Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Very Long Race Report for a Very Short Race - Ironman Lake Placid 2012

I wasn’t going to write a race report – thinking I didn’t have a race. But I did, it just didn’t turn out the way I had planned.

The days leading up to the event where great – I felt a little like a rock star (and ML would tell you I acted like one) My best friend flew in from Detroit and one of my newest friends came up from Syracuse to be with me and my family at the house we rented. I wasn’t allowed to do much except sit with my feet up and hydrate. I wasn’t nervous, but it was obvious that I wasn’t focusing on much other than the race losing my wallet one night and the car and house keys several times!

On Saturday I received a package from one of my Disney Diva friends loaded with goodies for after the race. Saturday night my coach and her family joined us for a big pasta dinner. That was when the shirts were presented. ML had taken various pictures from my collage and put them on t-shirts with “Team Deborah” at the top…….everyone had a different picture or caption that was an important part of my journey. Very cool!

I slept well considering, awaking up at 3:30 just before the alarm went off. My morning routine was exactly at it had been for all my long training days. Everyone else was up by the time we left for transition. I went to body marking and then I added my nutrition to my bike and gear bags making sure everything was in place – I thought of all those nameless people in the race videos I watched hundreds of times – now I was one of them. I went to the T2 team tent to get ready for the swim. One last trip to the porta-potty had me a little freaked out because the line was so long and I didn’t have much time. About ten people back in the line I was headed for there was a mom and her four children. She wasn’t paying attention. I slipped in the line. Yes, I cut in front of four small children – I am not proud of it, but they didn’t have to be at the start line in a few minutes.

I entered the water and scanned for the perfect spot – ha! I located my family and friends on the shoreline and swam over to wave. They got some great pictures. I looked around the crowd of 2500 other athletes and thousands of spectators. I looked at the spot where I had stood one year earlier, on the shore watching from the outside. I thought of everything that it had taken to get from that spot to the water I was now treading. I thought of all the times I had almost given up. Nothing has ever felt quite as good as that moment. I was going to have a great day. I started my watch 2 mins early.

I started in the middle – behind the thick front line of risk takers and the heavy curve of the apprehensive lining the shore. When the cannon went off I lowered my head and swam very relaxed into the crowd. I never felt the “washing machine” effect and I was rarely hit with the exception of one good whack in the head. And surprisingly I found myself right on the cable. I was stuck however. In retrospect BJ was probably right advising me to go right to the flags for the start. Starting behind that line made it very difficult to pass people. Once I got around a group, another one was right there again. Despite never really getting a long strong stroke pattern I went 37 mins for the first lap. About 2 minutes slower than I had hoped for a 1:10 finish.

I tried to yell to my family at the start of the second loop but that was fruitless. I choose to swim wide on the second loop hoping I could gain some ground. Thank God for the guy next to me! Because we were wide I wasn’t paying attention to the buoys and was about to shoot right past the turn around to the next yellow buoy – he saw me going in the wrong direction and yelled “the red one, the red one!” Finally the crowd was breaking up a bit and I had my own space closer to the buoys on the way back to shore. 1:15:35…17 minutes to get on the bike. I HAD to be on the course by 8:30 because every minute on the bike was going to matter.

Luckily I had a seat and a volunteer in the changing tent. T1 - 10:51 and I was on the bike four minutes ahead of schedule. I also had space at the mount line and easily got around the switch-back without incident. My family was yelling and waving as I went down Colden (well, the ones who realized I had changed from blue to pink – the others missed me.) That first climb is like the Syr. 70.3 prison hill – my least favorite part of the course, but I felt good. Eat. Drink. Off to Keene. I was amazed that I barely touched my brakes for most of the descent. It was obvious which athletes had not ever been on the course before – they were very hesitant. Who can blame them - that stretch is scary! I was very happy to see the bridge and the sign for 9N – just 3 months earlier I had ridden the course with a friend and had a picture from that very spot. That seemed like a lifetime ago and I was certain that my brakes were not at all hot the way they were that day – progress.

The next 15-20 miles were flat. Eat. Drink. Grab water at the aid station. Try not to think about the tight turn around. I was right where I wanted to be time wise. It was fun to see people I knew on the out and back. The weather was perfect. I was having a great day. You know how they say if you don’t like the weather in central NY just wait five minutes and it will change. That was one of the first things I learned in triathlon; whether you are feeling great or you’re in a dark place, just wait and it will change. And with that right turn to Wilmington it all changed.

