Tuesday, December 31, 2013

a year in races

At the beginning of this year, I didn't know what I wanted out of racing, but I knew I wanted it to be different.  I was weary of feeling so serious and anxious all the time, judging my own performance day in and day out.  So I started 2013 looking for change.

In January I hopped in the water for a swim meet and then did a ten mile race as a MAF test later in the month with friends.  The lesson in January is that your fitness actually doesn't stick around if you take two months off to eat and drink and be stressed out and get pneumonia and pack up all your shit and move 2000 miles away.  Noted.
In February, I went to Austin with friends to race a half marathon.  I PRd by a handful of minutes, but I learned that if I go into the day with a plan and a quiet mind, I will race well and feel satisfied at the finish line.
I ran a 5K a few weeks later that was hilariously short, but again brought the quiet mathematical mind to the run.  

April brought a new twist, a half marathon that I ran deep into a training block.  I ran without a watch and had nothing to distract myself from digging a giant hole in the floor of my pain cave.
A few weeks later I traveled to New Orleans for the 70.3, where I had no race plan other than to be happy and surprised myself with a breakthrough run performance.
I flew to Buffalo to run the marathon in late May.  The marathon still stands as the single most painful race I have done, but I learned that day that even if your legs don't meet up with your plan, there is still value in running as hard as you can from line to line, in not giving up on yourself.
I didn't race again until IM Lake Placid.  It wasn't until several weeks later that I realized how much I had left out on the race course, how scared I still was of hunting for the very particular brand of suffering that comes along with an ironman.  
I ran the Philadelphia Half Marathon with some of my closest friends and again was reminded that sometimes being joyful is more important than what a race clock says at the finish line.

Deep into training for IM Cozumel, I scraped out a 5K PR while on a quick visit east.
And wrapped up my year with a ironman that has left me with mixed feelings.  Not about the race, I am satisfied with the choices I made in the moment, but in the feeling that I have yet to really race, not just complete, ironman.
But someone smart reminded me recently that I had to stand on the line of 70.3 at least five or six times before I started to get close to executing the way I would like to on race day.  So while the perfect ironman remains elusive to me; now, ending 2013, I do not feel defeated by racing this year.  I had far more good races than bad, I knocked down demons (only to have new ones grow up in their place), I got stronger, raced faster, and finished happier than I have in any year I can remember.  And I close out the year with the same quiet feeling of peace that I've experienced throughout this year, both in racing and in life.  I'm still growing, I will always be learning, but joy?  This year?  It has found its way back.    

Monday, December 30, 2013

a year in photos

I've done this post every year, and I'm sure that I enjoy putting it together more than anyone enjoys reading it.  

January
We start our lives in Colorado.

February
The long stream of visitors happily begins.

March
Yasi comes to visit and we spend all weekend on the trainer thanks to a huge dump of snow.

April
I fall back in love with skiing after being away from it for a decade.

May
I spend an amazing weekend in California with Anabel, riding my ass off and eating everything I can.

June
More wonderful visitors.

July
We move into our new house.

August
Ironman recovery with a visit and a lot of beer.

September
Gait analysis and back to training.

October
We visit Chicago so the poet can run a marathon.

November
I get to run with my girls.

December
We travel to Mexico and I kick off my off-season with a bang (or a crunch).

Putting this together is always so much fun because of the reflection that goes on.  Any year has ups and downs, but looking back on this one all I see is love, friendship, happiness, joy, and growth.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ironman Cozumel Run: race report

Never give up, for that is just the place and time the tide will turn. - Harriet Stowe

I read this quote on another blog a few days before the race.  It's a favorite of mine right now, for obvious reasons.  When I got hit, on the bike, all my initial thoughts were negative.  You're such an idiot, who gets in a crash when you aren't even riding, you hate drama and now there's going to be drama.  Maybe I just won't even tell anyone that I crashed, maybe I'll just call it an off day and never talk about what happened, maybe I can get through the run without anyone knowing or noticing.  That's how I felt, what was going on mentally, for the rest of the bike.  I felt like an idiot.  I wanted a calm, no-drama day, and now no matter what happened, there was no chance of that race coming true.
I started to run.  The up-and-down motion of running was jarring my upper arm flab, and that was pretty darn painful.  Every step felt like my arm was being slammed downwards.  I made it through the first mile, then the second, and somewhere after the second mile marker, a medic stepped out and grabbed me with a slightly alarmed look on his face.  Running had caused all the carnage to start bleeding again, and I had bled through the tiny bandage and blood was dripping down my arm.  I tried not to say anything while he rewrapped my elbow and lower arm and sent me on my way.

