Wednesday, August 10, 2016

You Spell Heartbreak "D-N-F"

August 7, 2016 was going to by my day. For 20 weeks, I had trained, putting in 15-20 hours of swimming, biking, or running a week, meticulously tracking my progress and ensuring every piece of the puzzle laid in place. Ironman Boulder, my second full distance race, was my chance to make right what I felt had gone wrong for my at my first event. I was a faster swimmer now, a confident cyclist, and my running had improved enough I felt pretty sure I wouldn't take 7 hours to run a marathon ever again.

The day was going to be my day. Until it wasn't. All of the best laid plans, the bright outlook, the excitement and enthusiasm proved to be not enough and instead, on race day, I learned something new: what failure felt like. I learned a lesson that is real, emotionally raw, heartbreaking, and hard enough that even now, days later, I'm still dazed. 

Through my journey, I've had amazing support, more so than I even had the first time. I've had my husband, my friends (several of which also raced.), my team at Maverick Multisport, and my sponsors all behind me in real, tangible ways that lifted my spirits and made me feel ready to take on my own high expectations. When the medic pulled my chip at mile 101 of the race, my heart sunk and my stomach knotted- not only in my own self-pity, but in the realization that I would be breaking the news to a lot of amazing cheerleaders that I had failed.

This trip did not start with failure, though, and I feel that in time, it won't end with it either. What follows is not only my race report- what I can write of it, at least- but also an attempt to wrap my head, and my heart, around what happened, what can be done, and how to bring myself back.

The Race Report

Pre-Race Prep

We flew to Boulder the Thursday before the race, early enough in the morning to earn myself a mumbled cussing from my husband, is most certainly not as perky as me before daylight unless it is deer season. We took a plane, a train, and thanks to my friend's husband picking us up, an automobile and arrived in Boulder right at lunch time. We checked in to our AirBNB garage apartment that was less than half a mile from the IM Village and, after putting my bike back together and allowing Bryce to take a nap, headed in to town to check in. 

My nail game was ready to rumble.

Big relief to get her back together again!
 Once I collected my backpack, slipped the blue athlete wristband on,and explored the expo, we wandered around Boulder a bit, seeing the sights on Pearl Street (mainly, just shopping and bars- nothing amazing, but a fun way to kill time) and grabbing dinner. We also went to the public library and were granted a guest card so that we could check out movies to watch, since our apartment did not have TV.

On Friday morning, I essentially hitchhiked to the reservoir courtesy of a really nice woman who was in the same Facebook training group as I was. We did one lap in the beach area, about 750ish yards, to check out the water quality and get a feel for temperature. Since is a million degrees in Texas right now, I haven't been in my wetsuit to train since April (it's WAY too hot to swim in it!) I felt better getting the feeling of how it fit and how I swim in it, and my speed in the open water according to my Garmin made me excited for race day.
Great to see hard work paying off for my swim!
 Friday afternoon, my friend Sandra got in to town. She was one of my amazing support crew from Texas last year, and had been inspired watching me to train for her first as well. (Because seriously, if I can do it, so can you. Don't sell yourself short!) We went back to the village to check her in and I walked her through the process of how the gear bags, transitions, and start corrals would work. She has raced Boulder 70.3 and Austin 70.3, so she's pretty familiar with the routine. She also lives in the Denver area, and rode the course multiple times in training, so she had a lot to offer me as well. We took a drive of the course in her car (she didn't even need a map, she'd done it so often), which in turn helped me visualize where to push and where to take it easy. If you're able to do this before a race, I recommend it!
Making sure we had the schedule right.
 When training for an Ironman, you want to talk about it all the time. It takes up hours of your week in physical exercise, and even more hours on your brain. Triathletes are notoriously Type A over-thinkers, and we like making plans. So, so many plans. Thankfully, Bryce didn't have to listen to quite as much this go-around, as I had both Sandra, and my friend from Austin CC, also racing her first. Any time I wanted to complain about being hungry all the time, or stress about my bike pace, or talk about my insanely high sweat rate, I had them there, in all our nerves and bodily functions.
So proud of these two for tackling their first IM full distance race!
 Before the race at the opening ceremony, I also had the chance to meet up with two of my Maverick Multisport teammates, Jim and Michael. Jim was racing his 6th full distance, and Michael (who was featured in a video at the ceremony!) was shooting for Kona. I was going for a PR of about 2.5 hours, feeling really confident I could do it.
Is "a pack of Mavericks," an oxymoron? 

