Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Over the Edge

This weekend, I made a little escape from the brutal winter of Chicago and headed down to Florida, eager for a good dose of Vitamin D and a few days without snow or ice.  

My parents have a condo in Cape Canaveral and my mother has been staying down there for the past several weeks, so this trip doubled as family time and an opportunity to get in some quality training.  I took my bike along with the intention of getting in a couple of days of good hard, outdoor riding topped off with a little half marathon on Sunday.   My goal was to push myself physically right to the edge (but not over) and hopefully see some good fitness gains. 

Unfortunately, wherever that “edge” was, I went right on over it and then fell some more and I write this while sipping hot tea, emerging from a Nyquil-induced hangover, on my third consecutive day of no exercise. This was not the plan.

Ran myself right on over the edge
I should know from past experience that the weather in Florida in January is quite the crapshoot, but I remained blissfully ignorant until right before I left Chicago, when I checked the weather forecast, saw temperatures in the mid-50s with rain, and threw a couple pieces of cold-weather cycling gear into my bag.  When you’ve been dealing with sub-zero temperatures for months, 50s and rain doesn’t sound so bad. 

What I forgot while hunkered down training inside for months…. riding your bike in the 50s and rain is actually pretty bad.  And that’s what we got for the first two days I was in Florida—temperatures in the 50s and a constant, steady rain.

Beautiful day in Clermont
But I’m a stubborn sort, I came to ride, and I had no backup plan, so ride I did - about 160 miles over two days with a fair amount of intensity.  Ride #1 was flat, on A1A along the coast, the highlight of which was flatting about a mile from my car just as it was getting dark and the temperature was plummeting.  I opted to walk it back in instead of fumbling with a tire fix in the rain, but was shivering so hard by the time I got to the car that I was a little afraid my teeth would break from all the chattering.   Ride #2 was in Clermont, a hilly little cycling mecca outside of Orlando, the highlights of which were not getting lost despite having a cue sheet two pages long and a couple climbs up Sugarloaf, Florida’s version of a mountain (they actually call it a mountain).  In between these rides I did some swimming in the rain.  Some running in the rain.  And lots and lots and lots of shivering. 

I do love swimming in the rain
What Floridians call a moutain
Between the travel, the bigger volume of training, and mostly, being outside in that weather for so long, it really should have come as no surprise that I ended up sick.  I woke up on Saturday feeling horrible, with my whole body aching.  At first I chalked it up to fatigue, put on my compression gear, and did whatever I could to speed up my recovery in hopes of having some spring in my step for the half marathon the next day.  As the day went on, my head stuffed up, the headaches became more than nagging, and the aching got worse.  At around 8, I spiked a fever and (theme of the weekend) started shivering.  I wrapped myself in many blankets, accepted that the race was almost certainly not going to happen, and went to bed, still setting my alarm for 4AM just in case I somehow miraculously woke up feeling human enough to run.    

Then in the middle of the night, my fever broke.  I got up that morning and felt a little better.  Not good, not at all....but better.  I didn’t know if I was being a complete idiot for even considering racing that soon after having a fever, but for whatever reason, I decided to give it a go.

We arrived at the race site, I set out to do a little warm-up, and I stopped after four minutes, feeling worn out and fatigued with my heart racing.  I knew then that the race could get really ugly, so I decided to run with my phone.  The race was billed as “earphone friendly” and there was an app that you could install on your phone that would act as a GPS tracker on the course.  I didn’t want my family to worry if ended up stopping or came in way slower than expected. I was clearly really, really confident about this race.

The race started, and almost immediately, my legs felt heavy and just not right.  Oh boy, I thought, this is not good.  I’ve certainly started triathlon runs feeling not great, but that’s a different animal.  I’m not sure I’ve ever done a running race where I didn’t have at least a couple miles of feeling strong and easy. 

Faking it
Over the next few miles, I had some short stretches of feeling OK and in a rhythm, but mostly felt a little worse with each mile. Oddly enough, despite the fatigued feeling, my pace wasn’t way off.  I’d find myself feeling like I was just barely going to make it to the next mile mark, then I’d look at my watch, see the split, and say “hey moron, you’re not running that slow.  Suck it up.”  (It’s possible I need to be a bit nicer to myself during races).    

