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!
Well shit. Even though this whole trip/race was an absolute mess, I’m glad that you could put things into perspective. As you know, my shit show race(s) took me a very long time to gain perspective. I think you are spot on and doing exactly what you want. It’s freeing and can lead you to back to racing or take you in a different direction. Excited for you and all that the future holds! Just keep raising me up!
Thanks so much Angela and, although I have perspective, the race is haunting me still. I know, if anyone understands, it’s YOU and I’m grateful for that!!
I see this whole ordeal coming full circle with a happy ending….your catharsis says it all (at least from my perspective, having not lived through that crazy weekend in your shoes). I also have to believe after all the turmoil in getting to the race (that almost DIDN’T happen) your mental energy was zapped. None the less, you finished what you started, and that’s a huge victory. You are one tough a$$ warrior 😉
Thank you SO MUCH! I really appreciate your words and I believe in them!!
Oh man. I am so sorry. My heart sunk when I saw those finish stats. I’m so sure that everything leading up to the race sucked every ounce of energy out of you. It was like you raced before the race. Time to regroup and enjoy training for you, doing what you want when you want! Those races will be there when and if you are ready.
Just breathe. Love you.
Love you too friend! Really, thank you so much Wendy.
Wow this whole weekend was quite the ordeal from the start! I really admire you finding the positive in all of this. Sounds like you really need a mental break from all of this for a bit before you tackle your next big goal. Thanks for sharing this we have all had races that just went to crap and we have to keep it in perspective and find a way to let it go. Still think you are pretty bad ass!
I definitely need a serious mental break, that much is crystal clear. Thank you for your understanding. It’s helpful to know that most who race have been there and “get it” and have come back and lived to run another day 🙂 Thanks so much.
I almost didn’t want to read the final part because I mean, could it get worse? What a crappy day but the thing is you survived. I can only imagine how much mental and emotional energy you spent in the days leading up to the race that your body was depleted. But you Allie always inspire me with your ability to put things in perspective and to power through. You are a warrior. And excited for you to have this time to do whatever the hell you want and for whatever is in the works.
Thanks so much for saying that Christine because it REALLY helps. And, just having these past few days to do whatever I want has been so healing already. I know I’m doing the right thing and I have other places where I will be focusing my energy.
While I am sad that you didn’t get the race you wanted, I’m still happy for you because it seems like you came out better on the other side. Sometimes we need to just live in the suck for a bit to be stronger for it. That picture where you’re on your bike and pissed off? I do see a bad ass athlete too! This will be just another step in your growth and you may even look back at this whole ordeal with some appreciation later on down the road. Thanks for sharing with us as it probably wasn’t the most fun thing to relive so soon!
I was definitely “living in the suck!” That was well put! And thank you for saying everything you did. It certainly was no fun to re-live it in writing but it was cathartic. I firmly believe in shouting the good and the bad from the rooftops because success rarely is a straight line and the more we share the bad, the more we can relate to one other and raise each other up!!…at least that’s my hope 🙂
So sorry you had a bad race… you look seriously badass and like the first place person on the bike picture so you could have lied to us and we would not have known. I’m super excited to hear what your new development / announcement will be… I’m going to predict it’s publishing a children’s book.. we’ll see if I’m right or way off!
LOL – thanks Paria and you are WAY off but I love you still. I think you will be very interested in my new endeavor…at least I hope that’s the case!
Oh friend. I am so sorry that the race didn’t go well and I hope you found some release by writing about it. I’m so glad you are taking a well deserved break and focusing on other things for a bit – you’ll know when it’s time for a new goal. I’ve heard so much about that book and can’t wait to read it with a box of tissue next to me!
Can’t wait to hear about your new endeavor and you are a bad ass athlete! xoxo
Thank you so much. And you MUST read that book and you will absolutely cry your eyes out but the message is so powerful and so worth the tears! xoxo
Oh Allie, I’m so sorry that your long-anticipated race weekend was such a fiasco. While looking for the positives, I keep seeing the smiles on your sons’ faces. I suspect they had a very happy birthday weekend and years from now you can look back and tell them what a $hit show it really was. 😉
I’m looking forward to reading about your exciting news when you’re ready to reveal it. Hopefully, it’s now a weekend family getaway for a race in the south with your family. 😉
They definitely had an AMAZING birthday and for that I am very grateful. We will NEVER forget it, for various reasons 🙂 And the Florida getaway is just my husband and I, no races and lots of friends so I cannot wait!! Thanks for reading ALL the parts Deb, I appreciate it!
I am so sorry that was the outcome of your race. Sometimes things just don’t go as planned. I have definitely had races where I’ve felt like I am moving in slow motion or almost backwards. All of the half-ironmans I have done I have been ready to quit post swim cause I sucked it but somehow I kept going.
You are such a strong woman and I am sure though hard to swallow you will find some takeaways from this experience.
Thanks so much Sandra!! I have definitely taken a lot away from this race – especially my need to take a break and just do some “fun” races for a while. I’m so thankful to have the 100on100 on the calendar so I can focus on that for the summer 🙂
aw Allie. 🙁 I know I’m late reading part 3 but I just want to say I’m so sorry. And really, I guess, at the end of the day even the shittiest of races gives us something to reflect on. If we can learn from it, any part of it, that’s a good thing right?
Thanks so much and YES it’s definitely a good thing! You really don’t know how much you care until you fall on your face and, this showed me that I don’t really care that much right now. I obviously need a break and will focus on just training when I want, doing the workouts I feel like doing. So refreshing!!
I don’t know how I missed this, sorry in advance for the late comment! My heart goes out to you because I know exactly how you feel. My worst race was the 2017 Chicago Marathon. I trained my ass off (20 weeks) and my body failed me on race day – super high heart rate, dead legs, trouble breathing, etc. I ended up having to walk more than half the race but I finished. To say I was pissed at the finish line would be an understatement, but I completed a successful marathon a few months later. I have no doubt that this experience will result in an awesome future race for you.
No worries and thanks so much for sharing your story – that sounds brutal!!! I’m so glad you were able to run a successful marathon a few months later but wow, Chicago sounds like a suffer fest. It’s so unfair that ALL those weeks and months of training boil down to ONE day…but we keep going back, right? Thanks Kim!
Oh shit. Allie I’m so sorry. For the shit show start to finish. Your heart rate does not lie. You did all you could do. No shame in that.
Before I was a runner I was a figure skater. I traveled to a competition once and it was so stressful. I broke down mentally at the practice skate the day before. I tried to get myself together but to make a long story short, I ended up DFL. I’ll never forget the hot rash of embarrassment/anger/frustration that ran up the back of my neck as I stood there looking at the final results.
I love that you have perspective on it. It’s horrific in the moment but all we can do is shake it off, learn from it and move forward. And hopefully laugh about it because it is all so ridiculous.
The shit shows truly do make us stronger!
Thank you so much for sharing your figure skating story. It’s so helpful to know that many other amazing people like you have suffered the same humiliation and have lived to race another day!! I do believe that the shit shows make us stronger so I should dominate next time!! LOL 🙂