It was hot out, I remember that only vaguely, boiling hot, and I had filled up my belt bottles at the first aid station and was working through my fluids, but I felt detached from the race.  Like it just didn't matter.  I had made it almost to the turnaround when I finally gave up and walked over to a medical tent.  I explained what had happened and that my arm was really painful, and was there anything they could do that would allow me to finish.  They immobilized my arm to my body but wanted me to drop out.  And I almost did.  Sitting there, thinking about running ("running") 22 more miles, it was enough.  Almost.

They let me go with the promise that I would only walk because the bleeding hadn't really stopped yet.  So I walked.  Up to the turn-around, over the mat, and back down the other side.  I finally ran into the poet and Allison who were walking back from town to find me, and as we talked, I looked at my watch. It was 3:54pm, I remember that so clearly, and I said to them I have eight hours to run 21 miles.  I can walk 21 miles in eight hours.  The poet was upset that I wouldn't drop out, he left the decision up to me but I could tell that he also thought I was being an idiot.  And as we stood there, it started to rain, and I couldn't decide what to do, so I said, Give me your phone, let me call Sonja.

And that led to more feeling like an idiot thoughts, because who calls their coach in the middle of a race from another country?  But the poet turned on his phone and I made the probably-$390-phone call to Sonja.  I told her what was going on, and that I felt like I wanted to finish but everyone I talked to was making me feel like I was being a bit stupid to finish, and that maybe I had a broken arm, or maybe I didn't, I wasn't really sure because my ability to translate Spanish medical jargon is nonexistent, but I wasn't in good shape.  And I stood there in the rain, talking to her on the phone, covered in bandages while kick-ass ironman athletes jogged by me in a flood.  That was rock bottom.  

But we talked, and I don't even remember exactly what was said, but I figured out after the race that what I desperately needed was someone to make it okay for me to make the choice to continue.  And Sonja did that, she said, Well then maybe today you are an ironman with a broken arm.  And just like that, my tides, they turned.
The last thing I said to Sonja before I hung up was please don't tell anyone, please don't say anything, but I found out after the race that had gotten lost in the wires somehow.  I didn't want anyone to worry, but I also didn't was to create a firestorm of drama while I was out walking my 21 miles.  So I hung up the phone and the poet headed towards our hotel to drop off all of our electronics and I asked Allison if she would walk with me.  And she did, I don't know what kind of friends you have but I have the kind that will walk with you in Mexico in the pouring rain when you are covered in bandages and dirt and blood.  I had just signed her up for about eight more hours of standing around soaking wet while I walked a marathon and she said okay, well, let's go.

Miles 1-7: 10:04, 10:23, 14:43 (medic one), 13:30, 17:30 (medic two), 17:49, 20:21

We walked about a mile, at least, and then I wanted to try jogging.  We were coming back into town, so we jogged a few steps, and it hurt, so then I started walking again.  And then, I'm not exactly sure why, but I told Allison that I wanted to try and run without her.  She left to go find Thom and I started to run.  Don't think about it, just move.  That was the only thought really in my head.

