Thursday, October 12, 2017

My First Duathlon, Part 2: Is Finishing Possible?

(Part 1 of this post can be found by clicking here.)

I agonized over what to do about the race. I don't like spending money on activities I can do without cost at any point and on any day, but once I sign myself up I always feel as though it's a commitment to show up and complete it unless something truly catastrophic happens.

This was bordering on disastrous with my inability to run, but as the night prior to the duathlon wore on, I could feel my brain talking my body into at least trying. I am not a quitter. I may occasionally throw child-like tantrums in the middle of difficult challenges and have to talk myself through it, but I don't like giving up.

By bed time I had decided I was going to the race and while I knew I would be fortunate if I was able to walk the running portion, I was also aware I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't at least try.

Surprisingly, I slept pretty great that night (an unusual occurrence for me pre-race). I woke up on my own before the alarm and everything went pretty smoothly. The pain from my pelvis being out of place was still there, and I seemed to have developed other pains in my calves and ankles over night, but I was ready to go and give it whatever I could on this particular day.

Sam was taking me to the start line and had his bike with him. His plan was to cut through portions of the ride on dirt trails to attempt to see me come by on the roads at various points. He was concerned about being fast enough to get to certain intersections, but I'd told him not to worry as this would definitely not be fast on my end.

When we arrived, I went to set up my bike in the corral for the second part of the race. One of the officials was at the entry and marked my arms and leg with my bib number and age. Looking around, there were a lot of people participating in this event. There was barely room to squeeze my bike into its spot, but we were able to get it set up and then had time to wait.
We watched the rounds of swimmers take off for the triathlon race before it was time to start the duathlon.
This particular event also has a triathlon taking place at the same time and had started a bit earlier than our arrival. We walked over to the swim area to see some of the happenings there and as time closed in for my start time, we meandered over to the line.

I could feel my stomach flopping inside. I was already regretting showing up, but I was talking myself through my plan. It was quite simple... You are just going to walk. Put one foot in front of the other until you get back here. Then, you get on your bike and pedal.

It seemed simple enough, but there are time cut-offs. If I didn't make it back in time, the officials wouldn't allow me to get on the bike. As I stood at the back of the pack, allowing everyone to get in front of me (I didn't want to slow anyone down because of my issues), I tried to put the thought of not getting back out of my mind.

The starting gun was fired and we were off.

There were some truly fast people. We started off on a bit of an incline and by the time I actually crossed the start, there were some at the front I could no longer see. I had to put that out of my mind though. You are doing your own race, not theirs. You are injured. Just put one foot in front of the other and walk until you can't anymore.
It's easier said than done though. I walked and I walked alone. Every single racer was in front of me. Normally, this would motivate me to work harder, but in the physical state I was in, I knew I had to just do what I could and not worry about where anyone else was in the race.

The funny thing with races is that we truly don't know what is going on for another person. We can't know what sort of injuries they're fighting through, what kinds of daily struggles they deal with, nor how much or little s/he has trained for the event. In my experience, I find that people pre-judge me (as humans sometimes do -- we just can't help ourselves) based purely on what I look like. Yes, I am larger than the other people racing, but sometimes the "atta-girl" responses I get from people tend to piss me off. It's as though they think I sit on the couch all day eating and it's the first athletic endeavor I've ever attempted.

On the flip side of this, not every comment comes off as condescending and it is nice to have people who are racing together sharing encouragement. The high-five's while passing (it was an out-and-back running course), the "good job" comments, all of the little things that many participants are willing to do to help keep others going is fantastic. When those up at the front of the pack are willing to offer words of encouragement, I find it extra special. They actually stand a chance of winning and to make the effort to say something or give a thumbs up is truly what sportsmanship is about, in my opinion.

A few weeks prior to this duathlon, I had picked up a new toy. Last Christmas, I had bought Sam a smart watch and I had thought it might be a good thing for me during my training. I had time to test it out before the event and never had any trouble with it, but about 10 minutes in to this first leg of the race, the watch had decided my heart rate was of utmost importance and wouldn't show me anything other than that screen. It was infuriating when I was trying to keep track of time, particularly as this hadn't happened at all during training.

