Sunday, October 25, 2009

Big Kahuna: DNF

And so my exciting first triathlon season ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper.

I had really looked forward to The Big Kahuna and thought it would not only be a perfect end to my season, but also set me up well for next season when I want to do an Ironman and also the Wildflower Long Course. I also wanted to do something to show how far I've come and how much improvement I've made.

But it all started to fall apart on Sept. 29th, when I tweaked my calf muscle at Track doing some hill repeats. I didn't realize I'd done anything significant to it as I just had a bit of tightness the next day that went away when I worked out. But I had a little tight spot, slightly more pain than normal, and, after I did the SJ Rock 'n Roll Half, I had a tear. (Or maybe I always had a tear and it just got bigger at that event.)

I still didn't think it was that big a deal. I still didn't realize at this point that I had a tear (it was a very, very small tear) and I thought it would work itself out as such things normally do. I iced it and skipped Track that week and everything seemed fine. I wasn't feeling it when I did my swim and bike and Crossfit workouts. It only hurt when I ran.

I took a week off from running and figured I'd be fine. But a mile into my Sunday night TT run, I could feel it. I could still run though so I finished off the TT. Looking back, that was probably a mistake, but it seemed reasonable at the time.

Given the pain, I took another week off from running sessions. But instead of getting better, everything got worse. I started having pain when I walked too. It moved up my calf to both knees and down into my other calf. I took it easy and hoped for the best. I iced, took NSAIDs only when I had to, used Tylenol PM to sleep at night, and did a lot of rubbing of the area.

The next time I ran was as a warm up for the US Woman's Triathlon Series in San Diego last week. By then, I was feeling it immediately into the run, not a mile in. But I could still run and I was still able to do quite well at that race.

But I knew I needed help and that this injury was not going to get better on its own. So I went to see my PCP and got a prescription for some PT. My first session was Thurs. and I woke up Friday with no pain! I was excited, but it didn't last.

I had two days off in my training plan, but I wanted to do something to loosen up on Sat. so I did a small bike ride. I took it easy and was mostly okay, but I could feel it a bit in my knees near the end of the ride, which I hadn't felt when biking before. Then, walking around downtown Santa Cruz, to the drugstore and out to dinner just put my knees in agony!

Fortunately (?) I didn't have a lot of time to think about this because, right as I finished eating dinner and was mentally rehearsing the next day, I realized I'd left my wetsuit in Fremont!! Ugh. I like to put it in the car last and I always worry about forgetting it. Figures it would finally happen for my last race of the season.

I raced out of the restaurant to my car, drove back home and then back to Santa Cruz. Of course, now all the parking spaces in the motel lot were taken and I had to park on the street. It also pushed my bedtime back as I had spent an hour and a half on the road that I could have spent getting ready.

So I went to bad annoyed. And wrapped in ice packs. And doped up on Tylenol PM. All of which seemed to have worked because I had no pain when I woke up. Which again didn't last. By the time I got to transition, I was feeling some twinges here and there.

SVTC had reserved racks and I was the first person from SVTC so I got to pick my spot. (It was primo.) I set up my transition area, did my port-a-potty break before there was a line, and went out for a little 10 min. jog to warm up. But I had to stop at 9.5 minutes due to the pain. Not good.

At this point, it was clear that my Half-ironman race was going to turn into an AquaBike. I figured I could still try to run, maybe five minutes on, five off, but mostly likely I'd be walking the run or even stopping. So I had already admitted to the possibility of a DNF. It would be okay though. Doing the swim and bike would still be helpful to assess my training and would still be a good challenge.

I put on my wet suit and walked down to the beach at 6:45 am along with everyone else. They had said we couldn't warm up in the water after 7:00 am when the first wave went off. So I dutifully went in to acclimate myself. Damn, the water was cold. I was able to get my face down into it, but it was tough. I am guessing the water was about 55-57 degrees.

I realized it was 6:59 before I felt fully at one with the water, so I turned back to shore and joined the huddled masses. And waited and waited and waited as we watched the fog roll in. It had been somewhat foggy when we got there, but by 7:30 am (when my wave was supposed to go off), you couldn't see much of anything for any distance. We certainly couldn't see the buoys or the lifeguards.

Eventually, they called off the swim. We all went to the swim finish line and waited for them to start the race. Of course, because I'd gone into the water, I was wet all over and freezing. People who had not gone into the water were much warmer. A nice woman lent me her swim coat for a while, but when she started getting goosebumps, I felt I had to give it back.

