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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sing for the year-Dave's Muskoka race, as spectated by me

  Well, one of the Hansens had himself an IM a few weeks ago.  Given only one Hansen is fully functional at the moment, we can thus narrow it down to Dave.  Because he isn't one to write verbose stories about how he swam, rode his bike, and ran (actually ran) his way to a Kona slot, and because I'm starved to write about something that isn't 100% a psychoanalytical dear diary entry about my battles through injury and demons (not that I won't get into that at some point, thus the 100% disclaimer), I'm going to take the opportunity to tell a little bit about his journey to this race, from my wife standpoint.

  So, some background on Dave and Ironman.  This was his seventh one.  His highest AG finish ever was 4th in the 25-29 AG in Lake Placid 2012 before aging up.  Since then, he'd done a lot of finishing in the 6-10 range, and missing out on Kona spots by a few slots here and there, with his nearest miss being about a minute in Coeur d'Alene last year (prompting the beginning of his leg shaving).  Roll downs don't happen very often in the 30-34 age group, as I've learned by sweltering uncomfortably through many ceremonies.  Dave's general IM MO has been to swim not at the very front of the pack, but close enough to it (recently, at least-I think he started as a high 60's swimmer and has worked down to a consistent 57-59 swimmer-yes, given we almost always go to the pool together, I am a little jealous here), bike his way into contention, and then try not to get passed too much on the run.  His long course run has always been his Achilles heel.  Dave has run ~1:30 in 70.3s plenty of times; he's usually good for an 18:40ish 5k and ran a 3:08 open marathon three years back.  His best IM marathon heading into Muskoka was 3:35ish, but I'd always felt that he really could be good for about 10min faster than that.  Anyways.  Because he's my husband, I can say that his head has always held him back a bit when it comes to IM marathon running, as he always would say things to me like, "I can't run", "I'm a horrible runner", "how do all of those other guys run so fast?", and "I might as well just bike hard, because everyone is going to run past me anyways".  I had witnessed all of these thoughts in action in Lake Placid last month, as Dave came off of the bike in second and fell back after a 4:06 marathon, despite my gentle encouragement to get his head out of his ass and run.  It's not that there was anything wrong with the time; it was that I know Dave's capable of more than that.  Granted, he had missed a couple of weeks of run training heading in due to some hip pain from a bike crash a few weeks out (coordination in this household...), but still.  Afterwards, when he had tried to give me his normal excuses about how he can't run, I'd pointed out that we'd done two races together that spring before I'd gone down with the hip-a 5k and the Keuka Olympic tri.  In both races, he had outrun me.  Being pre-op at the time, I'd told him, busted hip and all, I guarantee you could have put me on that run course, and I would have run faster than a 4:06.  Tough love, maybe, but half (probably even more than half) of the battle in the five weeks between those two races was going to be getting him to believe in his running ability.

  As for his training between the two IMs?  Dave turned it over to me, to some degree, as I've had more experience both racing and coaching without much spacing between races.  Since he hadn't run to his potential in Placid, he wasn't as shot as he could have been, which turned out to be advantage.  We did one week of active recovery, followed by two harder weeks, and then two weeks of gradually trailing off into the race.  The "coaching" was somewhat informal-I'd give him a general layout of the week, tell him the workouts (minus swimming, he could choose those himself), and he'd execute.  Much of it was convincing him to take a couple of true recovery days a week, and keep him from making some portion of every single bike ride all out.  When it came to running, the idea was simply getting in some volume, keeping it aerobic, and keeping Dave from getting injured.  No crazy long runs were done; after all, Placid had ended with a marathon, and the potential risk to reward ratio wasn't worth it.  The longest he ran in a single day was 1:45, and I also had him do a couple of 10-12 mile runs two days apart, with a long ride preceding the first of those.  Again, nothing too crazy.  And swimming, well, I just let him figure that out on his own, since I was still out of the water for most of that time, and he's got it figured out better than I do, anyways.

