Blogs tagged with "disaster"

I'm not sure exactly how to start this post - or how to write the middle or end, actually - but I guess I better start where I left off on my last post.
I said I would write a race report about Ironman Texas.

Indeed.. so I did. Unfortunately, it got almost infinitely delayed because all the analysis in the world could not help me with those important "lessons learned" from my race in Texas. It started out so great. In fact, the beginning and the middle went surprisingly well. I just don't know what happened at the end, although I have a possible explanation now which is something I didn't have a month ago.

Ron and me - before swim start.

I really wanted to have a great race in Texas for many reasons. One of the big reasons was that my great friend, Ron, founder of Punk Rock Racing and designer of the new race kit I was wearing here, surprised me by showing up in my hotel room the day before the race. I was therefore super-jazzed to have extra support on the course and at the start that morning.

Ironman Texas started with a 2.4-mile swim in Lake Woodlands. Before the swim, I was told my more than one person that this would be a long swim and do NOT expect a fast time in this particular swim for many reasons. The swim - a rolling start - did a U-turn, then made a right into the waterway channel. I swam wide, as usual, to avoid getting clobbered, and surprisingly had a rather uneventful swim. My stroke felt great and I took it easy until the U-turn, after which I picked up my pace and passed a lot of people before - and even after - we made our way into the channel.
Swim start in Lake Woodlands

Because the swim was "long," I took it very easy, and I hadn't been able to get in the pool more than twice a week during my build-up, I was expecting to see something around 1:10-1:15 (or worse) on my watch when I stepped out of the water. The 1:02 on my watch was a blinding surprise. I tried to keep a lid on my emotions in T1.

We were encouraged to carry our bike shoes through the transition zone because of ankle-deep mud - it was gross, but we were able to rinse our feet before starting the bike leg. I knew I was in good shape when I got to the rack to see most of my age-group was still in the water. When I finally got on the bike, my legs felt great, again surprised with none of the usual fatigue after the swim.

Leaving T1

So I rode relaxed for the first 50 miles (I was told the second half of the bike course is when the hills show up) and made sure to drink at least a bottle and a half of fluids per hour. My new fuel regimen included Skratch Labs hydration drink mix and solid fuel - mostly rice-based recipes from the Feed Zone Portables cookbook.

I took in about 250-300 calories per hour and as the day got hotter (in the high 80s and very humid), I remained relaxed and didn't push too hard, even on the rolling hills in the second half. I did not feel any thirst or hunger during the ride, and much to my surprise, Texas was the first Ironman bike leg during which I had no nausea. Convinced my fueling was perfect, I was actually looking forward to a good - and strong - run.

When I pulled into T2, my time was one of my best 112-milers, my legs still felt good - albeit a little stiff - and I knew I was in the race although my husband Jim and I decided beforehand that he would withhold from me my position in the age group so that I wouldn't chase anyone.

The first mile off the bike was about 7:40 (too fast), but my legs were feeling great and I was trying to run relaxed. The second mile was right around 8 minutes (goal pace). And that was the last moment I felt good.

Inching along

Then everything seemed to fall apart. My legs started to give and I was overwhelmed with a sense of fatigue that I can't explain. It was like every molecule in my leg muscles was screaming at me that they were tired and I needed to stop. It wasn't the heat. It wasn't thirst. It wasn't hunger. It was just .. fatigue. I had no explanation and I could not will myself to go any faster or any slower.

I inched along - running, then walking, then running again - pouring water and ice on myself - and at one of the aid stations around the midpoint, someone stepped right in front of me, and I went down hard, twisting my ankle in the process. I figured that was it, but the volunteers and medical staff helped me get back on my feet, gave me ice on the ankle and I was determined to get back on the course and finish, no matter how slow.

I was angry, confused, hot, and feeling pretty woozy by the time I saw Jim with about 3 miles to go. He kept telling me that everyone in front of my was slowing down, but that did little to help because I had nothing in my legs. I stopped and proceeded to vomit right in front of him. I can't imagine what he was thinking, but I remained on the course and kept going forward. I was never so happy to see a finish line in my life, and - yes, shockingly - I managed to pull out an age-group 4th even with that dismal almost-five-hour marathon.

By that point, I didn't care about anything except getting my medal. I tried to eat and drink after the race but ended up in the med tent with severe nausea and dizziness.

