It’s been a year of ups and downs for me in training and racing. On the one hand I’ve continued to learn a lot and make fitness gains working with my coach, and we’ve had a few decent results. On the other hand, I’ve been hindered by injuries slowing down my training, at best – derailing it, at worst. Most recently I’ve been having trouble with my knee. Despite loads of treatment, skipping some races, backing off training, re-tweaking my bike fit, doing lots of strength work, etc., my symptoms have been very up and down and sometimes rather severe. So, I enjoyed the clickety-clackety MRI cave on Tuesday before my Thursday departure for Mt. Tremblant.
In the weeks prior, I’d been agonizing about the decision to race because of my knee. Two days before the MRI, I got fed up and decided to race. I knew I wasn’t carrying peak fitness but realized it may be my last 70.3 World Championship as a pro (the locations for the next 2 years make those trips very unfeasible). So, despite the MRI results showing torn cartilage in my knee and a few other less-descript indications of joint malfunction, my family sports medicine doctor (who knows my lifestyle) gave me the green light to race (I’d probably need surgery either way) but encouraged me to drop out if necessary. (I told him I never drop out!) At this point, for me, racing is not about finishing but about competing with the best – Brendan agreed that if I he saw I could not compete, he’d pull me.
We did not reserve flights to Canada (usually we do that 4-6 weeks pre race) because of the uncertainty. I thought I’d regret the decision to drive, but I don’t. We had an awesome drive up I-81 to Canada, stopping in Syracuse for a delicious Dinosaur BBQ dinner (a great opportunity for me to leave my wallet behind – DOH! – but with an excuse to come back later). We stayed the night in Watertown, NY and then went east through Ontario on several smaller roads. I-81 is amazing, and I-95 is annoying. So glad we took our chosen route!! We’d unearthed a huge box of old mix tapes from high school and college. Between the scenery and the musical memories, we never got bored. If nothing good came of our Canada experience, at least I’d be thankful to have spent this intensive time with my hilarious husband of 15 years.
Mt. Tremblant is breathtakingly beautiful – an amazing venue for a race. If you want to go to a fun ski town in the summer months, there is plenty to do there! I got to meet Race Director Dominique, whom I happened to find when looking for the pro meeting… he escorted me there with charm befitting his French-Canadian accent. On the ski-lift/tram, I even ran into my amazing former and best-ever swim coach Pete, who was there to watch his collegiate son Dylan complete his best-ever triathlon Sunday. I was proud of Dylan, even though my mentorship role was minimal in his development! On Saturday, Brendan took a nice 4-hour hike while I rested up in the hotel and visited with friends.
Ever since making the decision to race, I’d been working to get into race mentality. In a way I admit it was liberating to know I could just let loose and count on Brendan to protect me if I could not protect myself. In another way, I had to suppress the fear and self doubt which had been creeping in steadily for months as I watched my power numbers and paces decline under the stresses of chronic pain and muscular dysfunction. Who knows when my knee injury went from mild to pretty bad, and then from that to worse, but I had to stop succumbing to my overly analytical personality… During race week I did my best to suppress the negativity and embrace the positivity that comes with the chance of competing with the very best with nothing to prove and nothing to lose (except perhaps a little more cartilage).
I woke up easily on race morning … it took only a bit of oatmeal and a few minutes waiting for coffee before I started to get antsy. One look at my lack of a written-out morning plan would indicate that I was treating this race differently from most – even a few hours pre-race, I belabored the decision of when to leave the hotel! But I got out the door (clad far more than scantily with my race uniform, tights, pants, short sleeve shirt, long sleeve shirt, jacket, vest, gloves, and head warmer under helmet) and proceeded to do a short bike warm up before preparing my transition area. I met Brendan to pass off my bag before continuing my warm-up in the 40-degree temps… then we headed to the swim start.
Thankfully I was dressed appropriately for the cold. (In truth I think I may’ve lost some of my love of harsh heat after our harsh winter and rewardingly-cool summer, so it almost felt good). I had on plenty of layers and stayed warm before donning my long-sleeved wetsuit (blueseventy Helix, my favorite ever!) I elected not to do a swim warm up (despite the very clear and proven reality that I swim my best after a good 20 minutes of lead-up) so that I could stay warm. Jumping around in my wetsuit during the final minutes prior to our start, I was thrilled that only my fingertips and toes had turned blue (anyone else have Reynaud’s Syndrome?) and I felt sufficiently in control of my body temperature. We lined up on the beach, most of us (save the few rule-ignoring cheaters) with toes out of the water for a fair start. The horn went off… and off we went, dolphin diving our way through the shallowest area. I did my best to get out fast (something we’ve been working on all year) but was not very successful. Still, I found myself in the company of a few familiar girls (I can tell by their swim stroke) who usually come out near me… so I did not fret. Never did I have the moment of utter panic (when I wonder who I am and where I am going – a true philosophical moment), nor the lung-sucking choking of being pressed under and not knowing if I’d make it up (happens with some frequency in races of similarly-stacked fields)… instead I just had one incident of goggle-knocking (easy enough to fix with some treading water and re-arranging) and the periods of self doubt that happen to be strongest for me during the swim: “do I enjoy this?,” “will I get through this?,” “why do I do this?” I have these doubts regularly in the swim; the important thing is not to indulge them. Instead I revert to my tape-recorded-mental-lyrics to a song I’d like to write: Keep calm, stay strong, catch the water, see the buoy, stay on task, keep on the feet, move forward, relax… It’s really rhythmic, actually, and somewhat rewarding to listen to those lyrics and work to make them come true. By the time I had a few buoys to go, I felt content with my effort and relieved the end was near.