One good thing about the canceled start: I got in one last potty break and got to take my wetsuit off completely before my wave even started. Yes, the wet suit that I drove all the way to Fremont the night before to get and might as well not have bothered.

The gun for my wave went off around 8:47 and we took off for T1. I was running as fast as I could and doing fine at first but the pain came back and I started running slower and slower. Eventually, I had to stop and walk. But it hurt even to walk. I limped into T1 and changed for the bike.

I deliberately took my time, but as I was walking my bike to the mount area, I was in so much pain that I couldn't even think straight. I did have one sensible thought:

Why am I risking even more serious injury just for a bike ride?

I was seriously doubting I'd be able to finish the full 56 miles on the bike as well. I figured I could get to Davenport, but I'd probably have to be SAGed back to the start at that point. Not only that, but I've biked farther before and I'd biked The Big Kahuna course. So what would biking this event and then not doing the run do for me?

It wouldn't give me useful information for my training and it wouldn't give me the satisfaction of doing something I'd never done before. On the other hand, if I hurt myself worse, I could end up not being able to train for a few months, which could screw up next season.

So I walked over to a volunteer and handed him my timing chip and went back to my transition area and tried not to cry (both from the pain and from the frustration). Once I got myself together, I went to the medical tent, but they really couldn't do anything for me as they didn't have any ice there and I had Advil and Aleve on my bike. So I went back to the bike and started to pack up, second guessing myself all the way. Mr. Mac joined me at some point and helped.

We went back to the motel where the girls were playing on the computer still in bed. I took a shower, washed off my wet suit and encouraged them to get dressed and go for the free breakfast. Then we packed up, checked out, and went to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

I didn't want to ruin their fun, but even with ice packs on both legs, I was still in some pain. So I went down to the beach to cheer on the finishers while they went on rides.

But even that hurt a bit. Not the painful, I'm going to start crying pain I had in the transition area (because ice is a wonder drug), but I was in enough pain that I was grumpy and couldn't concentrate on anything. After a while, my ice bags leaked and it hurt to sit so then I stood. Eventually, that hurt too.

I watched the probable winner and probable women's winner come through and rang my cow bell for them. I tried to wait for some SVTCers to come by, but the pain drove me back to the Boardwalk where they had benches. I sat a lot, watched the kids ride rides, and then went back to the finish line to get some food.

I didn't stay long though. I felt like a fraud (even though I'd paid my entry fee that was paying for that food) so I went back to the Boardwalk and rode the Merry-go-round with Mini-Mac. It actually hurt to get on the horse, but I had fun grabbing rings and trying to throw them into a clown's mouth. I started to feel a bit better and, luckily the kids were bored and wanted to go home, because I really needed more ice and pain killers and to take a nap.

So... did I do the right thing? Or was I a quitter because I didn't tough it out like Harriet Anderson who finished Kona with a broken clavicle after a crash on the bike course. (You go, Harriet!) Complicating this inner dialog is that fact that I knew after I biked the course back in late Aug. that I had gotten a fear of it due to the strong winds. Did I let that fear talk me out of doing the bike prematurely?

I have to admit that fear probably factored into my decision. But at the same time, the only time I'm not in pain is when I'm iced up. Drugs help, but aren't enough. It's not excruciating pain, but it's there and it's constant and it only doesn't hurt when it's numb from having ice on it.

So, while starting on the bike would have shown me for sure if I could do it or not rather than always wondering if I could have done it, I know I couldn't do the run, not even as a walk. In other words, I would have DNFed anyway.

Conclusion: I really did the sensible thing even if it galls me to give up like that.

In the meantime, I'm going to take it easy for a while. Maybe just swim and do modified strength and conditioning workouts along with my PT. Once I'm healed up, I'll work on my running form so this doesn't happen again.

I'm going to be unhappy for a while though. I feel like I need to mope a bit more to get it out of my system before I can go back to my normal "look on the bright side" approach to life. I eventually got over walking that one bike hill at Wildflower, but this is going to be harder because I can't say "at least I finished" or "I had a PR on the bike" or anything else too positive.

I did learn things, though. In particular I learned how my body feels when it's truly injured verses just a normal ache and pain. I learned a bit about fear too. So at least there is that.
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