I had felt this pain in my lower right back a few times recently. I’d stand and stretch or get off the bike and use the bathroom and I’d be fine. So I figured, wait five minutes and it will change. But it didn’t. The added pressure from climbing was making it worse. When I hit a short flat or a downhill it would let up enough to hope. By “cherry #3” I was in tears. Every time someone would ride by I would turn my head so they couldn’t tell. Finally I hit Hazelton Road and a few miles with no hills. I thought I’d stop at the aid station and stretch and hit the porta-potty hoping it would help. But instead I just kept going, afraid I wouldn’t continue if I got off. It was starting to get hot in the sun and when the next bout of pain started I pulled over across the road in the shade, tried to stretch and not let people see the tears. I wished I had put Tylenol in my special needs bag or bento. I thought if I could get just a couple more miles I’d have a chance to recoup on the second descent into Keene and the flat into Ausable. That would get me to the last 20 miles and maybe the pain will stop. But then it hit me – there was the “prison” hill to get through before the descent. Ok then, just get back to Lake Placid and then reevaluate.

Eat. Drink.... Drink? I was on bottle four and had a full bottle before the swim – nearly 120 oz and I had not gone to the bathroom; that can’t be good. There was less than six miles to go to get back to Lake Placid and suck the energy from the crowd to go again when I saw an aid station. I pulled over, got off the bike, handed it to the volunteer and sat on the pavement and sobbed. I was done. Seven months of training hundreds of hours, 4:30 am mornings, two broken toes, several meltdowns, thousands of dollars and it all ended at mile 50 on the bike – not even half way. Once I started to compose myself the volunteer asked what was wrong. I told him and they called for medical.

I tried one last time to go to the bathroom before agreeing to their assistance– nothing. And with that I was off to the med tent. I knew my friend Ginny would be there. She had done Lake Placid 3 times before getting to the finish and she would know exactly how I felt. I asked for her the minute we got there. I watched as her hands covered her face and she mouthed the words “oh no.” She gave me a big hug – no “its okay” no “everything will be fine.” Instead she said “you will not give up – you have to come back and do it again.”

It has not been easy – one minute I am fine and the next I’m a mess. I try to focus on three things;

#1 - One of the last pieces of advice I got before heading to Lake Placid was that if it didn’t go as planned it was not the end of the world – “be grateful you were able to be out there at all, plenty of people have much bigger problems.” That helped me to put things in perspective and make the right decision.

#2 – As hard as it was for me to be at the finish line as a spectator, I was able to watch my friends and my teammates finish for one of the first times ever. (Reality for a back-of-the-packer!) I knew how hard they had worked and it was a thrill to see their dances and expressions as they heard Mike Reilly call them “Ironman.”

#3 – And this is the most important - not for one second have I second guessed my decision. At that moment, on that day, it was impossible for me to continue. I have no doubt that was the reality…..but Impossible is Temporary :)

P.S. The jury is still out but the pain was either my kidney’s shutting down from the inability to absorb the liquid I was drinking or a kidney stone. TBD.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Road to Truth...........................

