Sunday, July 31, 2011

From a near DNF to first in AG...what a day.

What a lesson I learned on Saturday. Holy Doodly!

Saturday was the long course (1/2 IM distance) race in Bozeman, MT. I was attracted to this course for a number of reasons:
  • It is hilly. Very effing hilly. The bike portion and the run portion. Great training for IMC!
  • Did I mention that the run course was hilly. HILLY. As in, when I returned to the hotel room after driving the course the evening before the race, my eyes were as big as saucers and my Dad asked me, "What's wrong?"
  • It was going to HOT. As in plus 30 degrees Celsius. Again, perfect for IMC.
Here's how it all went down...

Swim: 35:14 , T1: 1:08
First woman out of the water! Can you believe it? I was in T1 and grabbing my bike about to head out when I heard the announcer say, "And here comes the first woman out of the and so." I was like, "Wait a second. What am I? Chopped liver?" LOL -- I headed out and found afterwards from my Dad that he went over and corrected the announcer. Hahaha! Gotta love parents eh?

Anyways, the swim was my fastest yet -- and it included three loops of the little lake. Getting out and running along the beach for each lap. I caught excellent drafts I think from the same two guys every single lap. Hahahahah!! Thanks gentlemen! AWESOME STUFF!

Bike: 3:17:59, T2: 1:20
Hilly beyond belief -- to give you an idea of how hilly this bike course was, my time at Stony Plain was 2:31...the guy who WON the entire race did the ride 5 minutes slower than that time. In 2:36. This course is no joke. They said it was "Montana Made" and they were not kidding.

Things were really going well -- I felt solid and strong until the last 10 miles of the bike. My belly started to hurt. Gas cramps. I had to sit up and try to burp. Nothing worked. I would pound my chest, trying to burp, but the pain kept increasing. I had a very difficult time staying in aero as the pain intensified.

Run....dum, dum, DUM, DUM!!! Must read to find out whole story!! MUAHAHAHAH!
As soon as I dismounted my bike something was horribly wrong with my insides. I couldn't run my bike into transition -- I could barely walk. The pain was brutal. Knifing. Splintering. I was grimacing and moaning involuntarily. It was terrible. It hurt so much to rack my bike and then bend over to put my running shoes on.

My Dad told me that I was the first female in -- that the other woman who had beat me in was on a relay, but looking at the results, I think there was another woman ahead of me but whoopty-do this didn't mean anything to me. In fact, I don't want to hear how many minutes someone is ahead of me or I'm ahead of -- I don't like it. It makes me take the focus of myself and race out of fear rather than love. You know what I mean? Perhaps one day, I will be a mature enough athlete to handle that kind of info, but right now I find it more beneficial to just tune it out and ignore it -- pretend the person is speaking a foreign language I cannot understand.
(Yes I could have simply said, pretend it is Greek to me, but I suffer from major cliche overuse and am trying to better myself people!! LOL!)

You may be asking yourself, if you felt that bad, why on earth did you put your running shoes on?

Well, I knew it was extremely bad gas cramps -- I've never had them this bad IN MY LIFE, but I just knew that was what it was. I thought, hey, I'll walk and maybe it will sort itself out. Because in iron distance races, things have a funny way of sorting themselves out IF you give them a chance. I gamely tried some kind of jog but from the very first up and down motion, the pain knifed me throughout my right side and literally took my breath away. I couldn't smile, I couldn't talk, I was fricking MOANING. And walking really, really slowly. Eventually, other people finished the bike portion and started running by me.

Most asked if I was OK -- I couldn't even respond at first. Talking hurt my belly. Moving hurt my belly, simply BEING hurt my belly. Some athletes tried to offer advice -- breathe through your nose, exhale through your mouth, whatever. Nothing worked. I was 1/4 of the way around the lake and tried to squat -- I was trying anything. The pain ratcheted up even higher to 9.999999 out of 10. If it got to 10 I think I would have passed out.

I continued moving forward very, very slowly. I clutched at my side, stopping every once in a while. Finally, I made it to the first aid station....I was in so much pain by this point that I said to the guy manning the aid station (with his wife or girl friend) "I'm going to call it a day -- I am in so much pain, I can't even walk."

