|bike and bag, ready to hit the road to Caseville|
Last year as the Chicago Triathlon weekend came to a close, I set a goal. I wanted half iron glory. I wanted to do a 70.3 triathlon before I turned 30. I meticulously read race reports, checked courses, and asked for advice looking for a course I thought would play best to my strengths and weaknesses. I talked to friends, I got encouragement, I convinced myself that victory would be mine. And as soon as registration opened, I signed up for what I was sure to be the race of a lifetime. And it was, but not in the way I expected.
|Denise, me, Claire, and Melissa heading to Caseville|
Claire would be turning 50 this year so we decided together that in our milestone years we would tackle this goal together. We specifically chose this race because it is run independently (non Ironman branded) and upon receiving the registration confirmation the email even said:
"Tri To Finish is committed to making each event an experience
for each racer and for racers of all levels. Our personal commitment
is to ensure that the race venue, volunteers, and post race festivities
are in tact and exciting until the last finisher crosses the line."
Ironman branded races are much more stringent with cut-off times and such which dissuaded me from registering for their races as my first 70.3. I wanted to finish my race, even if that meant it took me a little more time. I knew I could do the distance, my biggest concern was time. As much as I've made progress, the truth is that I'm still slow. I'm not trying to talk down about myself, its just a reality for me. Speed continues to be an area of opportunity for me. I've gotten faster, but still not fast enough. I figured with all the training I would get stronger and faster and the cut off times would be insignificant. I can do this.
My training was relatively uneventful. I made gains in the swim and started to not hate riding the bike as much. My biggest issue was with my feet (I kept getting cramps in my feet while riding and tried adjusting my cleats several times to avoid the pain). It seemed to finally work and my last rides were relatively pain free.
Race week I focused most of my energy on keeping my spirits high and staying positive about the race. When we arrived in Caseville we went straight to packet pickup to grab our bibs. I couldn't believe that I had registered so early I was #2. Kinda cool, its almost like I'm an elite triathlete haha. Claire was #3 and we took several pictures at the lakefront with our "elite" bibs. We dropped our gear off at the hotel and then headed to the Thumb Brewery for dinner. Per usual, I sampled a few beers, because, carbo loading.
After we got back to the hotel I prepped my nutrition and then laid down to hopefully get some sleep. I tossed and turned and kept waking up, afraid that I had somehow overslept. Finally when I realized I couldn't fall back asleep anymore I got up and started mentally preparing myself for how the race would go. I would glide through the water. I would roll through the bike course. I would pound out those running miles and cross the finish line with a smile on my face. I could see it. I could visualize it. I felt ready.
Denise drove us over to the race start and the nerves started to hit. I walked over to the bike mechanic to ask him to look She HULK over and also ask if he had any tire kit gear handy. I forgot to mention this earlier, but whenever we put the bikes on the car I always take all my stuff off (water bottles, bento bag, saddle bag, etc). Wellllllllll I forgot to actually BRING the saddle bag with me. Yeah. I didn't have a flat kit AT ALL. No big deal right? Thankfully Claire had some extra tubes and I had a spare set of levers that I would just have to make work. Hopefully some generous soul on the course would help me if I got a flat. It is also worth noting that I have never actually fixed a flat. It's still on my to-do list. Anyways, he gave my bike the all clear and I moseyed on over to transition to get everything set up.
|mini she hulk thanks to Tony!|
Claire and I stayed towards the back as we waded out to the starting buoy. Everyone looked so calm and collected. It made me feel like I was back at my first race ever. That morning when I was by myself and tried my best to pretend like I knew what I was doing. It's tough, being on your own. I mean sure I have friends that support me but it isn't the same as when I have my family. The truth is, I was pretty bummed that my mom was sick and couldn't make it. In that moment I needed to hear her encouragement as I had my whole life, telling me I was strong and that I could do this. I held back the tears as long as I could until I plunged my head underwater to start the race.
Most of the swim is a blur of me trying not to drown. Every time I thought I had a good rhythm going I would get hit by a wave and lost sight of the buoys. I kept taking gulps of water when I tried to breathe. Nothing was working. All I knew was that I had to keep moving. I did side strokes, back strokes, basically any kind of stroke that kept me alive as I trudged through the swim portion. Remember how I couldn't see anything? Well, as I exited the water I looked down at my watch and realized I had cut the swim way short. I broke down immediately and Denise was there to give me a hug and tell me to keep going.
I made it back to transition before Claire, but only because I had apparently made up my own swim course and not actually done the full 1.2 miles. I grabbed my bike and off I went for the 56 miles along the gorgeous coast line. I was still shaken up by the swim and tried to find my way back to the positive mental space. You can do this. You are strong. You are fierce. You are unbreakable.
And then a woman talking on her cell phone, yes, literally had her hand holding the phone to her ear zipped passed me on the bike. Well dang. I can't wait till I feel that comfortable and strong on a bike. No matter. Just keep pedaling. Just as I hit the first turn around at mile 14 I felt a cramp seize up my left foot and thought to myself "dear sweet Jesus, this is how it ends, I'm gonna have to get carried off the course". I wiped the tears clouding my vision and just kept pounding the pedals hoping that I could will the pain away. I tried every way of pedaling I could think of. I did one leg for awhile. I pointed my toes down like a ballerina. Some of the methods would be a short relief but they weren't sustainable and hardly efficient so eventually I would go back to regular pedaling and the onslaught of pain would bring another round of tears.
