Blogs tagged with "disappointment"

It's a struggle to figure out what to write about my race in Kona that hasn't been written before because I seem to be plagued with disastrous races in Hawaii and this was my fourth time there. Because I wanted to thwart disaster this time, I knew I had to do some things differently. I trained differently. I mentally prepared differently. And I raced differently. And yet, the result was the same - actually, it was worse in terms of overall finish time and place. What was different this time was my attitude.
First of all, I never expected to be in Kona this year. My age group win in Ironman Coeur d'Alene was a bigger surprise to me than anyone who knows me. I even considered giving up my Kona slot because it was not in the original plan for 2014. The plan was to get my hamstring tendinosis healed and my body healthy enough to be a major contender in my new age group (50-54) in 2015.
After Coeur d'Alene, there was a major restructuring. I decided to train more seriously for Kona, and for the first time ever, I bought a 12-week training plan - an advanced program from Dave Scott. As a self-coached athlete, in retrospect I probably stuck too close to the plan and didn't adapt it for my needs, strengths, and weaknesses. However, by the time I toed the line in Kailua Bay on October 11, I felt I was in THE best athletic shape of my life. I had dropped about ten pounds and was finally feeling lean and strong. I felt like I finally deserved to stand among all the amazingly fit athletes there (this was a new feeling for me - in the past, I have felt out of shape and that I didn't belong).
Everything else in my life was in less than stellar shape. During the last three months, my stress levels had reached an all-time high. With a full-time job and a worse-than-usual construction-ridden daily commute, I struggled (and usually fell short) of getting the prescribed 19-21 hours of training per week - and I was stressed out about that. My workload had increased and I often worked late and had to get on my trainer after 8:00 pm - which meant riding until after 10pm and skipping valuable time for eating and sleeping. My work stress was at an all-time high because I was (and still am) doing the work of about three developers (if you don't know, I'm a computer programmer by trade).
So yeah, I was in the best physical shape of my life, but I was an emotional mess and mentally frazzled.
Checking the bike in.. after getting the coveted Cervélo shirt

I truly believed things would fall into place - both physically and mentally - when I tapered. And overall, my body did start to feel rested and I was less stressed (once we got to Hawaii - let's be real), but I had worrisome pain in my hamstring that worsened as I tapered more. I convinced myself it was normal. Athletic friends reassured me this was normal during a taper, so I ignored it. But something wasn't right, and even during the easy days of running, riding, and swimming in Kona, things were far from perfect. The hamstring pain just would not go away. But I refused to believe it would become an issue.

Pre-race in the King Kamehameha hotel

So race day came and there were many things about it that went well. Although I had trouble falling asleep, I still managed to get about three hours of shut-eye (that's three hours more than usual). I didn't panic when it took me about a half-hour to get through body-marking because of inefficiencies in the way they were doing it. I was able to get to the bathroom with time to spare and I was also able to get a wide-left spot on the swim start. But most of all, I was able to remain in good spirits throughout the morning and the day.

But I'm too mentally exhausted at the moment to write up a play-by-play of my race. If you've read anything about Ironman Kona this year, you already know that swim conditions were less than ideal (i.e. the swim was rougher than usual and therefore slow) and the cross-winds on the bike have been quoted as "the worst they've been in the last 15 years."

For the swim, I was about five minutes slower than expected. But, because of the rough water, you know I had a blast in the bay that morning. Right up until I climbed out of the water, I was actually expecting a time of about an hour. I was surprised and a little bit disappointed when I saw 1:05 on my watch as I ran to grab my transition bag.

On the bike, everything seemed to be going well despite the horrific cross winds (starting around 20 miles into the bike leg). My nutrition was good (timing was the only issue because it was hard to take my hands off the handlebars because of the wind). By the time I hit mile 90 - where I dropped out in 2012 - I still felt things were going well, albeit slow.
Starting the bike

It was in the last two hours of the bike leg that I realized things were, indeed, NOT ok with my left hip and hamstring. I started feeling pain and weakness on my left side, and all I can attribute it to is having to fight the crosswinds. This was never an issue in Coeur d'Alene as the wind was either in our faces or at our backs and rarely from the side. My left hip joint still has some kind of mechanical problem that still fails in the presence of side-forces (as we assumed in 2012). And my biggest fear was that major damage had now been done.

Around mile 100, I started to ponder the upcoming marathon. Depending on whether things continued to go downhill (they did), I had to make a decision getting off the bike:
  • try to run (possibly limp) the whole marathon, potentially cause more damage, and/or have to drop out
  • walk the marathon and secure the finish
Starting the run

When I got off the bike, the pain in my hamstring was excruciating and I could barely take a step forward. It started to work itself out during the long transition run - it was enough that I was able to get somewhat of a running gait going out of transition. But I was was having trouble taking normal steps with my left leg and when I saw my husband Jim, I let him know I was in pain.

I shuffled along for the first few miles, making sure to attend to nutrition at the aid stations. During this time, I was also fighting with myself about whether it would be better to stop and walk the marathon. Because it was much less painful, I knew I could finish if I walked. At mile 8, I saw Jim - he said he was there to convince me to walk the marathon. There was no reason to keep running because I wouldn't catch enough people to get on the podium anyway, and thus, it was better to avoid injury and finish. I knew he was right and I was terrified of losing another year to injury. After a panicked "am I going to disappoint everyone?" mental struggle, I made the call to walk the rest of the marathon. It would take a while, but at least I would get the medal and not feel empty handed on the trip home like last time. Besides, it might even be fun.

Once the decision was made, everything got a little easier. And, surprisingly, everything got a little more fun. I now had nothing to prove. I made a conscious decision, one of self-preservation. Seriously, why risk my next season by being stubborn? And now I knew I would finish. It was up to me to make this thing whatever I wanted to make it.

