Blogs tagged with "Mooseman"

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:

There's one big problem with doing an Ironman in early May - it's the beginning of the racing season for almost everyone who lives in northern climates. So basically, I'm starting my season with a big recovery week.

This past week I did nothing. I took five days completely off from training. Strangely enough, I found this was much easier to do than anticipated. Although it did help that I developed a sinus infection, and the last thing I want to do with a sinus infection is get up early and work out.

But my training has re-commenced with a run and a swim yesterday. I can't afford too much recovery time from Ironman because back when I was making plans for racing this year, I decided to do the Everything BUT the Moose"). It was miserable and yet Jim still wanted to go back. All I can say is: maybe we WILL see a moose this year.

What I really need to do now is focus on how to maximize the next three weeks. Mooseman is not an "A" race. And as of last weekend, neither is Ironman Lake Placid. But I would like to make a fair showing at Mooseman. It would be nice to prove to myself that my bike training has done wonders and not get passed on the bike by as many women as last year. It would be nice to have a fast run for a change (after the St. George plodding). And I guess it would be nice to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 Championship in Las Vegas in September. But, I only have three weeks to pull together a plan and a race attitude (which was lacking last year).

I'm thinking the best way to approach it is to just try to have fun. Afterall, I'm qualified for Kona, I'm in ironman recovery and the season has just begun. There's no reason to burnout early.

The 2010 Mooseman triathlon at Newfound Lake, New Hampshire, made its mark by challenging athletes with one of the most difficult bike courses in the Ironman 70.3 series. Since race day (Sunday, June 6), I've been searching for reviews, desperate to know "was it just me? or was that the hardest bike course EVER?!?!" What I found were comparisons to the most brutal hills in the sport - and, surprisingly, the hill in Mooseman (some called it "the mountain") was considered worse than "The Beast" in St. Croix and "Nasty Grade" in Wildflower. And we had to scale it TWICE. In the rain... no, in a downpour. TWICE. The weather and the course threw everything at us -- well, everything BUT the moose.

Jim really wanted to see a moose in New Hampshire. Everywhere we drove, we searched for moose. There were "Moose Crossing" signs everywhere. But no moose.
It all started Friday. We made the 12-hour drive from Cleveland to Ashland, New Hampshire, via Troy, New York. We stopped in Troy because Jim wanted me to see my alma mater, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The ghosts were everywhere. At the pool, where I spent more time than in the classroom. At my old apartment where my roommates and I hosted a party to honor a streetlight. In the place on the street in downtown Troy where my boyfriend dumped me and left me to walk back to campus alone in the dark. Even at Holmes & Watson, a restaurant that looks exactly the same as it did 20 years ago. By the time we got to our hotel in New Hampshire, I needed a full night's sleep to shake the memories.

Saturday morning, Jim checked the weather forecast for Sunday: a new disaster was brewing. Race day would see rain and a high of 62 degrees F. After a marathon in the rain this year, my nerves started to fray. We drove to the race site, Wellington State Park on Newfound Lake, to pick up my number only to find that disaster had already struck. Thunderstorms had already affected the international-distance triathlon that morning forcing officials to cancel the swim and modify the bike course. We checked out the bike racks. The transition zone was a mess of mud and puddles. Ok, ok, it would be everyone's problem. Then we drove the bike course. The hills were bad, much worse than I expected. My nerves were now shot.

I didn't want to tell Jim how I was feeling. After all, we drove over 600 miles for this. I suggested we go sightseeing in the White Mountains for a couple hours. I thought, maybe, if we saw a moose, it would lighten the blow when I dropped out of the race. The scenery was beautiful. And there were a million "Moose Crossing" signs. But no moose.
By dinner time, I shared my concern. I wanted to cry. I no longer wanted to START this race. With a DNF at the Kinetic Half, getting soaked in Pittsburgh, and the ghosts of my past still lingering, my motivation had vanished completely. All I wanted was to be on vacation in New England, not heading with dread into a sure-to-be-sleepless "night before."
Jim was baffled. He reminded me why we were in New Hampshire. I had chosen the Mooseman for two reasons: to practice hills for Ironman Lake Placid and to try to qualify for the Foster Grant Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Clearwater, Florida. He tried to dig up my motivation (and failed). Despite that, we enjoyed dinner at Giuseppe's Pizzeria in Meridith, NH, and lightened the mood by dropping some cash at Lee's Candy Kitchen.
Back at the hotel, we prepped the bike and mixed up my race nutrition. Around 9:30 pm, we set alarms and attempted to get some sleep. Around 1 am, I looked at the clock and realized I might only get 2.5 hours of sleep, and then the alarm woke me from what I hoped wasn't a dream. In my dream, Jim forgot about a work meeting he had on race day, so he let me sleep in before telling me. I remember feeling ecstatic to "get out" of having to race that day. But it was now 3:45 am, and it was only a dream. The good news was I HAD dozed off. I didn't feel exhausted, frazzled or sick to my stomach from lack of sleep. But my motivation was still nonexistent.

We arrived at the park around 5:15 am with relatively clear skies. I had to rack my bike in the "wrong" direction, which would force me to dodge trees on the way out of transition. Why couldn't one thing go my way? During prep, the announcer kept repeating a weather warning: it was not a matter of if, but WHEN, the rain would start, and we should dress appropriately and ride carefully. Recalling Coeur d'Alene, I added a short sleeve jersey and arm warmers (rolled up) to the mix. Fearing another asthma attack, I took two puffs on my new doctor-prescribed inhaler and placed it on my transition towel for after the bike. Then I covered everything with a plastic bag.

