Yesterday I became a triathlete again.
Long ago when I was just getting involved with the sport, I heard that you have to complete a tri every 12 months to keep calling yourself a triathlete. It was a goal I took seriously. So seriously I did a sprint when my twin daughters were just nine months old, so it would barely have been 18 months since my last tri. That was as tight as I could humanly cut it. But I have missed years since. Once for my back surgery in 2014 and then after my last half ironman in 2018, I had to take a long complicated hiatus (see Sarah’s ski accident, my back injury and COVID), but that ended yesterday at Texas 70.3.
And I can call myself a triathlete again.
I’m over the moon.
I wasn’t sure the race was even going to happen until a few weeks ago. I’ve been slowly building my base and I decided if I could get vaccinated before the race, so I wouldn’t have any COVID stress, I was going to do it. I was nervous, but Dana encouraged me hard on a morning run. “If you’re remotely healthy enough to race, you should. You don’t know what’s in your future. Embrace today.” I knew she was right.
And I got a vaccine. So I was in!
With the COVID protocols for the race, instead of a mass start, we self seeded by estimated swim time and lined up to jump off the dock and with new swimmers starting every five seconds. I was fortunate enough to find my friend Will as we were lining up and we spent the hour in line to start together. All standing around in wetsuits on a windy brisk morning, it could be terrible to be next to the wrong person. Fortunately Will was completely calm. We caught up on life, his daughter and chit chatted about the race. We laughed. Exchanged wide eyed glances when we saw swimmers ahead of us get pulled from the choppy water early. Nothing to make the pressure worse.
We high fived before we started together and we were off. The outbound portion of the swim was CHOPPY. I’ve swum in worse, but this was definitely close to it. With the wetsuit, I never really felt unsafe or anxious, I just wanted to get through it. I knew if I could make it to the turn, it would start to get easier. When you race you have lots of time to think. I actually spent most of my swim thinking about my daughters and how they are growing up and trying to remember them as little girls. They aren’t so little any more, and I’m not ready for those little faces to fade.
As I turned back toward the swim out, the swim got smoother and I just focused on one swim buoy at a time. My stroke got more even as the water got smoother. It was actually one of the straightest swims I’ve ever done. When I rounded the final red swim buoy, that’s when I really had to fight it out. There was a hard cross chop on the water and it just felt like I ceased to move at all. I swam as hard as I could to the shore and swam until the very last second before I had to stand on the ramp. Swim 46:04.
There were no wetsuit strippers, so as I ran toward transition, I decided I’d rather strip myself before I got onto the cement, so I did that in the grass super quickly and got to my bike. Threw on my socks and helmet and I was off. Transition 4:19.
On the bike out, I saw the first crew of fans at the end of the parking lot. It was a big group from Mindright and I was so excited to know I’d know people out on the course. We wove our way out onto the Seawall and then the extent of the wind really kicked into high gear. I don’t actually watch pacing on my bike computer. I just have it set to see power and cadence which is how I control my ride and it laps every 5 miles. When I started doing 5 miles in 12 minutes, I knew I was flying. I got to the end of the bike course in record time and as soon as we made the turn around I got hit by a blast of wind that stopped me short in my tracks. I was having PR visions and they quickly evaporated. This was going to be hard. Very hard.
I just keep watching my power and grudgingly adjusted my gears down so I wouldn’t wear out my legs. 5 miles started taking more like 20-22 minutes.
The whole time I kept eating and drinking on plan and felt all in all like things were going well. I did some race math in my head to estimate how long my whole time would be based on my bike performance and tried to stay focused on the bumps and other cyclists. Never wanting to be surprised or wanting to get too close to anyone.
Finally we were near the end as I turned back off the Seawall toward Moody Gardens my girls were there with signs and cheering for me. After such a grueling 25 miles, it buoyed me for the rest of the ride in and I was elated.
Right as I got into the Moody parking lot, I slipped off my shoes for an easier transition and as I came up to the stop line a guy dismounting to the right fell over. Then the guy right in front of me crashed his bike. I was already barefoot and able to plant my foot down solidly, so I didn’t hit him or fall myself. I think I came within a centimeter of him. Eek! Bike done. 3:08.