So I started taking in the scenery. And I found my smile. I watched people surfing in the waves. I laughed with the people at the aid stations who thought I was suffering (I wasn't). I walked with other athletes while they were struggling. Sometimes I jogged a little. I met a man named Tom who was retired from the Navy and lives on Oahu working in sports medicine. I met a woman from the Netherlands who qualified in Sweden and was having serious cramps in her calves. I met a woman who had to ride the last 60K of the bike in a single gear because she was having mechanical problems with her derailleur. After she told me she was from South Africa, she and I discussed a documentary called "Searching for Sugar Man" about an American musician named Finish chute

Once it got dark, it was less fun, and it even got a little tedious, but I arrived at the finish line, smiling, well after 13 hours, with my worst time ever in an Ironman. But I finished. And I think (hope) I avoided a serious re-injury to my hamstring. And I learned something new: it's NOT EASY to walk a marathon. I have terrible chafing from my triathlon shorts and blisters on my feet in places I never had blisters before.

All in all, I'm at peace with my decision. I'm not happy about it, but I accept it. It's not the race I wanted to have. It's certainly not the race I trained for. Hopefully, I can regroup and deal with all of that in the coming months. I certainly would NOT have been able to deal with another next-season-ending injury. I did that in 2012-13, and I'm not in a hurry to do it again. I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid.
And despite a sub-par race, Jim and I had an amazing time in Hawaii once again. We visited the island of Oahu this time - the weekend before the race. Going to Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial was an emotional highlight of this trip. My father was stationed there in the later years of WWII (he was one of the young men who enlisted in the Navy as a result of the Japanese bombing). He had never been back there, even to take my mother, and I hope that in going there, his spirit was finally smiling on me and I could be at peace.

Here are some photos from our trip.

In Honolulu and around Oahu:

There's a lighthouse on the flip-side of Diamondhead

Looking down the beaches from the Halona Blowhole
Hanauma Bay
Beaches on the North Shore of Oahu:

Waikiki Beach:
Morning shot - looking toward Diamondhead
Statue of Duke Kahanamoku

In front of the Royal Hawaiian
Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial:

Road to the Sea Beaches on the Big Island (green and black sand) -
it took us over an hour to drive 6 miles on this road, but the
beaches were incredibly beautiful and worth the drive:

And an amazing sunset:
When I qualified to race in the 2014 ITU Age Group World Championship in Edmonton, Alberta, I decided to go for two reasons. At the time (August 2013), I thought my long-distance racing days were over and Olympic-distance would be my future - that is, if I could run without pain. The other reason, perhaps even more important to me, was that it would finally put me in striking distance of the Canadian Rockies and Jasper National Park.
Why was this so important? You ask..

It's a proverbial bucket-list location for me. A dream more than 40 years in the making. There was a photograph I had cut out of a calendar, framed, and hung on my wall when I was a little kid. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. There was an emerald-colored lake, evergreen trees, and a mountain in the background with diagonal stripes of snow. And I dreamed big. I declared to everyone that I would one day find this place and take my own photo of it. If it really existed. Seriously. Corny? Yep. It was sort of my Shangri-La, paradise on earth.

Over the years, I spent many days dreaming of this place. Eventually, the thought it faded into the background, a distant memory in my busy no-time-to-smell-the-flowers existence. And the photo found its way into a storage box somewhere (my husband Jim swears I've shown it to him). But the day I found out the ITU World Championship was in Edmonton, the image returned instantly - and the dream had now become a distinct reality.
I knew EXACTLY where it was. I had done my research as a kid - with maps and road atlases and books - long before the internet existed. The snowy peak was Mt. Edith Cavell. It was considered one of the "50 classic climbs" in North America (I found THAT information browsing a book store - This photo shows the hanging Angel Glacier (top right)
which spills over an almost 1000-foot cliff.
This photo shows Cavell Glacier and Cavell Pond.
In 2012, the trail to the pond was completely washed away
by a mini-tsunami caused by the fall of a glacier above this one.
Then, we went to find my lake. It was there. In fact, with the weather conditions, it was ALL you actually could see. I can't say I wasn't disappointed. But there was absolutely nothing we could do. We decided to hike the trail a bit in hopes it would clear up. But instead, it got much colder and we hurried our way back to the car.

Jim's words to me? "I'm sorry sweetie, but this might be the. best. we. can. do."

Mt. Edith Cavell is behind the fog.

My heart sank. I begged him to wait a half hour, even though it was almost 6 pm and the sun was on its way down.

And you know what happened? A miracle! The first of two. The time-zone difference was two hours from Ohio, and when we got in the car to warm up, satellite radio was airing the Cleveland Indians game. We (especially my Indians-season-ticket-holder husband) could pass that half hour with no worries. We listened. And waited. And the rain eased a bit. We made a final trek down the trail and I prayed that the low clouds had lifted.
And we got our second miracle. No, I didn't get the perfect shot. But the weather had cleared enough to show Mt. Edith Cavell's characteristic snow bands. The lake was choppy and not nearly as green as the original photo, but it was just as magical. And it acted a little like Shangri-La - I felt young, like a kid again. With big dreams - dreams big as mountains:
This is what it's supposed to look like except the summit is missing.
Proof that I made it there.

Taking the iPhone version.
And later it really cleared up and you could
see the summit from the town of Jasper as the light was fading.
More from the Canadian Rockies once the sky cleared up
in the waning daylight.
On the way back to Edmonton, the sky cleared up completely. It was so dark you could see the Milky Way winding its way through the stars. And then, we got a third miracle.

Midnight was approaching and I looked out Jim's car window to the north. I knew what I was looking for because our airplane pilot had pointed it out two days earlier on our flight in: the green glowing sheets of the Northern Lights. They once again appeared in the northern sky - an extremely rare sight in summer. And I caught it just in time, before light pollution would have snuffed it out. I immediately urged Jim to stop the car. We took a quick detour off the highway, pulled over to the side of a dark road, and scrambled to get the camera out. Jim played around with the shutter speed and managed to capture the final amazing event from this miracle of days:

The Northern Lights (aurora borealis), 30 August 2014

The next day would be a difficult one. We got to bed at 1:30 am but would need to take a train and a shuttle down to the race site - Hawrelek Park - at 9 am to check in my bike. I did final race prepping, and that evening, we visited the West Edmonton Mall - a huge indoor wonderland that contains a hockey rink, a water park (wave pool and zip lines included), and an amusement park with a full-size roller coaster:

The Mindbender coaster in Galaxyland inside the
West Edmonton Mall. The ride is much longer than you think
with three loops and many spiral turns.

