Blogs tagged with "ironman"

When Hurricane Patricia hit the west coast of Mexico,
San Jose del Cabo had amazing surf for two days.

I've been struggling with this post for a long LONG time. Not on paper, but in my head. Something happened in Mexico. And I can't shake it.

In a word: I changed.

I changed from the person I was into the person I keep wanting to be. I started to ask myself those deep soul-inquiring questions. Why? Why are you doing this?

I had no answer.

For the past several years, I've become a slave to Triathlon (capital T) and the Mdot. These are the Lifestyle Corporations that induce me to shell out enormous amounts of cash chasing something that is supposed to make me feel good about myself. Yet, the more I tried to be a Triathlete, the worse I felt about myself. And the more Triathlon friends I surrounded myself with, the more I started to hide from them.

It comes down to one "ism": "Comparison is the thief of joy."

All I've done is compare myself to others and I keep coming up at the bottom of the list. Never good enough. Never fast enough. Never cool enough. Never good-looking enough. Never having the best gear. The newest gadget. The fastest clothing. I was afraid to talk to any of the Triathlon people because I would seem like the "low-income ugly red-headed cousin who ran in cotton sweats." (Why this is bad, I have no clue, as I used to embrace that part of me, the part that was different and unique.)

But I kept trying - if I was faster, people would like me, right?

The problem is, I didn't like myself. I didn't like what I'd become. I resented the Lifestyle Corporations that existed only to take my money, and sell me overpriced races and stuff that would make me "faster" or look "cooler" and tout my accomplishments. Triathlon is all about gear and bodies (note, please don't hang me, Triathlon friends, I'm interpreting the 95%). I found myself in forums where people said things like "how many bikes is too many bikes?" walking around at races with too much skin on display (which, obviously, always looked better than mine), and being on a team where my cohorts say things to me like "going to Kona is great, but how does it help our sponsors?"

I spent a lot of time with my mouth agape at things Triathlon people said, a lot of time being disgusted with the commercialism of the whole thing, and a lot of time worrying that I would never measure up.

Most importantly, I forgot the Number One Fundamental Reason For Doing Something: because I enjoy it.

This past weekend, I watched a movie called "The End of the Tour." It's basically one long conversation between two men: acclaimed writer David Foster Wallace (one of the people I am apt to name when asked "If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would it be?") and Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky. They spend five days together in 1996 during the last week of Wallace's book signing tour for Infinite Jest. It begins with Lipsky learning of Wallace's suicide in 2008. I don't know why this movie affected me so much, but it precipitated an almost four-day soul-defining time-out. It made me realize I have become a drone. I've defined myself by outside standards instead of inherent inner value. I've stopped caring about making a difference and started accepting failure. This has happened in life as well as sport.

I was reminded of a time when I never needed to race. I could go swimming or biking or (especially) running just because those things gave me myself. When I challenged myself with additional miles, I did it not because someone else was doing it, but because, simply, I wanted to challenge myself. Seriously, the reason I started distance-running in the first place had everything to do with self-help. It cleared my mind. It gave me peace. It just felt good. And I never told anyone I was doing it because I never cared what anyone thought about it. I even liked doing it alone.

Now, I read everyone's daily updates on Facebook and rate myself. I stopped doing sport for the pure joy of it and started doing it for external affirmation. Getting the medal became important. Winning was important. People would like me more if I won, right? I started (harshly) judging myself by everyone else's accomplishments. Daily. I would, and will, never measure up.

I've been fighting against this attitude my whole life - this hypocritical dichotomy. Deep down, I believe people have worth just because they exist, and I deeply value my friends because they're my friends, whether they have achievement medals or not. But, over the years, my OWN worth has stemmed from my school grades, my swim finishes, my track finishes, how prestigious my college was, how prestigious my job was, how much money I made, whether I was married, whether I had kids, how many marathons I did, how many Ironmans I did, and finally, the dream I've been chasing for a few years, whether I can finally make it back to Kona and have a good race there.

Why?

