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Thursday, July 3, 2014

IM Coeur d'Alene race report-how am I gonna be an optimist about this?

Well...this won't be the easiest race report for me to write, but it also could be the most therapeutic.  I was going to actually finish that IM Texas race report first, but...putting this into words will be my way of dealing with the disappointment, finding the positives, and moving forward from here.  I came into Coeur d'Alene uncharacteristically positive.  My training between Texas had just been spot on; I was hitting my workouts across the board, feeling good, recovering well, seeing some very strong bike power numbers and run paces.  Swimming had sucked, but I also had put in some record yardage for me, and was trusting that it would pay off eventually.  For once, I had some rare confidence in myself, and was excited to race.  Of course, I felt like I was just waiting for the other shoe to fall up until race day, but it didn't.  Travel went smoothly, nothing was rushed, pancakes were eaten, bags were packed, sleep was had, everything was going well.  Dave grew up in nearby Spokane, so we were fortunate enough to be able to spend some time getting some R&R with his family, as well, which was awesome for all of us.  We previewed some of the bike course; I was pleasantly surprised with my speed on one of the toughest portions, and I was looking forward to getting out there on Sunday.  All seemed well. 

Two weeks prior to the race, my garmin did this.  I got all superstitious and nervous about the loss of my trust companion.  Turns out, I was justified in my irrational fear that this somehow meant something more sinister.

You know what makes the plane come faster?  If the A boarding group lines up before the plane is even at the gate.  I will never understand this.

Smile and pretend like you like each other!!
  For this race, I was also excited about some brand spanking new, shiny, fast Reynolds wheels.  They greeted us at our hotel on Friday; I put the front one on that night, and was all proud of myself for even swapping out the brake pads, like a big girl.  Only problem was that the wider wheels plus the thicker, new pads were rubbing.  No big deal, though.  Dave fixed the back one, but couldn't quite get the front.  Again, no big deal.  We brought it to the expo on Saturday (while I joked about how the rub was making the bike hard to push there-HA.  Yeah, if you thought that was hard, Jennie...).  I got it fixed, and all seemed in order again.  I forgot about it, for the time being.  Later that day, I had expressed concern about flatting to Dave.  I've never had a mechanical in a race.  I feel like I'm due.  I flatted in our training ride the other day.  In retrospect, flatting would have seemed like a freaking picnic.  Next time...I'll keep my mouth shut.  Anyways, I slept well the night before the race, morning prep was fine and not rushed, all seemed ok in that regard.
Obligatory picture of my bike looking pretty with new wheels on the rack-next to its equally pretty bike/wheel twin.  I can almost see my brake plotting against me here, though.

Nice view for the gear bags.

Some scenery from race eve
  When we got to the park Sunday morning, we were greeted by gusty breezes and an angry-looking, choppy lake.  My practice swims had been tough with the chop the previous few days, and I wasn't looking forward to fighting it for 2.4 miles, as I'd actually even doubted that I was moving at a few points during those swims.  It's not like there were 4 foot waves out there, just more of an unsettled, washing-machine type look to things.  I had swam in those type of conditions before (and hated it, but it takes a lot for me to even sort of like swimming), but I'd never raced in it.  Swells-yes, that I knew how to handle.  But, same for everyone, I told myself.  I got into the water for a warm up, and did feel a little bit better about the conditions after that, as I was able to confirm that I could in fact make forward progress.  Soon enough, we were corralled onto the beach.  The pro men started five minutes ahead of us, and I found watching them sort of relaxing (plus, it's just sort of fun-and awesome-to watch Potts in the water).  The longest five minutes of my life then passed, as we stood with our toes in the edge of the water, waiting to go.  Our cannon finally sounded, and we ran and dove through the water.  The first few hundred yards were a little rough for me, as I found myself unexpectedly panicking a bit through the chop as I tried to get into a group; I knew that I had no room for error if I wanted to swim with others in the small women's pro field.  Finally, I settled, we settled, and I found myself exactly where I wanted to be in order to make the yardage I'd been putting in in the water worth it.  I concentrated more on staying on feet than on the chop, and the first lap passed uneventfully.  A little rest had brought my arms back around, and, uncharacteristically, I almost was comfortable in the water, especially when we turned back towards shore and started coming back in with the current.

