In the Spring and Fall, our local YMCA organization puts on a triathlon where you swim Friday in the nice indoor pool, then start your bike leg on Saturday morning when the clock hits your swim time (and run after that…naturally).
I signed up for the full sprint distance (750m swim/12.5 mi bike/5k run) in August, ready to start training and confident that I would be ready.
Then I promptly hyper-extended my knee and knocked myself out of running (or walking…or standing…)- at all – for the duration of the training period. Confident that bike training would translate to the run, I put in my time there and in the pool.
I projected half an hour for my swim. (I’ve never been fast). I arrived at the pool with time to spare but the woman in the lane before me was going long. I was supposed to start at 7:05pm. About 7:12, she finally finished. I expected to take half an hour and had people due to show up at my house at 8:00. My timer asked if I wanted to do a couple of warm-up laps but I said “Nope. Let’s get this thing started. I have to GO.”
And go I did. Final time was 21:01. I was just a LITTLE happy with that. Seems time in the pool paid off.
I got home with enough time to tell my kiddo my time, get a cheer and high-five….and the admonition of “You need to change; you smell like sweat & chlorine”. I changed, ran a brush through my damp, chlorine infused hair, threw on a headband and greeted my lovely guests. We sat around the table partaking in amazing conversations and laughter and chili and cupcakes.
I slept fitfully but surprisingly woke up with my alarm feeling well rested. I jumped out of bed…and immediately ran to the restroom for the first of multiple times that hour. My body was not happy with something and was determined to eliminate it by any means necessary. I will spare you the graphic details. But as the clock ticked closer to the time I had determined we needed to leave, I was feeling better. I figured there was nothing left in my system (foreshadowing anyone?) and I would be fine once I got going.
TheKid went with me to the race. We got there early and sat in the van to stay warm until it was time to cluster with everyone else outside of the bike racks. As my stomach started to churn and cramp again, I repeated multiple times “This was probably a mistake.” but then chalked it up to nerves and reassured TheKid that I’d “be fine”. He made it his life’s mission to make me laugh and be goofy with him but I didn’t have it in me. I stood huddled in a jacket with the other racers, vacillating between desperately wishing I was still in bed and looking forward to seeing how the bike work paid off.
I quickly realized the work was not going to pay off. At all. After the first slight incline I started checking gears and trying to figure out why the bike wasn’t moving like it should. A few minutes later I realized the bike was fine. I was not. (See above: nothing left in my system) A guy cruised passed me yelling encouragement. I glared at his rapidly disappearing back. A few minutes later a girl passed me, shooting me a concerned look. She wasn’t moving fast and I decided to keep her within chasing distance. She disappeared just as quickly and not long after, I found out there wasn’t food left in my system so my body was going to eliminate water too. Yay. No fuel. No hydration. It’s the stuff of legendary bonks.
The bike course was 12.5 miles, mostly a square but with two little out and back additions. By the time I got to the first one, I was barely staying hydrated, barely moving and could only focus on my front wheel and the white line. I told the race official “I’m not going to be able to run. And I am most definitely not doing the extra mileage. I’m going back to the start as quickly as possible.” He waved me through, I hiccuped through a few quiet sobs and continued trying to find a gear that didn’t feel like I was pedaling through quick sand.
I spent the rest of the (approximately) 10 miles desperately trying not to weave all over the place because the truck of volunteers picking up cones was following me, very obviously keeping an eye on me. And I was determined that I was going to roll back in under my own power, not in the bed of a truck. That (approximate) 10 miles felt like 100. And felt like I was climbing a steep grade the whole time. It was a miserable long morning. But when I (finally) rolled back into transition, gross, defeated & destroyed, long after everyone else was out on their run, TheKid was standing there waiting. And as soon as I came into view he started jumping up and down and cheering “THAT’S MY MAMA! GOOOOO MOM!” And somehow, that made it better.
I checked in with the race director to make sure she knew my status and that I did not actually complete the bike portion. And then we started the limp to the van. A friend was there watching and he came over to say “hi” and see how I felt. I know we talked. But all I really remember was trying to hand TheKid my bike then realizing I wasn’t sure I could walk entirely un-aided. But by the time TheKid pulled the van into the driveway, I was starting to second guess myself. I had been sitting for a bit, re-hydrating and only slightly nauseous. Then I tried to stand upright, the world tilted alarmingly and I found myself slumped against the side of the vehicle. Soooo yeah. Probably a good thing I stopped when I did.
Surprisingly, it’s only twelve hours since I first arrived at the race site and I feel quite human again. I showered and slept for a couple of hours. I met some friends at a pizza joint to celebrate birthdays and while I avoided pizza, the bread sticks were the BEST THING EVER. I’m able to drink water without my stomach complaining and cramping. And I have realized, as frustrating and painful as the day was, a lot of good came from it too:
1. I realized I do not regret the attempt. At all. I probably would not have been nearly as sick if I had not pushed myself. But if I didn’t start, I would have always second guessed myself.
2. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in training and goals. Those can become so much a part of my identity that I start to weave my own self-worth into them. Having my day destroyed by circumstances (mostly) outside of my control made me re-evaluate. I could have had a total melt-down, beat myself up, hid in bed, etc. I was on the razor’s edge when I passed the point of no return at that first out and back. As soon I skipped that mileage, I solidified my DNF. And I did cry. I could have easily ridden the spiral down into the pits of disappointment, embarrassment and despair. That incriminating internal voice was ready to deliver be-ratings, to cover me in the labels of “failure” and “worthless” and “hopeless”. Or. I could embrace the fact that this was my experience for the day. It was painful, and yes – embarrassing. But I could decide how it defines and impacts me. I could take the lessons given to me (don’t eat chili the night before a race?), accept that this was the race I had to give and move on. That’s not to say that I didn’t have to battle that nasty little voice. There were definitely moments I considered sitting down on the side of the road and calling TheKid to come get me. And when I had to get off and walk up a fairly small incline because I could not physically push the pedals in the easiest gear I had…well….I was NOT saying anything positive in that moment…either verbally or mentally.
There are times I can honestly say I was physically doing everything I possibly could…and there are moments I look back and wonder…maybe…did I have a little extra speed in me? But in the end, my child cheered un-embarrassed, despite the situation. And this afternoon I sat surrounded by friends who, when hearing that I did not finish, simply said “I’m so sorry. How are you doing now?” They were not disappointed IN me. They were disappointed FOR me. They do not love me any less and the only way a race is going to impact our relationship is if I let training take priority over them.
My legs are absolutely destroyed. It’s oddly a reassurance that my body really was as thrashed as it felt at the time. I’m giving myself today and tomorrow to lick my wounds, bandage my pride and recover. Monday I’ll be back in the pool. Next week I’ll be back on two wheels. I have the winter to add in strength training & yoga and dial in nutrition. I’ll build a solid base and Spring Sprint, I’ll have my redemption on that course.