Tuesday. Whoops, guess I am a little bit of a slacker since my last post was about Tupper Lake Half Ironman and this post is about Rhode Island half Ironman. Either I’m not posting enough or I’m racing too much…. You can decide.
I am going to approach this report a little differently. First I’m going to talk about all the good things that happened.
- I got to meet Karen Smyers.
- I did not cry.
- I had two great friends there to cheer for me and peel me off the ground at the end.
- Fellow competitors pulled me through and were great.
- I got to meet Karen Smyers.
To be fair I have to underline that I went into this race as a training day NOT as a race. Repeat, this was supposed to be a training day. That said, I think we all know that is baloney because once the gun goes off you are racing. You can’t help it. You look at the time, you worry about how you are doing. This is why I wanted to do this race in the first place. I knew I needed more pressure from somewhere. I needed something to be not so kind and understanding. Something to push me to work even harder. I let Tupper Lake be all about the emotion of my one year out, blah, de blah and I’m okay with that. It was a door I had to walk through — emotions that I had to process. I get that. But now that was all over and I needed to work even harder. I needed the pressure of a long workout where I couldn’t back out. Nothing better than a point to point half Ironman for no escape route!
I thought of this training day as one of the elements required to turn a lump of coal into a diamond. Coal needs a lot of high heat and high pressure to become transformed and I figured Rhode Island might provide the necessary ingredients to help continue the transformation I started in October. The three races I have done this year have been very hard for me. I feel weaker in every discipline including discipline itself. My idea was to add a little more pressure to my natural lumpiness and end up a more brilliant gem in the end. Yeah, nice idea…. Nature takes a long time to turn a lump of coal into something brilliant — why I thought it was going to happen in a year is beyond me. (Even writing that I have to think, how can a year NOT be enough time?)
I was lucky enough to spend the week out at my brother’s house near the race start (another advantage to doing this race is I have familial accommodations very near by). I figured I would use it as a training week. My own version of camp. I asked my friend the Mermaid Queen to come out with me and help me swim and hang out. I didn’t do any super crazy workouts during the week. Wednesday easy 90 run/walk and a short swim. Thursday easy peasy spin on bike plus short swim. Friday 1 hour run/plus short swim. Just enough to keep the muscles going and to work a little on my ocean water swimming.
I was really tired all week and I forgot some of my vitamins so we made an emergency run to the store to stock up. Not sure it helped. I was feeling systemically weak but I was also trying to convince myself that I would suddenly be brilliant on Sunday. I actually thought I felt okay on Saturday and though I didn’t sleep that many hours I really did feel rested.
The general idea of the race is you start in Narragansett, RI with the 1.2 mile swim. Then you ride your bike 56 miles to Providence. And then you finish with a 13 mile run in Providence. The logistics require you go drive to Providence and drop off your run gear the day before so it will be there when you get off your bike during the race. You then drive back to Narragansett and drop off your bike. Major pain in the buttola. Many athletes stay in Providence and do the reverse commute. For me, Saturday was drive to Providence, register and leave off run bag. Back home to pack my other transition bags. I did a very half-hearted packing job. I didn’t have a single gel with me. I just brought my Infinit. I figured I could just get gels on the course. I apologized to my bike for not taking it in for a tune up. It’s just a training day, it’s just a training day I kept saying.
Race morning. Of course I miscalculated how long it would take to get to the race. It was one road with 1,500 athletes and families trying to get to the beach. My friends G&D were driving me and I think I gave them a little heart attack when I yelped when I saw a cyclist ride by with the name “SMYERS” printed across her butt. Oh My God!! I think that was Karen Smyers!! I didn’t know she racing. She is my number one inspiration for getting through the last year. She is a professional triathlete known for overcoming several obstacles including a bike crash that left her with broken bones and punctured lung as well as having the same Thyroid condition I had.