The only thing left to do was race the next morning. AND, be ok with the fact that I had probably used up all our miracles. I thought it would be easy, but it turned out to be the hardest part of the entire trip.

Race morning brought very low temperatures - 6-7 C (low 40s F). Most of the athletes were losing the battle to keep warm. Last year's ITU World Championship in London was cold, but this seemed much colder. I was shivering even with five layers of clothing. My wave started at 9:40 but we had to be there before 7am to set up transition. We were late to the party, but we finally found the warm indoor area near the swim start in which athletes were relaxing and getting into their wetsuits.
They lined us up just after 9 am, so we still had a long cold wait. The 1500m swim was two loops in a chlorinated man-made lake. The start was fun - we all lined up with one foot on a platform, then ran and dove into the water. It was my first time diving head first in a triathlon swim (usually it's a deep-water start or a beach sprint into shallow water). I was relieved to start swimming because the water temperature (at 19 C/66 F) was balmy compared to the air.
Hurry and start this thing before we freeze.

My swim was the one thing that did go well. I felt strong - no back pain, no problems staying on course. Going into the second loop, I was able to drop the two women flanking me for most of the first lap (usually not the case). I think many made the mistake of going out too hard.

The run from swim exit to transition was ridiculously long as they sent us past screaming spectators in the grandstand. A long run makes it harder to get out of a (partially dry) wetsuit, but surprisingly, I had very little trouble. Surprisingly I stayed on my feet despite my disc problem, and I was on my bike pretty quickly.
The 40K bike course was also a double loop with a steep climb at the beginning. The course was very fast, but the cold was an issue for everyone. My legs were not burning like usual, and I thought I rode really strong, but my time was the same as Nationals in Milwaukee. It was extremely disappointing to say the least.
Coming around for the second loop.
At least I had my homemade custom Toothless helmet.

Thus, when I saw the time as I pulled into transition, I started to mentally unravel. Then things went really wrong. After racking my bike, I couldn't get my helmet strap unclipped because my hands had gotten so cold my fingers didn't work. They were frozen. I struggled and struggled with it and then tried to pull my helmet off while it was still strapped. In retrospect, it must have looked quite hilarious. But then I started to panic as other women came in and start the run while I was still struggling to get my helmet off. I finally yelled for help and an ITU official came over, but right before she got to me, I actually managed to unclip the strap myself. I took off running as fast as I could.

The run transition was also ridiculously long, and my legs felt fried before I even got out on the run course. I saw Jim on the way out and just shook my head in frustration. I knew right away that I had nothing. This, combined with the cold, the disappointing bike split, and the helmet disaster had rattled me beyond recovery. And instead of reminding myself this was a "C" race, I ran frustrated and discouraged. It shouldn't have mattered that much, but it was a world championship and spectators were acting like it. I was getting my butt kicked by women I've beaten in the past and all I could do was "run through it." I had mentally checked out.
First loop of the run.

The 10K course was two loops, partially on a gravel trail. The second time I saw Jim, he told me to back off and not hurt myself. I was probably hurting myself more mentally than physically at that point. By the time it was over, the only positive thing I could glean from my run was that I actually started to feel good around mile 5 or 6. Unfortunately, I had no speed, and that was when the race was just about over.

I grabbed a flag for my run to finish anyway, and I didn't complain or sulk until I was out of sight, showered, and had lunch. Lying in the hotel room was when the uncontrollable tears came. And the fear and worry has come back. And I have about six weeks to work through it so that I can toe that line in Kona with the confidence and killer instinct I need to get through it.

Writing this has helped me put the whole thing in perspective. Sometimes I need to stop and smell the flowers and appreciate the journey. I guess that's why I keep writing - to step out of the momentary and consider the enduring. And perhaps tell a race story that might save someone else's race. And add things to that "bucket list." While I can. Because there is no Shangri-La. It just looks that way in pictures.

When I qualified to race in the 2014 ITU Age Group World Championship in Edmonton, Alberta, I decided to go for two reasons. At the time (August 2013), I thought my long-distance racing days were over and Olympic-distance would be my future - that is, if I could run without pain.

What can I possibly say about my race at USAT Age Group Nationals? That my time was embarrassing? That I was seriously disappointed? That it's just par for the course of this year?

It's taken me two weeks to regroup and sit down to write anything. The rest of the time I think about it, I end with the emotional equivalent of a shrug. I don't really know what happened that day. I thought I was ready to put in great swim and bike times to make up for (what I thought would be a) 44 minute 10K (based on other results this year). Why shouldn't I expect that? I've been training my butt off on the bike and swim this summer - specifically to make up for my injury-ridden running.

At least I was smiling at bike check-in.

But despite all my preparation and fantastic weather in Milwaukee on August 10, I still came up well short of my goals. What were my goals? To finish with a better time than I did in the last two USAT National events (around 2:20). Both of those races were with Ironman training on my legs and no taper on a hilly course.

And THIS year has been all about training for Olympic distance. Short. Speed work. Lots of rest.

In the two week lead-up to Milwaukee, even my running was starting to look decent. I was able to put in two speed sessions. My tibia stopped hurting. My hip was loosening up. And I could run without pain and full range of motion for the first time since October of last year. I wanted to enjoy myself at this race distance. It's not like Ironman when I'm constantly assessing what's going on with my body, how I'm feeling, and what I'm drinking and eating (my biggest issues at long distance) for 11 hours or more. I would have to work pretty hard to ruin my nutrition in an Olympic-distance race. Heck, I could survive it just on water.

Pre-race body marking.

But in the end, this isn't the race that would give me new-found confidence. I would eventually have to chalk this one up as yet another (learning) experience leading up to the ITU World Championship in London and try not to let the fallout set me up for more failure.

In looking back, I searched for the few positive things that happened in Milwaukee. They started with the swim. The 1500m swim in Milwaukee is an out-and-back loop that starts along the wall at Discovery World on Lake Michigan. The swim course is in a protected area so the water is calm. The course has a "neck" that goes under a walk-bridge, takes a little turn to the left, and then comes back on the other side, back under the bridge, and finishes just a walk down from the field of the transition zone. There were 17 waves in the start. My wave was 7th, starting at 8:21. Everyone was delayed by about 30 minutes because of technical issues with clearing the course. It just gave me more time to use the restroom, then get my wetsuit on and warm up.