I know some of you are waiting for my “race report” on Disney Marathon #2.  I just reviewed my blog entry about last year’s race and was pleasantly surprised about the differences. I did not make the same rookie mistakes, and, with the exception of three too many porta-potty breaks, I was able to steer clear of “unforeseen circumstance.”
I did not stand on my feet all day on Saturday at the expo, or anywhere else. I sat by the pool, read a book, took a nap, drank water, and went to sleep at 9:00 p.m.  I showed up to the start feeling good. CHECK.
While I would have liked to start further up, I was not in the last corral with the pacer lady and sweep bus. CHECK.
I was focused on my nutrition, had a well practiced plan and was clear-headed every minute of those 26.2 miles. BIG CHECK.
There were even some unexpected positives! I did not get one blister. My toes nails were not at all affected. My hip was better than it has been in a whole year! (Thank you KT Tape?!) I did not stress over what to wear or what to eat in the days prior and the weather was great.
My goal was to finish 36 minutes faster than last year and with all this going for me you’d think it would have been a no brainer. Well, I was 11 minutes slower than last year.
For the first 13 miles I was on pace. Miles 14-19 were much easier than I had anticipated, but I was slowing down. Nevertheless, it was still possible to finish close to where I had hoped. Mile 20 and 21 are an out and back, so you get to see much more of the people around you. Near the middle of mile 21 I glanced across the cones at the runners in their 20th mile. Guess who I saw? The balloon lady and the bikers who put you on the sweep bus! “Are you kidding me!!?” I get to the mile marker and the woman with the watch says “you’re three minutes ahead of the pacer.”  Three minutes, okay I can do this….I’m ahead a bit and I only have to worry about it for two or three miles to be safe.  At this point I think about all the excuses I have not to finish. “I’ve done a marathon before – I don’t need to prove anything.”  “I had the flu/bronchitis ten days ago.” “Being sick caused me to miss peak training time… highest long run was only 16 miles.” “Maybe I could see June finish if I hop the bus now.”  “I’ll still get a medal.” At this point I am approaching the ramp that takes you off the highway and back into the park. Go left, get on the bus. Go right; run 3-4 more miles to the finish. I start to move left. A little voice in my head says “REALLY? Last year was a nightmare from mile 14 on and you finished. It’s a little hard at mile 22 and you’re going to hop the bus?!” Exit right. Cramping, chest hurting, and without much enthusiasm, I finish.
“Great! You did it! You rock!” All the other comments start flowing; “DLF is better than DNF is better than DNS (Dead Last Finish is better than Did Not Finish and totally trumps Did Not Start.)”  “At least you were out there.” “Time doesn’t matter, you finished!” “You are ahead of the millions at home on their couches watching TV.”  “The Courage to Start.” “I don’t even like to drive 26.2 miles!” And the list goes on.  For about 48 hours I’m pleased and bought into all the above. But after that…..”Blah, blah, blah, bullshit!” (This is where I start feeling sorry for myself.)
There were 14,300+ people that finished the marathon. Some of them did the half-marathon the day before! There were 70 people with slower times than mine! SEVENTY out of 14,300!  In the race video there are only 10 people behind me!  W.T.F.?  It’s a year later and I am much more fit. I’ve done three half-marathons, a 70.3 and dozens of shorter races. I have put in a hundred+ more hours of training in the last 12 months than I did last year. I have all the above things in my corner and what do I do – go slower!  And this year I have a whole Tri community watching, not just my family and a few close friends. They are no doubt thinking and saying “She can’t finish an Ironman in 17 hours! What was she thinking?” Now I am nothing but embarrassed and defeated and think “I can’t finish an Ironman in 17 hrs! What was I thinking?”  I have to tell my coach that I can’t do it. Surely, she must be thinking the same!
In a good luck note that was given to me before I went to Disney there was a quote. “There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth……….not going all the way and not starting.”  (Buddha) As I think back now, I understand what happened when I came to that ramp with the bus on the left. It was about truth. This is ALL about truth…..truth about who you are, truth about what you are made of, truth about your character, your values, your ability to conquer, possibilities, truth about LIFE. I could have gotten on that bus and told the world how I just couldn’t go on. But I would have known it wasn’t that bad – that’s truth. When someone asks, or when I ask myself “why do you this?” now I have an answer….I am in search of truth. I didn’t find truth out there on the course, but I’m one step closer.  As the Rascal Flatts song goes “every time you get up and get back in the race, one more small piece of you starts to fall into place.”  
You don’t find truth outside, you find it inside. My truth is about me, not about other people. I had overlooked the one thing that was of the most significance about this marathon – I did it alone. I depended on what was inside. If you read my blog about last year’s marathon you’ll know that I had five people that pushed and supported me the whole way. I was incredibly grateful to them. I would not have finished if it weren’t for all five of them. But, having others believe in you is one thing, this time I had to believe on my own. I almost let the outside take over – the balloon lady caused me to abandon my plan, think negatively, and want to quit. What others were going to think about my time took away from all the things I felt good about on Sunday but didn’t care about on Tuesday.
This is about truth. LIFE is about truth. I’ve started but “there are two mistakes one can make.” I have to stay on the road in order to go all the way. Back to IM training!