So I jogged.  Through the flooded streets of Cozumel, down towards the turnaround.  And I had some bad moments, when I went through the end of the first lap and heard you are an ironman! coming from the finish line, and thought to myself you probably have seven more hours before you hear that, those thoughts almost defeated me, I deflated.  But as I jogged, people were talking to me, cheering for me.  More than once I jogged past someone walking, and when they saw me jog by, said oh hell no, if you can run I'm coming too and started running again.  There was a group of spectators under Punta Langosta that went absolutely wild when I went past the first time, and I felt sheepish, but after seeing them the second time, I let them lift me up, I smiled and waved with my other arm and floated on their good cheer as long as I could.  And by the time I had jogged back out of town, soaked head to foot in all kinds of ironman reside, I was back on top of my day.  I felt a tiny bit like the badass that people were yelling to me from all over the place.  
I finally bumped into the poet again coming up to special needs, and I told him hey, look at me, I'm doing okay, take my picture now!  My arm felt a billion times better being strapped to my body.  By that point, my socks and shoes were soaked through so I grabbed my dry socks and all my other special needs crap and sat down on the curb to change socks.  This turned out to be an incredibly bad decision because my wet socks had body glide in them and my dry socks didn't, and my wet shoes soaked my dry socks in about ten steps and then I spent the second half marathon jogging lightly on a million forming blisters that felt like shards of glass, but I didn't know that then.  I chatted with the poet for a bit while I changed the socks and then headed out towards the turnaround.  And when I crossed the mat, I thought that's it, that's halfway, you're going to be an ironman again today.  

Miles 8-14: 12:08, 12:02, 12:36, 11:44, 10:09, 12:33, 17:32 (sock change) 

It was dark, heading back into town, and the course was starting to quiet down as runners slowed and retreated into their own battles.  I made a few friends as I moved forward, I had company here and there, but for the most part, those miles were blank and empty.  I realized somewhere that I hadn't been doing a good job of nutrition, so I started working through my chews and grabbing water and gatorade at aid stations.  But mostly I just listened to the sound of my feet on the wet streets of Cozumel and let my brain be quiet, I let it rest.  I dug the advil out of my bag of special crap and took some, and that helped the pain in my arm retreat a bit.  I was doing a bit of walking, mostly through aid stations once I started working my nutrition again, but mostly it was just a steady light jog, like the millions of "easy jogs" that are on my schedule all year.  I crossed the timing mat in town and headed back out for my final lap.  18 miles into the marathon, the only thing to do is to start counting down towards the finish, so that's what I was doing.  10 miles to go, 9 miles to go, 8 miles to go.  
I saw the poet and Allison again somewhere in here, they had gotten separated but finally linked up again.  I told them to go change into dry clothes and not worry about me, I was fine, I was going to make it, and I would see them at the finish line.  I saw them around mile 19 or 20, I guess, I stopped to chat for a moment, and the poet said to me, we've been doing some calculations and you have about two hours and twenty minutes to beat your Coeur d'Alene time.  Any thoughts about the clock went out the window hours before, but I turned that thought over and over in my head as I jogged away.  I did some math, I knew what my mile splits had been, and 12 minute/miles would do it, that was my thought, I need 12s.

Miles 15-21: 12:30, 13:23, 11:02, 12:17, 11:01, 12:49, 10:58

Coming up to the turnaround, I made another friend, he asked what happened and we started chatting.  He was a big tall guy, he was really nice, and I asked him why he was walking, what was going on.  And he said to me, I'm just so exhausted.  That made me laugh, in a kind way, I have been there, if you had asked me at Coeur d'Alene what was wrong with me, why I was walking, I would have said the same.  But I'm different now, I'm not that athlete anymore.  As we walked, together, over the mat at the turnaround, I said that to myself.  I'm different now.  I don't have to walk.  And as I crossed the mat, for the last time, I started to run.  

It was the same as the end of the marathon at Lake Placid, it's probably the same as any marathon at the end of ironman, if you are running 11 minute pace, 12 hours into the day, you will be passing people.  I stopped thinking about beating my CdA time, I stopped worrying about how long it had taken me to run the marathon - yet again - I stopped whipping myself for not chasing the only thing I wanted out of the day, for letting my run goals slip through my fingers.  
Instead I ran, I ran towards the lights of town and my family that was waiting for me and the loud and quite drunk spectators that I couldn't wait to see for the last time at the shopping mall.  At some point my IT band on the left side started hurting - turns out running a marathon with one arm strapped down fucks with your motility, who knew - and I bent over and yelled at it like a crazy person, NO YOU WILL NOT and it went away.  
Just like the end of the bike, quite suddenly, the finish line was there, I was turning left into the chute and the lights were blinding and my friends were yelling and when I got to the finish line, I had no idea if anyone was watching, my mom or Sonja or anyone, but I leapt into the air (and they missed it and got this dork instead).
Miles 22-finish: 14:57 (tired friend), 11:37, 11:33, 10:52, 10:55, garmin gibberish 2:44 for final run time of 5:39:36

Ironman Cozumel: 13:12:11 (how'd I do that?)

