The Year of the Dragon has started out well, but not without its challenges. When I returned from Panama in mid-February with a ghastly GI sickness, I figured a week off from training couldn’t be too bad before a short intense training period as I prepared for Ixtapa and Galveston 70.3 (the US National Championship 70.3 for pros). Little did I know I would lose another week of training, this time to a ghastly respiratory sickness!! I chose to go to Ixtapa (an ITU Continental Cup) to improve my world ranking in hopes of qualifying for the ITU San Diego World Triathlon Series event, which is the final US Olympic Trials race. The Ixtapa and Galveston races on back to back weekends presented the perfect opportunity to practice racing an Olympic-distance event, then recovering quickly to race a 70.3 the following weekend (this setup will occur in September with the HyVee 5150 Championship and the Las Vegas 70.3 World Championship on consecutive weekends).
Once I came out of the GI sickness, I did put together a few weeks of solid training, enjoying our wonderful spring weather in March. I was very excited for Galveston, my first “key” race of the year. Then the Invasion happened. Germs came from all sides. The first call from the school clinic came an hour before I was to head to the airport for a weekend class in Florida. My son had a fever and a terrible cough. I rushed him to the doctor, where they diagnosed him with bronchitis. I boarded the plane anyway, conflicted with leaving my sick child behind but relieved to escape the germs. By the time I returned 2 days later, he was feeling much better. But not three days later, clinic call number two arrived – this time it was my daughter with fever and cough. She spent the next two days home from school, and I packed my bags and bike in between breaks to check on her. I headed to Ixtapa, this time guilty to leave my sick daughter and sick husband (he too had caught the fever, chills, body aches, cough, and general congestion and malaise)…but once again I was relieved to get out of the Sick House. Ixtapa looked the same as when I’d been there in 2007, but I felt like a completely different athlete. This time I was cool, calm, and collected, not having spent the last several months scurrying about the globe desperately scratching and clawing for ITU world ranking points. Surprisingly, I worked so hard to qualify for the Olympic Trials in 2008 only to arrive at the race too injured to perform. But this time, qualifying was an afterthought. Even now, if I do go to San Diego, it will be to enjoy the experience of one final ITU race – no greater aspirations.
As I trained in Ixtapa the day before the race, I felt confident that I could win or finish very high despite focusing on the “real” important race the following weekend. Things did not quite go according to plan on race day! My pre race routine including breakfast and run, bike, and swim warm ups went smoothly, but once the gun went off, my relaxation proved to get the better of me. I did not start well (perhaps I need to be less calm to attack those early meters), and struggled in the waves of the Pacific waters. Per normal I found myself caught behind a little bunch going too slowly. I kept getting tangled up with arms and lacked the speed to get around and into my own rhythm. So I relived the familiar frustration of 1500m of swimming in the wrong place, exiting the water near the back, after being pummeled by a large wave as I approached the shore. I was discombobulated and choking on water as I ran up the stairs and began the long approach to T1. Once on my bike, I was ready to zip away from the group I was with and I hit it hard, only to drop my chain within the first minute of the race. The strange thing was that the chain went over the outer edge of the crank arm and wrapped around the pedal. I’ve never seen this before. Something must’ve gotten messed up during the travel and rebuilding of my bike, as it was working fine when I packed it. Now, with the chain wrapped over itself and the pedal, I couldn’t simply backpedal or soft pedal to get it back on. I dismounted and used my hands to unravel the chain and put it back on. I got back on the bike, having been passed by 4 girls immediately, and started to chase them again. But not two minutes later as I tried to shift up, the chain came off once again, this time getting even further stuck within itself. I got off again, wondering if this would be the end of my race. Briefly I considered throwing in the towel, then laughed at myself, knowing that’s not my style. I got the chain back on and went on autopilot, proceeding to spend the next 20 minutes catching the girls ahead and eventually catching the front pack. The leader was out way ahead, and at this point I was tired of doing all the work to get closer, so I decided to spend the final 10 minutes of the bike leg relaxing and thinking about the run.