  So, five short weeks after Placid, off to Muskoka we went.  This course has always played into Dave's strengths quite nicely, and I know he had been targeting this over Placid as his main target for the year.  We'd raced the 70.3 a couple of times, and he'd always done well there, qualifying for 70.3 worlds each time (declining it last year, though, as we thought that I'd actually be racing, making Austria too ambitious of a trip).  The generally reasonable temperatures and tough, rolling bike course always separates the strong cyclists like Dave from those who are relatively weaker, and it tends to grate the legs enough to make it tough to for anyone have a blazing fast run.  Plus, we have a place to stay up there with Lowell Grieb and Kat Ahokas, who are always awesome with their hospitality (and their cooking).  Another plus for me as a coach was that athlete Stevie was racing, so I'd be able to be up there to watch her, as well.  Two days before Muskoka, Dave and I also celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary.  Naturally, I gave him the business about how he should win me a trip to Hawaii, although taking my car in for an oil change for me (I hate being an adult) would also be welcome.  Also an anniversary highlight was the moose that Lowell and Kat cooked for us that night.  Given I associate moose with our Moose dog, I had some difficulty with this, but it was quite delicious, and we decided that it clearly contributed to Dave's subsequent success.  Anyways.
Taken on a stroll around downtown Huntsville

This is Roscoe.  He's one of the resident dogs.  Roscoe is my friend now.  I petted him a lot.  I miss Roscoe.
  Fast forward to race morning, and I headed down to the start with Dave to wish him and Stevie luck, and to perform the crucial coach duty of hair braiding (on Stevie, obviously-my extent of hair help with Dave was offering him leg shaving tips like, "shave against the direction of growth").  I then took off back to Lowell and Kat's (complete with stealthy following a shuttle bus out of the parking lot against traffic on the narrow access road...scofflaw) to squeeze in a brief ride to burn off some nerves (unsuccessfully) while stalking swim and early bike splits before heading out onto the bike course.  Dave swam a 57 (he says the course was short, but that's still fast), and his first bike split was the fastest in his AG-good start!  I was able to drive out to a spot on the course that was at the ~90k and ~170k mark (the course was set up as sort of a double-loop lollipop with a short stick), arriving with the perfect amount of time to park along a cross street and walk ~1/4 mile up the road.  I parked myself towards the top of a straight, gradual uphill, which proved to be a perfect viewing location.  A few minutes later, the first rider came past.  I started my watch and started counting.  About five minutes and less than 15 others passed before Dave rolled along.  I gave him his place and distance to the lead, and then continued cheering while waiting for Stevie.  Cheering at that spot on the bike course was one of the most rewarding cheering experiences of my life.  Maybe it was Canada, but the racers were SO polite to me-I got thanked by the vast majority of the race, and was easily entertained by some of the exchanges I heard going on among the racers.  Seriously.  They were SO nice.  Stevie came along a short while later, and informed me that she fell, but was fine, but wasn't so sure about the bike.  Very not reassuring, but she's a tough one and was rolling along well still!
Race morning braiding.  Not taught in any USAT course, but instead on the PXC bus circa 1998.  Life skill right here.
   Then...hmmm, about an hour and a half to kill and no phone data...the horrors!!  Becky was texting me to keep me up on Dave's splits.  I attached some swim cords to a tree in the woods and entertained myself for a few minutes that way (while worrying slightly about bears and property owners with shotguns).  I was a little ways up the road from an aide station, so I noticed some dropped bottles between myself and the aide station.  Figuring that I needed any sort of good karma regarding water bottles and bikes that I could get (I did leave one by the side of the road in Cozumel, after all...), I made a few rounds up and down the road collecting dropped bottles and returning them to the aide station to kill a little more time.  At one point, some spectators were trying to help a woman who had pulled off the road with a broken spoke on her wheel.  