The lake on race morning.  I was unsure of what the "crappy chop swim" protocol was.

Looking enthralled about getting in the water.  I still do get excited about that wetsuit, though.
Hey, it's a 9-10 hour long race!  SPRINT INTO THE WATER!!!
  I spent my brief time exiting the water and running back in pulling down my cap instead of checking time, which was good, because conditions were a bit slower, and I probably would have become unnecessarily discouraged.  With the age groupers starting 35min after us, I knew that we had a brief window of time on the second lap before the passing started, and I had been hoping that at least some stringing out would have happened by the time we were caught.  Still, as one of the weaker pro women swimmers out there, I have to say that I love the swim start changes.  Getting passed by a stream of swimmers is so much more pleasant than a giant clump, and I remembered how beneficial the draft effect was in Placid last year, especially once the super swimmers were past.  Soon enough, we were getting passed.  I braced myself for what I thought would be some inevitable dunking, getting swam over, etc-but then it never happened.  Huge kudos to the age group athletes in this race, as really, they all passed just about as courteously as you can in an IM.  I lost the feet that I'd been swimming on, but instead spent the rest of the loop challenging myself to latch onto passing feet for as long as I could until they disappeared.  The strategy worked out fairly well, as I ended up with a slightly negatively splitted swim even.  When I finally exited the water and saw 1:05 on the clock, I can't say that I was thrilled with the time, but I figured that the conditions had played a role, and moved on.  Only after the race, when I saw that I'd gotten out of the water within seven minutes of the leaders (who are legitimate swimmers, no doubt), was I actually pretty happy with the effort.  It's the least amount of time that I've ever given up in the water, and although it basically ended up going to waste, at least I came out with some encouragement in that regard.
I'm the uncoordinated splashing one!

Evidence I was pulling down my cap between laps-a slipping cap is one of those things I get OCD anxieties over whenever I swim.  
  I zipped through transition in a reasonable amount of time for me, and then I was off onto the bike, ready to test out my legs and my record weeks of bike volume.  My power target was aggressive, but I was game, and I was ready to see what I could do on the course.  Coeur d'Alene is a hilly course, no doubt, but the smooth nature of the hills and the fact that they weren't too technical boded well for me.  Or so I thought.

Something's got to go wrong, cause I'm feeling way too damn good.
(I actually hate Nickelback with a passion, so it figured that this one stupid line from one of their stupid songs ended up playing in my head for the entire freaking ride.  Just added to everything).

   Right off the bat, I noticed that I wasn't really going very fast.  17-18mph on 215W?  That seemed a little off.  But, maybe I was riding on a false flat; maybe a headwind was blowing against me.  Then I got passed, three times, in rapid succession, like I was standing still.  Push as I might, I just could not get any speed going.  Do I have a flat?  Did I get a flat in transition or something?  Was that tube Dave gave me no good?  I must have a flat.  But my wheels don't look flat.  I shouldn't stop.  They'll come back to you.  Get moving.  Maybe I should just stop, real quick, and check, just to ease my mind, and then suck it up and continue on.  I stopped and checked my tires.  Hard as rocks.  Ok then.  On I 17mph.  What.  The.  Heck.  Then it dawned on me-the brakes.  The brakes!!  All of 14 minutes and maybe 3-4 miles in, I stopped, pulled over, picked up the front end of my bike, tried to spin the wheel, and...nothing.  Barely moved.  I opened the quick release.  Still rubbing.  I unscrewed the wheel, tried to recenter it.  Didn't work.  I tried to move the brake.  Also didn't work.  A woman (who was awesome) witnessing my plight calmed me down, tried to talk me through some more troubleshooting methods, but nothing worked, the brake was still slightly rubbing.  Finally, because I was still on the initial out and back portion of the course, the tech support van with the leaders came back the other day, and I was able to flag him down.  Thankfully, he saw me, pulled over and came over to see if I needed help.  For what seemed like an eternity (but in reality was probably about ten minutes; the total stoppage time according to my garmin was 15min, and that wasn't the only time I stopped), we finagled my brake, as he tried everything within his power to get it to work.  Something about springs and corrosion and who knows what else.  The top 3 women came back the other way; I did my best to stay optimistic, cheering and taking the opportunity to eat half a bar without choking while riding as I watched the race begin to slip away from me.  The mechanic, for some reason, wanted me to have my front brakes functional despite my urging to take the pad out (shocking, that they wouldn't let athletes do idiotic things to their bikes in order to continue), and eventually he had it-or so we thought.  It was spongy as all get out, and I told myself to try not to use it the rest of the ride.  I got back into the saddle and continued on, somewhat upset but still trying to utilize all my resources in order to stay positive.  It seemed like an eternity, but it was probably only like, ten minutes.  You weren't going to win anyways.  You can get back up there.