I've nothing to prove. Lately, it's not like everyone hasn't done an Ironman. I've become a drone to the Triathlon Lifestyle. To the Corporations who know how much money I (don't) make but will find a way to make me fork it over. I do it year in and year out, and nothing changes. They get richer and I'm still the same person I was. With more stuff. And less worth.

Something has to change. I have to change.

I was smiling during and after the rough IM Los Cabos swim.
I was sad it ended so quickly.

And now, I can say without doubt, that instead of learning nothing in Mexico (note: I started Ironman Los Cabos, I didn't finish), I learned everything in Mexico. I learned that I love Mexico. I love the food. I love the people. I love the landscape. I love the water. I LOVED the water. Not the drinking water. The ocean water. While I was out there fighting the chop in the 2.4-mile swim of Ironman Los Cabos, I was having the most fun I've had in a race. Ever. And now, I want to do that. For no reason but because it's fun, I feel challenged, and I want to.

I think I want to swim. In the ocean. Long. Distances.

Thus, I may have something new to write about. Let the adventure begin.

Here are some of our photos from Mexico.

First place we ate in San Jose del Cabo was a little hole-in-the-wall
called El Mesón del Ahorcado (The Hangman).
The tacos were to DIE for. Look at all the salsas!!

Cabo Pulmo National Park

Coastline of Cabo Pulmo National Park, we snorkeled here.

Again, with the food..
this was Mexican street corn, so so SO great
(I know, it's only a cup of corn scraped from the
cob with sour cream and queso blanco, but OMG, what more do you need?)
It's also coincidental to note that someone in Cabo San Lucas
compared my dress to a dorado (fish).

And here's a video I made of snorkeling at Cabo Pulmo 
(we somehow figured out how to rent equipment from the non-English-speaking Carlos who has a little shack on a tiny beach and lets you take "showers" with a hose - amazing reef right off his coast):

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 realize the title "sounds" sarcastic, but it isn't really. I also realize people might be more interested in reading about my race at Ironman Texas, but I need to write this post first. My apologies. There is something else at work here.

It all started when I told my mother I was going to a race in Houston.

"Texas?"

"Yes"

"Is that anywhere near Houston?" (Yeah, I know, but give my mother a thumbs-up for actually hearing me say the word "Texas" before you pass judgment.)

"It's IN Houston, Mom - well, actually, it's in a place called The Woodlands."

"You know who lives in Texas, don't you? ......Mark Carboni."

"Yes, I know, Mom. What do you want me to do about it?"

"He would love to see you."

Mark Carboni is my half-brother. He's the son of my father and his first wife. The last time I saw Mark, I couldn't have been more than six or seven years old. He was probably in his 20s. And then he disappeared from my life. I may have asked about him, but there was no real answer. My father said he hadn't heard from Mark and that birthday cards were always returned. No one ever talked about it much... until he was mentioned in my father's will. That was the reason my mother got back in touch with Mark, and they have been talking regularly ever since.

But to me at this point, Mark was just another family member who my mother has said would "love to see me." Did my mother realize I've tried to keep in touch with my other two brothers? Did she remember that they have never seemed to care I existed? Did she remember we almost had to beg my brothers to come to my wedding (and they showed up late to the church)? Did she remember most of my aunts, uncles, and cousins couldn't find the time? (even though I was at all their weddings) Did she remember that every time I drove home to Connecticut from Ohio, my siblings never could find the time to travel a few miles to see me? Did she remember that my father told me I would "never understand this because [I] didn't have children" (apparently, when you have children, you have a blanket excuse to never see your family).

My father's funeral was ten years ago, and that was the last time I saw or spoke to either of my brothers.

Oh yeah, about my father. Ten years ago, my father was diagnosed with liver cancer. He was diagnosed and gone in less than two months. It may have been the worst two months of my entire life. I know it was probably the worst two months of my mother's life. I don't know if it was the worst two months of my brothers' lives. But for me, it was THE worst. And not for the reasons you might think. The fallout after he was gone was nothing compared to the dying part.

