Blogs tagged with "lessons"

Post-swim with race director
and living-testament to the human spirit, Corey Davis

It's not often we have the opportunity to be truly inspired by a another human being. But there are miracles (there's that word again) all around us and many of us will live our entire lives and never notice them. If you've been reading my blog, you know I've undergone many changes in attitude and the choices I make and that I have been fortunate to witness the power of the human spirit - mostly through music and friends.

But since this blog focuses mostly on my athletic pursuits, I will post about my latest swim event at the Ocean Games, a nine-mile swim in Ocean City, MD, where I witnessed what could be viewed as a lapse into my "disaster magnet" (read: negative) luck of old, but I was rescued this time by amazing humans and my new-found ability to see miracles all around me.

Most endurance athletes spend many years training to perfect their race performances. Very few people are born with bodies that can sustain high levels of activity over long periods of time. And even if someone is athletically-gifted at birth, it takes years of training and experience to get to the top of their sport. For us non-elite athletes, it's even harder and requires many more of those years and experience just to finish well and accomplish goals.

Knowing this, it was surprising to me when I experienced a high level of success very early in my "careers" as both a marathon runner and a triathlete: I qualified for Boston in my first marathon, and I qualified for Kona in my first Ironman (which, I might add, was only my fourth triathlon).

Go big or go home, right? There was no reason for me to start out "small" in my latest sporting pursuit, open-water swimming. My previous early-success pattern gave me a false sense of security, and eight years of competitive swimming from age 14 through 22 did nothing to deter me. I believed I had the ability to accomplish big things right away.

But I'm 51 and we all know trends don't last, and my first year of open-water swimming, although fun, has already become both a curse and a blessing.

And I don't mean curse in a bad way - more like a curse in an uncomfortable way. Because I have to make mistakes first this time. Early success is actually the curse. It always resulted in the devastating mental process of setting unreachable goals for future races, and for years I interpreted less-than-stellar performances as failures.

Now, even though I've given up the stress of Ironman by choosing to do the thing I enjoy most - swimming - I still chose a nine-mile ocean swim as my second open-water event. Live and learn, right? And I was about to find out how stupid... or ridiculous... or utterly hilarious... that was.

And it started out in classic Disaster Magnet fashion.

The kayak is almost bigger than their car.

The reasons I chose to swim in Ocean City had as much to do with the race support and travel as the distance. First of all, my great friend Doug (who lives near DC) agreed to be my support kayaker. He would feed me and guide me and get me through this thing. His wife and two daughters and my husband Jim would all be there, and I looked forward to spending time with them as much as I did having them as race support. They were a few of the true blessings of this weekend. It was like gaining a loving sister and brother and a two wonderful nieces for three days.

But the Disaster Magnet curse was not about to go down without a fight.

The day before the race (Friday), Doug and I decided to practice a bit to determine how kayaker support worked for us: which side he would be on, how close I could swim to him, etc. Jim also came out for a kayak lesson. We put the kayak in very shallow - and hot! - water on the bay side of Ocean City. During the swim, I caught some seaweed on my legs and arms. And shortly after, I felt some itchy stinging pain on my arm and my ankle and had to stop for a moment.

It wasn't seaweed. It was JELLYFISH! I panicked. I grabbed onto the kayak, terrified. I think I almost flipped Doug and Jim into the water trying to get away from the stinging jellyfish. GET ME OUT OF HERE. We turned around, but on the way back, I swam face-first into a jellyfish, and completely flipped out, grabbed onto the back of the kayak and had Doug just paddle me in. Fortunately, the face-sting was so quick and light that it never even registered as a rash. My arm sting was so superficial that after I swam in the ocean water a little, it wasn't even noticeable.

Disaster #1, averted!

Pre-race with Doug, all smiles.

That night, Doug, Jim, and I went to the race meeting, got briefed on the next day's event and how it would work, and then went back to the house we were all sharing for a very nice dinner. Everyone was happy, calm, and ready for the next day.

Until 5:00 am.

