A couple of things I learned: drinking in smoky clubs in the week before a race and smoking a gift cigar or two is probably ill-advised. But most importantly: attitude really IS everything.
I start out the day with the obligatory peanut butter and english muffin and then took the WORST pre-race picture ever. Hello, Squinty McPufferton!
Amy and I headed over to Pace Bend park where we were not as early as we thought. We got two spots side by side on an end (instead of two end spots).
[She is Felix, I am Oscar]
As usual, I forgot a flashlight, but remembered everything else. Transition was set up without too much of a hitch and I saw several Rogue team mates. As I mentioned in the last report, seeing folks there and excited makes such a difference; I was surely glad to see their smiling faces.
[Amy and I, before transition closed]
[Carol, bringing grace and flair to the DNF]
I tried to get a shot of all of the women bustling to set up their transitions, but instead got this strange shot:
Amy and I made jokes about how we would tell the grandkids that back in OUR day, we did Texas Triathlons in the snow. Later, I would be convinced that I had photographed the actual mold spores that filled the hot, humid air and my poor, tired lungs.
The best part of the pre-race meeting was the overheard remark, "Haha, I thought he said there's going to be a mountain lion at bike out!"
Oh Pace Bend Park, how I hate hate hate races on your shores! Just like the miserable Dilloman of 2006, the water level was so low that we had to set up a little shoe transition at the bottom of a long rocky hill. This time, however, we at least got a standing start-- no treading water for 5 minutes waiting for the horn to sound.
At this point, it seems important to discuss my mental state for this race. In a word, it was "fucked." I had my recent lay off on my mind, some weird boy stuff, and the lack of a single one of my friends on the sidelines to cheer me on (not even the one STAYING AT MY HOUSE ALL WEEK). Still, I didn't feel anxious or panicked on the surface. Maybe if I had, I would have taken more specific action to remedy it. Instead, this unresolved negativity would be my race companion for the rest of the day.
My tri buddy, Amy, hates the swim the way I hate the bike ride. While waiting for my wave to queue up, we talked about how wrong it was to spend a whole leg saying to our selves "I hate this. I hate this. I hate this." So, I spent a few moments brainstorming things about the swim that would rock.
THINGS ABOUT THE SWIM ON SUNDAY THAT WOULD ROCK:
- It will be a great all body warm up.
- The water doesn't taste like goat ass.
- The water is not cold.
- It is only 500 meters (instead of the 800 we expected).
- It is the last time we will have to swim today.
When it was my turn, I waded through the hot, sucking mud into the warm water and got ready. It was such a harbinger of doom that I didn't even seem to care where I was in the pack for the wave start. I was right where I least wanted to be, in the dead center... and I didn't even notice until we took off. Right away, I had feet and fingers jabbing into me, knocking me around, and slogging water into my mouth and nose. Skin and suits were bumping me from the side and crowding me from behind. I was having trouble getting a solid breath with all the bodies around me, so I stalled and waited for some elbow room. This was probably within the first 50 yards.
I had been practicing breathing on both sides during my training sessions and had gotten pretty good at it, but even once the crowd thinned out, I couldn't get enough air in to make it three strokes. I was starting to gasp by 100 yards. And it was about this time that the Fear showed up.
It is unclear, even with a day to reflect, whether the Fear was the cause or effect of a physical reaction. About a month ago, after a very stressful day at my former job, I went to my swimming workout and completely freaked out. I couldn't catch my breath, was practically hyperventilating at the end of each lousy 25 yards and had to quit early. I didn't realize until I got out of the water that I was having some sort of anxiety attack. I had never really appreciated the physical ramifications of my stress level until that point. Sure, intellectually I understood that 'fight or flight' makes one take shallow fast breaths. But until you are trying to swim and your airway is constricting, it is just a Fun Fact to Know and Tell, you know?
OK, so Sunday. I heard later from different sources that a lot of people had a tough day with their allergies. I also had that cigar a couple of days before and spent two nights in not unsmoky bars. And I was laid off two weeks ago from the only real job I have ever had and have absolutely no idea how I am going to spend the next two months, let alone two years or decades of my life.
All of these things were happening when the horn sounded. Which one was the proverbial straw for my camel back, I don't know. All I know is that I couldn't take a deep breath. And I freaked out. I knew I wouldn't drown or anything (vive le backstroke), but my brain started talking all kinds of nonsense. At one point, after making the buoy turn, I got a huge mouthful of water and in my sputtering, my animal mind said, "Just drink more"... To be clear, I wasn't suddenly feeling suicidal, I was feeling disoriented and confused. There was this steady stream of mental chatter, where normally I only count breaths and strokes. During the entire 500 meters, I don't think I got more than ten strokes in a row even once. I did a lot of side stroke and a fair bit of backstroke. I took exactly two awkward and inefficient breaths on my left side.