You see, my father and I never got along. Ever. I spent all my formative years trying to make him like me. But I was never good enough. Valedictorian of my high school class? Great, but not good enough. It felt like I always let him down, no matter what I did. I excelled at swimming because he paid more attention to me the better I got. One of the worst moments in my swimming career was losing the state championship by a tenth of a second. ONE TENTH of a second and I was back to being a nobody. I tried to make up for it. I went to the college he wanted. I got a degree in engineering. I got a job at NASA. And yet, every time I did something that didn't fit into his plan (dating the wrong guys, not wanting to stay at NASA, not wanting to get married in Connecticut, etc.), the answer was always "shape up or ship out" - or worse: "I wash my hands of you."

Did he say these things to my brothers? I don't think so - but I really don't know. I stopped asking why, assumed it had something to do with being a "girl," and stopped trying to make him happy. I spent the last ten years of my father's life arguing with him and having him tell me I was "put on this earth only to disagree with him." Once, he even told me it was a travesty I never had children because I'll never know what it's like to have a bad kid (i.e., me). It makes you wonder how it was possible that my father's death became the worst two months of my life. I should have been happy to end the strife, right?

Family is weird, though. And my dad was the epitome of "tough love." He truly wanted me to be happy. When I wasn't, he didn't have a clue how to fix it. And, as most fathers are, he was a "fix-it" kind of guy. Car problems? He fixed it. Apartment problems? He fixed it. When I was in college and needed a lofted bed in order to put a desk in my bedroom, he build the most amazing put-it-together-yourself-it's-all-labeled wooden bed structure that surpasses anything IKEA ever created.

So yeah, he loved me. He just didn't TELL me. My mother used to say we fought all the time because we were exactly alike. Stubborn. Idealistic. Perfectionists. Thank you, Dad.

When my father was diagnosed with cancer, I flew home weekly, took him (and my mom) to the doctor. I talked to the doctors, did the research, called cancer treatment facilities, and ... in the end, watched him die. I watched the illness take over his body. I watched the strongest, most organized man I ever knew, lose his mental faculties when the liver toxins spread. I still cry over things that happened during the decline. Once, he got very frustrated and started ranting because the TV remote didn't work. I popped the back off to find the batteries installed improperly - I turned them around and it started working. He looked at me in shock (that I could fix something he couldn't). He asked me what I did, and I had to tell him he put the batteries in wrong. It. Broke. My. Heart. I ran upstairs "to my room" and cried for several hours. It still hurts.

When he was in the hospital, I kept it light when I was with with him. I was a cheerleader when he was afraid and in severe pain (gut-wrenching to witness). The last words he ever spoke to me were the following: "I don't want to leave you without a father."

I can still hear those words and see his face as he said them. It was a moment right out of a movie. And when I was home, or at work, or running, or in the hospital but not in his room, I cried. I cried non-stop to the social workers. When he was in hospice, I added the nurses to the list of people with whom I couldn't keep-it-together. Every time they asked what bothered me the most, the same thing came out: "Does he know that I love him?" Because I wasn't sure I ever told him. The other reason I cried was from emotional pain of watching him suffer. I would have given anything to make it go away. Until my father got cancer, I never truly understood that scene in the movie "Terms of Endearment" during which Shirley MacLaine is screaming at the nurses to "Give [her] daughter the shot!" Often I wanted to grab my father's doctors and yell: "Kill him if you have to, but make the pain go away!" (Don't judge me until you've been in my shoes.)

In the end, the one thing I could do for my father (and my mother) was to be in the room when he died. There were three people there that night: my husband Jim, my mom, and me. No, not one of my brothers.

And then something weird happened. The next day, I stopped crying. It was over, the pain was gone.

When we had to make funeral arrangements, the gift-giving started. Unbeknownst to us, my dad had already taken care of his own funeral arrangements. We knew he would have a military burial in a national cemetery (he fought in the Second World War). We didn't know that he had decided on the type of coffin, the clothing, the funeral home, and even the music (yes, there was an audio tape labeled "Funeral Music"). The funeral director read over his documents, looked up at us in amazement, and said: "This is a gift. Your father left you an amazing gift."

