My alarm never goes off. I’m already awake at 5:22am on Sunday, April 14th, a day that has been on my calendar for months as the day I will race the Duathlon National Championship. The problem is, I don’t even know if the race is happening.
The conclusion and part 3 of this most horrendous journey of traveling and getting ready to race in Greenville, South Carolina, has arrived (you can read part 1 and part 2 by clicking on the links). It’s ugly and very hard for me to write. Over a week later, I’m still recovering emotionally and asking so many questions.
As soon as I close myself into the hotel bathroom, so I don’t wake up my husband and kids with the light, I check the USATriathlon app to see if I will in fact be racing today. I have no clue what the weather is outside because it’s almost pitch black in the hotel room but I don’t hear any wind or rain so I take it as a good sign.
The app comes to life and tells me the staggered race starts have been moved up by 5 minutes each since the worst of the weather isn’t expected until 11:00am. The race is on!
I get ready as quietly as I can in the bathroom, gather my things (including my bike) from the adjacent room near the door and I’m outside and at the rental car in no time. There is zero rain, the ground is dry and the air is already humid. Much better than what was expected so I’m smiling.
I easily get to the race venue, set up my transition area, do a warm-up run and chat with the other athletes until it’s time to line up. It must be said that the other women at the start line are extremely friendly, cordial and warm. I feel good.
The women age 19-49 are the last group to start, going off about 20 minutes after the first wave of elite men. It feels almost lonely there, with only about 40 women or so remaining, but finally the horn signals our start and we are off and running!
RUN ONE: 5.2 MILES
I don’t feel good from the start. The lead pack surges out at what seems like a much too fast pace so I stay steady. After one mile I feel the weight of the humidity, my breathing is labored and I know this seems much too hard, too soon. I try to push any negative thoughts out of my head, take in electrolytes, dump cups of water over my head and just stay mid-pack.
We’re running down an open road, lined with orange cones. We have to make two loops so you can see almost the entire course from any one point and also every single person who is ahead of you. Let the mind games begin.
By the final mile I cannot wait to get on my bike. I need a change of sport and scenery and I’m smiling coming into transition.
The graph below shows my first run and that red line is my heart rate. You can see it’s steadily climbing, which is not a good thing. My average pace over 5.2 miles is 7:57 and, just seven days prior I ran 10 miles at almost the exact same pace. Also not good.
THE BIKE: 25 MILES
The shit hit the fan on the bike. I’m still trying to understand what went wrong but it was off almost immediately.
I wrote an email to my coach after the race and these were some of my thoughts on the bike portion:
“I could not get my power. I don’t know how to describe it. I felt like I was on a 10 speed and everyone else was on a rocket.”
The course was on a closed highway. It was horrific. We literally rode on a freaking highway for 12 miles, then exited, turned and rode back. WTF? It was definitely one of the worst courses ever and, once again, I could see everyone who was in front of me and exactly how far.
By mile 10 I was getting passed and passed and passed by women who, athletically speaking, should never have been able to pass me. I couldn’t believe it. I was stunned at my inability to get my bike moving and the wind was relentless. It felt like slow motion and a very, very bad dream, not unlike the one I had the night before.
Just when I was sure every single woman remaining on the bike course had passed me, another one would. I wanted to get off my bike and throw it into the woods. I kept looking down at it trying to see if a tire was rubbing on my brakes or if another cable had come loose or if my seat height wasn’t right but, unfortunately, everything seemed to be ok but me.
I deeply regretted not bringing my triathlon bike. I’m not sure how much of a difference it would have made but I think it would have been big. I’ll never know.
Below are my “awards” for my heart rate on the bike. Basically, I reached record heart rate for 5 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes and 60 minutes. The entire bike took me 1 hour and 29 minutes. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist (like my coach) to see how horrendous this is but it also shows I was working as hard as I possibly could:
I came into transition completely defeated and with my groin (especially on my left) feeling like hot knives were being shoved up my ass from either side. #sorrynotsorry
RUN TWO: 2.8 MILES
It was surreal to me to be coming into transition in what I was sure was last place. I was hoping my husband slept in and that he and my kids were not there because I was so embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated, frustrated and super pissed off.
