|The calm before the storm.|
I wanted to write this yesterday, partly because I felt so dejected that I wanted to do something with it and vomiting my self-pity all over the internet seemed like a splendid idea. Thankfully, I refrained or my limited readership would have been reduced to nothing as they all threw themselves off a proverbial cliff like a herd of literary lemmings.... just to make it stop.
Honestly, there are a few stories here. 1.) the story of a failed work/life balance and the impact that has on the body. 2.) The story of how a bad situation can become potentially life threatening in a race situation. 3.) Dealing with my first DNF and all the irrational thoughts that accompany it.
Over the last few weeks, my work load has gotten.. um, ridiculous. It's never good but it went from bad to worse with very little warning. I kicked off the last show before the race (most shows run in two week cycles) by getting sick. A brief but highly unpleasant little visit from a stomach bug came on the heels of a particularly heavy training week. In my profession, taking a night off of work is like a solider saying, "Ya know, I just don't feel like being at war today." Not particularly realistic but I did it anyhow. The braiders that closed ranks so that I could do that all had to shoulder an abusive workload so that I could be sick. I owed them my best efforts in the weeks following. I gave it to them, doing not only my own work but helping others nearly every night. On the days off, I body clipped horses instead of resting (a decision that was a probably a very big player since every major asthma attack has been within a couple of days of body clipping). I pushed my shoulder past it's limits. My training got put on hold. Brian did everything in his power to keep me from falling off the cliff.
|Body clipping involves shaving every last centimeter of the animal.|
Hugo here is very happy to let me wear the remnants of his winter coat.
|It is very dirty, allergic work. That is hair all over my arm.|
Every bad attack I have had has been right after doing this.
By the second week, I had pushed my body over the edge and I had that weird nervous energy that I assume is my blood:cortisol:caffeine ratios reaching critical. When I start to have that feeling, I stop sleeping. And so, I stopped sleeping. Four days of not sleeping. By Friday, the only note to my coach in my workout schedule is "Day four of no sleep. I'm Fucked." I finally slept Saturday morning, but then got up Saturday, worked until 3 am, slept until 6 am, drove to home, went to packet pick up/bike check-in, etc. I finally got into bed at 9:50 pm. I was awake by 11:40 pm. Not quite two hours... damn. I did fall back to sleep for a while but definitely did not get what I needed.
The morning of the race, my stomach was in revolt so eating was largely out of the question. I had slightly overslept and was rushing so coffee and a some protein powder in almond milk was as far as I got. I had some bars with me and I figured if it settled I could eat one an hour or so before the race. I wasn't in any mood for food but I did run back to my car 20 mins before transition closed and got another dose of antihistamines I wasn't breathing well at all and I was concerned. Transition closed and I ended up not taking anything with me. It wasn't until later that I found out they had changed the start times and I would not go for another 2 hours.
I wanted to warm up but once I got down to the swim start it was too crowded and there was no opportunity to get in the water. I wasn't really expecting much from this race so I just planned to start slow and use the first 400 as a warmup. The swim start went well, though I had positioned myself too conservatively and swam over a lot of people for the first half of the race. My time was about 2 mins slower than my last Olympic time... you know, the one where I took the scenic route.... so I was pretty disappointed in that but otherwise, I had sighted well and stayed under control. My shoulder, however, bitched and moaned with every stroke and swimming a straight line meant that I had to be trying to turn right the whole time. Whatever. It got done.
I ran towards T1 feeling no worse than usual and thought that things might be looking up. I am totally comfortable with my ability on the bike and just trust my legs will be there for me. It was time to do what I do best: Go hunting. There was this crazy long run to the start line and since I was racked on the far side of transition it was probably 800 yds or more (I probably need new cleats now) and I was feeling confident. A volunteer shouted "Now that's FAST!!" as I rolled the bike past him. I responded with a smile "Yes, it is."
I jumped on the bike and had a clear shot onto the course. Since I was in the last of the Olympic AG waves, it was a traffic nightmare. I started passing people and quickly found myself surrounded by some very good male riders on some very slick bikes. (I love when you print your name on your butt so that I can specify who's I am addressing.. "On your left, Colorado!" Colorado and I were on the same bike and played leapfrog for a while. That was fun.) The course headed up a short little hill and I tried to punch it. I came up flat. I settled back and spun up the hill and tried to kick into gear again heading towards the capitol... again... nothing. My breathing had been pretty ragged but that's not uncommon early in a ride so I didn't worry about it. I dug in and pushed myself. That was when I felt it. It was almost like that moment when your car blows a vacuum tube and you experience a sudden power loss. My breathing spiked and I started to cough. I looked at the garmin... 166 watts... barely tempo. WTH? Didn't matter. I was having a bronchospasm and I needed to worry about that. I pulled to the right and soft-pedaled for a while. It lessened a bit but did not fully stop. As it eased, I thought I might be able to slowly get back into the race. This was the big mistake. I tried to pick it up a bit and my breathing went haywire.
