RR: Columbia Triathlon

This weekend was a big weekend! The Cyclist and I headed down to Maryland where Saturday involved the race expo/packet pick-up, bike drop off, a haircut that will result in a 12″ donation to Locks of Love, drinks with my best friend, dinner with my family, and kitten wrangling (The Cyclist and I ultimately won versus tiny troublesome tuxedo cat). After an enormously long day it was great to curl up and recharge before the race.

Pre-Race

My only goal for this race was to leave Columbia, Maryland with my back as intact as I could. If that meant not finishing the race, I was okay with that. Plus, I was planning to race the bike and run with an injured friend, so I knew it would be more of a workout than a race. Best case scenario would be finishing uninjured but I had doubts about whether that could happen. I didn’t bring my Garmin or plan to start my watch. I really, honestly, just wanted to be out there and do the best I could at any given point. The Cyclist, after supporting me through months of struggling to rehab my back, sensed that I was struggling with the potential of a DNF and said, “If you need to pull yourself from the race to preserve your back then I’ll be proud of you.” Hearing someone else say the words I’ve been mulling in my head took a big weight off my chest.

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Me, Ike and The Cyclist pre-race

I befriended a few athletes, met up with Shell and Ike, hit the porta potties (where we saw Mayor Fenty) and had enough time to watch the pro men and women start the bike. So amazing to watch Tim DeBoom ride from 5 feet away!

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Pro men on the bikes

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First woman out of T1

I went to the swim start and was really psyched about the set-up. At Pittsburgh you dropped into the water and the waves weren’t spaced far enough apart which made things rushed and lead me to totally freak out. Here, you could walk into chest deep water and the waves weren’t crunched which allowed me to acclimate to the water. Coming into this I was worried about the swim even though I’ve had at least one awesome open water swim, but once I was in the water, I was peaceful and focused. I love when there is a moment before a race when there is a moment of calm, clarity and possibility. I was ready to be racing again.

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This picture cracks me up because the woman in front of me is SO intense!

Swim

I started on the outside and quickly hit a rhythm. The start was congested but I very easily I found someone I could draft off. I was drafting in a triathlon! Ahhh it felt so good to be back. I counted my strokes to 3 over and over and was happy to be swimming as meditation. More sighting and less Zen would have probably saved me some time, but I wasn’t out to race, I just wanted it to be a good experience. I love being in the water. I was happy to be mid-pack until, about 70% in. I look up to sight and see a rescue boat and kayak pulling someone in front of me. I paused to let them by, cleared my goggles and kept moving. A short time later I felt someone grab my left ankle firmly and yank. WTF?! It was the lead guy from the wave behind me. I was totally annoyed because no one was swimming to the left of me so he easily could have swum 3 inches to the side to get by me instead of pulling me out of his way. Jerk. That threw me for a bit but I found some more toes to follow. Good plan until, while I was taking a breath on my right side, those toes decided to switch to a breast stroke kick and nail me in my left jaw/ear. Whoa. Seeing stars, my head started to spin and my left ear started to ring; this guy kicked me HARD. F***. He looked behind me, caught my eye, and kept swimming. @ss. I finished the swim and ran out to T1.

T1 and Bike

The plan was to meet Ike in T1 so we could bike and run together. I finish my transition and stick around for about 5 minutes. Ike and I hit the course and I’m thrilled that the new clipless pedals The Cyclist donated to the idiot cyclist fund (i.e. my bike) work as intended (note: I previously had Looks but had a hard time clipping in on one side so he put some Speedplays on my bike).

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Heading out on the bike

This is a good time to mention it rained all night and the course is slick and there are some puddles. The announcer warned about wrecks and lots of athletes were talking about taking it slow to play it safe, particularly on some sketchy sections. I was kind of sketched out but was happy to quickly hit a rhythm. The course was rolling hills and the out and back made me acutely aware that all the downhills I was loving on the way out were going to be tough uphills in another 20+ miles. I became incredibly disillusioned on the bike. Riders were rude. I was so disappointed in how people behaved- one guy yelled at me because, on a wide course, I opted not to go through a big puddle that I viewed as dangerous. I’m sorry but you had enough room and I’m not risking life and limb so you can have an extra 6 inches, particularly when I announced what I was doing so that it was safe. I know people are out competing and I respect that, but the races that I do are so supportive and this one was largely not. Around mile 6 I start to realize that my back feels strained when I’m climbing. I ride another mile or two trying to relax and rally and I realize that I have it in me to finish this. Might not be fast, but I’ll get it done; I’ve done far worse. But I also realize that a back that hurts on climbs may not respond well to climbs on the back end of the course. I think about the Super Secret Expedition and DNFing pops into my head. On Tuesday I talked to my doctor about spinal injections. Although I’m so close to being healthy, I’m still so far and I don’t know if the aches I’m experiencing are normal or my injury flaring. I don’t want to pull the plug too soon, but I sadly realize that the smart decision is to pull myself from the race.

Mile 10

I find a cop and pull over and prop my bike and start to cry. There’s another athlete there and I walk away and have a moment of disappointment and frustration and then man up. Me and the other athlete, Shelly, chat (literally) over the cop car- it was freezing so we were resting on the hood to get warmth from the engine. Thank you, Howard County PD. Shelly was the right person to DNF with- she was the lead in her age group until her tire shredded and she had teammates coming to get her and they so very kindly also took me also (Team FeXY = amazing! Thank you!). They were lovely company and I’m only sorry that I met them how I did.

Aftermath

I’m proud I pulled myself from the race. It was a tough call to make, but a responsible decision. My back doesn’t feel great, but it’s okay, which makes me wonder if I should have pushed harder; at the same time that I wonder whether I pulled myself just in time. In speaking with my PT he thinks the hip rocking the climbing required aggravated my back and knowing that I’m so glad I pulled out when I did because lateral motions knocked me out for a full week in March.

This was the first triathlon that The Cyclist has seen and he was interested enough that he said if I helped him with his swimming that he’d do one with me. Not only that, but he offered to start riding with me a few times a week to help me get ready for Cannonman. I really want to say that I’m done with tris and sticking with ultrarunning, but if I were you I wouldn’t believe it. This wasn’t my comeback race, but one will come soon enough.

Thank yous

I have so many people to thank for this race. Ike, Shell and The Cyclist for being amazing people and supports. Glenn and Big Bang Bikes who set me up with a bike I love and are always amazing whenever I need anything. Shelly and Team FeXY for keeping me out of my head during my DNF and also taking care of me and my bike. The police department and volunteers who made this race possible. My back specialist, Dr. Gwendolyn Sowa and my PT, Dave Okuda, for getting me to the start line. John Zahab for his thoughtful advice and consultation. Ray Zahab and the i2P team for keeping me motivated and inspired. My mom, for making one of the biggest dinners I’ve ever had on Saturday because I told her I needed to fuel for a race. All of my readers (YOU!) for their support, encouragement and holding me accountable (I told The Cyclist last night the only reason I might still consider a HIM is because I said I’d do it here!). And last, but certainly not least, my phenomenal sponsors.

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