I've got a knack for meeting my Internet friends in IM Village! Kat killed it at her first full distance, too!

The whole crew, assembled and ready.

The $700 backpack
 On Saturday after lunch, we rode our bikes to the T1 at the reservoir, using Boulders extensive network of trails, part of which included the run course. After dropping our bikes and gear bags, taking our run bags to T2 at the high school, and attending the ceremony, it was time to wind down, rest up, and get ready for a 4am wake up call!
Expending precious energy to express our excitement for race day
 Race Day

We walked in the dark from our apartment to the high school, following the trail of lycra and the sound of moving busses and music to drop off my nutrition in my run bag. I had frozen my bottle of Infinit and placed it in a small, soft-sided cooler with my bottle of pre-swim mix. Once I got on the bus, I realized I had left my pre-swim mix in the bag. I had eaten some oatmeal, so I wasn't on a completely empty stomach, but was a bit frazzled that I had a kink in my plan.

Pre-race was a bit hectic. There is a considerable distance between T1 and where the bike racks are located, so going to both our bags, our bikes to air up tires, and then putting on wetsuits and saying goodbye to our people meant we had to run through the chute at 6:!5, five minutes before the cannon.

The Swim

I settled in to the chute behind the 1:00-1:15 sign, which was noticeably less crowded than my 1:30-1:45 spot from Texas. The cannon went off and I gave Mike Reilly a high five before diving in. The water is not super clear, but you can see the hands and feet of those around you. The temp was a perfect 72- cool, but not cold enough to shock my face. the course is a giant, one loop square, that allows TONS of room to spread out. I experienced getting run over much less than at Texas, and my GPS from the swim is almost perfectly straight. I finished in 1:17, a full 15 minutes faster than my time at Texas. I think I could have gone even faster, but was super proud of that time, and felt awesome coming out of the water. My transition time was also under 8 minutes, literally half of what it was at Texas. (No dilly, no dally.)

Feeling really strong out of the swim- I ran to my bike!
 The Bike

You would think that, being in the mountains, the bike course would be really difficult. Parts of it do have some real hills, but take it from me (and with a grain of salt, since I'm from Austin), it is NOT scary or impossible! For my locals- if you have ever ridden the Dam Loop, Parmer/Ronald Regan, or Fitzhugh, there is nothing at all on this course you cannot handle. I really, really enjoyed the course. Although the climbs were hard, the descents were so fun, and lasted a lot longer. There were portions of 10-15 miles that you could increase your average speed significantly with no increase in effort.

I made it further, but the splits are gone now, and this was the screenshot taken by a friend earlier in the race. I am really proud of my speed, and kept this up until the end, which would have been about a 17.3mph split, so under 6.5 hours- my exact goal!
Things were going great. Since I started the bike thirsty, I drank my whole 44ozs of Infinit about 20 minutes early, but felt really good. At the second station (I passed the first because I wasn't aware just how little I had left!) I refilled, pouring my 2-hour concentrated bottle in to the tank, and getting back on track with my fluid intake. During training, I had taken about 26 ozs/hour in 100 degree heat and 85%+ humidity and never shown any effects of dehydration. I knew thanks to the altitude, I needed more, so I also took in water at each station to supplement.

I knew I'd beat Sandra on the swim, but expected her to catch me quickly on the bike. I rode until almost mile 100 before I heard her behind me calling my name (so close!) I had noticed my speed decreasing a bit, thanks in part to a wind that picked up on the second loop, but it wasn't until I saw her riding away that I began to Just, not really right.

That's the only way I can describe it. I came around a bend from mile 100 to mile 101 and realized I really needed to stop. My heart rate was too high for the pace I was riding. I was warm, but not hot (and not burned, so my sunscreen was working), but my breathing was shallow and I felt woozy. So, at a corner under the adorable Ironman turn indicator stick figure man, I stopped to catch my breath and relax.

