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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Climbing out of the valley-Tremblant 70.3 race (race!) report

(As a prelude to this...I did write a blog post the day before the race about how I went from "I might need more surgery" to "I'm racing".  I was just feeling to superstitious to share it anywhere.  If anyone wants to read a couple of novels today, it's the post right before this one.  Obviously).

  So…I raced  A real 70.3, with a (very very good) pro field.  And I finished.  And it wasn’t perfect or triumphant or any of those things.  In fact, I had some issues along the way that were almost a comedy of errors.  I also ran the slowest half marathon off of the bike that I ever have in my entire life, and it was only just BARELY faster than the pace I ran for the full there three weeks after racing another full.  But it’s really all ok.  Still beats the 25min I lost to my brake in Coeur d’Alene, and welp, anything beats Mexico.  And all of the races that I haven’t done in the past 1.5 years.  As painful and awful as certain moments were, I know that I got the most out of what my body was going to give me (although…my bike tried to derail me again!), and although that wasn’t that much, I was still absolutely thrilled to have finally, FINALLY made it to a finish line in one piece without anything broken or torn or stupid.  So, because I’m still excited that I raced, that means race reporting while it’s still fresh in my mind, because I have also totally missed making snarky comments about myself racing.

This was one of my favorite moments of the day-a pre-race picture with Heather.  A year ago, she had a significant neck injury and surgery, and I was treading through the labral tear diagnostic process, so getting to share a huge hug with her in transition pre-race was completely awesome and emotional, because we were there and healthy enough to race.  So glad I got to share part of her day with her-great job Heather!!  
   Really, everything leading up to the race went pretty smoothly.  I don’t need to detail all that, because, well, everyone checks in and racks bikes and goes to meetings and eats breakfast at early hours and all that.  I was pleasantly surprised at how reasonably well I managed to corral my nerves, all things considered.  I think knowing that the field was huge and deep and I could just kind of do my own thing off of the back helped.  Also, pro women are the BEST.  Seriously.  I was welcomed back with open arms and friendliness, which I so greatly appreciated after so long away.  I focused my freaking out on all things bottle handling related, of course.  Thankfully, I had an easy spin the day before the race, where I got the skittishness out and forced myself to practice a few refills.  The forecast was hot, and I didn’t need to screw my run any more than it was already going to be screwed by not drinking enough on the bike because I was scared of it.  I still didn’t nail that, but I’ll get to that.  Anyways, I had plenty of time on race morning to get everything taken care of, and made it to the start line without any issues.  That’s not to say I wasn’t emotional here and there, because I was.  I had a few “this is really happening” teary moments while walking to the swim start, and another one just beforehand, when I recalled sitting on a trainer at our condo during the full last year, crutches next to me, two weeks post-op, losing it as I heard the cannon starting the pro women off sound in the distance.  But this time, I’d be starting too.

This is the furthest forward I would ever be while wearing a wetsuit.
Pre-race selfie.  Hot.
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Stolen from the race FB page...I like this picture because I'm standing with badasses.

   So, soon enough, we were toeing the water, about to start.  I don’t know if I was in the best frame of mind regarding the swim.  I was semi-anxious about how I would handle the bike and excited about the possibility of a run, so I just sort of wanted the swim to be over.  It sort of showed.  The cannon went off, and about five seconds later, my thought process was something along the lines of, shit, there goes everyone.  I’m already in last.  I told myself to get my act together, and hammered out a bit to catch up to a couple of women.  A couple of minutes later, I felt like I could go around them, so I did.  I saw another woman slightly ahead of me at that point and tried to bridge the gap, but I was unable to do so, and she pulled further away.  So, I spent the rest of the swim alone, just trying to maintain an effort.  If nothing else, I think I stayed on course better than I ever have alone, so there’s that, even though I was getting tired of lifting my head up constantly.  Oh well.  The return trip back to shore seemed to just drag on forever, even though in the great scheme of things, it shouldn’t have felt that far.  Finally I reached shore, and glanced at my watch.  31:30ish.  I had been hoping to be closer to 30, and I felt like with the swim volumes and swim race results I’ve put in throughout this entire injury process I should have been, but such is life.  I was done with my least favorite part of the day, so nothing to do but move on.

