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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Dog days of summer-Racine race report and more bumps

   Well, I started a Racine race report shortly after the race-a month ago.  Then, life got in the way, as well as some other stuff that caused me to retreat into a hole, not really wanting to talk about much.  But, that's how it goes sometimes.  So, I might as well report a bit on the debacle that was Racine, and then touch a bit on the bumps that have marked the time since then.  From start to finish, everything about Racine was one of the biggest messes of my racing career.  A few days before Tremblant, I had registered for Racine, figuring that I might as well put my name on the list to get my feet back in the racing water.  I knew that the three week turnaround wouldn't be long enough for miracles to happen, but after so long off the racing circuit and with nothing else reasonable for over a month after that, I figured that I might as well just go for it.  I did see some improvements in my bike numbers in that time, and I hoped that a few more runs would result in a slightly better result.  In that time, my hip toyed with me a bit with some on and off crankiness that's been making me question the whole idea of that sports hernia surgery, but when push came to shove, I ended up missing all of 30min of bike cool down on one ride because of pain.  So, Racine it would be.  My goals were pretty simple-build upon Tremblant, have a swim that I felt was more indicative of the amount of work I've put into it the past 1.5 years, have a solid ride where I did NOT have to get off the bike for any stupid mechanical issue, and run a couple of minutes faster, hopefully getting under 1:30 this time around.  Well, none of that happened, but life experiences are only failures if nothing is learned, and I do feel that this race ended up having value, even if the result on paper was pretty ugly.

   The drive out to Racine took forever, but we made it eventually and I got dropped off at the airbnb room where I was staying (with four black cats...I sort of felt like this might not be the best of luck there).  The next morning, I went to go get ready to go for a jog and get in a swim set at a Y when...where was my transition bag?  It contained my wetsuit, goggles, bike shoes, bike helmet, and run flats, among other little things (body glide, sunscreen, trislide, blister shield, etc etc).  This was a problem.  After some frantic searching and phone calls, Dave confirmed that I had indeed left it in my car in Rochester.  Well, ok.  He packed up the crucial stuff (helmet, bike shoes, wetsuit-I actually had extra run flats in a different bag), took it to his brother's packing and shipping company, and sent it on its way overnight-supposedly-via FedEx.  After everything, I remained rather rational and carried on with my day.  I did back up my idiocy by proceeding to go out the wrong locker room door at a random Y post-swim, winding up locked in an incredibly creepy, dark hallway of abandoned squash courts with no exit.  Thankfully, I found some phone with the front desk's number written on it, and was able to call for rescue.  I then confirmed my airheadedness by leaving my swim equipment in the locker after leaving, and having to return.  Anyways.  This is not all that relevant, but it all just contributed to the general theme of the weekend.

   Fast forward to the next morning.  FedEx tracking said that my stuff was supposed to arrive in Racine to be picked up at their facility at 9am.  Well, 9am rolled around, and no package.  I talked to Jesse somewhere in there, and when I mentioned the FedEx situation, he advised me to start putting plan B (scrounging around to borrow the key items) into motion.  Dave started hounding FedEx, and I went to work hounding my eventual savior Kelly (and her dad).  Long story short, FedEx sucks and had no idea where my stuff was, but Kelly was able to hook me up with bike shoes and a wetsuit, and then I was able to pick up another wetsuit thanks to the friend of a travelling nurse who was staying in the same airbnb as me.  Go figure.  The other small stuff (number belt, body glide, etc) was picked up at the expo.  So, although the whole situation was less than ideal, I somehow never felt all that stressed by it, and I was incredibly grateful to those who stepped up to help me out and went out of their way for me.  The triathlon community is great.  Later that night, once I had the chance to breathe, I started to realize that I really just sort of felt...off.  I couldn't put my finger on it exactly.

