Friday, October 30, 2009

Randomness - Stuff I'm noticing

When you have all of this extra time on your hands you have more time to notice things and ponder meaningless stuff. My mind surely wanders when I'm swimming, biking and running too, but right now I've got a lot of different stuff to look at. Please forgive the fact that most of these observations are food related:

-At Burger King, they actually have on the soda fountains suggested soda pairings for your meal. For example: a bacon cheeseburger goes best with Dr. Pepper. And in case you were wondering, the garden salad is best served with Diet Coke. In related news, BK onion rings are terrible.

-I watched this CBS Sunday morning news show that was mostly focused that day on obesity issues. But just for good measure, they finished off the show with a trip to the Texas state fair. They fry EVERYTHING. Seriously. I mean, you've probably heard of fried Twinkies, fried Snickers, and fried Oreos. But have you heard of fried cookie dough? Chicken fried bacon? Fried lattes and fried Coke? How does that even work? The ultimate though was fried butter. Not kidding. The fried butter stand had a line a mile long. Honestly, that doesn't even sound good. I'm surprised most of the people don't have heart attacks after just 1 bite.

-Shopping baskets are way lighter when filled with processed crap instead of produce and chicken and such. Also cheaper.

-Why does it only take 1 or 2 nights of going to bed really late before you get used to it and can't fall asleep at the normal time the next night? Yet, after 2 days of trying to get yourself back on track with getting up very early, it's still incredibly hard to do on the 3rd morning and beyond. Hopefully the clock change will help me out on this.

-This isn't a general observation, but a very funny thing that happened to me the other day. I was in North Conway shopping at the outlets with my good friend Heather and her family, including husband John, 2-and-a-half-year old son, Noah, and 3-month old daughter, Kylene. It is important to note who I was with so it makes sense that I was inside the store Children's Place. We were sifting through the racks, trying to find a teeny, tiny Christmas outfit for Kylene when a woman came up behind me and asked me something in a thick accent. You know how sometimes you don't quite understand what someone says right away but 5 seconds later it sinks in? Well, for a second I thought maybe she had mistaken me for someone who worked there. Nope. Actually, she was holding up this vest that she wanted me to try on because apparently I was the same size as her daughter. This situation might not be so strange had I not been inside The Children's Place! For anyone who doesn't know me, I am 6' tall. Of all places for someone to want me to try something on, a kid's clothing store? I couldn't shop there when I was a kid. I hit 5'9 at age 12 and I'm pretty sure I've been 6' tall since I was 14. Fortunately, I'm actually a lot lighter now. Anyway, amidst my disbelief I smiled and put on the vest and zipped it up. It fit. The woman seemed satisfied and I'm pretty sure she bought it for her daughter. I mean, I'm somebody's daughter - 2 people, actually - and like I said, I've been a giant since I was quite young. But even though the store might've been age appropriate for me at the time, I doubt my mother shopped at the Children's Place for me by the time I got this big. In fact, I am pretty sure that like any adolescent in the early 90's, 99% of my wardrobe was from The Gap and American Eagle.

-I enjoy the Halloween special, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! but I don't understand why they always try and pretend it's an hour-long special by after Linus's discovery that The Great Pumpkin isn't coming, they start some other, random Charlie Brown special that nobody has ever seen or heard of. The voices are different and it may or may not have anything to do with Halloween. Cut it out. We all know that the real special is only 30 minutes. Just because Dancing With the Stars! isn't on tonight and you have no other programming doesn't mean we're going to fall for this sub-par Charlie Brown. Oh, and why do they never show the Garfield Halloween special anymore? I love that one.

-If you are ever feeling a little down, do a google image search for puppies. Awwww.....

-You know what else can brighten your day? A $2.99 Pearl Izumi bike jacket find at the outlet store. It might not be the color you would choose, but come on, $2.99!

-There is a big difference between ice cream that is worth it, and ice cream that is not.

-My social life, which is pretty sparse to begin with, almost completely disappears without training.

-I still don't miss swimming.

-Of all things, I actually miss weight training.

-NBC Thursday night TV is awesome.

-Drawer and closet space is a lot tighter when you swap the summer clothes for the winter ones.

-I own far too many sweaters, but still find myself looking for new ones. Even here, when it is cold for almost half the year, I don't think there is enough winter for me to wear all of them.

-Eating crap makes you feel like crap. Sucks how that works.

-I'm looking forward to my first long bike ride after my time off, just hope it doesn't snow by then.

-I am going to need a LOT of DVD's to get me through this winter of trainer rides.

-IM Utah is 6 months from tomorrow, and that is a scary thought.

-I think I like the idea of eating whatever I want a lot more than actually doing it.

-I'm looking forward to the holidays and a bit of chilly weather and some skiing, but I am dreading everything after January when I'm sick of winter and can't stand being inside anymore.

-Whenever I am around little kids and they do certain things, I often wonder how the world would be different if people never grew out of stuff. Like what if we all still cried and pouted when we didn't get what we wanted, no matter how small and simple it is? What if whenever someone offered us a bike of some food we didn't want, we said no with such force that you'd think our lives were at stake? What if we all walked in one direction while looking back the other way?

-Similarly, have you ever noticed how disinterested kids are generally with food? They really do only want to eat when they are hungry. Now there's something I wish we never grew out of.

-I miss when USA and TNT used to show movies instead of just constantly running episodes of Law and Order and NCIS. I think it is because of this that Overboard actually hasn't been on TV once in the past few weeks. Usually you can't go a weekend without it.