A police officer approached me and asked if I was Ok. I said yes, but his face indicated he didn't really believe me. He had me sit in the shade and offered me some water on my head, which I was fine with. This is when I started to get worried. My heart rate wouldn't go below 121, even at rest. Normally, my rate will drop 20-40bpm rapidly, even when I'm tired, as long as I stop moving. I also got a brief, but painful cramp in my quad when I moved to stretch my lower back out. That is also very much not normal for me.

I got up after about 5 minutes of rest and approached my bike, determined to finish the last 11 miles and get on with the run. But, as soon as I stood over the handlebars, my heart rate shot up and I had to put my head down. Right then, a medic on a motorcycle drove by, and the officers who had been watching me flagged her down. She helped me back to the shade, had me lay all the way down, and took my pulse, blood pressure, and checked my capillary refill, asking me all the while how I felt.

After her assessment, she asked me, "Do you think you need to get on your bike and ride 10 more miles?"  The me I know, the me who is stubborn, proud, and determined, wanted to look her in the eye and say, "Duh." But the me that was there, in that moment, taking in what my body was saying, just stared at the sky above me without replying. I knew what was coming. I knew I was done.

The medic took my chip, saying she couldn't allow me to keep going, and let me call Bryce on her phone while she radioed for a SAG wagon. When I heard his voice, asking me if I wanted to talk about it before quitting (he also knows "the me I know") my heart splintered, threatening to break right there on the side of the road.

When I arrived at the main medical tent and saw him standing by the entrance, the splinters got sharper, and I struggled to keep my composure. The medic in the tent went through the same routine- heart rate, blood pressure, capillary refill, and asked me about my fluid and nutrition intake. After filling in my paperwork, she handed me a sheet of paper and said I was welcome to leave whenever I was ready. I was more than ready- I wanted to run out of that tent and straight to the airport, fly home and bury myself in my bed. I wanted to grab my bike from their hands and ride back to where they'd found me, call for a Mulligan, and pretend my ride in the truck never happened. I wanted a time machine. I wanted a nap.

Bryce met me at the tent exit and folded me in to his arms, where I finally broke down and cried, adding snot to the sweat and salt I was already caking on his shirt. He told me over and over that it was OK, that I was OK, that I was the strongest person he knew and that he was proud of me. I had to catch my breath enough to look at him and say no, I am not OK, this is not OK. This hurts. A lot. He knew that, of course, but what else could he say?

We retrieved my bags from T2 and went back to the apartment, where I showered, laid my wet things out to dry, emptied my bottles of nutrition, and laid on the floor until I was finally hungry. I knew I couldn't stay there. My role had changed. I was no longer an athlete for this race, but I had to still be a friend, and I had friends out there fighting that fight still and needing support.

After grabbing a salad to eat and a box of ice cream bars to take to everyone else who'd been out watching us all day, we made our way to the run course.

Sandra catching up to me, mile by mile
The Run

The run course, although I did not obviously run it, is shaded, and it does have climbs at the ends of each out-and-back, but they are not insurmountable (just definitely something I'd have walked without shame!) I made it in time to cheer Jim as he finished his second lap, catch CC on her first and second,and just missed Sandra starting her second. When I saw her finally, I told her it was her fault that I got sick since it happened right after she passed me. She in turn let me know that it was my fault she walked the whole marathon because she was upset I DNFed. I guess it's a good thing we can't be friends next year since we'll be in the same age group, considering how we effect one another. (Kidding, Sandra.....or am I???) She crossed the finish line in 14:21, an Ironman finisher, and I am so, so proud of her. I've known her for years and watched her grow and fight and change and become an incredible woman, and I had no doubt in my mind that she'd do an amazing job. I'm devastated that I didn't get to run with her, but it was fun yelling at her in German as she made her way along her last 6 miles, and then down the finisher chute, German flag overhead, hearing Mike Reilly call her name. I was then blessed to see CC cross at 15:10, and grab her for a hug across the barrier, telling her she f*&%*$# nailed it like the bad ass she is. You ladies are every bit as amazing as you feel right now- hold on to that feeling as long as possible, forever if you can!

