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. 

1 comment:

Marosaaen said...

Wow. What a story. I loved that you held that woman’s hand. It’s entirely possible that she is the only one that can best understand how you felt in that moment. Very raw. thank you.