Out of the water we had about ½ mile to run to our bikes. While my intention had been to make use of this segment, I can acknowledge I was a little soft… I fumbled with my cap and goggles and only started attacking that run about halfway through. Once at my bike, I struggled to get off my wetsuit and then got my helmet caught in my horrific hair. Spent valuable seconds trying to rearrange it so I could clip the clasp, but it took far longer than it should, due to my ineptitude. I got on the bike behind several I’d outswam and outrun into transition. But once on the bike, my instincts took control, thankfully! No more silly victim mentality! It was time to just be. To go how I could go and do what I could do. I poured myself into that ride with fervor. We climbed the first hill, and I found refs on motorcycles warning girls around me not to draft. I did my best to pass safely but aggressively. After several minutes of that initial climb, we found ourselves in a pack of 4-6, and I was happy to be in the company of some of the best riders I know (who, like me, are not dominant swimmers). I was happy to see there was a ref’s motorcycle near us at all times, keeping us honest, holding us in check, warning girls when they got too close or a little too aggressive in their attempts to pass… needless to say, I was SHOCKED when the ref directly to my left told me my move (to pass the one ahead of me) was illegal and penalized me with a 4-minute drafting violation, about 50k into the race. I told him I thought I had appropriate space, he told me I didn’t, and when the penalty tent appeared, he motioned that I go there.
I told the official at the tent that I was shocked and appalled – in 8 years of pro racing I’d never drafted… The official was empathetic and reminded me he’d seen people in my situation come back and win the race, and he hoped I’d do the same… I didn’t have the heart to tell him there was no way I’d run my way to the win with this knee and this fitness in this time deficit… But I stood there feet on the ground for four agonizing minutes as I watched my competitors pass me by… wondering if I could’ve or should’ve judged distance differently in the same repeated case. And I have decided now, NO. I was right the first time and I judged the distance accurately. No one with my history of outspoken complaint against cheaters would blatantly cheat. (The official motorcycle was directly next to me when I pulled out to make my “illegal” pass.) I believe the officials are not out to get athletes. Also, though, most athletes are not out to break rules openly (some break them on purpose when they think they WILL NOT get caught, not when their captors are right there ready to pounce). And I do not break rules. But clearly, I should have sat where I was and waited for an even bigger gap before making a pass.
As a never-before-penalized athlete, I did not know that a 4min penalty actually equates to more like 5 min… you have to slow way down to come to a stop at the tent, then they start their watch once your wheels are stopped and your feet are down, then you cannot start again (from 0 mph) until the 4 mins are fully completed, then it takes you 20-45 seconds to get up to speed… only to find yourself alone instead of among other similarly-strong riders… the same wattage feels a lot harder when you’re alone, and you definitely save considerable energy when keying off other riders even 10-12 meters ahead! Honestly this was the first race where I got a taste of what it really feels like to be in a “non-drafting draft pack.” You stay within the 10m rule but still enjoy the physics of sitting behind someone and letting them cut the wind. I am determined to get myself in the company of strong riders in every race from here forward because of how much better it makes the ride – I’ll just be sure I “slot in” to bigger gaps.
The rest of my ride was quiet except for the instances when droves of age group men would pass me by (talk about drafting!) and the occasional few minutes here and there when I’d spot a female pro and make it my mission to catch and pass her. But in the remaining 40k, I had very few women to pass and none of the fun of engaging in group dynamics. I tried to keep pushing instead of focusing on the negative reality that running 13.1 miles on my injured knee may now make no sense, given my position. Coming into transition was exciting with the crowds cheering, but also it was disheartening as I felt like my race had ended an hour prior. I still parked my bike and prepared to run, but by the time I’d left the area and was officially out on the course, I had decided it would be fruitless and likely do further damage to the cartilage in my knee. At that point, the knee itself was not hurting, just feeling tight. It was my good leg that hurt (likely from compensation!) The moment I saw Brendan I pulled off the course. He grabbed me in a big hug and reassured me I’d made the right move. It was the first time I’ve ever quit a race and hopefully the last.
Once I’d composed myself, we cheered the runners and made our way up the large hill to our hotel, where I showered and emailed my family & coach to let them know I’d pulled off the run course. Then we went back out to cheer at the top of the hill. Seeing the course from that perspective made me thankful that I had not put my knee through such severe climbs and descents. The hills were big and sharp. Uphill & downhill running is most painful to my knee, as are sudden changes in pace (inevitable with the gradient of hills here). I can be sure my ride home would’ve been a lot less comfortable and I would not be walking today if I had completed that run. It gives me all the more respect and appreciation for the hard working athletes out there who did. I have great respect for my competitors, especially those in the top 15 who stuck it out in that war of attrition, and most especially those who race clean and within the rules at all times.
I’m not sure what’s next for me – first of course to see the knee surgeon Friday, to learn my options (whether they’ll do cartilage repair or a cartilage transplant or neither), and understand the recovery period. Once I’m able, I’ll be right back out there training so I can attack my next race with a vengeance!
Thank you all for your support, and especially my sponsors Potomac River Running, Bonzai Sports, Rudy Project, Blueseventy, United Wellness Center, Old Town Massage Center, and Therapeutix.