Friday, June 14, 2013

Getting Over Thyself

You know what's fun?  Writing race reports about races that go well, races with positive outcomes and general fun and merriment.

You know what's quite a bit less fun?  Writing race reports about races that do not go as planned.   Re-living painful or straight up embarrassing moments.  It's hard, it's procrastination-inducing (hence a race report going up on my blog almost a week after the race), but I think, for me, it's necessary. Because it's in the tough moments when the real lessons are learned.

And with that lead in, I'm sure you can guess that I had a bad race last weekend.  Here's the story.

The scene of the crime was Naperville, a place where I've spent a lot of time in the past year or so, so much that the race felt a bit like a hometown affair.  The race itself was intended to be low-key in the grand scheme of my race schedule:  the Esprit de She Women's Sprint Triathlon.  I knew it'd hurt, sprints always do, but I also knew the race environment is inspiring and a celebration of so much more than just triathlon.  I was really looking forward to this race.

The Lead-Up

Backing up a bit, however, to the weeks preceding.  I've stayed a little quiet on my recent goings on, but it's been an eventful last few weeks.  First, my condo was finally vacated, so I made the big move from the 'burbs back to the city.  Then last Monday, I started back at work.  Yes, I'm back at the law firm I left ten months ago.  My position is a little different, I'm working a slightly-reduced schedule, and understandably, I lost my lake-facing office.  But the firm was incredibly gracious in taking me back without making me grovel for it too much and working with me to devise a schedule that will allow me to train adequately for that big race I have in October, and for that I am thankful.

Which is not to say the adjustment has been easy.  It's been anything but.  These past few weeks have worn on me far more than I anticipated (and I certainly did anticipate a rough adjustment).  Moving's no fun.  And, starting a new job is always exhausting, but I will say that returning to an old job after a substantial break, trying to get your feet back under you, and being keenly and acutely aware that it's really, really important to re-prove your commitment, loyalty, and ability is even more exhausting. 

All of which is a long way of saying that I arrived in Naperville on Saturday, the day before the race, completely and utterly worn down, far more fatigued than I've felt in a really, really long time.  Friday and Saturday, I was struggling to walk up flights of stairs.  My workouts all felt horrible, not withstanding the fact that I cut them all in half in an effort to try to find some energy.  I wondered at times if I was getting the flu, but I knew I was just incredibly fatigued from life stress.  It's hard to give credence to life stress (what's so tough about work?  I'm just sitting behind a desk) but it's real and it hit me hard.  But, I honestly wasn't worried about the race.  I'll get through it, I told myself.  It's short, and it's going to hurt, but I'll be fine.

Race Day
Bree, me, Taylor
Race morning, I felt marginally better, got to the race site early, set my stuff up, and then chilled out for a while chatting with my friends Taylor and Bree, both of whom were racing in the Elite wave with me.  Bree I've known for a couple years through Well-Fit...she's a phenomenal swimmer who competed for USC and used to regularly lap me in the pool (I'm sure she still would, we just haven't had a chance to swim together for a long, long time).  Taylor's my newest most favorite swim buddy who I share a lane with when I go to Masters' practices in Naperville.  We're similar paces in the pool and work well together, trading off the lead and always pushing each other to the next level.  I was so excited to have both Taylor and Bree in the race and knew if I could stick with one or both of them in the swim, I'd be off to a good start.  So that was my strategy for that first leg of the race.....just stick with Taylor and Bree. 

The swim at the Naperville race is a funny little swim.  It's in a quarry, which is essentially a big pool.  To complete the 750 meter swim, you kinda snake back and forth, essentially completing three out-and-backs.  A-like so:
There are lane lines.  It's so shallow at times that you can walk.  I've swum in the quarry a bunch of times.  It is so NOT a scary swim.

Which is why I was and am completely bewildered and flummoxed about the fact that I had a panic attack in the middle of the swim, stopped, and quit the race after two out-and-backs. 

I've heard about people having panic attacks in the water, even pros, and even pros with swim backgrounds, but I guess I never thought it could happen to me.  I grew up in the water.  I was that pool rat that lifeguards hated, the little girl who just always wanted to be in the water, playing, swimming, doing flips off the board, didn't matter the weather, didn't matter the time, I was always at the pool.  In triathlon, the swim leg has never, ever been something I've even remotely stressed about.  I'm not scared of the swim.  Ever.

But something happened on Sunday and now it's a whole new game.

After a pretty inspiring pre-race ceremony honoring the women starting in the second wave, all cancer survivors, and listening to the National Anthem being passionately sung by a young woman who had a cancer diagnosis so bad that she was told she may not speak again, much less sing, we walked into the water for the start. 
I'm the one adjusting her goggles
The gun fired, and we were off, sprinting that first 100 meters or so, as you have to do in a race as short as this one.  I jockeyed for position, saw Bree swimming on one side of me and Taylor on the other, and figured I was in good shape.  It hurt, A LOT, but that's how it goes.  So far, so good. 