-Saturday Night Live, with the exception of last year's Sarah Palin stuff, has been terrible for years, but I still have to watch it every week - recorded, of course. Seth Meyers grew up in my hometown and his mom is still the junior high French teacher.

-I have been watching The Simpsons for so long that I actually remember talking about certain episodes in school with friends in 7th grade. Back then it was up against The Cosby Show. You know, once it jumped the shark and they had to add Olivia because the other Huxtable kids got too old.

-I need to start training again so I have less time on my hands to contemplate these mostly meaningless things.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Resting - the hardest part of the training cycle

There are Saturday mornings when I am out on my bike and I can smell breakfast cooking in people's houses. I don't even like bacon, but the aroma of it as it cooks often makes me wish I could pull into the random stranger's driveway and ask if I can join them. My breakfast most likely would've been scarfed down in the pre-dawn light, not so much for the taste of it but just for its nutrient contents. Those are the mornings when sometimes I think it might be nice not to train every morning and to just spend some time as one of the regular people who just sleep in on Saturdays and eat breakfast in their pajamas. Well, ever since October 10th, I have been resting. I have been one of the regular people.

I spent most of the first week of it in Hawaii so I got to experience the vacation like most people might. Wake up, eat breakfast, proceed to the pool or the beach. Take a break only for further meals. So that first week definitely wasn't so hard to deal with. Now I'm home. I guess I could go to the beach, but I'd have to wear a lot more clothes. I'm bored out of my mind. I have been working on writing coaching plans and I find myself jealous of the training I'm writing. It seems so strange to basically be getting out of shape on purpose. Eating whatever I want also hasn't been nearly as much fun as I thought it would be. I mean, you want to eat the stuff when you're burning 4000 calories a day and always hungry. I am currently burning less calories than your typical librarian and that doesn't really leave me ravenous. Also, most of this stuff isn't nearly as good as I remember. The exceptions being cereal and double stuft Oreos, which might actually be better than I remember.

Next season seems both painfully far away and incredibly close. I am in the middle of week 3 of no training at all, to be followed up by 2 laughably light weeks before the real training begins again. I want it to start again, but I'm also afraid of how it's going to feel. On Monday I have my follow-up x-ray to make sure that my stress fracture has healed. At that point it will have been 7 weeks since I last ran, not counting that brief jaunt down the driveway that painfully prompted the second x-ray that confirmed the injury. Since I started running nearly 9 years ago I have never stopped for this long. Last year I made it to 5 weeks with my sacroilliac injury, and that seemed like an eternity. I remember how hard it was to start again, I remember still running for another 3 weeks after that before the pain finally went away, and the speed still hasn't returned. Adding a few more weeks to that doesn't really seem like it would help matters any. But there's not a lot I can do about that right now.

However, aside from the pain of getting back into shape at the beginning, I am also looking forward to next season quite possibly more than I have ever looked forward to any season. Assuming the stress fracture causes me no further issues and I can avoid any new ones, things are all moving in the right direction. Without having to waste so much mental energy on dropping a ridiculous amount of weight, I can actually focus more on the training itself, so maybe more improvements can be made. I get another shot at the Ironman sooner than I otherwise might have since I will be doing Ironman Utah on May 1st. I get to go back to California 70.3 in March, which is also one of my favorite races. I get to actually target and race Timberman again, which is undoubtedly my favorite race anywhere. I get to start coaching athletes through QT2.

I recently read something that said, "If money was no object and you could do anything you wanted, what would it be?" I think I'd actually be doing exactly what I'm doing right now. I just might do it in nicer clothes and maybe a car that was a bit less than 8 years old. In spite of the setbacks, things are moving in exactly the direction I want them to. That's a good feeling. It'd be even better if I got to train at least a little!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kona 2009 Race Report: My First DNF

I guess it had to happen sometime. You never want to be one of those people listed way down at the bottom of the results, beyond the last finishers, with no time listed because you didn't make it. But I suppose it comes with the territory if you are going to go out and race these kinds of things all the time. I will say that way back when I initially hurt my foot - 4 weeks before race day and before I even knew exactly what was wrong with it - as I walked the 4 miles back home I said over and over again in my head that I was going to finish that stupid race anyway, even if I had to walk.

Well, somewhere along the line rational thought had to step in. The closer the race got, the less likely it seemed that I'd be crossing that finish line on Alii Drive. It didn't make the decision any easier.

I had slept pretty well the night before the race. We all ate our last little bit of pasta and I think I went to bed at about 7:30 and it didn't take long until I was asleep. I woke up at probably 2:30 and had to lie awake until my alarm told me it was time for my 3:30am giant bowl of applesauce. I can't say that I'm going to miss shoveling down that stuff. We sat around the kitchen table and got it down the best we could. The banana I ate afterward felt like it was still sitting in my throat, and the protein powder and sport drink didn't go down very well either. After months of dreaming about eating, I was sick of it already. In all fairness though, I never fantasized about eating entire jars of applesauce.

I went back to bed to kill some time, lie down and hopefully digest. The only good thing about the applesauce is that although it makes me feel horrible right away, it doesn't take long before it settles in and I feel fine again. In the past on race morning I might call my sister or someone else at home since 4am is 10am there, but I didn't feel much like talking to anyone. I didn't want to hear the futile encouragement and offers of good luck. No amount of luck was going to mend a broken foot.

