This isn't a blog I'm looking forward to writing. It isn't easy facing up to expectations and goals after a lot of hard effort and you miss the mark so completely.
In the grand scheme of things 10 minutes (this is about how far off I was from my projected time based on my training coming into the race) really isn't a large chunk of time. It is about as long as it takes to run into a tri store and pick up a couple of GUs and some lace locks.
This weekend I was in the Iron Brother's Super Sprint Tri in Grand Prairie. Because my season will go into late November this year I started my racing later so, this was my first race of 2009. The race is short which means I can train normally and get a feel for some of the new equipment and bike adjustments I've made since last year.
The picture here to the left is probably the best moment I had the entire morning. From the time I got into the water and started swimming, I just felt off. Things were manageable until I rounded the first buoy but shortly after that is when things just went from feeling off to being dizzy and nauseous. I had no idea what was going on. And I really began to struggle. Not to the point of panic mind you, but I was incredibly uncomfortable. Needless to say a simple 400 meter swim became a test of patience and survival. And given the way I was feeling I was pretty sure, I was done for the day once I reached the boat ramp.
So, after some backstroke, breaststroke, and a chat with one of the guys in a canoe as I treaded water who informed me the water temp was almost 90 degrees (probably not the cause of the nausea, but certainly not helping my situation any) I finally emerged from the water dizzy, probably overheated, but in one piece. Oh yeah, max heart rate in the swim, 211 (This is not a typo).
I took my time getting to the bike. In the transition area as I cooled off a little, I took the attitude of "Let's just see how this goes..." How it went was I suffered. I've been working on my cycling a lot in the off season and this was one area where I really wanted to see some improvement. But I still felt like crap so I settled into a gear and a cadence I could stand and just went at it. The good thing about a crappy swim is you spend all of your time on the bike passing people. This can make you feel a little better even if you still want to puke.
After the turn around, things got a little tougher because the slight cross wind became more of a frontal assault. But I was happy with my effort. A glance at my heart rate monitor was encouraging, I was spinning a larger gear than I had the year before and my heart rate was 154. Last year I had an average heart rate on that course of 158 and I was feeling great and it wasn't windy. I wasn't moving fast, but I wasn't floundering like I had in the water.
Coming into transition, I was fully committed to ending my day with the bike ride, but somehow found shoes on my feet and WALKED out of transition. I think I ran about 10 steps before stopping with a cramp under my right arch. "That's it," I thought. "I'm having one of the worst races ever and I'm not about to get injured because of my own stupidity." So I proceeded to walk and would have walked the rest of the run had it not been for a "guardian angel" on the course who ran by me saying "I've been on your feet all race, don't stop now!"
So I started running with her. Her pace wasn't uncomfortable so, for the first time all day I wasn't struggling, though I still was dealing with the nausea. But my foot wasn't cramping and that was a relief. She was having a hard time with her breathing and began to slow so, I slowed down to stay with her and talked to her about focusing on her footsteps instead of her breathing. Each time she slowed, I slowed as well. Finally her husband came and ran with her just before the mile marker and I felt he could run the rest of the way with her.
I think I went through the 1 mile point at about 10:50 given the walking I'd been doing. At this point I decided my legs felt great even though the rest of me didn't and if I kept running like that I'd have to run for longer than I wanted so, I let my legs take over. My second mile was a 6:55.
Given the day I was having and the expectations I had going into the race, I think I would have rather forgotten the whole thing. But one of the reasons I race is to learn things about myself I would otherwise not discover such as how I respond when things aren't going my way. This race was one of those days where I had to come face to face with my expectations and the reality of my capacity at the moment not meeting. I think this is what allows me to improve not only in a sport I love, but also in other areas of my life.
The moment of truth came for me not as I crossed the finish line, but when I started writing this blog and I began to realize some of the experiences I was struggling with from my day actually offered me the very information I sought anyway. As I said, racing for me is a quest for information about who it is I am and what I am capable of even when things don't go as planned. What I learned as I sat down to write was so small as to almost go totally unnoticed. Basically what I wanted to know yesterday was if my training was working. So this is what I found out. I ran a sub 7 min mile. I haven't run one of those in a tri since I started doing them again 2 years ago. And I was sick. I had a bike split that was 5 sec faster than the year before under much more distressing conditions, both internally and externally. And my heart rate average was 5 bps lower than last year... As for the swim, well until the nausea hit I just might have at least equaled last year's time and the water temp that day was no where near 90 degrees. Oh and even with all the nausea, I never did cover the course or any race volunteers with my pre race meal. And for that, I'm so very thankful...