I got my medal picture taken and then was hustled directly into medical.  A very kind nurse unwrapped me and cleaned out all my road rash and gross blood, and an actual MD came over and, quite painfully, examined my arm.  He told me that he was confident that it was not a complete fracture, it was either a partial fracture or a very bad bone bruise.  I had another pretty serious bone bruise on my elbow underneath all of the carnage.  He wrapped me back up, offered me pain pills (I declined, obviously wasn't thinking clearly), and told me with an upper arm bruise or break, there is no treatment except rest and maybe a few days of immobilization, but I could wait until I was back in the US to see how I was feeling and get treated.  And obviously, if I was in great pain, to scoot off to the Cozumel ER.  
I was bonking pretty good by the time I got out of medical, so a really nice volunteer helped me find a chair in the recovery area and scarf down some pizza.  I eventually found Allison and the poet and we schlepped all my crap back to the hotel and finally sat down for some dinner.  
We had a wonderful few days visiting in Mexico after the race, it was sunny and warm and perfect.  However when I got back to the US and reentered reality, I was struggling with this race.  Struggling with how I felt, I still am a bit.  Yes, my day did not go as planned; yes, I almost quit but managed to make my way to the finish line.  Those are the things that happen in ironman, those are guaranteed moments you will have on the day.  But it still feels like a missed opportunity, like I failed a test.  My arm was banged up, sure, but not my legs, so why couldn't I run?  I was in pain during the marathon; has anyone ever run the ironman marathon that wasn't in pain of some sort?  I thought of a coach I know that says, it's supposed to be hard, it's an ironman.  Looking at the second half of the run - hell, looking at everything that happened after mile seven tells me that I had it in me.  That everything that happened over the first six miles was me choosing to let the pedal up on the run.  Again.  Making that choice.  I know that I can run a 5:30+ marathon off the bike, I've done it three times now.  So I feel like I didn't do anything special or magical or out of the ordinary that day.  I did something that I've done before, and the challenges of the day were different but I still didn't manage to overcome.  But the flip side of disappointment is every race is an opportunity.  To get the chance in life to see what kind of person you are, when you are in pain and struggling and a lot of voices, both internal and external, are allowing, even encouraging, the easy choice.  I lost to those voices at Cozumel, for almost two hours I lost, and then somehow I found my way again, but I've done that before too.  
Three times now I've stood on the line, filled with courage and hope and dreams for the day.  And three times now, I've made it to the finish line, each time a little bit faster than the last, each time with some questions answered and many more left hanging in the air, until next time.  There will be a next time, of that I am sure (actually at least two more next times based on saved emails that start out with Congratulations!), because I'm not done with ironman.  I've competed three, true, but I have yet to race.  To break through the barrier that is up inside my head, to really chase myself down on the run.  But is this race a complete loss, am I disappointed to the point where I can find no value, no positive moments from the day?  Honestly?  No.  Because this is my journey, it's mine, and no one else can travel it for me.  And while I'd like to hope that I can someday accomplish the goal off the bike that I've missed out on so far, that doesn't mean my journey will be done.  Accomplishing a goal doesn't mean it's time to retire, it means it's time to chase new goals.  Right now, I haven't yet unlocked the day of ironman.  But I'm okay with that, because that is why we race, why we are simply addicted to the start line, why we as athletes keep putting ourselves through months and months of training to spend an entire day hurting only for the sweet peace of the finish, and then when we arrive home, often dissatisfied, we sign up to do it all over again.  All of these reasons are why we race, why I race, why I can't walk away from this distance that keeps chewing me up in its big grinding gears.
To find out.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Ironman Cozumel Bike: race report

