Thursday, September 18, 2014

70.3 World Championships: race report

So I spent the week before this race in bed.  Once or perhaps twice I dragged myself to the gym, swam about two hundred yards and then said well that was a terrible idea and crawled back under the covers.  I rode my bike to make sure I could handle the deep wheels I had borrowed and I jogged with my running group but for the most part I tried to hunker down and let my body heal.  

Traveling was a reasonable amount of a pain in the ass, flights got screwed up and I ended up sitting in the back of my parents car alone with my bike box while the poet took a tour of the east coast instead of joining me on the flights he was actually booked to travel on (thanks, United).  We arrived in Mont Tremblant, I checked in by the skin of my teeth, built my bike, and then climbed into the soft squishy quiet hotel room bed and slept for over 13 hours.  
When I woke up Saturday morning I felt awful, the worst I had felt all week.  I hopped in the lake for about four minutes to check for lake zombies, did a ten minute spin to make sure my bike wasn't going to fall apart, checked all my shit into transition, paused briefly to climb the M-dot in the village and then took a four-hour nap.  Woke up long enough to register that I wasn't better, ate my pre-race dinner, and then fell back asleep for another 13 hours.  So that was that for race preparation.  
Race morning was pretty spectacular, mainly because we splurged and stayed in a hotel that was about five yards from transition.  I woke up, went over and dealt with tires and shoes and water bottles, then came back to the hotel to take a shower and eat breakfast.  We found my parents and moseyed on down to the swim start.  I made sure that everyone had a list of all the cold meds I had taken in the last 24 hours (oy), squashed into my wetsuit and lined up in the corral.  I let the poet know that as long as I was moving, I was fine, and that if I didn't finish, I'd be fine as well, but I wanted to start because it's the freakin' world championships and of course I'm going to start.  And the thing I kept repeating, the thing that made it all okay, was that this race was always meant to be a victory lap, and thanks to my body I would be able to embrace that instead of race my face off.  
Swim: 1.2 miles, 31:08
Part of the reason why I was excited about this race is because I knew that there would be a TON of women there who could out-swim me, and I was hoping to latch onto some of them.  The gun went off and we splashed into the water, and it took exactly one dolphin dive for me to realize that nope, my body was not going to show up today and I needed to cut the throttle back, hard, if I had any interest in getting myself over the line.  I started in the second or third row and the first few hundred yards were an amazing battle of aggression from the women that went off the front.  I finally moved over to the right and found some slightly clear water so I would stop getting punched in the face and settled down into a sweet soft cruise.  The swim is my favorite part of triathlon (duh) and I wanted to enjoy it as much as I could.  I had a couple of coughing fits and once sat up and breast-stroked for a moment so I could catch my breath, but it was generally unremarkable.
Our wave went off at 8:32am and when I got out of the water and ran up on the beach, the clock at the swim exit said 1:01:19.  It took me a long time to calculate what that meant, but I was pretty pleased once I figured I had gone just under 30 minutes (realizing later that the mats weren't at the swim exit but at the tent entrance, oh well).  I got my wetsuit stripped off and then ran the (very very far) distance to the transition tent.
T1: 6:42
I took my time in transition because why not.  I picked up my bag, dumped everything out, and sat down on a chair to sort through crap while I dripped all over the place.  I put my sunglasses on first, but they kept fogging up so I took them off, then would forget and put them back on, so, being an idiot takes a bit of extra time.  I made sure my arm warmers were on the correct arms, cursed myself once I realized that I had thought to pack arm warmers but not socks, got all my nutrition into my mouth and pockets and then ran for the exit.  I stopped at the tent exit to put my bike shoes on (probably should have waited until I got to the bike; I suppose this day is a tiny collection of well I probably should have's), found my bike and rolled out.

Bike: 56 miles, 2:58:24
I wasn't hungry, that was the first thing I noticed.  I usually eat as soon as I get on the bike, but I had no idea what kind of science experiment was happening with cold medicine and my racing tummy.  I ended up eating quite a bit less on the bike than I usually do, but I never bonked or felt off and because my effort level was fairly low, I let hunger dictate what I put in my mouth which I generally do not recommend.  My plan was to go out the first hour a bit on the peppy side and see what my body would turn up.  I listened to some EXTREMELY good advice and took heart rate off all my screens for the day, because either it was going to be alarmingly high and I was going to sit back when I didn't really need to or it was going to be alarmingly low and piss me off (laughably low the final verdict) or send me digging into a giant hole.  