He never said a word, but grabbed a chair and put it in the shade underneath a tree, set me down on it, and put a cold towel around my neck. He then gave me cup after cup of Heed and water. I couldn't even sit properly on the chair, I hurt so much. My belly was bloated out like I was pregnant and I had to sit on the very edge of the chair and then arch my back to get some modicum of relief.

I kept pounding my chest and burped a little bit now and again, but the pain was relentless.

The worst part was I could see my Dad looking frantically for me....he saw me come into T2 and knew I had to run around the lake and then run right by him to exit the rest of the run course. And I hadn't run by him yet. And the lake was very, very, very small....

A really nice man named Terry came by and asked me if I had done anything new nutrition-wise. I thought it was the super-concentrated solution of Nuun I had, but I had taken a lot of water with it, so I was mystified. Little did I know that ALL of my gas and bloating in ALL my other races stemmed from Nuun. (More on this later...) I always suffered through the pain because I thought it was normal. But on Saturday, the pain would not be relieved. It would not be ignored.

I told the aid station volunteers that all I needed was a good BAROOF and I would be golden. They never said anything. LOL -- I'm not sure if they didn't know what I meant, or even worse, were so alarmed at the possibility of me BAROOFING all over the place that they didn't want to be near it. LOL. Either way, as anyone who knows me will attest, when I think I've said something funny, I'll repeat at least twice to get maximum hilarity out of it. Ummm...yup. You guessed it. The crickets chirped. Every single time.

Minutes passed, and more and more and more people ran by me as I sat on the chair at the aid station. I had a brief moment where my voice clogged with emotion and I almost cried. Intuitively, I told myself, "No, Julie. You've been down that road before." Meaning last year in North Carolina....It was weird, as soon as I said that to myself, the change in my brain was instant: I became emotionally detached from the race and was able to think objectively. If my situation meant I would have to DNF, then so be it. After drinking more and more water and Heed, I was able to stand up and yell to my Dad who came over hurriedly.

I had improved sufficiently to talk and to actually stand I explained what was going on to him. My poor Dad was so worried -- he wanted me to call it a day. He said many of the same things that had rushed through my head in that brief moment when I was about to cry in self-pity: "too much time has passed in the race don't need to hurt's getting late, there is no point in pushing need to stop."

Now to be fair all of these thoughts and concerns were coming from two very different places. From me, it was springing from negativity, from fear, from self-doubt. From my Dad, it was from love and true concern. However, I KNOW my body. And as I stood there talking with my Dad, I started to burp a little more. Then I said, "I'm going to walk around this tree and see if I can move."

I could.

Then, I said, "I'm going to try jogging around this tree."

I couldn't.

The pain was still there, but the intensity had gone down a notch. Hmmmmmm. I started vocalizing this to my Dad. He was still worried about me. And I had an honest *out* for this race. If I was going to DNF, I had my Dad as proof, I had an excuse. But there was the faintest glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel...

Like I told my Dad, I was in too much pain to move, so instead of handing my chip in, I might as well sit at the aid station and see what happened. Maybe I would feel better and then go home. Maybe, just maybe I might feel better and be able to run!

More time passed. And more runners. I had tuned them out though and was focusing on myself only. I was aware of the racers, but there was no emotional response from me. Gradually I started to feel better...I did a little jog around the tree!! OH MY GAWD! There was pain, but it was.....dare I say it....dare I even think it...manageable?

I started to do little test jogs up and down the path. I told my Dad, "I'm going to jog to the porta potties and see how I feel." As I ran to the porta-potties, a race official yelled, "You're going the wrong way!" I replied, "I might be turning in my chip! I'm going to use the washroom and see how I feel."

And no. No BAROOF happened. In fact nothing of significance happened in the loo. I jogged back to my Dad and then commented -- my legs feel fresh. I think I might run! He looked doubtful but held his tongue.

I started jogging back and forth along the path again. I said to my Dad, "You know, I can use this as an awesome training day for Ironman Canada. I could just do the run as a training run and see how it goes. I'll go to the next aid station and see."

