I qualified to race World Championships at a prior 70.3 race in Lake Stevens, Washington. Since then, I’ve struggled. Mentally I have had a very long season, and it was a bit daunting to build for another major race. The fog began to lift in early August and I was good to go, and started to really find the excitement of actually being able to toe the line at a World Championship event! World Championships; that means the BEST triathletes in the WORLD! Pretty awesome!
My little family, Adam’s parents, and my parent’s all joined us in Vegas for the festivities. The race anxiety was in full swing and I was so happy to see my good friend Sarah Jarvis who would also be racing. She is a blast to hang out with at races. She gets me- I get her. We are quirky and crazy when it comes to pre and post race 'activities' and are just two peas in a pod in these situations.
OUTDOOR EXPO- Temperature 104°
The Expo was just right down the street from the hotel and it was HOT, HOT, HOT! Seriously, Vegas in September is really not a pleasant place. In the days preceding the race it was well into the low 100's and everything for this race was outdoors. There are many very nice places that have air conditioning in Las Vega- we didn’t have the pleasure of using any of those for the race. I was dehydrated and needing to supplement electrolytes just to get through packet pick-up and gear check.
HAVE YOU EVER SWAM IN PEE?
Being at a World Championships Event is SO VERY COOL! Everything is on a grand scale. You realize very quickly you are not experiencing some small local race. You are on the world stage and it shows. I love the swim venue for this race. It takes place in Lake Las Vegas, a beautiful, out-of-the-way resort 'town'. Spectators get awesome views of the multi-wave start and the backdrop is just amazing!
Sarah and I were competing in the same age group (female 30-34) and our start time was slated for 7:05- 35 minutes after the actual pro start of 6:30 am. The only drawback with such a huge race is that things take a really long time. With transition closing at 6:00 am, we would have a solid hour of just standing around in our swim skins waiting- not the most fun. The goal is just to conserve as much energy as possible. It was perfect to be with Sarah. We were low-key and just kept to ourselves. I really didn’t get nervous until about 6:45 when my stomach started to flip-flop. We spotted Coach Heath and Coach Mahogani along with fellow athletes Tony and Matt cheering us on at the swim start. It was so good to see them!
Purple Cap Wave Females 30-34
Our toes hit the water and the fact that the water temperature was 83 degrees started to sink in… literally. There was no chill-factor to the water. It was just warm. Pleasantly warm. Not a good thing when you are about to push yourself to swim over a mile as quickly as possible. I get hot during hard workouts in an 80 degree indoor pool. We had to wade in the water for another 10 minutes at least. No wetsuit to help us there. This was a swim skin only race.
We had a fairly large wave of about 120 women in our age group. Last year Sarah found that this was an aggressive group of ladies in the water, so I braced myself for impact and a very fast start. I got off the line well and was comfortably in my own bubble by the second buoy. With the rectangular swim the traffic wasn’t bad at all. We did start to catch up to other waves who had started before us, but for the most part I was feeling like I was swimming pretty well- other than the fact that I was melting!! IT WAS SO HOT! My head was on fire. Usually the swim provides you with cooler temps that you warm into by the time you finish. Not here. It was hot and the water was dingy. There were quite a few times I grabbed something in my hands and just quickly shook it off not wanting to even know what it was. There was no visibility in the water.
I exited the water in just under 35:00. I was happy with that considering I was in a skin suit race. Just two weeks before, I was knocking on the 40 min. door. Clearly, I was tired two weeks ago and today was a bit better. Not my best swim, but not bad either.
Swim Time: 34:52, T1: 4:04
HILLS, HEAT & NO RELIEF
I really like the bike course for this event as well. It takes place out along the shores of Lake Mead and then moves into downtown Henderson. Lake Mead is a nicely paved road with lots and lots of rolling hills. Not the Lake Stevens rolling hills I experienced in July, but the rolling hills that I’m use to. I really wanted to have a good bike.