And then finally, I was out of the water. I was so exhausted from that (almost) 17 minutes that I wanted to just lie down in the sand. Instead, I found my river shoes and headed up the hill.
As I said at the beginning, the race FELT like the worst ever, but it wasn't. My swim pace was actually better than the Rogue last month (wha?! how?! no way!!). And while the run up the hill was almost exactly as long as it was at the Dilloman two years ago, I somehow managed to pull the transition off about a minute and a half faster than I did then.
At first, crossing that little red mount(ain) line was actually a bit of a relief. There was almost a breeze, and I felt like I had so much more control over my environment. I saw Rachel at the top of the first hill, and that put a smile on my face, though the hill felt a bit harder than I thought it should. I felt more winded than usual, but I was sort of stuck on the idea that maybe it was just my weird swimming and anxiety "thing." But that "thing" was really the Fear--and it can apparently bike AND swim.
Maybe it is because the bike is the longest leg for me: too much time and nothing but the sound of wind and the occasional "On your left," my mind just stayed unhinged. I was doing entirely too much thinking, and it was almost all defeatist and negative. More job stuff, friend stuff. Without the water to distract me, I could be even elaborate in my miserable daydreams. I could see it happening, and knew it was a recipe for disaster. But once it was started, I couldn't stop it.
At about mile 3, I started coughing. What had started as shallow breathing now had a "tickle" to it. If I tried to take too deep of a inhale, I would reflexively bark a little cough out. This didn't help. Each hill (there were approximately 17 of them it seemed) was a herculean effort. Since I couldn't stop all the mental shit-talking, I decided to try a different angle. For once, I was going to fuel on the bike ride like I was supposed to! I have taken a Gu on practice rides before, but never during an actual race. I fumbled my bento pouch open, groped around past my phone and pulled out the little foil pack.
I didn't even look, and stuck the corner in my mouth to bite off the tab. Only, there wasn't a tab.
Weird, maybe I have it upside down. Flip. Stick edge in mouth. Nothing.
At this point, I have to look, cause I am wondering how I could possibly get opening a Gu wrong, and realize I have nearly eaten the giveaway moist towelette on accident.
I didn't even laugh at myself about it until later when telling Amy the story... That's how foul my mood was. Anyway, I got the Gu on the second try and managed to eat it without further incident. I want to say more about the bike ride, but already this thing is so long, even I am getting bored listening to me bitch.
THE BIKE RIDE IN THREE WORDS (finally):
I was so tired. I was coughing. The breeze had faded. Only 3.1 miles to go! ARRRRGH.
Whatever had lodged in my lungs was really making me wheeze at this point. When I got up onto the hill, and the "lumpier" part of the trail, I realized that I had done some damage to my injured arm on the ride. I was getting this sharp elbow pain every time I tried to run more than a few steps. I tried holding my wrist with my other hand, hooking it in my trisuit shoulder strap, holding my arm far away from my body and close in. The best I could get was a bearable throbbing ache. It was a long, slow 5k. I was so happy to see Marian at the first water stop, but was a complete zombie at the second one.
By the third mile I was fighting back tears of frustration. I can run, goddamnit! Except, I couldn't... If it wasn't the arm, it was the wheezing cough. I would try to pick out a landmark, a tree or sign, and say to myself "Just run to that." Then I would ALMOST make it. Once I came out of that hillocky, uneven terrain and could see the finish, I renewed my efforts to slow jog in, but still had to walk part of the final bend.
Once I was under the trees with 300 or so yards to go, I started to jog and somehow shut all the physical and mental hurt off for the next few minutes. I had to hold my arm up and against me during the final sprint, but I ran the bitch in. Two-twenty-four.
I was gasping and coughing and the tears wanted out so badly, but I saw Carol and kept my shit together enough to say "No, I am not ok. Arm. Hurts." I worked on catching my breath and notcrying with all I had left.
The rest of the early afternoon is very disjointed... But some genuinely good things happened.
GOOD THINGS THAT HAPPENED TO ME AFTER THE RACE:
- Actually won a raffle prize
- Got my arm worked on by the great Advanced Rehabilitation folks
- Helped several Roguesters cheer Theresa across the finish (probably the best I felt all morning, actually)
As far as brass tacks go, two hours and 24 minutes is still better than my first Danskin time, but the distances were more comparable to Jack's Generic which I managed in 2:11 two years ago. My Dilloman at the same location (but with a longer swim and shorter bike) was an excruciating 2:37. I can say I didn't totally bomb out, but I couldn't have been less "on" for this race. Ultimately, this is what disappoints me more than the numbers. Where was all of my discipline and strength when I needed it? And how do I know I can count on it next time?