Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Kona 2014

I didn’t really want to write this blog….which is why, for four-and-a-half weeks, I didn’t.  Why dwell on failures?  Why relive the pain?  

But, there was something in the back of my mind that said that it was important to be honest, to be real, to get it out there, to process it.    And I had enough awkward conversations involving tentative “so…..what happened in Kona?” questions that I figured I might as well get my story out there.  So here we go.

Pre-Race Swmming At Dig Me Beach
I went to Kona with high hopes, fantastic fitness, near flawless preparation, and riding a wave of confidence after having the race of my life in Mont-Tremblant in early September.   And I got there, and…..I failed.   I know that’s a word that tends to make people flinch a bit, to say “oh, but you tried your best, it’s really all about the journey, you didn’t fail, it just wasn’t your day,” etc. etc. etc., but I refuse to back away from the “f” word because it’s accurate.  My day ended with me lying face-down and semi-conscious on the Queen K at around mile 11. 15 miles short of the finish line.   That’s a failure, no other way around it. 

Talking about October 11 isn’t easy because after weeks of re-thinking and recounting every minute of the day, visiting multiple doctors, asking anyone and every one with some semblance of expertise in this area for their opinion, I’m still not entirely sure I know “what went wrong.”  I cannot point to a single decision I made that, doing it again, I would have made differently.  I had a plan for the day and for the week before, I had several very smart people behind me who helped me put that plan together, and I executed it almost flawlessly.  That’s what’s so mind-boggling, so frustrating.  I wish I had over-ridden, or botched my nutrition, or done something stupid, because then I could say that was a dumb mistake, live and learn, do it differently next time.   But I didn’t, and I can’t.  Instead, I’m left with the very same sentiment I had in the med tent, once I’d come back to life and was able to talk:  “But….I did everything right!  How could this happen?

That, I suppose, is the mystery of Ironman. 
Bike Check In

Until mile 8.5 or so of the run, when things spiraled downhill very quickly, my day in Kona was unfolding fairly uneventfully.   I was having a day that definitely was trending more towards mediocre than magical, but I was getting through.  

The swim this year was split by gender, with the age group women starting 10 minutes after the men.  From accounts I’ve read, the other women seemed to mostly appreciate this change.  I wasn’t a huge fan.  I actually don’t mind mass swim starts, and I loved my swim in Hawaii last year, when I just tucked into a pack of men of the same speed and chilled out, barely sighting and just going along for the ride.  This year, I never found that rhythm, I never found a draft, I just felt sluggish, and every time I sighted, I saw lots and lots of pink caps pulling ahead.  The water was choppy, I swallowed a ton of salt water, and I could tell the swell was slowing progress.  But, I told myself to relax, be patient, the first hour of a ten+ hour day means nothing, blah blah blah.   I tried to look around and take in the natural beauty of the Pacific.  I saw a good-sized manta ray swim right beneath us and squealed a bit….there’s truly no place I’ve swum as beautiful as Hawaii and it gets me every time.
Women AG Start
Getting out of the water, I knew it wasn’t good, but I didn’t expect my time to be so far off what I had hoped for -- 1:05, a good 4 minutes slower than I’d ever swum in an Ironman swim.  Running through T1, I did the pep talk: the swim was probably slow for everyone, conditions were bad, it doesn’t matter.  But then I arrived to find the change tent completely packed with women who had out-swum me, so many  that for the first time for me in an Ironman, there were no volunteers left to help me get changed.   That wasn’t a big deal in and of itself, I didn’t need the help, but mentally, I was shaken.  Everyone may have been a little slow, but I was way farther back in the field than I had been last year.  Not good.
On Palani
I wish I could have shaken off the disappointment about the swim and moved on as soon as I got on my bike, but truth is I pouted a bit for the first 20 miles, and then pouted a bit more between miles 20 and 30 when I was passed by a few big pelotons of riders, often with a couple (familiar) females tucked right in nicely. 
Favorite Sign on the Queen K
Then, the wind started picking up…big, huge gusts of wind that scared the crap out of me and forced me to expend all my mental energy on not getting blown over.  Oddly, as the ride got tougher and the winds more daunting, my mood improved.  Eventually, I realized I was enjoying myself.   Unlike last year, this year the island was bringing it.   The winds were relentless, and it was hot.   It was shaping up to be an epic day, one that people would talk about for a long time, and I was bizarrely happy to be experiencing the gnarly conditions I’d always heard so much about.  

I never felt great on the bike, or really even good, but getting off, I was very happy with my effort.  I’d managed the winds.  I’d paced properly and stayed within myself.   After being in a bad mental state for the first section, I’d pulled it together.  I’d followed my fuel plan and done everything I could to keep myself cool.   As I dismounted my bike, I took a quick look at my average power for the ride and found that it fell exactly where we had planned.  “Perfect,”  I said, possibly out-loud.   I really couldn’t have done anything better.
Love this picture

Except….I never pee’d.   I didn’t count precisely, but my educated guess is that I took in 18 to 20 24 oz. bottles of fluid during that bike ride….and never pee'd.   In the back of my head, I knew that was bad news.  But I tried to ignore it. 

It didn’t take long on the run for me to realize where all that fluid I’d drank on the bike went….it was simply sitting and sloshing around in my stomach.   My gut had shut down.  I looked several months pregnant, totally bloated.  This was not good.