At this point, I was worried that I would need to speed things up so I decided to try running a bit. I wasn't sure I could physically run, but I wanted to give it a try. Up ahead walking was a couple decently in front of me but close enough that it was possible to catch them. I decided I would try to run until I caught up to them and then go back to walking. The first few steps of running were very painful. Very. But, I think I've become pretty good at knowing the pains I can push through and those that require me to be more delicate. As I caught and passed the duo, I thought maybe I could do a bit of running periodically.

Because my watch was being uncooperative, I set visual points and would walk to those and then begin running until the next fixed point I selected. It was working fairly well and before I was even aware of it, I was back to pick up my bicycle and head out pedaling.

I had truly been looking forward to this portion because I believed it was where I'd be able to make up some lost time. Changing shoes, adding a helmet and downing some GU were the only things on my mind. I tried not to be overly concerned with going fast in the transition and, for the most part, this seemed to work well.

I have ridden the bicycle course many times over the years, but I had not ridden it at all this year or even last. My memory had told me that the first 4-5 miles would be climbing and then it would primarily be a downhill sprint back to the third leg of this race. I pictured passing people as gravity took over and arriving back to start the second run with ease. However, as I soon discovered, my memory seems to make up whatever it wants to believe as the course was almost nothing like I'd recalled.

The first few miles were in fact climbing, but the climbing seemed to continue much longer than I'd believed. Oh well, I thought to myself, it is what it is and I know there will be some downhill portions coming.

Less than half way through the biking portion, I could see lights flashing in the road ahead. Motorized traffic seemed to be coming to a complete stop, but I was still free to ride as I pleased in the shoulder area of the road. As I approached the lights, I could see that officers were blocking the road entirely and forcing vehicles to turn around. Off to the left I could see a road bike that looked completely mangled and a group of riders heading in the opposite direction gathered around each other. To this day, I still don't know exactly what transpired, but I could only hope that everyone was okay.

Just as I approached the officer who was directing motorized traffic back in the direction we'd just come, a behemoth of an SUV suddenly started to swerve into me. The officer had been trying to direct both the cars on the road and the cyclists coming through and he was informing me that I should continue on behind him on the shoulder; however, the motorist mistakenly took this as a message for him to swerve into the shoulder and dirt on the side of the road and attempt to go around.  It was at slow speed and I could feel it coming so I was actually yelling at the driver, "NOT YOU! NOT YOU!!!"

I had my arm pressed against the side of his vehicle as I was pushed on my bike into the dirt off the shoulder. I decided at this point my best course of action was to simply stop riding, so I hit the brakes and dismounted. At this point, the motorist finally realized what was going on (I'm sure the look of terror on the officers face was a big indicator) and the driver rolled down his window and profusely apologized. While I appreciated the sentiment, it wouldn't have done a whole lot of good if I'd been injured or worse. Still, I didn't have time to be angry about it because I was in the middle of a race for goodness sake.

Waving him off, I continued down the road. Finally! I was getting some downhill time. "Ahhhh... This is where I shine!" I actually said it aloud. I couldn't help myself. Sadly, the relief lasted only a brief time before climbing started yet again. Hmm, I thought, I don't recall this having so much climbing.

Still, I persevered, waiting for the downhill that I was convinced was coming.

My hands had been going numb (a story for a different time, but it had to do with the bike I was riding) for several miles now. I kept shaking them trying to get feeling back. It was a no-go on that front, but up in the distance Sam was approaching. At least that would be a nice distraction.
The course shared the road with motorized traffic. This was part of the mild downhill section that brought me great happiness for a brief time.
"I thought I missed you," Sam exclaimed as he about-faced and came back to ride with me.

"You can't ride with me," I responded quickly. I know it sounded harsh and I didn't mean for that to be the first thing out of my mouth, but the rules are very clear in that no one can have aid or assistance on the course, nor can another rider be within several feet of another. This was made abundantly clear on several occasions and I didn't want to get disqualified because Sam was trying to check on me.

Sam backed off, but I knew I had to stop for a minute because I could barely feel my hands.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yes, I'm fine. I'm just going to eat a GU pack and then I'll be on my way again." I needed the relief of a few seconds off the bike to pull myself together. Sam continued to ride on.