See that awesome-looking dive happening at the front here?  That's totally not what I looked like.  I believe that I'm one of the ones still standing in the back, about to just sort of flop in the water and get dropped immediately.  Oops.
   Enter T1.  This was where my lack of racing in the past 1.5 years truly reared its head.  First, my wetsuit got caught on my garmin and my massive calves during wetsuit stripping.  Then, despite my lackluster swim effort, I felt like I was going to keel over on the run to my bike.  Then I got confused and lost in transition and ran around a bit extra trying to find my bike.  There were only two other bikes left on the rack.  Not excellent.  By the time I got my shoes and helmet on, those bikes were also gone.  I exited T1 in DFL.  Thankfully, I’m no stranger to DFL out of T1, so nothing to do but get to work.  I moved up a couple of places fairly quickly.  I was able to keep my power where we had discussed it-more like IM wattage than 70.3 wattage, but that’s just the fitness I’m in.  It felt hard, but ok hard.  I focused on drinking and staying controlled and what not.  Despite all of my fears before the race, I felt pretty comfortable once rolling, all things considered.  The road condition in Tremblant is so top-notch, which greatly helped matters, and winds were quiet.  About 15 miles in, while screwing around with a powerbar, came my next rookie move.  I was racing with my garmin 920 in triathlon mode for the first time, and I accidentally hit the lap button, pushing the screen forward to T2.  Oops.  I had zero clue how to undo that one.  Cursing myself for telling Dave I didn’t want to borrow his garmin bike computer because I didn’t want that much data to look at, the only thing I could think of to do was hit lap again, sending it into run mode.  At least there I’d have time, distance, and HR to pace by.  It turned out to not be a huge deal, as that proved to work out well enough.  I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to know where my power sat, anyways.  I moved up another place, and pressed on.  Shortly after that, I ran out of fluid and was forced to pull my first bottle refill.  I waited until a slight uphill, and pulled off the task, slowly but steadily.  Phew.  Not that I wouldn’t have to do it again, but getting the first one under my belt was a relief.

Thankfully, Dave captured this moment where I look semi-legit running with my bike here.  About two seconds later, I was standing there stopped trying to mount while the woman behind me went flying around me flying mounting.  But then I moved ahead while she tightened her shoes, so I maintain my position that it all evens out anyways.
   Continuing on, I made the first (painstakingly slow-my cornering and turning abilities were utterly horrific here) u-turn on 117.  Climbing out of that, I stupidly made a rookie cross-chaining error, and ended up dropping my chain for the first time.  No big deal, it didn’t get lodged, and tech support happened to be right there.  He waited with me while I got it back on, and I was off after a minute or two.  I lost a couple of places there, but made the passes back after about five or ten miles and continued on.  After about the 25 mile mark of the bike, too, with caffeine layering in, I started to feel better.  Admittedly, due to my reluctance with all things bottle handling, I was not drinking enough.  I did end up pulling off a couple of veerrrrryyyyy slow handoffs and got in about four bottles total, minus what I sprayed all over everything because I’m not coordinated (my bike is extra sticky), but given the heat of the day, it wasn’t quite enough.  Still, despite a few moments of being entirely in no-man’s land and wondering if I was even still on the course, the ride was going smoothly.  I did have a moment of coasting around another u-turn where I started to feel my quad and calf cramp, which was slightly unnerving.  I went for some salt and tried to drink more and reassured myself that I was getting towards the end of the ride.