Over the years, there have been many more gifts. You never realize a person's influence on you until they're gone. My mother's ability to organize herself and finances after he passed is the result of his direct influence. I've begun to appreciate the hard-work ethic he instilled in me. Even the things that annoyed us about him have now become hilarious jokes to Jim and me - we can laugh and not be angry.

And the biggest gift was still yet to come.

Which brings me back to The Woodlands, Texas. I hadn't said anything to my mom, but my plan was to go there and do an Ironman. Only. I didn't have time to worry about anything else. Then, the day before we left, I got a text from Mark Carboni's wife, Betty. She and their daughter wanted to hook up with us if possible while we were in town (Mark was in Dallas and wouldn't be there).

I panicked for a split second, but, seriously, there was no reason not to. Besides, it would make my mother happy. And I realized I had the ability to choose my attitude toward this - and for once, I decided to stay positive and do it with love. I let go of all my family and sibling disappointments of the past and went in with no preconceived notions.

Then Mark decided to come home from Dallas to be there. I would now be meeting my brother. Betty and I texted times and locations, and Thursday evening, I called her to confirm everything, and she said "Do you want to talk to Carboni?" (I love that she calls him by his last name, MY last name.)

"Sure." (Sh*t just got real.)

And she put him on the phone: "Hi sis!"

I think I cracked up laughing. What an awesome, lighthearted way to begin our relationship after a 42-year hiatus. I loved him instantly. He described himself as "the only Italian with a Fu Manchu" (see photos).

This photo (taken by Betty) kind of says it all.

Without going into detail, the rest of this story is a lesson in the strength of family ties. In our first embrace in the parking lot of the Macaroni Grill, I felt a bond that one can only know as a loved family member. Mark has my - I mean, our - father's smile (even though I hadn't seen it in a long time). He has a lot of my - I mean, our - father's mannerisms. But that's where the resemblance stopped. He's easy-going, smiles a LOT, and is quick to show love. His face has laugh lines, not frown lines like his - I mean, our - father. His daughter Kasey is a beautiful, talented woman that I am thrilled to have as a niece, and I look forward to following her adventures in life. Mark's wife, Betty, is one of the most peaceful, loving souls I've ever encountered. It's easy to see why they've been together for 40 years and also why my mother loves them so much. I couldn't have asked for three more dear and loving humans to have as my family, and I am very thankful for whatever force brought it about. The only negative thing about the evening was that it had to come to an end. I found a great treasure in Houston and it was hard to let go so soon.

But there was that Ironman thing looming... although the difference now was that the success of our trip no longer depended on my performance. It was already the best trip.

On race morning I got a text from Mark telling me to be safe and that he loves me. It kept me smiling through the entire Ironman swim and bike legs (more on that in a subsequent blog).

As we were leaving Texas yesterday, I heard an echo of what my dad said to me before he died, that he didn't want to leave me without a father. I now have a reply: Dad, you didn't leave me without a father. You LEFT me with a brother. And that is, perhaps, the greatest gift of love you ever gave me.

Two more photos (stolen from Mark's Facebook page):

Sister and brother together after 42(?) years.

Can you tell Mark and I are related?
It's all in our facial expression - eye-closing must be a Carboni thing.
(L-R: Jim, Betty, me, Mark, Kasey)

I realize the title "sounds" sarcastic, but it isn't really. I also realize people might be more interested in reading about my race at Ironman Texas, but I need to write this post first. My apologies. There is something else at work here.

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:
One of my favorite things to see at Lake Coeur d'Alene:
Seaplanes!

Sometime last year (I can't remember when), my husband Jim said something akin to: "If you're going to do another Ironman, we should go back to Coeur d'Alene." In considering this, I'm not sure we fully appreciated, or recalled - exactly - what happened last time we were in Coeur d'Alene.

