Thursday. Well the Thursday after I originally wrote this, finally getting around to publishing. Yes I know it has been over a month since I have published a blog entry. I’ve written them but I haven’t published them because they would not have done me or anyone else doing an Ironman any good. Since July it has been Ironman season — Lake Placid, New York City and then Mont Tremblant. No big breaking news here, I didn’t finish Ironman AGAIN. I’m not devastated. I’m tired but not devastated.
I knew for awhile now that training was not looking Iron-worthy. Constantly fatigued, anemic, sore and stressed I knew Ironman was a long shot back in January. In July when I spent Ironman Lake Placid in bed weak and tired I knew things were not right. I have taken pills on pills since then. I have slept days away trying to get rested. Nothing was working and I knew even on my last couple of workouts when I was having to stop and get off my bike that things were not going well. I knew, but I also held onto a little glimmer of hope.
To file under “hindsight has twenty-twenty vision” — I should not have stepped up to the starting line. I knew my heart I wasn’t able to do it but I got swayed by the swag. I wanted the cool bag, I wanted to believe all the chants of “of course you can do it,” I wanted to believe the beautiful weather would make me magically stronger. Of course sitting here now I realize how silly that was but in the moment I had Ironman fever.
One thing about Ironman training is most people have doubts about whether or not they have trained to their potential, they have thought of every little item that might make their race go more smoothly, or if their nagging injuries will pass. Everyone has some kind of doubt which is why everyone else around them gets used to saying “Of course you can do it.” “You’ll be fine.” “You’ve done all the work.” Can I? Will I? Have I? I didn’t think I did but I really, really wanted to believe that by some miracle I would wake up on race morning and feel fantastic. But alas, you cannot fake an Ironman. Either you can do it or you can’t. And right now I can’t.
Truly though, I am not upset about not finishing Ironman. What I did find, however, was a huge emotional let down when IM was over. I had an emotional crash because I realized that training for Ironman had been my glue for so long — it was what kept me from falling apart. I thought for sure when Ironman was over the stress and strain of everyday life would become unbearable. What I realized is it wasn’t the actual training that was therapeutic for me, it was the focus. The more I could think about Ironman — no matter how poorly my workouts went, the less I had to to focus on the real issues of my life that were sucking the life blood out of me. I would gladly ride another hundred miles at 13 miles an hour and worry about how to improve my speed if it meant I didn’t have to go home and deal with everything going on there.
But now Ironman is over. Training is over. The race is over. Doesn’t mean I can’t work out and of course I will. But the intense focus, the distraction is over and that change is going to be very hard for me. Now I don’t have the distraction. It’s just me and reality.
I’m ten days out from Ironman and I still don’t feel any better. I’m just exhausted. Slept 12 hours the other day (went to bed at 7 p.m. and didn’t wake up until 7 a.m.). But last night I had a normal night’s sleep (10-5) and I feel okay this morning so maybe I am turning around.
But what happened? To be very honest? I don’t really know. I did everything I know how to do to prepare for this race. My nutrition was mapped out, my gear was all prepped and ready, I had rested as much as I could and I took every pill that I could. (Shout out to my Mermaid who diligently sent me daily reminders to take my pills.) Alas it wasn’t enough. There is something else wrong and when I’m emotionally strong enough to go and find out what it is, I will. I blew off my doctor appointment in June because I didn’t have it in me for her to tell me something else. I’ll see her in September.
The weather in Mont-Tremblant was spectacular. If I could have picked the most perfect temperature the predicted 70 degrees with light cloud coverage would have been it. I took that as a hopeful sign. I knew from doing that half-ironman up there that it would be a well-run race. I wasn’t worried about the logistics either. I knew what was coming course-wise and yes it worried me a bit but I figured I was now rested and it was two months later and I had been doing my hill workouts. It was also 20 degrees cooler! I figured I had to do a little better than my abysmal and depressing 53 minute swim and 4 hour 15 minute bike in June. I just had to. Seriously how could I not? Insert evil snicker here.
Swim started just fine. I don’t get nervous before open water swims. I also don’t get nervous before mass swim starts. I’ve been in enough to know that in about three minutes I would be in my groove and have my own space and frankly swimming in a lake is just about my favorite thing to do. It is just such an awesome experience to swim a mile (or two) out into the wide open lake and not have to be bothered with turning around. I knew I would be very happy in a few minutes just stretching out and swimming. And I was. My friend Cat was at the start and gave my wetsuit a lift and I think that was the best my wetsuit had ever fit (I had done three race swims in it plus two practice). My arms had room in the shoulders. There was nothing rubbing on my neck. I felt really comfortable.
At first I found myself doing a little of my typical veering right but I fixed that by pulling less with my right arm and pulling harder with my left. I made a mental note that I would have to work on evening those out but I was now really swimming straight. I was on the buoys the whole time. (Could that adjustment have made a difference in my swim time? Better to swim faster veering right or slower straight?)
I hit the end of the outbound buoys at 41 minutes. At first I thought that was not good because I knew it wasn’t really the halfway point but then I thought if I was going for 53 minutes for 1.2 (groan) I was on time. Groan but willing to concede to a 1:46 swim because that was similar to what I had done in 2008 with a broken shoulder. And, that would match my 1/2 IM time so it was not unreasonable.
I made the right hand turn and felt the water was much choppier but I still felt like I was making forward progress. I felt comfortable and I had people still swimming with me.
