I took a long time to write this wrap-up, mostly because 2018 included an unruly number of disappointments among some very good moments. How do you sum up so many highs and lows? Difficult for sure. I won’t gloss over the low points, but the high points surely outweighed disappointments. Not every success manifests in a straight-line progression. Any experienced athlete will say the road to progress can be very rocky, and I agree. People may not fully understand this, but mistakes and failures help solidify resolve, redefine limits, and help you learn about what works and doesn’t work. Not for the faint of heart. But they will make you stronger. You’ll learn when to push and when not to. Life might give you a lemon, or a lime, or a rotten tomato, but that’s when your resolve to keep going is tested, you adapt, and keep going making “soup” even if you aren’t handed the right ingredients at the right time. Let’s talk about the ruts in the road in 2018.
In May, I drove to Chattanooga for the half IM there. On the way, I stopped in Bristol on the border of VA and TN, which is actually a town that exists in both states. I got a bean burrito a Mexican restaurant which also came with a huge side of ice and beans. I took the leftovers with me for lunch on the next day’s drive. Finding decent vegan food on some lonesome country roads can be interesting (another blog topic for another day). Arriving in Chattanooga, I felt good and was excited and nervous for my first tri of the season. The night before the race, my stomach got terribly upset and I spend the 8 hrs I should have been sleeping in the bathroom. I’m only guessing the culprit was the leftover Mexican food that I ate for lunch the day before that hadn’t been in a refrigerator. I didn’t start the race and spend the drive home upset at wasting 3 days driving without even getting to the start. Pretty bad.
My 2nd race of the season was Eagleman 70.3. Even though Eagleman can be challenging due to the heat and humidity, I was excited to go since I’ve raced there several times and feel I know the course and manage the heat well. Weather forecasts predicted slightly “cooler” conditions as well. The race started well – the beach start for the pros was good and my non-wetsuit swim was good for me. As I started the bike, I knew within 10 miles things didn’t feel right. I couldn’t get into a rhythm and my cadence felt either too low or too high. Within 20 miles, everything felt much too labored. I didn’t want to be on that bike! That’s a rare feeling for me in a race. Another 20 minutes down, and my glutes were ON FIRE. I never had that feeling in training or racing before. My glutes felt like they were ripping. I spent a few more minutes in a mental debate with myself over how I was going to finish the ride. I decided to finish the bike, but my race was over. I eased up on the rest of the ride. Why did my body quit on me? I still don’t know.
Originally, I wasn’t planning to race a half IM in July or August, but since the first 2 races of my season were misfires, I decided to race Musselman and Steelhead 70.3. A few years back, I raced Musselman and remember it being a great race, but challenging course with heat and hills. The swim was beautiful – Seneca Lake was exceptionally clear and calm. I paced the bike course much better than my last go at this event, posting the fastest ladies’ bike time and coming in to T2 feeling ready to run. After a few miles into the run, the heat started taking a toll. That’s where the hills get bad to boot. On a non-paved farmer’s road up the steepest hill, I couldn’t get cool enough to think straight and had to take it to a walk. I felt I had prepped well for heat, but, again, my body would NOT have it. The feeling was so defeating. I shuffled to the line feeling completely trashed. I still managed to finish as 3rd overall woman, but, again, not nearly the race I was hoping for.
A few weeks later, I headed to Steelman 70.3, taking place on beautiful Lake Michigan. I was excited to see the lake, having never been there, as well as experience a Mid-West race. The day before, the water on the lake was calm. In the morning, it was the angriest lake I’ve seen. Water churned the shore and swells further out caused the buoys to keep moving out of place. I’ve never seen water this rough at a triathlon. Some of the buoys weren’t visible a few hundred yards out because of the height of the chop. I was half-wondering if the staff would cancel the swim, but the race started with terribly rough water anyway. Making it to the first buoy was ridiculous. I went out hard, but I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere. This swim was straight-up survival. I am not a super swimmer, but I do know how to save myself in open water with currents and waves. Now, having made it out to the far buoy, I wondered if I would make it back. After much too long of a swim, I made it ashore (thank goodness). This swim would be a bad precusor for me because during the bike some kind of bug (I’m still not sure what it was) flew into my helmet or was already there when I put it on and stung my ear. My whole side of my head got super hot and very painful. I couldn’t maintain focus. Coming back into transition, my legs felt dead, like almost as if the blood supply was cut off on both of them. I took my helmet off and felt my ear only to notice it was also bleeding. I guess I thought I was just sweating but it was really blood. I had a volunteer take a look. After wiping the blood away, she couldn’t find anything, but it was swollen. I decided to not chance it getting worse and headed to the medical tent. Another race fail.
