there is crying in triathlon
Updated: Jun 10, 2019
In the world of triathlon there is a tradition of writing a race report after each race. You spell out what your goals were, if you achieved them, what worked, what didn’t, etc… It serves as a reminder to yourself for your next race, but also as advice for other athletes. At least, that’s what I take it to be. I’m sure for some folks it’s just all about bragging, which is also OK, because there might some of that in this report.
I’ve written two race reports. This is the big one. It is filled with goals and times and strategy and what worked and what didn’t, as well as emotions and philosophical thoughts, wanderings of the mind and all the times that I cried (spoiler alert, it’s 2. Might be a new family record for crying during a triathlon.) If all you’re interested in is times and goals and strategy, may I suggest you click over to the Rock Hall Sprint Race Report. It’s will be just the facts and nothing but the facts. Maybe 1 joke. No emotional stuff, and certainly no crying stories. I won’t be offended. Promise. For a real treat, you can read both.
Ladies and gentlemen, those of you who don’t identify as either, aliens, cats, dogs and other sentient creatures, I present to you
the Rock Hall Sprint 2016 Race Report
My goals were very “philosophical.” It wasn’t about times, it was about following the advice of those who came before and staying sane.
1. Finish, legitimately. That meant coming in under 2.5 hours (the only time related goal). 2. STAY IN ZONE 2! 3. Don’t get thirsty. 4. Stop/slow down if it hurts. 5. Be confident in transition.
First we’ll break apart the goals, then we’ll get to the story telling.
Goal 1: I finished legitimately. With a time of 2 hours 21 minutes and 34 seconds. A Personal Best! Swim- 19:05. I finished 6th in the Athena division. This is slower than I thought it would be, but the marina was really choppy and I fought the current the whole way out. I had to breaststroke to be able to keep on target with the buoys and to be able to breathe and not drink salt water. Once I turned the outer buoy and started heading in, I was in good shape. An excellent negative split (that means the second half was faster than first). I averaged 2:26m/100 yards; about 20 seconds slower than my pool average. But a Personal Best overall! By contrast, when I did the Jim McDonnell Lake Swim, my time was 41:46 for 1.18 miles; an average of 2:10m/100 yards. But that swim was a walk in the park compared to this swim. Lesson- I need more open water practice. In the story part of this report we’ll talk about how nervous I was.
Bike- 1:07:21. I finished 17th in my division. This is much faster than I thought I would do. I was calculating an average of 10mph, but this turned out to be 13.1mph. What a difference no big hills makes! Another Personal Best! Not for pace, but for a bike leg in a triathlon. The course was nice and flat, but the few rolling hills there were really messed me up. I’m so used to shifting for big big hills (and killing them), that when the littler hills came up, I mis-shifted and ended up spinning like a dervish and wasting momentum. Lesson: Practice on flat and rolling. Not every training weekend has to be Haymarket and Culpepper (or weekday at Haines Point)!
Run- 45:33. I finished 15th in my division. Oh running. What a fickle beast you are. I averaged a 14:50min/mile, but at one point I was flying at 9:37. Can you guess when that was? Yes, the last .3 mile when I was crossing the finish line. I’ve been plagued with a hip injury since November, and I had a bike accident just three weeks ago. The combination of the two led my left knee (the good one!) to start acting up. My physical therapist said that if my knee or hip started to hurt I HAD to stop running. Period. I could walk and see if it got better, but if it didn’t, no more running that day. Same went for my hip. My hip was a trooper; she didn’t bother me at all. My knee started acting up around mile 1. And that really slowed me down. Then it was run/walk for the whole course. However, I estimated I would take 45 minutes on the run, and I did. Not a Personal Best for a 5K, but a Personal Best for the run leg of a triathlon.
Transition (the fourth sport of triathlon)- T1- 6:12 minutes. I finished 17th in my division. This transition included a run from the dock over to the transition area. This run/walk took me about 1 minute. Once I was at my bike I followed my steps (that were printed out and clipped to my transition crate) almost to the letter. Dry off my hair and a little of my body, sunscreen (which I did skip), put on my helmet and sunglasses, dry off my feet, put on socks and shoes, put on race bib, get bike, get going. What slowed me down was trying to get my feet dry. I think I have to just deal with moist feet in bike shoes, especially if it’s humid.
