I have written and re-written this post in my head so many times since August 16 but until today I haven’t sat down to actually write it and force myself to dive into the months of training. Its fitting that it is now September 16 and we are officially one month post-Ironman Mont-Tremblant attempt. I let this blog go silent since the Spring and there are multiple reasons behind that:
- Not enough time to blog
- Training day-in and day-out just didn’t seem blog worthy
- I never got to race (more on that to come)
This triathlon season has been a complete bummer no doubt. I had three great races on my horizon. I DNS (did not start) two of the first ones and ultimately DNF’ed the largest race. I haven’t crossed a finish line since Ragnar Trail Relay in Atlanta when we did it as a team in April. The last time I finished a race solely was Run til You’re Boared 16k Trail Run also in April. Wow that is incredible to me. I miss that feeling especially the feeling of crossing a big finish line but I know that day will come again in the future.
My triathlon season was supposed to kick-off in Clermont at the Great Clermont Olympic triathlon on March 22. The week of the event, I came down with a nasty cold and had to bag the race. I was optimistic that if I took care of myself, I wouldn’t miss much training and could re-focus on Ironman Raleigh 70.3 at the end of May.
Shortly after this race, I travelled to Washington DC for work and promptly returned home and started to look at real estate. I wanted to buy my first place and have had this goal for some years. Little did I know that I would find one so quickly but the process would be long and exhausting. I travelled to NYC and Atlanta also in April and looking back now, it was a non-stop month that left me sick, stressed and overwhelmed.
The first house fell through (thankfully) and after wallowing for a two days, I found my current house just as it was being published online. This one was much less stressful and closed quickly! In the middle of all this, I was training for Ironman Mont-Tremblant and coaching myself.
Heading into May, I was solely focused on Raleigh and improving upon last year’s performance. Don’t get me wrong, Mont-Tremblant was always lingering there like a cloud over my head. In fact, it had been there since I registered last September by plunking down my credit card and my stomach doing flips.
I didn’t race at all in May and for reasons that are beyond me, I got sick yet again right before Raleigh. Now, I’m one for pushing myself even through sickness when it comes to this stuff, but both of these illnesses stopped me in my tracks and forced me to completely stop what I was doing. I was truly disappointed and pang by this decision but there was no way around it.
Now were at the beginning of June somehow and I’m staring at 2.5 months left until Ironman Mont-Tremblant and I haven’t raced a triathlon yet, I’ve been sick, I still need to move my apartment to my new house and I have to travel to Orlando for work during the week in June. At this point, I was just trying to remain positive and focus on what I could do at the time.
I re-enlisted my previous coach from the year before and he started to put my workouts into Training Peaks. I had been following a TP plan from another coach and had been doing ok with it but was concerned with my sickness that I needed some customization and guidance especially with this being my first full iron distance race. Along with these issues circulating, I was still dealing with the same saddle sores as last year that ultimately kept me out of Ironman Lake Placid. While not as bad, I always needed two days after long rides to “heal”. Mondays were rest days and that we were back at it. I always felt my worse on Tuesdays before the workouts but usually had pretty good workouts once I got going. Wednesday would be ok mentally but physically the work outs weren’t great.
Through the entire summer of training, I felt sluggish, exhausted, and weak. Like last year, I gained weight during my training which only discourages someone training so much. I enjoyed the walk-run method my coach prescribed but other than that, nothing was coming together and I never felt great about a particular workout other than one or two here and there. The main feeling I have to describing how I was feeling overall is “off”. Everything just felt off no matter what I did. I would listen to my body when it told me to rest and pushed it other times when it was just general fatigue. I struggled waking up each morning no matter how long I slept the night before, making it next to impossible getting a workout in in the morning before work and with Ironman training typically having two workouts a day, I doubled up a lot after work and therefore wearing myself down.
Looking back and reflecting upon this time, I was trying to play catch up and there was no way I was going to catch up, both mentally and physically.
