Monday, October 16, 2017

My First Duathlon, Part 3: Surviving in a Desert

**If you're just joining this story or missed either of the first two pieces, you can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

Most of us have seen movies of people in the desert, lacking energy and wandering in search of life with nothing and no one else around. That's the best analogy I can think of in an attempt to describe these moments I was experiencing. There were people all around me, but the only thing I could see was a scene of hot, dusty, dirt and gravel all around. My only motivation for continuing to move forward was water. There was definitely water up ahead and I had to keep moving to get to it.

I'm pretty sure people passed me. I recall making nonsense comments as they ran by. If you asked me details about it though, I have no recollection of any meaningful banter or conversation.

Water. Water was my only goal.

Certain that I'd been walking for hours (though actually not), finally the aid station was visible in the distance. Like a mirage, the tent wavered in the heat of the day. I may have been talking out loud to myself at this point, but I was determined to get to the water.

A reasonable person may be asking him/herself why one would set water as the goal, knowing that there would be no motivation for the return trip of the this final leg of the race. Well, when one is in the state of mind I was those sorts of thoughts don't enter the picture -- at least until in the midst of it.

I had finally reached the water. Precious, hydrating, life giving water. That paper cup of cold water was the best thing that had happened in my life to date. It sounds ridiculous in retrospect, but it's how I felt in that moment. I requested another and another, and yet a fourth.

The volunteers were looking at me strangely, but dammit, I was thirsty and I was going to drink until I was content. I savored the moment. I walked to the opposite side of the path and took more water from volunteers there. I wanted to bathe in the water, but I suddenly realized that I now had to make the return trip to the finish line.

Shaking my fist at the sky I proclaimed, "Why do you mock me?!"

Truly, I think delusion was setting in now. I was picturing myself in an epic movie, except that it was real life (or what behaved as real life) and this is where I was going to lay down and end existence on this earth. It was so far back to the finish line. There was no way I was going to make it back. No way.    No.   Way.

I let out a huge sigh. I took two more cups of water. I started to cry.

My body hurt so badly. The pain I was experiencing was setting in now that I'd found the water I had needed.

"Suck it up," I sobbed to myself, "You can't just stand here forever." And with that, I headed back to the finish. Very, very slowly.

It was a bit ridiculous. Though I hadn't had months of training for the event, I was trained to some extent. True, I wasn't accustomed to completing the distance while experiencing the pain I was in presently, but I did not want to quit. I was not going to quit because I could still move.

Shortly after leaving the aid station, I was thirsty again. How could I have consumed so much water and still be thirsty?! I thought about going back for more, but backtracking would not have been wise. Despite my thirst, my stomach was sloshing with water, which was creating quite an uncomfortable feeling on top of everything else.

My steps were getting shorter and shorter. Soon I was shuffling along like a 90-year old who's had hip and knee issues her entire life. This is what I have to look forward to, I thought. The great thing about this thought was that it actually focused on life beyond this race which meant that I stood a chance of finishing the mission.

I wanted to run. Really. My brain was telling me to do so, but every time I would attempt it, my body declined the invitation. It was one of the most frustrating instances of my life. I kept trying to coax my body into cooperation. The faster you go, the quicker this will be over. I'd pick up my leg and attempt to run, but my attempts were met only with failure. It was no use. My body was doing all that it could.

After wandering this desert for weeks (or maybe what only felt like weeks), I spotted Sam off to my right side. He was walking very slowly, about 20 feet away, in the same direction I was headed. Why was he walking so slow? I wondered. Then, I suddenly understood that it was because I was walking that slow and he was attempting to stay with me to show support.

Suddenly, whatever little hope had been keeping me moving collapsed inside. "I can't do this," I cried. "I don't want to do this anymore." I don't know if it was the comfort of seeing Sam and knowing that he wouldn't make me finish, or the reality that my body truly felt as though it couldn't go on, but I had to let it out, to share with someone who would understand that my body couldn't take any more.

"You are almost to the finish," Sam responded. "Just a little bit more to go." He moved in closer to me, likely realizing I wouldn't bite his head off as I had during the riding portion. I just wanted the torture to end.

"I can't see the finish. Where is it?" I asked.

"It's there. I promise," he smiled as he pointed off to some random point ahead. "Do you see all those people up there?"

"Yeah," I sobbed like a dejected, pouting child, head hanging low and shuffling my feet even slower.

"That's where you're going. You're almost there."

