Saturday, July 30, 2011

Race Report

I wrote the following on July 18th, finding it quite therapeutic to reflect on what seemed like a downright miracle.  At least it will make for a good story when I'm 90 years old (fingers cross I make it that long!), chillin' in my rocking chair, and entertaining my grandchildren. 

Vineman 70.3 
I normally wouldn't write a race report for just a half Ironman race, but the Vineman 70.3 (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) triathlon was a very special race for me this year, as post-bike accident, I thought I would have to forego this race.  Just to recap, bike accident occurred May 10th, surgery on May 13th to wire my jaw shut (i.e. acquisition of my "grill"), then the agonizing wait until my mouth would be freed from all the wires.  4 weeks after surgery, the doc re-set his original 6 week quote to a minimum of 8 weeks, pushing it awfully close to the Vineman race date.  Oh yeah, and there was the small, but important fact that every day I donned my grill, meant one less day of training.

For the 8 weeks I was wired up, my exercise consisted mainly of power walks a few times a week once I had enough energy for anything remotely strenuous, which was about week 3.  At week 6, I did a 60 min session of deep water running followed by core strength training.  I was wiped out for a good 3 days (a special thank you to my dear drill sergeant).  At week 7, I worked up enough mental courage to do a couple run/walk workouts, where my breathing notably sounded like a tea kettle about to go off (imagine running with a sock in your mouth and trying to breathe).

On July 6th I became a free woman (free of my grill that is!) and on July 7th I woke up at 4:45AM and dragged my tri bike onto the subway, pushed it into Central Park (I wasn't taking any chances on the NYC roads), and completed my first outdoor ride post-accident.  I was nervous as hell, watching every cyclist and runner like a hawk to make sure no one came near me.  July 8th thru July 13th consisted of a couple of short swims and runs and one 90 min indoor spin.  I traveled to the Bay Area on July 14th and prayed that Sunday's race wouldn't put me back in the hospital (or worse, force me to wear a grill again).  

Pre-race preparation included the usual routine of registration, test swim, bike ride, and easy run, and expo visit.  The gear at Vineman this year was pretty sweet (this was my 3rd time doing this race).  A fun Friday group dinner and the usual attempt to rest and relax the Sat before the race (I failed miserably at this).  I had re-adjusted my nutrition plan because I couldn’t bite or chew the Luna bars I normally consume during races and was planning on surviving with PowerBar gels and my own concoction of Accelerade with the addition of Soy Protein powder (tasted like berry flavored sand).  My coach mentioned he was very worried this wouldn’t suffice for my very voracious appetite and sent me to the store to buy a sweet potato, peanut butter, and honey, which would be mashed together and squirted into my mouth from a baggie during my ride.  Really?  Really.  

4AM wake-up on Sunday, July 17th race day.  My dad was our dutiful driver to the swim start (this triathlon was a point-to-point race), driving my teammate Lindsay and I to Johnson Beach in Guerneville.  I prepped my T1 gear and went to find my dad to chat for a bit before my 6:45AM wave start.  Unfortunately, I underestimated how long it would take me to push through the crowds and the next thing I knew, they were announcing our upcoming swim start.  Lindsay and I each panicked to get our wetsuits on and dove in with about 20 seconds to tread water before the horn went off.  I had been struggling tremendously in the past year with open water swims and was also worried that my jaw could get jammed by another racer’s elbow or kick.  Survival to the finish line was my only goal in this race, so I let the chaos of swimmers pass me before I slowly began my swim.  I thought of my favorite songs to keep me calm as I swam and enjoyed the feeling of my brand new wetsuit to replace my 5 year old one held together by duct tape.  The swim upstream to the 1000 meter halfway point felt extremely long but alas I reached the pyramid buoy and began my return trip.  The water is famously shallow around this point and I joined the other swimmers who stood up to walk a few strides and take a breather before resuming my strokes.  While the downstream current was fairly light, it was enough to make the second half of the swim much more enjoyable.  Upon reaching the swim finish, I quickly bounded up the mats and before I knew it, my legs flew out in front of me and I landed right on my butt.  With a chuckle, I collected myself back on my feet and proceeded to T1 where I clothed myself for a chilly ride with arm sleeves and gloves.  The exit out of T1 has a short, but treacherous uphill which the race veterans know is worth pushing the bike until the crest to clip in.  I, for one, definitely wanted to avoid another bike accident at all costs and was just fine pushing my bike until I knew I was in a safe zone to become attached to my bike.