The course was gorgeous.  And legitimate.  I think we had a slight headwind on the way out, for ~30km, and then we caught some tailwind from that on the way back.  Good climbing and descending, not technical, but there wasn't a lot of pure flat on the course.  I was watching power, the first hour I chased it a bit but I kept catching my not-100% body around a corner with a slightly dizzy or simply a well that feels a bit weird.  So after the first hour I backed it down a bit, stopped being annoyed at or really even looking at my Garmin and chilled my britches.  
Quite a bit has already been said about the drafting that I am sure happens in most huge races like this, and I knew to expect it but was still flabbergasted to see it live.  The big draft packs added to where my wave went off added to how legitimately awesome the women are in my age group meant that I had a bit of a lonely day.  I stayed on top of nutrition and hydration and tried to keep my frozen toes moving around in my shoes and that was pretty much how those three hours went down.  The last ten miles of the bike course are challenging, I used the climbs to try and drag my power up a bit and the descents to fly, I desperately had to pee but for some reason just can't figure out how to let it go while in motion, ups and downs and arounds and suddenly we were back in transition.  It was odd but I found myself looking forward to the run (and not just because I could finally put on socks and defrost my feet).  

Nutrition: 5 salty balls & 2.5 bottles of OSMO, 775 kcal & 60 oz for 258 kcal/hour and 20 oz/hour, yeah, I KNOW.

T2: 2:14
The second time through transition was quicker.  I made sure to put the L sock in the L shoe and the R sock in the R shoe so it wouldn't drive me batshit crazy like it did in Boulder, I sorted through all my nutrition and headed on out.

Run: 13.1 miles, 1:58:55
The run out of transition met up with the out-and-back and I was immediately surrounded by the front of one of the men's age groups, battling it out on their second lap.  It was akin to being caught in a herd of angry antelope (I keep describing it like the scene in Jurassic Park where the little kids get caught in the stampede) and it was brilliantly fun to watch as I jogged down the carpet.  Garmins were beeping and spectators were yelling splits and places and it only took a few seconds before they were gone.  But it set a positive tone for me, I was in a good head space heading out and when my first mile split at 8:58, I knew I was going to be okay.

I wasn't watching any data other than mile splits as they showed up, I was inside my head and continually searching for an effort that felt like I could hang onto it as I rolled over the first lap of the course.  My watch told me that I was doing a decent job of staying steady, high 8s and low 9s, I was happy with that.  I still wasn't hungry but I didn't feel bonky either.  I got through mile four and pulled out a few chews, I worked on the bottle of OSMO that I had carried out of transition, and just like the bike, sat back and rode out the day.  I saw the poet as I was finishing up the first lap, there's a short but punchy climb up and then a steep down and I tossed my bottle at him and said I'm doing just fine, I'm happy & I'm going to finish and then headed back out for lap two.
The second lap was quieter than the first, still plenty of athletes hauling ass through it but it wasn't quite the brisk and beautiful body parade that the first lap was.  A few body parts were acting up (apparently sleeping for 9265 hours and doing almost no training for a week is not the best way to taper for 70.3) so I focused on my form, shoulders back, arm swing, feet landing well, and pretty soon I was heading into the monstrously steep hill that signaled the end of the lap.  Quick little bunny feet up, big gravity whoosh down and with zero fanfare or celebration inside my brain, I was over the line (my mom was volunteering at the finish and putting my medal on me makes her really happy despite how bad I may smell).
Nutrition: One pack of honey stinger chews, my handheld of OSMO, a couple of Perform/water cups and ~3-4 cups of coke.
70.3 miles: 5:37:23

There just isn't a lot to say about a race when a day goes well and with zero drama (but obviously I'm going to babble for a while anyway).  I feel like I received from my body the maximum effort that it had to give.  I had no low points, and that was probably due in part to the fact that I wasn't grooving with the throttle open, but I'm still moving through my own journey of racing such that is recognized as a pretty big win.  I raced in a way I've really learned to love this year - mind blank and open, only concerned about the present, not what just happened or what the next few hours may bring.  Right now.  This moment.  And on the other end of it (still coughing a week and a half later), there are no disclaimers I want to make, no asterisks next to my finishing time, no excuses.  This day was clearly a success.  A victory lap.
Lessons learned, however, is another story.  I've been taught yet again what happens when I spread myself too thin, when I fail at work/life balance, and I'm only glad the universe didn't decide to let one of my athletes ride straight over me this time around.  Two weeks before the race, I needed to make my time, my body, and my recovery a precious commodity and I didn't.  I own that.  Instead, there were a few too many coffee dates, a few too many lunch and lifting and swim dates, a few too many nights up late and up to no good followed by my normal 5:30am alarm clock, too many happy hours and ice cream trips and not enough focus on eating for health, solid sleep and recovering the way I know how to do.  Is that the end of the world?  No.  I'm not disappointed in the way this race unfolded, I have learned by now what is necessary for me to bring 100% of my fitness to the line.  I didn't do that in all the choices I made in the weeks before this particular line, I know that, and I'm not upset about it now.
But the other takeaway is simply, this.  I raced joyfully (and blowing bright green snot rockets at idiots who passed me on the right).  I smiled all day, I high-fived lots of little kids yelling random shit in French, it was amazing to watch some of the races going on around me from the viewpoint of the course itself, and whatever was going on in my body, it got me over another finish line.  I'll never forget how I felt when I finish my second 70.3, the Waterman's Half Ironman - a race which, incidentally, took me an hour longer to finish than this one, almost to the second - way back in 2011.  I was buried under a truckload of disappointment, anger, self-pity.  And all those things were actually, shame.  The day hadn't gone my way, I stopped fighting, I gave up.  It was a long time before I got over that, and even longer before I figured out how to race without carrying those things around.  To set down the enormous truckload of emotional bullshit and simply celebrate the art of movement as my friend Ron likes to say.  To be able to stand aside and set my body free to perform on Sunday, to find a way to celebrate what it had, which dumped me over another finish line, without trying to explain away why I didn't PR or have the race of my life, that is big for me.  I need to take just a moment and acknowledge that whatever else has happened in these three years, and however I decide to move forward from here, I have changed.  For that, there is nothing but gratitude.  Gratitude and peace.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Without Limits 2.4M OWS: race report