  Nothing to do at that point but keep pedaling.  Some of the wind had been taken out of my sails, but I wasn't sunk yet.  I tried my best to keep the power numbers up, although my legs were complaining, and it didn't really seem like the numbers were responding quite like they should based on the heart rates.  I resisted the urge to hammer and burn a whole bunch of matches after stopping; I allowed myself to get back into the ride.  Not long afterwards, though, things still weren't seeming right.  I brushed it all off, again telling myself that it was the hills, it was the wind, you just need to push harder.  I tried to look down at the brake, but the offending part was hidden.  I wasn't about to risk reaching down to feel, either.  I didn't want to stop again.  So I just kept going.  When I had set my garmin fields the day prior, I had somehow neglected to put distance on there, so I really had no idea how slow my average speed actually even was at the time, too.  At one point, while pedaling down one of the steepest descents on the course at 25mph in the middle of my cassette at a high power, I really, really began to suspect that things weren't right again.  But there was a headwind!!  And the climbs!!  Suck it up and keep going, Jennie, you've stopped enough and you're just being paranoid and imagining things.  I thought I was hearing something coming from the front wheel while climbing, but then I would convince myself that I didn't.  I watched the time continue to tick on, and my garmin had yet to lap for 28 miles.  Having ridden that same stretch with Dave three days before at a lower power, I really began to get suspicious as time went on.  There's no way.  No way.  This should NOT be taking me over 90min to ride 28 miles.  Finally, I gave in and stopped again.  Same routine-pick up the front end of the bike, try to spin the wheel, and...barely even moved.

  At that point, I didn't know what to do to troubleshoot.  I was so, so far back that who knew when tech support would be around again?  My only saving grace was that I knew an aide station had to be nearby, it just had been a while since the last one.  I got back on, and within a minute or so the aide station appeared.  I pulled off to the side, asking volunteers, begging if anyone had an allen wrench.  All I could think of to do at that point was take the right front brake off, for better or worse.  The volunteers directed me to the truck at the end of the aide station, and finally someone (I think maybe even a race official) showed up with a key ring of allen wrenches.  Off came the brake.  I shoved it in my back pocket as a volunteer fetched me another bottle.  Dave passed me at that point, although he didn't see me.  I yelled "front brake!!!" after him, got back on my bike, and started crying a little. what?  I was probably a good 25-30min off the back of the entire field by that point.  Was there still a point?  I'd come into that race hoping to contend for a top-3 spot, and that was all shot to shit by then.  The 15min of stoppage time was bad enough, but who even freaking KNEW how much speed I'd lost to the rubbing brake?  I almost just turned around then and there, before the far turnaround, and soft pedaled back to town, but then decided that I should at least finish the lap.

