The Most Special Day
This year’s Umeke, representing last Saturday’s race, which was unlike any I’d done before, will serve as a reminder of what this particular event afforded me the opportunity to experience.
Digging deeper than I had before and proving to myself that I could, even when, in the moment, I didn’t actually believe it!
Typically, if I’m preparing to race a triathlon, I’m dividing my training between swiming, biking, running as well as stretching, strengh and rest as well as some massage.
Going into a race with next to zero run training was quite a different way of going about things, shall we say?
The forced recovery phase due to injury that I didn’t plan for a few months back, while being a very hard pill to swallow, was clearly something my body didn’t just need, but craved.
My mind, of course, took just a tad longer to catch on to the plan.
I was in the immobilizing boot a good week before it even occurred to me to slow down and take it easy.
By the time the first of April rolled around. I’d accepted that I couldn’t just walk all over the place, that it wasn’t the smartest thing to do to spin on my bike on the trainer without the boot on and that even pushing off the wall during swim would not be an option.
I’d fallen in love with deep water running and I was uber cautious about preventing any injruies which might be caused by asymmetries (from the boot) and I was including acupuncture, physical therapy and even more mediation into my regular routine.
When it came time to see my doctor for my follow up appointment and he said I was ready to get out of the boot, I was a bit shaky.
No different from when I was getting back in the game six years ago after a torn hamstring rehab, with one exception- this time I was scared to walk.
Never in my life have I ever felt that way.
Sure, with a torn hamstring, it’s annoying to not be able to run, but I could still cycle and hiking or walking was a non issue.
But I found myself so desperately afraid of reinjuring myself that I was moving so gingerly, I looked like a cat burglar, as one of my friends said.
So how would this bode for the next race I had on the books, the 70.3 I love best, where I typically am able to perform so well?
With barely over a month to prepare, I tread so lightly on the run that my total run volume was less than 20 miles before the race.
Fortunately, the forced rest led to my cycling threshold power increasing, my 1k swim time trial to improve by over 40 seconds and overall, my body was feeling strong and rejuvenated.
With the help of a great doctor and an intuive chiropractor, I felt suppored and encouraged enough to be confident that I could go in to the race, have a strong swim, and even stronger bike and then when it came to the run, it would hopefully just come.
Once we landed in Kona, the moment we stepped off the plane, like always, I was overcome with the beautiful feeling of being part of something greater; a reminder that we’re all connected to something, a powerful force beyond trying to explain in words.
Walking around normally was pretty much back to 100%, despite the occasional odd sensation here and there but overall, nothing to be concerned about.
I checked in, I rested, I visualized and I prepared for the race as I would on any given year in the past.
The conditions were pristine. Not too hot, not too windy and I was pleased with my swim, T1, bike and T2.
My hubbie, who’d done the Belgian Waffle Ride just two weeks before, took a turn as sherpa, and was able to shout out my splits and position… always a blessing!
I worked my tail off on each of the first two disciplines, sighting every 3 strokes as my swim coach teaches us and stayed low in my bars for duration of the ride.
Then it was time for the run.
I zipped through T2 and hit go on my Garmin.
On this course, it always feels as though I should be running at a faster clip than what my RPE is, so I knew to expect that.
I was fairly sure I was in third position as one of the women in my age group had taken off so quickly in the swim and I’d never seen her again, and the other, who is a professional triathlete, had passed me early in the bike, having started behind me in her age group, as this race no longer has a pro field.
So when my husband, around mile 2 of the run, shouted out that I was in 2nd position and only 1:30 behind 1st, I was a bit surprised but happy. After all, I”d come close to winning overall at this course before, but hadn’t been able to.
I began to think and plot.
I could see the first place position ahead and I looked out for any signs or clues that would help me make my strategy.
I began to close the gap just a touch…and wait! Did I see her start to walk? Oh, never mind! It was only a few steps.
I’d never met her before but had seen her at many a race and knew how strong of an athlete she was.
Did I dare try to pass?