I had no clue how I was going to run because my legs were absolutely killing me but I told myself I was finishing this fucking thing no matter what. I would not give up and give in to my self-pity and I had better get my ass moving. So I did.
I saw my kids as I ran into the first mile of the second run and I was immediately so happy they were there. My husband could tell I was struggling but the boys just cheered for me, slapping me high fives, their eyes wide and happy smiles on their faces. It lifted me up.
The last three miles were torture. I was limping and I felt like I was running a 10 min mile pace and I did not give one shit. At this point, I was hanging on for dear life and just wanted to finish.
My heart rate was though the roof but I managed an 8:44 average pace. FML.
You can’t shine shit, so I won’t try.
As soon as I crossed the finish line I just wanted to get the hell out of there. My kids and husband easily found me and I tried so hard not to cry and somehow succeeded. After I gathered my bag and bike and as we were walking (I was hobbling) back to the car it started raining.
Almost immediately, had a text from my coach saying “I can’t see your results other than you qualified for the world championship! Congratulations!” I almost laughed. Apparently, almost anyone who finished qualified so, yes, technically I had qualified.
At that point I looked up the results and burst into hot tears. I turned my head toward the window of the passenger seat so my kids couldn’t see me and did an ugly, silent cry, watching the rain pouring down the window.
Last place in my age group. I have never, ever been last and I felt every bit of it.
The best my coach and I can come up with is that I was mentally and physically exhausted. The 10 mile race the week before, although great in the moment, was a mistake and expended energy I didn’t have to give.
I’ve decided against the half ironman in June because I have zero desire to train that much and that hard right now. I feel a desperate need to do what I want, when I want, including yoga, OrangeTheory, reiki sessions, an old and amazing friend’s wedding in Florida next week, and every other thing that doesn’t fit into my usual training regimen.
I also have one major life change I’m focusing on, that I’m not ready to reveal, but that I’m immensely excited about!
And it’s always good to come home to flowers from my spiritual gangster and soul sister (in-law) and BIL with a note that was all I needed to read…
TWO FINAL THOUGHTS
Throughout this adventure, I was reading a book. I’m always reading a book but I have to think there was a purpose for this one in particular at this particular time. It’s called The Unwinding of the Miracle and is a memoir of Julie Yip-Williams, a wife and mother who, at age 37 was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer.
Because my own mother died after a five year battle with ovarian cancer (Julie’s was also five years), at age 43, this was an especially hard read and one I wasn’t sure I could handle, until I started reading it.
“But also, as your mother, I want you to feel the pain, to live it, embrace it and learn from it. Be stronger people because of it, for you will know you carry my strength within you. Be more compassionate people because of it; empathize with those who suffer in their own ways. Rejoice in life in all its beauty because of it; live with special zest and zeal for me. Be grateful in a way that only someone who lost their mother so early can, in your understanding of the preciousness and precariousness of life. This is my challenge to you, sweet girls, to take an ugly tragedy and transform it into a source of beauty, love, strength, courage and wisdom.”– Julie Yip-Williams, The Unwinding of the Miracle, Random House
I feel like my own mother could have written these same words. I have accepted this challenge and, with life being so precious and precarious, the worst race of my life was nicely put back into perspective. Thank you Julie!
Oh and then our flight back home was delayed due to high winds in Washington DC. There were also very high winds (40+ mph gusts) in Connecticut resulting in two of the most terrifying flights of my entire existence. My kids now know just how scared I am of flying but, “luckily” everyone else on the plane was screaming right along with me.
Because I survived, I feel infinitely better about flying, better than I have felt in at least five years.
All this insanity was worth it. I’m grateful for these experiences because they deepened my appreciation for almost everything and set my priorities straight. I’m happy to be home. I’m happy to have raced. I’m happy to start another challenge and I’m really happy to be back just training for LIFE!
What was your worst race? How did you learn from it?
Have you ever wanted (or have you) walked off the course?
Share stories on perspective! And you MUST read Julie’s book!