When I started running my bike into transition I realized my feet were totally numb. Hmm…. This will make running interesting… I threw my bike on the rack and stuffed my emergency supplies into my pockets and started the run. Transition 1:33.
This is where I knew the race was going to get interesting. In spite of all my prep and laying out everything the day beforehand, I’d some how gotten to Galveston the night before without the chews I’d normally eat on the run. I was a little worried about it, and had thought of some back ups, but ultimately had ask my coach if he had any he could hand up to me on the run. He did, so I thought great. That will work. Problem solved.
But that morning when Kathy was dropping me off at check-in, right after I got out of the car something happened to break off the mouthpiece of the bladder on my hydration backpack and I felt my hydration fluids spill down my feet and all over the concrete, so there went my run fluids too. Crap.
I poured what was left of it into a disposable bottle, which I figured I could refill on the course and then I knew I’d get my hand-up from Jesse. I thought that would work, but texted Kathy too. Mostly to tell someone because really?!?!
As I started out on the run, I was feeling good. I mean my feet were numb, but everything had been going according to plan. I saw Jesse after a couple of miles and grabbed the chews and started them. I also drank what was in my bottle.
My stomach quickly let me know it was not ok. We don’t do on the fly.
I threw away my empty bottle and decided to do water and salt from the course and kept taking the chews about every two miles. About mile 4, I saw Andrea. Kathy had texted her about my situation and she’d brought a belt and a cooler filled with bottles that I could carry. HALLELUJAH!!! I got one water bottle from her to keep drinking with salt and taking the chews. It was so hot at this point I was drinking a lot and my body was caked in salt.
But my stomach just wasn’t having it. I also realized my heart rate was getting up in the tempo range and knew I had to control my pace to keep my HR from exploding. All time goals were gone. I just didn’t want to fall apart completely. I made it to about mile 8 and this time Andrea had a bottle of Skratch for me made up. I ditched the chews altogether and started taking on Skratch. I also took one of the emergency Immodiums I had with me, which I had to have her open. My hands were so shaky I couldn’t do it.
For a little bit the cramps in my stomach got worse and were weird. I’d walk a bit occasionally, but then my legs felt like they were going to cramp, so that wasn’t much of a consolation either. About mile 9.5 I said screw it and drank two glass of RedBull and did a Maurten hydrogel (You know the whole never try something new at a race? Well I was over it and had to.) I’m not sure if it was that, the Skratch or the meds finally kicking in, but my stomach finally settled and I was able to keep going and at a more comfortable pace.
While running and dealing with all of this, I kept seeing clusters of other friends spread out on the course. It would boost me every time and I NEVER wanted a single person to see me walking. It was amazing how many people gave up their weekends to make signs, come and stand for hours in the sun to cheer. My village of supporters is wide and deep and every single one of them helped me dig deeper through that run.
I finished. Run 2:25.
Total time 6:25.
Today as we were catching up on house chores, my husband found my missing chews in our bed in the sheets. Apparently after I’d gotten everything together Saturday, my dog had gotten into the stuff and scattered it. Jeff thought he’d picked it all up while I was out, but our dog had slipped the chews into our bed – they even have teeth marks on them. So that’s where they went!
I still have no idea what happened to my hydration backpack.
In retrospect, I should have extra chews in my transition bag all along. Just having extras is a good mantra. I also should have been more thoughtful about my hydration. I had extra Skratch powder. At the first aid station, I could have stopped and refilled my bottle with water and Skratch powder and just carried it the whole time. It would have cost me a few minutes, which I didn’t want to give, but no doubt not as much as the sufferfest I ended up enduring. And I just got damn lucky that my super friends came to my rescue.
The chews from my coach had fructose in them, which I know doesn’t normally ever agree with me. I should have read the label and if I had I wouldn’t have used them. Don’t assume.
Finally I could have practiced with the gels on the course. I knew they would be there, but I haven’t ordered them because they are so crazy expensive and I typically have my crap together. Except that I didn’t and this rehearsal could have given me another escape route from my predicament.
Today as I packed everything away, I put extra chews and Skratch in my transition bag and a handheld bottle I rarely use. I’ll be better prepared next time. And I am so excited there will be a next time!