One of those days...

June 30, 2011

i'm trying to forget about all the things that went wrong in welland.  i'm trying to learn from the mishaps and mistakes and become a better athlete for it.  but it's hard.  it's hard to let go of the fact that things were going so well then fell apart.  it's hard to think about things other than the fact that i was on my way to a top finish.  but this day in welland was not the day for me.  this day would test me, push me towards my mental and physical limits and knock me down.

things started off great.  i got over to the race site early with plenty of time to set up and get ready.  i slept well and was feeling ready to race and was excited about the day.  i knew a lot of people that would be racing and was looking forward to competing alongside so many of those i train with.  however, the day's first mishap occurred before the trunk of the truck was closed.  my rear tire blew while pumping it up. i'd lost my spare, pre-glued tubular in orlando and (stupidly) hadn't picked up another one.  no problem... i'll rent a rear wheel.  turns out the wheel rental guy had decided not to show.  that's ok... i'll head to the Gears trailer and buy a new one.  turns out they don't sell tubulars on site.  alright, now i'm starting to sweat.  i started texting and emailing friends that hadn't arrived yet and starting asking around.  jason (technical director) made an announcement on my behalf asking if anyone had a pre-glued tubular tire i could buy off them.  john salt was nice enough to lend me his rear training tire (thanks, john!), and a few minutes later i had my hands on another wheel (thanks, tim!).  just when i was ready to this wheel on my bike, nigel gray found me and lent me his spare tubular (thanks, nigel!).  with a quick swap over at the Gears trailer, i went for a test ride, finished setting up my transition area, and before i knew it was heading down to the water to start the race.

i spent the entire walk to the the swim start focusing on calming my anxiety.  my morning had been much more stressful than i'd hoped for.  in the midst of sorting out my wheel issues i'd realized i'd forgotten to eat and sprinted back to the car to wolf down as much as i could before heading back to finish setting up my gear.  at the water i sat on the grass and closed my eyes and focused on my breathing and did my best to settle down.  it was tough with so little time.  i got in the water, did as much of a warm up as i could, tried to get a feel for my wetsuit (this would be my first wetsuit swim), and found a spot behind the faster swimmers.  the plan was to go hard for the first few hundred metres before settling into a rhythm and finding a draft.  at the sound of the horn i did just that and stuck behind the same swimmer all the way to the buoy marking our first turn.  this swimmer got away from me and i found myself alone with a few swimmers to my left.  i made my way over and found a spot in that crowd until it also thinned out and spent the remainder of the swim doing the same... find a draft, hold for as long as possible, find a new one if i lose it.  i was feeling slow and sluggish and at each corner of the swim course i saw all the athletes in front and convinced myself i was dead last.

out of the water i glanced at my watch.  sub-31 minutes.  sweet.  i may not have felt so great in the water but my time was better than expected.  i made the long run to t1 and took the top half of my wetsuit off before getting to my bike.  once there i struggled to get the rest of my wetsuit off.  i really struggled.  i tried getting it off while standing, while sitting, then while standing again.  i couldn't get it over my ankles.  several athletes came into transition and left while i was sitting there.  i was fighting and fighting and fighting with it and finally it came off.  claiming one of the slowest first transition times of the day, i grabbed my helmet and sunglasses and exited with my bike.

with the wetsuit mishap behind me it wasn't long until i discovered the next.  about a kilometre into the ride i'd realized i'd forgotten all of my food lying on the ground in transition.  i let out a loud, frustrated growl and considered stopping and turning around.  my fuel stores were already feeling low but i decided i could make it to the first aid station at 30kms.  i had all of my hydration and my salt pills with me so i went for it.  it was one of the longest 30kms i'd ever ridden.  i kept counting down the distance... only 20kms to go.... only 15... only 11.  in the meantime i was moving quickly.  welland is flat, and aside from areas with a manageable headwind, i had no problem holding a solid pace.  out of transition i was told i was 30th but was making my way up the field.  finally at the 30km aid station i came to a near stop and grabbed a couple bananas and several gels.  the riders i was pacing with were gone in no time but at that point i could've cared less.  my sugars were low and i was concerned so i ate as much as i could as fast as i could.  i felt better immediately.