  Heading into the final hillier ten miles of the bike, I felt like I was making good time overall (couldn’t quite tell because of the garmin snafu) and I was looking forward to trying to end it strongly (despite the general crampiness of everything) when my chain dropped again.  I hopped off, fixed it, grabbed another bottle while I was stopped, laughed about the fact that I did in fact stop at an aide station (something I had threatened that I might do), tried to take off, and immediately dropped the chain again.  This time it got jammed.  Badly.  I yanked and yanked and stomped on the chain and watched other riders pass me by while starting to freak out a bit.  After everything, a DNF so close to the end of the bike due to something so stupid would have been an absolutely bitter pill to swallow.  But the chain just would NOT budge.  The aide station volunteers weren’t able to help me, but they directed me to some bike racks at the end of the station.  As I continued to fruitlessly pull at the chain, I started to panic and asked for someone to call tech support.  A volunteer handed me a screwdriver.  I jammed the screwdriver in between the crank and the frame and just pounded at it, beyond caring about scratching my frame all up (better my frame than my body this time).  Just as the volunteer started to say, “it’s impossible, you’re going to have to take the crank off”, it came loose.  I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief (all while thinking, don’t use the word impossible around me right now, that's not a thing), and popped the chain back on.  Thankfully, I thought to spin the pedals a couple of times before trying to restart, because the chain was still getting stopped on something.  I did a quick once over, and discovered what had caused the issue-when I had initially dropped the chain at that aide station, it had pulled my power meter (which wasn’t reading anyways because of the garmin issue…sigh) magnet off, and the magnet was stuck to the chain.  I popped it off (later retrieved from my sports bra), thanked the volunteers, turned down their offers for hand sanitizer or something to wipe my bloody, greasy hands on, and continued on.  All in all, I lost about five minutes in the endeavor, along with a couple more from the first drop, which proved to cost me a few places, but I wouldn’t have been in the money anyways and frankly that wasn’t on my radar to begin with-I just wanted to finish. 

   The last ten miles were then a bit subpar, as I took some of the curvy, windy descents a bit cautiously, but I had lost enough time between the two chain drops that saving a few seconds here and there didn’t seem worth the risk.  I somehow ran out of fluid again, and just wanted to get to my bottle in T2.  Finally, I reached the dismount line, and breathed a slight sigh of relief to have my feet on solid ground again.  This was short lived, though, as I realized that a bunch of stuff was cramping and I REALLY didn’t feel so hot.  I hadn’t felt even the slightest urge to pee on the bike, and it was getting pretty warm.  And, oh yeah, I hadn’t done more than a couple of 9-10 mile runs in a good six months, and none had been off of the bike.  About that.  I took my sweet time in transition, dumping my (once frozen, now warm) bottle of water all over in me and downing a bunch of it, and ran out feeling rather rough.  The first mile, I had some serious doubts about whether or not I’d make it through.  A lingering foot tendon issue that I’ve been having started to bug me a bit, and I questioned the sanctity of continuing on.  I was pretty convinced I was running 8:00 pace, maybe 7:30 pace at best-I had no idea because my garmin was at some weird distance after reading 40.something miles of bike as running; I had no clue whatsoever what time or distance I’d started the run at.  My abdomen was starting to do the painful crampy thing it does when I’m dehydrated.  I wanted to be happy that I was running, but the task at hand seemed daunting.  Then, my first mile split popped up at 6:51.  Welp, not as bad as I had thought.  So I kept running.  The second mile felt equally miserable, but the foot pain quickly faded.  I saw Dave somewhere in there, and yelled to him that I’d lose some time to a jammed chain and to text everyone of importance about it, because that seemed crucial at the time.  Somewhere around mile 3, I started to finally get my legs underneath me a bit.  I still wasn’t running quickly, but I was perking up.

Heading up the first climb out of transition.  Not so sure about life.

Downhills were sort of nice, because they meant that I was moving towards the finish line slightly more quickly.  Still not so sure about life, though.

