Saturday, June 5, 2010

Heatwave Race Report

My first Olympic Tri has been checked off of the "list". My performance lacked luster, but to reiterate, at least it was checked off the list...

As usual I learned a lot and found many areas that need improvement. There were a few things I did right, but more than a few that could have been better. Overall I enjoyed racing with my Fitbird teammates and seeing my coach back directing her flock. It was fun to watch many of my training partners compete in their longest event thus far and for many, their first open water swim. They all did great and I am so proud of them!

So here is my take on Heatwave:

Friday, Pre-Race:

Call and I headed up to Ridgeland, MS mid afternoon Friday just in time for packet pickup. It was being held at an awesome bike shop that had a great assortment of snacks, wine, and beer to indulge in while we browsed the store and got our race packets. The swag bag was great with two shirts, a cap, and a tumbler.

All of our teammates straggled in around the same time and eventually we made it over to nearby Amerigo's Italian restaurant for a great meal and lots of laughs. We finished our carbo-load early enough to make it to our hotel, unload our gear, and settle in for an early bedtime. Gina was kind enough to share her room with Call and I so we didn't have to sleep in the car. We had some Fitbirds crash into our room for a bit to visit, discuss last minute race strategy and nutrition and affix their bike numbers to their cycles, and then off to bed. I had a great night's sleep and felt well rested when I awoke. It was the first time I have had a race were I was not nervous or anxious the night before although I do think I dreamed about racing at some point during the night.

Saturday, Race Day

We awoke around 4:30 a.m. and quickly rose and got dressed for the race. I had managed to secure some peanut butter and honey from Freebird the night before so I didn't have to eat a dry toasted bagel since I forgot to get cream cheese to take on the trip. I chased my breakfast with some Fruit Punch Gatorade and made the decision that no longer would I drink Gatorade in the morning. It just tastes nasty. I will have to find another suitable replacement for liquid nutrition on race day. Lesson number one. (As in previous posts, all lessons will be in blue).

Freebird was kind enough to transport and babysit my bike, so I didn't have to worry about loading it up and taking it to transition. We all caravanned to transition and got there before it officially opened, as is my favorite pre-race tradition. I hit up the Pot-of-Gold to start off my pre-race routine and then set up my transition area. The weather was overcast, windy, and actually kind of cold. It had rained heavily the night before and the ground was very wet and there were large puddles of water on the cement. By the way the sky looked it appeared that there may be a good chance that we would either be racing in the rain, or that it could get called at some point during the morning. The transition area was at a reservoir of water that was huge. The wind made the water quite choppy and there was even a bit of white water at times. I decided to focus on my swim and the water after everything was set in transition. First thing after set-up I made it over to pick up my timing chip. This was a detail I usually forgot so I was pleased I remembered on my own. I got my body marked with my race number and then excused myself from the group to go look at the water and do some mental preparation.

I took a bit of alone time to check out the water temperature, look at the direction of the waves, find the direction of the course layout, and search for obstacles to sight off of. The water temperature was actually pleasant, around 80 degrees. Looking at the chop made me anxious, but I worked through my game plan in my mind as to how I would deal with the sensations I knew I would experience. I had such a good swim last time at False River that even though I was a little anxious because of the choppier conditions, I felt like I could maintain freestyle during the swim. I decided to do a warm up so I could get used to the chop and the direction I would need to breathe to avoid mouthfuls of water. I entered into the water at the swim exit and tried to make it out to a post that was maybe 50 yards ahead of me. I started off fine, but the sensation of being pushed around by the chop was disconcerting and I lost my focus. I tried to just tread for a few minutes to get the feel of the water and then I had the strong urge to get out. I managed to maintain my composure, but headed in to the shore hoping that if I got out and calmed myself down a bit I could work through the anxiety I was feeling. Once I got out, my anxiety lessened, but so did my confidence for the swim. I had to fight back some negative thoughts and tell myself that I had made it through worse conditions in harsher water. It should take me 20 minutes or so and then I would be out. I could do that. Then I could focus on the part of the race I really enjoyed, and finish strong with my bike and run. I still had the goal of enjoying the swim, but had gone into survivalist mode before the race started, and pretty much knew that it was going to be hard for me and probably not too enjoyable.

All the women and relay members were in the 4th and final wave. We started in a small alcove that was actually quite calm, so by the start of the wave time I was feeling more confident again. I positioned myself to the back right of the wave so I could have a more direct line to the buoys and not have to be in the middle of the pack. When the siren sounded I started to swim and I felt relaxed. I focused on maintaining relaxed breathing and trying to stay straight. I got pummeled quite a bit by the other swimmers and wished I had held back a bit before starting in order to avoid the melee. It seemed there were feet in my face all the time, hands grabbing my legs, and arms thrashing me whenever I moved forward. A few times I was forced into a vertical position because there was a traffic jam of people stopped or slowed in front of me. It was hard to maintain composure, but I continued on freestyle. About halfway to the first buoy I could hear someone panicking and calling out in distress. I recognized the fear in her voice and the shallowness of her breath and it was hard to not focus on it. I knew there were kayaks nearby to help so I continued on, but kept hearing her voice in my head for quite a while afterwards. When the group of swimmers would get tight, I found myself having to breaststroke. When I couldn't see the buoy I breaststroked. I fought the urge to go on my back, but considered my side. I reminded myself how much harder it is to do any other stroke besides freestyle and forced myself back face down in the water. By the time I made the first buoy there were 2 swimmers clinging to it. I was in such a tight line I had to try to negotiate my way around them and found myself instead grabbing on for a breath. I soon let go and turned the corner and focused on breathing to the right when I could because the chop was on my left. Halfway to the next buoy I took in a mouthful of water and got choked. And then it began. I saw the nearest kayak and grabbed hold to catch my breath. And thus my downfall began...