At some point after multiple trips to the bathroom I finally got dressed and ready to go. We met at the car at 4:45, and after one last trip inside for my almost-forgotten fluid bottles to start the day, we were off to the pier. Courtney, the amazing race sherpa, dropped me, Michelle, Pat and Pam off as close to the pier as we could get and we walked over to body marking. I got my 1667 stamped onto my arm and went over to check on the bike. Having dropped off the bags and stuff the day before, there is not a lot to be done on race morning aside from making sure there is air in the tires, putting bottles on the bike and making sure it's in a good gear for starting out. Oh, and of course waiting in line for the porta-potties.

The sun was slowly starting to shed light on things and I spent much of the rest of the morning wandering between porta-potty lines and hanging out with Michelle and Hannah. Finally Hannah told us that her legs were all cramped up and had been all morning. She called Jesse and tried to figure out what it was. I just hoped she'd feel better. Eventually we went to drop off our dry clothes bags and don our speedsuits, Michelle and I in our brand new - more importantly, free - TYR Sayonara speedsuits. It was super comfy and hopefully equally as fast. We were sunblocked and ready to head into the water. On the way to the stairs I utilized the vaseline being offered by one of the volunteers and liberally smeared it on any part of my body that met a seam of the suit. Fortunately this precaution at least kept me from starting off my race with terrible chafing.

The Navy Seals had parachuted down, the National Anthem had been sung and the pros were off without warning. Oh crap. We're next. I made my way down into the water and tried to find a good spot to start. Jesse, my coach, had told me that if nothing else on the day, given my current circumstances, he wanted me to have a really good swim. For some reason my pool times don't seem to translate into adequate race swim splits. And due to some open water time trials, it wasn't just because I was good at doing flip turns and pushing off the wall. So given I had nothing to lose, he really wanted me to go after it in the swim. I started right in the middle, about 6 rows back from the front. As we were treading water, I noticed that I actually had a lot of space where I was. That is, until the surfboards went to the front of the line and started pushing everyone back. Then I was surrounded again. Either way, it is still a ton more room than there is at the swim start in Lake Placid. You often hear how brutal the swim start is in Kona, but I had never found that to be the case compared to LP. But I'd soon find out.

I heard Mike Reilly say over the loudspeaker, "Who's going to be an Ironman today?" It was then that I sort of knew already. Crap, not me. What am I doing here right now?

There was no warning, the cannon just fired and it was time to swim. I was supposed to start off hard so as not to get caught up behind slower people and find myself stuck. So that's what I tried to do. My immediate thought for the first couple of minutes of the swim was that I had apparently picked the best spot ever to start, because I was actually swimming instead of being punched and kicked. It didn't feel crowded, I didn't think I was going to drown. I didn't understand how I'd gotten so lucky.

Just before I had any serious delusions about having a great swim split, we approached the first buoy. It should be noted that this is not a turn buoy, but rather just there to mark the course on our 1-mile+ journey to the turn buoy. Apparently nobody told anyone else that. It seemed that the entire field of 1700-ish amateur athletes were under the impression that you were required to actually tag each buoy before moving on to the next one. I was on the inside line headed right toward it without really having any say in the matter. Every single athlete seemed to converge within a 3-foot span of that stupid orange buoy and I found myself feeling the second-closest I have ever felt to possibly drowning. (the first was the swim start at IMLP 2008) I have never been so blatantly climbed over and shoved aside. I did manage to avoid any direct punches, but the constant contact and complete lack of actual swimming that ensued for the next 15 minutes or so completely destroyed my mental state.

I think my problem with race swimming is that I just don't swim aggressively. It truly requires fighting to maintain position. What I found myself doing instead, was that when people converged in front of me, rather than trying to fight to get ahead and stay ahead, I slow down and let them go. Then I do it again. And again. Eventually, I'm stuck behind people who really shouldn't be in front of me but I don't have a way to get around.

Each buoy was the same, athletes converge, beat the crap out of each other, and then spread out again. I guess at least I knew I was following the course. It seemed a bit rough out there as far as the waves were concerned, but in all honesty I had sort of mentally checked out already at that point. Every other year there was a big boat at the end of the course to signify that it was time to turn and swim back to shore. We had been forewarned that there was no boat this year, but I figured there would be some sort of other indication once we got out there that it was time to turn. I heard him mention a big Ford buoy, but basically, all that happened after what felt like already at least an hour of swimming, I saw people in front of me turning right after an orange buoy, so I followed them.

I chose not to look at my watch at that point because I didn't want to know how long it had already taken me to get out there. What's it like to be a good swimmer? I'd really like to know. It was only on the way back that things seemed to spread out and I was able to actually swim. I found some feet here and there and felt like my suit wasn't as snug as it should've been. The return actually seemed to take less time than the way out which is unusual for Hawaii, but finally the pier was in sight and I swam towards the steps. I stood carefully and walked up in such a way as not to hurt my fractured foot. At the same instant I noticed the disappointing 1:14 on the clock I reached back to find that my TYR suit was completely unzipped. I suspect that someone unzipped it right at that first buoy when I thought I was going to die. That certainly didn't help.

The good thing about knowing you aren't going for the race of your life is being able to take your sweet time in transitions. I stood under the fresh water hoses and got a good drink before grabbing my bag and walking to the tent. Yep, I said walking. Running was a definite no-no. Shoes on, nutrition in the pockets, helmet and glasses on, off to walk to my bike. I tell you, it sucks not being able to run through transition. Especially when transition is so long!