   Once we hit the bike path, I settled in, bringing up my HR and at least making one pass.  My quads were feeling crampy and my hands were cramping the entire duration of the run, so I did what I could to try to troubleshoot, pounding salt and drinking as many cups of whatever I could get at every aide station.  I could tell that it was pretty hot out, but with regular cups of ice and water all over everything, it wasn’t getting to me that much.  I’m just not in great run shape.  My mile splits were popping up in the 7:00-7:15ish range, which really wasn’t all that spectacular, but realistic for me right now.  I managed to smile for Dave once or twice, and still had it in me to give a few smiles and cheers to my teammates, and the women’s leaders who were absolutely crushing it on their way back.  With more salt and fluids the hand cramping began to relax a little, although my quads were getting rough.  I made it to about mile 8 fairly reasonably, all things considered.  At that point, the wheels began to fall off, and it turned into flat out, countdown survival mode.  I passed Katie in there, exchanging commiseration about losing time on the bike to penalties and mechanicals, and just tried to hang on. 
About three feet further along than in the previous picture.  The amount of time it took to read the previous paragraph between the two probably correlates to the amount of time it took me to move those three feet.

Does this blog really need this many pictures of me running?  Probably not.  But I'm putting them in there anyways.  There's a lot that's not pretty.  I should force myself to look at them more often.

I believe this was about the point where my brief foray into feeling human began.

   The last few miles were super rough.  I was able to keep (even bring) my HR up, but I was a hurting puppy.  My smiling at Dave morphed into waving him off and telling him to go away (about right).  Quite honestly, I had figured that everything from about mile 8 or 9 on would be somewhat of a shit show-I was in uncharted territory in terms of both single run mileage and total time spent exercising on a single day.  My hands began to contort themselves with cramping again, I was thirsty as all get out, and I was simply to the point of just willing my legs to keep running to the coveted finish line.  With each kilometer marker, I did some sort of fuzzy mental math, multiplying the number of kilometers left by 4.5 to figure out about how many minutes I had to go, until even that felt daunting and still too far.  Because of the garmin snafu, I had no idea whatsoever what my run time was, but I didn’t so much care.  I stopped paying attention to my mile splits when they popped up, because I was working as hard as I could at the time.  Instead, I thought of the injured, broken, battered, numb girl that I’ve been for so long, and I knew that I owed it to that version of myself to get the most out of the opportunity to race, even if it didn’t mean much in terms of place or time or anything of those things.  Plus, at some point, it dawned on me that I just flat out wasn’t thinking about my hip or butt or foot or any of those things, and for that fact alone, I was grateful.   Finally, when I hit the 20k marker, I started to get excited about the prospect of being done.  Little did I know that the 70.3 course would take us alllllll the way up the giant, steep hill in town-not that I remembered the full from three years ago all that well, but I was correct that we hadn’t had to deal with that there.  I was not a happy person making my way up that.  It just kept going.

Pulling the "here's another picture of me three feet ahead of the previous picture" thing again.

That golf cart is probably back there because it thought I might need medical assistance the entire time.

Still heading out on the bike path, I think, but Dave was probably scared to take pictures of me after I started to get irrationally angry at him during the hurt locker part.
  Finally, though, came the turn to go back down to the finish.  After making my way up that crap, I decided that I was sure as heck going to enjoy the trip back down-as much as I could on quads that weren’t so sure about life.  But I’ve waited a long freaking time to finish a tri, and despite how far back I was in the field or how unimpressive my splits were or how much faster I’ve raced before, I wasn’t going to let it pass with a simple click of a garmin button and my pain face.  I allowed myself to actually smile and take in the final stretch, crossing the line with a couple of emphatic fist pumps and apparently a choice four letter word that I didn’t realize I let slip out.  That wasn’t part of the plan, but it’s pretty much what happens when a whole lot of pent up emotions and frustrations and flat-out relief are being released in the spur of the moment.  Plus, racing just isn’t easy!  I inevitably cried a little bit, got asked if I was ok, caught up with a few teammates, and finally made my way over to Dave. He fetched my morning clothes bag while I writhed around in the grass a little bit, rendered unable to do much else thanks to the most welcomed foot, quad, hand, and ab cramps ever that wouldn’t let me move.  I was flat-out more wrecked than I’ve been after a 70.3 in a long, long time-but that was exactly what I’ve missed, and exactly what I wanted out of it.

