Please note that there is a lot of foul language in this race report - but in order to truly be athentic, I felt it needed to stay as is - so appolgies in advance!
F*%K You I Won’t Do What you Tell Me …
To begin here’s some backstory - if you know the history of my racing then just skip ahead, but otherwise here's the long and short of it:
In 2013 I had a post baby comeback year where I raced three 70.3s and one Full IM. It was a great year of racing for me, and I felt absolutely amazing at my IM from start to finish (except for about 300 feet at mile 18 where I got this odd cramp), but the next morning I knew that there was something wrong with my right knee. The truth is that it was tendinitis, and had I been smart and calmed down and gone to PT I would probably have been fine, but instead I went full throttle into denial and training mode as I wanted so badly to build on my previous season - and tendinitis turned into tendonosis and some serious pain. I was so anxious for a fix, that before even taking a step back, I paid a hefty sum for some PRP - which in the end was a very bad idea for me as I was the lucky winner of the side-effect lottery and my tendon was completely destroyed. It then took me another year to find a doctor who was willing to remove the dead tendon. Most and that should really read many as I went to any and all doctors I could, told me to hang up my hat and just ride my bike. In January of 2015 I finally had surgery which for all intents and purposes was a success - but did take me a very long time and lot of hours of PT and rehab to recover from. Three months out from surgery I was still not fully functioning and by that time my doctor had taken a position at John’s Hopkins and so I was left to see her partner who very bluntly told me that he would never have done the surgery and that I might not ever recover fully or run again. At that point walking still sucked, so I was really freaked out - which lead me to demand an MRI on the spot and in some ways that MRI proved to be the theme for the next two years. I have no clue how the MRI tech determined the song choice, but the MRI tech put headphones on me and blasted Rage Against the Machine in my ears and while I tried to hold my body still all while bawling my eyes out (the tech actually had to empty out the ear holes in the headphones from the pools I had created) I crafted a plan in my head to do what I could with what I had to get back to at least walking without a limp. This plan included tons of work with my amazing PT and a strength and conditioning coach. And a year later I was released to run!
The Silver Lining
Being injured allowed me to slow down my training and pour myself into my coaching with abandon. I think many athletes who start to coach feel a strong pull between their racing and what it takes to start a successful business and I was in some ways lucky to not have this tension in my life. I was also able to “cross” the finish line with so many athletes, who continue to produce fabulous results and inspire day in and day out. While of course I was devastated to not be racing I loved, and continue to love every minute of coaching, so the hole that racing left in my life was overfilled with the joy brought by all of the Evolve athletes.
Let’s Give This Thing A Tri ;)
In the late fall of 2016 I began to work with my current coach and she created a plan to get me to the starting line of Muncie 70.3. In all honestly I would never pick Muncie as my comeback race if I was not a coach. I picked it because I am a coach before an athlete and I knew that I would not have any athletes who I coached personally with me racing. I was also lucky enough to have Coach Tori who had one of her athletes there racing, so it was the best of both worlds. Why would I not pick Muncie - it’s nothing against Muncie, it is just a race that does not play to my strengths - the bike is pretty flat and the run is a series of rolling hills. I like to bike up hills - have you seen these legs - and my knees do not like to run down them, but it fit my life - so Muncie it was. I will level with you all and tell you that I signed up so late for the race that I was told that I would not have my name on my bib (which was not the case in the end). I did this because if you have ever had a major injury then you might be able to relate to the overarching fear that will rule your life. So I waited until the last minute when I knew that I could atleast get to the run and walk it if I needed due to my damn tendons.