You Spell Heartbreak "D-N-F"

I knew I'd have to write about this, but I'm not sure that I know how. It is, to other people, especially non-athletes, a bummer, a sad moment, and a learning opportunity. And they're not wrong.

However, the experience is more. It is real grief. It is psychologically traumatizing, emotionally wrenching, mentally abusive sudden loss that has left me at once full of things to say, and at a loss for words all the same.

It is anger that my body betrayed me, no matter how I willed it to get in line. It is confusion as to how it happened, how I let it happen.
It is horror as I think of the thousands of dollars spent, vacation time consumed, stress put on my marriage, all for nought.
It is bereavement for the dream I had, the dream I was well on my way to achieving, that was suddenly no longer tangible, but still a vision in my head.
It is frustration that the pressure I've put on myself to achieve that dream now has no relief. It will continue to build until I can try, again to find relief.
It is shame and embarrassment. I wanted to cover my uniform, so as not to embarrass my teammates. I wanted to rip the athlete wristband off, to throw everything related to the race in the trash, and never see a Colorado C again. I wanted to call all of our team sponsors and swear to them that I'm better than this, that I can still do them proud, that I really, really enjoy being on an team and can pull my weight, just watch.
It is sadness. Ultimately, it is sadness. I have crossed that finish line, and know the joy, and yet, with this moment, felt not only the loss of my expected joy at this finish line, but the robbery of the joy I felt a year ago as well. It felt like I had gone backwards, fallen down, lost all the pride I'd ever felt in racing.

Thoughts on Healing

All of those emotions, rolling together, one after another, from the loss of my timing chip until now, and still further to a point I can't yet see on the horizon. And yet, I knew right away that I'm not done, that I'll be back on the starting line, more determined, more focused, more dialed in to make it happen. I also knew that I had two more days in Colorado, and that my sorrow could not and would not overshadow the joy and celebration around me. That would be selfish, unsportsmanlike, and frankly an even further waste of time and money, so I began saying out loud any positive thing I cold think of from the situation.

1. I didn't die. No really, it could have been worse. In 2015 at this very race, a man died of severe dehydration and an exercise-induced over-exertion syndrome. I wanted to be stubborn. I wanted to shove on, but the reality is, I could have done that and made a deadly mistake. Listening to our bodies, and to medical professionals who know our bodies better than we do, is vital to longevity in this sport. I still don't know if it was dehydration (I counted my ounces and seem to have been pretty close, not more than a few behind.) electrolyte imbalance, (I trained with my Infinit in the crushing heat and humidity of Texas and never had a problem), altitude (I've ridden a century and run two half marathons at 7,000+ feet with no issues, and Boulder is only 5,000ft), or perhaps just a touch of all of the above that combined to take things out of my hands. It would make it easier, perhaps, if I had that one scape-goat cause to pin down, to avoid, to ensure I don't do next time, but I don't. Instead, I am acutely aware that no matter what we do, sometimes, things just don't go our way. But, I'm still breathing.

2. I did awesome on the parts I finished. I PRed my swim significantly. I was on my way to doing the same on the bike. The training, the work, the heart I put in to prepping for this race worked, and the results were there, ready to be had. Coming off last season when every run left me wanting to heave and I couldn't be bothered to swim but at races, it is heartening to see at least some of the fruits of my labor, even if they didn't come in the form of a medal and a shirt.

3. Speaking of swag, I didn't have to buy any of the ugly swag in the tent, and saved myself money by waiting before getting the cute stuff. But for real though, the name shirt for this event was uglier than sin, and I'm relieved I get to spend my $34.95 on something else frivolous that isn't highlighter yellow. The finisher shirt was cute, so that was a bummer, but, well, my Texas backpack is bigger anyway.

Rocky Mountain National Park from 12k feet
4. I sure wasn't as sore as everyone else. I saw some miserable faces at Rocky Mountain National Park the next day, and mine wasn't one of them. I plan on doing a long run this weekend, and the only reason I should feel like death is that it's still the approximate temperature of the sun outside, but my IT bands are in great shape!

5. My shoes live to see another day. I planned to toss my shoes in the recycle pile as soon as I crossed the finish line. Now, they'll last me until my next paycheck when I have enough reward points to get a new pair for free on Amazon.

