Friday, July 28, 2017

The Finish I Never Found

With every triumph, I suppose there exists the inevitable tribulation. When I decided to add the Race the River Sprint triathlon into my schedule, my purpose revolved solely around supporting a local race. I didn't need to wake up at 0300 to drive to Coeur d'Alene, I didn't need to prepare for Ironman 70.3 Canada by racing a small sprint triathlon, I didn't even need the excitement that comes with crossing the finish line. Yet I realized, when lying flat on my back at the intersection of Front and 6th streets, how much I felt deprived of the opportunity to cross it.

I blame no one. Perhaps much of the blame belongs on me for taking the risk of racing even a small event the weekend before a race I've invested in so much more time and money. While I have not had the opportunity to confront the volunteer who communicated (or didn't) with the driver of the truck that entered my path as I flew down Front Street at what must have been at least 25mph on my brand new BMC Timemachine, I look back at each replay in my head and think neither of them must have seen me. Ironically, though, a bystander did. My bike was bright yellow, after all. Yet at the end of the day, none of these details matter.

Swerving to miss the truck that essentially stopped in the middle of the road, my back wheel fish-tailing with the distress of having to stop so suddenly when flying so mightily, successfully missing the volunteer but then riding up onto the sidewalk, I rode myself right into the brick building with what I later learned had a steel door. My right base bar took the impact with the door, snapping in half; my Giro Air Attack Shield helmet managed to preserve my head by cracking upon impact with the brick wall. Unfortunately, I continue to loathe the laws of physics that didn't spare me; the whiplash can't quite be ignored even six days after the incident left me flat on my back with a neck so sore I felt afraid to move anything.

Yet that's all I could think to do when a calm bystander rushed over to assess me, and the distraught exclamations from the volunteer serenaded me in the background. Completely baffled, I realized I'd remained conscious, could answer questions, and most importantly, move my fingers and toes. Though it might seem trivial, or ridiculous, to some, when the man presiding over me asked if he could pray for me, I felt an instant calm. At this point, his query allowed me to shift my focus on talking to my God, too. I figured if I let everyone else do their jobs to call the EMT and race support, then I could manage to focus on breathing.

Hearing the whirring of race wheels in the background disturbed me. I so confidently entered this race and had predicted crossing the finish line with what I had hoped would translate into a personal best. I regretted thinking I could take for granted the opportunity to race through a city and rely on others to keep the course safe. In hindsight, this interaction with a motorist that resulted in my crash was actually the third instance I had had to negotiate hairy traffic situations in this short race alone. That means, in less than 15 miles, I had had to pass two cars stopped at an intersection, without anyone to signal them as to an oncoming cyclist whose course required I turn left around them; I had to swerve wide to the right coming back from Higgins Point when a truck hauling a boat passed cyclists on his side of the road only to encroach significantly into my lane to make his pass; and finally, my luck ran out in a single second of impact when I swerved one last time only to hit a wall.

As much aerobic pain as can be experienced racing a sprint triathlon, I would have gladly embraced it over the way I felt lying on a hospital bed in the ER. Everything had stiffened immediately, and my muscles guarded so heavily against me moving my head that even the MRI that showed I had not fractured anything couldn't convince them to settle down. What made the three hours in the hospital worse was knowing how good the finish line food must have tasted when my doctor, nurses, nursing assistants, x-ray technician, MRI technician, and my transporters to said imaging couldn't even give me a goddamn sandwich. After the two hour mark, I thought perhaps a glass of water would at least allow me to fill my gurgling belly, but in case I had caused more damage to my brain that a helmet couldn't prevent, I was to wait until the radiologist confirmed my negative findings before I could devour a measily glass of water.

Bryan hauled my poor Timemachine back to Morgan, who met him at his shop on Argonne on his day off to take in the dilapidated beauty he had sent me home with just four days prior. I can't imagine the look on his face to see his work of art come back looking so miserably disfigured. I felt ashamed. I called Steve Sparks of Elements Massage in an effort to see about scheduling a massage the next day, hoping I could mitigate the tension that developed over the course of just three short hours. He graciously worked to get me into the Wandermere location with my regular therapist, Kyla, first thing the next morning.

So much healing has occurred as I sit here in Whistler, thinking about everyone who has worked to support me. I appreciate the reception I received almost immediately from Isaac Mann and Curt Dupois, the two race directors for RtR. I even had the opportunity to talk to the calm and prayerful bystander who stayed with me throughout the entire ordeal, ensuring my safety until race personnel could transport me back to transition to find Bryan. While I had no intentions of posting my ordeal on Facebook, it seems the inquiries of friends and family as to my wellbeing made it inevitable that I relay how incredibly fortunate I really do feel. I broke no bones, tore no ligaments, and though my melon may have rattled a bit, I don't think I'm any more weird or crazy than people described me before the incident.