   So, in retrospect, I’m happy.  A lot of good came out of it.  Was it a “good” race?  Well, in terms of what I’ve done in the past and the level I’d like to be able to get back to, no, not so much.  My swim was pedestrian.  Take away seven minutes from the bike split for the chain drops and that wasn’t bad, but it was still likely more in line with a full IM effort than a 70.3.  My run was an all-time 70.3 worst.  I just barely ran faster than I had for the full there three weeks after another full three years ago.  I bled away time with all of the details-bottle handling, bike turning, transitions, etc.  My chain drops can be linked to stupid gearing mistakes.  I didn’t get in enough fluids for the conditions of the day and spent much of the run on a fine line because of that.  But, all of that was completely in line with both my fitness levels and my general rustiness when it comes to racing.  I was just happy to be out there, happy to get through it, happy to have to opportunity to compete, happy to remember how to put myself deep into the hurt locker, happy to be reminded of all of those things that I’ll definitely need to work at from here on out.  I finished in one piece, and even in the aftermath, my injury-ish areas are only sort of mildly sore-better than I would have thought even a couple of weeks ago.  Racing allowed me to break the link that my mind had over my body, and push my fears over every little niggle away.  I can look back at this race, and feel confident that I got as much as I could out of my body and my (not too high) fitness on the day.  That was the advantage of the demons that have been breeding in my brain throughout all of this-they can't create fitness, but they're sitting there in there, yelling at me to make the most of what I've got.  I’m glad that I was willing to put myself out there in a less than perfect state (and body composition), bust off some rust, and start working through some of my fears related to that whole bottle handling thing.  Sometime in 2014, I feel like I had lost some of the joy in racing and pushing myself to the limit to becoming a slave to paces, powers, times, and places.  Tremblant wasn’t about that.  It was strictly about the pleasure and the pain of racing, and gratitude to have the opportunity for all of that again.  Yes, it took a long time to get back out there, but I think that I might have just needed every last second of it to find that.  Yes, I do need to start to worry about all of those other execution and training details, and a single finish line has lit my fire to begin to dig into those details that I haven’t been completely diligent about (bye, regular sorrow-drowning ice cream...), but it’s nice to be able to feel again.
Post-race selfie.  Smile is more sure this time.  I was actually grateful to have a darn medal!!

   Life is a continuum.  There’s no absolute failures or passes; no absolute black or white.  Comebacks, as I’m learning, are a process, not a destination.  I’m not sure that I can call myself “back” right now, because what is back exactly?  I sort of hesitated to officially declare this something like my comeback race, because all along, it simply felt like a starting point to build upon.  I’m certainly not back to full training volumes, and I’m certainly not in killer shape.  I’m not where I’d like to be eventually, but there’s work to be done for that.  This race was a stepping stone in this journey.  I’ll have more ups and downs, I’m sure of it, but this was quite easily the brightest point I’ve had yet in this entire process.  I got to do what I love.  I got to remember and feel, and knowing how hard it can be just to get to a starting line in one piece, I’m incredibly grateful to have finally been able to get to a finish.  I’ll wrap this up to a huge thank you to everyone who took time out of their days to track me, support me, send me kind messages and comments and well wishes and congrats.  I took time to read them all, and I’m so fortunate to have so many people to share my joy with.  I thought about so many different people out there, at so many different, random times, and it pulled me along continuously.   And a huge thanks to those who have most directly mitigated my moodiness and ups and downs, and kept me moving through everything-Dave, my family, Jesse, Becky, and my compatriots in injury commiseration messaging-you know who you are. J  Up next?  Well, getting recovered from this (apparently, when you race undertrained, the soreness sticks around a bit longer…), continuing to fight the battle to stay healthy, and, well, if that all works out ok enough, why not race again soon, right?  After going over a year and a half without it, I’ve got the bug back, so hopefully with the right luck, I’ll be back out there at Racine in three weeks!

I feel like a picture of me with a Mexican monkey on my head is a relevant way to finish this.  I don't think I've quite shaken him off of me yet, but maybe about five months from now, I'll be waking up with him gone.  Not going to get ahead of myself on that one, though. ;)

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