A Story I Have Never Been Brave Enough to Tell - with Coach Samantha

The truth is that I have been trying to write this damn race report for weeks and every time I sit down to do so, I just get stuck.

And the reason is that I am struggling with being brave enough to write it.

But I know that I need to - for a million different reasons.

And if nothing else, perhaps it will strike a chord with just one reader and that is reason enough for me to be fearless and honest.

So - this really has nothing to do with racing, or maybe it has everything to do with racing - you can decide that for yourself…

On March 7th I was diagnosed with Influenza B. I had been feeling like shit for weeks - and I mean weeks, and I finally caved and got tested for the flu. The good news was that I had most likely had it for weeks and it would be over sooner- the bad news, I have never been that sick in my life. The flu is no fucking joke and every inch of my body ached and it was impossible for me to be comfortable - I was exhausted and yet could not sleep, and more than anything I am really bad at sitting still, but I had no choice other than to do so. I hardly ever watch TV - the last time I had turned the TV on was for the Superbowl, but I was sustained by watching the last season of Turn. I binge watched it to the point that I was sure that when I recovered from the flu the obvious next step was to sew myself a period piece costume to wear around the house while making kale chips all while pining for the love of a Connecticut Dragoon. For three days I COULD NOT MOVE - I drank tons of fluids and would have to coax myself off the couch to pee. It was rough. But my lungs were clear and I happen to have a personal physician who makes house calls, so he cleared me and just said - well you can race, it will hurt, but you can do it. And who knows, maybe you will get out there and you will feel super rested and it will all be okay.

At this point I had been coughing for weeks - I mean weeks and had been blowing my nose for what seemed like a decade, but my bike was already on its way to the race, I had a flight and I had committed to racing.

I knew this - I was not going to walk 13.1 miles. So I would go as far as I could run and then I would DNF if needed. I also had the option of changing to the aqua bike and doing that instead, but would not make a call until closer to race day.

I survived the weekend and was very, very slowly getting better. So I said fuck it, and boarded the plane with the intention of racing - I had my mind set on it and I was sure if I made it to the finish line then I would be able to face any struggle that came my way. I told myself get through this Samantha and you’ll emerge far grittier on the other side. Plus, I know I can handle physical pain, not to bore you with details, but 21 hours of unmedicated childbirth teaches you that you can handle some serious fucking pain. So I threw all of my tri shit in a bag, and set out to see what would happen.

The day before the race, I was still coughing and blowing my nose, but at this point it was not painful, and Dr. Moy had told me that it could take weeks for me to stop coughing and blowing my nose. Before picking up our packets, Coach Nick and I suited up for a little shakeout swim and hopped into the lake. The water was FUCKING cold and I struggled with the 10 minute swim, but of course we all feel like shit the day before a race and overthink every fucking thing we do. I had also done a shakeout run that am, where I started off really slow and then did a 5 min interval at race HR - I had not died, so I thought I would give the 70.3 a go.

I hate the day before a race - like FUCKING HATE THE SHIT OUT OF IT - but like all things this too shall pass and there was one amazing thing that happened - the final thing I did before I tucked  in for the night was to ride my bike up and down the street where I was staying just to run through the gears. I rode to the end of the block and when I got to the corner a pack of kids on their bmx bikes were rolling down the block. They looked at me and my bike and one was like whoa - that’s a cool bike and for some odd reason - or actually pretty much inline with who I am, I looked at them and yelled - let’s race. And so race we did - they rode as hard as they could down the block and for a moment I was not coughing, and the sun was warm, and I felt like I was ten and free on my bike. And I thought - this is the essence of it all - tomorrow find the joy.

And so before I knew it, it was time to head to bed and try to sleep. As had been the norm for the past month or so, as soon as my head hit the pillow, cue the cough fit. But somehow I managed to sleep so well that at 4 am I woke up in a total panic thinking I had missed the race. I guess I did want to race it after all. I went through the usual am stuff, got to the race site and got set up, did my practice swim and before I knew it, it was go time.


I got to the front of the all female wave - it was one big wave of 85 or so women and I was right in the front. I am not the world’s best swimmer, but I can hold my own and the last thing I want to do is fight the crowd - plus I have zero fear in the water - perhaps naively so, but I have no issues with getting a little beat-up and swimming hard to start. And as always, off went the front pack and I was in limbo to swim the majority of the swim solo. I knew I was fucked with a capital F from the start. I was coughing and swimming, NOT A GOOD COMBO! But I was determined to go until I dropped dead, so I kept swimming as hard as I could. I can honestly say that I gave that swim all that I had on that day. I was gasping for air the entire time. And while it is one of my slower swims I have to be happy with the outcome.