I had been sleeping well - again, most of my readers know about my anxiety issues that keep me up all night, so this was sort of a miracle (I owe my new-found ability to relax to my friend Olly). Something woke me up. It was still dark. I heard Jim come into the room and sit on the bed.

"I'm sick."

I shook off the sleep.. what? Did he have a cold?

"I'm vomiting."

Disaster #2 hit. Jim - and Doug's daughter Erika - had food poisoning. This was NOT GOOD. Doug's wife was also feeling ill and may have a touch of the same thing. Panic. I frantically searched for answers... was I next? Was Doug next? We all ate the same food last night. But we also had sandwiches for lunch. Jim and Erika were the only ones that ate ham, so I concluded that to be the culprit. But it didn't matter, Doug and I were going it ALONE. All of our transportation plans for the next day were washed out, and it would be the first big race in 14 years that Jim would miss. For a few minutes, I considered not swimming that day, but Jim urged me to go saying it would make him feel even worse. I understood - for him, I needed to start this race.

Me 'n Doug race morning, still smiling:

 

That morning, the conditions were announced on the Ocean Games Facebook page. The current was north-to-south and the race would swim down the shoreline in that direction. The water temperature was 74 degrees F. Perfect - I felt relief as I had already decided not to wear a wetsuit for two reasons:

  1. In the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, I overheated in my wetsuit in 74 degrees F.
  2. If I'm going to continue these open-water challenges, I need to swim without a wetsuit because that's usually the rule.

 

It looks friendly enough.

Fast-forwarding to the start of the race. I remember two things at the starting line. One was that Jim was noticeably absent. The other was I talked to a surfer named Drew who was questioning the decision to swim north-to-south because everything pointed to difficulty in this direction: the wind was coming from the south and the waves were coming from the southwest. But to me, the surf looked almost non-existent. All I could think of was how awesome it will be to finish a nine-mile ocean swim.

And my feelings were validated when I hit the water at the start and swam out to meet Doug in his kayak. The water temperature was ideal and I was smiling to myself for at least the first two miles. I stopped to feed mostly on schedule and I didn't feel at all taxed through the first three miles.

But then something changed. The surf got a little rougher and my hands started going numb. It happened pretty quickly. I tried swimming harder to warm up. It worked a little. I tried stopping and drinking warm fluids. I asked Doug to get me closer to the shore where the water was warmer (but rougher). I kept swimming, but I kept losing more feeling in my hands. I also started to shiver. It was discouraging when Doug said most of the swimmers were in front of me.

Around four miles, I stopped and tried to warm up, but the sun had gone behind the clouds. My teeth were chattering, and I was starting to shiver uncontrollably. I didn't want to quit, but Doug saw the writing on the wall and signaled to the lifeguard on shore.

The lifeguard came out and towed me in. All I could think about was getting warm (although Doug said I kept turning around saying I wanted to finish, but I don't remember that). When I was finally out of the water, the lifeguard and a bunch of beach-goers came over to warm me up. My whole body was shaking and I couldn't make it stop. A man gave me some gatorade, and a woman named Ashley (I'm surprised I even remember her name) and her two children put their towels over me and she held me while I shook uncontrollably waiting for EMS. It was a small thing, but the best of humanity was embodied in those people, and I don't think I ever thanked them.

Miracles all around.

The EMS guys took my temperature at 93 degrees F (not my personal Disaster Magnet record, but close). They gave me a warm IV and took me to the ER where I was covered with warm blankets and my temperature returned to almost-normal. I called Jim, who was laid up in bed with some of the worst digestive issues of his life, and he actually came to the hospital to pick me up. I don't know which one of us looked worse, me or him, but it was nothing short of miraculous.

I actually felt ok, but tired. I drove him back to the house and picked up Doug's wife Kaz to go to the finish line to collect Doug, their car, and the kayak (kayakers were required to stay on the water for race support even if their swimmer dropped out).