My swim was the one part of the race that went very well. Water temperature was about 65 degrees which is perfect with a wetsuit. I got a good, fast, start and was immediately up in the front pack of swimmers in my age group. I felt strong the whole way and had no trouble navigating the buoys because it was a clear day and the sun was high enough to not be in our eyes. In the final strokes to the finish I raced alongside another swimmer and was excited to beat her out of the water (this doesn't usually happen because my arms are completely spent by the end of the swim). My husband Jim was right there to let me know I was 4th out of the water in my age group. That made me very happy.

W45-49 swim start
T1 bike out: I swear I was trying to move fast

Transition didn't go as well as I would have liked. I was able to get my new wetsuit stripped down to my knees pretty quickly but then my bugaboo - getting it off around my heels - came back to bite me. I struggled just a little less than usual, grabbed my helmet and number, and hustled to the exit. I barely stayed in front of the woman I beat out of the water, but once I was on my bike, I was ready to attack.

Too bad my legs didn't come along for the ride. From the very get-go of the bike leg, my legs were burning and screaming like I had just ridden up a mountain. Did I tax myself too much in the swim? (I swam harder than I'm used to, but this was a short race and I planned on that). I shifted down to spin but it only managed to make me slower. The aforementioned woman passed me and I tried to keep up, but I had nothing. After pushing hard to catch and pass her, she then re-passed me - and I repeat: I had NOTHING. It was about that time the eventual winner of the age group blew by me like I was standing still. My heart sank. I kept hoping my legs would come around, but it just got worse, so I backed off to give them a break.

Through first loop of bike course.

Just after that, a USAT referee on motorcycle pulled up alongside me and was writing something on her pad. Oh NO!! I looked in front to make sure I was out of the draft zone of the woman I had played leapfrog with. She kept slowing down and I kept trying to back off, but maybe I didn't do it in time - and now I had a drafting penalty. The ref pulled away after about 30 seconds.

This was NOT the way I wanted to start my bike leg. I tried to shake it off. Remembering Clearwater in 2011, getting angry would ruin my concentration. I regrouped and rode hard despite continuing to be passed by women in my age group.

The 40K bike course should be (well.. is) really fast. It is a short out-and-back loop followed by a longer out-and-back loop, mostly flat on well-paved roads. It has a long gradual hill - a bridge - and the final few miles included the bridge and were against the wind. Near the end of my ride, I did see a LOT of uncaught and ridiculously-obvious drafting - which made me a bit angrier - but that's what happens on flat, fast courses.

I don't remember being this happy, but apparently
I WAS still having fun at the bike finish.

Pulling into transition, I had no idea where I was in the grand scheme, but I knew it wasn't good. My bike time - 1:10 - was even slower than my time on the mountain at the Pittsburgh Tri. And this was without the two-minute drafting penalty added in. I was discouraged and now I had to make something up in the run - currently my worst discipline. As is customary, Jim let me know the age group leader was about six minutes ahead (like there was any chance at this point). But I'm glad he had hope.

Transition 2 was also slow. I had a long run with my bike and had to stop a couple times to avoid running into other athletes in transition. The good thing was I think I finally figured out how tight to keep my stretchy shoelaces - this was the first time I didn't have to stop and adjust. And I remembered to run with my visor and sunglasses instead of putting them on first.

The 10K run course goes out on a paved path along the lake and comes back on the road to finish on grass between the Art Museum and Discovery World. The beginning of my run was nothing short of shocking: I had NO pain in my hip, NO pain in my shin, and my legs were moving better than they have in a long time. I had hope.

I thought I was the only one, but you can't really tell who
was hurting more - the girl in front or me - in this photo.

I passed a couple of women in my age group and settled in behind a third who was running a very even pace. My first mile split - 6:57 - was very encouraging. The next few were all over seven minutes and although I was ok with it, I became acutely aware of the fact that I still had no speed or pick-up in my legs - at all. I felt like I was trudging along even though I was trying to run hard. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get my pace back under seven minutes.

Then, somewhere between mile 5 and 6, real disaster struck. It felt like someone had stuck an knife in my left hip. I think I actually turned around to see if this had, indeed, happened. I instantly lost the full stride in my left leg and had to take abbreviated steps while wincing in pain. I didn't know whether I should stop and walk, or fight to the finish. It was only about a half mile away and there were 18 Team USA slots for 2014 on the line. I decided to fiught for one of them. When I could see the finish line, I managed to limp my way past one last woman (not in my age group) to finish.

After crossing, I immediately fell on the ground. All I wanted was for the pain to stop. As usual, volunteers tried to push me along ("keep walking") but I asked for help. Medical personnel picked me up and carried me to the medical tent. I told them my symptoms but that all I probably needed was some ice and I'd be on my way. I was eventually able to stand and walk and they wrapped two ice packs against my hip with a huge roll of plastic wrap. I slowly made my way out of the tent to find Jim.

Screw this pain! I pushed the final few steps.

Jim was right across from the medical tent waiting along the finish chute. It was then I realized I didn't have my finisher medal. I told him I needed to get my medal and he yelled: "get it from Chrissie!" and pointed to someone in the crowd. WHAT? I turned to see Ironman champ Chrissie Wellington handing out medals. I waved off the other volunteers and made my way over to her. She put the medal around my neck and gave me a hug and a kiss. I floated away down the chute, forgetting for a brief moment, the agony of my day.

It would soon come flooding back. Jim helped me walk slowly to the food tent and told him about the pain in my hip and my drafting penalty. This isn't the race I was supposed to have here. I sat down to replenish, wondering what would be my final time and place. My watch said 2:23. Jim went to check the results - when he came back, he said the penalties were not recorded yet, but that I finished 11th in my age group. Then it also occurred to me that I probably wouldn't make Team USA this time.