My expert advice was to try taping it to another spoke, which ended up solving that problem, but her wheel was still out of true.  I remembered my frustration and anxiety about the race passing me by in Coeur d'Alene (nothing like recalling all of my awesome IM bike experiences at once, ha), so I just stood with her until tech support arrived while telling her that I once took my brake off in a race.  How that was helpful, I don't know, but it seemed like something to say.  I wished her luck once tech support arrived, and was glad to later see that she was able to finish.  Anyways.  Not too much longer after that, the car leading the first racer came into view.  I restarted the watch, but didn't have too long to wait this time-2:30 later, Dave came by in 3rd place.  Yikes.  I again gave him a place and splits (both forward and back, based on what Becky was telling me), and then hightailed it back to the car.
Dave raced as a psychiatrist this time.  One of many joke answers we put down that unfortunately made it all over his information...
   Cue the first of several rushed navigation moments of my day.  I reversed the directions out back to town, until...blocked road.  Detour.  Jennie gets lost.  Jennie makes some turns and hopes.  Finally, I pulled over and studied some tiny little google map printed out to get us to Lowell and Kat's in the first place.  Somehow, my directionally-challenged, low visual-spacial intelligence little brain managed to figure out how to circumvent the road closures and get back to their house.  With little time to spare to get out onto the run course (minus a quick social media update on where Dave was), I swapped the car for...the mountain bike.  Kat had (quite bravely, given knowledge of my bike skills) allowed me to borrow her mountain bike.  I'm not sure how advisable being outdoors on an unfamiliar bike with really bad skills hammering around a run course one month post-op was, but it happened.  Anyways.  I made it down to the 10k point of the run course.  Several minutes later, the lead bike approached, followed by...Dave.  Dave.  Leading.  10k into the run.  I had likened watching Dave on a run course to watching the fourth quarter of a Bills game, where you just sort of hope they don't blow it entirely and bite your nails to the last second, and this was a pretty fair assessment.  He told me he was feeling good.  Ok, ok.  Places 2-4 were within 30 seconds of him, though, so by the time he had turned at the first turnaround and come back to me, he was in fourth, but holding strong.  He then indicated that he was having a GI moment, though, so I of course panicked.  Cue second rushed navigation moment of the day, where I asked Kat for directions and made some questionable riding decisions biking my way up to the 15k mark to catch him again.  I made it just in time; he was still ok and holding his place.
Dave's brief foray in the lead.  I'm not a race photographer, for obvious reasons.
   Stress time.  I took a few deep breaths, hopped back on the bike, and made my way back down the run course.  I found a shady spot around the 28k mark, and gave my hip a little break, parking myself in the grass under a tree to be the weird person stretching.  Time dragged.  I texted Becky and Mary about my nerves.  Becky again provided me with splits, and updated me on Stevie, who was nearing the end of her ride and holding completely even.  Phew.  I had again started the watch when Dave had passed at the 10k mark.  I calculated.  18k past that.  About 11 miles.  Around 8:00 pace would be great for Dave, so I hoped that I'd see him before that time hit 90min.  I plotted my game plan after I'd see him.  I texted updates to my parents.  After 80min passed and no one had come past yet, I became a little more hopeful-no one was running sub-7:00 at that point, so Dave's goal pace would be keeping him in the game.  A couple minutes later, the leader came past.  I strained to try to see ages on calves, but they were blurred by that point.  A few more athletes came by.  Then, within 7-8min, I saw Dave.  For Dave 2/3 of the way through an IM marathon, he actually looked...ok?  He was still well sub-8:00 pace.  What came out of my mouth next was totally unplanned, totally unrehearsed, raw emotion.  My own repressed emotions came falling out of my mouth.  I don't know if I gave place or splits, but I do remember finishing with, this is the only way left to salvage this sh----- fu------ year (thankfully, no children were nearby), as my voice cracked and I choked back tears.  Yikes.