I had no idea how much time had passed, but Jim said my iPhone (in Doug's possession) was registering him still out on the water. Ocean city traffic was horrendous and it seemed like forever before Kaz and I got to the finish line. We (miraculously) found parking and walked onto the beach where she immediately spotted the kayak. Doug was exhausted but he looked good. He told us he was able to help another swimmer complete the three-mile race that day. That made me so so happy.

Miracles, I say.

As for me? Was this Disaster #3?

Not by a long-shot. For the record, I'm sad that Jim and Erika got sick - that was the biggest bummer of the weekend. And, I'm sad about having to abandon my race. In fact, I cried A LOT at the hospital. But, surprisingly, the fallout from this event is very different than other races I've DNFed. I don't think I'm a crap athlete this time. I got hypothermia. It wasn't something I had any control over (this time). I'm glad I started this race, and I wouldn't have done anything differently. I had the strength to finish, just not the ability to withstand the cold. I have none of my usual regrets.

Curious, I asked one of the race officials if anyone else got hypothermia. She said at least one other swimmer dropped out but for unknown reasons. I talked to a few others at the finish and was told the water temperature definitely dropped from the starting line. It may have been due to the wind ushering in colder water. And then the biggest miracle of the weekend happened.

Looking for stats on finishers, I approached the announcers table. The race director, Corey Davis, was there. He asked how it went, I told him I had to drop and just left the ER after being treated with hypothermia. His biggest concern was if I was ok. Then, he thanked me a million times for supporting the race (I think I told him we came from Cleveland). We had the most amazing conversation. Corey imparted a huge amount of his knowledge to me about open-water swimming (especially in cold water) and gave me some tips on training for next time.

Corey isn't just anyone. He's actually a huge inspiration to all who know him and I would have felt very fortunate to have had just a moment of his time. He is the survivor of a horrific accident that left him unable to walk due to a traumatic brain injury. The doctors and his determination in rehabbing have allowed him not only to stand on his own two feet again but to return to a very active lifestyle. He founded the Ocean Games to give back to the program that helped him and give hope to people who suffer similar injuries. You can read his story here (or watch the short video below, his recovery is quite remarkable).

Talking to Corey changed me. I have been able to put the entire thing in perspective and learn my lessons thanks to my new attitude and our conversation. One of Corey's most recent accomplishments was completing a 17-mile paddleboard race. Seriously, I can't even STAND UP on a paddleboard without falling down! Corey did 17 miles after being told he would never even walk again!

I am determined to enter this race again next year with the goal of finishing and doing it as a fundraiser.

And I have been able to look at all the blessings of this race instead of the curses.

So, what if I finished? Then, I might have a lot more open-water miles under my belt. I might have a lot more confidence in myself going into my next open-water challenge. I might be jumping up and down and patting myself on the back right now. And I might have impressed some people.

But, I wouldn't have learned the lessons I learned this weekend. I wouldn't know how unprepared my body was for cold water. I wouldn't have a plan for dealing with the cold water in the future. I wouldn't have been treated to the best of humanity in the form of Good Samaritans. And I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet Corey Davis, one of the most extraordinary humans I've ever known.

And so, let the miracles continue...

The trials and tribulations of open water swimming in the Ocean Games nine-mile event where conditions can and will change abruptly, and I had to deal with the fallout of not being prepared for very cold water.

First race in just a swimsuit in 29 years.

Yesterday, I took on the challenge of my first open water swim event. I had decided to start "small" by choosing the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim (GCBS), an event that was "only" 4.4 miles. It is considered one of the top 50 open water swims and is referred to as the "Boston Marathon of open water swimming." It takes place between side-by-side lanes of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge(s) and therefore would supplement my love of bridges with a view from below - even below boat-deck level - rarely experienced by anyone.

There is so much I don't know about open-water swimming strategy. And yesterday, I made mistakes and bad decisions fueled by both ignorance and inexperience. But I'm here to live and learn, and write about it.