For a couple weeks after the race, I was still very confused about what went wrong. Was it not enough long-distance training? I had only one 100-mile bike ride but several close to 90 - winter training was difficult in Cleveland this year because of extreme cold. And I only ran 18-20 miles a couple times. I had several confidence-boosting long bricks though. Was it my fueling? Maybe solid food doesn't process as quickly as liquid? I really had no clue.

Now I'm starting to rethink it because of a recent illness that has sidelined me. Here come the "gory details" mentioned in the title. And it's really embarrassing to talk about, but hell, it's the truth.

About 4 weeks ago, shortly after Ironman Texas, I started to get a strange pain in my butt, kind of up near my tailbone and to the right. I was also feeling extremely fatigued - so much that Jim kept insisting something was wrong because I was sleeping so much. I sloughed off the pain as being muscular in nature - maybe from riding my road bike for the first time in a while. I thought nothing of it.

A week later, when the pain did not subside, I started poking around and felt what can only be termed a "lump" - or hardness. Still thinking it was muscular, I went to Google (yep, I Googled "pain in the ass"). Googling is not something I recommend to anyone contemplating a lump of any sort in their body. GO TO THE DOCTOR.

In the second week of butt pain, there were also other symptoms - ones I did not associate with my butt. I had a headache that wouldn't go away, I lost my appetite and was constantly feeling nauseous, and I had pain in my skin (the kind of pain you might associate with a fever but my temperature was only 99ish). When I did a training ride or run, I would get fatigued and be dragging after about 20 minutes. I told Jim I would call the doctor if it didn't go away, but it felt like it was subsiding by that Thursday, so I put off the call.

BAD IDEA. By Monday, I was in severe pain with all the other symptoms and now a larger elongated lump. Scared sh*tless about what it might be, I called and begged my doctor's office for an appointment, which they couldn't provide until Thursday. Tuesday, I called our health insurance "nurse on call" for advice - which was, duh - SEE A DOCTOR WITHIN 24 HOURS. The Cleveland Clinic has same-day appointments, so I took one Tuesday afternoon with a nurse practitioner. I didn't care. I was in severe pain.

The diagnosis? The first diagnosis was that I had a pilonidal cyst - this is basically an infection/abscess located near your tailbone usually caused by a plugged up hair follicle. She gave me antibiotics and sent me home. Two days later, I saw my family doctor. There was still pain. Some fever. Major fatigue. The lump was unchanged -- maybe bigger, it was hard to tell.

She had a different diagnosis: I had a peri-anal abscess. She gave me a different antibiotic in case the first one didn't work and referred me to a colorectal surgeon, just in case - if it needed to be "lanced and drained" it would be a simple office procedure for him. Ok, now I was freaked out - I've failed to mention in this post that eleven days from then I had a trip to Sweden to race in the ITU Long-course Age Group World Championship. My doctor reassured me that the surgical consult was "only for the worst case scenario."

Yep, I went home and Googled the hell out of this one.

My Google findings turned up the following: this type of abscess will not respond to antibiotics. It must be drained, either on its own or by lancing by a doctor.

My surgical consult was Tuesday. By Monday, I was almost comatose with an ever-expanding lump (this thing was now covering about a third of my butt cheek), pain, headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, and now a 100-degree fever. I called Jim, he called the surgeon's office -- they sent us to the emergency room "where it could be lanced and drained if necessary." In the ER, I was pumped full of a DIFFERENT antibiotic, pain killers, anti-nausea drugs and given a CAT scan for more information. The ER doc said no way was he touching this thing because of its location - better leave that to the colorectal guy.

(JUST A QUICK ASIDE: while we were chatting with the emergency room doctor, we found out that he was in attendance at my first Ironman, Ironman Utah in 2002 - his brother raced - and he happened to be one of the medical personnel trying to revive the man who drowned in Utah Lake that morning. Talk about bizarre coincidences!)

So... after reading the scan, he gave me the third diagnosis. I had an ischio-rectal abscess that was no longer full of fluid but now had blossomed into a case of cellulitis. It "had not become gangrenous" (yeah, i know, WTF!?!?). I was sent home from the ER with more instructions and info to deliver to my colorectal surgeon. When I got home, my fever went up to 101 degrees.