   I moved a little bit further up the course, to a point where I'd be able to catch Dave at about the 35k mark before crossing the road and then hightailing it along a bike path to get to the finish.  I caught Stevie along the way.  I didn't have too long to wait by the time I made it to a good location-maybe 20min-but it felt like an eternity.  I probably looked insane to the other spectators, given that all I could really think to do at that point was pace incredibly anxiously.  I also was fighting crying at that point.  Why?  I'm not really sure.  Part of it was just wanting this so badly for Dave, who's had to sit in the backseat of my career for so long, and who has been so close on so many occasions.  Part of it was wanting something good for us from this sport, yet knowing that it wasn't in my hands at that point.  Part of it was straight nerves.  Part of it was anticipating something I hadn't really had from the sport in so long-straight out joy.  And, of course, part of it was just my own hurt of wanting to be back out there, so close yet so far.  In a reasonable amount of time, Dave was past again-I've never seen you look this good this far into an ironman.  Just.  Keep.  Running.  With that, I was off.

   The mountain bike ride to the finish that ensued was absolutely ridiculous enough to distract me from the nerves and feelings.  Lowell had told me about a bike path that paralleled the highway the run course was on, that would take me close to the final road down to the finish.  I found it easily, and started trying to pound my way along.  Naturally, my first instinct was to try to muscle my way up a short hill, which resulted in a hard shift (raise your hand if you've been spoiled with electronic shifting for too long...), a near crash, and some hip wrenching.  Oops.  The path (which was slightly sketchy for my unskilled self with some major ruts and lumps) popped out close to the road at a few points, and somehow the timing always worked out so that I was able to just catch Dave and yell at him.  Two thoughts were going through my head at that point: 1. How is it possible that Dave's running pace at mile 21 of a marathon is faster than what I'm doing on this mountain bike?  I'm in worse shape than I thought, and 2. Dave knows that I'll give him the business if I catch him walking-hopefully, he'll keep running entirely based on fear that I could appear at any moment (he later confirmed that this thought was very much in his head during that stretch).  The path eventually dead ended.  Hmm.  I remembered seeing some sort of path off to the road a few hundred meters back, and backtracked to that.  This ended up with me carrying the bike down a rocky cliff...exactly as Dave was approaching.  Timing is everything.  Realizing how ridiculous I looked at that point, I could only laugh, yell at Dave again, and tell him, look at what I'm doing for you right now!  Go!  I raced my way up and down a side road, before eventually dropping the mountain bike chain in front of a bunch of spectators on the final descent towards the finish.  Smooth.  I was briefly mixed in with the end stages of the bike course, which elicited cheers, even though I was wearing a polo shirt and khaki shorts and riding a mountain bike.  I frantically cut down another incline and worked my way across a parking lot, pushing the bike across a course crosswalk while hearing the second male in Dave's age group announced across the line.  Get there, Jennie, get there!!!

   Just in the nick of time, I propped the bike against a tree, found an unoccupied spot just up from the finish line, and saw Dave making the final turn.  I started screaming like I was psychotic.  I also had not removed my bike helmet.  Awesome.  I kept screaming more loudly, like it was somehow going to make Dave move any faster at that point (in my defense, even he admits that he was moving somewhat painfully slowly that last small stretch).  He finally hit the carpet, and made it across the line.  I ran (yes, ran, shhhh) down behind the bleachers (helmet still on), shrilly crying his name by this point while doing some sort of bawling that, if captured, would have put any of my Placid finish shots to shame.  The spectators nearby looked at me, the insane crying wife wearing a helmet, with concern.  It's been a tough year, I tried to explain.  Finally, after I wildly screetched, "Dave!!! DAVE!!!!" into the finish livestream for several minutes (or so it seemed).  After that, there was hugging and celebrating and picture taking, until Dave eventually ended up in the med tent asking for nausea meds.  He came around quickly with the meds, and we found a results board that confirmed his AG place (3rd) and overall place (5th).  Just what we thought, but we couldn't be 100% sure with the rolling start.  Posted up next to results was the official slot allocation breakdown-3 slots in male 30-34.  He was in.  My aversion to the 30th day of the month while 30 years old and the number 3 in general began to ease away.  Shortly later, we headed back to the finish line, and cheered Stevie in to a significant PR, which was obviously another HUGE highlight on the day and an example of overcoming a whole bunch of battles.  The next day, Dave officially accepted his spot at awards, despite complaining about the entry fee.  Accountants.   
Dave getting interviewed.  $10 says the woman in this picture had her camera in "selfie" mode to capture the idiot chick in the helmet behind her.