As it turns out my bike rack was right next to her bike rack — only about 20 bikes separated us. I thought it would be bad form to go up to her as she was getting prepared to race but then I thought, how often does an opportunity like this come up? I swallowed my pride and went up to her and excusing myself said “I just had to let you know that you were my number one inspiration for getting through this past year. I had the same diagnosis and treatment as you and I looked to you to be my role model to get through it.” She was so nice and thanked me for telling her. I told her “Two weeks ago was my one year anniversary and I did a half Ironman and today I’m doing a second and you were my inspiration to get through it all.” She looked at me with a little concern. For a fleeting second, I thought she was raising her hand to my head to take my temperature, instead she asked with true concern “how are you feeling?” I told her pretty good, just not as strong yet but I still look to her as my role model. (Of course I thought it was funny noting she is soooo tiny as I said that.) She said “that’s exactly how I got through it, I had a role model I looked to and I just kept going.” Then I decided that I should probably leave her alone since we both had to start our race and it really wasn’t cool to bother someone right before the race. She could have been a real jerk about it but she wasn’t. It was only a minute but it was a huge moment for me. It was a sign!! (Wait a minute, my pink cap at IMLP was a sign too, right? Better not read too much into these signs…)
I went back to my transition station thinking “I can’t believe I met Karen Smyers. I can’t believe I actually talked to her. Face to face.” It’s not often you get to meet someone who had such a big influence. When I first got diagnosed I was really devastated. But when read about Karen Smyers and how she went back to racing and made it into the Triathlon Hall of Fame after having the exact same surgery and treatment that I had, I was so hopeful. I read everything I could about her. Every interview, every article. If she could do it, I would try.
My wave went off third. Right after Karen’s. She was probably half way to Providence by the time I got out of the water. I can’t really explain what happened during my swim. It was an ocean swim, out to sea and back. On the way out I kept sighting every 8 strokes. And by the end of 8 strokes I had drifted so far off course it wasn’t even funny. I would shuffle my way back in. Then the tide would take me out again. I just couldn’t stay close to the buoys. At one point I thought “I think you are actually supposed to have some muscles to swim, this isn’t working.” I tried everything but out to sea I went.
On the way back I felt it was taking a really long time. I usually feel that about 3/4 way through the swim and that’s when I know I’m going to end up at 48 minutes or so. Unfortunately I had just started the return and had a long fight back. Two other gals from my wave were fighting me the entire time. I spent too much time trying to get away from them. I should have been meaner and kicked back but I just couldn’t do that (particularly since I wasn’t sure it wasn’t actually my fault and not theirs). My wetsuit felt fine (which frankly amazes me every time), I was practicing all the things we worked on earlier in the week — not crossing my arms, head down — I just was going nowhere. Even the last little bit to get into shore seemed to take forever. When I got out of the water my watch said 58 minutes. I almost had a heart attack. I think that was my longest swim ever!! Extra kick in the pants when I later read one gal’s report and she said it was a “nice swim.” I guess I am just weak… I did laugh though to see one of the gals from my wave’s time was exactly the same as mine. So we were duking it out from the beginning.
Coach Mermaid Queen was there cheering when I got out of the water. I felt bad that I didn’t swim better but I couldn’t really feel bad because I didn’t know what I did wrong! They had three baby pools to run through to clean off your feet and wetsuit strippers which is always a very nice touch. I had two gals who had my wetsuit off before I could even get my butt on the ground and then they both grabbed my arms and I was up and into transition in one second. That could have easily been 5 minutes that day.
On the bike and immediately I was aware I had no zip. I had a big breakfast trying desperately to eat 800 calories but I fell short. I didn’t have my Odawalla protein drink with me and for now on that will not be an acceptable omission from any training day or race. I didn’t kill myself in the swim so that wasn’t it. I just couldn’t get going. I had driven the course the day before and was convinced it was flat. Now it just seemed a constant little uphill and then more hills and hills. They were all little hills but where were the flats? I was drinking my Infinit formula and just trying to keep a good cadence going. I concentrated on nothing less than 90 rpm and found myself living in my small chain ring. Ugh… that’s not a good sign. I shifted between my big chainring and my small chainring more than I have ever done in any other ride. I was also aware of the non-stop parade of other competitors passing me like I was standing still. I thought I felt headwind but then I thought maybe I was imagining it. Can we start over please?