T2- 3:21 minutes. I finished 14th in my division. Again, I followed my list. Rack bike. Take off helmet, put on sunscreen, put on hat, take off shoes, put on shoes, pick up water belt, start walking and put on belt. Kill it. This was a good transition, but I know I could shave off 30 seconds or more but getting some Yankz for my shoes. I don’t like them for running, but I think I’m going to have get used to them; in a rush, I don’t think I tied my shoes tightly enough, and that made my uncomfortable for a bit. I know Yankz will help with that. I’ve also got to get rid of my hydration belt. That thing was a pain in the ass. The bottles kept falling out when I was putting it on. I’m currently searching for a replacement concept.
Goal 2: I was unable to keep myself in zone 2. At least according to my watch and my pre-loaded zones. I think that now I’ve been doing zone training for 6 months, it might be time to get retested. And I think my bike and swim are different than my run. Looking back at my swim, I was in zone 4 (you can’t see it during because water and bluetooth and transmitting don’t all play nicely together). But I wasn’t tired (other than from fighting waves), and I wasn’t out of breath when I finished. I feel like I could have gone another mile. Which is the big indicator of being in zone 2 (that you could go forever and ever). Once I got on the bike I was in high zone 3. I kept my RPM at 80, but put things in an easier gear and breathed really deeply. I smiled and sang a little, and I got back into a high zone 2. Then I upped the gears a little so I felt like I was working instead of cruising, and I ended up into low zone 3. Crap. But I felt GOOD. I felt like I could go forever. So I stayed at 80 rpm and right around zone 3.3. On one or two of those rolling hills I found myself dervishing and then had to make up for it I shot up to zone 4, but on the “downhill” I brought myself back. On the run I never got below zone 3.6, except for the half mile when I walked near the end. No matter how I tried, once I started jogging/running I shot right up into high zone 4. Even when I walked, unless it was for more than 3 minutes, I couldn’t keep it down. I told myself I was almost done, and gave in to a high heart rate. I stopped looking at my watch and started listening to my body (and my knee).
Goal 3: I did not get thirsty. After seeing people barely making it across the finish line on Saturday (the humidity and surprise heat were killer), I added Nuun to my water for the bike ride. I also had Skratch, and I swapped in the Margarita Shot Blox (which have extra sodium). I killed this goal. I was never thirsty. I followed my hydration plan. I also had a BIG pee after I finished. A great sign that I did that right.
Goal 4: As I noted in the run section above, I stopped when my knee hurt. I also adjusted my swim when my shoulder started to hurt; it was because I was getting lazy and not keeping my form up, but still. The big problem was that my hip didn’t hurt while I was running. But it did after, and for quite a few days. Somehow I have to find a way to listen to what it’s telling me during the race. And keep up my “Glutes of Steel” workout.
Goal 5: I felt great in transition. Really really great. They weren’t fast, but they were right. And now that they’re right, I can work on fast.
One slightly emotional note to the “Just the Facts” report. I take it very seriously that when I’m in my kit representing a team, whether it's Team Go Big or my coach's team, Team Z. If I am rude, mean, disrespectful or otherwise a terrible person while I’m wearing the jersey, that reflects on my team. On the flip, if I am upbeat, encouraging, kind and thankful that also reflects on the team. I love Team Z a hell of a lot. And I want us to be known for a good long time as the amazing folks we all are. So I went a little out of my way to be the most encouraging athlete out on that field. Everyone who passed me on the bike or run got a cheer of encouragement. Every volunteer and police officer got a Thank You. The cheering and energy I got back from all of it more than made up for it in the long run.
I had SO MUCH FUN. This race was my litmus test. To discover if I liked training, if I liked competing, if I wanted to make my life about triathlon. And the answer is a very loud and resounding YES. I’ll be around for a while. I’ll be out on the course cheering whether I’m racing or not. You won’t be able to get rid of me. Kona, here I come.
Now let’s talk about the race and how I felt. The touchy-y feel-y stuff. Go get the tissues. I’ll wait. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.
