Friday, June 18, 2010

Delayed Dreams

I had my first two triathlons of the season this month. It hasn’t been a good start for me. Between equipment issues and Mother Nature, my races have been a disappointment.

June 6 was the Pigman. I was excited because I had finally learned to swim and I knew this would improve my overall time. The water was choppy, though, and I got off course. I improved my swim time by 2:14, but I thought I could have taken four minutes off.

The bike did not get much better. Twice I had to stop on the course because my aero bottle was coming off. I tried to finish strong, but for the first time, I did not improve my overall time from the year before.

I was depressed. I really wanted to have a strong performance heading into the Hy-Vee Tri, my first Olympic distance. I had to shake it off and just chalk it up to having a bad day. I didn’t know what a bad day was until I went to Hy-Vee…

I had gone to Des Moines early because they let you do practice swims at the race site on Friday. I had put many hours in the pool, but I still feared that 1500-yard swim. After a one-hour lightning delay, they let us practice on the 600-yard course they had set up. I did the course once and didn’t feel tired so I did it again. It gave me a lot of confidence.

I volunteered at the Kids’ Clinic that afternoon (a welcome diversion) and tried to keep myself relaxed, rested and hydrated. I had to take my bike to transition the night before the race and for the first time, I saw the swim course. It looked really far and my heart pounded. The nerves were back.

It had rained every day and the race site was a muddy mess. So it was a welcome sight to get up race morning and see no rain. I felt alive with excitement. The day I had waited for was finally here. An hour before the race a voice came over the loudspeaker…an important announcement. A storm was on the way so they were shortening the race from an Olympic distance to a sprint. I felt tears well up in my eyes. I had been training for six months for this one race and now it was gone. I was no longer nervous, but I would have to refocus. I still had a race to do.

I was starting in the second to the last wave so it was a long wait. Club prez Rosie and I thought it would be fun to be the last two people to start in our wave. Not such a good idea for me as the next wave of men was quickly swimming on top of me. I kept running into women who were doing the breaststroke and the backstroke. Two female backstrokers crashed heads right before I slammed into them. I was just trying to find a lane to swim in all this congestion. I finally made it out of the water.

It was windy and rainy on the bike. As I made the turnaround I tried to pick up the pace. I could hear thunder so I knew I had to get back. A few miles from the finish I was changing gears and my chain came off. “Are you kidding me?!” I got off the road and proceeded to fight with the chain in the rain. Bikes were flying by me. People were yelling out “Are you okay?” and I gave them a friendly wave.

I was back on the bike, but as I pulled into transition, the storm let loose. I was pelted with rain. I thought it was hail at first because it hurt as it struck my skin. It was mass chaos—people were grabbing their bikes and running for cover. I could hear sirens and see lightning. All my triathlete brain could think, though, was to pull on my rain-soaked running shoes, grab my hat, race belt and run.

The “Run Out” sign was gone so I was momentarily confused. I ran out of transition and headed up the carpet. I had to dodge people in my path and I didn’t know where to turn. “Where do I go?!” I screamed out and someone pointed towards the grandstand. I turned into the grandstand, but my path was blocked by cones. “You need to go to the finish line,” the volunteer said. No, my mind raced, I’m not done! They were closing the course and I was supposed to seek shelter. I want to finish! Please let me finish!!

I headed over to the finish line and they told me to take off my own timing chip. Just like that, it was over. I started to cry. Someone placed a plastic packet containing a medal into my hand. For the past year I had dreamed of running down the blue carpet at Hy-Vee, racing into the grandstand full of cheering people, having a medal placed around my neck. Now I didn’t even want the medal; I hadn’t earned it.

As I huddled under a tent, cold, wet and shivering, I could hear them announcing runners as they came in. The runners that were already out on the course got to finish. I would never get to hear my name called. I couldn’t help but think if my chain had not come off or I had been a little faster, I would have been out on the run course when the storm hit. Instead, I had my first DNF.

Fortunately, club member Heath had his big truck parked at the site so he could take some of the MWXers and our bikes back to the hotel. Otherwise, we would have to ride our bikes back to our vehicles that were parked at the mall. A visit to the Cheesecake Factory soothed my emotional wounds and Rosie talked about adversity making me stronger.

Rosie reminded me that there are things I can’t control (like the weather) and every time we race, anything can happen. Things don’t always go according to plan. I was looking forward to my “moment in time” but maybe it wasn’t meant to be—at least not that day. I would have other moments and maybe this experience would make me stronger, tougher and able to face whatever came my way. Dreams don’t die; they just get delayed!

Getting My Mojo Back

May is the time to return to open-water swimming. I always dread that first time in Palo lake—the way your feet go numb, that first hit of cold rushing through your wetsuit and how you lose your breath when your face meets the water.

My first time in open water this season was May 18. I didn’t think it was too bad. The water was cold, but I think Nick and the Masters swim club had conditioned me to swimming in cold water. I guess “brainwashed” might be more accurate.

You could tell I had spent the last six months swimming in a pool because I was all over the place. I wasn’t used to sighting and there were no lines to guide me. In the murky water I kept slamming my head into the buoys and feeling disoriented. I would also have to readjust to swimming in a wetsuit.

This would be my first year of actually swimming (using semi-proper technique) so it was like starting over. I would find myself wanting to swim with my head out of the water, like I did in the old days. “You’re not that person any more. You are a swimmer,” I told myself.

It had been a tough pre-season. I had a hard time getting back into the training mode. I had a week off work during May so I thought that would be when something would click inside me and my training would take off. The weather, however, was cold and rainy and I got sick. The slightest activity left me feeling weak and lightheaded, so training was out. I ended up not doing much of anything for six days. I began to wonder if the triathlon gods were testing me.

The truth was, sickness or not, I did not have the desire. All the other things going on in my life had stripped me of my motivation. I felt tired and stressed, and I didn’t care much about anything. Triathlon training was just another thing I had to get done.

Club member LG (Laura Greif, in case you don’t know) reminded me that I should not view training as another obligation but as an escape from the pressures. I had allowed myself to fall into a dark hole, but running, biking and swimming could be my salvation.

The next day I went on a run and I could feel a change in me. I was running with purpose, and I felt a focus I hadn’t felt in months. My mojo was coming back.

As I enter the final weeks until Pigman I know I have to let go of the things I can’t control and grab on to the things I can—like my training. Triathlons bring us a challenge, a sense of accomplishment and the joy that comes with meeting our goals. We may not feel like that in other areas of our life, but in triathlons we have a chance to achieve something. We can’t give up or give in; we have to keep tri-ing!