Cue deep exhale.
My emotions about Saturday’s race have ranged from elation during the first 35 miles of the bike to huge relief after crossing the finish line to tearful disappointment. If you have read anything about the conditions at this year’s Wildflower Long Course race, you know it was hot, very hot and very dry. Two things that seem to continue to defeat me. But with failure, and a visit to the medical tent, comes an opportunity to learn and to make changes. And that is what I plan to do.
Disclaimer: this is a long one. In order to take all that I can from this experience I’m trying to put down a detailed account to refer to as we figure out where things went awry. So no offense taken if you stop reading now.
Mark, Katie and I drove up Thursday afternoon after an eventful morning for Katie (luckily everything turned out OK!). After a “last supper” in Paso Robles and a stop for some celebration supplies, we arrived at Lake San Antonio and set up camp. We all noticed that instead of cooling down upon sunset the air stayed warm, uncomfortably warm, which should have been the first indication that the weekend was going to be a rough one.
Friday morning dawned, bringing with it more heat as we headed out for a spin. Despite the warmth my legs were feeling good and we were all in high spirits. There is something about the nature of this race that puts people at ease. Everyone we passed smiled and said hello and seemed genuinely happy. Although the details of my race day might make you skeptical to put this race on your list, you would be amiss to skip the experience.
As the day wore on the temperature only climbed higher. It was hot. Sweat while you are standing still kind of hot. Even the water was warmer than usual, for the pros the swim would ultimately be non-wetsuit. We picked up our packets, ate some lunch in the grass and headed back up the hill to “nap”. Not much actual sleeping occurred but we did our best to lay low despite the conditions. After a great dinner with the large Team in Training crew we prepped our bikes and called it a night.
One great thing about camping is that your body naturally wakes up with the sun. Combine that with a later than usual 9:10 am start time and we were able to take our time with breakfast and last minute tasks. Ate: one morning round with one packet of Justin’s hazelnut chocolate butter, one banana and coffee.
Riding down Lynch Hill to transition I felt the calmest I had all morning. The lake was serene and welcoming and I was ready to go. The transition area at Wildflower is one of the largest in the sport, between the Long Course and Mountain Bike Course athletes there were near to 3,500 people. The energy is palpable.
I tried to keep sipping on water with NUUN as we walked around and watched the first few waves go off. As it always does on race morning the time passed quickly and soon we were pulling wetsuits on and walking down the ramp. Ate: one chocolate outrage GU.
My swim has never been my weak link, and thanks to some fast boys at masters who pull me around it has gotten even stronger, so I positioned myself on the front line. 5-4-3-2-1 show time!
Swim: 28:36, 1:28
The good: I did my best to start strong and get out of the chaos which was easier than I anticipated. The plan had been to build through the swim, so once I was in a rhythm I backed off a bit and tried to get comfortable. About a quarter of the way in I jumped on the feet of a girl in a sleeveless suit who looked strong and was swimming a perfect pace. Besides a few altercations with men who didn’t want to be passed by a girl the meters flew by and we were back to the ramp.
Bike: 3:11: 35, 17.5 mph
The great: After a long transition up the boat ramp and all the way across the the racks I was off. Thanks to Mark I knew I was fifth out of the water, time to get going. I was thrilled to find that my legs felt great. No heaviness, just springy and light. I stuck to the power plan and was cruising. I tried to be aware of hydration and drink frequently. I passed a few of the girls who had swam faster and at about mile 15 was passed by my first competitor. She was riding a bit hotter than I wanted, so I let her go. We ended up playing leapfrog for the next 20 miles or so and it was nice to have the motivation as otherwise the course was all male. Ate: one bonk breaker, one chocolate outrage GU.
The very, very ugly: At mile 35 you make a right turn onto the road that will ultimately bring you up Nasty Grade. This is where things started to go downhill, and fast. I noticed a slight nausea but wasn’t too worried as I knew it was hot and the past section of road had been incredibly bumpy thanks to about 15 miles of chip and seal pavement. I backed off my power for a minute to re-group and the nausea seemed to increase with every pedal stroke. “Oh sh**.” I tried to take more fluids but my stomach was not having it. “This is not good.” From this point on it was pretty much a fight for dear life. I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open and forced myself to focus on the road and to keep the pedals turning over, however slowly that was. Climbing is usually my strong suit, so it killed me to watch as a string of girls started to make their way past. “Just keep moving forward”.
At mile 40 I had just under an hour to make it the 16 miles back to transition to clock a 3:00 split, but in my current state that 16 miles took me 1:11. Oh boy.
Run: 2:12:50, 10:08
I came into T2 a complete wreck. Crying, shaking and so incredibly frustrated. Mark was there along with a medical volunteer who tried to take my bike, as I apparently looked as bad as I felt. I told her I was going to try and collect myself and walked over to my rack. Through a miracle of happenstance Mark was able to get a pass from Coach Jason and they both met me at my running shoes. I explained to him through tears how disappointed I was and the misery of my current condition. I asked him if I was really going to walk 13.1 miles and he looked at me and genuinely asked, “I don’t know, are you?” He urged me at the very least to try to run and said something that kept me going, “You are so much tougher than you think and you have proved that time and again.” Come on Capalbo, you can do this.
A lot went through my head during the long 13.1 mile walk/run. The first 6ish miles of the course is pretty brutal so I ran when I could but also walked a great deal. I thought of Hillary and the “no DNF” rule she sticks to when the going gets tough. I thought of Kelly who was racing in St. Croix and had sent me a message in the days prior, “Your body can endure so much more than you think you can.” Elyse offered a beacon of light with a few sips of flat coke and by running a few steps with me. And then in his usual amazing display of support, Mark was there what seemed like every few miles to offer encouragement. Let’s just say, it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t fast but I kept moving forward. Ate: water.
Finish: 6:00:51, 10th AG/
After crossing the line, things got worse. I couldn’t catch my breath, as breathing deeply started a vomit reaction. I still couldn’t take anything in, and hadn’t at that point for the last two and half hours. So to the med tent I went. Covered in salt, and apparently very hot and dry to the touch, I was given an IV and told to sit tight. The battle was over.
As I said at the start of this post, my emotions have been on a roller coaster, though they seem to have come back to equilibrium. Many thanks to many very smart and experienced friends who have reminded me that we can learn more from our bad days than from our good ones. I think coach said it best. He said that Ironman will be hard. No matter what that day brings there will be dark moments, possibly even darker than this past weekend. And although training has been great and I have been feeling strong, I am not unstoppable and I need to keep my complacency in check. The mental and physical struggle I had to overcome to finish on Saturday was a much needed, and very timely, reminder that Coeur d’Alene is coming and it is not going to be easy.
I will learn from this. I will make changes. And I will move forward.