On Saturday I had the chance to go out on the course and cheer all my teammates during the International/Olympic distance. I put on the banana suit (incorrectly, but still fashionably) and walked around the swim start with a bag and collected my teammates flip-flops. I also scoped out the swim start. This was all good. I met one of my friends as she came out of the water and handed her her cane and shoes. She recently had knee surgery, so she needed these things to make it to the transition area. This allowed me to see what the swim actually looked like, up close, as well as the exit. This was SO fortunate because I had an idea in my head of what the exit would be, and it was NOTHING like what it actually was. Steps, yes, but the last step was a big one. And they had volunteers there pulling people out of the water. I watched as people slipped on the deck, fell down with major muscle spasms in their calves and generally has a SUPER hard time getting back on their feet. This would not be me; I had a plan. I would get my legs working in the last 100 yards and be ready to pop out and go for it. We also went out to mile 16 on the bike course and cheered everyone going by. What a great feeling! I need to figure out how to do this as my job, because I LOVED it. Everyone was super happy to see someone out on the course, ringing a cowbell, blowing a vuvuzela and shaking some pom-poms. Many people thanked us for being out there, and after the fact so many people came up to me (from my team and not) and thanked me for cheering them on. Wow. Just wow. I got to see that the bike course had no aid stations (which I already knew), very few volunteers directing traffic and that it was open to traffic. In my head, I expected that there would be a rolling road closure so we wouldn’t have to worry about cars. I realize now how silly that would be, but still. At the intersection where we were cheering cars were turning left across bikers. And cars were jerks. At least twice I was very scared for the bikers. This helped my brain prepare for a mentally challenging course, since I would be sharing the road. The same was true of the run. No roads were closed (save for one that was runners on both sides, and it was only for a block or two) and the traffic direction was only half of what I thought it should have been. Fortunately running with cars is slightly less scary than biking with cars, to me, so it wasn’t awful. Here’s the big thing about all of this: it’s my first triathlon. Maybe this is the norm and I’ll get used to it. Having run a LOT of races in the past 18 months though, I found the lack of on-the-course support at this race staggering, compared to my experience with running races.
Sunday morning we went out to the dock/swim start. Vince put on the banana suit (correctly AND fashionably) and collected flip-flops. I looked out over the marina and started to panic. Waves. Wind. Strong current. NOTHING like Saturday. I started to cry. Honestly, I don’t know if it was excitement (yayayayay race!), joy (wow, look how far I’ve come!), panic (holy shit the waves), abject terror (someone got stung by a jellyfish yesterday and now I’m going to die) or Aunt Flo and The Hormones showing up to join the party. I kept my sunglasses on, even after I put my cap on, so no one would see the tears. I had a quiet reassuring moment with Vince where I really let loose. He had words of love and encouragement and looked hilarious in the banana suit; it helped. Then I was in the water. In a sea of women and pink caps. Treading water nervously. Almost regretting not wearing a wetsuit (I’m glad I didn’t. I got hot without it, and it would have been one more piece of gear to wrangle. And an annoying one at that. And the water was 77 degrees.). And I looked around and realized how strong and brave each and every woman was that was in the water. And maybe they needed to be reminded of it. When I need to find my strength, I succeed by helping others find their strength. So I cheered all of us. “We got this ladies!” “Yeah, let’s get it!” And everyone started cheering too. And my nervousness melted away, mostly. But man, I wish they had been playing “Girls” by Beyonce. It would have been perfect. Take note future Race Directors and DJs. And then the race started. Breathe every stroke. Sight the buoy. Breathe every stroke. Sight the buoy. Adjust course. Don’t get kicked in the face. I started doing breaststroke because the waves and swells were not consistent and I couldn’t get a good rhythm for breathing, sighting and surfing. Breaststroke allowed this, as well as constant sighting, which turned out to be important because of the current. As I was going along I passed a few folks who were treading water. I asked them if they were OK. One guy didn’t have goggles and I asked if he’d like my spare pair. He declined, saying he didn’t need goggles. What a beast! Most everyone was just fine. I helped one person grab the attention of a course monitor/boat/canoe so she could hang on and get some rest (she was having trouble treading water and getting her hands up. I reminded her to lay on her back and try, but I also threw my hand up). I turned the outer buoy (wow, the waves were intense at this point) and started in.
