Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Patriot Half...the experiment...the failed experiment

Well the morning started a little earlier than normal. Since the race was only an hour from my house it didn't make sense to waste money on a hotel for 2 days. That meant a 3am makeup on race day, drive down to the race venue, get set up in transition and prepare for the race.Getting there in under an hour (duh, nobody is on the road at 4am) meant I was one of the first vehicles there and I had plenty of time to setup. I actually ended up parking about 500ft from where I set up my bike (score! I had no idea how great a parking spot that was until later in the day). Race packet was picked up that morning, bike set up and laying out my gear for the day went as usual. Nothing to do now but relax (ya, right), hydrate and get ready to race. Yes, I was anxious. I hadn't done a 70.3 since Timberman last year and although I felt good I was hoping for a 5 hour day (you can read about my race plan in the prior post) and wanted to get started. A quick swim in the water before the start settled my nerves and reinforced the decision to go sleeveless was a good one. The temp was in the mid 60's and the water temp was the same so the water felt great and I was excited to get in the water to race.

Racked and ready...of course I was the first one there
Now the Patriot Half has adopted a "time trial start" over a "wave start" by age group. This meant that we'd start in groups of 3 swimmers every 10 seconds through each of the age group waves. I was willing to give it a try but soon learned how much I hate it. I seeded myself in the 1st third of the wave which put me in the 10th "group" of the wave. Countdown timer goes off and we enter the water. I felt really good. That first 300-400 yards went off without a hitch. I was actually having a good swim with a smooth swim stroke and breath count. As I got settled in, I tried to sight the first buoy. Not only was it further than I thought but I had drifted to the left a good bit and had to correct my line ASAP. Without the "herd" of swimmers in the wave (normally I would get in the middle of the group trying to draft of feet) I didn't have a group to follow to the buoys. Twice during the swim I had people on kayaks telling me to swim to the right because I was drifting so far to the left. I also know I was expending a lot more effort because I was having to correct my line so often. I had no idea what my time was or where I was in the race until I saw race caps from waves behind me passing me. I told myself "ok, no need to get worried, other waves have fast swimmers so maybe I'm not doing that bad". The swim seemed to take forever no matter how hard I swam. As I got out of the water I glanced down at my watch to see almost 48 minutes. 48 minutes?! Are you kidding me?! My watch can't be right I thought. Two things that struck me as I left the water: I cut my right foot on the rocks as I got out (not fun but it happens) and I couldn't seem to get my wetsuit off to save my life. Normally, by the time I cross the timing mat I have my wetsuit unzipped and down around my butt with my cap and goggles in my hand. Today, while I got my cap and goggles off, when I ended up at my bike I was still struggling to get my wetsuit open much less off. As I continued to try and get my wetsuit off, a volunteer ran over and stripped it off. Then I fumbled getting into my cycling kit, almost dropping my bike as I unracked it (I should've realized there was something wrong then but thought all I needed to do was get on the bike, get settled and start fueling and I'll be fine) and off I went on the bike.

I'd reconned this course and knew that the first 2 miles would be twisty but then settled down into flat, low rollers that I could get into a good rhythm and get to racing. I mean I had all those swimmers in my wave I had to rundown after all! I quickly got off to a 21mph pace, got salt tabs/gel/water in and focused on the road ahead. The first 5 or 6 miles went okay but I started having trouble with water/fuel. Every sip was becoming a struggle. It felt like every swallow landed a concrete ball in my gut that wanted to come back up. Then I had the weirdest sensation, one I've never felt before, of needing to either go to the bathroom or vomit. I dealt with it for about 18 miles but had to pull off the road and run into the woods quickly. Luckily I only had to pee (quick check of it being clear so I knew I wasn't dehydrated and could press on) then quickly hopped back on the bike and got back to racing. When I say racing...I really just mean pedaling. I saw my speed gradually coming down while feeling like I was outputting as much or more effort up to this point. I also didn't feel good. Yes, it's a 70.3 and feeling "good" may not be an apt description for racing...but I felt bad. Nausea, headache and body fatigue seemed to be building rapidly. The only thing I could thing to do was to keep trying to take on salt, liquid and fuel. That was what I needed and all this would go away right? Well, didn't seem to be. I was having difficulty keeping anything down and started either bringing up water/fuel or dry heaving. Then the wheels start turning. What's wrong with me? Do I need more or less fuel? Am I pushing too hard? Am I not pushing hard enough? Am I sick? Is all of this in my head and I need to quit being a wimp and just fight through it? The one thing all of those thoughts did tell me was at least my brain was working! 

