Friday, October 17, 2014

Moving Forward

“There is no better than adversity.  Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time.”
Malcom X

I have been putting off this blog post for a while.  It has taken longer than I anticipated to process my emotions and quite frankly I just didn’t want to write about my experience at IMMT.  I DNF’d.  Before I go into detail as to what happened, let me just state that Mont Tremblant is a beautiful place.  It is very picturesque and the people are very friendly. 

Mr. Adams and I arrived in Mont Tremblant on Thursday and about 15 minutes before athlete check-in closed for the day.  I quickly ran and waited in line.  The look of fear on my face must have been quite obvious because several people asked me if I was ok.  I signed all the necessary documents, received my race essentials and schwag, and headed to my hotel with the hubs that was located a few miles outside of Mont Tremblant. 

Friday I started my day with a practice swim that went ok, in spite of the dreary weather.  I was amazed at how clear Lake Tremblant was and how one could see the lake floor for several feet.  After the swim I spent the day hanging with friends and meeting folks that I had initially met on Facebook.  The more I walked around Mont Tremblant and Ironman Village, the more I could not believe I was getting ready to do my first IM that Sunday. It seemed surreal.  

Coolest chair ever!

Friday evening I attended the IM athlete dinner.  The Canadians know how to put on a show!  

The Zebra Lady was so cool looking

The food tasted as good as it looked

Saturday I did a short bike ride and then all of my focused was making sure I had my gear bags packed properly and getting my bike and bags checked in.  I really liked the fact that the gear bags were going to be kept inside under a tent, and there would be no concerns of my stuff getting wet. 

Bright ribbons to make sure I could easily spot my bags

I know there was over $1M worth of bikes in transition

Bags, bags everywhere

Saturday evening the hubs and I had an early dinner with my friend and her in-laws who were staying in the village.  My friend staying in the village would prove to be crucial to Mr. Adams and I the following day.  That night I went to bed a little later than I had wanted, but I slept like a baby that night.

Sunday morning Mr. Adams and I were at transition before 4:30.  It had been advised that those that were not staying in the village to get to the race site by 4:30 since several key roads would be closed.  I met some friends at a coffee shop since transition was not yet open.  Once transition opened I had my body marking done and made my way to my bike to set up my nutrition and pump my tires.  Some folks were like me, full of nervous energy.  Others seemed as if it was just another training day.  Once I felt my bike was properly prepared, I found Mr. Adams and headed to the swim start.

It had been raining off and on since we had arrived at Mont Tremblant.  It wasn’t raining, but it was cloudy.  I tried not to think about the possibility of rain since that was not something I could control.  After getting into my wetsuit, the hubs and I did our usual ritual of him praying over me and the other athletes.  Once we finished praying, I decided to find my wave and take advantage of the preswim.  Once I had a really good view of Lake Tremblant, I started to have a panic attack.  It was so obvious that other athletes asked if I was ok.

As I walked into the water I became more overwhelmed.  Even though I had done a preswim the day before, the lake looked so much bigger to me.  The buoys seemed to go on forever!  The air temp was in the mid 50’s and the water temp was in the mid 60’s – chilly, but doable.  I took a few strokes to try to calm myself down.  It wasn’t working.  I took a few more strokes and decided just to wade in the water for a bit.  As I was wading I saw my dear friend, Beth.  She could see the fear in my face.  She came towards me and took my hand.  She and her friends were in the same wave as me, the last wave, so she told me to get in line with them.

Beth and her friends are stronger swimmers than me, so when it was time for our wave to get in the water, I made sure I was in the back.  When the horn went off I got it together and began my day on becoming an Ironman.  At first the water was fine.  I had finally calm down and moving pretty good through the water.  I had been warned that since the water at Lake Tremblant is so clear, you can see the divers that are underneath the water.  Well while I was moving along, I swam across one of those divers and scared the crap out of myself.  It almost brought on another panic attack. 

I was keeping an ok pace for me when the water started to get very choppy.  The wind had picked up and was causing swells.  Some of the swells were so significant that I felt like I was body surfing.  At times I could feel my body lift up and get pushed back.  The swaying of the water caused me to become nauseous.  The only thing that seemed to help was to close my eyes.  Fortunately for me my coach makes me practice sighting in the pool by swimming with my eyes closed, and only opening them to sight.  This drill also helps me to swim in a straight line.  So when my face was in the water, I closed my eyes.  When it was time for me to sight, I opened them.

I knew I had to be careful about how much energy I exerted on the swim.  I had a long day ahead of me, and the choppy water was not helping.  After not making the swim cut-off at the Monticelloman Olympic two years ago, I had promised myself if I ever DNF’d again, it would not be because of the swim.  So I kept pushing and made it around the first buoy. Halfway through the first and second turn buoys, I took glance at my watch – time was not on my side.  By me trying to conserve energy, I had gone a little too slow, so I had pick up the pace for the second part of the swim.