The final turn to head back was where I started to feel a delay. I was immediately aware of a slight current against me. Nothing big and I was still moving, but if it was enough for me to feel it, it was probably significant. I got my first cramp in my left calf. My left calf has something wrong with it and day-to-day I feel a knot in there. I had taken a salt pill before I started in the hopes it would fend off any cramps. The cramp was nothing like IM 2010 Canada cramps and our coach had just finished instructing one of the gals if she gets a cramp to try and kick a little to get some blood down into the legs. I did that and it seemed to work. The cramps started coming a little more regularly but every time I got one I did a soft kick for about 15 seconds and it went away. I think I did that 4 or maybe 5 times max. So MAYBE we are talking 2-3 minutes total of soft kicking and not really paying attention to arm stroke. But even when I was soft kicking I never stopped swimming.
When I got out of the water and saw a time on my watch of 1:58 I nearly died. What the heck? I had no idea why. I had felt good in the water. I thought I was swimming straight. I wasn’t tired. Cramps were not that many. The only thing I can think of at this point is the unevenness of my pull and that I did notice a couple of time that final push in my stroke fades a bit. If I am not watching that I don’t think I maximize my full stroke. That said, I don’t think my stroke is any worse than it has been in any other year of my triathlon career so why now do I have the slowest swim of my entire life?
I get out of the water, long walk/jog to transition, change and get on my bike. 12 minutes. I’m okay with that. Wasn’t my fastest but considering the long trek and the full change of clothes due to cool temps I was okay.
Within the first mile on the bike there is a small climb out onto Monte Ryan. Right then I knew something was wrong. My quads felt shredded. I’ve never felt this in a triathlon coming out of a swim. My quads felt like they feel after doing hill repeats over and over. They just couldn’t work. I felt deep ache in both of my quads. I couldn’t figure it out. I decided it was related to the cramping thing and that I needed salt and I needed to spin my legs and work out whatever bad circulation is going on in there. I kept spinning in a light easy gear. Lactic acid maybe? I honestly do not know. I’ve never felt that before.
After a couple of miles my legs started to feel a little better. When I hit the 1 hour mark I was at 13 miles. Not so good because I knew I needed a 14 mph to make 8 hours.
My quads did feel better as the course went on. File under too little too late. By the time I hit Duplesses I was trying to calculate how I could recover the lost time. There was no way.
I remember being at this point in the half Ironman and ended up making the cutoff due to the generous return on the bike. It wasn’t happening this time. I found myself having to get off the bike on the return trip. I knew it was over. When I saw my watch read 1:30 p.m. I knew it was really over and the only thing left to do was the ride of shame into the transition area where the officials were waiting for me and were really nice as they asked for my chip.
I have no explanation. I have nothing to say other than I wasn’t strong enough. It’s not that my training plan was bad, it was fine, similar to all my other training plans. I’d like to say it was mental stress but my family rallied for the last two weeks before the race and took over supervising in CT and let me stay put in NYC before the race.
So that’s the story. I wasn’t strong enough. I’m still not strong enough. I should have been smarter and realized that and just showed up to cheer. I let my ego get in the way and think that Ironman is more mental than physical. Really I am here to tell you that is not true. I understand the whole underbaked cookie theory (better to be an underbaked cookie than an over-baked cookie) but you still need all the ingredientts to make a cookie. There are ingredients before you send the cookie to the oven. I wasn’t just missing the chips, I was missing the batter!
Of course I had a mental melt down after the race. I was blessed to have some friends there to hold my hand and pour the wine afterwards. I was aware the entire time that it wasn’t Ironman I was upset about. It was the end of my “therapy.” I was so frightened of what would I do now that I had to deal with the ever growing list of crap I have to deal with? Every day there is some drama of some kind. I truly didn’t want to face any of it.
So now I’m 9 days out and believe it or not I am okay. I’m starting to see that yes, I am okay to deal with the multitude of tasks waiting for me. In fact I’m starting to see that I’m looking forward to doing a bunch of other things (when I actually feel a little better). I am looking forward to swimming just for fun (not more than a mile and more time in the jacuzzi than the lap pool). I am looking forward to playing tennis more than once a month. (But no competition for now, just hit and have fun). I’m looking forward to some hikes in the Fall foliage. I’m looking forward to a lot of very casual muffin rides to places other than 9W. But most of all I’m looking forward to not having to do a darn thing until I feel like it. I have done nothing since Canada, waiting for my body to tell me when it was ready to do something. It’s not. I went to the pool yesterday to swim. Thought I’d do a mile. I swam for 15 minutes and said ‘eh enough.’
But I do have a plan. This weekend I am going to Kripalu. My home away from home away from home (sometimes not sure where home is these days). I am looking forward to a few good classes — lectures and yoga. I’m going to slowly stretch my way back into some more physical activities. I have a couple of muscles that are still hurting me and maybe a massage will help sort them out. A little Ayurvedic TLC never hurt anyone.
I have the Ocean’s half marathon in September for my birthday week at the beach. I think I’m okay to downgrade that to a 5K walk. I don’t need to do a half marathon right now. I’m sure I could but why? Just some long walks on the beach, some ocean relaxed swimming and very soon I’ll be back on schedule.
Don’t think for a minute that I don’t have plans. I have plans. This winter is all about getting stronger and healthy. Figure out all the things that are wrong without endurance workouts getting in the way. Then come April I start training for my next event. It’s a good one. I promise!
So for now, working on getting healthy. One downward dog at a time.