Other interesting note was the number of penalties being handed out for people drafting (staying too close behind a rider) or blocking (riding next to another rider and making it hard for other people to pass). They were passing out penalties right and left right out of the gate. They had told us 3 penalties and you would be disqualified. I hugged the side of the road to stay out of everyone’s way and just kept pedaling. I am pretty sure I have never seen so many penalties being handed out but then again I am usually starting 45 minutes behind all of these guys and not before them.
After mile 30 there were some real downhills but too late. But by then I was really starting to fade. Something wasn’t right but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I was taking in all my calories but I just felt weak, weak, weak. Oh no, was it happening again? Was I slipping backwards? I’m just weak. I can’t work any harder.
Mile 40 my stomach starts to spasm. Cramps. It hurts. I’m exhausted and tired. I want to quit. I have never wanted to quit a bike ride so badly. I could have pulled over to the side of the road and just laid down and gone to sleep. This was that old, terrible, exhausted feeling. I’m screwed. I have to quit. I can’t do this. Get me out of here. You can’t quit. Karen Smyers is here. You can’t quit on the day you meet Karen Smyers!!! I have to quit. I can’t even pedal.
Then we hit a hill. A real hill. Not the beast or anything. Maybe like State Line hill. Nothing terrible but now it’s late in the race and I passed tired 10 miles earlier. I start climbing. Oh no. I see two guys walking their bikes up the hill. Don’t look, don’t look. If you look at them it is the kiss of death. You’ll think you can get off your bike too. I have to get off. I’m exhausted. I can’t pedal. You have done hundreds of bigger hills than this. This is not a big hill. Then all of a sudden this booming voice comes into my ears “YOU WILL NOT STOP PEDALING. YOU WILL GET UP THIS HILL!” I look up and there is some crazy lunatic guy dressed in red, white and blue with red, white and blue face paint on screaming like a drill master. “DO NOT STOP, I SWEAR TO YOU YOU CAN SEE PROVIDENCE AT THE TOP OF THIS HILL.” Then a guy is riding right behind me going “come on, kill this hill, come on, you can do this, come on.” Then the gal in front of me starts yelling “we have this, we have this.” It’s not even that big of a hill (or maybe it was, but I felt it shouldn’t have felt that hard) but we were all grunting and encouraging one another. Oh God, I will have to dig down into my soul to find this one. But it’s that crazy guy’s voice that is pulling me up the hill. Okay, okay, I can do this. I gulp as I pass the two guys walking their bikes.
I get to the top and of course painted-face man lied. Not even close to seeing Providence. But it wasn’t hilly any more. Now my stomach is spasming. I want to puke but there is nothing to puke. It’s just cramping. Okay, once you get to Providence you can DNF. Just get to Providence. If you stop here, no telling how or when you will get home. Besides your friends are waiting for you in Providence you have to get there and you will just go out to lunch and call it a day. The roads become really choppy and I think downright dangerous in some spots. I barely missed some spots that would have easily caught my wheel and sent me spinning. I was surprised I did not see more casualties but then again there had been plenty of time for an ambulance to sweep in and remove them before I even got there.
Then my other voice chimed in. What the heck are you talking about? You are going to get off this bike, slap the biggest Natascha Badmann smile on your face and put your running shoes on. I don’t care how sick or tired you feel. You go until you fall over or pass out. Now shut up and pedal. Oh God, oh God, okay I will just put on my running shoes. Slap a smile… Yeah… How do I smile?
When I finally made it to T2 (bike to run transition) it was almost 4 hours. The longest bike ride in any of my half Ironmans. I have to go back and look but it might have been longer than my Disney half when I had 3 flats during the bike… It was a nightmare. And now the nightmare was getting worse. Where were the clouds and thunderstorms they had predicted? All I see is blue skies and sun…. It’s hot already…. I’m screwed. I search the skies for a sign of a cloud but there are only a few white puffy ones far away from the sun. “It’s just you and me kiddo” I hear the sun say with a sneer.