I hopped on my bike and headed off for the annoying stretch on Kuakini before the real race begins. The only good part about this stretch is that there are tons of spectators, but mostly it is just annoying and crowded. It also already felt hot. I started drinking right away in an effort to stay ahead on hydration. I'd been told to drink 11 bottles at the very least, so I had a lot of drinking to do. I saw Jesse who told me I was "in a good spot" but then again, I think he said that exact same thing to everyone. I think I passed Pam first, then I saw Chris Casey riding back in the other direction. I kept looking for Hannah who I never saw but just assumed I'd missed her.

I finally hit the turn around to head back towards town. The climb up Palani was lined with spectators like the Tour. I heard Courtney one more time and turned left on the Queen K to see what the day would bring. I passed Michelle soon after who told me that she had lost her Garmin. About 10 seconds after I passed her I thought maybe I should've given her my stopwatch so she at least had something to go by later on. But now it was just time to ride.

Going into the race there were a lot of lofty expectations for the bike. I had nothing to lose, so I could blow my legs completely on the pedals and not have to worry about running after because I couldn't anyway. The problem with this is that there is also nothing to be gained. There was no incentive. It really made absolutely no difference. Words kept echoing in my head about how you can only dig deep so many times, and why waste on of those times today? Basically, it just sucked. I had flashbacks to 2007 when I was racing there and I wanted to want to do well, but mentally I just wasn't there. It felt the same. I came close to crying quite a few times on that ride and just wanted it to be over. I also felt guilty because I knew how many people would want to be in my position and there I was, wasting this opportunity once again. But I was helpless to do anything about it. Again, my foot wasn't going to get any better that day. I had thought I was going to get off my bike and defiantly walk the last 26.2 miles, but one word just kept popping up into my head: Why?

Seriously, what was I trying to prove? And to whom? Don't get me wrong, I wanted a new t-shirt, hat and medal, but was it worth the risk? Theoretically walking wouldn't hurt my foot further, but who knew what else could happen. It took me less than 15 miles of the ride to conclude that there would be no finish line for me that day, and it made the rest of my ride only that much more miserable. You can't show up in Kona anything less than 100% mentally ready to race. Every once in a while I was able to push it, but mostly I was just going through the motions. I did notice that up until we got out to the turn to head to Hawi, it wasn't particularly windy and maybe we'd be spared. I was also somewhat irritated that I'd be wasting favorable conditions on a day where I was about 15% of my usual self.

Well, that didn't last long, because the wind kicked up as usual the closer I got to Hawi. I saw the pros coming back the other direction as I got closer to the turn, Chris Lieto not surprisingly leading the men's race, Chrissie Wellington leading the women by a typically insane margin. Up ahead of me I saw the bikes tilted sideways to indicate that I had reached the crosswinds. Those mercifully didn't last very long, but were cruelly replaced by a relentless headwind that I knew would be with us until I got to turn around. As far as Hawaii winds go though, I didn't consider this to be out of the ordinary, or even that bad. Just kind of annoying.

I wasn't pushing it, I just wanted to turn and ride back. When I finally hit the turn in Hawi I decided to try and gain as much speed as I could on the combined descent and tailwind. This resulted in spending several miles cruising along effortlessly at about 36mph. That at least made me feel a bit better. Then again, I realized that I had been riding for almost 3 hours and I hadn't peed yet. This is not such a good thing. I was on pace for my 11 bottles, but it obviously wasn't going to be enough. The crosswinds were fleeting once again, and I found myself finally turning back on the Queen K to head back towards Kona. You forget how long this stretch really is. It's even longer when it is accompanied by a direct headwind that wasn't there to help you on the way out.

That last stretch was just miserable. I had mentally checked out at about mile 15. The further I went, the more I thought about not even bothering to finish the ride, but I figured I'd probably get back to transition faster just riding there rather than waiting for a support van to pick me up. My average speed was plummeting at an incredible rate and I swear I thought I'd never actually see the sign for mile 100. Somewhere around there a woman rode past me and said in frustration, "this stretch is never-ending!" She sure was right about that. Normally I tend to get a bit defensive when other women pass me because it doesn't happen very often. I was beyond caring at that point.

The airport finally came into view and I knew at least soon my miserable day would be over. I felt like I didn't belong out there at all. I didn't deserve it. That is why I would stop. I turned by Sports Authority and rode that last stretch, took my shoes off and finally got to get off my bike. Shorts caked in salt, still no sign of having to pee 11 bottles later. The walk through transition was brutal. Without being able to run the ground was burning my feet to the point that I had blisters by the time I made my way around the pier. I got my "run" gear bag if for no other reason than I needed to put some shoes on my feet and felt like eating the banana that was in there might make me feel a bit better.

I guess maybe there was some tiny piece of me that thought that maybe I'd still go out and give walking a try when I went into that tent. It was pretty empty in there and a volunteer came up to me and asked me what I needed. I said the hardest thing I've had to say in a race: "I think I need to stop." The volunteers don't really encourage anyone to stop unless it seems medically necessary, and at the time I was coherent and could at least walk in a straight line. I didn't quite want to end it without thinking about it a little, so they got me some water and a cold towel. Without really meaning to I wiped the race numbers off my arm in one swipe; maybe a sign of things to come. Another volunteer came up to me and I told her how I had a stress fracture and I didn't think I should continue. She told me I had all day and I could take my time. She also told me that apparently Lolly Rogers had a stress fracture last year or the year before and she went out and walked the marathon. Well, I'm not Lolly Rogers. For starters, she's more than twice my age.