I had the worst night of fitful sleep ever.

Tuesday morning, I saw the surgeon and found myself in tears just telling him how bad I felt. He took one look, checked the CAT scans, and sent me to the hospital to prep for surgery in the OR at 2pm. No problem, he even said I'd be able to race in Sweden the next week. REALLY?

When I woke up from surgery, the overall feeling of illness was gone. Seriously. The drugs were not masking it.. my headache and nausea and fever were all gone. I still had pain, but now it was from three incisions and drainage tubes sticking out of my butt cheeks.

Jim gave me the lowdown - the abscess was much worse than even the surgeon expected - hence it wasn't a simple lance-and-drain kind of thing. It was deep and extended to my left side (they call it a horseshoe abscess). No, I wouldn't be racing in Sweden - no lake swimming with open wounds.

I didn't care. I was so happy to be free of this thing - and I spent the next three days in bed. We contemplated still taking the trip to Sweden, but I couldn't envision sitting on that plane for many hours and spending the entire trip worrying about gauze and drainage and - omg - what if there were complications?

So, it was a drag to do, but we canceled the whole trip, and I've been recovering from this surgery for one week as of today. I saw the surgeon this morning and - yay! - my drainage tubes have been removed and he hopes it will heal up in 4-6 weeks. But no swimming (Boo!)

I can't help but wonder if my fatigue in Texas might have been the beginning of this illness. Either way, and true to my nickname, I seem to have picked a great way to start out a new age group.

I was fortunate to have an amazing English teacher in high school who told the class that we will someday use the Shakespeare quotes that we were force to memorize. Especially the ones from Hamlet. And wouldn't you know? He was right.

Which brings me to the quote: "When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but it battalions." This year, I'm truly living the Disaster Magnet credo, and I've pretty much thrown in the towel. I feel alone. And sad. And worthless. And scared that I'm in a hole I'll never get out of.
I've been struggling since last October to get healthy. I've been doing everything "they" tell you to. I took a lot of time off from training. I'm working with a physical therapist to fix the weak points. But things just keep crumbling. And to make it worse, they're not only related to athletics.
I was determined to fight my negativism, look for the silver lining, not wallow in despair, and laugh at all of it. I had been very successful at this for several months. Even my husband Jim said he was impressed by my attitude this year. But today,... well, today I finally broke down. I'm tired and sad and I'm sick of being injured despite how hard I've been working to get un-injured. I'm sick of having things start to go well only to be struck down by something else. I'm sick of having dental work go horribly wrong. I'm tired of drowning myself in work to avoid having to think about anything else. I'm tired of hoping. And I'm tired of keeping it all inside.
(The latest is that one of my gum grafts didn't take and will most likely require more surgery - believe me, one of the worst things you can experience is having a doctor say "uh-oh" when inspecting a post-surgical site. I also won't be running the Boston Marathon this year because I have a stress fracture in my tibia. This is my fifth stress fracture, but my first in 13 years. This one came without warning. I never even got a chance to back off to avoid it. And it came just when my running was just starting to feel strong and fast again because of the PT.)
I had even lost the will to draw (thus also feeling like a failure because of the promise I made to myself). But I picked up a pen again and made two new drawings (they made me cry even more, but I did them). I know they're pretty bad, but I'm trying to get back on track.
The first one I call "Stress Fracture No. 6":
The second one I call "Foothills" - although it started out being a drawing of the hole I was stuck in.

I was fortunate to have an amazing English teacher in high school who told the class that we will someday use the Shakespeare quotes that we were force to memorize. Especially the ones from Hamlet. And wouldn't you know? He was right.

I got a new set of pens from my husband for Xmas - it's a 9-piece Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph pen set the nib sizes range from teeny-tiny to huge (.13mm to 1.2mm). And the best thing about them is THEY WORK. Using these pens is like drawing a dream line. (Compared to my old Rapidograph pen that only produced an ink-flow when it wanted to.) I've only used two of them so far - the .3mm and the .25mm but I love them and I worry that, as an artist, I'll never be worthy of having a pen set like this. The set (see photo) came from a local art supply store called

I got a new set of pens from my husband for Xmas - it's a 9-piece Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph pen set the nib sizes range from teeny-tiny to huge (.13mm to 1.2mm). And the best thing about them is THEY WORK. Using these pens is like drawing a dream line.