6. I didn't have the chance to crash and burn on the marathon. My 7 hour time at Texas is far less than I am capable of, and I was chomping at the bit to sweep that under the rug with this round. Had I somehow fought through the rest of the bike, there's no way my run would have been what I had worked for. In a tiny way, a forced DNF is better than plodding another 26.2, making that 18 miler I did in the blazing sun during training even more worthless.

A well-deserved giant ice cream cone.
7. It makes me truly marvel at my previous finish. I finished IMTX last spring and felt wow, if I was able to do that, anyone can. I'm certainly not that strong or special, Or so I felt. Now, I can see just how remarkable making it through to the end is- and just how fragile it can be. I took for granted that I'd finish at Boulder, since hey, I'd done it before. I'll never be that caviler again, and I'll for sure start giving myself some damn credit where it's due when it comes to my "slow" time at Texas.

8. I have amazing friends. I had people from all over the country cheering me on as I raced, and it was an awesome feeling. I had friends checking in on me before, during, and even more so after the race. Through my tears, I read words that I knew were more than platitudes, but earnest attempts to heal my heart and take away my pain. My friend Tasha, all the way from her vacation in the Virgin Islands told me, "You're allowed to be sad. Even Olympic gymnasts fall at the beam sometimes, but they're still Olympians. You're still a big deal, you know." My girlfriends, even the ones in the midst of their own celebration, gave me license to complain, to talk it out, to be upset, all the while telling my to pick up my chin and remember who I am and what I can do. They reminded me that I am not the first, nor the last, to feel like this, but that strong women who conquer the world brush it off and move on. They asked me, knowingly, what my next move was, because it was a given that there would be one.

Highest point ever for Bryce
9. My husband is amazing and was totally worth marrying.  Wedding planning is a pain in the butt, and relationships are sometimes hard, but man, he's really awesome. Even when he is at a total loss for what to do to make me feel better, knowing he really doesn't have any options that will, he is there for me, trying anyhow. After we got back to Austin, he pulled me in to the office at our house where my medals are hanging and made me look at them, and say out loud that they're not meaningless. He calls me an incredible athlete, which I think goes a bit far, but to have a cheerleader and a teammate like him, it's hard not to feel that way sometimes.

The Next Moves

Staying warm in her new finisher's jacket!
Ironman dreams are on hold for 2017. Thanks to my first place finishes at all three XTERRA races I've done, I stand a very high chance of qualifying for Worlds in Maui (it ain't Kona, but it sure sounds fun!) and that trip will be all of our race-cation funds for the year.

I enjoyed the experience of traveling for the race, of swimming, riding, and running on new turf. I don't think I'll be back to Boulder, not because I'm scared off (for real, the course is great), but because when spending the money we spend to do this, I'd rather see new places while we're at it. My thoughts are Couer d'Alene in Idaho, or Vineman in Northern California, for the 2018 season.

I'm doing better physically. Mentally, this is going to take a little longer. I know what I need to do to pick myself up, but sometimes, allowing a little wailing and gnashing of teeth does the soul some good, too.

Thank you, to my family, my friends, and of course my team at Maverick Multisport (and my awesome group of ladies at Moxie Cycling, as well!) This post was incredibly long, so I promise that with it, I'm done prattling on about it. I know that I'll still be mad about this 20 years from now, but know, too, that the anger will be duller, and that the fire to do better will burn a whole lot hotter. A big congrats to everyone who did finish, and I mean that with my whole heart.

As it turned out, the Texas Rangers were playing in Denver for an afternoon game before our flight left. Bryce and I sat 1 mile high in Rockies stadium, eating nachos and churros and cheering louder than the home crowd, and had a great time. It was then that I informed him that the entire past 6 months and this whole trip had really just been a long con to get him to the game. He doesn't believe me, but he can't prove I'm lying, either.

Mile-high at Rockies' Stadium

At least the Rangers won....


  1. Truly fantastic. It hurts and it sucks but you can see all the positives! You are a smart lady to listen to your body so we can all read your great writing instead of writing great things about who you were. Much better this way ��

  2. Jenny we're very proud of you.. Look at it this away -- determination. blood sweat & tears makes you stronger.. Karen Wilcher