Shaking out my hands, I consumed the GU and got back on the bike. Up the road, Sam was waiting again. I knew he was trying to be helpful and supportive, but I could feel the agitation welling up inside. What didn't he understand about the fact that I couldn't have him on the course riding with me? My response, unfortunately, came out in a distressed, snapping manner.

"Please!" I said again, "You can't ride with me! They will disqualify me if anyone sees you riding with me." In retrospect, I don't know why I was so worried about it. It's not as though I was at the front of the pack, Sam was riding behind me not in front so there was no advantage, I certainly wasn't winning the race, and I hadn't seen a course official since the start line, but I was still overly concerned with the rules for some incomprehensible reason. Maybe it was just the reality of knowing I wasn't in any condition to be doing this race at all, but now I just wanted to finish and didn't want any reason to be unable to complete the goal. Honestly, I didn't have any intention of hurting Sam's feelings, but I was just in pain and wanted to be through the race.

Sam seemed unfazed and told me that he would see me at the transition. Turning around, he headed back to the transition spot. I felt bad as I rode on. I didn't understand why I'd snapped at him in that moment, but I couldn't focus too much energy on it. Later, the reality of my harshness would set in to a greater degree.

After what felt like an eternity of low-level climbing, I returned to the transition area. I can honestly say for the first time in my life I was actually wanting to be on foot instead of on a bicycle. The lack of feeling in my hands had become too much and I was highly uncomfortable on the bike. While the machine itself had been fine, the two of us together had been a very poor combination that day.

Gearing up for the run (or walk, in my case) once again, my head was filled with doubt. I was so thirsty! All of my water was empty and there was no one at the transition area to provide a refill. I knew there was water at the halfway point of the run, but that seemed so far away when I was presently in need. It was also incredibly hot. What had started out as a lovely day had become something unbearable (one of the consequences of being slow during a summer race, unfortunately).

The good news was that I was making or very close to making my personal time goals - somehow. I'd been a smidge slower on the first "run", and slower on the bike than I wanted (my watch had started miraculously working again), but maybe I could make it up during the final run. Or, at least I was telling myself that in the moment.

As I crossed back through the running shoot, a spectator at the start yelled out, "Run! You can walk later."

Oh, how I wanted to punch her. Genuinely, if I'd had any sort of extra energy to expend, I may have done so.  I say that now, but even with my extreme disdain for this woman in that moment, I don't think I really would ever strike another human in this type of situation. I think she thought she was being encouraging, but when a racer is injured, dehydrated, and generally just not in a good place, it's probably not the comment to make.

Didn't she think that I wanted to run? If I had any ability to do so, I would have. But my body was broken. My spirit was broken. Now, I just wanted to cry. I desperately wanted, nay, needed water. My back was killing me and the thought of having to complete another run, no matter the distance, seemed impossible. Frankly, I wasn't sure I could even walk for any length at this point. Why had I wanted to be on foot again so desperately?

Still I continued down the path. I was barely moving. Sam would later tell me that I had a nice waddle going on... thanks, Sam. Though, I knew precisely what he meant. I was hurting and I truly didn't know if I could make it to the end.

*The 3rd and final part of this post will be up soon! Thanks for reading along and for your patience as I finish up the post.

Part 3 is up now and can be found here.


  1. You might need to wear two kinds of watches then, one on each wrist just to make sure.

    1. {giggle} Yes, I suppose you're right. Or have my Garmin for the bike in a pocket or something. :)

  2. Oh my goodness, I can’t wait to read the end of this story. I’m not sure I would even have tried to finish. Heck, I’m not sure I would have started. I’m amazed at how you figure out ways to accommodate your injuries and push yourself to do what you can. I know what you mean about wanting to punch that woman. I had the same reaction when I read it!

    1. I was not very happy about the woman either. On one hand, I understand spectators trying to encourage racers, but I was just not in the mood for the commentary at that particular moment.

      Modifications for activities have become quite a headache, but I have realized that the more I do, the easier I find ways to work around or work through pain or other problems. I tried to give myself some time to rest and recover at a point a couple of years ago, and I honestly believe it made matters worse. There are times when I simply can't do much, but I am grateful that is very rare that I can't be on a bicycle. :)


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