T1 is SUPER LONG. You exit the water on one side of the lake and have to run all the way to the other side to get to your bike. Once you have retrieved all your bike gear it is up a steep hill to the bike mounting line. From there you have a steady incline out of Lake Las Vegas. My heart rate went through the roof. Super high! When I looked at the upper 170's blinking on my watch I was flabbergasted. I figured I would settle in a the top of the hill when we descended into Lake Mead. I was being passed like I was standing still- this was my first indication that this bike ride was not going to be what I expected. I began to take my nutrition as planned and was really trying to monitor my electrolytes since it was so hot. The outside temperature when we hit the water was 87°- it was just going to get hotter.
On the bike I felt like I was in an oven. I was hot! Usually on the bike, you are fairly comfortable with the wind in your face and the moisture of your own sweat. No such luck. I was taking in tons of water and my planned nutrition, but I was still off. My legs had no power. I continued to be passed by more and more people. I knew I was riding with some GREAT athletes, but I’m a biker. I can do this. I’m familiar with this course and was ready to ride. My legs weren’t coming to play. After the turn around I really tried to enjoy the beautiful course, but the moments of feeling good were fleeting and I would once again be talking to myself about what the problem was.
I ran out of all fluids just outside of the final aid station. I had to ride about 5 miles before I could get water. I needed water. That aid station just couldn’t come fast enough and I couldn’t ride fast enough to get there. As I approached the aid station, I had to throw two of my VERY FAVORITE Camelback water bottles and take two pop top water bottles just to get me to T2. I was not going to take the chance of running out of water again. As we climbed out of Lake Mead, my left quad started threatening to cramp- I HAVE NEVER IN MY LIFE CRAMPED ON THE BIKE- what was going on with me?! I was in for a long ride…
The final 10 miles or so into Henderson and T2 are a gradual hill. My average speed continued to plummet and I was hotter than if I was standing on the surface of the sun. I actually wondered if I was standing on the surface of the sun. As I approached the final miles I saw Heath and Mahogani and just shook my head and told them, “I’m dying!” All I could think was about the run.
I had two thoughts…
1) I’m going to have a great run because my bike legs didn’t show up, so I should be in good shape to run.
2) It is going to be a VERY long half marathon.
I was really hoping for Option 1.
Bike Time: 3:07:03, T2: 1:52
WHEN THINGS GO BAD… REALLY BAD
Within the first few 100 ft. of this half marathon I knew that the rest of this race would not be what I wanted. It is hard to explain what I was feeling. I wasn’t overly tired. I didn’t feel like my nutrition was crappy. It was that continued feeling that there was nothing in my body to give. I was running, but the resulting average speed was unbelievable to me. I was lucky to hit a 9:00 mile. Holy crap, I’m dying…
This run course is hard. It consists of a triple loop where you go down 1 mile, up 2 miles and down 1 mile. Nothing flat. It is one way or another, repeated over and over again. I was so excited for this course. I had visualized myself working hard for the uphills and then flying on the downhills. I was prepared to dig deep to finish, I just didn’t realize how deep that was going to have to be.
I was mad and disappointed the first loop. I had accepted my fate on the second loop. I just wanted to be done by the third loop. I would not have made it through this race without my spectators. Once again, my friends and family (who I won’t name for fear of missing someone very important) were out there cheering and encouraging me the entire way. I saw so many familiar faces who seeing the pain and distress on my face and body lifted my spirits to continue on. As racers a lot of times we don’t look like we are paying any attention, but believe me, we are. We hear every clap. We feel every cheer. We want to work harder for you. We look to you to carry us through. I was a rock-star out there to my friends and family- at least, that is the way they made me feel. Thank you, in this situation just isn’t appropriate. There are not enough words of gratitude that can be expressed.
I was suffering. Coach Heath told me to get out of my head. Find a different focus. Someone in front of me. The sound of my feet. Something to take the place of the disaster that was playing out in my mind. I wanted to stop. There were times it didn’t seem worth it anymore, then I started to see other athletes around me suffering too. I saw Meredith Kessler, a professional athlete, walking up that two mile hill. I saw looks of pain, anger and agony everywhere. It wasn’t just me out there. This was all of us battling for the same fate- THE FINISH LINE! I had found my new focus, other athletes in need.
When I would see someone cramp, I would stop to prop them up. When someone would be walking with their head down I would tell them “good job”. When someone seemed to feel sick, I would ask if they needed anything and offer a salt pill or two with a swig of my water. For some reason, this made me feel so much better. I was back in control. I could help. I would run when my legs would let me run and I would walk when I couldn’t run anymore.