   And the rest of that lap was, as could probably be expected, just sort of a disaster.  My power numbers tanked, and I didn't care (although, my calibration value had been off that morning, and Jesse agreed afterwards that once the brake issue was taken care of, they didn't really line up well with the splits).  This wouldn't even be a good training ride anymore.  I sat up when I wanted to; I coasted when I wanted to; I stopped eating and drinking because I didn't want gels or perform anyways, and what was the point, because there was no point to finishing anyways, I thought at the time.  Plus, I had to pee, and I felt really gross peeing the bike a whole ton on what was probably going to end up being a training ride.  Everyone else was SO far ahead of me.  My thoughts were just all over the place.  I'll finish the lap, find Courtney Wheeler in the crowd, and have her call Jesse to figure out what to do.  He'll probably tell me to at least finish the long ride.  Well, I don't want to finish the stupid ride. I felt awful and my numbers sucked.  I just want to run.  I'll finish this lap, and do a 2 hour run, my favorite.  Jesse would probably let me do whatever the f I wanted to at this stupid point, and I don't care anyways.  I don't have anything to carry stuff on a run that long, though.  And I only brought my racing flats, like a jerk.  I probably would have to bike tomorrow when I don't finish.  I don't want to, though.  I hate this stupid road, there are big freaking trucks everywhere and I don't want to ride on that alone.  There's that Centennial trail, at least.  I could ride on that.  That would still suck though.  Dammit, I really wanted to cross that line.  Guess I'll email Heather Fuhr as soon as I get off this bike and tell her that I actually AM going to do Placid.  I think the universe just wants me to do Placid again.  My parents might be happy about that.  I'll tell them to book a room.  Mother f-er, I really wanted some junk food.  If I'm going to race again in a month, I can't get it after this.  Would a 2 hour run still justify ice cream?  Probably not, given how carb loaded I was heading in, darn it.  I'll feel really bad if Jen and Nate come to watch, and I'm not out there anymore.  At least I can cheer for Dave, right?  If I was an age grouper, I'd continue.  At least I can just jump in Ironmans.  What have I done wrong lately?  Karma's bitching me out here.  I must have been some sort of asshole in the recent past.  You're an asshole, Jennie.  Omg, I still have SO freaking long to go to get through this lap.  Mile 40??  This is absolutely ridiculous.  This is taking FOREVER.  DNF.  That sucks.  I wanted to experience that delicious soreness that comes with an IM finish.  I hope I can find someone to post on social media what happened-I don't want my friends and family to worry.  I mean, I'm really ok, all things considered.  But I wish people would stop cheering for me.  This is embarrassing.  I wonder if anyone thinks that I just was this far behind after the swim, though-ha.  That's also plausible.

  After all the negativity and a whole bunch of descending with a tailwind, I ended up finding myself back into town more quickly than I thought.  The crowds were thick, though, and I realized that I probably wouldn't be able to find Courtney anyways.  Then, a few things happened-my second 28 mile split popped up, and it was actually fairly decent.  Huh, well, I mean I guess I was making up some time.  Looking for Courtney made me think of Pat, who had yelled for on his way back out just a short time ago, and I remembered him finishing up at IM Texas last year on a miserable day.  You don't quit just because it's not going your way.  I also thought of Dave-he was out there, having a great day, racing away the demons of his childhood, racing in honor of his mother, the mother-in-law that I will never know, in front of his family.  I wanted him to have a good day, I know he likes it when I'm out there too, and I didn't want my circumstances to somehow make me less happy about his.  And I thought about respect-for myself, for the sport, for everyone else out there competing.  My leg wasn't falling off; nothing was seriously wrong with me.  My bike had a problem.  It happens.  It was no one's fault; everyone involved did everything in their knowledge and power to get it to work, but something was just off with that brake.  Out of the 2000+ people out there, I'm sure that plenty more were having far worse days than I was, after all, and they were going to keep going long after their goals had slipped away.  I knew that I'd just entirely lose respect for myself if I quit just because I wasn't going to place as well as I'd been hoping to when the cannon went off.  I know that I always have a ton of respect for the pros that aren't afraid to stick it out and have a less than stellar result listed next to their name, and that's what I wanted to be.  If I could maybe just encourage one person out there to continue on despite circumstances, then the day wouldn't be lost.  Plus...I'm just not a quitter.  Nothing was physically wrong with me.  It was then that I realized that I just knew that I was going to keep on going.  I'd come to Coeur d'Alene to finish an Ironman, and that was what I was going to do.  Even if Jesse somehow relayed something to Courtney to tell me to stop, I wasn't going to.  Kona was a long shot this season anyways, given how things have gone up to this point, and so really, what did I have to lose?  And heck...I thought the run course looked nice.  I'd been running well heading into the race, and I wanted to freaking run it.  So screw it.

Scanning the crowds, looking for someone to explain things to
Good thing Dave paid extra to have those new tires shipped to the know, to minimize rolling resistance.  