  Still, the next morning, I woke up feeling ok enough, so all was well enough.  I got to the race site, got my borrowed gear settled in transition, and was starting to pull on my borrowed wetsuit to walk down to the swim start and get a good warm up in the extra unappealing sounding 57 degree water when we were told not to leave transition.  Apparently some weather was on its way.  While we waited out the storm, the swim was cancelled (I wasn't upset).  We returned to transition at 7:30 as instructed, and were told that the race would go on as a shortened bike and a run, which would start at 10:30-come back to transition at 9:30 for the final announcements.  I went back to where I was staying, relaxed, ate, and wrote a few training plans.  When I left to head back to transition, I knew that I was looking at a 31 mile bike, and a run.  Secretly, I sort of celebrated that the bike length minimized the need for bottle handling, and I didn't have to swim, but felt a little bit sad that this wasn't happening while I was actually sort of in run shape.  Once back at transition awaiting the race start, the clouds had burned off, leaving behind a humid, sunny, rapidly warming, very windy morning.  My warm up jog felt like crap.  I brushed it off, and soon enough, we were being released on the bike TT style, 30 seconds apart.  I managed to not do anything too uncoordinated clipping in in front of people up a hill, and was off. 

   The first few miles of the bike, I actually felt like things might go ok.  I was hitting my somewhat ambitious wattage target, given my lack of anything higher-end in training, and although I wasn't thrilled with the rough pavement, the wind wasn't freaking me out too much yet.  Then, somewhere around mile 4 or so, one of the bumps in the road caused the zip tie holding my aero bottle holder in place to snap.  Of course.  The bottle flipped upside down, spraying its contents everywhere.  I had a few moments of trying to figure out what to do about it before I decided to just let it hang there.  Unfortunately, my bottle had ended up in that exact same position after my crash in Cozumel, and I'd ridden with it like that there, considering just tossing the damn thing at an aide station before deciding not to because my garmin was still attached-the garmin that ended up totally busted anyways.  The flashbacks of that, along with the realization that I was either going to have to deal with drinking from my downtube bottle repeatedly in harsh winds if I didn't want to get entirely dehydrated, was enough to completely screw with me.  I told myself that I could stop at the first aide station, though, see if they had zip ties, and get some fluid while stopped.  Not ideal and not pro, but the most appealing solution I could come up with at the time.

   The course soon thereafter turned off of the bumpy road onto a smoother one, but with open fields and fierce crosswinds.  My anxieties over wind continue to cripple me at times, and I honestly spent a good portion of that ride more frightened than I've ever been on a bike, out of the bars, just wrestling to keep it on the road.  Around mile 10, I did see the tech support van up ahead.  Tech support!  I slowed up when I got to them, and asked for a zip tie.  The mechanic quickly hopped out, and zip tied my bottle holder back into place as I refilled it and thanked him profusely.  Getting off of my bike during races (both voluntarily and involuntarily) is seriously starting to get old, but at least I only lost a couple of minutes this go around, and I actually sort of welcomed the brief reprieve from the wind.  Once back on the road, though, the fear didn't really decrease.  Stopping caused my power meter to cut out for the next five miles (I don't know...), and I felt myself start to mentally crack there.  Whenever I was hit by a wind gust, I just wanted to stop, until I thought of everyone who had assisted me before the race.  I spent the rest of the ride (with some help from Jodie's words as she passed) just attempting to keep upright and not panicking entirely.  I cornered horribly as per usual, and spent maybe 5 miles total actually in my aerobars.  As I had said after the race, I didn't even feel like I was racing-just trying to survive on a bike.  I was frustrated at my fear and my ability to get over it, and I was beating myself up as a result.  Eventually, I got to transition, not even caring about anything (like my growing thirst) other than getting onto firm ground.

   In transition, I did grab another bottle I'd thrown on the ground after realizing the bike was shortened, and downed that while running to the exit.  Once onto the run course, I didn't immediately feel horrible, but my feet started cramping pretty early on.  Well, that wasn't good.  Additionally, I realized that I was running pretty darn slow, but my HR was pretty through the roof, sitting at around 175 while running a pace I'd normally see around 155.  Once past the mile, I started to feel legitimately awful, and questioned my ability to keep going even more than normal.  I had lost an entire bottle on the bike, so I did what I had to do on the first loop.  I made myself let go of pace, I accepted the freakishly high HR, I grabbed a vial of salt from the base guys on course, and spent the aide stations doing everything I could to get fluid in and heat off.  I wasn't running well, but I was putting one foot in front of the other, and the aide stations were helping immensely-I'd get through one, feel better for a few minutes, and then survive until the next.  I continued to think about everyone who had gone out of their way to make sure I was even able to race, and I knew I owed it to so many to just tough it out, even if my result wasn't going to be anything to talk about.