My Greatest Strengths Are My Greatest Weaknesses or Race Week
Remind me that racing the weekend after 4th of July is never a good idea when you have a kiddo and live someplace that is hotter than hell. I was on my feet all week and went to numerous firework displays way past my bedtime. My daughter was home from camp and she is not really one to sit around, so I spent a lot of time at the pool in the blazing hot sun! However, in some ways these were really welcomed distractions from the race - which I really, really, really, really needed, as I have never ever, ever been so nervous. Here was the fundamental issue - it was like I was racing my first 70.3 in many ways, and yet I was armed with the knowledge of the pain and also previous times that were infiltrating my mind whenever I allowed them to creep in. So I just went through the motions of packing, hydrating the best I could, and begging my husband to devise some kind of master plan so that I would have a great excuse to get out of racing. My husband is a scientist and prides himself on his rational and evidenced based approach to all things in life, so when I would tell him that I was scared to death and thought that I would not be able to make it to the starting line let alone the finish line, he would give me a pep talk on all things rational about my training load, how I had done all the work, blah, blah, blah to which I would look at him and tell him in a semi-bitchy way that he could never relate - so sorry Ryan!
So what was I afraid of - here is the list:
THE PAIN OF THE LAST THREE MILES OF THE RUN!!!! This was a big one - I know what this feels like and I was dreading it.
That I would mentally give in to said pain and fall apart. THIS WAS PROBABLY MY BIGGEST FEAR. I hate hypocrites so I did not want to be someone who could not practice what I preach on the daily.
That I would realize that I no longer loved racing - I really love coaching and knew that this could end my desire to race.
That my body would make it clear that this was the end of the line for me in racing.
The Day Before
WAS SHEER HELL! I have never been so nervous. I was basically in a state of total and utter anxiety. I used all of my tricks to calm myself and did what I could with the state I was in. Thankfully Tori was there to keep me from heading back to Saint Louis and I was able to go through the pre-race stuff with Anita which kept me distracted. At one point I even made Tori go over the worse case scenarios with me, just to know that in the end it would all be okay. I was so out of my mind that I struggled to eat - which I do not think has ever happened to me. The night before, I swear I got 10 minutes of sleep, but at 4 am I popped up like a total lunatic and faked myself into a state of race excitement. I also can deal with very little sleep, so I knew I would be fine. I just needed to be in the water! There is really one road into Muncie, so I did almost lose my shit in the traffic getting into the race site, but before I knew it I was in transition and the crazy shakiness that my body was experiencing was over with. I am at my best when I can be at work, so I got right to work at setting my transition up, which worried the hell out of me as I felt like I had half the crap of the other girls next to me. I left transition, put on my wetsuit and got in my practice swim. This was key in calming me down, except for the total chaos of people swimming in all directions. It was then time to head to my wave and wait to start.
I got right to the front of the wave. I knew that I would not be out of the water in top ten, but I should not be far off from that. My coach told me to get out there and get after it , so I was right there in the front line. And then before I knew it, we were off. Since it has been so long since I raced an IM, it was such a lovely experience to have so many buoys and I swam a pretty straight line on the way out, just picking off one after the other. As in the past, the front pack gets away from me right away and I am left in limbo to swim. The first part of the swim was uneventful, until we turned into the sun. Here is a tip - you do not need to be able to see objects clearly, you just need to have a general idea of where you are going and this is even more true with all the buoys in IM. We were swimming straight into the sun, so as long as I kept that up, the buoys would arrive quickly at my right. However, this is really disorienting to many and at that point I was catching up the first two waves in front of me and many of them were bobbing around in the water so it was a bit of an obstacle course - which for me meant swimming over people and getting hit a few times. And then just like that the swim was over! I do not race with time on my watch - the swim is the swim is the swim, why freak out over a few seconds or set a negative tone and while there was, a race clock I am sure, I never saw it. I made eye contact with a wetsuit stripper, made sure my wetsuit was off my butt and was out of it in a second and running up the hill. The run in transition was basically a preview for the rest of the day, most of the male waves went off before me- passing men who hate to be passed - sorry guys, but it is true - just be kind and get the hell out of the way!