The swells that initially worked against me, were now working in my favor.  I also had my own guardian swim angel.  He was an older gentleman that was part of the water safety crew.  He was in a canoe and stayed within a few feet of me as I made my way to the swim finish.  Periodically he would encourage me and let me know if he thought I was getting too close to a sighting buoy.  His presence brought me comfort.  When I reached the swim finish he gave me a thumbs up.  My swim time was 2:12.  Definitely a lot slower than what I had wanted, but at least I had made the cut-off.

Thank you Lord, I made it before the cut-off! 

As I stood up to run to transition, something didn’t feel right.  I felt as if my body, especially my stomach, had emptied out.  I had never felt this before after a swim.  To make matters worse, I felt lightheaded and nauseous and I was beginning to have stomach cramps.  I had no idea what was going on with my body, but I decided to push through.  Getting from the swim finish to the transition area seemed to take forever.  As I headed into the changing area, I noticed a bunch of athletes circled around a heat lamp with metallic blankets on them.  Once inside the changing area I noticed I was a little chilly myself.  A volunteered offered me a blanket, I took it, and kept it around me as I got dressed.  Before leaving the dressing area I made sure I ate a Hammer Peanut Butter gel.    

Since I was one of the last people to come out of the water, I had no issues finding my bike.  Prior to reaching my bike, I turned on my 15 minute interval notification on my trusty Ironman Timex.  I wanted to make sure that I took in nutrition every 15 minutes.  

It's not fancy, but it does what I need it to do

My nutrition consisted of a very thick mixture of Hammer Unflavored Sustained Energy and Heed in one of my water bottles, a bottle of water in which I would exchange out at every aid station and multiple packets of Hammer gel.  I also take a couple of supplements when I raced.  Inside my bento box with my gels I had one tube filled with Hammer Endurance Amino and another filled with Hammer Endurolytes.  I had trained with this nutritional and supplemental combo, so I knew it would work for me.

Even though I felt like crap, I got on my bike and started on the course.  As I am riding I notice I am not feeling any better.  I still have a long day ahead of me, and I have no idea how I would make it before the 17 hour, midnight cut-off.  My heart becomes heavy and I begin contemplating the unthinkable (the unthinkable for me) – dropping out of the race.  I am not a quitter, but I am also a realist.  My body was not feeling like herself and I needed her at her best to complete the challenging bike and run courses.  I knew I had to decide if I was going to DNF on my own terms or be pulled from the course for not making the cut-off.

Right before the second aid station, I decided I was going to call it a day.  My body was feeling in such a way that I did not know how to handle.  I was following my nutritional protocol, but I was not feeling any better.  I stopped at the aid station, told a volunteer that I did not feel well and I was done, and handed over my bike.  Once the words came out of my mouth, I had a complete meltdown.  The volunteer told me to let it out and held me up as I cried my eyes out.  I have never felt such a sense of failure in my life.  All I wanted to do was disappear.

As my meltdown continued, I was walked over to the med tent where I was given a blanket and my vitals were taken.  My vitals were fine, but I still felt like crap.  I had to wait for a while for a van to come pick me up and take me back to transition.  As I sat there, I watched all these fantastic athletes fly pass me.  I was in awe of them, but also jealous.  I wanted that to be me.  I did notice that there were a lot of athletes stopping to use the porta potties.  I know many triathletes that do long course pee on their bikes, so I couldn’t understand why so many athletes were utilizing the porta potties (Later on I would learn on one of the IMMT Facebook pages that many athletes were having stomach issues).

Finally my chariot arrived and my bike and I were loaded on the van.  The driver was very friendly and compassionate.  He told me not to feel bad about dropping out of the race because I was not the only one.  There were many athletes that had dropped out because of hypothermia.  I appreciated his kind words, but I was wallowing in my own abyss of self-pity.  The driver could not take me back to the transition area, so we met with another driver.  He was also kind and mentioned numerous athletes had dropped out because of hypothermia.

Back at transition I gathered my gear bags and tried to figure out what to do next.  I did not have my phone and I had no idea where Mr. Adams was.  I walked around the transition area for a while, but I could not find Mr. Adams.  I decided to go to my friend’s condo.  Her husband was racing and I knew her kids had a nap schedule.  So I hoped someone would be there and I could use their phone to call my hubs.  As I walked through the village, I felt as if I was doing the walk of shame.  So many people were looking at me. I had tears streaming down my face.  I was so embarrassed.  Part of the run course goes through the village, so there was a lot of excitement since there were folks already on the run course.

By God’s grace I remembered where my friend’s condo was located.  The main door was locked, so I had to call the operator.  Thankfully she buzzed me in.  When I knocked on the door my friend asked what was the password (she thought it was her sister-in-law).  I could barely talk, but I told her it was me.  As soon as she opened the door I broke down again.  She quickly pulled me inside and held me.  I cannot put into words how thankful I was she was there.  My friend called my hubs and he soon made it to my friend’s condo.  He was relieved to see me because he had had his own issues trying to figure out what had happened to me.

My friend had made my husband a sheet that gave estimates when I would pass key points on the bike course.  His plan was to be at those key points to cheer me on.  When I didn’t show up at the first key point, Mr. Adams knew something was wrong.  He immediately went to the medical tent by the transition area.  He was told I had dropped out of the race, but it was unknown where I was.  My husband was beside himself.  He didn’t know where to look for me or if I was ok or not.  Thank God for my friend!  I don’t know how we would have connected without her.