Just a couple minutes later, starting the second out-and-back, no longer so good.  Suddenly, I was completely and totally overtaken with fatigue.  I felt like a piano dropped on my back.  Just boom, I went from feeling OK to being able to hardly get my arms out of the water.  I couldn't breathe, I couldn't move, I questioned whether I was going to be able to finish.  Bree and Taylor quickly pulled away.  Girls behind started passing me.  I grew more and more panicked....what is going on? Something is wrong.  This isn't right.  I flipped on my back for a moment, tried to breath, then I slowed down the pace significantly, just trying to get a hold of myself.  And when I got to the end of the second out-and-back, where it got nice and shallow, I put my feet down and I walked out of the water.  I quit. 

At first the volunteers cheered me as I walked towards the swim exit, thinking I'd just blown away the field, until they saw me shaking my head and, yeah, crying a little.  I sat down, trying to catch my breath, trying to figure out what'd just happened.  The volunteers were concerned.  "Do you need medical?"  No.  "Are you OK?" Yes.  "Is this your first triathlon?" Not exactly.  Blaine came running over, concerned something was truly wrong.  "Was there contact?  Did you get hit?  Do you need your inhaler?"  No, no, no.  "What happened???"  I have no idea.

 I sat there for a bit, more stunned than anything.  I just dropped out of a womens' sprint triathlon five minutes in.  There were a ton of thoughts and emotions running through my head, and at the risk of sounding too melodramatic, the primary emotion:  self-loathing.  Triathlon's my hobby, it's fun, and I was competing in one of the most positive, celebratory events, full of first-time triathletes just trying to finish, cancer survivors proving to themselves and the world that they had triumphed over life stresses that I can't even begin to comprehend, and here I was, sitting by the side of the water, having dropped out of the race because I wasn't winning the elite wave, because it felt hard, because my inability to keep up freaked me out.  How self-absorbed and lacking in perspective.

A couple more minutes passed, and knowing that my anger at myself would only get worse if I walked away, that quitting once would only make quitting again that much easier, I made the very, very tough decision to get back in, to finish the race.  I stripped off my wetsuit, I handed it to Blaine, and I headed back to the water to swim that last out-and-back, by myself.  By this point, every single woman in my wave had finished and was on to the bike.  I was in dead last place, having just spent at least five minutes (an eternity in a race this short) sitting out.  My "race" was over, but in a way, it was just beginning.  I think in that five minutes, I finally got over myself.  It's been a while coming.

I can't say the rest of the race was easy, it wasn't.  To be that far behind was beyond humbling, and it took a lot of willpower to keep on pushing and to keep my emotions in check.  But it also taught me a lot.  I was embarrassed by what had happened, I was embarrassed to be so far back.  Yet at one point, the volunteers cheered for me as I made a turn on the bike.  "You're awesome, you're amazing!"  My first thought, I am so not awesome.  Do you see me out here, miles behind?  But then I realized that was just my own judgment.  They didn't know.  They didn't care that I was having a bad race, they truly thought it was awesome that I was even out there.  And you know what?  It was.  It really was.

This contrast sums up the spirit of this race.  Yes, it's a race, but all sorts are out there, celebrating life and the ability to do this.  (And that's me in the background being all aero-like)
Time-wise, my bike wasn't great.  My legs and head weren't really into it.  The run wasn't stellar either, but I hung in there, I kept on working, I even caught a few girls in my wave. 

And while the moments after this race were filled with confusion, anger, a little fear, I have to say that during that run, I was awfully proud.  Proud to have turned it around and gotten over myself, proud to have gotten back out there and finished the race, proud to still be working hard even though the result was going to be bad.  I didn't have a lot of strength during the race, physically, but actually, mentally, I found some strength and courage that I didn't know I had.  It took, perhaps, falling to a low, low place to find it, but there it was.

And now....onward to bigger and better days!    


  1. Way to keep going. I too, have had panic attacks on the swim. I did at Pigman after a lot of life stress it weird to say it was comforting to know I wasn't the only one? Though I still feel for you, but you are strong and forged on!

    1. Sad to say it makes me feel a little better:) If this happens to Super Swimmer Tami, too, then it can't be that rare. Hope all is well in IA!

  2. Shifting from self-loathing to having compassion and love for yourself while still being a go-getter with meaningful high reaching goals is not easy. I commend you. Congratulations!

    This coming from a reformed self-loather who has reached some low places, places I'd never thought I'd be. Humbling indeed. It's worth it.

    Good luck getting back into the job too. :-)

    1. Thanks, Stef! "Reformed self-loather" sounds like a good thing, indeed.

  3. I think the best part of this blog is that you got back in the water and FINISHED. NICE!

    Sounds like you need a stiff drink and some deep sleep.
    You'll be fine - the adjustment back to work and moving --- don't discount that!

    1. Believe me, there were MANY stiff drinks consumed after that race, and it helped :) Thanks for reading/commenting! Now, get back to your M&Ms.

  4. You have a lot of life shifting going on. I think this is a great race report in a totally non-triathlon-I-kicked-ass kind of way. Maybe you should come back out here and defend your Outdoor Divas tri title :-)

    1. It's getting to the time of year when I start having real Boulder dreams. You're so right, and I LOVED that race last year.

  5. Wow. Not many people would have trucked back in.. hats off to you! I think the "managing life" part of triathlon is the hardest part - hopefully things start calming down some for you soon!

    1. Thanks! Silly life, getting in the way of all the fun swimming, biking and running.