Thus began the long walk to the car via transition to pick up my bike. I just wanted to be on my way home and forget the whole thing. And I didn't want to walk one more step. I was tired of pain. Tired of trying to get through a sub-par injury-ridden season. I felt like crying but I was just too tired. I wanted to crawl under a rock and hide. This isn't the race I was supposed to have at USAT Nationals.

Jim went back to the finish line one more time to check the results. When he came back, he told me they still didn't have the penalties added, but with a drafting penalty added, I'd be 18th. And so I would make Team USA by a hair. Relieved, we got on the road - and I had seven hours to ponder my race, my season, my year, and, perhaps, my next year.

Thanks to technology, on the way home we found out I DIDN'T get a drafting penalty (whew!), and I DID make it onto Team USA - for the ITU Age Group World Championship in Edmonton, Canada in 2014. (As a hockey fan in the 80s, this is another place I've always dreamed of seeing.)

But that doesn't change the fact that this wasn't the race I was supposed to have. I  feel like I'm clutching at straws. Despite my running not being up to par, my biking and swimming are alive and well (very well if I compare training numbers) - and I couldn't even perform in those legs. I may not be getting enough sleep, but I don't feel like I'm overtrained. My physical therapist says that the problem is that I'm trying to heal DURING the season and that's just not a good combination. What choice do I have?

I've given up designs on placing well in London, but I'm still going to toe that line on September 15th. Even if I weren't racing, we'd still be going.  A vacation is in order and the plans have been made. There are way more reasons to go to England than just a race. I just want to swim in the Serpentine in Hyde Park (my very favorite urban park). We have great friends in London and Exeter. And it seems miracles also happen because my favorite band, Turin Brakes, just announced an intimate London gig during our time there. (For those who know me, you know I'd choose Turin Brakes over a race any day). And who knows, hope springs eternal - maybe miracles travel in twos.

What can I possibly say about my race at USAT Age Group Nationals? That my time was embarrassing? That I was seriously disappointed? That it's just par for the course of this year?

Despite what seemed like a crap season, this was a highlight,
talking about my flat on camera after IM 70.3 Vegas.

I always like to write a post-triathlon-season review blog, mostly to reflect on the lessons learned and decide where I want to go the next year. But this year, I find myself in a 24/7 crunch time at work as my cohorts and I have been feverishly cramming (seriously, it's like we're college students doing all-nighters) to put the finishing touches (or at least some kind of touches) on my employer's - The Cleveland Museum of Art's - updated website. The reason for the cram is that the museum is launching an iPad application which plugs into our website content management system - in order to launch the iPad app by the deadline, we have to have the new website (my responsibility) done. Why did I tell you that? Because - despite the fact that I have been keeping up with my "Drawing of the Day" blog series - I hope it explains why I've not had much time to write a blog post.

But I HAVE had an enormous amount of time to think about the past year. Every time I run or get on my trainer or (very infrequently) visit the pool, I relive the pain of my 2012 season. And even though it doesn't feel like unfinished business, I still want to put it to rest and not have it float like a specter above everything I do in 2013. I'd like to avoid living next year like I have something to prove.

I've decided to make a quick list of the disappointments and then try to focus on the positives. In the disappointment category:

  • Based on my memories of a great race in 2011, I started my 2012 tri season with very high expectations at Ironman St. George in May. What actually happened was a two-week upper-respiratory infection followed by a second infection that hit Monday of race week. I spent the week in bed with a 102-degree fever, started the race only to be hornswoggled by horrific race conditions (high surf, 40-mph wind), constant bouts of coughing, and a broken shifter cable around mile 70. I managed 16 miles of the marathon with a antibiotic-compromised digestive system, and finally threw in the towel - claiming that I was no longer having fun. (I wasn't.)
  • I tried to make a comeback in early June at Ironman 70.3 Mooseman in New Hampshire only to end up crumpled over in respiratory distress (again), but this time due to a severe allergy-induced asthma attack.
  • Ironman 70.3 Racine proved yet another disaster, this one of my own making - a major mistake in sodium intake found me crumpled on the side of the road (again) with medical personnel. This time the diagnosis was the opposite of my usual nutrition problem of hyponatremia - it was severe dehydration.
  • As the defending age-group champ in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Vegas, I was the first age-grouper out of transition for the second year, but this time, I ended up on the side of the road (yes. again.) with a blow out at mile 3. After watching everyone go by while changing my tire, I managed to race myself back to a third place finish in very tough (100-degree heat) conditions.
  • And finally, feeling in the best shape of my life, my trip back to Kona turned all wrong when something went terribly awry with my biomechanics. After pushing through severe hip and groin pain for 90 miles of the bike leg, I found myself in the Kona general hospital for x-rays and a potential stress fracture. I was discharged with a cane only to hobble around airports the next day.
There was a point in 2012 when I thought I would never again see an Ironman finish line. But where would I be if I weren't stubborn? There were several experiences in 2012 that lifted me up enough to fight another day:
  • The biggest one was that I finally found the right products to solve my nutrition issues once and for all. I switched to all Gu Energy products - Roctane drink and gel are what I now build my entire Ironman fueling regimen around. And Gu Brew has become the savior of my run special needs bag.
  • On the racing front, I won the overall women's race at the GNC Pittsburgh Triathlon with my fastest time ever on that particular course. The most enjoyment came, however, in passing women on the run who were less than half my age - and knowing they were not happy about it.
  • I set the age group course record (just recently found out) at Ironman Louisville. It was hot, it was hard, I was nursing a shoulder injury, and I went out too fast on the run. But I fought for every second of that race, I made it fun, and it paid off.
  • In Burlington, VT, I raced my way to a spot on Team USA for next year's ITU Age Group World Championship in London, England, one of my favorite cities. I will now have the opportunity to swim in my favorite urban park in the world - Hyde Park - and race in the tracks of Olympians.
  • Oh yeah, and it seems like a long time ago, but also I got a Masters Athlete of the Year Honorable Mention from USA Triathlon.
In retrospect, my year wasn't all failure like I had originally thought. It just wasn't the year I wanted it to be. Especially after a stellar 2011. My biggest races ended in disaster, and I had to regroup mentally several times. Most strikingly, I didn't run any marathons this year. Running marathons always keeps me a little more sane because it puts me in my athletic comfort zone (it's my endurance racing macaroni and cheese).
Although 2012 made me consider it, I guess I'm not ready to throw in the towel on triathlon yet. Amidst the turmoil of work and the frenzy of the holidays, I have found myself thinking about next season. Although I may not be talking about it just yet. Ask me in January.
The Queen K - a long road that I never saw the end of.

