Friday, April 18, 2014

I am willing: New Orleans 70.3 Race Report

I've been thinking for nearly a week about what to write about this race.  I could write 2947493 pages about just what it took to get to the start-line...

The delayed flight (HOW WILL I MAKE MY CONNECTING FLIGHT?!?), lost hotel reservation, boxed in car on race morning, forgetting my wetsuit and sunglasses at the hotel, and nearly not making it back to the start before the road closed!


But I made it to the start line of New Orleans 70.3... I put my wetsuit on, donned my bright pink swim cap, and hopped into the sea of bright pink caps waiting for our turn in the water.  

Three happy/ready athletes.  I also swam with my sunglasses in my cleavage... No big deal.
The night before the race my coach (and dare I say friend) Katie and I were talking about some of the books she's been reading recently.  She was showing me quotes that she has come across that speak to her in a way that is hard to describe to someone else, but you feel compelled to share anyways.  One of them, (that apparently neither of us can remember the origin of) that immediately stuck a cord with me, was simple: I am willing.

The bight pink caps made our way out onto the dock where we were to jump (feet first only!) into the South Shore Marina to get our journey started.

I am willing.

I lined up with 7 other women and the whistle or buzzer or cannon (I really couldn't tell you what it was) went off and into the water we went.  Not only was it possibly my most awkward water entry of my life, my right goggle immediately filled with water.  No problem, swim a couple strokes and dump your your goggles, adjust and move on.  

I swam steady and strong.  I focused on good form and not being afraid of doing the work.  With the exception of running FACE FIRST (how does that happen?) into a guy's back, there is very little I remember about the swim. I rounded the final turn buoy and headed for the stairs out of the water.  Wetsuit off, run to my bike, all the 2-wheeled crap I needed on.  Now I get to ride my bike.

I am willing.

Two pedal strokes into the ride I knew something wasn't right.  My left calf didn't exactly hurt... but it was making itself known.  Well ok, I've got lots of time to let it relax.  Just work your plan.  My race plan called for me to conservatively ride the first hour at this heart rate, after the first hour if I was feeling up to it, I had another 10 beats up to play with.  I ate a Picky Bar every hour and went through at least a bottle of Osmo Active as well.  All according to plan.

I am willing.

One hour in, my calf was still making itself known but not getting any worse, so I decided to play it safe and stick to the heart rate target I had been riding.  Maybe it needs more time.

Two hours in, no change in status.  I was riding strong at my target heart rate, I was working my nutrition plan, but my calf was warning me that things weren't right.  My mantra of the day was taking on new meaning.  

I am willing.

I was willing to work my plan but also make good choices in the face of whatever would come my way.  My calf was making warning sounds from the moment I got on the bike, and I was willing to ride safely to try to save the rest of my day.  Willing to control my thoughts and stay in the moment.  Ride steady, stay hydrated, eat my nutrition.  Take each moment as they come.

Three hours in and I was ready to get off the bike.  My shoulders and neck were done being in aero.  I wanted to RUN.  Four minutes later I pulled into transition, racked my bike, swapped my shoes, made a porta-potty stop (OMG longest T2 time ever!) and on to the run I went.

I am willing.

To my surprise, my calf was feeling pretty good.  Pace. Check.  Hydrate.  Check.  The only hills on the race course are over passes, there were a couple in the first few miles.  Calf was feeling good.  There was a spectator on the 3rd over pass claiming it was a "no walking zone."  I chuckled as I ran past him.  It was hot, people wanted to walk, but everyone was running - no one wants to be THAT guy.

I crested the overpass.  Step. Oh my calf didn't really like that hill.  Step. Ouch. Step. OUCH. Step.  I can't run.  Step.  I can barely walk.

I hobbled through an aid station.  Water, water, Perform.  Ice.  It was incredibly painful just to walk.  Just before Mile 5 I walked hobbled up to a couple policemen and burst into tears.

"Who do I talk to if I'm not going to be able to finish the race?"

I am willing.

In the quarter mile I hobbled before uttering these words aloud I thought about a lot of things, I had gone into NOLA 70.3 with hopes of it being a confidence booster before Ironman Coeur d'Alene, but ultimately, NOLA was not the goal race of my year.  IM Coeur d'Alene was - and what if I hobbled those final 8+ miles, in pain, causing more pain, and probably causing more injury that could possibly put Ironman at risk?  How foolish would that feel?  And what would it prove?  I've covered the 70.3 distance.  Twice.

There were more tears.  I was sad to hang around the finish-line festivities and feel like the only one without a medal around my neck.  Sad I didn't get to see how the day could have ended.  I'd be more sad if I were still hobbling around broken.

I am willing.

But the silver lining of the weekend isn't a tiny thin line that you have to squint, and be in the right light, to see.  The silver lining is big, bold, and made with enthusiastic brush strokes.  I PR'd both the swim and the bike by several minutes.  I ran 4.5 SOLID miles off the bike, and felt great, before things freaked out.  Even without the finisher's medal, my hours of work in New Orleans have left me confident about Ironman.  I got cheer my fellow athlete, Daryl, on as she finished her first 70.3, and squeal in delight as Katie was awarded a Worlds 70.3 slot.  I also got to meet another Katie, she took 3rd in our age group and also took a slot to Worlds 70.3.

Daryl, myself, and Katie... Smiles regardless of neck bling.
After hours in the wind and sun the only logical thing to do was try our very hardest to put ourselves into a sugar coma at Cafe du Monde with beignets and hot chocolate.  I'm told, a New Orleans-must experience.

Now, 5 days later, I'm happy to report that I'm pain-free after a full day of rest, 3 days in the pool, and today spent easy on the bike.  I've allowed myself to be a tiny bit sad.  Its not devastatingly sad, just a tiny bit.  

Tiny bit sad, but with zero regrets.  Ironman is just about 10 weeks out and I can hardly wait to see what happens between now and then.

I am willing.
And NOLA 70.3?  I'll be back next year for a rematch. :)


Karena said...

Sounds like you absolutely made the best choice, Ash. I wish the day had been perfect for you, but I'm so proud that you kept your eye on your target and made the smart call. Can't wait to read about how the Ironman in ten weeks goes!

Brooke said...

hard decision, but a smart one. i'm proud of you!!

Barb said...

So smart to keep your eyes on the CDA prize. You got what you needed to out of this race - proof that your training is on target and you are ready for all 140.6.

I wish the day could have been more but HUGE congratulations on a smart race!! PRs in the swim AND bike - sweet!

P.S. Not many people would have been brave enough to stop. It's not an easy thing to do.