We hit a big bridge in the 6th mile of so, and from that point on, things got dark.  I spent several miles pulling out every mental trick I could think of just to keep myself from walking or stopping altogether.  I repeated positive phrases and mantras.  I sang my go-to “disassociate” songs (50 Nifty United States and 99 Bottle of Beer on the Wall).  I thought back to Kona and how disappointed I was in myself for giving in to the pain and walking at times, and I told myself the tough miles today would be the ones that gave me the mental strength to make sure what happened in Kona doesn’t happen again.  I pretended I was at home doing a training run along the Lake, and I tried to relax.  I got a little cheesy--- I remember at one point saying over and over, “this is where champions are made.”  Even with all that, it was really, really hard to keep moving forward.

Proof that the bridges we ran were no joke
In the 12th mile, there’s another huge bridge.  I knew my family would be at the top, so I put my head down, put one foot in front of the other, and just trudged forward.  I saw my family, I waved and handed off my phone, and as we crested the bridge, I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that after a nice long downhill, we’d be to the last mile and my heart would pull me through.  I opened up my stride, started picking it back up, and actually felt almost good. 

Oh, that funky foot turning thing
It’d gotten really foggy and I couldn’t see far in front of me, so I just kept chasing figures in the distance (there was a marathon going at the same time that had started a half hour before us, so I was passing marathoners a lot in the last few miles).  I turned it over, looked at my watch and calculated that despite feeling horrible, I was on track to finish at 1:30 or a little under—right around my PR.  That made me happy and gave me the boost to pick it up a little more. 

Finally, I saw the 13 mile mark.   And, I neither saw nor heard anything remotely resembling a finish line.  I got a sinking feeling in my stomach as I realized I had started on a second loop of the same course I’d already done.  I ran up to the next woman ahead of me.  “Are you doing the half?” “What? No!” she answered, “you missed the turn!”

Crap, crap, crap.  I immediately turned around and started hightailing it back.  I was going against the course all salmon-like, and kept asking people, “where was the turn?  How far back?”  Most of them looked at me like I was weird, couldn’t understand what I was doing or asking.  One guy got it.  “Oh no, girl,” he said, “that turn was like a mile back.”  

The beauty of the internet.  I googled "salmon running against crowd."  And here you go.

I’m not sure I could have been more disheartened.  After I’d pushed myself so hard just to get through the race on a day I felt way off, now I’d gone and screwed it all up.  I felt so dumb—I’d been lazy. I hadn’t studied the course map or previewed it because I wasn’t taking the race seriously and I’d figured I’d always be around others. I’d zoned out and stopped paying attention.  Yeah, it was really foggy, yeah, the turn could have been marked better, yeah, the volunteers might have been a little louder, but I’m the only one who made the dumb mistake. 

I kept backtracking and backtracking, finally finding the damn turn.  It had been at mile 12.4 or so.  A bit delirious, and a lot exhausted, I hoped I’d make the turn and the finish line would be right there.  No such luck.  Another .7 miles or so.  Crap. 

So done.
Somehow, I staggered it in, with my Garmin showing that I’d run 14.8 miles total.  It was disappointing, sure, especially when I’d been truly gutting it out on a rough day and was going to have a decent time (for me). I knew in the grand scheme of things, however, this race didn’t really matter and I laughed it off with a few “dumb blonde” jokes.  

The silver lining- I learned (or, re-learned) a couple good lessons – first, know the course (how many times have I heard my coach say that one?); second, and perhaps more valuable for the future – you can do more than you think you can.  At mile 12, and at mile 13, I truly believed getting to the finish line was going to take everything out of me.  Yet somehow, due to my mistake, I managed to race another 1.7 miles without slowing down too much.  Proof that the mind’s what puts the brakes on first, not the body.   Good to remember.  

Bonus silver lining?  I somehow still managed to place second in my age group and collected the most unique award I have received to date:  a bongo drum.   Just a little random.

And lesson number 3:  don’t be an idiot.  In hindsight, running that race while sick was not smart at all, or at least, running that race hard was not smart at all. (Possibly all the bike riding in the cold rain wasn’t terribly smart either but, I digress).  I had to dig way too deep for something that was never intended to be more than a training day, and my body has let me know it was not at all happy with that.  For about 45 minutes after the race, I sat in the 80+ degree direct sun, freezing cold and (once again) shivering uncontrollably.  That’s post- Ironman stuff, not post- fun half marathon in February stuff!  Super Bowl Sunday for me was not a pleasant experience, as my fever and headaches returned and I alternated between hot and cold over and over and over.   

And, when I got placed in Triathlon Time Out (the dreaded words: “I want you to take the next few days completely off”) I didn’t argue even a little.  This break is my apology to my body for making it do something it never should have done in the first place.  Plus, I don’t mind the extra nap time!  But soon, hopefully, I’ll back to it….and definitely a little smarter this time around.