Totally uneventful - other than I could see that most bikes were still on the rack so the swim could not have been that bad and due to the storms the night before you had to carry your bike out of transition.
This is where I feel the most at home… but this was not the case at this race. I had done one other race this season which was an aqua bike in which I felt pretty crappy through the first 28, but felt great after that , so I knew that it was totally normal to feel kind of blah. Muncie is a closed course and the majority of the course is a two loop out and back on a major road. The roads getting out there were not bad, but not great, and I did notice that there was a little wind. The course was a little different this year due to flooding, and we had to go through a neighborhood for a very short time where I got stuck behind a car( this was the only part that was not technically closed) but I remained calm and just did what I could - which was remain calm and not get hit by the car. The first lap went by fine - I concentrated on being smooth, hitting my Hr and power goals and getting in all the fuel I needed to survive the run. My stomach for the first time ever did not feel awesome, but I was able to fuel to plan and knew that I just needed to do the work and not stress the stomach not feeling 100%. This is where race experience came in, I knew that underfueling would make for a very long run and that there are times when you just have to force the fuel a little even if you do not want to take it in.
Loop one went by in a flash and then it was time to turn the corner and hit lap two. I was so excited to get to work on lap two and hit the last 28 miles. I was feeling pretty awesome at this point. I turned the corner and like some odd stroke of the opposite of luck, I ran over a piece of electrical tape which got stuck to my wheel and every time it hit my brakes would make an awful sound like my own personal clapper. While it might be nice to have my own cheering squad in the form of the clapper - it instantly started to mess with my head - I had two choices - ignore or stop and take it off. At that point i was worried that it would get lodged and slow me way down, but I looked at my power and my HR and knew that I was fine physically, but mentally I was losing my shit - I decided not to stop. I then attempted to reach down and pull the tape off while riding - dumb idea and total waste of energy and time. I just needed to ride and deal. So I tried to will myself to ignore it and started to repeat a mantra in an effort to focus on that and not the motherfucking piece of tape that had to be laying on the road in just the right way to get stuck on my damn tire. At one point I even ran over a honey stinger waffle in a vain attempt to get the tape off. At this point I was about half way out on the last out and my right hip and inner thigh started to hurt me. This is the first time in my life that I have ever had any pain on the bike (other than the usual leg pain so to speak) and between that and the fucking tape, I was really struggling with the mental side of the ride - oh and of course I know that a bike is only as aero as a person who can maintain aero position and I was all over the place. The rest of the bike went something like this - fuck you tape, fuck you hip, fuck you Sam, stay focused, fuck you men who keep blocking me as I try to pass you legally and why do you all ride at such and uneven pace, and a little bit of fuck, fuck, fuck, I am going to be fucked for this damn run if my right leg feels like this. Coupled with my coach voice, of control what you can, your body follows your mind, stay smooth, the pain you have now could not affect your run, your numbers look fine.
Needless to say I was so very happy to take the right into the neighborhood and head back to T2. At this point I had become one with the tape and just needed to be done, but I still had 6 miles which was apparently enough time for part of my aero bottle to come unscrewed and go flying and then rattle around and spray me with Gatorade for the last few miles and have a guy try to do a flying dismount and crash full force in front of me and I had to scream my ass off and weave through the crowd to get around all of the people who did not think before they ran out to help him.
Well at least if the hip/leg hurts I won’t feel my knee - right? Business as usual here.
