Blogs tagged with "DNF"

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.

The Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP) race report blog... I considered not writing it. I considered curling up in a ball and hiding for a few years until I could face my reflection again. Then along came an angel named Ruth. Ruth is my husband's cousin's wife. She is also my friend and, oftentimes, she is the singular voice of reason and perspective on Facebook. Ruth made me realize there's more to a race than the end result, and helped me pinpoint meaning behind my IMLP debacle. This could be it: the Disaster Magnet blog NEEDS the disaster stories. I mean, where would I be if it were another "look how wonderful I am" athlete blog? Ruth also said that I might inspire others to look at things differently through my own mishaps. That's all I ever could hope for as a legacy.

So, then, how do tell this story? It didn't really start out a disaster-in-the-making. It started out a smart race strategy playing out exactly as planned, an almost-perfect execution backed up by strong fitness and brain-work. I did not enter IMLP to "finish" -- I entered with the goal to qualify for the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

Upon arriving in Lake Placid on July 21, the J-Team (my husband Jim, my amazing friend Julie and I) had a plan. The plan was to stay calm and relaxed and scope out the area, transition zone and course logistics to ensure no surprises on race day. The rest of the time would be spent sightseeing in the little Adirondack village that had the distinction of hosting the Olympic Winter Games not once, but twice, in 1932 and in 1980. My parents-in-law, who also wanted to see the Adirondack region (and the race, bless them), would meet us there.

The plan worked well. By the end of the next day we had taken care of the vitals:

  • the race registration
  • the "scope out"
  • the "course drive" (viewing the bike course)
  • the yearly tradition of eating (and drinking) at a local brewpub -- this time we hit two: Lake Placid Pub & Brewery and the Great Adirondack Brewing Co.
  • the grocery shopping at the local Price Chopper (in college, it was affectionately known as a "Chopper Run")

In the following two days came sightseeing at the former Olympic venues:

  • the Olympic Museum -- which displayed such things as medals from different games, Sonia Hennie memorabila, and bobsleds throughout time
  • the ice rinks -- including Herb Brooks Arena, the legendary place where a bunch of USA college kids shocked the world by beating the Soviets and winning the Gold Medal in 1980
  • the massive towering ski jumps
  • the ski-slopes of Whiteface Mountain (via gondola)

It was a memorable three days, but race morning finally arrived on July 25. We awoke -- well, I "arose" after a sleepless night -- at 3:30 a.m. The pre-race preparations went smoothly: shower, drive to start, body marking, bike prep, final transition bag check and dropping off of special needs bags. The swim started at 7 a.m.

The 2.4-mile IMLP swim is a two-loop counter-clockwise course in Mirror Lake with a deep-water mass-start. Jim - the engineer - had already determined that the geometry of the course -- a very narrow rectangle -- provided just a small distance penalty for swimmers starting wide to the right. Using my husband's geekiness to my advantage, I started on the front line and my swim went perfectly. I stayed relaxed, found a set of feet to draft off and experienced none of the usual crowded Ironman swim clobbering, despite warnings from other athletes about this particular swim. The result was my fastest time -- just under an hour.

The swim-to-bike transition at IMLP is a long run from the lake, but it went very quickly, and I was on my bike in a flash. It did help that I had my bike racked at the very end of the bar, adjacent to the run path. (That was luck, not skill.)

The 112-mile bike course is also two loops. It starts with a very short steep downhill followed by a left turn. Here's where the fun began. In classic Disaster Magnet style, I hit a bump in the road at the bottom of the hill and launched both my nutrition bottles -- this, after SPECIFICALLY replacing my bottle cages with new "no launch" models a few days before. I had to stop and retrieve them for two reasons: littering is prohibited on the course and all my race calories were in them.

The bike course leaves Lake Placid via the road past the Olympic ski jumps -- another steep, short downhill. At the bottom? You guessed it -- another bump in the road. My bottles became projectiles a second time. Retrieving them took a few moments longer this time because a state trooper decided to help out by tossing a bottle back to me. Doesn't he KNOW I can't catch? The rest of my ride would be characterized by constant bottle checks. In fact, I got so paranoid about bottle catapulting that I almost didn't notice when my gel flask was ejected out of the pocket of my bike shorts. I am NOT making this up. It was a comedy of errors. At one point, I even collided with someone else's bottle left in the road. Fortunately for anyone behind me, the impact with my front wheel gave it a perfect spiral and sent it into the grass.