I did this race last year, a couple of weeks after ironman, and enjoyed a lovely tour of the reservoir on the feet of one of my swimming buddies.  I think I saw someone mention the race on Facebook a day or two before it and, well, I love swimming, that's really all that needs to be said, of course I was going to sign up.  My goal for this race, however, was not to mosey around and sing songs while the sun rose.  Rather, I wanted to race until I was shattered.  Secondarily to triathlon, this year I've been poking about a bit in the world of open water swim racing.  I learned quite early on that I had no idea what it meant to actually race in the water, so what I wanted from this one was to go hard, every moment.
It was lovely, as it always is, to roll out of bed and into the car and arrive at the race all in a twenty-minute window.  I pulled out my most ridiculous swim cap because God forbid I ever do anything that could be accused of taking myself too seriously, plugged in my ear plugs and yanked the freak up into my crotch.  A couple of minutes of a warm-up in the whirlpool and then I worked my way into the water and up to the front.
There was a bit of a delay waiting for the ambulance to show up so the race could start, and I chatted with someone I know from Rally and peeked around at all the fairly-well-known pro triathletes that were splashing and arm-swinging right next to me.  It's Boulder, it's crazy, but this is how it goes, you race whoever shows up.  And despite knowing that I was surrounded by people that were going to put quite a bit of time into me when the day was said and done, when the gun went, I went with all of them like I belonged there too, straight off the front.
I didn't think, because thinking while racing is generally my downfall.  I know that I swam, hard.  All the thousands of yards that I put down the week before the race (got a little excited about being back at masters) made me groan for a second, and then I shoved those thoughts right on out.  I stayed with the pack all the way to the first turn buoy, scrabbling at the back, hanging desperately onto the feet of someone strong and straight.  Then we made the hard left turn and I breathed for just a second and they were gone.
I dug in as best I could (fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck) and tried to latch back on, but it was too late.  Another turn, I spent the back stretch watching the flailing arm of whoever dropped me pull slowly away, first five yards, then twenty then about a hundred.  And I swam alone, all the way across the back, digging for whatever I could find.  A few times I caught myself thinking, can I swim this hard and still swim another loop? and then I would mentally shake myself and reset my thoughts to, is this the hardest I can swim RIGHT NOW?  I didn't care if I blew up, or positive split the race by twenty minutes, I wanted to go searching for the bottom of my swimming well and I was going to find it if it killed me (which fortunately it did not).
Starting the second loop was tough, quite a few swimmers broke off and finished (there was also a 1.2 mile option) and once I got past the finish arch there was no one out in front of me.  We were swimming directly into the rising sun and I couldn't find the buoy, I felt like I was sighting off of nothing and was a bit afraid that I was heading into nowhere at 900 swimming watts.  I never caught anyone on that second loop, but the fear of someone catching and passing me kept me hauling, that was the only thought I really had for those 29 minutes and it kept the pedal all the way down to the floor.

When I made the last left turn to finish up, I thought I caught sight of someone right behind me and it gave me one last shot of adrenaline.  Hard to the shore, I was breathing every stroke, I was thrashing and falling apart and water was going up my nose and all I could do was keep on stroking, hard and strong and wide.  I finally felt my hands touch the ground, I stood up and staggered through the arch, my eyes found the poet and I managed to get the top half of my wetsuit off and then stood there, panting and spitting and completely shelled (and with an excellent beard of sludge from the reservoir).
When I got my eye on the race results later that afternoon, I found that I swam an hour - just about flat - and was completely slaughtered by three pro triathletes but managed to stay out in front of the rest of the women's field.  Like everyone says, that's Boulder.  And that doesn't really matter, what matters more is that I absolutely emptied my tank in the water.  Empty.  I was so wiped that I could barely stay awake while we waited for our table at brunch, I couldn't even hold myself upright.
The next morning I went out for a bit of a ride, and I felt flat and exhausted and ended up rolling home at 39 watts.  Later in the day, I was outside and my sinuses started to itch a bit.  I chalked it up to allergies and popped some claritin, but Monday morning I woke up and my head felt comically clogged, sinuses swollen to bursting and throat sore from all the drip.  I put myself straight back to bed with only a little bit of, uh-oh, 70.3 world championships are in six days...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ironman Boulder Run: race report