On Saturday, October 13, I started my third attempt at Ironman Kona. My first attempt was in 2002, my second year of triathlon. I was a novice. I didn't respect the distance. I didn't respect the location. I didn't prepare adequately, and it ended in near-disaster. But I finished. My second attempt came last year, in 2011. I had a whole new respect for the distance, having had to work my way back from physical and mental injuries and many years off after being hit by a car. It took three tries to qualify, but I was determined to have a triumphant return to Kona. This time I would be well-prepared for the tropical heat and the wind. And yet again, I fell short of understanding the nutrition requirements - requirements now of a nine-years-older body. My race dissolved on the run, and I can only claim perseverance as I found myself on the side of the road begging the medical personnel at an aid station to let me finish despite a near-collapse. It took almost an hour to recover, but eventually, I did finish.

I vowed to go back this year and finally conquer Kona. But early in the year, the road back turned grim after a severe respiratory infection caused me to DNF at St. George. Then, several mishaps in early season races left me disappointed, discouraged, and ready to throw in the towel. By the time I toed the line at Ironman Louisville in August, I was worn out and lacking anything resembling confidence. But I HAD I made a commitment to myself, and I felt a need to either see it through - or sink to a new level of despair in my "season from hell."

And so I qualified and things began to look up. Kona became the goal, giving me the ability to slough off even further bad luck with a blow-out in Ironman 70.3 Vegas. It just became a "training race in hot conditions" for Hawaii. I was determined to stay focused, and every time I expressed fear or doubt, my husband Jim reminded me of that goal: "Remember, you WANTED this."

So I prepared for everything starting with everything that went wrong in 2002 and 2012 and continuing with things gone wrong in the "season from hell." I prepared for the heat. I prepared for the wind. I had contingency plans for every plague: dehydration, hyponatremia, too many calories, not enough calories, cramps, dizziness, nausea, blisters, sunburn, chafing, flat tires, trouble getting into my running shoes, not getting my special needs bags, starting the run too fast, getting clobbered in the swim. You name it, I had thought it through or practiced it.

But there was one thing I hadn't prepared for - the one thing I couldn't prepare for. A catastrophic biomechanical failure. Barring crashes or getting kicked in the swim, very few people injure themselves midrace, especially after a good taper. Thus, my breakdown on Saturday has left me utterly confused and mentally demolished. I never saw it coming. And I never experienced anything like it before.

It came after a great swim leg during which I was able to find patches of open water in the middle of the pack and navigate around every potential mishap. (My time of 1:02 in the swim was fast, considering the overwhelming complaints of rough water that morning.) Almost immediately upon starting the bike leg, I was in distress. There was pain in my left hip that felt like something was mechanically wrong. It made no sense - all my rides leading up to race day were asymptomatic.

Trying not to worry, I focused on keeping my heart rate in a comfortable zone. I was happily averaging over 20mph by the time I reached the ascent to Hawi and the turnaround at 60 miles. My nutrition had been damn near perfect, but by that point, a new pain had surfaced. The pain was on both sides of my groin and was increasing with every pedal stroke. I don't know if it was related to the hip problem (I suspect it was). I don't know if it was related to fighting a very strong crosswind on the Queen K (I suspect it was also). Whatever, it was getting more painful on the climb, and by the time I saw Jim at the turnaround, my concern was that I was flirting with a serious injury. I let him know something was wrong, but I continued on.

I didn't realize the full severity of the pain until I slowed down to pick up my special needs bag. After inching along to free my bottle of Gu Brew from the plastic bag, I reaccelerated and the pain almost sent me into tears. Yes, something was horrendously wrong.

We had the wind at our backs on the descent from Hawi, but instead of capitalizing on it, I spent the time trying to find a comfortable position on my saddle. Everybody and their brother was passing me now, compounding my physical pain with a mental one.

I did some thinking - maybe it was muscle cramping. It didn't feel like it, but I had to do SOMEthing. I took an extra Salt Stick capsule, then stopped at the next aid station to stretch and down a banana (this was the cramping contingency plan). I asked for a medic to help diagnose what might be wrong, but after three minutes waiting, I got back on my bike.

There was a crazy-strong headwind on the Queen K homestretch. The pain had subsided just a bit after the stop, but by mile 90, I was barely able to pedal without agony. If I could even finish the bike leg, I would probably have to walk the marathon. The pain seemed to emanate directly from my pelvic bone and had become excruciating upon every pedal stroke. I stopped at the next aid station determined to get a medical opinion - would I do a huge amount of damage if I kept going?

When I got off the bike, I pretty much had my answer. I fell to the ground in pain - I couldn't even walk. The aid station paramedic told me he wasn't going to let me leave until we had a medical consult. He helped me to a chair and I sat and iced it while we waited. Medical showed up 30 minutes later, and I discussed the injury with the doc. He confirmed that the pain was not likely a muscle cramp, but more likely acute tendinitis from overuse. I was done. I called Jim on a volunteer's cell phone.

They carted me to the finish line in the same van as Marino Vanhoenacker, the men's leader off the bike who dropped out during the run. I had to be carried to a cot in the medical tent, unable to put any weight on my legs. I wanted to cry but confusion and fear clouded my tears. The meds at the finish line had three different diagnoses, but I only heard one of them: pelvic stress fracture. It certainly acted like bone pain: no pain at rest, but white-hot searing pain when weight-bearing or trying to lift my leg.

Jim and my friend Julie (who came all the way to Hawaii for this crazy outcome) waited outside the tent for news. They were given a car pass to pick me up and take me to the Kona hospital for X-rays. Julie generously stayed behind to retrieve my bike (Did I mention I had to leave my bike at the aid station? Yeah, that caused a panic in the med van, to say the least.) At least she got to see more of the race.

