December 30, 2021

Planning for failure, and still falling short

 So to recap from my last post (you may want to read it first), I:

  • Went to the Oceanside Half Iron seriously under-trained.
  • Planned not to do the run, so I was never going to "finish".
  • Still had mild delusions of grandeur.
  • Had a tough go of the swim, including five minutes of cramping and treading water.

The last leg of the swim was in the harbor and was more protected, so the water was less choppy. I swam slowly, trying not to set off another cramp, and made my way toward the boat ramp and finish line. Even with my slow going, there were still plenty of other swimmers around me, so at least I wasn't going to finish dead last.

I reached the boat ramp and was finally able to stand up again. Instead of heading across the finish line and timing mat, I made my way to the small dock to the right of the ramp. I was very nauseous and did not trust myself to stay upright. A volunteer was at my side almost immediately and asked what was wrong. I said I just needed a few minutes, but she stayed by my side. 

When the nausea did not pass, they encouraged me to get up on the dock. As soon as I did, I felt like throwing up, so I stretched out flat on the dock. Then my leg started cramping again. When that cramp settled down, another would fire up. I spent a long time vibrating in pain, flopping around like a fish out of water, all the while trying to roll over on my stomach so I could throw up (never did though). 

Medical staff was there, again almost immediately. They kept asking what was wrong, but I was at the mercy of the pain of misfiring muscles, and couldn't get out much more than a couple of words. Calves and hamstrings seized and cramped while they tried to stretch things out. I felt helpless, though I was surrounded by people trying to help. 

After what seemed like ten minutes, they got me upright and walked me to the medical tent. They set me down on a cot, asked questions, and peeled off my wetsuit so they could take my blood pressure. Various muscles would cramp, but things were starting to settle down. I eventually sat up, and they handed me a Gatorade to get some sugar and electrolytes in my system. 

In the cot next to me was another swimmer. I am not great at guessing ages, but she was probably my age or maybe a bit older. She was shivering violently as the medical staff tried to warm her up. I saw her hand trembling and reached out to hold it. I just wanted to let her know someone was there. I put my head down and started weeping. 

I held her hand for a while. Her body stopped shaking quite so much and was down to a slow shiver.  I left my cot to free up space in case there was someone else who needed it. I gathered up my wetsuit and goggles, thanked everyone I could make eye contact with, and limped back out to where my bike was parked. Someone asked if I was planning on riding and I laughed. No, my day was done. 

It probably wasn't all that cold, but I was shivering in my wet clothes. I had sent off my dry clothes to the finish line, but fortunately I had left a hoodie behind. I dried up the best I could, put on my running (walking) shoes and made my way out of the transition area. I had about three hours to kill before my buddies would be finished with their bike ride. 

I found some breakfast, found a pub with some tables right next to the course, chatted with another person waiting to cheer on a friend, and sent texts to the people who were following me online to let them know why my tracker wasn't moving. And I tried to digest what had just happened. 

After talking to someone later, I think I had a rush of adrenaline when I was cramping and treading water, and my body did not have time to clear it until I hit dry land. As soon as I was safe, it crashed down on me, and my body let me know in no uncertain terms that I needed to listen to it. 

Ironman has a pretty good tracking app so I was able to estimate when my buddies would be passing by. I saw both of them come in on the bike and then head out for the run. I walked along the course toward the finish line to pick up my dry clothes, and spectators kept cheering me on as if I was still a participant. After the first few it was just easier to thank them rather than explain what was going on. 

I was able to see my buddies a couple of times on the run course, and then headed to the finish line to watch people come in. A finish line is really something special. All the stories of how their day went, and what it took to get there, are often written on their face. I cheered every one of them on. Some were coming in strong, some were stumbling. Some wore a face of determination, others you could tell were about to cry. When they cried, I cried. 

When my buddies crossed the line, we swapped stories of our days, the good and the bad. That part is always great. People run the same course, but everyone runs a completely different race. 

After having time to think about my experience, I don't really regret trying. I was never going to do the run, so it was always going to be a DNF (Did Not Finish) for me. It took the pressure off of any sort of goal time or performance. I planned to take it really easy. I wanted to just enjoy participating at an event after more than a year and a half of shutdown, and doing the event with friends. 