Apparently, this was the "thought spot".  Don't worry IM, I had PLENTY of time to think on the bike.

Welp-that was a fun trip through town.  Looks like I'm going on.
   So I kept going.  My power numbers rebounded a bit, but I tried not to focus too much on them, as they still seemed off.  I resumed eating and drinking after an hour plus hiatus or so.  At the next out and back, I was able to calculate that I was probably ~25-30min back of second place.  Eh, maybe it wasn't entirely unrealistic to think that if I could pull it together for a 3:0xish run, I could maybe move up a bit.  The next trip out to the far turnaround featured an ever increasing headwind (and a dropped chain, although I couldn't help but laugh as I got off my bike yet AGAIN to dislodge it)-but at least I wasn't braking the entire time.  With a lower power and more wind, I still was ~9min faster on that trip out.  Fantastic.  But hey, at least I could tell that I was putting time into the field.  I actually looked forward to the return trip, enjoying the tailwinds and descents.  On the bright side, I did hit one PR out there-40mph in aero for the first time ever.  I'd take what I could get!  The power numbers did tank some more on that return trip, and I began to feel really off, as the earlier nutritional lapse started to come back to haunt me.  A gel helped a bit, but didn't reverse things.  Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I was actually turning my bike over and making my way into T2.

  I dawdled a bit in transition, getting in some fluids after running out on the bike, and having difficulty with my race number belt.  What was the rush, anyways?  I headed out on the run feeling a little off and depleted.  I thought about dropping out again that first mile.  At least I got the long ride in-do I really want to run a freaking marathon feeling all awful?  Another gel brought me back to life, though, and within a couple of miles, I started to feel a bit better.  Apart from all of the bike issues, my legs weren't really ever there anyways.  I don't know if that was the mental manifesting itself on the physical, or just a body that wasn't going to feel great anyways.  Still, my pace was again probably a little optimistic, but my HR was pretty normal, and I knew that if I wanted to move up at all, I really, really needed to make something happen on the run.  I went back and forth with an age group male for a while, so at least that gave me some poor soul to explain my brake sob story to.  Actually, I spent a lot of that run yelling things about my brake to anyone who might care in the least, like it was going to change anything at that point-ha.  I did manage to move up a spot early on, which was at least encouraging to me mentally, even as my pace began to slow a bit.
Finally running.  Finally.  Could I outrun a 14mph average speed over the first 35 miles of the bike?
Look!  It's an action shot of me bitching about my brake!

Maybe you should STFU and run, Jennie

  More than any other IM run I've had, that one seemed the most bipolar in terms of how I felt.  I knew that I'd underfueled on the bike, which meant that I'd be playing with fire on the run.  I'd have to fuel the run pretty steadily, but my stomach was in its normal IM state, which meant that getting stuff down would be a gamble.  The boost I got from each gel was enough to motivate me to force in all four that I had brought, at least.  Probably starting around mile 8 or so, I just did the best I could to ride the highs when I had them, and weather the lows when they came around.  Coke was my bff.  My mile splits varied, but that was better than consistently tanking.  When we went through town, I was boosted by my cheering squad of Dave's family and my friends, and I'd be remiss to not give a call out to Hillary Biscay for knowing the freaking perfect things to say to me out on the path.  I eventually made my way into fifth, and it seemed pretty evident that that was there I'd end up.  I considered backing off then, but by the time that I'd made it that far, well, might as well keep trucking.  That was really the entire theme of the run-keep pushing, because anything can happen.  All you can do is keep going; don't let up.  What happened on the bike happened on the bike; there's no good reason why you can't have a good run.  It doesn't matter what your overall time is going to be; maybe you can't outrun a rubbing brake, but you can certainly try.  Just go.  Push.  Salvage.  Dig yourself out.  Stay in the now.  Focus on the now.  After making the far turn somewhere after mile 20, I really, really began to not feel well, but no one does at that point.  I shifted into damage control mode for a few miles, as I didn't want the wooziness that was starting to set in to manifest in anything else that could cost me a spot, until I was within the last couple of miles and had the confidence that I'd make it through (and until I'd gotten more coke and salt in me).  More than once, the thought of I would be done by now if... crossed my mind during the last few miles.  Oh well.