I take my water bottle (only has powder no water yet because I dropped it off yesterday) and head towards the only official looking guy I see. He is standing near the run exit and I say, “I don’t feel well, I think I need to stop. Where do I turn in my number?” He tells me he is not sure and to ask the guy at the next table it is just up the road a bit. He points in a direction I don’t want to go. I don’t know what to do but my feet move anyway and now I’m on the official run course and everyone is cheering. I start running to get away from everyone. It feels like little gnomes are punching me in the stomach. Please just let me out of here. My feet are continuing on without the permission of my head.
I get to the first water station. Finally some water. I can’t drink. I can’t eat. Just take water with you. Pour water on your head, start now. It’s hot. I take sponges and put them in my shirt. I can’t even take a sip of water my stomach hurts.
All I can think is when do I duck out? Mile 1? Mile 6? What do I do? I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I am exhausted. I can’t get any nutrition or hydration in. My stomach hurts. I am M.I.S.E.R.A.B.L.E. And then I hit the three tier hill. You must be kidding me. It’s a ridiculous hill in three sections. Very steep. Similar to Hook Mountain Suicide Hill. Nobody is running it. Two really fast fit guys pass me. All of a sudden one turns around and looks me square in the face. “You can do this. Keep going.” I am a little taken aback why he would say anything to me. I think I might have been mumbling or stumbling or something. Then I said out loud to nobody “what mile can I get out of here?” Some guy is right in my ear saying ” you can get out at the end, c’mon just keep going you can do this.” But I knew I couldn’t. I still couldn’t take a sip of anything. Little gnomes having their punching practice.
Then I see this Austrian or German guy who I ran into the day before. He had been wearing a Rev 3 hat so I stopped and talked to him about the race. I had told him how hard I thought Rev 3 it was. He had agreed. Now he sees me and yells to me “You, I know you! Rev 3! C’mon you can do this!!” I’m walking and must be looking very pathetic. How do I escape?
Then the most bizarre thing happens. At mile 4 my stomach stops cramping. Just like that. The spasms just stop. The gnomes put down the boxing gloves. It’s a miracle. Poof. I can finally take a sip of my drink. Oh my God. It just stopped. It had been spasming and cramping since mile 40 of the bike and then it just stopped. I drank some more. It’s okay. I can’t believe it. I try to run. Err – nope contraction — Stomach cramp. Okay, okay, I was just testing the boundaries. I can do a fast walk/slide but I can’t do anything to jostle. But if I can drink and eat, I can walk. I keep experimenting. I tried to eat a gu. Couldn’t do it. Immediate spasms. Okay water seems okay. I take a banana. No problem. That goes down. Okay, okay, let’s work with this. Walk as fast as you can. See if you can slip in a jog here and there. Ice, ice and more ice at every water station. It’s so hot. Half a banana. Just eat the bananas. I stop and let them pour water down my back, over my head, down my shirt at every stop. They give me sponges. They give me bananas. Every single volunteer is so nice. It’s mile 5 and I don’t think I am going to die any more. Now I don’t have an excuse. Now I HAVE to keep going because I am not in miserable pain but I’m exhausted at this point. Okay God, if they will give me enough time I will walk to the finish. It’s not what I want but if I am being honest it’s what I can do — so I have to, right? As long as the little gnomes don’t punch my stomach, I can crawl.
Every one is so nice. Saying encouraging things even though all I can do is walk. I must look pathetic. The heat is unbearable. I’m too far in to quit. I can’t quit at this point. My friend Gerry comes out to find me. I tell him to go find out what the cut off is. I don’t want to keep going if I won’t make the cutoff. He comes back telling me I have plenty of time. Okay. I’m walking this and stopping for a full ice bath at every station but I’m going to do it. Not what I had planned at all. On top of this I had to endure a woman running past me saying “Oh my God, you’re 51? You are AMAZING! I hope I can be doing this at 51!” I wanted to smack her. Since when is 51 old? She runs past me with a 31 emblazoned on her calf. Where’s my cane? I want to smack her. 51 is not AMAZING, it is not INSPIRING. You just worry about your own race you whipper snapper you. Three different people tell me I’m an inspiration to them. Ten people ask me if this is my first half Ironman. I must look pathetic. I HATE when people tell me I inspire them because it means I look unlikely to be able to do it. I hate that.