Aside- Saturday night I went to the pre-race briefing. It being my first race; I wanted as much info as I could get. Someone asked about the swim course and a pair of orange buoys we were to swim through. The Race Director said “Forget about those buoys. Once you round the outer buoy, just sight the dock and head straight in.” Excellent. Less sighting means more winning. But not everyone was at the pre-race briefing. And you couldn’t hear at the immediate pre-race briefing. And I don’t think they talked about it, honestly.
So I rounded the outer buoy and headed straight for the dock, a large portion of my fellow racers were headed towards an orange buoy that would take them unnecessarily off course. So the crowd I was swimming in really thinned out. Which helped with folks trying to draft off of me and my sighting. I had a clear view to the dock. I put my head down and got into my freestyle rhythm of choice. Counting strokes: breathe, two, three, breathe, five, six, breathe, sight, nine. Over and over. I slowed a few times to breaststroke to adjust my sight (the current was pushing me to the right), but otherwise I rode it all the way in. About 150 yards out I started breaststroking again, but really shaking my legs and getting a lot of blood and movement back into them. When I got the dock and got out, I only had to pause for about 2 seconds once I got myself out of the water because my legs felt strong. I walked the first part on the dock, then began a nice jog towards the transition area. I was feeling great. I had been concerned about getting light headed (especially after the concussion), but I honestly didn’t even think about it during the transition jog. Just at the end of the dock, Vince was standing with a sign, “Sorry Mario, your race is in another format.” I laughed so hard. What a perfect sign for this race. In the transition to the bike I rinsed my face and my mouth. I could not get my feet dry. My socks were not going on correctly and it was frustrating. It’s probably because it was humid, and I probably just need to let go any hope of having actual bone dry feet at the start of the bike. By the time I got back and switched shoes, my feet were dry though. And wet feet while running would be far more of a problem than while biking. I had a great bike ride. Lots of people passed me and to each and every one I said “Good job! Keep it up!” I think I missed maybe one person, but that was because I was having a conversation with someone who was passing me (who was complimenting me on my beastly calves). Every Z’er that went by got a “Go Team Z” and some of them I knew by name, so I cheered them by name. All the DC Triathlon team members got a “Go DC Tri!” A lot of people said thanks, a lot of people gave me encouragement too. Every volunteer and police officer and course person got a big Thank You! And many of them said thanks back. It all made for a great ride. I sang some songs, I danced in my seat. I stretched my legs. I ate my nutrition with glee and wished for a real margarita. I realized I have a drinking problem. I can’t pull my water bottle out of the back carrier and drink it with my left hand. Somehow I hadn’t practiced this. I’ve got holders in between my legs, and I knew I could switch the left handed back bottle to a middle holder and then be able to use my right hand exclusively. I had a plan. I’m sure we’re all familiar with Mr. Bean? Imagine he’s in a bike race and has to switch his bottles around. It was like that. So freaking funny. But I did it. And I sort of learned how to ride for a few seconds at a time without holding on to the handlebars. I had plenty of time to contemplate life, its problems and some possible solutions. A cardinal visited me several times. It’s possible it was the same cardinal, but it’s more likely it was 4 different cardinals. So to all my dead friends and family, thank you. I saw you, I heard you. You helped. You are always welcome to visit.
I also had plenty of time to embrace the agony of my vulva.
Aside- I will not call it “lady parts” or “down there.” I will call a vulva by its anatomical name, because it’s important that women take charge of their bodies and know that they can discuss their vulva and its pain from a bike seat, just as they would discuss their calves and its pain from a crappily paved street. There is little difference.