Annoying couples selfie.  Gag.

With Stevie in the chute!  Quote: "I smell like urine and homeless people".  She didn't.  And I generally shower sparingly, so I didn't really care anyways.
Dave's AG at awards

He looks happy, but really he was whining about the entry fee.  At least it's not like the $800 I paid for my pro membership fee this year to NOT race. #stillbitter
   As for those pesky feelings-they ran rampant.  After watching two IMs in the five weeks before Muskoka, I thought that I'd gotten all of the gut wrenching and wanting to be out there out of the way, but man, was I wrong.  Conversely, that race completely woke me up to how numb I'd become, how putting up a protective barrier and not allowing myself to feel had become my coping mechanism this summer.  A husband achieving a huge goal of his in the sport that had eluded him for so long and finally executing the complete race he was capable of brought me back to feeling some of the greatness of the sport.  The triathlon disappointment to happiness ratio in this household had been very much skewed towards disappointment all year, until that day.  The joy was palpable.  At the same time, pleasure mixed with pain, and another part of me just felt ripped apart inside and raw again, perhaps more strongly than I've felt throughout this whole process.  Numbness is a defense mechanism.  My feelings had absolutely nothing to do with jealousy-Dave had worked for and deserved every bit of that success, even more so because he's had to deal with so much of my on selfishness in pursuit of my goals for so long while chasing his own-but everything to do with my own lost aspirations.  The depth of the chasm between where I am, and where I want to be suddenly seemed more exposed, and right now, it's just going to take more time-and a ton of work-before I can close that.  And waiting to heal gets frustrating sometimes.
I probably should know how to flip this, but whatever.  Dave wanted Chinese food the day after the race.  This was my fortune.  Yes, I cried at a stupid freaking fortune cookie.  It spoke of Ironman.
  I needed my support system in that next week, and thankfully they came through for me.  I shared in Dave's happiness while allowing myself to admit my own weakness.  I can't really describe it other than that waking up is hard sometimes.  As for right now, I've been thinking of the weeks left until I can run again as miles in an IM marathon.  I have just under four to go, and everything seems fairly analogous to mile 22.  I don't have that much time left-in fact, it's a distance I've gotten through plenty of times-but at the moment, everything about it seems interminably long.  I'm throwing every mental trick in the book at it that I can.  You're almost there is the absolute last thing in the world that I want to hear, because almost there just isn't there, and I've been trying to keep moving forward for a long ass time by now.  I'm gaining confidence with each minute that I will make it through, but the doubts are still there.  But if I put aside the petulant child emotions, I still know that I'm a lot closer to the finish than the start, and that each finish is a new start anyways.  Plus, my advantage right now is that I have this time to heal and build.  Although I'd love to be training towards another race and then recovering through an off season, there's something to be said for what having a chance to build gradually, hopefully eventually train without pain, and rediscover my fitness will do for me when the time comes to race again.  After all, I can't keep letting Dave have all of the fun without me!
I can sort of walk the dogs again, at least!

Hansen unpacking fail=dog snack time.  A-holes.

Feelings.  I had a glass of wine because of them.  First time since before I knew I had broken anything.  I should try it more often.
I didn't get Dave an anniversary present other than a coffee mug that makes it look like people are getting eaten by sharks when a hot liquid is poured into it, so thankfully they took a picture of us post-race that came out ok enough.  I purchased it.  Happy anniversary, Dave.  Here's a finisherpix without watermarks.

And finally, I thought that this triumphant Kona finish line picture of me belonged here.  I'd say that hopefully Dave will look better than this across the line, but heat isn't his thing.  Whatever.  He's the one that's going next year!