Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Coming to Terms with a DNF

This is not the blog post that I intended to be writing two days after Ironman Mont Tremblant.  I drove up to the race in arguably the best aerobic shape of my life and mentally ready to make some waves in my professional IM debut.  Of course I'd been battling bruised/cracked ribs since my Challenge New Albany win and only averaging 1k/workout in the pool, but I figured a bit of race day adrenaline and my immense swim background would carry me through trouble free.  Since the long race really makes the swim a minor factor and since my bike numbers have been pretty unreal in training, I had approximately zero doubt that I would have any problems race day.

To add to my excitement, Wattie Ink sent me a new custom speed suit to really put my mark on the race.  I really appreciate their quick turnaround and ability to get my sponsors on the suit.  When I stopped in Syracuse for the night, it was waiting.
I was READY.

I had a smooth pre-race lead up with a great group of guys from RVA and felt more and more confident that it would be my day on Sunday.  We swam on course Friday and despite a bit of soreness I was able to rev the engine and summon the swim speed I'm used to.  Another 1k swim workout in the books... perfect.  Everything was going well as race day approached with cool weather and a perfect day to race.

So focused... So serious.
Race morning, I had the privilege to have my good friend Adam and his wife Stephanie at the start to take care of last minute sherpa duties.  I was relaxed and confident as I warmed up and when the gun went off I was in the zone... for about 30 seconds.  The swim was actually pretty low key, but I was tense every time someone got close and found that after the first few hundred meters I was losing my stroke pretty regularly.  As I passed the first turn buoy almost a mile in to the swim, I realized I was in trouble.  I was tired, sore, and my stroke felt alien.  I was starting to cramp from holding my body so tensely for the entirety of the swim.  I calmed myself down by reminding myself that the swim only a small part of the race and I was still in the lead group... but I was dying a slow, painful death.  By the time I saw the finish arch and stood up, my body rebelled and cramped down from my ribs down to my toes.  I stood there for close to a minute as I fought with myself to relax and get moving.  Simon Whitfield served as an all-star lifeguard as he paddled over and asked if I was ok... Insult to injury!
Pre-Race...Feeling good.  
I finally made it to transition and realized I had a decision to make.  Would I quit the race less than an hour in?  Was I going to waste all of my fitness and speed by crying Uncle?  How much damage could I do on the bike/run now that the swim was over?  I decided to give the bike a shot and see what I could do.  It's a long day and I've got the legs to make it a good one... or so I thought.  I took off on the bike and put my head down in pursuit of the lead group.  The first 5 miles were very cold and I had trouble settling into my position with the soreness from the swim.  My heart rate wouldn't get up as I stayed tense to fight against the cold and protect my ribs.  Each breath was painful and the cold that I had anticipated dulling the pain turned into my worst enemy.

The next 50 miles were a terrible war between my competitive spirit and my rational mind.  I knew I was doing myself no favors by pushing on as my back and hips started to ache with my altered position.  Each minute that went by was agony between my body rebelling and my mind torn in two about what to do about it.  By the time I hit the end of the first lap, I knew my day was done.  I was cramping in my ribs, hips, and calves.  My heart rate was barely 130 and I was losing heat at a rapid rate.  I was compensating my pedal stroke continuously to try to find power and it was very simply a downward spiral.  Despite coming through in 2:20 and potentially still within my sub 8:30 goal, there was no way I was going to escape the day without doing some serious damage to my body.  Fighting through the small problem of my cracked ribs created a cascade of issues that could have potentially ended my season or worse.
Ten seconds before pulling out...
With my tail between my legs I pulled over and turned in my chip.  I showered, stretched, and really examined just what had happened.  Looking back, I should have known that only being able to swim 1k/workout was a very bad warning sign going into the race.  A pre-race routine of Valtaren gel is not something that should be done.  I know my body enough to know when something isn't right, but I had to give it a shot.  It's a tribute to the BlueSeventy Helix that I was able to swim a 50 min swim with basically one arm and an awkward kick.  I didn't have issues on the bike/run in training, but then again I wasn't swimming hard beforehand or training in body-tensing cold weather.  The coach in me should have seen the signs but the athlete in me wouldn't have it.  I'm not upset that I gave it a shot but I sure wish I wouldn't have convinced myself so thoroughly that it was going to be my race to win.

In my last post, I stated that I had qualified for 70.3 worlds and was confident I could pull off a decent race post IM.  Now I know that won't happen.  My ribs are not something that I can fix with training or rehab, they just take time to heal.  I have withdrawn from the race and will hopefully be healthy and ready to go in 6 weeks for Ironman Chattanooga.  The sting of the DNF has been amplified by my inability to mix it up at the highest level when I know I have the ability to compete.  Racing is my job and simply participating in the race to check the box is not an option.  I've got unfinished business from this race, but it will have to wait until my ribs heal and I'm back to 100%.

Congratulations to everyone who was able to finish the race this past weekend.  I was able to watch the race day unfold and cheer on the other athletes who poured their heart and soul into the race.  I must admit it was difficult to watch the pro race unfold, but as the day wore on it was easier and easier to put my DNF behind me and support the athletes on the course.  By the time midnight came, I was more than inspired by the athletes that could do what I could not.