Tell me, what is it you plan to do 
with your one WILD and PRECIOUS life?  
- Mary Oliver

My friend Elizabeth posted this quote the night before ironman and, like random voices and words tend to do in the last few hours before a race, it came along for the ride.  One of the many truths about ironman is that taking a shot at it, that is rare.  It isn't a 5K where I can race another one next weekend if I choke.  Months of preparation and many many dollars go into a single day, and I will be lucky enough to stand on this particular line very few times over the course of my life.  
Part of my race plan included wearing my little hydration pack.  I did all my long runs with it, I had the idea that if I could avoid aide stations and be entirely self-sufficient, that would be a contributing factor to my success (despite the fact that I feel like a giant dork with it on; as my friend Scott said, you'll be the giant dork that gets to the finish line the fastest).  It had everything I needed - at least three hours of OSMO, chews, emergency bag, chapstick, inhaler, snacks.  And as I ran out of transition, I already knew that I probably wouldn't be able to use any of it.

Something I have learned this year from the wisdom of Stacy Sims is that if the bottom half of your digestive system is freaking out, sugar is the worst thing you can add to the mix and plain water isn't really any better.  As I got started on the run, I told myself, run three miles, don't put anything down and then evaluate.  So I ran three miles.  They were good miles, definitely the fastest ones I plugged into the day, and I hadn't stopped into a potty yet, so I sipped on some OSMO.  It only took about ninety seconds before it ripped through me, and I stopped to empty from the bottom once again.  OSMO was out.
I kept running, jogging actually, and the bizarre thing was, EVERYONE was walking.  In all of my ironman experiences, the first loop is generally full of runners steadily chipping away at the miles left between them and the finish line.  The second loop is where it starts to more closely resemble the zombie parade, but I saw people walking straight out of transition, walking at mile two, dejected, clutching their stomachs, walk walk walking, and it was weird enough that I noticed it through my haze of troubleshooting.  It was warm and sunny, I was desperately thirsty, I wanted to drink, I knew I shouldn't but I kept cracking and sipping OSMO and then I'd be back in the potty three minutes later.  I was putting ice chips into every corner of clothing I could reach, up my shorts down my shorts in my bra down my back, I was so thirsty I kept pulling them out and sucking on them, and that was wrecking my stomach.  I felt like an addict, I knew I was banging my head against the wall, THIRSTY, don't drink, drank, stomach explosion, don't drink, THIRSTY, I was stuck in a bad spiral and couldn't stop myself.

I ran a lot of the first eight miles.  I took in no calories and kept making pit stops, my watch was showing me splits but they didn't mean a lot to me because I didn't have a good grasp on how much running I was doing and how much all the sitting with my head in my hands was dragging me down.  When I came back from the second out-and-back, the really bad no-shade boiling hot one that went up and over the parkway, Sonja was there, and I motioned for her to come run with me so I could let her know what was going on.  I told her, and she said all the right things, most of them I was already doing, and that everyone was suffering.  For some reason that helped.

I knew that I had to get rid of the hydration pack, I couldn't help myself from drinking from it even though it meant destruction, and as I came back through the transition area I saw some friends that I could throw it to.  I got a bit tangled in it, finally got it off (thanks Mike for babysitting it for me), and instantly felt lighter.  A few minutes later I saw the poet and he jogged along with me for a minute while I told him what was going on.  I had some OSMO right before I ditched the pack, and I made it through the special needs area and around the corner before my gut started making dangerous sounds, and that was when I finally slowed to a walk.  (Thanks, FinisherPix, for making sure I could remember this moment, it's definitely one I'm thrilled to have immortalized in a photograph).
I walked, not far, but up to the next aide station where I collapsed in a porta potty for what felt like the 100th time.  There was a long line of potties and they were all empty, and I decided as I watched the seconds tick by that I was going to sit and let my gut do whatever it wanted for as long as it took.

I was in there for eighteen minutes.

When I came out, I felt a bit better.  I knew that part of the problem was that I was bonking terribly, which on top of a gut bomb was making my head a tough place to manage, so I put on my what would Stacy Sims do hat.  Salt and plain water, okay.  I grabbed a cup of potato chips and a cup of water and walked and put it all down as I headed north to the third out-and-back.  Bonking.  Walking.  Eating.  But no longer violently ill.  Maybe the TUMS finally kicked in, or maybe the immodium, maybe the minutes in the potty NOT sucking the seductive lifeblood off the OSMO tit and killing my intestines with sugar made a difference.  I don't know what it was, but as I chewed and walked, there was nothing in my head except what had been lost already, it was a brief moment, and only one, but it was there, and that was when I bumped into my friend Philip.