I think I came out of the water about 8th or so, which is fine, but the issue was that I was EXHAUSTED - and for the first time in my entire racing career I was really worried that I was not going to even get off the bike. I was in and out of transition and took of on the bike like a total mess - there is a really amazing picture of me where I cannot see and my glasses are over my mouth, and I have a gel in my mouth to add to the amazingness of it all.


I quickly passed a few women and settled in to what would prove to be a very lonely ride for the next 40 or so miles. This is something that I have faced before on the bike in smaller races. My metrics on the bike were fine, my HR was where it was supposed to be and my power was perfect, but the ride went something like this, pedal, sip, cough. Not ideal, but also not the end of the world - that would come later on the run.


Now if you are reading this and I coach you, you might want to rethink that decision, as I made about a thousand rookie mistakes on race day - one of which was that I rode off course. There were two races going on at once, and so I made the error of turning onto the sprint course - I had to double back and get back on course. While this cost me less than 5 minutes, its mental cost was far greater as I spent a lot of wasted time rehashing the mistake. KNOW THY COURSE. The ride went on with no hitches after that - with a continued pattern of pedal, fuel, cough. It was a very lonely bike ride as there were a few women in front of me that I would not see until the run, and it took until mile 25 for the faster men who had gone off after me to pass me, and until 45 to get passed by the eventual second place woman. I was kind of feeling blah until that point and once she rode up I was able to maintain legal contact with her until we hit transition and she took off like a graceful antelope and I started the run - or slog - or death march - you choose your term for it.


To be clear - the first few miles were not awful. I knew however, that it had been over a month since I had run more than 8 miles and that the battle and struggle would be real. I set out on the run and had one focus - run until you literally cannot run any more. I told myself just keep your cadence up and your posture good and see what happens. This was all fine and good for the first 4 miles and then I remember thinking OH FUCK - here we go. The turn around at mile 5ish came and that’s when the first woman passed me. Ok, so rationally no big deal, I did not come here to win it - I had the flu, I came here with a revised goal of just getting it done and learning from it - right? Well sure, but at that moment it became crystal clear that the experience of getting passed was playing games with me. I will cut to the chase and tell you that I came off the bike 5th and ended up 13th overall. Getting passed by 8 women was not fun. Also not fun was the way that my body felt. I did not walk one step - for me I knew that if I took one step of walking that I was done, but I just slowed and slowed and slowed. I could not will myself to move any faster. I would tell myself, Yo! Bitch (that’s how my inner dialogue sounds, don’t ask) pick up your fucking feet. Get your head together and your body will follow. I would say things like the fastest way to the finish line is to run. Or just RUN YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DIE. But nothing seemed to matter and the passes just kept coming and the legs just felt awful and the sun was getting hotter and I swear they moved the stupid turn around and the cadence was just getting slower and the finish line kept getting moved and a girl passed me at the 12 mile marker and said to me - let’s do this, go with me and I said in a very loud voice in my head, you fucking bitch, do you think I am trying to suck this badly at this shit right now, you have been hunting me this entire run, I CLEARLY AM OUT OF GO - I am just in get this stupid ass race over.


At mile 13 I passed Nick and his mom and yelled to him - WHY THE FUCK DID I NOT DO THE AQUA BIKE? And then I finally made the turn to the chute and I will tell you that it was one of the most pathetic finishes ever. I WAS DONE - SO very done. I had no business doing that race. I made it out of the chute, laid in the grass and cried and laughed all at once - and realized just what a terrible idea that was. And WAY WAY WAY WAY harder than I ever imagined that it would be - I had thought it would be bad, but I had no clue of  just how brutal it really was going to be - I would never had started it, had I known.


Okay - so let’s chat for a moment about how I SHOULD feel about this race.


I overcame a huge obstacle and went on to finish what I started.

I will be grittier for it - I grew from the experience.

I was 13th OA and 2nd in my AG.

I know that there are many people who would be thrilled to have my time.

It was an important experience in that I did not shy away from a challenge.

I gave it my absolute all from start to finish.


And I’m not trying to say that I’m not grateful for all of the above. I am. My rational mind is.


But here is what I really felt - and in a very strong way that put me in a cloud of funk for days after:







And yes, all of this might seem hyperbolic and even a little unhinged or harsh, but these are my emotions and they are very visceral for me and they are things that I have had to deal with for many years.


And here is where we veer from the race report…


We need to take a step back to what started this whole endurance sport thing when I was 18.


Here goes nothing-


You should envision me jumping off a cliff at this point - as this is what writing this feels like.


Stepping off cliff…


I started this whole thing because I have a terrible self esteem and cannot stand my physical appearance and so rather than engaging in unhealthy habits around eating (which I did throughout most of high school and still sometimes do) I got hooked on running. It gave me a huge emotional release and allowed me to feel in control. It made me happy and gave me confidence. Well I think it sort of gave me confidence. I guess the more I think about it, I am at my most confident when I am working out, so it gave me temporary confidence in the moment.