I wondered how one goes about retiring from a packed course like this. I knew my inhaler was in transition so getting back there seemed like a good plan. I scanning for ways off the course. I didn't see anything. The nice thing about a really fast bike is that it goes a long way without slowing down. I was able mostly coast all the way to where the turnoff for transition was and chose to stay on the bike to that point because it was faster and less work than walking. About this time, a male rider (if clothes and speed are an indicator, not a very good one) went by my and made a really nasty comment about my bike and the fact that I was going slow. I may not have been able to breathe but discovered that my middle finger had a mind of it's own. By the time I got there, I was dealing with a fair bit of tunnel vision and disorientation. At the turnaround, I pulled into the crowd to dismount, informed a volunteer and a cop that I couldn't breathe and my inhaler was in transition. The cop ignored me and the volunteer simply told the people next me to let me through. I headed into the crowd to find a break in the fence to get to transition. I could get through the wall of people and at this point I was having trouble speaking. I used the bike like a battering ram, running the front wheel into people who refused to move. I was starting to lose my ability to rationalize this problem and my anxiety levels were skyrocketing. I felt like I was in a nightmare or a horror movie. I couldn't talk, I couldn't breathe, I could barely think, I couldn't find a way through the fence, and I was surrounded by people who acted like I was invisible.
After what was obviously about 200 years, a spectator... a man with an impossibly small dog... realized that I was in distress. He asked me if I needed help and took my gurgle as a YES. He found a group of volunteers and we all tried to find that holy grail: a way through the fence. Still wasn't happening. For some reason everyone kept trying to relieve me of my bicycle. Unfortunately, I was A.) not thinking well enough to keep track of it so I wasn't about to let it go and B.) using it like a walker. Without it, I would not have been moving forward. That caused an additional spike in my anxiety levels until finally they just let the baby keep her binkie. Since no one really knew what to do, one of the volunteers stayed with me and we walked that fence line until FINALLY we found a way in. About this time, someone asked if I wanted to go to the med tent but by then, my inhaler was closer.
|This was the middle transition area where I was racked. |
There was another set of racks to either side.
You can see the red fence around the outside that became my nemesis.
Once we got back to my transition area, I folded up on the grass and hit the inhaler several times. The attack eased and my breathing normalized. With the introduction of air and the passing of the emergency, the adrenaline that had been holding me together ebbed away and I dissolved into tears. The volunteer put her arms around me and talked to me until I stopped crying. Then I started packing up my transition area. I sat on a rock ledge and waited until they announced that bikes were to be released from transition. As I sat there, I tried not to focus on all the people being announced across the finish line, all the smiles and finishers medals, the beautiful weather, the general ambiance of the day that I normally love so much. I was just making me feel worse. I found myself thinking that I should have somehow sucked it up. I was fine now, maybe it wasn't as bad as I had thought. I knew that if I had just been a little tougher, I could be enjoying all that right now. I sent a text to my coach, "dnf". He texted back "It's probably for the best. Get some rest." I felt like a total failure. I was also suddenly so tired I was struggling to stay awake even with all that albuterol (a powerful stimulant) in my system.
When they released the bikes, I grabbed mine and started out of transition. THAT was when I noticed that volunteer. She was shadowing me a few feet away. She had been there the whole time. She seemed to know I wanted to be left alone, but did not truly leave me. I never thanked her but I could not have been more grateful. For all that was wrong, she represented everything that was right.
When I got home, I immediately crashed. I really didn't get out of bed again that day. The amount of sleep I have gotten since yesterday morning tells me just how deep the deficit really was. Between naps, Brian and I exchanged a novella's worth of emails troubleshooting the day. There was another thing to be grateful for... his pragmatic responses kept me focused on solving problems rather than wallowing in them.
I probably shouldn't have raced but it's in my nature to try. It's also in my nature to take a failure or bad race hard and very personally. It's part of why I work at it the way I do. I don't do things halfway. Right, wrong, good, bad... it's the way I'm wired. I prefer to think it's a strong attribute, even though it can be hard to live with. It's also in my nature to put my head down and get right back to work. The sooner I heal, recover, regain the fitness I have lost recently, and get back into the fight, the better I will be. Last night, I indulged in a hefty slice of self pity pie. Today, I have work to do.
The day before the race, knowing I was behind the eight-ball, I tweeted this:
"Even though I will prob suffer a lot for iffy results, I plan to go in swinging, bleed it all out, see if I'm still standing at the finish."
I did exactly that, and as it turns out, I was not still standing at the finish. We like to think of all the times that it works out well, but if you are truly going to take a risk, then it is well... a risk you take.