So yeah, the IMLP bike course. The difficulty of this course is matched only by its beauty. It follows scenic hills, rivers, gorges and even takes in the slopes of Whiteface Mountain. Stunned by the scenery, you may reach a point of bliss during which you happily forget the 13 miles of hills coming in the latter part of each loop. The best part of the IMLP bike course is the aptly-named "screaming descent" into the town of Keene. Except, I was the one screaming -- from fear of spontaneous combustion upon reaching speeds I'd never seen before. The descent comes just after the climb out of Lake Placid.

The climbs on the IMLP course are deceiving, and I believe a five- to ten-minute deficit in the two loops is almost inevitable, irrespective of your ease of effort or biking prowess. I stayed in an aerobic state and finished the second loop about seven minutes slower than the first even though my bottles stayed put. I arrived at the bike-to-run transition feeling relatively relaxed and exactly where I wanted to be time-wise. OK, maybe not exactly. I had hoped to be a little faster, but I refused to panic. My bike nutrition had been flawless -- no nausea, no light-headedness, no dehydration.

The bike-to-run transition seemed like a maze, but all I had to do was follow the finger-pointing of the volunteers. They sent us right by a wall of porta-johns. This is a good thing if you have to "go." This is also a good thing if you DON'T have to "go" but want to give other competitors the slip because they DO have to "go." When I got to the change tent, I had yet another projectile awareness. As I grabbed my socks, shoes, hat, Gu Roctane and Endurolytes, I noticed I had lost one more thing on the bike course: my asthma inhaler. I started repeating the revelation: "my inhaler? my inhaler is gone!" The poor volunteer helping me dove desperately into my transition bag to find it. "No, no! I LOST my inhaler on the bike!" She was not amused, but, as I can say about all the volunteers, she is a saint.

The 26.2-mile run starts on a downhill, rolls a bit, then continues on a downhill -- the same downhill that the bikes follow past the ski jumps and out of Lake Placid. It would have been easy to hammer that hill, but I held back and listened to the voice of reason, the one that studied those "how to race Ironman" books, blogs and articles for six months. Jim and Julie informed me I was 12th in my age group and the leader was only 15 minutes ahead. I went out relaxed, took in water, sports drink, and Gu exactly as I trained. My pace was around 7:15-7:30 per mile on the downhills but then settled around 7:35-7:45. The run course is also very scenic, but eventually it's an uphill battle back into town. My pace dropped to 8:30 on the uphills.

Heading into the second loop, Jim and Julie yelled to me that I was now running in fourth place in my age group. After the downhills, I started to feel a bit bloated so I interspersed electrolyte tablets in my feeding regime. I had to walk a bit from the bloating, and noticing my distress, another athlete asked if I was ok. I said "I just need to throw up." His response? "Just GIT'R DONE!" Some people apparently have a much better grip on these things than I do -- that was NOT my first thought. Around mile 17, it got itSELF done. My stomach distress vanished instantly, and I was back on pace, feeling good aerobically but beginning to feel some fatigue in my legs. I continued to drink well and managed to pass two more women in my age group. The leader was all that was left. I was at 19 miles.

Little did I know that my race was about to come apart. The nausea came back, and at the next water stop, I was bent over vomiting many times. Out came the entire contents of my stomach -- basically, a LOT of liquid. The volunteers at the aid station sat me down and tried to work through it with me. They surmised I was severely dehydrated. They also noticed I was shivering. They gave me sports drink, pretzels, a wind-breaker jacket and a mylar blanket. I got up and tried to start running again. I managed to walk-jog to the next water stop, but I was losing focus and I decided to seek medical help. That was the end of my race.

The next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground wrapped in blankets with tremors in my body and begging the medical volunteers to help me finish. Instead, they stuck me with an I-V and put me in an ambulance to the finish line. At my request, one of them called Jim to tell him what happened and to meet me at the medical tent.

This was NOT how it was supposed to end. I was supposed to hear my name as I crossed the finish line. I was supposed to get my Kona slot. I was supposed to get my Ironman P.R. How did this happen?

At this point, I'm lost in analysis, determining where to go from here, what signal I obviously missed, and what I might do to avoid having the same thing happen next time. Did I say next time? Oh yes. There will be a NEXT time.

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