Again the doubtful look, but he relented and said, "You don't want to get stuck way out there and start suffering." I said, "I know, I know, I'll be smart."

I started jogging back and forth again. The aid station guy said, "If you decide to go on, let me know ok?" And I said, "Ok!" I looked at my watch, and it said 11:55am. So, doing the math, the race started 5 minutes late (at 7:05am) due to the dunderheads who wouldn't stop *warming up.* That makes it 11:00:41 when I got through T2. So....54:19 passed as I sat around and tried standing, then jogging back and forth. I thought to myself, "Well it is only noon! I could run for 2 hours and have a good training day and be done by 2:00pm. The course doesn't close until 5:30pm"

I jogged back down the path and as I came back towards my Dad and the aid station guy, I impulsively said, "I'm going!" and kept on trucking! I didn't give anyone a chance to say anything. LOL! The other volunteer directing us runners started cheering for me like crazy and that was so nice and motivating!

The first 2 miles felt terrible. I started cramping in my OTHER side, but it was nowhere near the level of pain it had been before. I kept on truckin'. I could see runners ahead of me. Little specks of colour in the shimmering sun and heat waves. I thought to myself, "Maybe I can catch one?"

As I had completely re-aligned my goals from racing to win the race, to running a training run, I decided to walk every single aid station and get a lot of fluids into me. After all, for a quality training session, proper hydration is important! And, I wanted to ensure that those cramps would not return.

Right after the first aid station, the hills started. The heat was relentless, but oddly enough for the first time in my life, the heat wasn't a factor for me. There was a woman running ahead of me and I started to close the gap. I was about to pass her, when I had to pee. So I suddenly went off in some bushes -- I know I startled the lady as I was right behind her and then I disappeared. LOL.

Did my business and she had pulled away. Big surprise. I started to feel negative again and came very close to quitting right then and there. But for one question I asked myself: Would you quit if this was a training day? And the answer was no. I felt crappy, but not that crappy. So, I made the decision to move forward and that was that. No more debate or questioning. Time to move forward and get in a good training day.

After that, I was on fire. I felt incredible. I still had a bit of cramping but I was feeling strong and steady. The heat was beating down hard, but it was OK -- it wasn't bothering me at all! I started to pass a couple of people -- they were walking up the hills. I was running the hills! Me! I was RUNNING hills! :) :)

There were a couple of hills that I walked portions of, but to my surprise, when I started running again, my legs were like, "FINALLY! YAY! We can run again!!" This was a brand new feeling for me.

I walked every aid station, had to go hike down another ditch to pee, and then started passing more people. And more people. This was amazing! The last few miles of the run were the miles where I finally started feeling the heat. At the next aid station, I put ice in my hat, and whoo baby did that ever feel good. In fact, I felt so great, I started thinking about why I felt so awesome...then I sort of became aware that ice was on my head. LOL -- RACE BRAIN!!! I'm all there, but not really! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!

I passed more people and reached the 2nd last aid station. Saw a guy way ahead of me and he was hurting -- you could tell he was in major pain mode. I kept ticking things over and grew closer and closer. Then I passed him too!! Next was the final turn into the recreation area and another loop around the like. I saw my Dad and smiled and I could tell he was totally frigging gob-smacked to see me running strong. LMAO!!!!

I churned my little old behind around that lake and finished in an astonishing 6:47:41. (LMAO!!!!) The girl who won first female overall was 5:47:19. Could I have won overall had I not suffered? Maybe. Muahahahahah -- it is fuel for my fire. And in this case, this comparison to another person motivates me. :D

You read this far... here was my run time (LOL) : 2:51:58

After hugging my Dad, I went back and thanked the volunteers at the aid station who put up with me...and then I found the dude Terry who had offered me advice. Thanked him too.

The biggest surprise came when I returned later that afternoon for the awards. They had a raffle draw and I had a ticket, so I thought, what the heck? I was stunned when I saw I had actually won my age group!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And just in case you did not register how truly surprised I was.......


They called me up on the podium and I needed help to get up on the white plastic thingy. Hee-hee!! I got a mug!! YAHOOOO!!!!! Hahahahahah!!