Mr. Adams and I stayed at my friend’s condo for a bit.  I felt like I was in a protective cocoon.   Unfortunately I had to leave that cocoon to get to my vehicle and back to the hotel.  So began my second walk of shame, and this was worse than the first because now people were finishing and had on their shiny gold medals.  I felt so inadequate.  Back at the hotel while I was taking a shower, I fell and hit my hip on the side of the tub.  I even knocked the shower curtain down.  Falling in the tub just added insult to injury.  I just wanted the day to be over.

Monday morning Mr. Adams and I packed up our things and left Mont Tremblant a day early.  I wanted to get back home as soon as possible.  I was so upset about my DNF that I left ALL of my IMMT stuff in the hotel room. I didn’t want any reminders of my ultimate failure.  While we drove out of Mont Tremblant, one of the hotel owners called me to let me know I had left my IMMT items in my room.  I explained to him that I had done it on purpose and he could throw all of those items away.

As we made it back to the states I was overwhelmed by the outpour of love and support I was receiving on my Facebook page.  But I also felt unworthy.  In my mind I had failed and I had let down so many people, especially my hubs and my coach (of course I hadn’t, but that was my twisted thinking at the time).  I didn’t want to face anyone.  I was ashamed and embarrassed.  I wanted to come back home an Ironman, not a failure.  Plus I needed the extra boost of accomplishing something so epic because I had some heavy stuff to deal with when I got back home.

Prior to leaving for IMMT, my mother had been showing a few signs that the Alzheimer’s was progressing.  It was progressing to the point that I thought it was time for me to move her out of her home and put her into assisted living.  With Alzheimer’s it’s important to keep the person with Alzheimer’s in their home as long as possible because it is familiar to them.  Significant changes to an Alzheimer’s patient surroundings can cause the person to become worse.  While at IMMT I did my best to push what I had waiting at home for me in the back of my mind.  Fortunately while I was gone my mom did ok.

Coming home defeated and having to possibly move my mom out of her home started to send me to a dark place.  I knew if I didn’t sign up for some kind of race soon, the darkness was going to overtake me.  So I signed up for the Patrick Henry Half Marathon, which was the following Saturday after IMMT.  I ran this race with one of my dear friends that was training for Ironman Chattanooga.  I enjoyed running with my friend, but I did not enjoy having to run in 96 percent humidity.  When I ran across the finish line and received my medal, I started to cry.  Coming across the finish line helped chip away some of the failure I was feeling. 

Crying like a baby (Photo by Competition Imaging)
Next I competed in the Richmond Rox Triathlon and snagged 2nd in the Olympic aquabike division.  Now boy did that feel good!  It was my second podium of the season.

Grinning from ear to ear (Photo by Lenora Mariner)

Then I did the Crawlin’ Crab Half Marathon with my girlfriends during my wedding anniversary weekend.  Kudos to Mr. Adams for being so cool with us traveling down the day before the race to celebrate our anniversary and supporting me to do the race with my girls.  The Crabby, as I like to call it, is now my favorite half marathon.  The race is the perfect size, the energy on the course by the volunteers and even the police is contagious, and the post race party is top notch.  I had a great time. 

Up, up and away! (Photo by Marathon Photo)

Currently I am training for my first full marathon – the Anthem Richmond Marathon.  I didn’t run a marathon to prepare for IMMT because I was concerned of getting injured and honestly I didn’t have the time.  I missed over a month of consistent training near the beginning of the year due to illness and having to wear a boot for a month.  I had to rebuild very slowly.  My chiropractor had me to use the Jeff Galloway run/walk/run method to get me back to running.  As my mileage increased I continued the Galloway method and my coached divided my long runs into 2 runs.  I would run in the morning and then run in the evening.  I am continuing this method as I prepare for Richmond. 

The medal that I will receive once I finish the Anthem Richmond Marathon (Photo by Sports Backers)
Now that significant time has passed since IMMT, I find myself in a better place.  The sting of the DNF is still there, but I no longer feel like a complete failure.  First and foremost I made it to the starting line healthy.  Yes I was a little undertrained for the run, but I made it.  I completed the swim before the cut-off!  That is huge for someone like me who only learned how to swim a few years ago and has learned how to manage swimming-induced panic attacks.  I raised over $5K for the Alzheimer’s Association.  Those funds that I raised will help families like mine and be used to find a cure.  The training for IMMT helped me to cope with the stress of being the primary care giver for my mom.  I also made some new friends and strengthened some old friendships along the way.  I didn’t have the result that I wanted, but all was not in vain either.

I am so grateful for all the folks that helped me along away and my sponsors Hammer Nutrition and Saris Cycling (PowerTap and CycleOps).  I have grown so much during this journey.  I have discovered that I am much stronger than I think I am and my body is capable of so much more.  DNF’ing at IMMT has made me hungry for the 2015 season.  I have already planned my season with my coach and putting things into place for the off season.  I am going to do big things in 2015…stay tuned.

Coming hard in 2015