I finally made it to the last turn around and the home stretch to the final mile. I walked the turn around and coaxed myself to run to the aid station ahead. The aid stations had been out of Coke for miles, but that final station had some and it tasted good. I kept running and finally took my turn running in the chute. I hit the finish line and it was done.
Run time: 2:16:14 (OUCH!), Finish time: 6:04:05
I staved off the really negative mental space for the run, and it all came crashing down the moment I hit the finish line. I stopped running and started sobbing. Sarah appeared right in front of me and I fell into her arms. We cried. I cried hard. She just hugged me. I cried harder than I ever have at the finish line. In my exhaustion, in my anger, in embarrassment over my performance; I fell apart. I was just so disappointed. I had just completed the longest half ironman I’ve ever done. Run my worst half marathon ever. The realization that my season was ending like this was crushing.
I walked out to the arms of family and friends. It was just painful and raw. So many people were there supporting me and pulling for me. They had driven all that way. I felt like I had let them down. In contrast, Sarah had just had an amazing race, finishing 3rd in our age group (in the world mind you) and 11th amateur overall. AMAZING! We should be celebrating her accomplishment and not my disappointment. Nothing made me feel better. I just wanted to be out of the heat and not on my feet. Sarah and I walked back into the finish line area. The food looked disgusting other than a slice of pizza. There were so many sweaty athletes in the food tent (which was air conditioned), I left as quickly as I entered.
My feelings after finishing would vacillate between feeling guilty for my selfishness, to being utterly ashamed and angry about my efforts. I just couldn’t come to grips with what had just happened. I tried to suck it up and celebrate a season of racing and the huge accomplishments of my good friend.
Sarah and I went to the post-race banquet which was low-key and fun. Good food. Good friends. Great athletes! We smiled and laughed a lot and it kept me occupied and out of my own mental space. We topped the night off with a 1/2 gallon of Dreyers ice cream and a bedtime of almost midnight. Family and friends had all gone home and it was just us. It was a good way to end such a hard day.
The next morning I woke up to a Vegas-style hangover. I was beat. I was glad I had packed most of my stuff the night before and after a very gluten-filled bagel and cream cheese I was in the car headed home. It was just me and my box of tissues. I’m not a pouter. I don’t usually stay emotional about things for very long. I cried almost all the way home. I cried because I was tired. I cried because I was mad. I cried because I was happy such a hard season was over. I cried because I didn’t want to hear the congratulations which I didn’t feel like I deserved. I cried because I was being so hard on myself.
You know those moments when you are almost seeing yourself from outside of your own body. Those moments when you hear the words coming out of your mouth or the thoughts in your head as if you are an outsider looking in. When you are saying to yourself that you are being silly and point out the err in your thinking, but you just can’t accept that truth. You need to have your moment. You need to suffer and endure for just a bit longer. That was my drive home.
Then a verse of one of my favorite songs came on my iPod, ”you wouldn’t believe the most amazing things that can come from some terrible nights.” That was it! That was my perspective shift. Yes. This race was hard. Really hard. But I can take those terrible things and turn them into something amazing!
I’ve talked with my coaches and evaluated what 'went wrong'. It’s hard to find an answer to that question. It’s been a very long season for me. It’s actually been a very long two years. My body has stuck with me time and time again. It has stepped up to the plate and been there when I needed it most. Right now it is done. I have robbed the bottom of the bucket one too many times in the past two months. There is nothing left, it is time to step away for a while.
As the distance between me and the race grows, I’m filled with more and more gratitude towards myself, my husband, my friends and my family. They put me on a pedestal that I have a very hard time putting myself on. They don’t look at times without understanding the race. They see me for the person who I am the hours of the day when I’m not swimming, biking or running. Is there anything more a person can be grateful for than to be surrounded by people like that? In Coach Mahogani’s wisdom she said this, “The people who love you, don’t ask for your time.”
So here’s to a swift kick in the butt. I am such a blessed person and athlete. To those who love me, THANK YOU! To those who just want to look at my times, YOU JUST WAIT!
From Qualification to Completion
To read more about Colleen's triathlon adventures, go to: www.stgeorgefitness.com