I felt defeated. I wanted to give up. I wanted to sit down, lick my wounds and pretend this day had never happened. But I didn't, I kept fighting my way through the pain. Hoping against all odds that somehow my body would just listen to me and make the pain go away. It kept telling me that I was the one who needed to listen. And finally I did. The last 20 miles I had to get off my bike at least 4 times to try and stretch. The last time I was in so much pain that I was sitting on the ground massaging my foot when the sag wagon pulled up behind me. I thought that was it. They would put my bike in the back and take me in. One of the volunteers walked up and asked if I was OK. I wasn't, but I didn't want to say that so I explained my foot cramp situation. He said, you've only got about 5 miles left, do you think you can do it? It felt like a challenge. Alright. Here we go.
I put my shoes back on, climbed on my bike and pedaled as hard as I could for the next 5 miles. When I reached the last turn before entering the chute back to transition I saw Denise. She met me back at transition and expressed concern that I was no longer sweating and my skin felt clammy. To be honest, I was so focused on the pain in my foot that I had no idea what was going on with the rest of my body. A kind stranger handed me some salt tabs which I gulped down and then made my way to the run out exit.
As I was limping along to start the run one of the race directors jogged up next to me and asked me what my plan was. I had 2 hours to run 13.1 miles and while I may have the heart of a Kenyan, I certainly don't have the legs. I told him I would just keep on keeping on until he told me I can't. So that was that. I hobbled along trying to stretch that damn cramp out and cried hoping that the tears were weakness leaving my body. The run course is basically and out and back so I got to see all the runners coming in as I was heading out. Most of them smiled and offered encouraging words. With each kind word I felt my spirit being restored little by little.
At the first aid station the volunteers looked a little surprised to see me. I decided that in between stations I would think of funny jokes to tell them and that's what kept me moving forward. Stop for water, tell them it feels like I'm running in Satan's ball sack its so hot out here, run a little more, stop for water, tell them I saw a buzzard start following me about a mile back, run a little more, stop for water, tell them I've reached a new layer of hell. This went out for as long as my legs kept me moving. I shoved handfuls of ice everywhere. My bra, the front of my trisuit, the back of my trisuit. I was like a little slushie waddling down the road. Every few miles the race director would drive up alongside me and ask how I was doing. Every time I would tell him, I'm still moving forward.
The longer I was out there the fewer people I saw. I was left alone in my thoughts again and did everything I could to convince myself that I was a warrior. I was unconquerable. Just keep the legs moving. The last aid station I passed was the wife of the race director who kept checking on me. She applauded my efforts and I wanted nothing more than to sit down and tell her how I was REALLY feeling. How I kept a smile on my face but my heart was filled with disappointment. After I passed her there was nothing ahead of me but dirt road for what felt like miles. At some point a dog came charging out towards me and I wondered if I would have the energy to fight him off if he attacked.
I got lucky because apparently that dog was all bark and no bite. Another dog followed behind him and he was much friendlier. He walked up to me and licked my leg. I'm sure it was a salty treat for him. The owner came running out towards us like a bee from a hive yelling at the dogs. I couldn't even form words to respond to her. I just kept moving. I didn't have the energy to do much more. I finally hit the turn around and started making my way back. When I got back to the woman at the last aid station her husband was there with her. I think he expected that I would just resign myself to defeat, knowing that I couldn't finish. But that would mean I quit. That would mean I had given up. And I couldn't do that. I couldn't admit that I had failed. And so, I kept going. I kept moving forward. Putting one foot in front of the other. I'm not really sure why, I guess I was too stubborn or prideful, but I just couldn't say "I'm done". I knew I couldn't finish, so what difference does it make?
As the time cut off approached there was the director again. This time he wasn't checking on me. This time it was time to accept defeat. Face failure. I had gone as long as I could. I settled into the seat of his car and felt the weight of what was happening crash on top of me. I couldn't do it. I gave it all I had, and it wasn't enough. As we approached the finish line in his car I realized I would be faced with a new challenge. Claire had a great race and now I'd have to bottle up everything I was feeling so that I could be happy for her. I had to push away the pain and smile like nothing was hurting even though on the inside I felt like everything was falling apart. I didn't want to steal her moment. This was race was just as much hers as it was mine. I quietly packed up all my things to get ready for the drive to the hotel.
Just as we were getting ready to leave, one of the volunteers came running up to me and she put a medal around my neck. She told me I had earned it and even though she wasn't supposed to give me a medal she didn't care and gave me a hug. I don't think she'll ever understand how much that moment meant to me but it was exactly what I needed. It wasn't that I needed a medal, I didn't expect one, and I definitely didn't feel like I had earned anything, but something about it made me feel like it would be a reminder that eventually I would earn it. It won't be anytime soon, but eventually I'll be back and I'll be able to conquer those 70.3 miles.