From there out it became the same old song and dance. Kayak to kayak, freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, kicking. I managed to control my emotions to not panic, but I was tired and wasting energy. By the end of the swim I could see the swim exit but just couldn't get there soon enough. I crawled out with my tail between my legs, disgusted with my performance. Tired. Beat down. Sick of the same problem over and over. Just friggin frustrated! I can't even describe how annoyed I was with myself.

So here lies my next problem: I don't know how to cope with a poor performance. I try not to carry it into the next discipline because I know I need to move on and refocus and make the best of what I have left. But I can't exit the water with a smile on my face enthused for the next segment when I just struggled again with the same old issue, one that I thought I had moved beyond. I'm disappointed and disgusted and angry with myself and I can't leave it in the water. I can't figure out how to not let my poor performance bother me. When the same thing happens over and over every time I have a race in rough water and I can't seem to correct the problem, how can it not affect me? How do I block it out and be happy about the rest of the race? Coach is right - I let it ruin the whole experience. But it does ruin the whole experience!

So, frustrated, I move on through transition to the all-to-familiar experience of empty rows of bike racks. I change my gear, and realize again I didn't put my inhaler in transition, it was still in my gear bag in the car. I run my bike to the mount line and set off. I glance at my watch, as for once I actually remembered to start it at the beginning of the swim wave. It says 30 minutes and I wince as I know that with each race this year I am getting slower, not faster. I check my bike computer as I start up the first hill and realize it is not working. It doesn't take me long to realize I put my front tire on the wrong way so the magnet is not reading the wheel speed. I contemplate stopping and fixing it and realize it would just be wasting more time that I don't have. I am pushing as hard as I can anyway so seeing my speed wouldn't really help me anyway (but it might have made me feel better if I knew I was in the ballpark of where I wanted to be - and it would have been nice to know my distance as I rode). I glanced at my watch to check the time so when I got to the turnaround I would have an idea of my speed.

The course was very hilly and I enjoyed the downhills. The uphills made me wish I had done some training in St. Francisville this season. I tried to maximize my speed going down and push as best I could on the way up. I passed a handful of people along the way, but being so far back with my swim, most of the riders were pretty far ahead. There were a number of cyclists stranded on the side of the road with flats, more than I had ever seen before in a race. I have to admit that at one point it crossed my mind that if I had a flat or a bad spill at least it would justify my crappy performance. I'm not proud to admit that, but at least I'm being honest. I really did push hard but my legs felt heavy. I had a bad muscle spasm developing in my lower right side of my back and kept having to stand to try and stretch it. I thought about my nutrition and for once felt that it was not my problem. Over the course of my ride I had an aero-bottle full of Gatorade, half a bottle of water, and 2 gels. I felt hydrated even though I was sweating hard. Nutrition was not my problem, I was just achy and my legs and back were tired.

I made it back into transition and managed to get out in under a minute. The course had rolling hills and for the first two miles I struggled with shin cramps that forced me to walk and try to stretch them out. I kept telling myself that if I would just stay running they would go away but I couldn't seem to make myself push through them. Once I got to mile three I felt like I was moving more into my zone and when I did run I kept a good pace. The hills got me and I found myself walking up the hills and trying to make up time running down them and running the flats. The scenery was nice but I was ready for it to be over. It would have been nice to run these trails in a training situation as they really would be fun, but after everything that came before the run I was just ready for the finish line. Eventually I saw it and climbed the final hill to cross over the mat. I found an ice bath and plopped myself down to cool off. My Fitbird teammate Susan had prepared a wonderful Firefly tropical drink for us that was handed to me upon finishing. It helped take some of the sting away as I watched the rest of the participants finish the race.

I really don't want to sound bitter, be a poor sport, or be a "Debbie-Downer". I realize that this is just a race, and I am not an elite athlete, but just a middle-age woman who has recently started racing in triathlons. In the grand scheme of life my performances in these races are not big deals. I get that. But I like to succeed when I try things. I am in this to achieve and to improve. I really want to improve my swimming. I want to do well. I want to have fun, not feel beat down by my efforts.

I am just mentally tired. I am tired of the same old same old. I can't figure out why I have so many problems with the swim that no one else has. I've tried everything I can think of to "get over it". I've read up on it, I've used mantras, I've practiced and practiced some more, I've tried aversion therapy, I've tried "experiential" therapy, but when push comes to shove and the water gets choppy I fail. I'm tired of failing and I'm getting really tired of trying. I'm getting tired of talking about it and writing about it probably almost as much as all of you are of reading about it! At what point does one just accept that some things may just not get better and we all have hang-ups and they just may not be fixable as much as we really want them to be? I'm not saying I'm done trying yet, but as of today, I'm just saying I'm really tired of trying...

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