They told me that if I wanted I could go to medical and talk to them and they could let me decide what I should do, so I decided to do that. It was very strange to be walking around aimlessly like that with the race going on around me. I talked to several of the doctors in there, who weren't very busy because it was too early in the race for many people to need medical attention, and they said that ultimately it was up to me to decide. Yes, there was a possibility that I could hurt it further, even though it was unlikely. When it came down to it, I couldn't think of anything I really had to gain by walking aside from just avoiding seeing a big fat DNF next to my name in the results. I decided right then that I would never start a race again that I didn't intend to finish. It's just not worth it. I finally told them that I didn't think it was worth it and I wanted to stop. They released me from medical and I handed them my timing chip. Then I was left alone to go pick up my dry clothes bag without my finisher's stuff. No longer an athlete, just another person there to watch the race.

I called Jesse who was down the road spectating, and very happy that I had made what he considered the smart decision. Smart or not, it still hurt to come to the conclusion that I am not invincible. I hate being injured and it has happened far too often in the past 18 months. Before I headed down to the mile 1 mark I ran into Mark Allen as I walked through the King Kamehameha Hotel. For anyone who doesn't know, I used to race for his team before I switched the QT2 so I could have a coach I'd actually see on a regular basis. I had seen Mark earlier in the week and he knew the decision I had to face and knew how tough it would be. If nothing else, at least I got a consolation hug from Mark Allen out of the deal.

It felt weird walking down the street with my athlete bracelet and bag, knowing everyone would know that I probably didn't finish. I was right by the finish line just as Craig Alexander came in on his repeat win. He was still behind Lieto when I saw him out on the Queen K heading to the energy lab when I was finishing the bike. I received a text message from Hannah saying that they were in front of Lava Java and she had to drop out after the swim. I guess she had retained a ton of water and was so swollen and cramped that she couldn't even kick during the swim, and definitely couldn't ride a bike. At least I knew going in that I wasn't going to have a good race. I know she'll be back with a vengeance when she takes on Arizona in a few weeks as her make-up race. I also got another hug from her mom when I passed her walking down the street. Nice to have a surrogate mom out there since my parents only coincidentally decided long before I got injured that they were going to miss this year, the first Ironman I've done where my mom wasn't there and only the second one my dad has missed. Good choice though, obviously.

Anyway, finally I found Jesse, Hannah, Courtney, Noah and Mikaela and we sat and watched the lead men come through and waited for Michelle to come back to mile 9. I was glad that she was having a really good day and she still looked really strong even though she was still upset about running without the aid of her Garmin. We moved off at that point to watch for Cait to come through as well as Chrissie, who of course blew everyone away as expected. Honestly, I thought maybe this time a few of the other women might step it up and give her more of a challenge, but she remains infallible.

In a way, it wasn't that upsetting not to have been out there running a marathon. That was my 4th time racing there and I'm going to have to say that it was probably the hottest it has ever been. I know, it's always hot. But this time it just seemed exceptionally hot. Cait came in 14th, not too shabby amongst the best in the world. Also including an uncharactaristically "off" marathon for her. I'd take a 3:14 on an off day anytime! I stayed with Hannah and Noah to wait for Michelle and suddenly realized that I was really, really hungry. I hit up the conveniently located ABC store (essentially Hawaii's version of 7-11) and bought myself my standard snack from my adolescense: Doritos and Pepsi. I hadn't really earned it, but I was going to eat it anyway. I held it up to Hannah and told her that it was precisely why I was a fat teenager. At that moment I was a dehydrated and slightly depressed adult athlete, so I ate it all anyway.

We counted down the minutes as the 11-hour mark approached, and we really wanted Michelle to break 11. It had no real significance, especially considering the fact that her goal time had been way faster, but it's still nice to finish in 10-something instead of 11-something, even if the time might be only a few seconds difference. We had seen Pat come through on his first Kona finish, I think he wasn't thrilled with his time, but given the conditions and it being his first time there, I'd say he did great. Also, he's 24, plenty of time. Michelle came into view very close to 11 hours and we cheered her on and told her to sprint to break 11. We didn't see her cross the line, but she missed it by 8 seconds. Either way, not too bad and she still looked great.

We decided at that point to head over to the finish area to see everyone, and for Hannah and I to grab our bags. We decided it would be best to do this together so we could wallow in DNF pity. It was the second year in a row that I had to see that finish line I wouldn't get to cross, and knowing that it would be at least 3 years now between Kona finishes for me... maybe more if more misfortune comes my way in 2010. We can only wait and see.

We got our stuff after congratulating our teammates who had finished - Chris had an awesome race in spite of wondering if he'd even be able to run due to some leg and lower back issues but still pulling it out. Michelle and Pat were just thrilled that it was over and Cait I think was still enjoying being horizontal in the medical tent. Hannah and I got our stuff and walked back towards the Royal Kona to meet up with everyone. We both got several, "Congratulations" as we walked back down Alii. Here's a tip for everyone: even though you see an athlete bracelet, a bike and some bags, don't assume there is anything to congratulate unless you see a medal, lei, finisher shirt or finisher hat. I chose not to correct anyone. I didn't feel like hearing all of those, "Oh, I'm sorry."