I purposely opted to race without a bike computer or Garmin to keep my mind clear and just enjoy the ride.  Thus I used the course’s 18, 28, and 38 mile water stations to provide timing estimates to take in nutrition and hydrate between these water stations.  My first attempt to consume my sweet potato mixture wasn’t very elegant and I can only imagine what the riders behind me must’ve thought when they saw peach colored chunks splatter below me.  I must say the mixture proved quite gentle on my stomach and I looked forward to it in between my consumption of Powergels, salt tablets, and/or Accelerade/Soy Protein drink.  Plenty of riders on their fancy triathlon bikes passed me throughout the course, but I was much more fascinated with the amazing Sonoma wine country scenery.  At approximately mile 30 on Highway 128, I passed what was formerly my grandparents’ house.  As a young child with my cousins, we would frequently visit my grandparents for every major holiday and family birthday.  Now both deceased, this house has become a landmark to my family (the house was sold years ago and its new owners rent it as an extended stay vacation home).  Nonetheless, I swear I felt my grandma waving hi to me as I rode past, wishing me well for Chalk Hill coming up ahead and to reach the finish line safely.

I braced myself for a difficult climb up the infamous Chalk Hill at mile 44, but it came and went with a minimal push.  At approximately mile 50, I saw an athlete on the side of the road and yelled if he needed help.  He asked for a tube.  In a split second decision, I ripped out my entire repair kit with tube, CO2 cartridges, and brand new tire levers from the back of my bike and threw it towards the sidewalk for him to retrieve.  Although I ran the risk of being completely screwed if I ended up with a flat myself before I finished the bike course, I figured he deserved the good karma.  Without looking back, I kept moving forward and soon reached T2, passing the crowds that had started to form to greet the finishers.

Although my hardest events were behind me, I knew a 13.1 mile run would be no easy feat following two months of no real training.  I had made a conscious decision beforehand to incorporate a run/walk technique for this part of the race in hopes this would help my body from completely breaking down – 14 min run and 1 min walk intervals using a basic watch acquired at T2.  I diligently kept this interval regime from start to finish, using the walks to hydrate and to alternate between ingesting salt tablets and PowerGels at each interval.  While I faced cooler temperatures on the run compared to the historic 90-100 degree highs, it was certainly a very warm run.  The rolling hills on this course were also challenging from start to finish combined with minimal shading.  Nonetheless, I hoped I could catch a few folks that had passed me on the ride.  I’m not a sprinter, but I knew my history of being a consistent runner could resurface.  I looked forward to spotting familiar faces on the course and my one-minute walks sure helped make the miles lapse much quicker.  Before I knew it, I passed the 12-mile mark of the run course and started visualizing the finish line.  It seemed so surreal that I could muster a ½ Ironman when just 9 weeks prior I was lying in a hospital bed unable to speak or eat. 

I practically skipped to the finish line once it came into view with 100 meters to go and was greeted by my parents, college friend Stephanie, Uncle Ben, and Cousin Angie after receiving my finisher’s medal.  I knew they had been concerned for me and were quite relieved to see me cross the finish line in one piece.  We spoke for a few minutes across the racer/spectator dividing gate before my cousin handed me her phone with my Aunt Maria from Virginia on the line.  She congratulated me and said she had been tracking me online.