i continued to make my way up the field.  at the 60k aid station (where i came to another near stop to re-stock) a race volunteer told me i was in 10th which meant i'd made up about 20 spots.  my sugar levels were on the brink but i still felt strong.  i'd had a great swim and was having a good ride.  if i could run a solid half marathon i'd finish up front.  even though i was feeling ok at this point i was still concerned with just how my body was going to hold on for the run.  i make all my own gels and never consume any commercial products and couldn't remember the last time i'd had so much processed sugar in my body.  i had no choice but to keep going and hope for the best.

at about the 70k point the course reconnected with feeder road, and once there i knew i was in the home stretch.  there was a nice tailwind coming up to carry me home, but it was here i'd make a very costly mistake.  i've replayed it in my mind over and over again and am still not quite sure just how it happened, but i took a wrong turn.  from what i can remember i'm sure of three things: i'm sure the officer at the intersection was standing with his arms in such a way that he was directing me to his left (my right); i'm sure the pylons were directing me around a sharp right-hand turn; and i'm sure the arrow on the sign pointed athletes to the right.  with everything telling me to go right, i turned right.  immediately i felt funny about the turn but decided there was no doubt i was supposed to head this way.  there was a rider a couple hundred metres ahead of me that had disappeared, but i was still not totally sure i'd gone the wrong way.  everything at the previous corner had pointed me in this direction so i kept pedaling.  when my bike's computer hit 80k and there was no road sign i knew i was off course.  i wasn't sure of where i was but felt as though i was traveling parallel to feeder road.  if i kept going straight, i thought i'd reconnect with forks road and be right back on course.  that couldn't have been further from the truth.  later re-tracing my route it turned out i was heading directly south, not east.  i eventually wound up in port colborne.  i stopped to ask for directions three times before finally finding my way back on course, and in the process added and extra 13kms to my ride.  i had decided to keep pushing it (i was in a race, after all) until either i found my way back on course or i hit the 105km point.  whichever came first.  during this whole ordeal i was so concerned about getting back on course and, honestly, scared of getting lost in the middle on nowhere, that i completely forgot to keep eating and drinking.  it wasn't until i was back on course and making my way back to transition that i realized i was feeling spent.  my legs were taxed and my tank was on empty.  i was on pace to finish the bike course in about 2.16, and even with the extra distance and slowing to ask for help, i still managed to average almost 39km/h.

finally back in transition i grabbed a couple of the gels i'd forgotten on the ground and headed out on the run.  i knew this run was going to be tough but it started off well.  at the halfway point i was on pace to run a 1.20 half marathon, but it was at this halfway point that things started to fall apart.  fast.  each step became agonizing.  i slowed down with each kilometre.  i kept thinking only 8kms left...  only 6kms left... only 5kms left.  i'd eaten up the gels early and was burning through what was left of my reserves quickly.  i was grabbing water at every aid station but as time went on it was clear hydration wasn't the issue.  i'd feared it would happen and it was happening... my glycogen stores were empty and i had no fuel left.  i looked at my watch to see i was running above a 5 min/km pace which confirmed just how slow i felt.  i hit the 18km aid station and stopped in my tracks.  i drank a dozen cups of cola and 3 or 4 gels to get my sugars back up.  at this point all i wanted was to finish and after a few minutes' rest i felt i had enough to get me through the last few kilometres.  hazy and slow and weak i made it to the finish and collapsed onto the ground.  i was lightheaded and dizzy and my face was tingling.  i think i was on the verge of fainting.  whatever it was, i was in rough shape.  my vision was blurry and i could hardly string two words together.  i lay there contemplating whether or not to ask for medical help but decided to wait a few minutes.  i tried standing after awhile but had to sit back down immediately.  i lay there for several more minutes and finally got to my feet, but only with the help of a fence.  even that took everything and i had to concentrate.  finally, about 20 minutes later, i had the strength to walk and made my way to the water.  i had to cool down.  my core temperature was up.  driving home was agonizing.  i woke up the next morning with a fever.

with a couple of days to think things over i know where i went wrong.  forgetting my food in transition was just the last of many fuel-related mistakes i'd made; i'd eaten too lightly and hadn't consumed nearly enough carbs in the days leading up to the race.  my tank was on fumes before i'd even arrived in welland.  rookie mistake.  because i don't have much experience racing at this distance it's easy to forget how vital it is to do everything right.  going off course is one thing; it will likely happen again at some point and it will probably be something that's out of my control.  but i do have control over how i prepare in the days leading up to a race, and that's what i'll take away from this day.  my fitness is good and i'm feeling capable of a podium finish within the next year or two.  but i'm not going to get there by overlooking proper race preparation.

one more lesson learned the hard way.