We got into T2 and out onto the run, and I was trailing a pack of 4. Radka (who eventually finished second) surged ahead, with two Mexicans trailing. I settled into a slower pace than the trailers, knowing their speed was unsustainable and I would chip away bit by bit. Sure enough, my judgment proved accurate – they were breathing way too hard to maintain that pace, and within a mile I had caught and passed them. But I knew Radka and the eventual race winner were far enough ahead that to catch them I’d need to run faster. So I picked up my pace for a short bit before assessing that it was going to be a fruitless effort. With about 4k of 10k to go, I judged my 3rd place position was very safe (I was putting more ground on those behind me and not gaining any on 1st or 2nd) so I went into cruise mode. I figured it wouldn’t make sense to push to the limit for 3rd place, extending my recovery needs before Galveston, when I could cruise to 3rd place and practice half ironman race intensity. So that was what I did, and I was pleasantly surprised to see my run split later – faster than my effort would have indicated. We enjoyed a nice medal ceremony after the race, but then the Invasion made itself known.
I started coughing within an hour of finishing my cool down. I wasn’t too surprised – sometimes I cough after races just due to the exertion. I did feel unusually tired after a pretty low-key race, but spent the afternoon enjoying the beach. Later we (the other Americans, Radka, and I) had fun at the complimentary post-race dinner and walked about town. I had a headache but figured it was just dehydration (which didn’t make sense since I’d been hydrating very well all day). Next morning, I awoke feeling a little off, but ignored it as I went for a recovery ride. During breakfast later, I knew something must be wrong since nothing appealed to me, not even the coffee. I headed to the airport feeling my sunburn heating me from the outside in. My flight from Ixtapa to Houston was stifling – I couldn’t get enough water. Then, rushing from my arrival gate to my next departure gate, I got lightheaded and could tell something was really wrong. I needed water and couldn’t find a fountain anywhere! Finally I got situated at my gate and called Brendan: “I think I am getting what you guys have,” I moaned. The flight from Houston home was extra miserable – I stared straight ahead and begged for more water. Once I got home and took my temperature, my fears were confirmed – I had been invaded. For someone whose normal body temperature hovers between 94 and 96 degrees, 100.9 felt extremely hot. Earlier I had harbored hope that it was just the sunburn, but by now my cough and headache were so oppressive that I knew it was something worse. I went to the doctor the next day and was put on antibiotics, but nothing seemed to help as for 3 days I barely left my bed. I have never had a fever for so many days in a row, and my body ached like crazy despite my inactivity. By Wednesday night, when I had felt little relief, I broke down to Brendan: “I don’t know how I am going to race in 4 days”. I tried to ride my trainer Thursday, not realizing my fever lingered, and after 45 minutes my legs cramped so much I called it quits. The next day, Brendan accompanied me on a run, which was more of a walk with intermittent jogging. I was huffing and puffing at probably 3 min per mile slower than goal race pace. All I could do was moan and ask for a miracle. Again, after the run, my legs cramped so much it felt like I’d already done the half ironman. But I went to the airport Friday afternoon as planned (which proved an adventure in itself as the lines were so long that we nearly missed our flight). I called Brendan from Dulles, having waited over an hour in line just to check in, and told him that if we (his mom and I) missed our flight, I was going home and not coming back – it’d be a sign that I wasn’t supposed to race. Forget it, I said, I’m done with this craziness. But then we got to the gate and they let us board. (Brendan was smart enough to recognize my dramatics and just let me talk without protesting). I called him from my seat and could sense the relief in his voice.
Brendan arrived very late Friday night, and Saturday morning we went out for a short run. I was pleasantly surprised that I could move a little better than yesterday. Everything hurt, and had been hurting for days (even carrying my luggage was difficult), but nothing hurt particularly badly by that point. Later, I picked up my bike from Tri Bike Transport (thank you for the awesome service!!) and went for a ride. Uh oh, I thought, this does not feel good. I tried not to read too much into the fact that my wattage was extremely low compared to my effort level. My awesome Quarq power meter did not feel so awesome to me at that point. Later I did a very short swim in my wetsuit (thank you Gail and Chuck Lohman for sharing your hotel pool!!) and felt ok. I made up my mind that I would do the race as best I could and accept whatever happened.
