Category: triathlon

2/3 of a Race Recap: DNF at St. Polten 70.3

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?!)

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“I do not know; this is just not possible” “OK, well tell me how to fix it.” “I do not know; this is just not possible”

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.

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Scoping out the water.

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.

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How fun does this look?

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.

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❤ Love these ones. Also, ❤ their blankets.

Italy 70.3- Pescara Weekend Adventure

Pescara is a beach town in the area of Abruzzo, Italy, located on the Adriatic coast about halfway down the back of “the boot.” The beaches are sandy, but when you turn around you will see snow capped mountains inland. The Abruzzo region is now my favorite part of Italy. Imagine Tuscany with bigger mountains and gorgeous light blue and green water all along the coast.

Several characters joined me on this adventure. First we have TP, who came all the way from Blacksburg for this race and shared many, many race related facebook messages with me in the months beforehand and was a constant source of support for me. RH lives in Vicenza with me and is always up for any adventure and will always make me laugh. MS was supposed to race but broken collarbones mean you can’t, but he was the best support ever- cheering, taking pictures, and driving us around when we were too tired. Thank you. TF was doing his first half ironman in Pescara, and made sure that we all understood the significance of proper eye contact during ” cin cin.” JG, the triathlon wizard, came down to hang out and watch the race. Our friend AF is from Pescara, and came down to host us on Saturday night. And then BM surprised us on Sunday at the race start! He just finished his 3rd half Ironman in three weeks.

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Our cheering squad.

Pescara is a five hour drive from Vicenza.  There was a traffic accident that closed the highway, so we all got out of the cars and sat on the autostrada for an hour until we could move again. Thank goodness we had cherries and Fritos to sustain us.

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Picnic on the autostrada.

Once we arrived in Pescara, we unloaded and went to dinner. This restaurant, Marevigiloso, was recommended by AF, and it did not disappoint. We were provided with an amazing spread of local seafood delicacies. Now the only problem is that we had a race on Sunday, so trying new foods is sort of a no-no, and then when you have two DVMs who have taken food safety courses, you certainly won’t find them eating any raw seafood. We did debate the fact that the race is wetsuit legal, so Vibrio shouldn’t be a problem, but did we really want to chance it? Also, I did not know you could eat shrimp raw. The food kept coming, and we eventually had to say stop. After dinner we were presented with another local delicacy, simply known as “zuccherino.”

An innocent looking mason jar with liquid, some orange slices, and sugar cubes was presented. The restaurant owner spooned it into our mouths and told us just to eat it quickly, so we did. This is because it is actually a sugar cube soaked in grain alcohol. I believe the quote was, “This tastes like a frat house.” Our mouths were numb for a good twenty minutes after this treat. No pictures exist because it happened too fast and clearly no one was able to go for round two.

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Faces and carapaces… fueling for our races… so we can win first and second places (American women age 35-39). copyright TP 2016.

Saturday was full of race day prep, including a practice swim and gear bag drop offs.

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The gang checking in.
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Where was this water on race day?

Saturday evening we went into the hills to visit a friend’s family, who work at a winery called La Valentina. This place was very cool- some rustic elements and then some very modern architecture and decorating touches.  Let’s just say that it is a shame that was pre-race dinner, because the wine was flowing and it was delicious. If you see their “Spelt” wine anywhere, GRAB IT IMMEDIATELY. We also got to taste a special moscato that is only for the family. The hospitality we were given was over the top and we were so welcomed. Our friend’s mother prepared a several course feast that was superb, especially the lamb kebabs.

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Sunday was race day!! If you are interested in the details of my race, you can click here to read them. Summary: Swim- insane weather, did not count. Bike- windy but sunny, hilly hard course, I was really proud of myself.  Run- poured rain, internal dark place, finally finished. Would have been a best time so that is awesome.

Post race dinner was beers and burgers at an American diner. DELICIOUS.

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We did it!!!

Monday and Tuesday were made for relaxing. Leisurely lunch along the beach, followed by some reading in the sun. Can we talk about something that makes no sense to me? Why, Italy, are you SO disorganized about basically everything. Everything. But your beaches are lined up with precise, evenly spaced chairs and umbrellas and finely groomed sand? Now, the beach attendants will still put you right next to the only other group on the beach, and they will pretty much definitely blow their cigarette smoke on you while you are sitting there, but still. It amazes me that this is the one thing that is uber detail oriented in a place that can seem/is actually somewhat chaotic.

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Someone clearly put a lot of work into lining up this stuff.

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The girls and I also visited two wineries in the region. If you take a trip to Abruzzo, I recommend each of these places for an educational tour and wonderful tasting. Our first winery was called Societa Agricola Chiarieri.  Francesco, the 4th generation to work here after his great grandfather founded it, guided our tour and tasting. We were accompanied by Emmanuele, who also shared information with us. The spread of bread, olive oil, cheese and meats that accompanied the wine was unreal. My favorite here was the Vinnum Hannibal, which is a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. I don’t know why I did not take more pictures. The property and tasting room were beautiful, and had a really interesting display explaining the soil and lattice types used for the grapes. 

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The grounds of this winery were covered in fruit trees, so we enjoyed peaches and plums straight off of the tree. Francesco’s hospitality was warm and generous and a visit is a must if you are in this region. 

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Our second winery visit was to Nestore Bosco.  Giovanna was our host, and she gave a wonderful tour of a place that has been in operation since 1897. The facility is beautiful. My favorite wines here were also a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, as well as a white called  Trebbiano. I bought this wine box and I am going to try and make a sunglasses case out of it.

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After Bosco, we explored a small town called Nocciano for a little. Iphone pictures cannot do it justice. 

And there was this puppy. She wanted to come home with us but for some reason we did not take her.

My overall impression of this region of Italy is that the people are warm and friendly, and the landscape cannot be beat. Mountains, vineyards, miles of beaches, coupled with fresh seafood and amazing wine… Certainly a winning combination and worth a visit.