I rode out of transition and realized that my Garmin was off.  When it loaded up, I caught a glimpse of the time of day and it was 7:54.  That made me laugh, I figured my swim time had been somewhere around 50 minutes, what a great way to start the day.
Because of the fast swim, athletes were far less spread out getting onto the bike than they usually are, and getting out onto the course wasn't even a "draft fest" as much as there was nowhere to go, no matter how slowly you rode or sat back.  I made sure not to get swept up onto any wheels blatantly, but the first two miles were very crowded.  A large pack swallowed me up at one point, and I immediately sat up to make sure I wasn't on a wheel.  An official was nearby, and as soon as I sat up, he pointed at me and said something long in Spanish that I didn't understand.  I said what? and he pulled out his iPhone, took a picture of my helmet and told me YOU STOP and then rode away.  He didn't show me a red or yellow card so I wasn't sure what happened, but I figured I had gotten nailed for drafting.  I spent about two minutes being pretty pissed off, and then told myself out loud, it happened, you can't do anything about it, just let it go.  I stopped at the next penalty tent and explained what happened, and the official there didn't speak much English but after writing down my number he told me to go, so I went.  A few days after the race, I was reading through all the penalties and rules and realized that he had snapped me for not wearing my race number on a race belt.  Someone had said to me before the race that we didn't need race belts on the bike, and I hadn't double-checked that fact with the race guide.  So, my fault, I should have checked, but better that then a bogus drafting call!  (Get used to this face, I'm chewing in most of my bike photos)
I had some situations going on this fall which meant I didn't feel as prepared for the bike leg as I have felt going into past races.  Maybe a lot of that was in my head, maybe a little bit in my legs, but the great thing about the bike is that I knew that all I had to do was stay within "my numbers" that my tiny Garmin was showing me.  If I did that, I wasn't going to blow up and I would eventually roll into T2 just fine.  So I had no time or pace or any kind of ideas about the day.  I focused on keeping all those numbers in the right place, laid down in aero and rode.  The first 15ish miles we had a gentle tailwind going on, which meant my heart rate was running a bit low, but I knew that the winds would yank it up on the back side of the island.  I went through 20 miles at one hour on the nail (not chewing but apparently I got chain grease on my leg in T1 and rode around with it all day, sigh).  
Soon after that we swung around the bottom of the island, where there was no bushy protection from the water and the winds were fierce.  Everything went up except for speed, which dropped like a rock.  I stayed in aero, drank when I could, and tried not to think about pushing through this section twice more.  It was a relief to ride over the split mat and make the left turn back towards town (more chewing).
Other athletes with experience doing the race had predicted a strong tailwind coming across the island, but the winds were coming from the north so I didn't feel like we lucked into it there on race day.  It was lovely to be out of the headwind.  Pockets of spectators started popping up, and I was surprised to make the left-right-left set of turns that brought me back into town.  I knew that how good I was feeling wasn't going to last forever, but it was nice to finish the first loop and still feel fantastic.  My legs felt snappy, my nutrition was going down just fine, my brain was happy, and I got to see the poet and Allison and give them shakas and thumbs-up before heading out for loop two (yup, eating some more).
We caught a little bit more tailwind heading south and out of town.  I kept my eye on my numbers and my bottles and tried to draw in the energy from the spectators and store it up for the windy section on the back side.  I wasn't watching overall time too closely, but I did flip over at 56 miles to stamp in my brain the time, 2:57 (huh).  There was an aide station right before the turn, and I slowed to grab a bottle of cold water to dump all over me, got some nutrition down, and then settled into the wind.
It wasn't bad crazy gusty wind, it was steady, loud and slow.  A few times I got passed by long pacelines of riders literally wheel-to-wheel, and thought to myself where are the officials now, but mostly through this section I just put my head down and rode.  I kept an eye on the time when we started the wind, and noted that it took about 50 minutes to fight through before the turn back towards town.  It was a relief to stop at special needs and swap out my bottles, eat a bar, and collect myself for a second before pedaling away.
I got some energy back once we headed back towards town.  It was quiet, we were coming up on four hours of riding and I was happy that I wasn't hurting yet, but everyone was retreating into their own races.  I split 70 miles before we went by T2 and realized that if I rode the third loop hard, steady but hard, I might be able to sneak off the bike under six hours.  That was the thought I needed to keep me motivated heading back out for the third time, so I waved at the poet and Allison happily and then tucked back down into the work.  
I had just beeped through 80 miles when I head a ffft ffft ffft ffft sound coming from my bike somewhere.  I was coming up near the end of the "gentle tailwind with all the bushes" section of the loop, so I sat up and slowed and tried to look my bike over without getting off.  I couldn't see anything, so I got back in aero and thought for a few minutes.  If it was something caught in a spoke, it wouldn't hurt me to keep riding, but if my brake was rubbing (I could hear it coming from my rear wheel, this is the brake that likes to rub for no reason every so often), I was going to have a tough time in the wind.  I finally decided to pull over and check it out.  I threw my hand up so riders behind me would see that I was slowing, pulled over well to the right of the dotted white line, and dismounted.  I leaned over my rear wheel and then I was flying through the air.

