Saturday, September 15, 2012

Ironman World Championship 70.3 Race Report

At first I fooled myself into thinking it's hard to know what to say on this blog about Sunday's race. Then I realized that was a lie.

I know exactly what to say.

To sum up:
  • The result was disappointing. My first DNF since 2007 (wow).
  • The year of training and experiences leading up to the race was worth it.
  • I have no regrets.

So here's a blow by blow on what happened:

The Day Before the Race

My friend Debra flew in from Boston to support me in this race. She had never spectated at a triathlon before. Ever. Worlds was her first. Can you imagine?!

Me and Debra the day before the race
Walking my bike into transition

Tony seemed to be everywhere at once. With these big races he's in his volunteering element. He took this picture of me and fellow lottery slot winner Nick in that huge empty transition after we checked our bikes in.

Me and NICK!

Debra took this photo at the finish line.

"Preview of Coming Attractions"

After checking in all of my gear the rest of the day was spent relaxing and connecting.

Unexpected BONUS: I managed to turn Debra on to Person of Interest! We watched several episodes and Glenn made us dinner. Clearly my work on this day was done!

Race Day -- Pre Race

Got up as planned. Sort of had to force down breakfast but it wasn't too bad. I wasn't feeling nervous, just a little tense. We got on the road as scheduled, and after a bit of stress over parking made it to my bike in transition. As I was unpacking my nutrition I noticed my front tire was flat. As a pancake.

This really rattled me. The girls whose bikes were on either side kindly pointed out where bike tech was and I ran my bike over there, wondering how in the world my tire could go flat overnight just sitting there. I'd not had a flat since I could remember.

Flashbacks of Silverman rolled through my mind as I waited in line -- and cried a little (seriously for a few minutes I felt really vulnerable, like I'd imagine a small child would feel over a broken toy). Then it was fixed. Easy. Nothing more to do -- or worry about. I loaded my nutrition onto the bike, put my bag down next to it and got out of transition.

We watched the swim waves line up, watched the pros take off. I made my way to my wave and got some photos with two of my best friends in the world.

Excited and ready!

Me and TONY!!

Tony got this great shot of us right before we moved down to the water

And this one after we got in:

The Swim

With about ten minutes before our scheduled start time they let our wave into the water. I was quickly reminded why I would never voluntarily swim in Lake Las Vegas. The water smelled like a sewer. It was warm too -- 83 degrees they said. Fortunately I'm pretty good at tuning some things out -- and it helps that Lake Mead where I do all my open water swimming is so much clearer and nicer -- since I don't swim in this shit every day I can handle a little 1.2 mile swim in it right? Right! Fortunately the smell only seemed to reside near the shore.

The swim was awesome! I loved the course!

It was a straight line out and back -- swimming out straight into the sun and swimming back with the sun behind us. I held a nice straight line and swam my usual pace, reminding myself I'm a strong swimmer and good at sighting! There was one woman from my wave who I drafted off for quite awhile before I lost track of her. When the waves from behind would come through I would get some pull from them, but mostly I was swimming by myself, as expected.

Got out in 56 minutes flat which is a good time for me with no wetsuit. This was also my first triathlon swim with no wetsuit -- would have seriously overheated in that water with one on!


The run from the swim exit to my bike felt ridiculously long. And it was actually pretty long. The run with my bike up the steep embankment to the mount line felt ridiculously hard -- which in hindsight was foreshadowing for how the bike leg would feel. My transition time was not recorded but I'm sure it was super long.

The Bike

From the moment I got on the bike things felt off. Hard. Of course this is supposed to be hard but climbing out of Lake Las Vegas (a route I've ridden too many times to count) felt three times harder than my worst training day.

And thus is the story of the entire 37 miles of that ride.

I figured I just needed my typical 30-60 minutes to warm up. So I did everything I'd done in training. Kept moving forward, taking my nutrition in on schedule, and letting my thoughts (both good and bad) move through my mind as quickly as possible without fighting or trying to control them.

At the 1:15 mark I was right where I should be on the course based on my training numbers. I was fueled up. I was hydrated. And yet I was breaking down. Big time. Not physically -- although the ride still felt extra hard and I felt like my legs had no power -- no. I'm 98% sure the problem wasn't in my body.

Which leaves that pesky space between the ears. The space that makes all the difference.

I wanted to be done. I wanted OFF that course. The course itself felt three times as hard as it normally does, as was my desire to be DONE. I was tired. Tired of things being so hard. Tired of some things not working out the way I'd planned or wanted. Tired of so many obstacles. Tired of the same old issues always cropping up for me. Just freaking tired.

I would coast the downhills and cry on the uphills. I wanted to get pulled. Glenn and Debra drove by in the Suburban and snapped this photo of me.

I love this photo. I look good. I look strong. Even though I was feeling neither of these things.

When I reached the turnaround on Northshore Road the officials there asked me if I was okay. I nearly asked them to pull me but instead told them I was fine. I wasn't.