It took all I had to stay positive. After Steelhead, I had to move on from these experiences and focus on a larger goal of prepping for Ironman Louisville. When I decided to put IMKY on the schedule, I was very excited to go back and race there again, having raced it in 2011 when it was an August race. I had to remember those feelings going into my IMKY prep and focus on enjoying the long ride and run days. I kept an eye on the weather forecast for Louisville a week out and I saw rain was predicted. OK, I can deal with rain. I noticed during later in the week, the predicted temperatures for race day were dropping. It was 80 degrees and humid when I left PA for KY and saw it was now predicted to be 60-70 on race day. The day I got to Louisville, it was predicted race day would be 50 and raining. I’ve never done a training day in 50 degree weather with rain. Now the fear of what this would feel like was setting in. I went to the local Target and bought extra socks and gloves, but, theoretically, if none of this was waterproof, would it keep me warm when it was wet? I packed ALL the warmer clothes I brought for the bike ride in my bike transition bag – rain jacket, neck buff, gloves, thicker knee-socks, baselayer 1, baselayer 2. I noticed during the practice swim the day before the race the water in the river was moving very, very fast. People in the water could barely swim upstream. Part of the IMKY swim is upstream, so that was another unknown to throw into the mix.
I barely slept the night before the race – listening to the rain start falling about 3 or 4AM and cringing thinking of what a whole Ironman would be like in cold and wet weather. The temperature at 5AM was 45. Another pang of uneasiness came over me. I put my wetsuit as soon as I got out of the car to walk to the race start, which actually helped with staying warm. The race staff had to delay the start due to figuring out whether the water current was too strong for the swim. After about a half hour delay, officials changed the swim to a downstream-swim only, removing the upstream part. Getting in the water, it was immediately apparent that shortening the course the proper call because it was very hard to stay behind the start buoys with the current swiftly pushing everyone down. I was freezing in the water and happy when the cannon fired. I started out straight but realized I needed to make a big effort to move right to go past the first buoy. The water was going so fast, I might have missed it had I not gone hard to the right. The sky was dark and grey, thus seeing things on the horizon with the rain was difficult but I make it to the shore in a crazy fast time. Running into the changing tent, I was so cold that everything was numb just from the cold air. I put all my clothes I packed on, but as I started the bike, the rain fell harder. It was only a few miles in that my feet were already soaked and my legs were going numb because they were the most exposed part. A couple other lady pros went by and, although, I was cold, I realized if I could just embrace the suffering and hang in, I would be OK, albeit miserable. I made that pact with myself that the key to this race would be grit and not how fast you race. After 20 miles, I saw a couple people that had already pulled off the course by the side of the road, maybe to adjust clothing or try to get help. It was scary riding on the wet roads, rain in your face, with cars, and with very cold hands. I didn’t feel like it was an unreasonable safety risk at this point. I could feel puddles of water pooling up in my bike shoes and almost laughed at the absurdity.
I made it around one lap of the bike course and thought I could keep going even though I wasn’t able to feel my legs below my knees or my arms and hands. Starting lap 2, there were now many age-groupers starting their first lap coming on to the course. Some of the men passed me very close on the left and weaving around others. With so many people on the bike course now, bike handling skills were coming into play. Not being able to feel my hands and use the brakes made this dicey. A couple times I feared getting side-swiped and, not too much longer, I really started fearing something dangerous would happen and I wouldn’t be able to control my bike due to numb hands. A bit past mile 65, I saw an aid station, and stopped. I didn’t know if I would just quit or try to warm up…I just knew I had to stop and regroup. Once I stopped, I started shivering and shaking and knew immediately I had to drop out and get warm. In my mind, there are certain lines that shouldn’t be crossed in sport – when you feel like your health or safety is at risk. This was one of those times. After all of this (and it’s a lot), I couldn’t believe this was how I’d finish my season. Like I said in the beginning, sometimes it’s about making do with what is. When I got home from IMKY, I was still in good shape from the prep I did for it. If I could go 65 miles on a bike in rain and 45 degree temperatures, I could commit to taking a shot at Ironman Arizona in a month’s time. I made up my mind to try again. Read about my Ironman Arizona race below. I promise it’s time for positivity!