   Once onto the second lap, still feeling crappy but moving forward, the course just got super crowded.  I began to have trouble getting as much as I needed at the now packed aide stations, and just hoped that I'd gotten in enough to that point.  By mile 8, I was still hanging in there.  Mile 9 started to get rough.  By mile 10, not only were the cramps that had been on and off the whole run on, but they were on the verge of taking me out.  I've never experienced anything like that in a race before, not even a full-with every step, my feet and calves threatened to just seize up entirely.  I wanted to try to pick up the pace so I'd get to the finish line sooner, before the cramps did me in entirely, but every time I tried to put any extra effort in, or even did something like step a little funny or go around a turn, the cramping got sharp.  I was relegated to a helpless shuffle, just thinking again of everyone that went out of their ways to get me to the start line.  I felt like I was one misstep away from collapsing entirely.  Yet, despite my much slower pace, my HR was stuck at the unnaturally high levels I'd seen right at the start of the run.  Finally, I somehow managed to trot my way through the final few miles and get to the finish line.  I crossed honestly in somewhat of a daze, some combination of upset at my horrible run time and just relieved to have gotten through it on my own two feet.

  Once across the line, I told the volunteers that I was badly cramping, and I let myself get taken into medical.  I was having trouble finding words, just pretty out of it in general.  They let me sit while fetching me fluids (I was SO thirsty by that point).  At one point, I could tell that my stomach was off, and I asked for some anti-nausea meds.  The volunteer told me they didn't have any, and I'd been able to get my shoes off and cramping down, so I left to go gather my gear.  I made it back to the bike rack area when I just started to feel REALLY not good.  I found a spare pepto in my stuff, took it, and sat next to my bike for a bit, waiting for the feeling to pass.  It didn't.  My body was doing the cold clammy sweat thing as I baked in the sun, unable to move.  One thing about me is that I HATE throwing up with an absolute passion, and I'll do anything in my power to avoid it.  I texted Dave and Jesse that I felt like I was going to barf.  I went through a fair share of moments of questioning why I'd missed making myself that miserable for so long.  I had no internal answers, but I somehow was still ok with it.  The low point was spending some time in the port a potty, cold sweating and just praying that I wouldn't end up barfing on my feet while other things happened (sorry...racing is glamorous).  Darby-bless her-came over when I was out and then sitting on the curb miserably.  She fetched me sprite and pretzels, which I tried to get in but just couldn't.  She had to leave to go coach, but before she did, she told one of the race directors nearby to keep an eye on me.  I thanked her for being so sweet, although I was too nauseous to fully express my appreciation. 

  The race director then came over to me when I didn't move for a few more minutes.  He asked if I needed to go to medical; I told him that I couldn't get anything in and really needed something for nausea, but I didn't think that I could get myself over there.  He then joined the list of people who seriously deserve like 15 batches of fresh-baked cookies from dealing with me that race, went to medical, and came back on the gator to fetch me.  Once in medical-the triage area this time, not the chairs I had sat in right after finishing-a PA handed me the most glorious little quick-dissolve tablet I've ever taken for nausea, and as soon as that had miraculously kicked in and I could lay down, the IV was attached.  Once I had that combination in me, I felt approximately ten million times better.  I was released, and finally returned to transition to gather my gear for real this time.  The race director who had helped me was there; he commented that I was upright, and I was thankfully able to tell him that I felt a TON better and thank him before leaving that less than fun adventure behind. 