Once I really got into it and started to race triathlon, I think that something entirely different happened - I actually started down a whole new path where I was struggling in new and different ways with my lack of confidence.


As long as I can remember I have woken up each day and as soon as I open my eyes, I start to think about food. It sounds like what I mean is that I think about eating, but more what I mean is that I think about not eating, or eating the right things, or what I will eat that will be okay to eat. Or if I ate too much the day before or will I be good about my eating today. Or will I ever get to eat cake guilt free. I also look at myself in the mirror and think about all the things that are wrong with the way that I look and then I do this thing where I try to imagine myself as my ideal of what I think I should look like and then I think about how I look nothing like that and then I put together a plan to work harder to reach that ideal. Or I think about how I don’t work hard enough and I shouldn’t call myself a triathlete as I look nothing like one.


I have done this since I started racing and I wish I could say I no longer do this… but that’s a lie. And since the race - it’s pretty bad.


I’m embarrassed by this. I’m ashamed of it.


And I’m really, really, really good at pretending that I’m confident. So I never really have to talk about this nor do like to do so.


I know how to help my athletes with these things.


But I’m helpless in it myself.


I also know that when I started triathlon I would swim and bike at the front and then get run the fuck down. And this became a pattern that I actually started to manifest. I would joke as I passed people on the bike - oh, you’ll see me on the run. These quads can bike, but they sure as shit can’t run.


And naturally I would dread the run and naturally it was a self fulfilling prophecy and I would fall apart on the run.


This doesn’t  mean I didn’t do well in the race or even podium, but what it meant was that while I did well on paper I was constantly letting myself down and feeling shitty about my races and myself honestly. I would stand on the podium and think - well not bad for the fat chick. But I hated and still hate that fat chick. And I soooo badly want to love her.


Then in 2011 I had my daughter and I raced myself back into shape - in hindsight that was a dumb idea, but at the time it was magical. And part of what made this great was every week I would drop weight and I had an excuse as to why I was not skinny and in shape - and I would cross the line and pick her up and people would be in awe that I had such a tiny kiddo and was racing.


Yes I know that’s silly and insane - but it’s also real.


And I would like to say that at one of those races I really turned the corner due to the bike escort. Brynja was sixth months and I was racing my first open water sprint - I got out of the water third, biked myself into 1st and oddly enough they had a lead car and a lead biker. When I hopped off the bike and was picked up by the biker, I looked at him and said, well you won’t be with me long, I suck at running and I’ll get run down. I’ll never forget - he yelled up to me - stop that!!! You will win this if you have confidence and run. You’ll lose it if you think like that - so just run! And run I did and I held my lead. The important part is not that I won, but that I didn’t lose to my mind.


And that was the start of two really amazing years of racing where I would get off the bike and run motherfuckers down.


But here’s the issue - it was also the start of two of the skinniest years of my life. And I know that and I have a record of that and I can’t help but wrestle with the notion that skinny = fast and happy.


Then in 2013 I was injured in a big way and after surgery I gained weight and I have never been able to get back to my old fighting weight.


And so here we are …


And those same feelings came on like getting hit by a freight train during that race.


Let’s be for reals here - I was still hard on myself and was not totally confident in those years before surgery, but I was buoyed by the fucking number on the scale — and sadly that’s the damn truth.


So while I finished the race and placed, I spiraled into a very dark place. A place of self loathing and real sadness about the fact that I’m nearly fucking 40 and still can’t seem to figure this shit out. A sadness that I can’t just have a day in my life that I don’t think about this. And a sadness that I once again another year has gone by and I have not worked hard enough or reached my goal.


And also a real fear that I have a daughter and I’m going to fuck her up about this shit too.


But then coach Samantha pops into my head and I think to myself - maybe you need to be thankful for this battle. Maybe this is why you are who you are - maybe since you are never satisfied it makes you work harder year in and year out.


And then I think - I’m tired of this. Why can’t I love myself or see myself in another way? Why can’t I ever eat food without judgement or guilt?


I don’t know the answer - and that’s the super hard part.


But the optimist in me thinks that it’s out there and that if I keep plugging away at this that I’ll one day reach a place of peace.


And here’s where the English teacher in me knows that I need my concluding paragraph- but the problem is that there is no conclusion at this point. Hell we haven’t even got to the climax (yes, that’s an actual literary term). I think we are still working on the exposition … which at this point is rivaling Anna Karenina - but that’s where I’m at and that’s something that I have never wanted to admit to most before I was a coach, and even less so as a coach, so if nothing else - I guess that airing this publicly might just be the driving force to get me one step closer to the conclusion. So thank you for that chance ...