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.

Oh No Not Again!
(Like in 2010, the Mooseman transition
was a flood zone on Sunday.)

One of my favorite fiction passages ever written is a scene in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in which a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias are improbably called into existence high above the planet Magrathea. It was one of those (very few) teenage moments during which I found myself not only reading but in hysterics behind a closed bedroom door at 3 am. I remember my mother bursting into my room to find me not only NOT crying, but - the horror! - still awake, and READING... and - even more horror! - it was an UNASSIGNED novel. Anyway, to get back to the story, the hilarious passage finds the sperm whale proceeding to fully come to grips with its existence in the brief moments during which it falls to the surface of the planet. But what about the bowl of petunias, you ask? Here's the quote:

"Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again. Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now."

(Note: SPOILER ALERT if you've not read but plan on reading The Hitchhiker's Guide series, skip the next paragraph)

Readers find out two books later in Life, the Universe and Everything that this scene introduces one of the great "minor" characters in the more-than-three books of The Hitchhiker's trilogy. It's also one of my all-time favorite characters, the "tragic" figure Agrajag. Agrajag's fate is to be continuously reincarnated and subsequently killed (accidentally and unwittingly) by Adams' protagonist Arthur Dent.

Why am I telling you this? Because I became more-than-intimately acquainted with the "Oh no not again" sentiment as history repeated itself - more than once, even - this weekend. On Sunday, I was the victim of nightmarish déjà vu - an almost uncanny duplication of circumstances in both events and symptoms (as the case may be). Unfortunately for me, the déjà vu was of two events from 2010 combined into one.

My husband Jim would say I didn't need to, but as usual, I did a desperate search for some kind of redemption race after Ironman St. George. We decided the Mooseman 70.3 fit the bill and planned a quick (12-hour-drive) New Hampshire weekend trip. Mooseman was a race I knew and loved, not only because it takes place in my beloved New England, but because I had performed well there in 2010. It was a race that might also, perhaps, allow me to capitalize on all the bike hill training I had done before St. George. Mooseman was so near-and-dear to me that I had also planned to race it in 2011, but a bike crash and resulting broken rib kept me from the starting line.

Had I raced last year, I might not be telling this story. Because the lessons I learned this weekend would have been last year's lessons and would have (hopefully) already been rammed home, burned into memory, and part of the process. But they weren't. And so, on Sunday, I was forced to relive a painful and identical experience from my racing past - from a DIFFERENT race even - the Kinetic Half in Spotsylvania, Virginia.

The 2010 Kinetic Half (read the race report) was the race that taught me about my allergy issues. Not just any issues, mind you, but full-blown asthma that can be triggered by spring tree pollen. I had my first (and at the time, only) asthma attack at (what appeared to be) the beginning of the Kinetic 13.1-mile run. A never-before-experienced shortness of breath on the bike leg was replaced by a desperate gasping for air when I started the run. I ended up in an ambulance. Later that day, it occurred to me that even my swim had been compromised by the allergic reaction - during the swim I experienced an uncomfortable struggle to breathe that I had chalked up to: "Jeanne, you went out WAY too fast."

Panicked by the whole experience, I saw an allergist who did a complete work-up only to conclude: "You are allergic to Spring." "Anything about spring in particular?" "No, just Spring." It turns out that all the tree pollens of spring are allergens to my body. She recommended training indoors all spring long and aggressive treatment for a few months every March starting in 2011. But her treatment plan was revoked by her replacement who had a different diagnosis. The new allergist concluded my asthma was a one-time thing, more likely the result of a "perfect storm" of conditions that day in Virginia. She wanted to wait and see what happened in spring 2011 instead of dosing me up with inhalers and drugs before we knew more.

The only race I did in Spring 2011 was Ironman St. George, to which she gave the green light because it was a race in desert conditions with minimal, if any, tree pollen. Right after St. George, I crashed my bike and my spring racing season (and thus my Spring allergy assessment) was forever lost in the wake of a broken rib.