He had been behind me at all the turn-arounds so far, I had seen him a few times and waved as we both fought through our own miles, but he must have passed me while I sat.  He was someone who knew very clearly what I wanted out of the run and it was obvious, I am sure, that I was losing that fight.  As he ran by, I looked at him and silently shook my head.  And he went on, but a few seconds later was back, standing in front of me, shouting, WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU ARE WASTING YOUR DAY.  And I was so frustrated with myself and my body that I yelled at the top of my lungs, three inches from his face, THIS IS WHAT GIVING UP LOOKS LIKE, SO FUCK OFF. 

(For the record, we've gotten a great deal of pleasure out of telling and retelling this story over the past two weeks and yes we are still friends).  I spent every minute of the first ten miles trying to keep my shit together and stay calm and now I had to deal with someone shoving it right at me, that was it, the dam burst, nuclear explosion.  He yelled at me, and I yelled right back at him (choice phrases include I'VE BEEN SHITTING MYSELF FOR THREE HOURS and IT DOESN'T MATTER HOW SMART I AM IF I CAN'T STAY OUT OF THE FUCKING PORTA POTTY), and I'm sure we looked ridiculous standing in the middle of the bike path shouting at each other, but eventually he departed with one last FIGURE IT OUT over his shoulder and I stomped up the path in the other direction.  Fuming, viciously chomping on my potato chips and muttering under my breath like a psychopath.  And when I crossed over the mat at the top of the hill, I started to run.
And my gut didn't rebel.  I came back through the park, I ran straight through the aide station, I didn't stop.  I grabbed my special needs bag as I went by but immediately handed everything off to the poet.  I didn't look at him or say anything, I simply threw my handheld and bags of chews and snacks, I was moving again, I was so angry, furious, but moving.  I got through another mile and someone came down through the overly-crowded path backwards on a bike, it registered on the outer edges of my awareness, enough for me to think moron, and then a few minutes later the bike came back up beside me and I realized it was my friend slash body magician Charlie.  

He started talking to me, asking how my day was going, and I am sure I shot him the dirtiest look I could scrape together at the moment.  I didn't say anything as I was completely absorbed in being totally fucking pissed.  (He told me later when I rode up and passed you I didn't even recognize you because of how mad you looked).  When I got to the next aide station I realized it had been about thirty minutes since my potato chips and nothing had ruptured in my intestines so I grabbed a cup of coke and drank it right down.
I threw some more cups of ice chips into my top and shorts, water down my back and on my arms, and got running again.  Charlie was still there, riding next to me, telling me about how hot he had been doing his workout at noon (seriously), how he'd been tracking me all day, telling me about my bike split, chattering away and mostly I kept running because I was hoping that if I could move fast enough he would just shut the fuck up already.  Fifteen miles into the ironman marathon there isn't a lot that hasn't been scraped off the surface of who you are.  I was so angry at everyone and everything, I was angry at him for being there, for witnessing my rock bottom, a rubbernecker driving slowly past the car crash of my race.  I was angry that someone was casually in audience to raw vulnerability that I couldn't hide with sarcasm or laughter, angry because he was yet another person who knew - because I said it out loud, to him, not four days before the race - what the fight should have looked like for me in ironman and I was fighting but it wasn't even in the same zip code as the battle I had hoped to wage.  And I was angry because here was one of so many who have put their time and energy and love and support into me, my brain my body my training my life, and I was letting him - all of them - down.  I was failing, and I couldn't hide under my visor or hope that all of my people were in a state of blissful ignorance about it because he was right there, spectating the exposure of very worst pieces of my soul, attentively watching me writhe around on the floor of the deepest well I have, the ugly, the violence, the hatred, the breakdown, the loss.  

But I was fighting.  And I suppose there, that is the difference in the day.  On paper, it looks like no achievement, but I spent the last two hours of that marathon livid.  And hauling.  Sometimes walking, once puking, shuffling, heel-striking my way through a strong back half after yet another weak start, but not giving in.  Even when I yelled at Philip THIS IS WHAT GIVING UP LOOKS LIKE, I knew that wasn't what I was doing, that's not what was going on, that was fierce rage talking, not defeat.  I KNOW what submission looks like in ironman and not once did that dull roar of hopelessness wash over me.  Instead, I stayed pissed, and while I don't think that hopping mad (I'm running out of synonyms for I WAS SO GODDAMN ANGRY) is the best way to spend 5+ hours at the end of a race, it's certainly better than the desperate misery of quitting, the quiet moments of surrender than you cannot get back.
Charlie stayed with me for miles and for that I was desperately grateful (don't worry, I'm buying him lunch tomorrow).  He kept up a steady stream of chatter as I plowed my way back through the field at a blazing ten-to-eleven-minute-mile pace.  I slowed at a few aide stations to suck down more coke, I couldn't get up and over that goddamn overpass without some walking, but I was passing people every mile.  I didn't talk to him, if I said anything at all I'm sure it was some pissypants bullshit, I let myself be furious, every time I noticed I was mad I told myself it's okay to be mad just be mad and keep moving.  Philip passed me a few more times on the out-and-backs, and each time we passed me he shouted TOUGH AND SMART over and over until I was gone in the other direction, but I didn't need that, not anymore.