I milked the House thing for all it was worth. I 

After six hours in the emergency room involving both X-rays and a CATscan, we still had no diagnosis, except it "wasn't a stress fracture." I was sent home with a cane, a bottle of Vicodin, and a serious Dr. Gregory House complex (i.e., according to Jim, I was hating the world).

Sunday, we did some sightseeing, I did a lot of crying, and then I limped through airports. I made one observation: that people treat you very differently when you have an apparatus such as a cane. (Ask me about it sometime, it was more than weird. Even Jim started noticing it.)

Despite my expectations, the Kona outcome really did seem like an appropriate demise to a triathlon season marred by race disasters. Even when I didn't race, bizarre things happened. Twice this year, I witnessed, at close range, two athletes being given CPR unsuccessfully after being pulled from the swim leg of a triathlon. I know I should remember these things before wallowing in despair over one season of mishaps, but it's still hard to invest so much time and money, and heart, into something and have it all go so wrong.

Julie, to whom I am forever grateful, says I just have to "shift my focus." It's a logical solution, but right now my heart needs to heal a bit. I mean, it was only two days ago and the disappointment is still welling up in my throat.

Some friends have said I should look at the bright side: yeah, it all went bad, "but at least I was in Hawaii." So with that, instead of race photos, I'll share my vacation photos... because it's true, I WAS in Hawaii and I was just as determined to enjoy the trip. Which I did - right up until about mile 62.4 of Ironman Kona.

Photos by yours truly and Jim:

We arrived in Kona and it looked just like I remember:
We rented a jeep so we could drive cross country (more on that later).
We went to Lava Java for cinnamon rolls.
And the Kona Brewery for you-know-what:
Monday we took a trip to an amazing inlet called Papakōlea Beach. Formed by a collapsed cinder cone, it's one of only two beaches in the world where the sand is green. To get there, we had to drive the Jeep cross-country, all the while praying that we didn't end up in a ditch (which was very likely). This was a bucket-list item for me:

Yes, the sand really is green.
That same day, we also drove to the southernmost point in the United States:

Lava tube:
We continued driving... to Punalu'u Beach, a beach made of black sand that serves as a favorite resting (sleeping) spot for endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles:

Turtles!!!

Not dead, just resting:

There are turtles sleeping everywhere on this beach.
On the way back to Kona, we accidentally caught the sunset, and to my shock and delight, we saw the ever-elusive green flash (this was another bucket-list item). The video doesn't at all do it justice:
Tuesday, I went to Ironman check-in. On the way back to our condo, we met four-time Ironman Kona champ, Chrissie Wellington. She is nothing short of amazing. And yep, you guessed it, bucket-list item number 3: check!

And we saw another sunset:

and got lei-ed on the way to dinner:
On Wednesday, we went to the Ironman Expo and Jim met Ivan, the guy who does for Cervelo what Jim does for NASA. They exchanged business cards. It was all extremely cool. He is the second-nicest computational fluid dynamicist I know.
 Then I ran into six-time Kona champ, Dave Scott.
We met in 2002, but he denies it (and seriously, do you blame him?)

And then we drove up above the clouds to the Mauna Kea visitor center... to see..
yes, another sunset!

Thursday we took a tour of the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation which featured the most amazing aroma ever - of Kona coffee roasting - and met a cat named Pumpkin:

and saw our fourth sunset:

Then we checked out Keauhou Bay and downtown Kona before going to the pre-race meeting. 

On Friday, we checked in the bike at transition.

and, um.. we watched another sunset:

On Saturday... you already know what happened:
At the Kona hospital ER, it matters not how important you are in the triathlon world. You are merely "Unassigned Tourist" to them.
On Sunday, we went to the Coffee Shack to visit the geckos.

Then we found two very cool places while out exploring.
The first was the Pu'uhonua, or "Place of Refuge." It was a place that offered sanctuary to those who broke sacred laws (punishable by death). Law-breakers who could reach this place would have their sins forgiven and would be allowed to re-enter society. Amazingly, it occupied the space on the other side of a huge wall from the royal and holy ground of the Hawaiian Ali'i.

The second cool place was St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church, also known as the "Painted Church" because of its interior art painted by one of the priests.

We said farewell to Hawaii after we watched our final sunset on the way to the airport.

On Saturday, I started and failed to finish Ironman St. George. It wasn't because of the weather. Although the weather was bad. And it may be a while before I can laugh about the whole experience but hopefully someday I can. On the way home, my husband Jim and I did find some humor (but little solace) in the amount of bad luck that befell me before and during this race. He summed it up as follows: "at least you got it all out of the way in one race."

If I were one who believed in omens, I never would have shown up at Sand Hollow Reservoir on race morning. I may not even have set foot in St. George. But I couldn't give up my dream of going back to Kona in 2012. That's what Ironman St. George was about.

It all started three weeks prior to race day, I found myself in my doctor's office with the worst sinus infection of my life (seriously, and I've had a LOT of them). Despite antibiotics and rest, it made its way to my lungs before it (seemingly) exited my system via two weeks of coughing. That was a Friday, eight days before race day. I felt slightly weaker, and I was several pounds lighter, but I was determined to stand on that starting line with no reservations.

Monday morning - three days later, and five days before race day - my cough came back with a vengeance. After a desperate (read: begging) phone call, my doctor prescribed another antibiotic, but I still ended up in bed with a fever of 101 degrees. Tuesday, after another desperate (read: frantic) phone call, my antibiotic was switched, but at that point, I could already see the curtain rising on the final act. I had to decide whether to board my plane to Las Vegas on Wednesday. Jim - who was now coming down with similar symptoms of illness - convinced me that we should go and make the final call on Saturday morning (reminding me that Chrissie Wellington waited until the last possible moment to drop out of the Ironman World Championship due to illness in 2010). His argument: "If you wake up Saturday morning and feel good, you will wish you were there."

Fair point.

Jim and I spent most of our free time in St. George in bed in our hotel room. The antibiotic wreaked havoc with my GI system, and Jim was feverish to say the least. But we both approached race morning with high hopes and a willingness to give it a go. If there was anything I was sure of, it's that in Ironman, anything can happen, and I wanted to at least say I tried.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other intentions. And not just for me.