When Glenn and Debra came by again I motioned for them to pull over. I asked Glenn to pull me. He refused. They left. Two more times they pulled over, I asked him to pull me and twice more he refused and they left. Smart man. He wasn't going to take that responsibility. He's had to live with me all year training for this race. Plus he loves me and he believed I could finish if I really wanted to. Tough love. It takes guts to do that.

When the cop came up behind me and let me know he was following me as the last cyclist on the course that was the last straw. A few minutes of that and I pulled over and asked him to call SAG. He did.

Glenn and Debra came back and when Glenn saw me sitting in the cop car he knew it was officially over and that the responsibility for it was NOT on him. He loaded my bike in the Suburban and we took off.

Sitting in the back of the Suburban in silence I expected the voice in my head to immediately start berating me about what a loser I am, how I never seem to quite get to the other side of success, how I SUCK really really bad, and how I wasted a whole year training for a race that I just QUIT. For no apparent reason other than I was done!!! Seriously WHO DOES THAT.

But none of that happened. All I felt was relief and the nasty voice was silent. All I received was silent support from Glenn and Debra in those moments driving away from mile 37. All I received later was support. From everyone. No judgment. Just encouragement. And congratulations.

I promised Glenn he would not have to live with any extended emotional fallout from this. I was able to promise that because I knew in my heart that I'd made the right decision. On the surface and on the Ironman "results" page that shows only a swim time, it looks like it was the absolute wrong decision. But for me it was right -- even though it's hard to articulate WHY other than a strong feeling. But then, it was a strong feeling, an intuitive hit back in 2006 while volunteering at Silverman, that got me into this crazy sport in the first place.

When I went to the finish line to turn in my chip I watched some of the finishers. I felt happy for them and glad I wasn't out there. The only pang of disappointment I felt was when I saw the finishers medal. It would have been AWESOME to get one of those. One of a kind from a World Championship.

I felt disappointment -- not regret. There's a huge difference.

After the Race

We came home, relaxed and talked. About lots of stuff. One of the BEST things about this weekend was seeing all of the support I have through Debra's eyes. Glenn. Tony. Sean (even though she didn't meet Sean he was a key to my successful bike training all year long). I don't see Debra a lot since she lives in Boston. The fact that she took time away from her children and her packed schedule to come out here to support me means so much. Those are the things you can't plan for, can't predict and all the money and training in the world won't secure.

Triathlon had made me into who I am today and this race is a part of that. Which is why I accepted all congratulations without qualification, and why I feel great about myself in the wake of all this. Why I'm moving forward in my life more powerfully than I was one short week ago.

I've said it before, I'll say it again -- I love this sport.

As far as next season goes, it will be all short course for me. It's time to get faster. Time to really work on it. Time to engage in training at a whole new level. After I take some time off of course!


IronMin said...

Wow - beautifully written story. I had tears in my eyes reading about all of the turmoil you went through out there. Triathlon is just as much mental as physical in my opinion. The mind covers a lot of ground in 3 different disciplines, and you are constantly thinking, thinking, thinking the entire time. Just as our bodies sometimes exclaim we are done, our minds do too.
It takes courage to admit that today is not the day, to realize this race is not the race. I took a DNF in my 2nd 70.3 in 2008, and as you explained your decision, I could feel the emotional weight of it so vividly. And yet, we are not defined by races and times. The training has been if the race isn't the race, it is but a small detail in the total journey to get there. Especially in triathlon.
Thank you for sharing your race report and congratulations on emerging from this even more powerful and confident...I admire your grace and your strength - you are amazing!

paulag said...

What a tremendous, honest, and vulnerable race report. I SO know the paragraph about feeling always on the other side of success. I am grateful to get to read it all and am so proud of you for all the training, going for it, and even more for the amazing kindness, compassion, and courage you model for all of us when it comes to tough decisions, acceptance, and letting go while remaining pointed squarely in the NOW and what you want for next time. Love and hugs.

Karen said...

I kept hitting refresh last weekend thinking it was a problem with the website. It just wasn't your day. Hold your head high and move on, be proud of all you have accomplished!

Unknown said...

Stefanie, You are such an inspiration. It's incredible to take on the training for an event like this - that in itself is tremendous to those of us who have never engaged in a decision in that realm.
And, it takes huge courage and grace to do what is right for you under the circumstances. And you did. Hope you are loving yourself for that.

Michelle said...

Love this post. Real life, it happens. Glad you are on the other side and that you didn't force yourself to suffer for hours on end for no good reason. Good job!

Michelle said...

p.s. I tagged you. Totally optional if you want to play :)

Debra said...

Stef, it was such an honor to share that weekend with you. I'm still reflecting on the multiple lessons we learned. Thank you, and much love!

Heather Dominick, EnergyRICH® Entrepreneur Success Coach said...

This is the stuff of true success - through and through. I am so impressed by your sharing and so impressed by you ...