I’ve been trying to think of a clever title for this post since I got out of the water yesterday. But there really isn’t one. My first triathlon of the season was a DNF. Did Not Finish, for those of you unfamiliar with race lingo. To say I am crushed is an understatement of epic proportions. But let’s start at the beginning.
My week started with an unexpected ulcerative colitis flare-up, lack of sleep, and a peek at the weekend’s weather report to formulate a race plan. Panic set in.
The weather report called for either rain or thunderstorms on Saturday, and let’s just say Galena is a little bit hilly. I tried to find an elevation map to post but can’t, so let’s just say it’s an overall climb of 1800 feet with some seriously scary downhills. I have never ridden in the rain and I hate riding down hills. I would rather climb and climb. It may be slow, but I don’t have the feeling that I might get totally out of control and crash.
So I did something stupid. I worried about the rain. Endlessly. And the hills. Relentlessly. I thought about it all the time. To be fair, I spent a lot of that time trying to calm myself down, but Galena, hills, and rain were on my mind all week.
When I wasn’t thinking about hills and rain, I was thinking about cold water swimming, and panicking about that a little bit too.
Clearly, I did not go into this race with my mental “A game.”
On Friday, I drove to Galena with my parents and picked up my race packet. I dropped Buttercup in her spot in T1, and stuck my toes in the water. It didn’t feel as bad as I thought. I felt a little calmer as we headed to Eagle Ridge to check-in and pack my transition bags. (Though I did notice my ears popping while we were driving on the very hills I’d be riding the next day.)
We were thrilled to find that our townhouse in Eagle Ridge was a short (less than 2 minute!) walk from T2 and the finish line. The perfect place for my spectators to hang on Saturday. We ate a yummy homemade pre-race pasta dinner, I packed my transition bags, and we checked the weather.
80% chance of thunderstorms, starting in the morning. At this point, I was pretty sure the race would be cancelled or changed to a duathlon. I went to bed anyway. With all the pent up anxiety I had about the race, I can honestly say I wasn’t feeling sad about a potential cancellation. I went to bed hoping for either really nice weather or bad enough weather that they’d call the whole thing off. I didn’t want to sit around Apple Canyon Lake while they delayed the race.
Imagine my surprise when I woke up to a 20% chance of rain, likely in the afternoon. The race was on.
Dad and I headed to Apple Canyon Lake while Mom and Goose stayed in the townhouse to spectate at T2 and the finish.
I was pretty calm. We got there early, and just a few triathletes were milling around. I got Buttercup out of T1 and took her to have her tires filled. I set up my transition area, ate my breakfast, and just sat.
Around 8:00, I pulled on my wetsuit, swimcap, and goggles for a warm-up swim. Coach specifically mentioned getting my head wet before the race. Now I know why. When I first got in the water, it was cold, but not bad. And then I put my head in to swim a few strokes. HOLY COLD WATER! So that’s what 60 degrees feels like. It left me breathless. I swam around a little and then just got out and put my jacket on over my wetsuit. It was cold, but I wasn’t sure what to think about that.
I was thinking about the bike. The skies looked gray and threatened rain. All I could think about was that bike, on hills, in the rain. My first bike ride in the rain on scary Galena hills.
The race started at 9:00. I cheered for the other triathletes, chatted a little with my dad, and made my way over to the start. (My wave was scheduled to go off at 9:27.) When the wave went off at 9:18, I started sobbing. For no apparent reason and none that I can articulate, even now. I just started sobbing. My dad, who always knows what to say, looked as if he had no idea what was happening to me. “Lauren, you don’t have to do this,” he said. “You can do it. You’re prepared. But you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.”
At 9:24, the wave before me went off and I was called to the start line with the other 24 – 29 year old female athletes whose last names began with A – K. I hung toward the back. I said a little prayer. My eyes teared up in my googles a little. My inner voice tried to convince my panicking self, “I’ve got this. I’m prepared. I am a powerful swimmer.* I can do it. Just 660 yards. Nothing.”
The gun went off, and I ran into the water. As soon as I got in position to swim, my heart began to race. I couldn’t catch my breath. I swam some insane, made-up version of the breast stroke, head above water, trying to get my breathing under control. I flipped over on my back. I heard the L – Z 24 – 29 females getting into the start corral. I tried a few strokes. I did my made-up breast stroke again. My heart raced. I tried to catch my breath. My arms felt like lead. My heart raced. I tried to catch my breath.
And then a man on a boat said, “Do you need help?”
I teared up and admitted, “Yes… I do.”
A nice man in a diving suit came over with a small raft and pulled me off the swim course. He was kind, gentle, and reassuring. “You can rest here as long as you like. It’s okay. The water’s cold. This happens to a lot of people. Just rest. Relax. You can do this. Rest as long as you want, but if we take you out, you’re disqualified. Just rest here. You only have to make it to that guy by the next orange buoy. It’s not that far.”
Meanwhile, this was happening inside my head at about 90 miles per hour: Omigod, I’m on a raft. The water is so cold. My arms are so heavy. I wonder if my dad can see me. I wonder if Dad knows I’m okay. Why is the water so cold? Why can’t I breathe properly. What if Dad can’t see me and everyone gets worried? I have to get out of this lake. I can swim out of this lake. I don’t want anyone to worry. Why is this lake so cold? Why can’t I catch my breath? Why is my heart pounding so fast? It’s so murky. I can’t see anything. I don’t want Mom to worry. I don’t want Goose to worry. I don’t want Dad to worry. I have to swim. I have to get out of this lake. I just want to be running already. It’s raining. I’m on a raft. That orange buoy looks so far away. It can’t be that far away, this whole swim is only 600 yards. I want to get out. I want to get out. I have to keep swimming.
Eventually, I decided to try to swim again. All of the other 24 – 29 females were out of the water. Who knows how many waves had started. I swam a few more strokes, and panic set in again. Cold water. Difficulty breathing. Heart pounding. I turned and said to my friend in the scuba gear, “It’s not going to happen today.”
A little pontoon boat picked me up. Two elderly gentlemen reassured me that this happens all the time, even to strong swimmers. That the water is cold in Galena.
I was absolutely crushed. Devastated. DNF. My first real DNF. Not like Chicago 2007, where the race quit. This time, I quit.
And then, rubbing salt in my wounds, I ran through T1 to take off my wetsuit and grab Buttercup. No sense coming all the way back to Apple Canyon Lake to pick her up later.
A few friends texted to see how the race went, and I slowly broke the news. I was met with love, support, and encouragement. I am grateful that the tri community is full of tough love, but when things are really bad, they are full of real love and kind, reassuring words.
I am still trying to wrap my head around everything.
83 days until Steelhead.
48 days until Trek Women’s Tri.
19 days until Elkhart Lake.
It’s time to get in some open water swim practice and seriously work on my mental game.
*Yes, I still repeat my mantra that they gave my group at the Trek Women’s Tri last year. It’s grown on me. I like it. It’s cheesy, but I like it. There, I said it.