The dirt and gravel path had become a paved road again, so at least there was that. I wouldn't be tripping on real or invisible rocks anymore.
My bitterness about other people actually being able to run was taking hold by the last part of this race.
"But, I don't want to do this anymore," I whined again. Somehow stating it a second time, I thought, was making a more emphatic proclamation despite the annoying whining that accompanied the statement. I was convinced Sam would pull me from the race course and save me from complete destruction.

"You can do it," Sam replied.

Not what I was looking for, I thought to myself. I actually can't do this - my body has made that quite clear. As I was thinking these very words, Sam began distracting me with tales of happenings he had witnessed during the event.

I have no idea what the specifics were for these stories, but it must've worked because before I knew it, there I was, a few hundred feet from the end.

"I'll see you on the other side," Sam said and disappeared off into a crowd of people and tents.

I had made it -- somehow -- to the end. It was right there in front of me.

I have to run through the finish line, I told myself. It's a short distance and it will all be over. My body was broken and I was still in need of water, but, inexplicably I want to know that I had run through the finish line if there was any possible way to get my body to make it happen.

Picking up my feet, I attempted to run. I'm not certain what I was doing was actually running, but my brain told me that I was and that was all that mattered in the moment.
My broken and battered self trying to run across the finish. On another note, with all the backside shots taken of me over the years, I am pretty convinced I could stand in as a body double for my father's mother. It's amazing how genetics are just inescapable - both the physical characteristics and athletic aptitude (or lack thereof, as in my case).
Smiles greeted me all around as I passed over the finish. Participant medals were given out and a nice, cold bottle of water was forced into my hands.

Ahhhh. Relief. It was over. The rescue plane had landed and saved me from my desert death. I drank that bottle of water faster than any water I'd consumed. It was the best water I had ever tasted.

It was a bit of an anti-climactic finish, despite the internal drama and physical pain throughout the race. Together, Sam and I walked back to the parking lot in an attempt to find our car. I thought about my initial plan to ride to the start line as we walked. I would've really loved to have done so, but it wasn't in the stars for this particular race. The 25-30 extra miles on the bike that day may have actually been my doom, so it was a wise decision to choose a less physically taxing form of transportation.

After the race, I was asked by a relative if I would do another duathlon. It was a little too soon after the event and the answer was a vehement "No!" With some time and distance in between though, I realize it did exactly what it was supposed to do: Provide extra motivation to keep me pushing through the season. Plus, the memory of the pain is starting to fade, so, on this side of things and with some perspective, I've modified that answer to "Maybe," which almost always turns somehow into an "I've-signed-myself-up-for-an-event," within a very short amount of time.

In truth, had I given myself more time to train, I likely would've done better, even with the particular physical limitations of the day. I think it would be nice if I could find a duathlon that was a bike-run-bike instead of run-bike-run (though I'm not sure these exist), but what I appreciated about the duathlon is that it pushed me outside of my comfort zone and forced me to do something I am not as comfortable completing. I'd still rather do an epic bike ride than this sort of event, but it was an interesting change-up that allowed me to rework the way my brain (and body) are used to working.

Ultimately, even though time was pretty much thrown out the window, I complained a LOT during the final leg of the race, and wanted to quit more times than I can count, I did cross the finish line under my own power and within the time constraints. That was truly the only goal... and the one that mattered most of all to me.

**Thanks to Sam for documenting the day's journey in photos as best he could. Without him, I'd have no photos to share with this retelling of the race. I have to also again thank him for dealing with me during the race. I am eternally grateful that he is always there, even when the crazy sets in.


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    1. Water is so important, especially when doing anything that is sucking up energy, I think. Like you, I think we all have different tolerances for heat (I know I don't handle it well at all. When I was a kid, I actually experienced heat stroke. It was scary because I had no idea where I was or what was going on. I always wonder if my lack of heat tolerance today stems from that, or if it's just a luck of the draw sort of thing).

      I know Sam has told me many stories about being forced to consume water in the military, even when they weren't thirsty. He did a lot of training in the desert, so they were militant about making everyone drink lots of water (which makes sense).

      As for me, in the future I'll probably wear some sort of hydration pack in addition to having water bottles on the bike if I were to do something of this sort again. I suppose that is all we can really ask for... to learn our lessons and not repeat the same mistakes, right?

    2. ha ha, "militant". I'm considering going fully to the camelback for endurance events also. The last couple of years I bought into the idea that using bottles was "lighter", but I don't think it is, it just makes you slower in the end. Oddly enough, not long after I left the military, they went to the combat "camelback" devices. Way smarter, easier to move with a small pack, instead of heavy canteens.

    3. I think it could be wise to have some sort of hydration pack, even if it's in addition to bottles. Sometimes I forget how important water can be. :)

  2. Replies
    1. I don't know about that, but I survived! :)


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