I went through the motions and hit the run and much to my very pleasant surprise my hip and inner thigh were not an issue. My knee was my knee and I knew that for now I was going to be fine - it was not the best I ever felt coming off the bike, but it was not race ending either. It was clear however, that I would be running based on feel right from the get go and then see how my HR was responding. I did not want to push too hard too soon after how my right leg felt on the bike. So off I set - right out of transition I saw Tori and she yelled at me some words of encouragement. Muncie is NOT a spectator friendly course. It is an out and back and there really is no way to get to the course on an alternative route. I am totally fine with this as I train mostly solo, but this might not be fun for others. The other thing to note is that it truly defines a rolling course, there really are only two actual hills that I can remember, but there is a lot of up and down. I set a pace that I knew would not make me implode - and concentrated on my posture, my cadence and my attitude. Before I knew it I was at mile 4 and then 5 and then 6 - at each aid station I would make eye contact with a volunteer and grab ice and sponges and fluids. My legs felt fine, not great, but fine. At mile 6, I came up to a woman who had passed me at mile 3 and she begged me for a gel - and as I am a coach before an athlete, I gave her my gel (I needed it later, but knew I could use shot blocks) and she was pretty desperate. I never saw her again, and I turned at the cone and headed back in. From mile 7 to 9 I felt pretty good - not amazing, but I was able to start to get my HR up to where I wanted it. At the aid station at mile 9 I yelled out for shot blocks and was informed that they had none! Yikes - well onward we go. They had gels, but I could not stop or turn back so I figured that I would just keep moving. I grabbed some coke and took some salt and pressed on. At mile 10, I saw Anita heading out and we had a few seconds of pure joy where I screamed and jumped and was so happy to see her. Right about there you turn to the left and go down an incline and over a bridge and it was there that my left leg just said - to repeat a phrase - fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me! I should add at this point, that due to my injury and my very smart coach, we were very conservative with my running, which meant that I had run over 10 miles once since 2013 and my legs were keenly aware of this fact! Here is where I could also pull on past experience and will myself to deal with the intense pain in my left leg. I have never had cramps, but I know how awful they can be and how they can end a race for an athlete or make for a long, painful walk, and while I knew that I was not having my best run of my life, I also knew that it could not be terrible as I was passing a lot of people and had not had to walk, and I was maintaining a reasonable HR and cadence. I was sure however, that I was seconds away from a cramp, or that if I stopped running that I was done. I have crossed enough IM finish lines to know that if your quads felt like mine did, that as soon as I stopped running, I would be done for the day. So I started to whip out every mental trick in the book that I had. At mile 11 we went up a hill, and took our final turn before we hit the finish line. At this point, I was in a ton of pain, but I knew that I all I had to do was pick up and put down my legs for 2.1 more miles. In an effort to pump myself up and because I love to talk to any and all humans that will listen even if I can only muster a word of two, I yelled to the guy to my left, let’s do this shit! I thought this was an awesome plan, and I am sure that he was a super well meaning human, but his methods of encouragement were making me insane. He would tell me how many meters we had every few minutes and also tell me our pace, oh and every hill that we saw in the distance and they now felt like hills, he would tell me the chute was right up that hill - which was impossible as we were not at mile 12 yet. At mile 12 he told me he needed aid and stopped and I kept going. Finally, there was the last hill - and this is a legit hill, and I was closing in on 13. I gave it my absolute all on that last hill and took out some boys, (let’s be clear my all was not fast, it was just about moving my legs faster than I was). There was Tori - who yelled to me - this is what all those hill sprints are for, and I crested the hill, turned the last corner and ran down and then back up, and then back down (they had to squeeze in one last undulation) and into the chute - where for some dumb ass reason, I sprinted my ass off which lead to me collapsing into the arms of 3 teenagers who I told through tears - HOLD ME!
I had made it - I was alive, but I could hardly walk - yet much to my joy it was not due to my knee! I hobbled down to find Tori and she gave me a huge hug, I collapsed in the grass and cried!
So those fears -
Well - I was right to be scared of the pain, but I was beyond prepared to deal with it - and even though I swore up and down the day before that I was never doing this shit again, I can say that the last thing I told my coach when I talked to her after the race, was I’ll call you this week to figure out our plan for next year!
The race for me was over, but I have to say that the best part was yet to come as I was able to witness the joy of Tori as her athlete Anita blew away her goal time and ran up the whole last hill into the chute!