Saturday, June 28, 2008

Moving on from Mooseman

This is my first race report, and it's somewhat ironic that it's about the only race in which I've ever DNF'd. Life's a funny thing I guess.


I headed up to NH feeling extremely optimistic about the race – I was certain I was due for a good performance. I had a terrible run in the Lake Anna half that caused me to finish about 15 minutes behind where I wanted to be, and at Columbia I intentionally cycled slowly (probably lost ~7 minutes) as a pacing experiment to see whether it would help me run off the bike. It didn't, so I planned to ride much harder at MooseMan. I spent a few sessions last week in the sauna to try to get a little acclimated for the temperatures.

I've also been searching for some answers nutritionally, and consulted Rebecca Mohning about it. The problem is that I'd wound up throwing up during the swim (or in T1) in three out of the last four tris I'd
done, stretching back to IM Wisconsin last September. There's nothing quite so miserable, and I thought it likely had something to do with what I was eating the morning of the race. On Sunday morning, I had
nothing but oatmeal with strawberries and brown sugar, with some Gatorade. That's about as bland as it gets. Not much protein, no dairy, and no acidic juices.

Finally, I knew the day was going to be a scorcher, so I decided to carry four bottles of liquid on the bike instead of my normal "calorie bottle + refillable aero bottle" setup. I froze a mixture of Carbo
Pro (fairly diluted) plus Nuun electrolytes in three Polar bottles and planned to get through those, plus my full aero bottle, during the bike ride in order to cope with the heat. I also decided to run in a loose, long-sleeve white tech shirt in order to keep the sun off, which is something that ultramarathoners do in hot desert races like Badwater. I toyed with the idea of cycling shirtless, too, but ultimately decided once again that keeping the sun off was important.


THE SWIM: Based on the experience that the Olympic guys had had on Saturday, I knew the swim would be frigid, so I opted to use my neoprene swim cap in addition to the race cap. That turned out to be a great move, because combined with the sunshine, the swim turned out to be incredibly comfortable in every way. The lake was perfect for swimming – clear, calm, and clean enough that you could swallow water without fearing cancer down the road. It was probably in the mid-60s for us, which is just about perfect for long-sleeve wetsuits.

The Columbia and Lake Anna swims had been pretty full-contact (getting punched in the head, goggles knocked off, etc.), so I started closer to the front this time and went out pretty quickly, thinking that the
cold water would help me keep me from blowing up. My age group was the first one, so I lined up pretty much right behind the pros, who seemed to be having a great time teasing one another before the race
started – it helped keep things relaxed. Of course, once the gun went off, I never saw them again, and I wound up swimming tarzan for about the first 50 yards to carve out some space. The pack broke up pretty
quickly and the clear water made drafting very easy, so pacelines (much like on the bike) quickly formed. I preferred to swim a little off the hip of the person in front of me instead of directly behind,
which seemed to work well. Aside from a slight sidestitch in my right side, the whole swim was in comfortable cruise mode. Toward the end I think we picked up a bit of a current, and it was neat to be able to see the bottom of the lake with fish wandering around. As I approached the finishing buoys, I thought I could probably go a second lap at that pace without too much trouble, which bodes well for Placid
next month. RESULT: 30:02 (97/723) (PR).

T1: I was feeling pretty good as I came out of the water and ran straight to the wetsuit strippers, but I realized I needed to practice unzipping my new wetsuit (my old one, which zipped the opposite
direction, "wandered away" at Lake Anna). I got to the strippers still completely zipped up and fumbled around with things. I probably lost 30 seconds there, all told, which was annoying, but at least I'd
had a good swim. Unfortunately, as soon as I started running from the strippers to my bike, I began to get disoriented and sick yet again. By the time I got to my bike, I could barely stand up, and I wound up
kneeling over and heaving for about 30 seconds. Then I sat down, rolled over, and threw up. So much for the nutrition theory. I eventually was able to stand up, put on my glasses and helmet, and walk my way out of T1, but it was hardly race speed. Time: 3:12. (Ugh.)

THE BIKE: As someone this weekend put it, the first few miles of the bike course looked like it had been paved with hand grenades. I tried getting a little bit of liquid in me to settle my stomach, but mainly
I accomplished jabbing myself in the mouth with the straw to the aero bottle, and getting sticky liquid sloshed all over me. So I gave that up for a little bit and tried to find my cycling legs. The first few miles of the ride had some rolling hills and one pretty steep one, but after Mountains of Misery two weeks ago, I wasn't too worried and tried to get over them as quickly as I could. Maybe because my system was in revolt, though, I felt like I couldn't get the power I normally do on the climbs. I'm usually able to climb at 350 watts on the
shorter climbs and get over small hills at closer to 500 during races, but anything over about 250 (mid Z3) was hurting me pretty badly. I did what I could and concentrated on not hitting potholes, and passed
a few people. A lot more people passed me than usual, which was a little bit disappointing, but I didn't have any control over it at that point. Maybe it was because of my stomach issues, or maybe there were just a lot of good cyclists there. A couple of people blew past me like I was standing still, which is easier in some ways because it removes any temptation to see if I could ride with them – not something I needed to try in the state I was in.

Once the road settled down, I was able to enjoy the ride a bit. I started drinking aggressively and made sure to take in some of the incredible New England scenery while keeping up a steady effort. Thankfully, because I'd had a good swim time in the first swim wave, the road was pretty empty and I didn't have to worry about drafting issues or people swerving erratically. The faster cyclists are also generally more predictable and safer to be around, so passing and getting passed wasn't dramatic at all.