After some showers we were ready for the important part: eating! Again, I didn't really deserve this, but I was going to do it anyway. We found what seemed to be the only non-overpriced restaurant in all of Hawaii and settled in for some nachos and for me a chicken sandwich with fries. Eating wasn't necessarily all that pleasant because my teeth hurt so much from all of the sugar, but I toughed it out anyway. We were all too exhausted to go back and watch the finish, so we headed to the house and went to bed.

I slept much better than I normally do the night after a race, probably mostly because I got to skip all of the caffeine I otherwise would've ingested during the marathon. I was still awake by about 2am though, and eventually heard Cait on the phone at like 4:30 or something. She had apparently gotten up at about 2 and eaten an entire sleeve of Oreos. I guess Pat woke up in the middle of the night hungry and had 2 scoops of whey protein. He has a lot to learn about post-race indulgence. We were all awake incredibly early and Michelle, Pat, Cait and I had a little 6am run to the grocery store to buy whatever the heck we felt like having. Pat was eating Oreos while he shopped for other things. We each picked out a box of cereal more suited to 8-year olds. There were plenty of chips and cookies. We were like unsupervized children.

We went home to indulge in our cereal buffet in the downstairs mini kitchen but didn't get far before Cait's sister Mikaela came downstairs with a small tin of freshly baked brownies. But wait, there was more. She came back down a couple of minutes later with 2 more tins of brownies, one with peanut butter chips, the other with half Rolos and half peanut butter cups. It was about 7am. We didn't care. We just dug in with forks. Then we ate Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Reese's Puffs. And eventually we moved on from our breakfast appetizer to real breakfast at Lava Java.

That day disappeared pretty fast. I hated not having finished and honestly still wonder if I should've just walked it, but who knows if I would've done further damage, or even if it would've made me feel any better. I'm trying to just accept that it's just one of those things and there's nothing I can do about it except heal and then train really hard for next year and do my best to ensure that it doesn't happen again. I decided to go to the awards banquet, although I'm not really sure why. Well, I guess free food - even kind of crappy free food - was a bit of an incentive. Also, I remember being really bored by that afternoon and I just wanted anything to do. I went down with Cait and Mikaela and we met Pat and Courtney there. I had some Caesar dressing with a side of lettuce - it was pre-mixed, and you really have never seen a "salad" more smothered in dressing - some chicken, lasagna, bread and butter. Mike Reilly said that there were 126 of us who didn't finish, and there would be another day. I hope so. He also said that there was a 92.9% finishing rate, and I told everyone that if I had managed to finish I would've made it an even 93%. Pat was sitting to my left and Cait to my right as they were handing out the awards. I told them we had to make a pact that the three of us would get to stand up there next year. I came so close with a 7th in 2006, but ever since, getting even that close again seems nearly impossible.

We left before it was over because we had had enough sitting in those awful folding chairs. I can't wait to feel like there is actually something to celebrate at that awards dinner. It was annoying not being able to race for real, but it wasn't so bad actually getting to go to Hawaii for a few days. Michelle and I moved down to the Royal Kona after our week at the house was up. There was daily breakfast at Lava Java, now within walking distance. Plenty of time by the pool, surfing with Cait and Mikaela as well as post-surfing dinner of the biggest taco salads ever. Ice cream, floating in the ocean, no working out, and more junk food. In fact, the counter in the hotel room was stocked with what looked like what the shopping cart contents might be if mom left a couple of 11-year olds $30 to fend for themselves.

I left for home on Thursday night and arrived Friday morning. It snowed this weekend. It is really way too early for that, but I guess I can be thankful that I don't have to train in it. I've been fairly busy since I've been home, but I'll leave the follow-up stuff for another entry. For now, taking a few weeks totally off, getting sick of eating junk and ready for the x-ray November 2nd which hopefully will show that my metatarsal is all in one piece again.

Thanks for the support and kind words of everyone leading up to this point. It meant a lot to me to know that people were looking out for me. I'm sorry that I turned out to be all talk when it came to finishing no matter what, but it did seem like the "right" decision, even if it was a crappy one. Hopefully next season I won't have to let myself or anyone else down again. For now, rest, rest, and hopefully not to gain more than 10 pounds before it's back to the old diet. I'm guessing next season the training will be a bit less painful without having 40 pounds to lose on top of everything else. So I guess the comeback wasn't 100% complete, but that should make 2010 that much sweeter.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bags and bike dropped off, nothing left to do but wait

It is currently 14 hours from the start cannon. I have dropped off my gear bags and my bike and now it's just time to keep my feet up and wait. For what exactly, I'm not so sure this time. Today there was no training to be done. I was awake way too early and had some time to snack a bit before we headed off to Denny's for a QT2 team breakfast. We ordered enough food to completely overwhelm the kitchen. It literally took over an hour until I had the side of toast that completed my make-your-own grand slam. I think they might have actually had to knead the dough, let it rise, bake the bread and THEN turn it into toast. But I was sufficiently stuffed. Further proof that after dreaming of eating for so long, once you finally have to, it's not nearly as much fun.

Since then, not a whole lot has been going on. Sitting around, forcing down more food, getting the final instructions from the coach, and then dropping off the bags and stuff. I got a new Cervelo t-shirt since they were handing them out to Cervelo owners. Nice shirt, I think I'll actually wear it.