After a final trip to the porta-john, Jim and I headed for the swim start just as the rain began. At 69 degrees F, the water was warmer than the air (~62) and very comfortable with a wetsuit. After a warm-up, Jim asked me if I had found my motivation yet -- I had not. He told me I could walk away right then if that's what I really wanted... he gave me one last "out." My wave started last, and I was starting to shiver from standing around in the cold. I don't know why I didn't take it.

The swim course was a "U," exiting down the shore from the start. I started up front and was out of the mix almost instantly, finding my stroke and feeling strong despite fear of asthma. I navigated well and stayed on course without incident until a few strokes to go when another swimmer nailed me in the face and knocked my goggles out of whack. No problem, it was just about over anyway. In 29 minutes for 1.2 miles, I was out of the water.

The wetsuit peelers were extraordinary (!) -- I was up and on my way to T1 in seconds. The transition zone was still relatively dry. I donned my number, sunglasses and helmet -- only to realize I hadn't put my shirt on!! Thank god for bike jerseys and their long zippers - it went right over my aero helmet. I spent way too much time getting my arm warmers around my wrists, but I knew I'd never hear the end of it if I got cold without them. To avoid mud on my feet, I ran with my bike shoes on and had no trouble mounting my bike because I finally worked through that before the race (you'd THINK I'd have figured this out by now).

The bike was a two-loop modified course with several turns, rolling hills, some with substantial climbs, and one horrific mountain (see first paragraph) that we did twice. At the summit of the mountain was music and a woman dressed as the devil who cheered loudly for EVERYONE. I found myself laughing out loud despite my quads screaming for mercy. The downhill after this was very steep with one stretch so dangerous that race officials imposed a 30 mph speed limit. The kicker? It continued to rain buckets the whole time.

I decided to ride hard on the hills and leave my run to chance. I can't say I enjoyed myself -- in fact, it was all I could do to hold back tears riding at high speed into the cold wind and rain (even WITH arm warmers). I also rode ultra-conservative on the downhills because of the wet conditions. Electrolyte supplementation and hydration were a non-issue in this race. I stuck with my nutrition plan -- 200-250 calories per hour split between The run was two loops on rolling terrain. One by one, I picked them off -- every woman who passed me. I missed my split at mile 1 while trying to take off my arm-warmers, but I saw it at mile 2: 13:30. I was going to have a good run. Nutritionally, I felt strong so I decided to alternate Gatorade and water at the aid stations and forget the Gu. At the turn-around, I saw the first woman in my age group -- "Hammer"-woman -- and based on how far ahead she was, how fast she looked and how good I felt, I knew it would just be a matter of time. I passed her shortly after. (There was another woman who blew by me on the bike with "toodles" written on her right leg, and I have to say I got the most pleasure out of passing HER on the run. I wanted to turn and say "right back at cha!" but instead I just gave myself an inward high-five.)

At the start of the second loop, Jim told me the other 45-49 age-grouper was seven minutes ahead. In order to win my age group and guarantee my slot for Clearwater, I would have to make up more than a minute per mile on her. Stranger things have happened, but I did start hoping there would be two Clearwater slots for my age group. I ran as hard as I could -- finishing the 13.1 miles with a sub-7:00 mile pace -- but never caught her. Coming into the finish line, completely alone, I heard the announcer say I was one of the top 10 women. Then I saw Jim. I told him I tried but couldn't catch her. Knowing that it's not easy to spot age-groupers from the marking on their calves, my next words were: "Where did I finish?" His response was unexpected: a huge apology because he misread the ages. So... then, where did I finish!? Answer the question! He explained the mistake: he thought "41" was "47" -- "What?? I won my age group?" The answer: "YES!"

After grabbing some food and going to the medical tent to warm up, I claimed my slot for Clearwater. I needed this more than anything. I needed to get some confidence back before Lake Placid. And this was more than a confidence-builder -- somehow I pulled out a victory in the harshest of circumstances with nothing but disaster brewing on my mental horizon. Maybe my training is working this time.

And yet, through all the post-race analysis and afterglow, the only thing I really cared about on the way home was for Jim to get his wish after all he put up with this weekend: "I hope we see a moose."

But there was no moose.

I was born and raised in Connecticut, but I have always considered myself part of a greater whole -- a "New Englander." (For my friends from other countries, New England is made up of six northeastern states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island). I was reminded just how much I miss New England when I traveled to New Hampshire this weekend to race in the Mooseman 70.3 triathlon (race report upcoming). Upon entering Vermont, I felt what can only be described as pain of longing for a place that is burned into my soul.

The day before the race, I took my bike out for a shakedown and followed it up with a short run -- the whole time I was out, all I could do was make a list of the things that truly define the place where I'm from.

And here it is: New England... A place where...

  • You can easily drive through six states in one day.
  • Every main route follows a river.
  • Every city is a town and every town is a village.
  • Every town has a town center with a farmers market, a town green, a church and a railroad station. If it weren't for super highways, all major routes would go through these town centers.
  • Every house has a historical plaque with a date on it.
  • Everyone waves to you as you walk, run, ride or drive by. Even if they don't know you.
  • The only sign of technology is a local video rental store.
  • The GPS on my iPhone cannot locate me and there's no 3G network.... There's no network, period.
  • "Off-road vehicle" means snowmobile.
  • Every grocery store is a bait shop and every bait shop is a grocery store.
  • The mailman still walks to deliver the mail.

The whole time we were there, all I could think of was Jonathan Richman's quintessential song about New England... called, well.. "New England." Here it is on Top of the Pops in 1978:


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