   Finally, I was making my way through the serpentine last couple of miles of the course, although it seemed to be taking FOREVER.  The mile markers on that course were all coming up slightly short of my garmin, with the garmin reading 24.6 miles when I passed the 25 mile marker.  I was pretty dang miserable by that point, so I can't say that I was upset about the possibility of a slightly short run course.  Then...NOPE.  It was all a mean tease.  I kept running...and running...and running.  I made the turn towards the finish, knowing it was at least downhill and hoping the stretch wasn't too long.  Again...NOPE.  I went through my moments of STOP TELLING ME THAT I'M ALMOST DONE while running the final seemingly unending stretch before mercifully reaching the line, just too fried both mentally and physically to offer any sort of inspirational finish.  I crossed with mixed feelings, glad to have made it and proud of myself for at least getting there, but just generally dejected at the same time.  Those that knew me out there asked me what had happened, which honestly I appreciated more than anything.  I let myself be led into medical for some blister bandaging for once, and the kindness of the volunteers and the poor wound care worker definitely cheered me up a bit.

Different race, same exact pose.  I should make a picture collage.
   Afterwards, I allowed myself a few minutes of sweaty gross crying onto Dave, but two minutes later was smiling and laughing with Jen.  Dave had put together the best IM of his career, and I was happy for that, at least, especially given this race had always been more about him than me.  I wanted my morning clothes bag, because A. I was freezing, and B. my phone was in there, which represented my way of letting everyone know that I was fine and my connection to Jesse, who would represent the voice of reason talking me off the ledge and justifying the good in there.  Although we had to go back into medical (where I've never been so happy to be tucked into blankets in my adult life) in order to get our bags within the next hour (lovely-at least Dave had a cookie to feed me), I eventually got what I wanted at that time-the positives of the day.  Less than seven minutes lost on the swim.  Fastest marathon of the day against some of the best runners in our sport.  Bike splits from miles 35 on that put me in some company I'd previously only dreamed of, even with being less than committed at times out there.  And I also got some perspective-maybe my brake hadn't worked, but Stephanie was in the hospital with a broken collarbone.  I was fortunate.  Happiness that I finished and had somehow clawed my way into fifth won out over my other emotions at that time.  And yeah, cookies, a piece of pizza, and a post-race meal of some delicious Asian fusion food also helped.

A little blurry, but the smorgasbord of lettuce wraps, sushi, and pad thai that I drowned my sorrows in. 

My poor brand new wheel!  Maybe it's just me, but it looks that outer edge got a bit more...rubbed off...than it should after one race, especially when 3/4 of the ride was done without a brake on there.

Brake jobs, J Hansen-style.  Front brakes are extraneous details anyways, right?  Only almost got ugly once (thanks, downhill no passing zones...)
   The next day, though, I was glad that I made the executive decision to keep my sunglasses on on the awards stage, as certain parts of Heather's speech set off the old emotions again.  I allowed myself a day to let myself feel upset when I wanted to, although each time I set a time limit, remembered the positives, and pulled it all back into the big picture perspective (which is more or less, "there are far, far worse problems in the world").  On a day when I never really felt all that great and went through the whole gamut of emotions, I somehow ended up realizing that, heck, maybe I really do have it in me to be competitive at this whole IM thing.  Does it suck that I didn't get to show it?  Yes, it freaking does, there's absolutely no getting around that.  But, I'm going to keep on keeping on, and try not to dwell on what kind of day it could have been for my triathlon life as a whole.  Looking back at my athletic career (and this is something that I repeatedly thought about during the race)-I can find a reason for any setback that I've had.  Sometimes it took days, weeks, months...but the reasons eventually become apparent, and I just have to keep the faith that this will prove to be the same.  And really-in the countless number of triathlons that I've done, I'd gotten off my bike all of twice before that race, once to fix my chain and once to adjust my seat height in Texas.  I was clearly overdue out there.  If it took eight IMs for me to get some kind of mulligan, then I'd say that the IM gods have been pretty darn good to me so far.  Shit happens.  Brakes aren't perfect, days aren't perfect, racing and triathlon and sport in general isn't perfect.  Never once did it occur to me to be angry, because there was nothing to be angry about (that's not to say Dave didn't swear a whole bunch, loudly, in the middle of a group of finishers when I explained after the race, but embarrassing me with his vocabulary in public is pretty much his thing regardless).  As I had mentioned before, everyone did everything they could have done; something weird went wrong with the brake, and no one really knows why.  Life isn't perfect.  I made it to the finish line of another weird really long exercise contest in which grown adults spend a ridiculous amount of money to do a bunch of stuff we used to do for fun as kids to get t shirts, medals, and new profile pictures, so I'd say that makes me more fortunate than, like, 99.99% of the population.