Grit has carried me through difficult events before, but grit and determination can only go so far. I never want to show up that unprepared again. I think I am also done with any event that involves an ocean swim. Difficult events always involve a bit of suffering, but I don't ever want to have that feeling again of hating what I am doing. Now in the future when I utter the phrase, "Well, I've done stupider things...", I think this will be the 'thing' that pops to mind

I hope to never eclipse it. 

December 29, 2021

Well, I've done stupider things...

The phrase in the title is something we say/sort of a meme in our biking group. It is not quite to the level of "Hold by beer", but we say it when we are about to do something, shall we say, not well thought out. 

It started on a ride in Wenatchee. We had all signed up for a 100 mile bike ride, but we weren't in the best of shape, and the temperatures were going to be pushing 100 as well. We agreed that we would ride out about halfway and call it good. The turn around point would be at a small rest area after a gradual climb. The road after that was a very steep downhill that of course we would have to climb up on the way back. 

I don't remember whose bright idea it was to press on once we got there, but I wasn't excited about the decision. But I said, "Well, I've done stupider things..." as I agreed to follow the leader. It ended up being a long, hot day, but we made it through and up that hill, and had more stories to tell. 

My experience at the Oceanside Half Ironman back in October may have set a new bar for stupid decisions for pressing on when unprepared. 

As I have mentioned before, I had signed up for three triathlon events in 2020. All were postponed eventually to 2021. The Oceanside event had actually been postponed three times - March 2020 to October 2020, to March 2021, to October 2021. I hadn't been running this year because of lingering pain, that I eventually found out was arthritis in my hip. I pushed the other triathlons into 2022 in the hopes physical therapy would help, but I decided not to push the Oceanside event. 

I decided to go mostly to see my friends. Plus the re-scheduled date was in March of 2022, so less time for PT and, well, tax season. I still couldn't run, so I thought maybe I could do the swim and bike this time around, and then just step off the course. Problem was that along with not running all year, I had not done any swimming or biking either. It was part of the mental tailspin I was going though, with a side of laziness. After wrapping up tax season on October 15th, I had basically ten days to get in "shape".

I hit the pool a few times and went on two bike rides. The first swim was ugly, but the last couple went pretty well. The bike rides were less encouraging, but if I didn't make the time cut off, so be it. I was already planning on not finishing the event by skipping the run. 

Once I got down there though, talking with my buddies who were doing the race as well, expectations started to rise. Maybe if I didn't implode on the bike, I would have enough time to brisk walk my way through the run course. It was a two lap course, so I should at least be able to make it through one lap before the time cutoff. 

The morning of the race was that regular mix of excitement, anticipation, and standing around. The swim was a rolling start, and we had put ourselves toward the back of the line based on our anticipated pace. It was a really long wait, but eventually the three of us hit the water at about the same time. It went pretty sideways from there. 

It was a beach start into the ocean, and I had a tough time making it through the surf. Two strokes forward, get thrown back two. I saw a guy hanging onto a surfboard hurling into the ocean, so I wasn't the only one getting beat up. By the time I made it through the surf, I was tired, frustrated and had drifted offline for the course. With the continuing chop in the water, it was hard to see where I was going, and I couldn't find a rhythm. I said to myself more than once, "I hate every minute of this." I have never felt that way in any previous event. 

I kept swimming, trying to keep on course, trying to find a rhythm. The course was basically a square around a peninsula. Head out from the beach, hang a right to parallel the beach, another right to go past the point, and another right to swim in the harbor behind to the boat launch. About two thirds of the way through the third leg, I had a massive cramp in my right calf. 

The cramp stopped me in my tracks. I tried to get vertical so I could tread water, but the buoyancy of the wetsuit made it difficult to get my legs underneath me. I was not bashful about screaming because it, hurt, so, bad. Pretty quickly a swimmer offered to let me hang onto them, but I let him go on. There was a volunteer on a surfboard within shouting distance (and I was certainly shouting), but he never came over. It felt like it took five minutes for the cramp to go away as I tried to relax through panic, and for a fleeting second I thought, I could drown in sight of land. 

The cramp eventually settled down, and I slowly made my way around the rest of the course, swimming gingerly toward the boat launch and finish line. But the worst was yet to come. 

To be continued