During the first loop I rode around the bottle handoffs and relied on the liquids I'd taken in, but by the time I finished it and saw the cheering Z folks, it was really heating up. I began to supplement the nutrition I had with water from the aid stations, which I drank about half of and dumped the rest on my head and back. All told, I drank about 6 bottles of liquid during the ride but still felt like it wasn't helping me at all, and I never felt like I really got my legs under me. At one point I dropped my chain and had to get off the bike (and avoid cramping up) to get it back on.

Halfway through the second loop Sebastian rode past me and said some encouraging words. He was bombing down the road like it was effortless, and I was struggling to keep it going at that point. We
traded places a few times before I eventually pulled ahead with about 12 miles to go and I tried to finish strong. Unfortunately, toward the end of the second loop I tried standing to get over a hill and both of my quads immediately cramped up, which I knew didn't bode well for the run, but I had to try to stay optimistic and disciplined. I was more careful than usual with the running dismount because I'd seen
quite a few mishaps during the Olympic, but pulled it off with no worries and ran into T2 past some more cheering Z's. Result: 2:50:44 (Rank 150). Usually my bike rank smashes my swim rank, but the opposite was true today. Bad omen.

T2: I heard the announcer state that Damon "Taffy" (it actually rhymes with "safe") was 67th off the bike, which I was initially happy about until I remembered that he didn't mean I had the 67th fastest time. I
realized that if I'd started in the first wave but had finished 67th, I hadn't gotten the job done the way I wanted to. Nothing to be done about it, though. T2 took a little longer than usual because I
stripped off my tri top and put on my long white running shirt, but it was a solid transition all told. TIME: 1:55.

RUN: As soon as I got out of T2, my left quad started cramping. Not good. It was also in the mid-to-high 80s with high humidity and direct sun. I decided to play it safe and do a 5-minute run, 1-minute walk strategy, and I pulled it off for the first two miles. At one point I ran past Ed, who pointed out that it was legal to jump in the lake if I wanted to. I filed that one away and kept chugging, but things fell apart quickly. I started getting a headache and feeling slightly ill, so at every aid station I doused myself with sponges,
took every cold liquid on offer, hit the hoses, etc. I kept waiting to be able to settle into a run pace, but the opposite happened, and every step got harder. Despite drinking 6 bottles on the bike and keeping it up on the run, I felt like I was losing the war – maybe I just hadn't been absorbing liquids the way I should after my
traditional sickness in T1. At about the third mile point, I knew that Sebastian must be about to run me down (since we'd finished the bike very close together), and sure enough, he came trotting past at about the turn-around point of the first lap. He said that I was looking good, but he must have been lying, because I wasn't even sure I'd make it to the end of the first loop.

At about mile 3.5, I started to get light-headed and leaned against a tree for a minute to try to get it together. A volunteer asked me if I wanted some orange slices, so I wandered over and talked to her for a minute, and thanked her for being out there on a day like that. Eventually I was able to get moving, but jogging for anything more than 50 yards was out of the question and the slight dizziness continued.

I decided at that point that I was going to get myself back to transition and call it a day. It was the first time I'd ever considered dropping out of a race, but oddly, I haven't regretted it for a second. In January of 2007, my younger brother died very unexpectedly and tragically (hence the "Remembering Jaron" tri top).
Before the race, my parents had seen that the temperatures were supposed to be upwards of 90, and had told me in no uncertain terms that they wouldn't deal well with a telephone call from someone telling them that I'd gotten heat stroke. I decided that it was just a race – and not even an A race – and getting a finisher's medal on some sort of "Winners Never Quit" principle, even at the risk of really damaging myself, was simply stupid.

Once I'd made that decision with about 3 miles to go, I stopped completely at aid stations, got lots of ice and water, thanked the volunteers, and moved on. I found that I was able to enjoy the gorgeous scenery and cheer the Zs (including Jana, Dave Lett, and others) who were heading out on their first loops. They asked if I was doing okay, and I said yes, no worries – although that wasn't strictly true. Toward the end, I passed Sebastian again (who by then was heading out on loop 2), and as he ran by, I told him that my day was about over and wished him luck. When I finally made it back to the transition area, I turned in my chip, took off my belt, and wandered into the lake to contemplate next steps. FINAL RESULT: 684/723 (DNF).


Triathlon is tough in the best of circumstances, and on weekends like this, everyone who finished did something pretty amazing. In the tent afterward, I saw a stream of people coming back looking like they'd been to war and worse. I was just about the only one without a finisher's medal, and invariably people were concerned when I told them I'd DNF'd. The truth is that I was okay (and in fact in pretty good cheer), but I probably would not have been after a second loop, and that was that. I'm as competitive (or more, many would say) as the next person, and I also believe firmly in pushing through challenges and not giving up when it gets tough. "Pain is temporary, Quitting is forever," etc. But there's also another truth, which is that this is not our jobs or livelihoods, and the choices we make affect not only us, but also our family members, relatives, and friends. And the fact is that, if you have nutrition problems on a day like that and recognize it, but decide to push through sickness, headaches, and dizziness, you're asking for a potentially very serious
medical problem. People literally die or suffer brain damage in situations like that.

For my part, I've just gotten a prescription for the Scop transdermal patch, which is what people going on cruises wear to prevent motion sickness. Enough is enough with this nonsense. I'm also going to do my runs regularly in the heat of the day. When Placid rolls around, I'll be ready for it. Chris W., I know you will be, too.