It was barely past mile two on the run.
If I surged then, would it be too soon?
I checked my run pace.
7:42 average… but then I seemed to be narrowing in, so perhaps her pace wasn’t that much faster.
I decided right then I had to go for it.
It was going to hurt and without the normal run volume in my body I wasn’t sure what to expect apart from one thing: if I didn’t try, that would hurt far more and for much longer than if I gave up right then and there.
So I went for it.
Not that I surged, really, as my pace barely increased but there she was- right ahead! As I passed, she shouted, ‘go girl’ and gave me a smile and thumbs up.
I thanked her and shouted back.
No one was moving too fast here, so all I had to do was keep to my normal race strategy, one moment at time, mantras, laser sharp focus on the here and now and no room for any irrelevant thoughts to take up any bandwith in my mind.
One mile at a time.
Cups and cups of water at each aid station and an increased rate of taking salt.
Ice, sponges, more water. Keep going.
I never looked back. I never do. But I knew she was right there because of the cheering that would occur in her so well deserved honor.
The miles ticked away. I held fast to what I was doing. I couldn’t wait for the look of joy I’d see on Chris’ face when he saw me pass in the lead!
Wow. I could really win this time!
But then…. I started feeling a little bit off. Not too badly but not right. There were less than 4 miles to go and I began to feel cold, shivery and almost slightly confused.
No, no, no.
This wasn’t happening.
I began to slow and despite more water, more salt and the strategic gel, things were not feeling good.
My heart began to race and my breathing began to falter.
I could not will my legs to move any faster.
I couldn’t swallow water. I’d try, but it made me heave.
People were asking if I was having an asthma attack (I don’t have asthma) and did I need any help?
No, I tried to say, but nothing came out.
To say my breathing was labored was an understatement; I think I sounded like barking seal at best.
And there she was. Passing by, but with such grace and words of encouragement. I tried one last time… but no.
Then the darkness really began to tempt me.
Would this actually turn from the race I thought I’d win to a race I wouldn’t finish?
Would this really be my first DNF?
No, no, it couldn’t be.
The self talk I have in my mind during races went from being internal to being aloud.
In any other setting, I likely would have appeared as someone who needed to be insitutionalized. but there I was, willing myself to go on.
Every second the tempation was there to fall, to lie down on the ground and stop. But I couldn’t. I wouldn’t.
Somehow I found myself at mile 11.5 and had to kneel over to breathe, if only for a moment. A woman passed me. And another.
Then a friendly guy began to chat and told me we were going to walk for a few minutes. Like a child being told what to do by their teacher, I listened. I walked. I was on the verge of tears but I didn’t even have the energy. He said I was so white he was concerned I’d faint so I listened. We gave it a few moments and when my breathing was a bit less labored, I asked if we could jog. We picked it up for a moment and had to stop again.
With less than one mile to go!
Finally, there was Chris. With a huge smile on his face, shouting how proud he was.
But why? I felt I’d failed!
There was the finish line.
I came across and heard my name…. first in age group. How? In years past, I’d expected it, but after all of this?
And there, at the finish line was Bree, who gave me a huge hug and kind words of encouragement, even wrapping the traditional Hawaiian Lei which she earned as her victory around me as we posed for a picture.
I was so overcome with feelings, so many different emotions and I surpised myself by not feeling like I’d failed.
I knew I’d given every last ounce of myself out there and I had nothing to regret.
I saw Chris and sunk into his arms before opting to lie on the ground….in absolute bliss.
Massage, shower, more lying around and then it was time to get my Umeki at the awards ceremony.
I believed in something before I could see it and that is the moral of this long story. And the best part is that this is something we can apply to our life, in all areas, not just sport.
Madame Pele granted me safe passage through her beautiful island and for that, I am always so grateful.
This race was so special and meant more perhaps that even some of the World Championships I’ve had the honor of competing in.
It reminded me of strength of will, focus and belief.
Interestingly, I never thought about my feet the whole time.