So tomorrow is the big day. This is a rough one for me. Last year, when I walked by that finish line at 5am on race morning and knew I would be watching instead of racing, I was not happy. I wanted to do everything I could to get back to this race. And now I've made it back and I can't possibly compete to the best of my ability because I'm injured. Given the injury, I probably shouldn't be competing at all, but as long as I'm here and I've got an official number, I'm going to go out and do what I can. I'm going to try and at least have the swim and bike of my life.

Then, in T2, I've got a decision to make. And really, the decision can be changed at any point out there on that run course. Do I really have it in me to walk 26 miles and watch the whole race pass me by? Is it really worth it just to cross the finish line? I don't really know. It's a decision I'll have to make out there tomorrow. It's quite possible that after a few miles of walking I'll reconsider. And of course it's also possible that after a few miles of walking my stress fracture might really start bothering me, at which point I will definitely stop. I am not going to continue if I feel like I'm making things worse. I've got a very big 2010 season lined up and I don't want to screw that one up, too. It's just a crappy situation, but again, there are much worse injuries I could have.

As for now, I would at least like to say good luck to my teammates who will be out there racing. Cait, Michelle, Pat, Pam, Chris, Hannah, Jaime: I know you will all do great out there. I hope I can celebrate a finish with you. If not, I'll be cheering you in and I will be with you next year.

Monday, October 5, 2009

I'm in Kona, but it's time to break some bad news

Well, the good news is that I have found myself once again in the beautiful island paradise that is Hawaii with a number to race in the Ironman World Championship. The bad news is that it was finally determined that the nagging foot pain that I've been dealing with for over 3 weeks is, in fact, a stress fracture of the third metatarsal. I had gotten it x-rayed the day after it happened but I had heard that stress fractures often don't actually show up on x-rays until weeks afterward, once they've started to heal.

After my brief attempt at running a couple of weeks ago I kind of had a feeling something else might be up with it aside from the weird soft tissue problems that I'd been told it was. Apparently my pain symptoms weren't really behaving like a stress fracture, so I kept on being told I was fine. I called Carlos, my injury-fix-it wizard who was baffled that I wasn't able to run, so he referred me to a local podiatrist, who fortunately also happens to be one of the best in the business. He poked around at my foot a bit and said he was almost certain it was a stress fracture. Once the x-ray came back, I saw it before he even had to point it out to me. Yep, there it was, a subtle little white line along that middle bone representing the dull pain that wouldn't go away. He gave me this supportive shoe I have to wear around for a few weeks and set me up with another appointment a month from now when we will x-ray again and see if it is healed. Biking and swimming are fine, running is absolutely out of the question.

This was obviously not good news. The appointment was last Wednesday but I didn't feel like sharing it with anyone just yet. Actually, at first I contemplated not mentioning it to anyone at all. The fact of the matter is that this visit was just to rule out something random like neuroma or something, not a recheck on the stress fracture. I could've just acted like I hadn't even bothered. I know, that is not the smartest thing in the world. The first thing I did upon my return home was put on my warm clothes and head out for a 2-and-a-half hour ride. I needed to just go out and do something before I started telling people that my race was ruined. I figured if I took the time to do anything else before, I might never actually do the ride. The last thing I wanted to do was react to this injury the way I did when I hurt my sacroilliac joint a year and a half ago and completely give up and almost make it my mission to get as out of shape as possible.

I spent 150 minutes riding in the cold and feeling sorry for myself. I was near tears on more than one occasion. I didn't actually cry when I found out, because honestly I really kind of knew that was what it was. But I spent that ride thinking about all of the little setbacks I've encountered lately and why I can't seem to hold it together anymore for any significant stretch of time. I was mad at myself for not being able to stay in one piece. I was frustrated that I couldn't make it through an entire season and I wondered if this was just how it was always going to be. If I was just going to go from one injury to the next for the rest of my triathlon career before I finally gave up. It was an insane string of thoughts, but when you get to that point, I think it's just something you have to go through.

I don't know why, but once it was over, I felt a lot better. I no longer saw it as a tragedy, or as a sign of more injuries to come. The fact of the matter is: you want to be a triathlete, these kinds of things are going to happen. I'm sure there are some people out there who have remained miraculously injury-free for years and years, but I don't think that's the norm. The other fact of the matter is that stress fractures heal, and then they are gone. It's not an injury that you have to worry about aggrevating again and again (although certainly it could happen again) The bone grows back together and that's that. It's also bad timing in that I had Ironman Hawaii coming up, but also good timing in that I was going to be taking several weeks off from training afterward anyway, so I will be restarting for next season fresh and new and in exactly the same spot I otherwise might be.

So I'm handling it mentally a lot better than I thought I would. I wasn't quite feeling like Hawaii was going to be a great race for me, honestly. Running wasn't going well, even when I wasn't broken. I was tired. I was way more excited about getting a break and starting fresh for next season. So it's not like I was all geared up and ready to have an amazing race and that was taken away from me. I'd have loved to have had a great race, but it's ok that I'm not going to get to. You want to read a tragic story about running? Check out the feature article in Runners World about Jenny Crain. It very quickly puts things in perspective and makes me know that things could be a lot worse.