Lessons learned:

  • Half IM and IM distance races are strange creatures -- when things are bleak you can keep going on and things might turn around....NEVER, EVER, EVER GIVE UP.
  • Emotions have NO ROLE to play during a race. They cloud my judgement -- I find it best to race objectively and leave the tears and overwhelming feelings for the finish line.
  • I am very pleased that I was able to separate my emotions from my decision-making skills. This is a huge triumph for me! :) :)
One last note...After the awards, I spotted the aid station volunteer who was so kind to me, and went over and told him that I won my AG. That it was because of him....when I said I was quitting, he never said a word. He just sat me down and brought me water. That was the best thing he could have done. And I told him so. :)

And the brutal bloating and cramping? Turns out Nuun has an artificial sweetener called sorbitol in it. (Thanks to my uber-coach Sara for helping me figure this out!) I have an intolerance to soribtol. Who knew? Garbage guts actually has something that she can't eat/ingest. Bye Nuun!

Thanks for reading this far, if you did, I will make you a coffee if you ever come and visit me. Hee-hee! :)

Race hard, pull apart those demons, and shake hands with the devil in your head. ;)

Big thank you as always to my amazing coach Sara who called me repeatedly, and emailed me repeatedly all the while in preparation for her own 1/2 IM race in Calgary today. I blush that I was such a diva -- I had no IDEA she was racing, otherwise I never would have bugged her! EEP!! And in truly stunning fashion.. she came in 2nd OVERALL FEMALE in Calgary today. Missed first by 6 seconds!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My God, my coach is such a stud. :) :) :) :)

THANKS TO MY AWESOME DAD!!! Thanks for putting up with me!! :) :) :)


Theia said...

1. I love that your dad corrected the announcer after the swim.

2. I love that you didn't give up.

3. I love that you weren't disappointed in yourself or in your race.

4. I love this: "Emotions have NO ROLE to play during a race." I need to learn that!!!

KK said...

Congrats Julie, you learned some very valuable lessons and a lot about yourself. You are a machine!!! Way to push through the hard stuff and come out on the winning side.

Buh bye Nuun!!!!!!!!

runningman said...

Hey, awesome race Julie, way to finish it up! That's awesome, super entertaining story to tell. I'm sure this is one of those races you will always remember. Sometimes(well most times) the hard races like this are the ones we learn the most about ourselves from. I hope you know what I meant from my bad grammar. LOL

Are you doing IMC Julie?

Julie said...

Hey Darryl! Yup, I'm doing IMC! :)

Big Daddy Diesel said...

This was awesome!!!

Lisa Graham said...

I so enjoyed this post and race report - what an experience! Way to hang in there and finish, and to win your age group!! It's so true in these longer races that anything can happen, and things can change in an instant. That was an awesome training day for you, and lots of important lessons learned.

That's also great that you figured out what caused the issue - I had no idea nuun could do that. Good to know!

Sara Gross said...

Thanks for the large bold shout out! Think of it this way... if you had known i was racing and NOT contacted me, you may have taken a large dose of caffeine as well! And you wonder why i dont tell you ;) You are an inspiration Julie. Most of us would do well to take a page or two from your book. Thanks for being great.

Julie said...

Lisa -- I know!! I had no idea Nuun could do that, I *assumed* it was totally natural and only electrolytes.

Sara -- Yeah, good point! Good thing I didn't throw another 200mg of caffeine into the belly *just for the heck of it*!! LOL -- you are my lifesaver, you realize that. eh? Hahaha!

Rose said...

Great blog! I'm new here, found you through Big Daddy Diesel's blog. WAY TO GO! I've had stomach cramps like that when I did Escape From Alcatraz, it's like nothing else =( Awesome job rallying to such an impressive finish!

Roadie in Vancouver said...

Just came across your great blog today as a result of your posting on ST. Love it.

I love this: "Emotions have NO ROLE to play during a race." I need to learn that!!! as someone said.

I did an extra lap on the bike in a Sprint Triathlon recently due to poor signage and volunteers and I was so upset that I did not do the run. Now I understand that I should have.

Julie said...

Hi Roadie!

Doing an extra lap on the bike...that would SUCK.

Thanks for stopping by! :)