It was 2009. I was 44 years old. It was my first attempt at the Ironman distance (2.4-mile swim/112-mile bike/26.2-mile run) in six years. In my previous attempt - 2003 - I had dropped out of Ironman Florida. Thus, in 2009, the goal was to finish. But I don't remember anything after mile 20. Wait, I don't remember anything after mile 15. I can go back and read my race report to pull out details, but here's the short version: it was an eleven-mile descent into hypothermia-fueled delirium.

Photographic evidence of my 2009 run to the finish

I DO remember a medic stating my temperature had fallen to 90.3 degrees F. After that I was in a tunnel. People were talking to me, asking me questions, but my responses didn't seem to be getting back to them. The next thing I remember was sitting up shivering and being fed warm fluids (once my temperature had INcreased to 97 degrees, I could "shiver" again). When they finally let me out into the arms of the J-Team - Jim and my friend Julie - it was dark outside. I had no idea how much time had passed. On the way back to the hotel, Julie said: "Jim stood out in the rain for 2.5 hours waiting for you. No one would tell us anything."

2.5 hours. Gone. Lost. Did I even finish? Did Mike Reilly say my name?

Indeed. I had become an Ironman for the second time. Jim had the evidence - my medal. And there was photographic evidence as well.

This time, the only thing I sought in Coeur d'Alene was to see that finish line and remember it. Because Coeur d'Alene is such a beautiful place to traverse 140.6 miles. And the community is so supportive. And I DON'T remember it.

But, crikey! It was cold there. Mind-numbingly cold for a late spring/early summer triathlon. But I listened to Jim and registered anyway - extremely happy to find out the race was no longer in early June. Ironman CDA now took place at the end of June - the 29th! Surely, it would be warmer.

Get me out of this freakin' cold water.

Fast forward to Friday, June 27, 2014. Two days before race day.

Lake Coeur d'Alene was still like ice water. People were getting out saying "oh, it's not so bad, just a little choppy" -- WHAT?!?! Ok, ok, it was 61 degrees. I've been in colder water. And I'm not sure I would call it choppy. It was much choppier in 2009. In fact, IMCDA 2009 was one of my slowest 2.4-mile swims. So I gritted my teeth and swam some laps. And I got out when I could no longer feel my fingers. Did I mention the air temperature was in the 50s? Yeah. It took at least two hours for my fingers to fully regain any sensation.

Bike check on Saturday - it was sunny. 
Discussing last time with one of the volunteers.

We took to spending waking moments checking the race-day weather. And on the evening of June 28, things started to look up. The sun came out. It got warm. The wind died down. And the predicted race-day high had become 70. With lows in the mid-40s. With winds about 10mph.

That was Saturday night.

At 4:30 am Sunday morning, we headed out the door of the hotel, and the following words came out of Jim's mouth: "Don't freak out at the wind."

Don't. Freak. Out.

How bad did it have to be for Jim to worry that I would "freak out"?

It was bad. The lake would certainly be (what I would call) "choppy." Yes. I started to panic.

I was a couple hours from starting a 140.6-mile 11- to 12-hour grueling endurance event, and panic had set in before I even reached the starting line. To understand fully, maybe you had to be there in St. George in 2012. Or at Ironman Utah in 2002. Wind is a triathlete's sworn enemy. Because of what it does to the water. Because of what it does to lightweight people on lightweight bikes.

Jim reminded me that I'm a good swimmer. Friends texted me that it would be everyone's problem, not just mine. Jim also reminded me to stick with the race plan. Do NOT look at my speed on the bike and.. um.. freak out.

Race morning. Cold. Choppy.

I only glanced peripherally at the water to confirm: the chop was worse that morning than Friday. Worse than 2009. Ok. em… The water is my friend… I'm not afraid of the water... I love the water... I'm a fish... People always called me a fish... My high school swimming nickname was … fish... Don't look at the water... Everyone else will be freaking out more than me... The water is my friend… The water is my friend. The water. is. my. friend.

Why now? Why was Sunday the first time EVER that I panicked and reconsidered entering the water at an Ironman start? I've been clobbered and kicked a countless number of times in Ironman swims. I survived four-foot swells in Utah Lake for an hour. I've spent numerous hours near-suffocating in huge waves off the Cape Cod coast after thunderstorms - and enjoyed it! Why was I panicking?