Awards stand.  It gave me a break from listening to Dave whine about his pasty skin being exposed to the sun.
Confession: I had jammed the sleeves of my sweatshirt under my pits because I knew this sort of picture might get taken.  It could not prevent sweat lines across my stomach, though.  Sexy.
     So, what now?  Well, for starters, a week of some light exercise (and perhaps funneling some residual anger into yard work-all the training I've put in gave the bushes and weeds plenty of time to grow with reckless abandon).  After that, although I want to get going and racing again ASAP, a more pragmatic (and Jesse-approved, I learned my lesson in this area last fall/winter) approach.  Kona just isn't going to happen this year, which really and truly is fine.  The experience last year was absolutely awesome, and I was very, very happy to have gained it, but if I'm going to go back there, I want to be able to head in on a full tank in order to have a good race day, instead of one where I'm barely hanging on by a thread.  After pulling out of Cabo and having a good, but not great, day in Texas, I knew that it was going to be a long shot anyways, so I've already come to terms with that.  Truth is, I just love to race, and as long as I get to do that somewhere, I'm happy.  I'm a year older and wiser now, and I can see the value of the whole long term progress over short term gratification thing (mostly...).  I talked to Jesse; we came up with a (tentative, as anything can happen with this sport) plan to get me to 2015 in a good spot to qualify and do well there.  Next up will (should) be the Steelhead 70.3, followed by a return trip to Muskoka, and then...(drumroll) spending the last day of my 20's down in Tennessee at IM Chattanooga.  QT2 should have a great contingent down there, the coolest bike company in the world (QR, of course) is deeply involved, and, of course, Little Debbie is sponsoring.  I mean, what could possibly be more exciting that the possibility of your 20s ending at an IM finish line at midnight, followed by a birthday in which you're perfectly validated to eat unadulterated amounts of swiss cake rolls, oatmeal cream pies, and fudge rounds, right?  So, here's to hoping that this plan goes according to plan!

Small joys in life: being offered a luggage cart at the airport.  WHY HAVE I NEVER USED THIS BEFORE???
   Once again, huge thanks to my support crew of family, friends, teammates, and sponsors.  I think that I received more love, encouragement, and appreciation after this race than I have after any of my best efforts, and really, that's when it all means the most.  At the low moments out there, I spent more time thinking of those that have fought past obstacles and finished even on the bad days than I did thinking of perfect performances-so thanks to all who have inspired me in that regard.  Keep going, you never know who you might help out some day.  Special thanks to Marsha, Erin, Jen, and Nate for coming out and cheering, and for offering your hospitality this weekend-any trip where you can catch up with friends and family is awesome, regardless of the race!  Also thanks to all the sponsors who got me across that line Sunday-QR (I PROMISE that at my next race, EVERY detail-fit, brakes, everything-will be scoured, so I can finally do that PR6 justice!!  That bike went fast in spite of me!), ShimanoRudy Project (the helmet remained fast, even when I spent the first quarter of the race looking down at my front wheel), Reynolds (when they were rolling uninhibited, those wheels handled like a dream!), and Normatec (no way I could have made it through the training block I did before that race without daily forays into my boots).  Thanks as always to my family for supporting me even when these crazy ventures get weirder than normal (I'll ride with brakes next time, Mom!), and of course to QT2 and Jesse, for just knowing what to say and do and for finding the good in the bad.  I'm more than ready to get going from here...

(Also, thanks to QR's facebook page for most of the action shots in here!!)

Selfie with the dog, after being reunited.  Don't worry, I was in the parking lot, not driving at the time!

And finally, some wisdom from the wall at work.