulder/neck/back. My should hurt if I spent too much time in the aero bars, my neck hurt to look up ahead of me and my back just hurt. This resulted in me making a lot of adjustments, but I tried to stay aero as much as possible. There was shade here and there, but a good deal of the course was out in the never ending sun.
I had heard rumors of a “Hill for Hell” being on a blind left hand turn. I had been told it was about 30 miles in. It is in fact right at mile 26! This thing is a long steep hill. I decided to throw Shadow in Granny Gear and just trudge up it. My plan s went to hell about ½ way up when a guy in front of me suffered a mechanical failure, his seat post let loose, and the lady in front of him fell over! She was trying to unclip her shoe, but was going too slow. There is no judgment from me on this, I have done the exact same thing! My choice here was an easy one, I stopped to help. The gentleman with the seat post issue needed an alan wrench, which I carry in my little bag behind my seat. The lady in front of me needed help to remove her body from her bike, clip in pedals are great until you fall. Once we got her separated from her bike and got her up, her and I started walking the remaining distance up the hill, there was no way I was going to get restarted on that hill without falling over myself. I told the guy with my wrenches just to bring them up when he was done, of if need be, just drop them at my spot in transition. He was able to catch me and return the wrenches. The pit stop didn’t help my mph, I was down to 15.3. But there was this fantastic downhill that came next! I maxed out at 35.5mph on the downhill and got my average back up to 15.8!
Somewhere around mile 30 was where things started to unravel. At both the second and 3rd aid stations, I was nearly killed by motorists who were driving slower that we were riding and failing to give us any room on the right. I nearly took out a small girl who was standing a little too far out in the road and I had nowhere to go and to slam on my brakes would cause a pile up of bikes behind me. (The official rules say you have to stay back 6 bike lengths from the bike in front of you. I can’t help but wonder what kind of drugs they were on when they made that rule! ) Needless to say no one follows this rule and since I never even saw a race official on the course, what does it matter anyway as long as people aren’t truly drafting. Sorry, I got off on a tangent there. Anyway, I nearly took out a small human, but a bigger human saw it as I was screaming “LOOK OUT, GET BACK!!!” and he grabbed her.
Shortly after that mess, we turned into a nasty head wind. The wind from this morning had returned, or maybe it was never gone, it had just been a tail wind, either way life just got harder. The rumor on the course was sustained 20mph with 30mph gusts, but I have no way to verify that. I do know that they were strong enough to take down some tents and canopies in the in the Ironman Village. The hills stuck around for about another 15-16 miles, until we turned back on the road where I had seen Sebastian Kienle 3.5 hours earlier. But my life had gotten worse before that turn. With very little nutrition on the bike, I was getting extremely hungry. I had the bonk bar in my bento box and had been nibbling on that, plus taking in my salt and GUs. I had also downed around 100oz of fluids. But it wasn't nearly enough. I decided to just finish off my bonk bar, but that turned out to be a bad idea, about 10 mins after I ate it, my stomach cramped up and it made an unwelcomed return. I’m just glad I didn’t get any on my bike. That was about 35 miles in. From there on I struggled to keep anything down, even fluids. In addition, my average had dropped to 15mph and I was starting to do the math for the run. It was going to be close if I could maintain what I did at Steelhead and I wasn’t sure that was possible based on how badly I felt.
The last mile was pure and utter hell. I was still moving along, but I was hurting, like really hurting, everywhere. My shoulder now hurt to be in my aero bars, but it was almost impossible to come up out of them. I could feel my back and my legs starting to cramp up. I managed to avoid a full blown charlie horse, but I’m not sure how. At one point I told a guy I was passing on his right (I was on the left). I finally hit the downhill back into transition and nearly fell off my bike at the dismount line.
I headed back into transition and saw The Mom standing against the fence. She smiles and I shook my head. Told her I thought I was done. But as I stood there talking to her, I decided to try the run, maybe I would feel better once I got moving. I racked the bike and switched out of bike gear and into running gear. I took in a PB&J and part of a protein shake, I needed calories, but didn’t want to overdo it, I wasn’t sure if it would stay down. I did some quick math and needed to average 16 min/mls to finish, that was going to be a very tall order. I was only able to do 16.5min.mls in Steelhead on fresher legs and an easier course.
I took off and tried to stick to my run/walk program, but I was struggling form the very beginning. I managed to shuffle my way to the first turn around at about a quarter mile and knew I was in trouble. The food I had taken in back in transition was threatening to come back up and I was not keeping the pace I needed. My hamstrings were starting to cramp up and my knees were killing me. My back was screaming with every stride. This was silly, there was no way I was going to cover 13.1 miles in the time allotted, if at all. At a half mile I found a volunteer and told him I couldn’t continue. He sent me down to the finish line to turn in my timing chip. I handed it over to a volunteer and staggered around the finish area trying to find The Mom.
Being done brought waves of emotions. There was sadness and disappointment, but there was also relief, I was done suffering. My biggest problem at that moment was how would I find The Mom before I fell over? I ran into one of the Women for Tri ladies and she was nice enough to let me use her phone. I called The Mom and told her I was done and to meet me back at the bike. It was a really long walk that had nothing to do with distance. Did I feel like a failure? At first, yes I did. It was difficult to turn in my timing chip. And I sat next to my bike and cried when I sent a text to my BFF to tell her I was out.
I shuffled around and collected all my gear. The Mom started notifying people that I had dropped out. It was kind of surreal, like everything was moving in slow motion, or maybe it was just that I was really moving that slow. I stuffed all my race gear in my backpack and checked Shadow out of transition. I took her to the TriBike Transport truck to start her trip home. We headed back to the parking garage, passing athlete after athlete wearing finisher’s medals. It was pretty rough for a little while, but then I started to look back at the day. I had overcome that damn swim. I had wanted to quit and I didn’t, not only did I finish it, but I crushed it. The bike course was challenging, but I finished it and I finished it with a respectable time for me. I just ran out of gas in the tank. Mom and I headed to the hotel, I needed an ice bath and some food and hydration. However the ice bath was not to be, we only had a shower in our room <sigh>
I had made a post on Facebook to let my friends and family know I was out and the response has been slightly overwhelming. I have truly wonderful people in my life. I gave the race everything I had, how upset can I be when I tried my best? A DNF (Did Not Finish) is not fatal, in fact it only bad if I fail to learn and grow from it. Ohio 70.3 is 3 months away. I have work to do. KB is giving me this week off to heal, rest and regroup, but then it’s back to work,
At the beginning of the year I set a goal of finding better balance in my life, last year all I did was train for Steelhead and as a result the rest of my life got put on hold. It worked for a short time, but I couldn’t maintain it forever. But now I think I’ve let the pendulum swing too far the other way, I’ve missed too many workouts, had too many “cheat days” and I think that is was ultimately hurt me today. Yes, I had a variety of things go wrong. I need to find a better way to secure my nutrition to my bike and I need to get in the open water again as soon as I can (if we ever stop getting snow in Ohio). I did ok on this course, but I need to work on hilling on the bike and Lord knows I need to work on my running, I refuse to see this as a bad day and this one day certainly doesn’t define me, what I do next will have more impact on that than this one day!