Cue up Spring 2012. The last time I did Mooseman was 2010. It was only a few weeks after the Kinetic Half. Needless to say, I was in full-blown allergy-scare mode. Allergy meds and inhaler were now part of my race checklist and transition gear. Asthma didn't stand a ghost of chance. But as of this weekend, I have been without an allergy-induced (or any) asthma attack for over two years. For all practical purposes, asthma was a distant memory barely registering when I got a glimpse of my inhaler in my purse. And the only time I've taken over-the-counter allergy medication is to treat mild symptoms.

In transition, I miraculously got the end
of the rack - I knew then, absolutely,
that my luck was about to run out.

And by Sunday morning, it was the weather - not my allergies - registering as a major problem at Mooseman. It was cold and rainy without a break in sight. Coincidentally, except for a temperature difference of about ten degrees, the weather in New Hampshire on Sunday was IDENTICAL to Mooseman in 2010. Oh no, Not Again! I was having race flashbacks - unfortunately, they were the WRONG race flashbacks. My brain was given over to preparing mentally and physically for a race in cold, wet conditions and avoiding hypothermia (one of those memories that actually HAS been rammed home and IS part of the process). When I did Mooseman in 2010, I remember being so miserable in the rain that I fought back tears during the last part of the bike ride (read the race report).

So, why on earth would I consider allergies at a time like this? I mean, seriously. I proceeded to ignore the obvious signs. Seriously. What was that yellow stuff floating in all the puddles? What was the deal with my eyes being all puffy? Did Jim just say: "Don't forget your inhaler"? Even up to the point after the gun went off and it felt like someone was jumping up and down on my chest and trying to smother me in the water, it still NEVER occurred to me that my Spring allergy was rearing it's nasty head.

What did I do in the water? (Isn't it obvious?) I chalked one up to: "Jeanne, you went out WAY too fast." (Instead of the more appropriate "Oh no not again.") The writing was all over the walls, but I wasn't looking at the walls. I was looking down the hall. At the finish line. I so badly needed this race as a pick-me-up that I threw common sense out the window.

And despite a decent (if suffocating) swim, by the half-way point on the bike, I was getting that "old familiar" shortness of breath. The only thing different than what happened in Virginia was that this time I KNEW what was happening. When I started coughing, I knew it was too late. And the phrase DID pop into my head: "Oh no NOT AGAIN!"

While climbing the mountain on the second loop, my quads were already starving from not enough oxygen, and I couldn't breathe deep enough to get them any. My bike speed on the hill was so slow I was afraid I would take a deep breath, start coughing, and fall off my bike (talk about a disaster!). I considered walking up the hill. And crying. And although it wasn't likely, I hoped that by the time I reached transition, Jim would still be carrying my backpack. The backpack containing my inhaler... because, we all know, IT WASN'T IN TRANSITION. My inhaler, that is.

By my own estimates of my capability, my bike time was dismal. Upon dismount, I yelled to Jim that I needed my inhaler - told him where it was. What the hell was he supposed to do? I was the one who made the mistake and all I did was make him feel guilty for not carrying a heavy backpack around all day in the rain.

Remembering Virginia, I dreaded the run. But I still made an attempt. And by mile 1, I had already stopped three times to catch my breath, asked countless people if they had an inhaler, and alerted the medical staff. By the time the ambulance got there, I was angry, sad, AND scared. I borrowed a phone to call Jim, only to find he was making his way up the run course to find me. I was trying to breathe, trying to reconcile what was happening, trying to decide if I could deal with dropping out (like I had a choice), and trying to get the information to the medics that my husband is trying to find me. I even took a mental snapshot of how much distress I was in to avoid overanalysis of the DNF.

But most of all, I was trying to breathe. And coughing. And panicking.

After being treated with a nebulizer and convincing medical personnel not to take me to the hospital, Jim and I made our way to the car for the long drive home. When I wasn't coughing, I spent most of the drive asking myself (and poor Jim) the same questions over and over again and cursing my terrible luck - and stupidity - at my first two attempts at racing this year. As an aside, I was also trying to figure out why the side of my head has now broken out in hives. (More allergies? The same allergies? Panic? Something entirely different?)

I almost forgot to mention how my wetsuit got destroyed. Yes, yet another disaster. But believe me when I say I'm not sulking. I'm embracing what now feels like the return to Disaster Magnet status. It's a comfortable place for me and the stories are much more amusing to tell.

To end this maddening story on a positive note, I will leave you with a very appropriate message:

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.

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