When I completed the same course in 2008 and 2009, my finishing times were 6:12 and 5:57, respectively.  In June 2009, I completed the Hawaii 70.3 triathlon and was very proud of my 5:45 finish.  I knew my transition times were longer in this year’s race given the extra clothing and/or nutrition preparation.  However, I was absolutely stunned when my aunt read my 5:35 finish time.  I had achieved an overall PR as well as a PR in each discipline.

I never dreamt of having such a memorable race, made that much more unforgettable surrounded by close triathlete friends and their supporters.  A special shout out to Alex, Tiffany, Hector, Lindsay, Dave, Stephanie, Ariella, Claire, Carley, and Karen.  It was also great to see the Orlando crew out there – Emily, Don, Leslie, and others.

During 56 Mile Bike


Friday, July 29, 2011


When my surgeon told me at week 4 that he wanted to extend the duration I was wired up from his original quote of 6 weeks to at least 8 weeks, I was quite bummed.  I reminded myself that in the long run, those extra 2 weeks would seem minor, but the idea of donning my grill for even one hour longer than I had expected was enough to put the surgeon on my $hit list (pardon my French), at least for those extra weeks. 
Between week 5 and 6, I resorted to feeding myself with a turkey baster just to speed up the in-take of thicker food smoothies to fuel my body for the daily power walks and progression into pool jogging and basic core exercises.  At week 7, I attempted to “negotiate” with the surgeon to remove the wires and while I wasn’t entirely successful, we did strike a deal.  He removed the bands and allowed me to keep them off during the day, as long as I promised to place them back in at night and at any point if my jaw was in pain.  I was the obedient patient and a grateful one as well, as this gradual freedom at least enabled me to begin spoon feeding myself mushy food.  Overcooked pasta, stews, hummus, mashed vegetables, lentils and yogurt were just among the many foods I consumed.   It was a beautiful thing to begin eating again, even if the food consistency was similar to baby food.  I actually continued to blend certain food to at least a soft, chunky consistency that I could easily swallow without chewing. 
Everyone loved asking me what my first meal would be when I was freed of my grill.  The dream of my “perfect” meal changed on a daily basis from a savory pasta dish to a scrumptious risotto (or even paella!) to a warm piece of French or sourdough bread.  I knew the last of these wouldn’t happen, at least not right away, but considering that sliced bread was not blend-able, my body yearned for that simple starch.
Alas the day of my scheduled grill removal arrived and I scrambled to wrap up work so I could trek across the city to the surgeon’s practice.  On my walk over, I started to wonder how exactly he would remove all of the wires as it appeared that my grill had made a nice little home in my mouth for the past 2 months.  To describe simply, sections of the wires were no longer visible as they’d become buried in my gum line.  The surgeon had assured me this was part of the normal course.  Lovely.
Without going into all the gory details, the removal process was painful and bloody.  Turns out the wires would be clipped in many sections and then untwisted and yanked out individually from my gums.  Don’t ask me how, but my surgeon convinced me not to take any local anesthesia for the process.  I guess he figured if I could handle an Ironman triathlon, this ought to be a walk in the park.  About half way through I started to regret my decision not to scream out for the drugs, but just like a tough race, I began envisioning the sense of relief that would soon bless me.  The seemingly long 30 minute procedure was finally completed and my surgeon tried to humor me – “Don’t look in the mirror right away.  You might faint.  Your gums are nasty and look like a battlefield.”  Priceless.
Instinctively, I skimmed my teeth with my tongue, remembering the cool, smooth feeling I had experienced as a teenager when my braces were first removed.  The extremely tender feeling in my gums this time around though was a quick reminder that a bit more recovery time was still in store.  I shook the surgeon’s hand, thanked him for his great work (and mentally removed him from my $hit list) and asked him how soon I could begin a regime of “real” exercise.  He knew I was chomping at the bit (great metaphor in this case considering my jaw had been wired shut!) and said I could do anything I felt my energy level and strength could handle, but ”just don’t go out and do a triathlon!” 
He didn’t say when though. . .*wink*. 

I was going to come back.

2008 Disney Marathon - Run With a Nearly Broken Ankle