It was loud.  That's the thing I keep remembering, the sound of someone hitting my body dead-on with their bicycle at probably 25+mph, it's loud.  It was the loudest WHAM I have ever heard.  And then I was sitting up, my bike was four feet away, and I was looking at a pool of blood on the ground.

The guy who hit me was kind.  He immediately apologized and blamed himself (yes) because he had been refilling a bottle and not paying attention and swerved off the road into me.  Most of the blood was coming from my right arm, which had been hit and then dragged across the pavement, along with my right shoulder and my ass.  Someone else stopped right away and gave me a bottle of water, and I used it to clean myself off a bit.  I didn't realize at the time that I had wiped both my face and my leg with a bloody hand, but it explained the panicked looks of the medics I saw a few minutes later AND the big handprint on my shorts for the rest of the day.  The other riders rode off, and I asked them to send a medic back to check on me if they saw one.  After they rode off, I pulled myself together, looked over my bike, and then remembered that there was an aide station just a few miles up.  I decided to ride there instead of waiting on the side of the road.

I had only ridden a few minutes when I saw a medic ambulance coming towards me.  They looked startled to see me (bloody face), but helped me get cleaned up.  The big concern that they had was my upper arm.  It looked pretty mangled and neither of the medics spoke English unfortunately (this is the last time I go to a foreign country to race without learning more of the native language, totally my bad here), but one of them said very clearly to me, broken.

We gestured and talked for a minute.  They wanted me to pull the plug, to get in the wagon and call it a day.  I wanted to keep riding, and after a few minutes, they let me go.  I know that in the rules, they can override your decision and pull you if it's unsafe to continue, and while they were reluctant to let me keep riding, they did let me go, complete with instructions to check in at medical throughout the rest of the day.  

I got back on the bike.
(Picture from earlier in the day, obviously) The bottom of my elbow/top of my forearm was pretty destroyed, so I couldn't get back into aero.  I tried to get down a lot of nutrition to help my body deal with everything, which was the only thing that I could think of doing before heading back into the wind.  And it was cruel.  I hunkered down the best I could under the wind and and tried to keep my head from giving in.  When I was standing on the side of the road, letting the medics clean me out with all their bottles of stinging stuff, I looked back at all the cyclists riding up to and past me while I stood there, and I had a moment, just a moment, where my eyes tried to well up, where my stomach sank at what had happened to my day.  And then I decided, no.  I said, out loud to myself, Yes.  That happened.  It happened and it sucks and it hurts and it's going to keep right on hurting.  But now, you are here.  What are you going to do?  And somehow, just like that, I let it all go.

I was worried that I was going to see the poet before I got back to T2 and freak him out.  I was still looking for him when suddenly I was at the line, it was too fast, I couldn't get out of my shoes and someone took my bike and then I was running into the changing tent.  A volunteer came over to help me but I said, no thank you, and went to a small corner.  I didn't want to get pulled in T2.  I wanted to start the run, at the very least.  That was all that was in my head.  I wanted to start, I wanted to see what would happen.  I didn't want my day to be over, not yet, I wasn't ready to give up, to give in.