My ignorance comes first. Damn my introvertedness! I should have read more. I should have consulted more open-water swimmers. I foolheartedly assumed "I'm a swimmer" and I knew what I was getting into. I assumed I knew how to train for distance. (I swam the mile in competition for crying out loud - who cared if it was 30 years ago?) I assumed I knew how to fuel for a two-hour excursion. (I had the experience of ten years of running marathons for crying out loud - who cared if swimming was a totally different sport?) I also assumed I knew WHEN to fuel. (Who cared if this event started five hours later than my marathons and triathlons?) And finally - I assumed I was completely comfortable in open-water chop. (I had survived some of the worst and most-freakish Ironman swims in history for crying out loud.)

Well, 30 years is a long time - and I've changed a lot since I was "a swimmer." I'm built like a runner now. My arms might be a little more muscular than they were eight months ago, but they're still waif-like compared to real swimmers (or compared to my former swimmer self). I may be a good swimmer compared to my fellow triathletes, but I have a long way to go in the distance-swimming realm. I have a lot (note: TONS) to learn about fueling for long-distance swims. After yesterday, I've confirmed what I hadn't been able to convince myself of yet: that swimming requires way more energy than the same amount of time running or biking. Therefore, I canNOT fuel (and hydrate) the same for swimming as I do for marathoning or triathlon-ing. This would be one of the proverbial lightbulbs I saw go on in the air above my head between the bridges.

On to the race report.

Here's Jim standing (waaay) in front of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge
The swim covers the entire length from left to right.

I was nervous enough beforehand that my old bugaboo - inability to sleep - came back to haunt me the night before. The saving grace was that the GCBS started around noon, so I had time to sleep in. Thankfully, I managed three to four hours of decent sleep. My husband Jim was REALLY happy about the late start. He didn't have to get up at 3:30 AM to go out and find a 24-hour coffee shop.

We were able to grab breakfast at the hotel around 8:30. I had juice, coffee, a bowl of oatmeal and a hard-boiled egg. I grabbed a banana to eat before the start.

Right before start with my trusty
Here's the start showing swimmers headed to the bridge.

The start was on the beach. We ran into the water, and swam out to the very beginning of the bridge, then turned left to go between the bridges. I swam on the left periphery of the mass of swimmers and had a relatively easy time getting to the bridge. I was actually surprised how quickly I made it out to the first pylon of the suspension bridge.

Shot of bridge showing main suspension span/shipping channel

The chop WAS quite bad. It was the worst I had ever experienced in a race - the conditions would surely have resulted in cancelation of a triathlon swim leg. I was mostly alone in the water, and I got a thrill body-surfing the whitecaps, but underneath the suspension bridge (in the shipping channel), we got pounded by surf and spray. It was a bit disorienting at times, and I'm sure it contributed to my eventual fatigue, but I remembered to stay on the left (pretty easy). I even remembered to turn over to look up at the bridges.

The view from there was nothing short of spectacular, and I was thankful I wore my wide-view goggles (the one good decision I made even though they were untested). The sheer size of the bridge pylons, cables, and uprights was magnificent to behold at such close range. It was like heaven for the nerdy engineer in me.

Here's an official shot (from GCBS Facebook page)
taken from one of the boats in 2014

Two miles was on the far side of the suspension bridge, but I never saw the aid station boat - not that I needed it. I felt compelled to check my watch shortly after that, and I misread the figures. I had gone 2.38 miles and my time was 1:22 which surprised and discouraged me. It was actually a 1:22 (/100yd) pace!! (In retrospect, had this been an Ironman swim, it would have been my fastest ever by two minutes.)

Because of the error, I decided I had way-overestimated my abilities as a swimmer and figured I just had to get through the rest of this thing. I kept an eye out for the 3-mile buoy and support boat to stop for water because I was starting to feel a little hot.

I stopped at the boat and drank a couple tiny cups of water and Gatorade, and then checked my watch again. Here's where I realized my earlier blunder (phew!) - and DID notice my pace was still well under 1:30 (my original goal pace).