I suppose I was tired of being the disaster magnet. I wanted a good weather day and a smart race. I didn't want bad weather to cause bad judgment. I went through every possible scenario of dropping out, and I couldn't come up with a good reason to walk away. So I put on my wetsuit, said goodbye to Jim, and entered the swim queue. I tried not to notice people shivering (in their wetsuits) and jumped in for a minute warm-up swim.

My thoughts? Start this thing before I start crying!

That's relief you see in my facial expression.

The 2.4-mile IMCDA swim is two loops with a short beach run between them. The swim start is now a rolling self-seeded affair - it's like a marathon start: faster swimmers up front, slower swimmers in the back. Each athlete's race started when their chip crossed the timing mat. I squeezed in with the 1:01-1:15 group and in a couple minutes, people were yelling at us that our race had indeed "started." I jumped in the water and swam immediately for the outside line.

The way out was a mess because we were swimming into the swells. I couldn't get a rhythm going with my breathing, but I was making progress even while stopping to choke on water and spot buoys. Being on the outskirts, I managed to avoid getting clobbered and the way back with the current was much smoother. I tried to "surf" the waves when I could. At the beginning of the second loop I saw 31 minutes on my watch… this was a huge surprise that put me much more at ease. I had to get to the turn, and things will get better. For the first time in a race, I noticed people grabbing onto the support kayaks. Yes, it was a rough day.

Running through transition to get warm.

I was never so happy to be out of the water. My swim took 1:04 (faster than 2009!) - although I lost any advantage by struggling through transition because my fingers stopped working in the cold. This year, I was determined to thwart the cold with wool socks, gloves, hand warmers, a bike jersey, and arm warmers. After what seemed like forever to get all these things on with numb fingers and wet skin, I sprinted for my bike. I could tell from the full bike racks that most of my age group was still in the water.

Ok, then, I had no time to lollygag. It was time to find out what this wind was all about.

Somehow I found a smile.

The IMCDA 112-mile bike course has changed three times. The last time I did it, there were some brutal hills. But now the course consists of two loops of the following: starting in downtown CDA, a short out-and-back with a tough 6%-grade hill along the lake (part of which is also the run course) followed by a long out-and-back with long (really long) rolling hills on US 95, a four-lane sometimes-divided high-traffic route. This second part went out into the wind (the 

I'm only sharing this photo because Jim
actually managed to catch me in the middle
of a snot-rocket.

My goal on the bike was to go easy and not feel anything for the first four hours. I think something went terribly wrong with my taper because I NEVER felt good on the bike. My legs were fatigued almost from the start and my injured-but-healed hamstring was hurting like it had only been partially rehabbed. I backed way off against the wind hoping my competitors would make the mistake of going too hard. I tried to rest my legs on the downhills hoping to save something, anything, for the run. I was passed by one of my age-group competitors in the first five miles, like I was standing still, but I let her go. Seriously, this course had the potential to burn people out - even without wind.

Heading out on the second loop, I saw Jim. He raised three fingers - indicating third in my age group. I wasn't happy, but I wasn't surprised, and all I could hope was that my conservative riding would pay off. I tried to take solace in the fact my nutrition plan was causing no stomach issues whatsoever.

I was easy to spot in my But to do that, I needed to get my head on straight. The Ironman marathon can be undone in the first mile, and for months, I had promised myself that I would not - under ANY circumstances - go out faster than an 8-minute pace. I settled into an easy run and relaxed. Unexpectedly, the soreness and fatigue in my quads dissipated, and my spirits rose. The day had warmed a little and the sun was out.

I saw mile marker 1. I looked at my Garmin: 7:30.

I said, out loud, but to myself: "SLOW THE F DOWN."

I slowed. I took baby steps. I saw the age group leaders. I passed them both. Neither gave chase. I realized this was now my race to lose.

I saw mile marker 2. Garmin said: 7:12.

SLOW THE F DOWN!