I slept well that night and went through my morning pre-race breakfast and routine calmly. I knew there was no point in obsessing over what might happen. I didn’t run hard during my quick warm up, afraid to incite too major a coughing fit, and I ignored how taxing that easy run and drill set felt. Once we got into the water for our short swim warm up, I figured I’d do a little up-tempo swimming but couldn’t stop coughing. My goggles were fogging and I couldn’t get them clear. Panic was setting in. What am I thinking?!? How will I DO this?! But the horn blew and we were off. I got myself stuck once again in the wrong place, swimming too slow early and too comfortable for most of the way, but I did not have the strength or speed to get around my bunch and pick up the pace, so I settled “in the pack” and exited the water without too much coughing. I did not have my typical perky run to my bike – afraid to risk a coughing fit, perhaps, I jogged it a lot slower. I fumbled a bit in transition and got on my bike last among the group I’d swum with. After a short bit, I started to try to move up in the race, and over the course of 56 miles I passed more people than passed me. But alarming things were going on. First off, try as I might to hit my wattage target, for the life of me I could not exceed zone 2 wattage. My legs simply wouldn’t put out enough power. My Garmin was set to show current power, average power, cadence, and speed. I kept getting frustrated when I looked down and saw my average power wasn’t matching my effort – so instead I focused on cadence and worked on forcing it higher (I tend to lull into too low a cadence on flat courses). I played leapfrog with one other girl until the turnaround – at which point I realized I was even further back than I thought and had better pick up the pace or I’d never live with myself afterward… So I sped up (the wind at my back helped) and tried to force a higher effort level. Nonetheless, the power just wasn’t there – my averages did not improve during the second half. I was relieved to get off the bike.
As I went through T2, Brendan asked me how I was (WTC has been treating the pros just amazingly – Lance Factor?? – and allowed two VIPs into the pro tent, so Brendan and his mom had fancy bracelets and were allowed to get very close to my bike). I told him I just had no power, but I was breathing ok. He responded “OK” but not much more, and I went off on the run hopeful to put together a better performance. The first two mile splits were ok, a lot slower than last year but a good average pace if I could keep it up. I passed two girls early on and was now in 6th. After a lap, Brendan was yelling that 5th was fading. It took me a while, but I caught her too. Then I got my familiar side stitch – the one that likes to rear its ugly head during the run and turn me into a different person (I pity the people who have seen me run with a side stitch – it is an ugly sight indeed). I tried to massage the area but to no avail. Then I remembered my inhaler, tucked in my back pocket, which I hadn’t taken since T1. I went ahead and took a puff (this was prescribed to me because of Reactive Airway Syndrome – a result of the bronchitis/flu) and held my breath for far less than the 10 seconds you’re supposed to. Nevertheless, my cramp subsided within minutes. Amazing!! I couldn’t speed up – my legs were too sore and tired – but at least I could breathe without a searing pain in my side. At this point Brendan was yelling how much time till the next person, and his mom was yelling how much time till the person behind me. I knew Caitlin Snow was fast approaching, and there was nothing I’d be able to do once she passed. (On a different day, perhaps I could fend off the swift-footed, but not today). She came by somewhere around the start of lap 3, and I was back in 5th place. But I was content with that – all I needed to do was hang on and I would be finished. But my legs were cramping more and more with every passing step. It didn’t matter – I knew I’d make it… eventually the end came. THANK GOODNESS!!
When I look back on this race, I can easily overcome my feelings of frustration (it was probably a good 10 mins slower than I would’ve been on a good day) by thinking not about what I didn’t do, but instead about what I did. If you had asked me just 2 days prior if I thought I’d finish 5th in the race, I would have laughed in your face. Would I finish at all? Maybe. It’s not that I would entertain the option of quitting – it’s not in my psyche – but Brendan was prepared to pull me off the course if a death-march run looked imminent or in motion. It would not have been worth the cost to finish near the back of the race. Thankfully I was able to pull it off… But I have to say, this is NOT ME! I will be faster next time!! I am also surprised to look back and say I could hardly notice the Lance Factor even though he was there – I guess I was too busy wallowing in misery.