I need a new bike seat. This is so very clear to me now. My vulva “hangs” and they make seats for that. The tri pants I was wearing have almost no padding, so relying on that cushion was not going to happen. And I don’t want to have to change pants in transition. You can’t be naked in transition in the United States, and you shouldn’t wear underwear under bike or run shorts. So I’d have to rig up some sort of changing room thing, or use a towel, or a James Brown-esque robe. I also need a seat that doesn’t rub my butt bones/joints as much. Look for a more positive vulva report after the next tri (July. Rev3 Williamsburg. Twice the swim, twice the run, almost twice the bike. #excitedbutterrified) Around mile 11 we rode into a portajohn. Not literally, but it smelled like it. Holy Shit. I mean, for real. Someone had just freshly turned their field with manure and so many people passed me because they just had to get out of it. I was committed to energy conservation, so I muscled through, but towards the end I sped up a bit because I couldn’t take it anymore. I was enjoying a chew as I started into it, and I had to spit it out. It was that strong and that gross. Vince was at mile 13 with a vuvuzela and some pom-poms (but not the banana suit). Afterwards he told me that people were so excited to see him out there, and they recognized him as the banana man from that morning. I’m going to have to buy him his own banana suit, just in case the Team Z one goes missing. Because this is now his role at all races. For the last mile or two I put my bike in an easy gear and spun. I stood up and eased my coccyx/sacrum into a not-sitting position. I stretched my calves and my quads. I followed the advice from those who came before, and remembered my coach’s wise words. I rode in from the bike and dismounted. I can’t do this gracefully yet. So it was a full stop and clipping out and jogging into transition. One of these days I perfect a flying dismount, but that day is not going to be anytime soon. I have got to find a solution for my hydration belt. I walked/jogged out of transition and there was Jason in the banana suit with a vuvuzela. He was blowing and running and finally said, “I can’t keep this up!” I thanked him and laughed and started trying to find my run legs. It was painful. It was like I’d never run before. Like there was concrete in my calves. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get three miles done. I’m sure you could see it on my face, because a random woman standing on the side of the course said “You can do it girl. Find those run legs. Squeeze your butt, bounce off your feet, lean at your ankles and find it. You got it.” It was like my physical therapist was right there. I did what she said and within 2 minutes I found my legs. I don’t know who this person was. I think she was walking a dog so maybe a resident of Rock Hall out to enjoy the festivities. Whoever she was, she saved me. I came around the first corner, and there was the team, cheering their hearts out. That gave me a needed mental and emotional boost to keep going. Not that there was any doubt I wasn’t going to finish this, but still. I started walk/running because my knee was acting up. I followed my goal and stopped/slowed down when it hurt. Every person who passed me got a “Good job! Keep it up!” As people came back the other way, same thing. Every volunteer and police officer and course person got a Thank You. Same as the bike ride. It’s hard work doing what they do, and many do it as a volunteer job. At mile 2.25 I saw a woman in front of me who was walking. I jogged up to her and asked if I could walk with her for this last mile. We walked and talked; it was amazing. I can’t remember her name, but she had some piercings and an Elon shirt and she was funny and fun. At around mile 2.8 you could hear cowbells. And cheering. And I said my goodbyes to my walking friend and took off. At the last corner I saw Vince. I ran up to him, kissed him something fierce and then sprinted off to the finish line. I was running so fast. My knee was screaming and I ignored it. I turned it all the way on as I came down the chute. I couldn’t hear anything but the screams and cheers of my team. I heard the announcer call out my name and bib number, but only barely, because the Z’ers were SO LOUD. I got my medal and a cold wet towel. Both felt amazing. I wandered around the finish line and headed back to the Team Z tent. I realized I was alone and realized I needed a moment to myself. I took the opportunity to have a seat in the grass and cry. I can’t tell you what I was feeling. Pride? Joy? Exhaustion? Overwhelmed? All I know is that it felt amazing, sitting in the grass, cold towel on my face, tears streaming down my cheeks. It felt real. I felt more connected to myself emotionally, mentally and physically than I have in a long time. Then I stood up, walked into the team tent, hugged everyone and poured myself a beer. I drank that beer in about 10 minutes (Personal Best!) and stood at the finish line cheering for another hour or so. I had a big pee at some point. I ate a sausage (so delicious) and later about a pound of grilled chicken. The last person finished and the whole team was there cheering. She wasn’t even on our team. That’s how Team Z rolls. We cheer everyone.
When things started wrapping up I grabbed all my gear and we headed to our rented house. We stopped at the grocery store and got freezer pizza, tater tots, cookies, Klondike Bars, and BBQ potato chips. We spent that afternoon in bed (so I could relax my hip) drinking a celebratory bottle of wine and eating all that food. I slept like a rock, wearing my medal, and dreaming of the podium at IronMan Kona.