We came back through the transition area one more time, and the spectators were starting to thin out, to head home, to pack it in as the sun went down, to move the party over to the finish line.  I got through mile 22 and Charlie said something to me about me having it and peeled off.  I threw my sunglasses and some other shit at the poet as I passed him by and headed up through the park one last time.  Over the final mat, down the hill, and finally to the blessed sign: 2ND LAP TURN RIGHT.  
I don't really remember much after that, the last few minutes are a blur, I tried to smile but race photos reveal more of an exhausted grimace, I put up two fingers on each hand (I think my thoughts were ironman number 4 bitches but it turned out more like bleary bonking woman throws gang sign) and then I was over the line.  Done.  Raw, empty, sore, exhausted.  Yet somehow, whole.
Run: 26.2 miles, 5:23:28, 21st AG/98th F

My mom was volunteering at the finish line so she put my medal on me, my family was there, I got some water and did all the things you do once you cross the line which mostly consist of a lot of what in the actual fuck just happened and eating anything you can shove in your mouth.  I got my shoes off somewhere and finally saw the raw and bloody blisters that I had been running on for well over five hours, I housed some pizza, I borrowed the poet's phone to check in on all my people, I finally saw all my own splits for the day, and I gently released my anger and my concentrated mind into the universe.  
140.6 miles: 12:33:13

Days before the race, I proudly and loudly declared that the one thing I wanted most in the world was to put together a solid marathon off the bike.  I had no idea that I could find so much success in a day where, by all accounts, I failed to do so yet again.

I have made it a hobby, a habit, a practice, to study vulnerability and shame.  I have devoured books, lectures, TED talks, everything I can find and absorb on the subject, anything even remotely related to developing resilience, trying to create a body and mind that are not even strong as much as they are built for a life of anti fragility.  This year in particular, I have had uncomfortable conversations, I have written hideously revealing (and overly wordy) blog posts for the internet, I have placed myself in situations over and over where I feel awkward, too big for my britches, too grotesque for beauty, too noisy for grace.  Again and again, I have uncovered fear, shame, and hate and done everything I can to run directly at the situation or emotions that I did not want to face.  I have sought out vulnerability, and plenty of times, I have failed.  I have crashed and burned, I have experienced rejection and irritation, contempt, humiliation, all of these things, and I have absorbed my own reaction and tried to grow from these moments.

The truth, the root of the root, is this.  Brene Brown says that vulnerability is daring to show up and be seen.  Last Sunday in ironman, for the very first time, I raced without even the lightest touch on the brakes, I raced shrieking joyfully into the wind, without a governor on my engine to prepare for me later excuses, I raced freely.  What I did on that day was everything I had.  It was everything I had.  Am I disappointed that the conditions of the day did not result in a different outcome?  Yes, certainly, and that is allowable, but am I disappointed in myself that I did not execute the day I had dreamed about?  No.  And there is a veritable chasm, a canyon as wide as the sky, in the space between those two feelings.  I raced without fear, without judgement, and now I sit on the other side of the line without shame.  And I have never looked back on the ironman marathon without remorse - and do understand, I am not perfect, there have been moments in these past two weeks where I have wavered, where shame has tempted me with her captivating and sultry black lips, where I have wanted to give into those feelings.  But I won't, I can't, because I am firm in the knowledge that I did not leave a single second out there, anywhere, in those miles.  