So what did I do? I kept on training as scheduled. Sure, it would've been easier to just forget about it since there were only 10 days to go, but then again, there are only 10 days to go. Come on, I can tough it out for 10 more days. There were two more water runs, both done in my wetsuit in my grandmother's backyard pool, which had cooled to 60 degrees for the last one. My head was steaming. I had my last pool swim for the race on Friday, and I rode the trainer incredibly early on Saturday morning to get that last long ride out of the way in the dark and rain so I could finish packing for my flight on Sunday. I happened to watch last year's Hawaii race while I pedaled away. I came and watched the race last year, and vowed that I would never come as a spectator again. They were talking to Tim Deboom and I was reminded about how he had been doing so great with his back-to-back wins and was taken out once by kidney stones and then again by what else? A stress fracture. He is back once again. It happens to the best of them. And they do come back.

The other important thing that I got to see on that DVD was actually myself. Of course the one time I actually made the broadcast it was as a spectator. And an overweight spectator at that, roughly 40 pounds heavier than I am at the moment. Don't bother looking, you probably wouldn't know it was me anyway. I only noticed because I knew where I was standing at this particular point in the race and I know what I was wearing. I was huge. It's embarrassing to look at, but in a way I think it was almost important for me to experience that so I know not to let it happen again. Also, as I was packing it gave me the opportunity to try on the very shorts I was wearing that day. I remember they were just about the only shorts I still owned that actually fit me, and it was a tight squeeze. I can't possibly wear them right now, they'd never stay up. I should've taken a picture of the gaping space between the waist of the shorts and my torso. It's good to have those kinds of reminders, and it's good to know that it reaffirms that I'm heading in the right direction.

So anyway, where am I at right now? Well, swimming and biking are not an issue. I plan on doing those no matter what. And to tell you the truth, I'd like there to be a finish line for me to cross on October 10th, so I will most likely be walking 26.2 miles. Before you start, I've asked, and I can't do any further damage by walking. I know myself. I know I'd feel a heck of a lot better on Sunday morning knowing that I stuck it out and finished the race than if I just finished the bike and called it a day. I remember last year too well. I remember in the few days leading up feeling ok that I wasn't racing and kind of enjoying not having to worry about not walking around too much, making sure I was drinking enough and eating the right things. But on race morning, when I walked down toward the pier to grab a good spot to watch the swim and I saw that finish line and knew that I wouldn't be crossing it, it hurt. A lot. At that particular point in time I felt so far gone that I wasn't really sure I'd ever get to cross it again, but I was going to try. As long as there is nothing medically stopping me, I'd like to get to that finish line again. Sure, unless I am a much faster walker than I'm aware, I will likely have a new personal worst for the Ironman and the marathon. I don't care. I just want to finish what I started. A few people have said they don't really see the point. Well, I see a point: it's important to me. I'm not really sure what other reason I need. I don't want to miss out on it again. Who knows what might happen between now and next year? Even if you do everything right, things beyond your control can still go wrong. I have to take these opportunities while I can. You only get so many shots. I keep wasting these opportunities here in Kona, but sooner or later, though definitely not this year, I am going to get it right.

I felt it was only fair to let everyone know this, so that when you check my splits online during the race you aren't too worried about me when you see I'm averaging 17:00 per mile, or something around that. I'm not sick or bonking, it was all part of the plan. And in a way it's kind of nice knowing I've got nothing to lose. If I go too hard on the bike, well, I was going to be walking anyway. I'll finally get my money's worth. I'll finally see what it's like to finish in the dark. And maybe I'll even put something sinful in my run special needs bag, although I can't really think of anything good that won't melt in the Hawaiian heat.

Oh, and the other part about the stress fracture of course is that no matter what, I still get to spend close to two weeks in Hawaii. That can't possibly be a bad thing. I left incredibly early from the Manchester airport on Sunday, a 6:15am flight to Chicago for starters. After 2 hours in the airport, I boarded a plane that took me all the way to Maui. Nine hours on the same plane. For some reason it never actually feels like 9 hours. And in this case, even less so because somehow, miraculously, I was on the window seat and the aisle seat next to me remained vacant. I had two seats to myself for a 9-hour flight, and zero screaming children anywhere near me. My feet tend to swell uncontrollably with plane travel, but not this time given that I could keep my feet elevated. I might have even slept a little, which for me is amazingly rare on airplanes.

After a brief stop in Maui, I got back on the plane and arrived in Kona at 3:30 in the afternoon, or 9:30pm to me. My bike actually arrived at the same time I did this time. At least I was getting a few small favors as payback for the other misfortunes. I somehow managed to remain awake enough to pick up some groceries and put my bike together before heading to bed. I hadn't looked at my watch until just when I was about to lie down and I realized it was only 7:30. Nice. Given that I've been awake today since about 12:30 I think, it probably all evens out.

I am staying at a house several miles from the action and up the most insanely steep driveway I have ever seen. I don't even know how to describe it. Literally it was scary walking down it with my bike this morning. It actually might be steeper than a 45-degree angle. Anyway, several of my QT2 teammates are here and we are just cooped up in the house, not doing much of anything, as instructed. This morning we did an hour bike ride and that was it. I will post pictures soon of all of the excitement. But tonight we are off to eat a nice, fatty meal to make sure we are stocked up for the final workouts leading up to the big day. It's not a ritual that you hear about from other athletes often, but given our otherwise incredibly rigid dietary restrictions, we definitely make this one count!

So yep, my foot is broken. Does it suck? Sure. Could things be worse? Definitely. In a lot of ways. I'll live. I'll heal. And I'll be ready to tackle next season with a vengeance.