My optimism to race this Sunday in Whistler only seemed unclear up until Wednesday. I have sought the help of many and made rest a priority as I embrace the chance to at least cross the liquid start line of Alta Lake. What remains unclear, however, is how (if at all) I'll manage to find the finish line. My level of experience racing the long course distance of triathlon seems to offer me no reassurance that I will finish this time. That startles me tremendously. All I know is what transpires will be, and what will be, I will accept.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Ironman Coeur d'Alene 70.3 Breakthrough

I struggle to convey the emotions that finishing the CDA 70.3 last weekend inspired. When I finally found the finish line at the bottom of Sherman Avenue, I reminded myself to turn to the spectators for inspiration. Pumping my arms, gesturing with my hands to suggest the sidelines sounded too quiet, and signing "thank you" with a smile on my face, I entered the finisher's chute to the announcer's voice.

His exclamation clear and loud, I heard I crossed the line as first amateur woman. Suddenly, it seemed the heavy feet I'd worked hard to carry swiftly over the pavement through Coeur d'Alene subtly left the carpet. While this moment did not quite fulfill the vision I have longed to act out (of me grabbing the tape and holding it overhead), it certainly stands out as a significant step in my quest to race to my utmost potential.

Looking back on my race performance, not much stands out in the swim worth wasting too much time explaining. I am thankful I have nothing to divulge in the way of haphazard kicks or goggles flooding with water. Because race volunteers directed us into the lake single file, plenty of time existed to orient ourselves without having to fight our way into position.

I exited the water and ran up toward transition, pleasantly surprised by the row of volunteers who had open arms in anticipation of grabbing hold of my wetsuit and stripping it from me. The long run to my bike positioned two racks from the exit did not discourage me, as it seemed I had mounted my bike and pedaled off toward the city center within seconds. I focused primarily on keUIKeyInputDownArroweping my cadence high and power slightly higher than at what I'm normally comfortable. It worked for the better part of the ride out to Higgins Point and back into town. I remember thinking after passing the last spectators on Northwest Boulevard before exiting onto Highway 95, here's where the real race begins. 

Thank you, James Richman, for your stellar photography!
It began, and then it went. I have very little to share, as it seems I'd shut my mind off and allowed only thoughts of pushing myself past my comfort level to maintain a new effort of riding. The concentration I needed to get up the Cougar Gulch climb gave way to guarded exhilaration on my way back down. Last year, I don't remember seeing signs to stay out of aero position, but I thought I'd heed the advice this year and pulled myself out onto my bullhorns. Mentally preparing to hop off and transition into my running shoes, I think now about how fortunate the circumstances to have Ken Collins to jog back and forth with as we crossed the last bridge and rode ourselves back into town. Staying in the moment seems to be the greatest lesson I'm learning this year.

I set out on the run at what felt like a comfortably uncomfortable clip, consciously aware of my left quadricep that seemed angry by the sudden change in movement. I noticed a nice gentleman who had settled in behind me. It seemed easier to run when I engaged with him, and I responded well to his encouragement to hold my pace. He insisted he would follow me, and the sounds of our footfalls did more to keep me on pace than my watch ever did. Like in all races this past year, I never looked at it for my run splits.

Photos by James Richman.
Within the first four miles, I caught up with the two lead ladies in my age group. Despite overtaking them, it did not occur to me at the time that I'd propelled myself into first place in my age division. I knew not my placing overall, so perhaps my legs kept churning knowing I had a loftier goal of finding the overall amateur position. My body must have worked on autopilot because I missed the arrow that directed me to the second loop of the run. An alarm seemed to go off, however, because I instantly knew something didn't feel right, and thankfully, I corrected my mistake quickly to get back on course. This second loop hurt more than the first, but despite losing my shadow of a running partner, I managed to continue with mildly blistered feet toward that home stretch on Sherman Avenue.

Morgan of Mojo Cyclery aiding me the day before the race by
Making a few adjustments and applying some "magic" to my chain. 
While I feel this race served as a significant breakthrough, of sorts, I still feel incredibly vulnerable and amateur. You wouldn't believe me when I tell you that up until two weeks ago, I still smeared Vaseline in my shorts to prevent saddle sores. I learned the subject of Vaseline comes up as early as in the course Triathlon 101: Don't ever use it. Also, the past month has had me reeling with significant anxiety over not feeling comfortable on my bike. More specifically, I'm pedaling very sloppily. Changing my cleats, getting new shoes, and greasing my pedals have all helped a little, but I propose I'm the biggest problem. These next few weeks leading up to IM Canada 70.3 will definitely have me relearning how to ride my bike.

In this stage of my training and racing, I am learning to acknowledge and appreciate the amount of support required to keep pursuing my goals at this level. In fact, after this weekend, all I really care to do is thank everyone and express gratitude for the opportunity to race and push myself on a day when sponsors, friends, coworkers, and family cheered from the sidelines, from home, and via the internet. I know not where this journey will take me; I know not what my circumstances will look like two or five years from now. Part of me feels irresponsible putting this much time, money, and effort into something I once considered an extracurricular endeavor. So, I continue to seek the advice of other more experienced athletes and friends in an effort to mitigate the anxiety I often feel with trying to balance this pursuit with my time and finances. I trust there exists a definite purpose in my efforts.

Thank you, all, for making last Sunday such a memorable day.