   Over the course of the next few days, I did continue to struggle with some GI/heartburn/general malaise issues, which I don't know where caused by what had happened during the race, or that had lead to what happened during the race.  Who knows.  What I did know was that I really would prefer to never feel that awful on a run course again.  I never have been, nor I never will be the most talented runner.  It's not that I'm completely talentless, but for me, consistency is key, and my main ability isn't in speed, but in the ability to train myself to just hold a very high percentage of maximum for a long amount of time-outlasting more than outrunning.  But, I've had several very prolonged layoffs from running in the past couple of years with only brief spurts back into it in between, and so, as a natural consequence of this, I don't expect my run to be what it was a few years ago.  I'm realistic.  Even with that, though, my run in Racine was so far from what I want out of myself that I was disappointed.  I have never run that slow in a 70.3.  It wasn't even a good IM run pace for me.  Maybe it's more PC to talk about how happy I was to just be back out there and that I could run at all, and while that's obviously still the case, that race was just a poor performance that I'm not happy about.  I'm not going to sugarcoat that I'm capable of more, and I should be able to get it out of myself. 

   So with that, I licked my (thankfully only figurative) wounds from that race and decided to turn my focus to the next one on the schedule-Timberman.  I told myself to focus on the details, take off the kid gloves in letting myself off the hook with glaring imperfections, and get to work.  I had several weeks to get in consistent training and see what would happen.  Well, as usual, my body had other plans.  I made it a week, managed to string together one of my longer, more solid training weekends in a while up in Lake Placid, came home, and a few days later, out of nowhere, found myself cutting a bike ride short because of some random left knee pain.  I brushed it off at the time.  It stuck around, letting me know it wasn't going anywhere on the one year anniversary of my hip surgery-not the best for the mental game there.  I could run, but not bike, but I couldn't run too much because my hip and butt pain were flaring up, and that left swimming, but I was just angry, cranky, upset, and completely burned out of spending more time in the pool because that was all I had.  Plus, my on again, off again left shoulder pain (possibly a crash consequence, but I've never had it investigated) was on again.  Needless to say, it's been a bumpy (to put it nicely) few weeks of questioning and complaining and pain.  I've said it before that past misfortune doesn't guarantee future good luck, but at some point, I think it becomes natural to just wonder, when is this sport going to throw me a freaking bone?  What does it want from me?  That thought had already been in the back of my mind following the Racine debacle of a race, so adding a completely unnecessary knee injury and more hip questioning on top of that pushed me back down into the valley, staring at the climb out, wondering if I even wanted to attempt it again.

   Then, in lieu of riding my bike one Saturday, I painted a lounge chair while waiting for Dave to get home.  And sure, the lounge chair looked better afterwards, but I finished it thinking about how really, it just didn't give me any great life pleasure to have a freshly painted lounge chair on our front patio.  I'd rather ride my bike.  So I got in with my surgeon's PA to get some cortisone thrown into the knee to try to get it back under control.  I made a massage appointment with Tiffany to get my cranky adductor and butt worked out.  I got my next round of hip and butt injections booked, and re-committed myself to the simple strength work that I know my body needs.  We mapped out a plan-try to get through Timberman, for better or worse, get the hip injections (same ones I'd had back in May that had given me good relief throughout June and early July), try to get to another 70.3 in September, and then reassess what road to take in October.  I went on family vacation to Cape Cod, I remembered that last year I'd been on crutches freshly post-op there, and I got in some runs that revived my spirit a bit.  My goal at the moment is to try to get through October still training and racing, whatever that looks like, so I can at least feel like I sort of had a season, however slow and imperfect it may have been.  I don't know if that will happen, but nothing is ever guaranteed anyways.  For the time being, I'd still rather live in some degree of pain in order to be an athlete, even if I do get days where I question the sanctity of that.  I could easily read into it all as signs that I should give it up, take a break, and seek out answers, and honestly this would be "easier", but my heart is stronger than my hip, and so that's what I'm going to follow for now. 

  So, that's that.  For now, not too much I can do other than continue to try to work within the realm of what my body will give me orthopedically, and to continue to try to do everything I can on my end of things to get it to cooperate.  Continued thanks to those who have supported me unconditionally, and have kept me moving/sane/in less pain/smiling/sort of racing/putting one foot in front of the other.  I wouldn't still be clinging to some degree of faith and belief on my own, so my gratitude continues to be with those who have helped along the way!



   

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