I finally got the run under control around mile 4. I was feeling good. No stomach issues. No cold issues. I jogged the aid stations and drank Ironman Perform. As planned, I didn't drink too much. Could this possibly last?

The 26.2-mile IMCDA run course is two loops that snakes through the town before a picturesque out-and-back along the lake with the same 6% hill that's on the bike course. The turn-around is on the flip side of the hill - almost mile 7. On the way back to town I noticed I had put over ten minutes between me and second place, but my legs were starting to feel sore and cramp. My stomach was still ok, so I took a salt capsule and stuck with the plan.

After 13 miles, I started to tire of Ironman Perform and sweet gels, and I couldn't wait to get my special needs bag to change up the drink option to Gu Brew. When I got back downtown, I saw Jim. He told me I had a 15-minute lead and was running a minute-per-mile faster than everyone else in my age group. He told me NOT TO PUSH IT. Just get to the finish.
Mile 14. This marathon was more than half-finished. But my legs were starting to scream at me. And my stomach was not far behind. By mile 18, I was in a state of controlled non-vomiting. It involved walking the aid stations and stopping for a toilet break. My mile pace went over 10 minutes, and I was coming mentally unglued. How do I fix this?? What is wrong with me?? My usual go-to remedy, flat cola, wasn't helping the situation or giving me a boost. I thought about drinking Red Bull (yes, they now have that on course at Ironman).
Then I remembered the words Jim kept repeating in the weeks leading up to the race: when things start to go badly, STOP. Figure out what's wrong. Take a moment or more to fix it. And get back in the race.
He was right. I had time. This WAS my race to lose. Or WIN. There was absolutely no reason to panic.

I thought about it…. and then I did something I've never done at an Ironman: I. ate. solid. food. Pretzels. Just two. And I grabbed water, some ice, and a cola. My mouth went dry, but the nausea vanished. I was able to run the entire last hill (slowly - in Jim's words, I lollygagged the hill, but, also in his words, so did everyone else).

Somehow, I put my race back together - and by mile 23, I was back to 8:30-ish pace on my Garmin. And, wouldn't you know.. the weather had one last trick to throw at us. I was at the third-to-last aid station dumping ice down my tri top when the temperature dropped, the wind kicked up, and it started to rain. I had only one reaction. I started laughing. The runner next to me glanced over and I groaned: "Really?!?!"


Looking for Jim in the crowd. Not delirious this time.
Note to Julie: ARM WARMERS!

A few minutes later, I took the turn leading back downtown and a runner opposite me pointed behind me and said "There's a rainbow behind you!" I almost fell down trying to turn around to see it (hey, YOU try pivoting after running 24.5 miles after biking 112 miles after swimming 2.4 miles). I remembered the sign I saw in a sandwich shop the day before: "Expect a miracle."


I think I got my miracle. I was ready to cross that finish line. At mile 25, I focused on letting the crowd support carry me through the final minutes and ran as fast as my legs would go. When I rounded the final corner and saw the finish line, I felt tears. It was a long day. I searched for Jim in the crowd. He waved to me from the bleachers along the finish chute. Right then and there I did my victory cheer. 

Found him.

Then, I crossed the finish line. And I heard Mr. Reilly say my name this time. My time - 11:08:55 - was only six minutes faster than 2009. But I remember every second of it. And I won the W45-49 age group at the ripe old age of 49.

20 months ago, I never thought I'd see another Ironman finish line, let alone an age group win and a Kona slot. And I will always be grateful to my physical therapist, Mike DeRubertis, and my orthopedic doctor, Sam Patterson, for getting me to the starting line in Coeur d'Alene. I also owe huge debt to my husband Jim, my friend and sponsor Ron (Punk Rock Racing), Julie (J3), and Nick for logistical and informational support on race day - Jim showed me the string of texts on his phone back and forth with them all day long. Final thank-yous to my good friend Kevin, who tirelessly dragged me through my long rides despite his own injuries, and all the friends who were sending good vibes - especially my awesome new teammates from the Spin Second Sole Multisport Team. All the positive energy carried me through those really tough miles.
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.

Subscribe to

friends and sponsors