DNF. Three letters that elicit all sorts of emotions from an athlete; fear, shame, pain, sadness.
I experienced my first “Did Not Finish” this weekend at the Ironman 70.3 race in St. Polten, Austria.
Training wise, I was ready to crush this race. My swim was strong, I am biking significantly faster, stronger, and smarter, and I had been running enough that it wouldn’t suck too badly. I was really looking forward to the bike portion as the course had a lot of fast and flat, as well as three hills. I have this weird goal in my head that if I can break 3:00 on the bike then that means I am a legit triathlete. I read somewhere that this is the average bike split for a half distance tri. I also logically know that this means nothing since every single course is different and the conditions/weather will never be the same. Nevertheless… this is what I have in my head. I have crept closer in each race, and I really thought this was going to be the one.
My other goal was to break 6:00. I also know, logically, that having a time goal like that for an unknown course can be challenging. But, after my monsoon race in Pula where I came in at 6:00.15 with some whiny baby walk breaks on the run I knew that I would be able to crush that in Austria.
Race weekend started off like any other- meet up with friends, play Tetris in the cars with all of our gear, and drive to the race. The drive up took a bit longer than expected, thanks to a random Italian policeman who was actually doing his job (Who knew your bikes couldn’t block your license plate and taillights when you travel?!)
Race day weather was forecast to be total garbage. 100% chance of rain with temps in the 50s. The wind was blowing like mad the day before and did not really let up that much for race day.
I had gotten a new long sleeve wetsuit in anticipation of cold water in the Austrian lake, but I really hate it. I feel like I cannot get my stroke all the way out in front. I also feel like I am pushing against it with my shoulders and my arms feel much more tired (i.e. tired at all) when I swim. So after I picked up my packet, I went for a dip in my sleeveless suit to see if I would freeze to death in the lake. Water temp was 64.4 degrees F, air temp was mid 50’s, so the water felt great.
Sunday morning- pouring down rain and cold. Everyone checked everything into transition on race morning instead of the day before since the winds were so high- they had knocked everything over on Saturday so race directors opened transition earlier on Sunday to accommodate.
We walked over to the swim start and stood around with our rain gear and wetsuits on until the last possible minute. No one was allowed to get in and warm up due to the poor visibility. The swim takes place in two lakes- you get out and have to travel about 400 m in between the two. There were timing mats coming out and going in, and they said at the race briefing that the time in between did not count. However, looking at the race results compared to my watch, which I stopped while I strolled leisurely in between lakes, I would say there is a discrepancy.
I thought I had a pretty good swim in the first lake- passed a ton of people, spent most of the time not being crowded, and had no trouble sighting. However, I knew something was weird when I went to get out. My feet had gone numb, I guess, because when I went to stand up I fell down when my right leg buckled, and the volunteers had to catch me and help me out. My foot stayed numb the entire trip in between the lakes, so I sort of hobbled awkwardly the entire way, while getting elbowed and knocked into by a bunch of dudes who thought they were going to win the race in that 400 meters. The second lake was ok- my split on the race site includes my stroll so it appears that I floated around and doggy paddled if you look at my time.
My feet were still numb so I had another difficult time getting out of the water and moving into T1. I grabbed my bag and went into the women’s changing tent, which was full of guys. I changed my sports bra because I figured that would help keep me warm, threw on my tri top, arm warmers, and a rain jacket, and off I went.
I had the worst bike ride of my life. I never warmed up or dried out. I could not feel below my knees. I could not bend my fingers so had to shift gears with the palm of my hand. I had a hard time braking. My shorts were rubbing. I was shivering and so cold. I had a hard time letting go of the bike to get fuel, so I only drank one water bottle and did not eat my nutrition. I cried a lot. I saw a lot of doorways that looked dry and thought about getting off, taking off my wet clothes, and curling up in a ball. The wind picked up my rain jacket like a parachute and sent my bike every which way.
The worst part was that I could not power the pedals at all. AT ALL. No matter what cadence I tried, or what gears I went through, the bike did not move any faster. I felt like I was giving my best effort, but I produced nothing. In fact, my heart rate barely got out of zone 2 the entire time, no matter how hard I was pushing. Something was just not right with me and I could not make it happen.
I decided to not do the run after about 50 k on the bike. I thought pretty hard about it and realized that number one, racing is supposed to be fun. And number two, I had trained pretty hard and am at a great level of fitness. I remember reading a blog by my friend Tricia, who just got her BQ after a couple of tough tries. She DNFed at a marathon with similar conditions, and her coach told her that was a smart move, because instead of using her effort to power through a bad race which would not give her the outcome she was seeking, she could save her fitness and find another race within a few weeks and kill it there. This resonated with me because it makes sense for long-term goals. So I decided to skip the run, since running is the thing I hate out of the triathlon, and running a half when I am frozen, sad, and under fueled to get my worst half distance time ever seemed stupid.
So then I cried more. Suffered through the rest of the bike, and made it to transition. Almost fell off the bike since I couldn’t feel my legs. Got escorted out of transition to the med tent by a nice man who thought I looked like I needed a medic. I was just so cold.
I saw my friend Katherine and her girls when I came out, and started crying even more when they yelled “GO COACH CARA YOU CAN DO IT.” So then I felt like a giant crap piece of garbage for not running. What kind of example is that for them? But again, logically, all it was going to do was be miserable for a slow time, and just finishing is no longer my goal.
I managed to change my clothes and then got wrapped up in a bunch of blankets and got feeling back in my appendages after about two hours of cuddling with the girls.
I stopped being sad about it until I had to tell my other friends. They all had amazing races and I am so proud of them.
I stopped being sad about it until I had to answer all of the good luck and questioning texts from people who could not find me on the tracker.
I stopped being sad about it until I started writing this blog.
DNF. I chose this, knowing it was the right choice for the day, but it still makes me feel disappointed.
I will find another race. Under 6:00 and 3:00 bike split- I am coming for you.