Bike: 112 miles, 6:35:13
I got all my run stuff on, dropped off my bag, and headed out.  There was a portapotty right outside of the door, and I stopped to pee.  The poet and I had talked before the race, it seems that what always happens is that he is cheering and yelling for me while I'm trying to tell him something, so I had asked him that if he saw me, to wait and give me a chance to say something, and then he could go back to being the loudest and most enthusiastic spectator on the planet.  When I jogged out of T2, he was waiting at the fence.  I went straight to him and he knew something was wrong.  I needed to tell him, to tell someone, to release it, to get it out of me, and I said, Look.  I was involved in a bike crash.  I don't want you to tell anyone.  There is a small chance my arm is broken but otherwise I am fine.  I want to start the run.  Please don't tell anyone.  And I can still hear his voice, he said, Are you sure you want to do this?  I thought for a second, really thought about it, and then said, Yes.

T2: 4:22

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Ironman Cozumel Swim: race report

No matter how hard I try to avoid it, the last few days before a race always have some anxiety.  Stress, tears, fret, worry.  Cozumel was no different.  There was a lot to do and it was busy and disorganized and swims were getting canceled and drop-offs were changing and I tried, I really did try to be zen about everything, to just go with the flow.  But I was carrying a little lump of stress, a serious and stern little black storm cloud was following me.  When I got back to the hotel after bike drop-off Saturday afternoon, Allison had arrived.  We changed into our swim suits and tried to get into the ocean (one last attempt to swim with the jellyfishes before race morning), but we couldn't, so instead we hopped in the pool and splashed around and took goofy pictures with the underwater camera.  And when I laughed out loud, finally, honestly laughed, it felt like the first time in days.  Like my chest opened up and let lightness back inside, like all of the worried weight just wiggled up out of me and blew away.
And somehow, suddenly, my mindset about the race changed, just like that.  I'm not even sure if I can explain it but I finally realized that the hard work was over.  The hard work isn't race day - sure, race day is challenging, but the harder work, the bike rides where you want to spin home instead of launch into one more interval, the long runs when you are already exhausted, the T runs where you beg your husband to come run circles in the neighborhood with you in the dark and freezing cold - I had done it.  All of it.  All year.  It was over.  And now it was time to play.
Two of my close friends sent me cards in the days leading up to the race.  One of the cards said on the front, Everything you want is on the other side of fear and the other said This is your LIFE...Do what you love, and do it often.  Those two thoughts were somehow exactly right.  It clicked.  I was getting ready to spend a whole day doing the thing that I love the most, and I wasn't going to have another chance to do it again for a while.  I read a book recently that gave a little assignment, and it asked about some of the best race moments of your life.  For me, that was the New Orleans 70.3 I did in the spring, and I thought about Sonja's voice on the phone the day before, telling me, run at a pace that makes you happy.  So the night before the race, we ate dinner, I painted all of my nails pink and sparkly, read my cards and then drifted off to sleep, the last thoughts in my head about how joyful I could feel on race day.
I woke up before the alarm.  Race morning wasn't perfect, it never is, I realized on the shuttle that I had forgotten to put on my wedding ring and I'm not sure I've ever spent a day without it.  And after a half marathon almost two years ago, I stopped listening to music on race morning.  It was mostly about wanting to conserve energy for the race itself instead of splooging it all over the place before the day even started.  I threw that out the window for Cozumel, and it was the right thing to do.  I plugged into my iPhone on the bus and rotated through all of my favorite songs.  The song that is perfect tempo for hard intervals on the bike.  The song that I listened to on repeat for an hour when I did one of the happier runs of my life at the reservoir, the songs that have picked me up and carried me along.  And when we pulled up to Chankanaab, I was calm and smiling (and liberally coated with sunscreen and TriSlide).
I dropped everything off, hosed myself down with lube one more time, and said goodbye to the poet and Allison.  I bumped into Michelle on the way to the bus and she was the perfect person to yap with on the way into the race.  The swim had been changed late the night before due to extreme wind and currents, and for some reason, this mentally took a lot of pressure off of the swim (and by extension, the entire race).  The official word was that it had been shortened to 1.94 miles, all down current.  So we made some cracks about 140.14 stickers and swimming sub-30 and then Michelle headed down to get on the front line.  I finally spotted Mikki and Mo in the throng and I was so happy to see them in their matching red swim skins and chat a bit before the race.  The only thing I've been afraid of about the race, the biggest thing, has been the damned jellyfish.  Every time someone tells me they've done this race, it's the first question I ask.  And I know it's a dumb thing to be completely terrified of, but tell me this, are the things we are afraid of ever not dumb?  