A day or two before the race, when I returned from spending some time alone with my thoughts and emotions, I had a conversation with the poet about ironman, and about the veritable destruction that this distance can do, not just to the body but also to the mind.  I told him, I am clear about where I am, how I feel, and that is this: if I do not find progress in this day, it may be time to step away from ironman for a while, possibly forever.  Because three times I have gone out looking for success and three times now I have given it up, willingly.  I have let any chance at personal victory fall from my limp hand and be lost in the shadows, and I have had to live with those decisions in the aftermath, and that is ugly, and hard, far more difficult than running a marathon with an upset tummy or a broken arm.  And as I stood in my kitchen, I said to him, I know I keep repeating this quote about bringing it forth, but I honestly believe that if I don't find a way to do so on Sunday, this will actually destroy me.  I am not strong enough to keep chasing, failing, and continuing to coexist with this particular strain of shame.  My voice broke as I said it, in part I am sure due to the hormonal imbalance that accompanies taper, but also in part to how much absolute truth there was for me in that.
Many things have changed for me this year, and even though I've rolled through ironman I am certain that these changes will continue to waterfall.  My job changed, what is in my pantry changed, the amount of weight I can pick up off the floor with my ass, a lot of things have changed.  The aftershocks of these changes have shown up in my race results, certainly, but I could give a flying fuck about those.  Instead I am celebrating the aftershocks that have shown up in my life.  My actual life, I say it all the time, this is my actual life and I am not going to waste it.  Every distance I've raced this year, shit, every LEG of every distance, I've found a way to carry my body through those distances faster than ever before, and that's fun.  It's really spectacular to finish ironman and to find your husband at the fence and for him to say with big eyes, I am pretty sure you just PRd every leg.  But there are things that are more fun.  Finishing a race and not walking around for days - weeks - with the sharp pinch of shame in my heart, that's fun.  Sleeping soundly at night instead of keeping myself awake in self-flagellation, that's fun.  Crashing my mountain bike a billion times in France and then celebrating with a huge piece of chocolate cake and a Guinness and quoting Caddyshack at masters and filling my house with people and forcing them to eat until they explode and careening down the side of a mountain singing at the absolute top of my lungs, those things are my particular brand of happy.  Meeting people, feeling the spark of human connection and driving these people crazy until they cave (FINE I will ride bikes with you Jesus) and become my friend, well, that is how I goddamn roll.  
Finally winding down.  Certainly there is more to say about the rest of the night of ironman, about taking a cold shower while drinking whiskey out of the bottle, about drinking tequila with Charlie - also out of the bottle - at the finish line until midnight such that someone saw me and told the entire masters swim the next morning, about the massive tequila and sugar bender I went on for the next five days, about how I made it less than 36 hours post-race before I cracked and started eating vegetables again, about all the happy fallout that comes now that ironman has passed and life returns to the state once known as normal.  
For me, personally, ironman has always been a vehicle, causation of change in my life.  My good friend Gloria published an excellent essay a few days after the race about all the changes going on for her, and one of her lines nailed me straight to the ground.  In discussion about her France family, she says, Watching them hustle and gun for their dreams like we all had just one shot at this thing inspired me to push harder and take more risks, too.  My dreams, my hustle, my goals, those things are fluid, constantly evolving.  Some days I will ride perfect two-minute intervals at 900 watts and some days I will turn the Garmin upside-down and try to convince someone to be my friend (and I will think that I have failed miserably and then he will turn up at mile fourteen of the ironman marathon and prove me wrong).  That is a dynamic life, that is my own particular brand of normalcy and I embrace it for all the flaws that it may accompany.  But the reminder, the ice cold truth, is that we all get just one shot at this thing.  One shot.  I've been lucky enough to take four shots at ironman, each time knowing it could be my last, each time wondering if I would ever be able to stand on the line again, gratitude in those last moments before the cannon fires, grateful that my life has made it possible for the answer to be, so far, yes.  
I could look back at this year and say, I spent seven months training for ironman, seven months of 5am alarm clocks and swimming in zero degree weather, time on the trainer and in the wind and the rain and all the feelings that go along with running, hours in the gym and a thousand angry needles in my everywhere body and who knows how much spinach and sweet potatoes and saying no to margaritas and frozen yogurt and chocolate cake, and from all of that, I got 46 minutes. 3 on the swim, 36 on the bike, 7 on the run.  Was it worth it?  In that context, I don't know.  But then, I can put on a different pair of glasses.  I can instead say, I spent seven months embracing vulnerability, fighting shame, stalking resilience, slamming my delicate heart against every surface I could find to make it strong, tough, tenacious, relentlessly durable, and out of those things, I found success.  Courage.  Grit.  Even, defiance.  So to answer the question, was it worth it?  More than any victory I could ever hope to define.  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ironman Boulder Bike: race report

The first thing I did as I rolled out was to glance down at my heart rate and it was 150, a number that I almost never see.  And I thought of Sonja saying whoaaaaa okay let's get that puppy down.  I spun easy up the little rollers out of the reservoir road, easy out onto 36, easy easy easy.  I finished the bar I had started in transition, started drinking, got down into my bars and settled into cruise. 
My stomach felt a bit off, right away.  Not an off that I recognized, I almost never feel sick on the bike and if I do it's because something is trying to get out the bottom.  This was more of a sea-sick nausea funky weirdness.  I got going into my nutrition anyway, knowing that deviating from the plan could be a far bigger disaster in the sum total of the day and knowing that I've been on the OSMO "food in the pocket, hydration in the bottle" plan for long enough that I trust it, it works, it has never failed me.  My salty balls were repulsive, that was odd, the only time I haven't been excited for them was when I accidentally dumped in about 1/4 cup of salt and then tried to eat them anyway so they wouldn't go to waste.  I put one down anyway at the thirty minute mark, with plenty of fluid, and tried to reassure myself that my gut would calm down and come around if I was patient and didn't get upset (waving at Sonja up 36, this pic stolen from Twitter, thanks Son!).
I spent the whole first ten miles trying to settle my heart rate, and it came right down because I am built like an rhinoceros, and then there isn't much to say for about sixty more miles.  I saw some friends on the out-and-back down St Vrain, it was nice to see people there that I knew (and it gave me a bit of a gauge for how my swim went).  I kept an eye on heart rate and made sure I wasn't spiking power.  When it was time to eat, I ate; when it was time to drink, I drank.  One of my athletes caught me around mile 45, it was nice to check in and see that he was in a good place, smiling and focused and working well (and I was pretty pleased that I held him off that long because he is beastly).  When we made one of the many turns to head dead east, there was a small headwind, and that made me happy because I knew that if the winds stayed put - a gamble any day in Colorado - we'd have some gentle assistance coming back to town.