I suspect many blogs will describe in great detail the horrific weather conditions that all St. George athletes had to endure on May 5 - mine won't be one of them. During the swim I had a vivid flashback to Utah Lake in 2002 at the inaugural Ironman Utah in Provo - my first Ironman and the race responsible for acquiring me the nickname "Disaster Magnet" (thanks to Mickey Rzymek). But this time, the waves were larger. I got through the swim by reminding myself that my former life was that of a fish (true story).

The wind that whipped up the surf was also a nightmare on the bike leg - for the first 45 miles, we had to fight 30-40 mph headwinds and crosswinds that were responsible for blowing the eventual winner, Ben Hoffman, off the road. I was fully determined to fight through the wind and the continuous bouts of coughing... right up until my right shifter cable broke between 70 and 80 miles and landed me in permanent high gear on the notoriously hilly course. Thanks to race support, a bike mechanic eventually made it to me and replaced my cable. He did it miraculously fast while telling me a story of how he was fixing my bike with the same wrench that his dad used to pull one of his baby teeth in 1959 (I am NOT making this up). The mishap cost me 30 minutes and the age-group lead.

My shredded enthusiasm for this race was now hanging by a thread, but I felt obligated to finish after that mechanic came all the way out to help me. And I wasn't going to let that Kona slot slip out of my hands so easily.

I started the run with sincere hope that it would get better. But in the first mile, I realized the effect of compromised lungs at an elevated heart rate as I had to keep stopping to cough and catch my breath. By mile 3, antibiotic-induced GI distress hit, and I found myself in a porta-john wondering if all my fluid intake had gone directly to my intestines. But I kept running (because if there was one thing I worked hard at this year, it was my running speed!) - and despite ALL of this, Jim informed me that I had actually begun making up time on the age-group leaders. Was it possible that I could overcome the odds and put together a last-gasp bid for a Kona slot?

By mile 16, I had my answer. It was: "keep dreaming, kid." My pace had slowed to a crawl, and I was sick of porta-johns and tired of having my body ravaged with coughing and not getting enough oxygen while trying to run. I've overcome adversity to finish Ironman races before. This was no longer about finishing. It was about minimizing the damage. I had to ask myself and honestly answer the following questions:

  • [Seriously,] what would be the point of continuing?
  • [And more importantly,] will the regret of not finishing be worse than the physical fallout of nine more miles in a compromised state?
The questions came while heading out for the third and final loop of the run. I saw Jim. I told him I really just wanted to call it a day. I sat down. He heard me try to breath and cough. There wasn't much discussion - physically, I spiraled downward and my race ended right there. An ambulance took me to the finish.
It didn't come without regret. It didn't come without feelings of wasted training time and money. And failure. And embarrassment. And sadness. And envy at seeing others' with their medals and finisher goodies. But perhaps the hardest thing of all - the thing that I've never, EVER, been very good at, is accepting that the decision I made was the right one. Without hating myself.
And now, hating myself, I have to rethink the rest of the year. Because Ironman St. George was never just about the finish.

On Saturday, I started and failed to finish Ironman St. George. It wasn't because of the weather. Although the weather was bad. And it may be a while before I can laugh about the whole experience but hopefully someday I can.

Punishing myself by standing
in a Kilauea steam vent after
Ironman Kona

I'm in a sort of limbo now, having returned from Hawaii and stuck in the insomniac zone from jet lag. It's 12:30 a.m. and all I have is my thoughts to keep me company - or, as the case may be, to drive me insane.

I'd be lying if I said I'm not having trouble dealing mentally with what happened in Ironman Kona last week. People seem to think I need some perspective - that telling me this is going to make it all better. They give me pearls of wisdom: I "should be more grateful that I was able to finish" and "it's not about the finish time, it's about the journey," and they are "proud of me for gutting it out," and that life is about "more than just Ironman." I KNOW all these things. But it doesn't ease the pain. It doesn't make the questions go away. It doesn't make me stop asking myself why I failed in the most important race of my season. And I'm still not sure what exactly went wrong with my nutrition, but I do know that I made mistakes. Call it lack of experience, lack of training, or lack of intelligence. The mistakes WERE made, and I have to figure out what they were and how to avoid making them again. This is what keeps me going until the next race.

You learn lessons, you apply the learning, you see the result. I always said if I stop learning, I'll stop racing.

Ironman Kona will weigh heavy on me for a while. And although I will try to not let it "define me," when it comes right down to it, I have a hard time defining myself. I'm not one of those people who looks at everything and says "life is wonderful." I spend a lot of time crying over things (it could be anything from world news to bad things that happen to friends and family to being yelled at by superiors). I'm not happy with my place in the world. In fact, I want to make a difference in the world, and I worry that I never will. After several career changes, I often wonder if the work I have done or do is of any importance at all - if it has made an impact. I worry it hasn't. I worry that my life has been just a big waste of time and energy and resources. This is who I am.

And so, when I set racing goals, it's because it's the one aspect of my life over which I seem to have complete control. It's the thing that gives me faith that "hard work pays off." When I don't meet my goals or expectations, I feel I have failed and I have no one to blame but myself. And yes, I know I'm my worst critic (aren't we all?) - but without natural talent or genetics, hard work is the only thing I have. Thus, when hard work doesn't pay off, I'm stuck with confusion, self-doubt and lack of self-worth.

I feel like I'm looking at a long road to redemption.

But, contrary to popular belief, I CAN put things in perspective. I know I had a golden triathlon season in 2011. I set age group course records in two Ironman races: St. George and Lake Placid, and I'm the Ironman 70.3 world champion for the women's 45-49 age group. I also have a great new job with awesome co-workers at an institution that I believe in, The Cleveland Museum of Art. I'm lucky to have great sponsors (who I worry I let down), great friends (who I worry I let down), a very loving (and understanding, some say "saintly") husband, and a roof over my head (although Cleveland was never my first choice). So yes, life could be (a lot) worse.

After seeing how driven I am in racing, a friend once asked me "where does it end, Jeanne?"

I'll let you know when I get there.

Until then, for everyone who has experienced a bad race, I found some solace in these great words from IM World Champ Chrissie Wellington:

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