They say on the website “Amica Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island, with more than 1,200 competitors at the start line, saw pleasant conditions at the start and water temperature at 69.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Finishers were greeted with
sunny skies and temperatures in the low to mid 80s.” Mid 80’s my foot. I looked up the temperature from weather underground and it said the high temperature in Providence was 90. I wish I could say it was humid too, but really it wasn’t. But there was just no shade until you went under overpasses. The three tier hill did have shade, but otherwise there was a lot of sun.
I want to say one thing about the support for this race. Every single aide station was stocked to the full with food, coke, pretzels, gels, cookies, potato chips (I couldn’t even eat a single potato chip — that’s how much my stomach hurt!). Every station was stocked with tons of water and ice right up until the end. If you wanted an entire gallon of water on your head they would do it. I was putting a cup of ice down my back and one down my shirt and one on my head every station. Even after 8 hours they had ice and sponges and I never heard the words “sorry we are out of that” once from anyone. The last aide station I hit had just as many people as it had when I started and just as much food, ice, and water and more important — cheering. That was truly impressive. As a back of the packer we are often left without the ice or sponges and even, I’m sorry to say, water. But not this race. They had everything. And every single volunteer was smiling and encouraging. It really helped.
I finally finished in what I think is my longest half Ironman to date just shy of 9 hours. I am the LAST woman in my age group to finish (I think there were six who didn’t finish….). Un-freakin-believable. This? This was the race where I meet Karen Smyers and this is what I do? I thought Tupper Lake was bad, this was, was, a lump of coal in my stocking. This wasn’t even a really hard course — I should have smoked that bike course. It wasn’t even close to a Rev 3 course (though the 3 tier hill was pretty bad). I know it was a training day but I’m not exactly sure what I just trained for. Refereeing Gnome boxing? Ice packing?
So right now I have to do a lot of thinking. I’m not sure if I should do Ironman Canada. I’m not sure I am physically strong enough. I am sure if I had another six months of training I could do it, but right now, I’m not sure. Based on the times in Providence I wouldn’t make the cutoff. Even my times from Tupper would make it very close. I haven’t had a single good race yet this year. If anything it started off bad with St. A’s and has been going downhill since. One might say “oh, c’mon, you just did a half Ironman two weeks ago.” To which I respond “yeah but that stunk, and I’m going to have to do double that distance in one day in six weeks so I should be able to to do two mediocre half ironmans two weeks apart.” I really feel I should have been able to do this. Well mayyyybe there were extenuating circumstances.
I’m not ready to throw in the towel quite yet. I woke up Monday morning to find I got a serious surprise attack of my period ten days early. I’m thinking that might have had something to do with all the cramping and fatigue. I’m a little concerned as to why that would happen but at least it gives me a reason. Today my leg muscles are tight which actually makes me happy. I figure if my butt hurts it actually got a workout. I’m going to keep on going but where I will end up remains to be seen.
I have a big and important doctor’s appointment on Thursday where I will get everything tested upside down and twice. This will be a very important day. It’s my 3 month check up. A lot of blodd to draw. All my counts of everything will be tested and we will see if the antibodies are going down. I will see if I am still anemic and if my Vitamin D levels are finally normal (how could they NOT be with all the vitamin D I have been injesting and the amount of sun I get?) We will also be discussing the dates for my hopefully final round of radiocative iodine treatment which is due now but they will hold off until after Ironman.
I have my own Lake Placid training camp in two weeks where I will test my mettle yet again. I will reevaluate then. Or I can just go and muddle through Canada anyway. After all, it’s paid for and what if there is some miracle and I pull it out? Worst case I just get a nice vacation in the Canadian mountains. Then I can just retire. Ah, retirement, doesn’t that sound grand? Tai Chi, Tennis, Yoga, Lunches, Shopping…. It sounds like a dream…. And then maybe the Gobi Desert.
My training camp headquarters for the week.
Me and my swim coach the Mermaid Queen.
Karen Smyers and rainbows and I STILL don’t have a good race…. er training day.
My morning rock meditation seat.