As I continued to pedal, it seemed as if I was looking at the world through binoculars and it was getting dark around the edges. Well, that's new! Around mile 26 there was a guy that double flatted and was asking everyone/anyone for CO2 cartridges. Mine were right on top of my rear bag and I was pretty practiced at pulling them out and fixing a flat from a rolling stop (yes, I do practice that. What? Doesn't everybody?) but I almost crashed my bike slowing to hand off the cartridges. Ok, THAT got my attention. I have proven bike handling skills and the fact that I was having trouble concerned me. I did however notice that when I stopped to hand off the cartridges the world brightened right up. All the "dark around the edges" disappeared. Ok, that's a good thing, NOW I can get back on track. Problem was, as I got to the end of the first loop the dry heaving and dark edges came back. Now I got concerned. I didn't experience this during Syracuse 70.3 (where I suffered heat exhaustion/borderline heat stroke) or Timberman 70.3 (where I crashed on the bike and had cracked and bruised ribs). "Let's get through the first loop and see how the second one goes. You can always bail out at the run" I told myself. Who am I kidding?! If I got to the run I would drag myself and walk if need to be to finish. As I went past the first loop I was dry heaving...ok...and that was at mile 28 with another 55.1 miles to do. I can't even begin to explain the battle I was having in my head but almost ditching the bike in a turn at mile 33 sealed the deal. I turned around and pedaled against the flow of cyclists headed back to transition. I'll be completely honest and say that was one of the hardest decisions I've had to make in quite some time (there were a lot harder ones recently I didn't bat an eyelash over). But that slow pedaling back to transition was sheer agony. I felt like I'd let everyone down...starting with myself but including my friends who had been so supportive and the companies who's gear I was rep'ing. Add insult to injury that when I came to the dismount area, helmet in hand and what I was told was looking pretty was as the race leaders were coming in to go out for the run. I didn't even have the energy to tell them I wasn't one of the race leaders...I'm a medical.

I never got to put this on...
As if I didn't feel awkward enough, the medics and volunteer staff descended on me when everyone realized how out of it I was. I couldn't thank them enough for their concern but I couldn't have been more embarrassed at the attention. After a few questions about my status, some ice, water and a coke all I wanted to do was get out of the area. I did not want to be confused with the real triathletes that were steaming into transition. I consider myself very lucky that I had a close friend that grabbed me in transition and helped me the short distance back to my truck. The look on her face told me all about the look that must have been on my face. I was devastated. Mister "cross the finish or get taken off on a stretcher" just quit his first race. The "beast" that dragged himself through 70.3s with heat exhaustion/stroke and broken/bruised ribs and terrible road rash was now sitting on the tailgate of his truck watching other athletes race. I just kept reminding myself how long it took to recover from those injuries and stopping was smarter than dragging myself through. But Jen was there to give me a hug, kiss on the cheek and said "you did the right and smart thing, there will be plenty of other races but there's only one you". Love her face! Ok, time to change clothes and become a spectator.

The day wasn't a complete wash. I got to watch so many people realize their goal of racing and finishing a 70.3. Their happiness was palpable. I also got to yell and cheer for J as she crossed the finish line of her SIXTH 70.3 and broke 6 hours in the process. I couldn't be more proud of her after seeing all the hard work she's done over these months.

Sadly, there's more to this story. As I write this I've been having trouble bouncing back from the race (which is really weird considering I was back to training only a couple of days after each of the aforementioned 70.3s) and have doctors appointments to try and find out what's wrong. Hopefully it's an easy fix and I'll be back smashing my bags in training in no time

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