After this stop, everything started to go downhill. My first mistake: I should have drank more. I was in too big of a hurry to get back to swimming.

Shortly thereafter, I started to overheat in my wetsuit. Somewhere around 3.4 miles, I started to feel a little nauseous - presumably from dehydration and swallowing salt water, although I considered sea-sickness as well. Feeling extremely hot and ill, I began to take intermittent breaks to fill my wetsuit with water to cool off. The greatest feeling was when the water surrounded my arms - it renewed me and I regained the ability to turn over my arms well for about a minute - until I had to stop and cool off again.

The heat was getting the best of me. I started started to feel dizzy and depleted. It didn't feel like muscle fatigue - it felt like complete lack of energy. I needed food or water or I wasn't going to finish. I tried to rest doing breaststroke and backstroke but nothing was easy in the waves, and I was being dragged way right. I noticed a guy near me flagging down a kayak. I took the opportunity to rest and get some water (thankfully, kayakers were carrying water). I drank almost a whole bottle of water and hung onto the kayak so long that the kayaker wanted to "take [me] to a boat" - I think my reaction was "NO! I want to finish!"

I thanked him and finally got back to swimming, very slowly, and had to flag down another kayaker shortly after. He had Gatorade - which I hoped would give me energy. At this point, I was very close to the end of the bridge, right around the corner from the finish. I was almost done - but spent.

The water got even warmer as we approached the finish line, and the water-in-my-wetsuit trick no longer provided the slightest bit of cooling. Fortunately, my energy came back (probably from the sugar), and I was able to swim hard while most people around me were standing up in the shallow water and walking.

Jim's view of the bridge from the finish line.

 

So glad to be done.

It was too little too late, but I got to the finish. As soon as I was on land, I was gripped with a horrible desperation to get out of my wetsuit. I saw Jim and begged him to help me get it off, but he wanted to wait until I was out of the crowd. I was frantic - "no, now!!" I struggled, he struggled, but it was finally off and I could breathe again. I was about to tear it off with my bare hands.

Unlike usual, I was able to drink right away while recovering post-race. Had a random few muscle cramps, the weirdest of which was my ring-finger on my left hand. It locked up, the pain was excruciating, and I couldn't bend it for several minutes. It was so bizarre. Other than that, I didn't feel bad, only tired, and after a short sit-down, I was up and about pretty quickly.

Wait.. what did I just do? All smiles afterward.

I checked my time and place - 2:09, 1:35 pace, 13/35 in my age group - and immediately went into post-race analysis mode, albeit with nice cold beer in hand.

There are many lessons to be learned going forward in this new sport. The most important thing was that the words "never again" we're not uttered. My first thoughts were more like "ok, I have a lot to figure out before my next one," "I love open-water swimming," and "this is a very well-run event with amazing volunteers."

One of my strengths is the most difficult thing about swimming: we must fight an element not part of the natural environment for a human. I love water, I love rough water, and I feel at home in it.

Everything else is a weakness that will need to be addressed and tested during training: not knowing how or how much to eat and drink before and during a swim, not knowing what temperature is my personal wetsuit-cutoff-temp, and not knowing how to pace myself in all conditions.

I've also reviewed my training and preparation for this particular event. The day before the race, Jim mentioned I had gotten "really skinny." I looked at myself in the mirror and realized he was right. I've been suffering some emotional despair lately and had lost my appetite. In two weeks, my weight dropped about four pounds, and I've skipped or abbreviated my training sessions because of low energy and mental fatigue. I suspect that also had an effect on my swim yesterday.

I'm looking forward to many more open-water swims in the future and embracing the learning process. The most encouraging news I got after the race was that conditions yesterday were some of the worst ever experienced at the GCBS, and there were a lot of people forced to abandon the race. It restored a little confidence knowing I was able to tackle it unprepared and push through to the finish.

Here's the official tracking of my Garmin GPS watch.

 

Taken in Memorial Hall while getting a quick tour of the Naval Academy
with great friends the day before the race.
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.
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:

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