Galena Triathlon: DNF.

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.



Filed under Swim, Triathlon

18 responses to “Galena Triathlon: DNF.

  1. I’m sorry L. :( There are other days to race and you’ll beat your demons. I know you can.

  2. Dan

    Sorry to hear , Lauren. You have more chances ahead! I have faith you’ll do well…

  3. OH LAUREN! Why didn’t you tell me you were heading to Galena! I would have talked to you and helped you thru that swim and get you over the hump of the colder water, OW swimming and the hills. It is not an easy race, that is for sure. ONWARD you go and you will be fine!

    • Lauren

      Thanks, Jen. :) I actually saw you briefly heading into T1 before the race. (I was way over by the water.) But you were racing too! Your job was to race, not to rescue panicked rookies.

      The funny thing is I did the du last year so the hills were a familiar beast. Just a totally mental day for me out there.

  4. Barb

    DNF > DNS.

    That officially makes you a better triathlete than me when it comes to Galena.

    We all have those days. Hang in there darlin’.

  5. Karen O'Reilly

    Lauren! I feel for you, I have had that exact feeling. It is a horrible, panicked, all-consuming feeling. While doing my 3rd triathlon, I panicked in the swim. I was never a swimmer and had NEVER swam in cold water a or with a wetsuit. I swam 800 yards doing the breast stroke and backstroke. I could not put my face in the water. Every time I tried I lost my breath and went heavy. I also then panicked about the “murky” water and every thing else. I felt like I was going to drown at times. I managed through it but I was so scared after that experience. That was 2 years ago. Even yesterday, I was super nervous before the swim as I have not really swam in cold water since. I think everyone was nervous yesterday about that water!
    All I can say is it gets better. Swimming in open water more frequently helped, swimming in my wetsuit more often helped, and also looking online for “cold water swimming tips” helped. Yesterday I wore two caps, ear plugs, got myself wet first and after my body got used to the water, then, I blew bubbles to get my face used to the water and have my lungs adjust to the shock (which TOTALLY works BTW!!!). At race time, I was able to dive in and swim no problem. It gets better! Stick with it!

  6. I’m with barb.
    A dnf means you actually got out there and tried. A dns would mean you didn’t even try…but you did.

    Whether its a good race day or a bad one, please know how much of an inspiration you are to so many people (namely ME!).
    Your drive, determination, and your amazingly upbeat cheering attitude is what makes you the strongest athlete I know.

    Galena wasn’t your day…but you have 3 more races that I KNOW you will kick ass at.
    I mean, you convinced me that I’m a runner….so you ARE superwoman.


  7. So sorry Coach Lauren. :( I’m sure you’re frustrated beyond belief, but you are still a SUPERSTAR to me and all of your GOTR girls! Now you will learn from this and go into the next race STRONGER and even more READY. (And with warmer water, hopefully…YIKES!)

  8. Crushing race report. I’m sorry to hear that it went the way it did, though you clearly are using the experience the best way possible. I know the motivation will get you through the next few races, and that you’ll crush all your worries at Steelhead!

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  10. Hi Lauren,
    I don’t see your DNF as a failure. Honestly I am so awed by the courage it takes to even enter an event like that. And you plan to do it again. I am so amazed at your dedication and strength both mental and physical. I don’t know if I will ever be able to do a small half marathon (I think that is what it is called?) let alone something like a triathlon!
    Just thought I would throw that in there from a non-runner-tri-or-fit woman! I am recovering from back surgery so even getting back to my mild jogging routine I had pre-injury is months off. I love reading about your physical abilities, it makes me want to get stronger, faster.
    Thanks for your honesty, I find it inspiring.

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  12. Wow, I don’t know how I found your blog but I am glad I did. I just posted my first DNF at a triathlon this weekend. Things just went wrong on the swim and I headed out on the bike, only to change my mind and drop out. It’s a strange feeling. I too have a HIM coming up and am a little panicked about it.

  13. First let me just say that I love that you named your bike…and that you named her Buttercup. That’s really awesome.

    I can so totally relate to this post it isn’t even funny. It is amazing how much of a “mental game” endurance and multi-sport events are. Sometimes I don’t think people who haven’t ever tried really understand what it is like…what your body feels like…how you sometimes feel like your body is failing you…or that you feel like you are failing your body. It is so easy to be discouraged when you eat right, train hard, and travel long distances. It is so easy to keep beating yourself up. But you just can’t. You just have to let it go.

    And you are right, as runners, athletes, and triathletes, we can be some of the most competitive people on the planet. However, when our fellow competitor is struggling, we all have that soft spot that says, “It could have been me.” It is nice to know that even though we all want to do our best, that we can also be there to offer encouraging and supportive words to each other. Its important!

    Thanks for sharing your story! I wish you all the best in your future triathlons!!!

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