I ran OK for about 8 miles.  Not fast, but I was trudging along, trying to problem solve, trying to stay positive.   I stopped at a couple port-o-pots, I took Tums, I walked through aid stations and filled my top and shorts with ice, trying to find the right solution but not succeeding.  My stomach just kept expanding and expanding.
Not feeling good but still running OK
Then, something switched.  Mile 8.5  or so, I started to nod off.  Suddenly, I couldn’t keep my eyes open.   I felt like I was falling asleep.  My mind clearly wasn’t working right and instead of stopping, walking, doing something to fix this, I just kept running, eyes mostly closed, swerving around and bumping into things.  This went on for 2.5 miles…. I have no idea how.   Rational thought had gone out the window, and although I was clearly in a bad, bad place, I just kept running.  I blew through aid stations without taking fuel.  I ran into things and fell a couple times.  At mile 10, I think (just after somehow climbing Palani with my eyes shut), I ran into a mile marker sign, wiped out, and laid on my back for a bit, vaguely hearing some Aussie spectators telling me as they poured water on my face, “just stop, it’s not worth it, you don’t have to run yourself into the ground, wait a bit and then try again, you have until midnight to finish.”  But then I got back up and started running onward.

Out on the Queen K, I swerved along, once opening my eyes to find myself about to run right into the press vehicles accompanying third-place pro Rachel Joyce, who was running the opposite direction in the final miles her race.  I was in a weird enough mental state to find that almost amusing, thinking I’d just come pretty close to getting myself an appearance on the NBC broadcast after taking out one of the top pros. 

Shortly thereafter, I swerved into a curb, and went down hard.

That fall was the last one.  I couldn’t get up.  Spectators and volunteers tended to me, trying to get me to sit up, but they had to hold me in the sitting position….I was too weak.  No one really knew what to do, and while I was somewhat conscious, I couldn’t find the energy to communicate.  One person forced me to eat a gel.   Another poured water into my mouth, until I managed to muster the strength to say I’d already had more than 20 bottles and hadn’t peed, at which point they promptly took the water away and wouldn’t let me have any more for the 30+ minutes (!!!) I laid on the ground while waiting for the ambulance.   I curled into the fetal position, then switched to face down, falling in and out of sleep, my cheek resting on the hot Queen K highway. 
 My "nap" spot

Medics finally arrived, and before they’d move me, they forced me to say, out-loud, and three separate times, that I “wanted” to quit the race.   I suppose I understand the reasoning behind this rule, but the cruelness of that exercise….I can’t even begin to start. Of course I “wanted” to finish the race, but there was no way I could.  By making me say it, by making me feel like DNFing was a choice when in reality it was anything but….that haunts me. 

From then it was to the med tent, for a long, long time.  Once I’d stabilized and returned to a human feeling, I was released to my family, who hustled me out of there, got me home, and let me stay curled up in tears in bed for the rest of the evening.   Over the next couple days, I managed to pull myself together enough to enjoy the rest of our trip in Hawaii.  I took comfort in so many messages I received from friends and loved ones, people who are closest to me, people I knew in high school but haven’t seen since, even people I’ve never met in real life.  The outpouring of positive energy held me up, and to each and every one of you who reached out to me over that time….I can’t begin to thank you enough.
Add caption

And I’d love to say that since I got home from Hawaii, I quietly moved on with my life and put it behind me.  But that would be a lie.  The disappointment, the anger, the frustration of having poured so much energy, thought, work, and desire into this race, only to fail….those emotions have overwhelmed me at times.   They’ve made it hard to get out of bed on days, I confess. 

Some days, I’ve been great, going about trying to solve the mystery of what happened, consulting doctors and experts, reading anything I can get my hands on that will give me clues, gaining energy from my quest for answers.   But other days, it’s been tougher.  I’ve felt anger, swearing off Ironmans, calling myself a failure, and seriously contemplating selling all of my triathlon gear, closing this chapter, and moving on with my life.   And, maybe more than anything, I’ve felt fear…the fear that comes from not really knowing what went wrong, and thus, not knowing how to avoid it happening again. 

These feelings are extra hard because I’ve never been fully comfortable with just how much triathlon means to me.  I know, rationally, this is a hobby.  I am not getting paid.  I am an amateur, this is not something that should be this big in life….these are the things I tell myself daily.   Move on.   It doesn’t REALLY matter.   It’s almost like I’m mad at myself for feeling.  But to those of you who know me even just a little bit must realize, for me, it is more than just hobby.  It’s so much more, and to me, it does matter.  For better or for worse.
Black Sand Beach

I think I’m rambling a lot here, and this has probably come across as WAY melodramatic and silly.  But, here’s the thing.   It’s not all puppies and rainbows, and I think it’s important for me to go through this process of feeling (and to bring my loyal reader(s) along:)).  I could come on here and say, “Kona was a disappointment, but I was so happy to be there, and I still love Ironman, and you learn more from the tough days and this has just made me stronger and ready to kick some butt!” but that's not me, that would be a big, fat lie and in the end, not dealing with it would make it worse.   Instead, I’m letting myself feel.  

And at the same time, I’m moving forward.   I didn’t jump right into a true off-season the way I did last year after Kona….I kind of feared that if I did, that off-season would never end.  Instead, I’ve kept training, a bit.  My season’s not quite over yet.  Things haven’t been all that pretty, I’ve had my break downs, I’ve quit in the middle of workouts, I can’t say I’ve enjoyed every moment or even the majority of them….but I’ve kept moving because I have to. 

As a wise person reminded me recently:  “You can be a basket case, you can hate life, hate yourself, hate the process, hate failure, hate it all… but as long as you’re still moving forward, you still have a chance to succeed.” 

And that’s what I’m doing.

1 comment:

  1. Amanda. It takes time. It takes a long time to get over it. You put so much time and energy, not to mention your supporters putting time and energy. You'd be crazy to not have the feelings you have. BUT...you WILL get over it and move on. You'll also realize (if you haven't already) that even though it was a "choice", it was the only choice to be made. There is no race, no finish worth your health or your life.

    Take the time. You'll go through all the phases of "loss". Honor those feelings.