So the pro men, then women went off and athletes started getting in the water.  I stayed back a bit, more than I normally would, still scared of the stupid jellyfish.  I finally realized I was going to have to get in at some point and splashed my way into the fray.  I swam out to where there was a large group being held back by race kayakers or SUPers - ducking underwater to search for jellies every eight seconds or so - and then hung out treading water and chatting until we heard the five minute call.  I knew that was my cue to swim up near the frontish of the pack but I heard Sonja's voice again in my head (sorry, Son, this is probably kinda creepy) saying back in April, run a pace that makes you happy.  And for some reason, swimming off the front and stress and jellyfish and fear were all tangled together in my head.  So instead, I stayed near the middle back of the pack and just waited.  When the cannon went off, boom, just like that, I put my head down and started to stroke.
I realized almost immediately that I had started way too far back (duh), but I didn't worry about it, not one time did I feel frustrated or unhappy about the swim.  And I know, someone out there is saying but it's a race! but it just didn't matter to me.  I swam easy, the easiest easy I can ever recall swimming in a race, and time didn't matter because no one really knew how long the swim was except that it was definitely not 2.4 miles and the current was gently carrying me along and I was watching the sun come up on one side and little stripy fishes underneath me and hundreds of ironman athletes on the other.  I thought about my masters coach telling me two hundred times to swim easy, easy, don't blow up your race, easy, if he could have written EASY on the inside of my goggles and then tied a parachute to my ankles I think he would have, but that's exactly what I did.  I didn't feel like my arm or back muscles were even working and all along, the current and the people and ocean, everything, just carrying me down.  When someone would come aggressively by, thrashing and kicking and punching, I would sit back and let him go.  
About halfway through the swim the current changed a bit, instead of dragging us down towards the dock, it felt like it was dragging across, and the chop picked up and I couldn't just float along anymore.  I swallowed a little bit of salt water here, nothing bad, and looked for a pack to latch onto for a ride.  But I understand now, why so many people love this swim, how could you not love it?  Warm water, cool air, neon fishies swimming away in panic at 2500 athletes stinky with sunblock invading their home, and everywhere you look, clear perfect water.  
And it was over so fast, so quick, suddenly we were making the left turn towards the swim exit and I realized with a jolt that not one single jellyfish had picked a fight with me, not even one time, not even a baby one that I could cuss at.  I hauled myself up onto the steps like a beached whale and when I climbed out and ran up the dock, my eyes picked the poet out of the crowd and I yelled to him (sorry Mom) no fucking jellyfishes!!!! and nothing makes me happier than the fact that you can see that in this picture.
Swim: 47:12 for somewhere kind of around 2 miles, 10th AG

I didn't see a clock, I never saw one all day (but there it is right behind me, huh) so I had no idea what I swam, and it didn't even occur to me to care.  The run to transition was short, volunteers were handing out water, I drank some and dumped some on my head to try and wash off some of the salt water, and then a few steps later there were quick showers to run through.
I planned to change bottoms and put on sunscreen and take my time in transition.  At Lake Placid, I suffered from a pretty bad crotchular chafing situation, mostly in part due to all the rain, and this time around I wanted to take extra steps to avoid it.  I stripped off my swim skin, changed into dry tri shorts, lathered everything I could reach with chamois cream and sunscreen, grabbed my bike shoes and headed out.  It was a long jog to my bike and when I got there, I stopped, brushed off my feet and got them in my shoes.  I joined the huge crowd of folks running with bikes towards the exit, clomp clomp clomp, a parade of damp triathletes high on happy swim endorphins.  I saw the poet one more time, yelled I love you! and headed out to ride.  I was ready, I was happy, I was on my way.

T1: 5:48