By about 1:45 into the bike I was frustrated that my gut was still unhappy.  Nothing about my nutrition had been even slightly different than in training, not the days before, not the morning of; every moment had been a perfect replication of the nutrition I'd been working all year.  Since the race, I've heard plenty of rumors about the state of the reservoir following three days of heavy rain bringing run-off down from the mountains, and I'm not going to repeat them here, but with how many people I know that got sick early on the bike (and later on the run), I have to wonder if there is some truth in those rumors.  I suppose I'll never know for sure, but what I knew, in the moment, is that something dismal was happening, I was not coming around and I was not okay.
I braked and then unclipped for special needs, and as soon as I put my foot down my stomach lurched and cramped HARD.  I swapped out all my bottles and filled my pockets, but before I did, I took 2 TUMS from my emergency bag and chomped them down.  I also opened up the bar I had put in my bag, ate it, and then told myself, no nutrition for an hour, let's see how that goes.  I felt like I was riding well, steady, spreading out the peanut butter across the day, as Sonja likes to say, my gut wasn't really preventing me from riding at an appropriate effort but I was far more concerned about how it was going to feel once I started banging it up and down on the concrete.

I headed out across the eastern side of the course and kept a closer eye on my heart rate, trying to allow my stomach time and room to figure shit out.  By mile 70, I still wasn't feeling better so I eased off the effort, only a bit, hoping that the few beats of heart rate that I brought down would help me digest and process.
About 90 minutes after special needs, I gagged down one more salty ball but knew that was the end of those.  Since I was starting to get close to the end of the bike, I waited about another 45 minutes and then put down a pack of chews and then things really started to get ugly.  My intestines revolted.  I spent the rest of the ride looking desperately at the side of the road for a porta-potty, not finding one, breathing deep to try and ease the cramping, and pedaling as hard as I could manage for transition.  I got my feet out of my shoes early and coasted all the way down Folsom home.
Nutrition: 1220kcal (2 bars + 5 salty balls + pack of chews) & 192oz of OSMO, ~203kcal/hour and 32 oz/hour.

Bike: 112 miles, 5:54:00, 14th AG/50th F

By the time I got to the dismount line, I could only think about dealing with whatever the hell was going on in my body.  I dismounted and got into the long line of people slowly walking their bikes into transition, clomp clomp clomp.  After a few seconds of this, I dodged around to the side and off the sidewalk, saying excuse me excuse me coming through! as I ran past.  Someone took my bike out of my hands and I burst out onto the track, asking every volunteer I saw, porta-potty?  please? but there were none.  I ran at least a half-dozen steps towards my bag before I realized that the hot black mortar of the track was burning the living fuck out of the bottom of my feet.  There was nothing to run on and I didn't have time to stop and put on my shoes, I kept running, saying ow! ouch! ow! OW! as I went.  I blew into the the changing tent and asked again for a porta-potty, someone pointed and I ran that way, but then they said wait you have to change first, so I sat down and was probably quite desperate as I said please help me, please, quickly, I am having an emergency here.  I glanced down only long enough to see that the bottoms of both feet were burned bright red and blistering, and then let it go with a quick well, can't do anything about this right now which was easy based on the other 5-alarm fires blaring in my head.  The volunteers were fantastic and I was grateful, they got me into my socks and shoes (although my socks ended up on the wrong feet, damn you Feetures for your R L insanity), I gathered up all my other shit, tore out of the changing tent, over the mat for transition exit (why no porta-potties inside T2, just wondering), threw everything on the ground and launched myself into the nearest bathroom, where I collapsed on the seat and exhaled as my body finally released.  Everything.  (I know this is disgusting but we've already established that triathlon is real fucking classy and it's my day so just keep scrolling).  

I sat there for about five minutes, unhappy, breathing deep, thinking, trying to figure out what to do and knowing that there wasn't much.  I finally got an Immodium out of my emergency bag, it wasn't ideal but I felt cornered by my gut and I took it, along with two more TUMS.  I slowly put the rest of my gear on, opened the door, and headed out on the run.
T2: 6:09