As July rolled around, the humidity here in Florida really went up a couple of notches and it took its toll on me. I started one ride at 4:00 am just so I wouldn’t have to cycle when the sun got high in the sky. I also started a long run at 7:00 pm on a Sunday evening so I had time to recover and not be out in the sun. I ran on the treadmill and cycled on my trainer. It was rough having to train inside but the humidity was worse. I am definitely a cool weather athlete which is one reason I chose Mont-Tremblant in the first place.
The months of June and July were tough but it was the last four weeks before Mont-Tremblant that really stuck it to me. I had two peak weeks of training, a week of mid-range work and then taper/travel week. During this time, I communicated with my coach only via text and it wasn’t until a couple of nights before traveling to Canada did we speak on the phone when I was asked about my race and nutrition strategy. Good thing I had been thinking a lot about these two items and knew enough to research, test, and try things out on my own because here were the week of the event and we were just now talking about everything. During these weeks, there was a workout on the bridges where I ran up and down a large bridge here in town until I reached 8 miles. I posted on Facebook that my coach had wakened a beast within me. It wasn’t my coach that woke that up in me, it was me that did it. I was high on that workout only to come crashing down the following day with a crappy workout.
I shipped my bike via TriBike Transport a week and a half before the race and rode my road bike the last weekend before the race for an easy 2 hour spin. It was an usually nice afternoon out and I enjoyed being on my road bike out on the roads as its been on my Kickr all season. Unfortunately, the next day I developed two sores that would stick with me until race day.
I flew to Canada the Wednesday before the race. Elated to have made it through the training and getting on the plane to Mont-Tremblant. I accomplished my first goal: to get to the start line healthy. Well, healthy is a relevant term here as I was beat up mentally and physically but that’s what Ironman training is supposed to do right?
As my parents and I settled into our great town home high up on the mountainside, I remained calm about the impending race day but also still felt that “off” feeling in the days leading up to the race. On Thursday of race week, my dad and I went to the swim finish area of the lake and I got my wetsuit on for the first time since Raleigh 2014. The water felt great and I was even cheered on by some kids playing on the beach (unbeknownst to me). After the swim, I headed out for what was to be an easy 30 minute jog. Now, there are hills and climbs in Mont-Tremblant hence why its a great ski area (and this was known to me when I signed up) but even on just the flat areas, my heart rate and breathing were off. An easy jog was difficult and I ended up taking walk breaks often to just get my breathing under control. Now I had been training all season with a low heart rate zone to keep things in a certain range.
I returned to my dad and our rental car and as I sat there, I told him what it felt like to run and how my body was completely exhausted from the effort. This really concerned me but I chalked it up to taper never really having experienced a true taper before.
The following day, Friday August 14 was my 30th birthday and it was a welcome distraction for most of the day but before I could celebrate with my family, I needed to get on my bike and check things over. I was out for about 20 minutes, having descended and ascended some hills to get the gears through and to get my legs used to things. The same feeling after the ride hit me again but I tried to not put too much stock in it.
That evening, my parents catered in a great meal from a local restaurant and I opened over 30 cards filled with various gifts. It was a great way to ring in my 30th. The next morning my dad and I headed to the swim start so I could get in the water another time. There is a permanent building by the beach and triathletes had over taken it as the staging grounds to get wetsuits on and change into bike clothes. I felt ok during the swim just trying to focus on sighting and generally trying to enjoy being in the lake with the mountains around us.
Like in Kona, there was a boat about 700 meters from shore serving coffee and I really wanted to experience that as only in an Ironman setting do you find something like that. I was about 200 yards from it and I was wiped and decided not to push it. I got back to the beach and took my time getting up to the changing area. I was trying to soak it all on it and remember it but I was also trying to understand what was going on with my body. As we got into the car, my arms and legs felt extremely heavy and I was exhausted yet again. My dad and I talked thing through and he was under the belief that I needed to get adrenaline flowing through me and that running just a couple of quick sprints when we got back would help me feel better. I could understand his reasoning and was going to do it. When we got back, I had a gel and got changed to run. I had text my coach about how I was feeling so he called me to ask what was up. We talk through things and spoke at length about taper and how it feels like you’re getting sick and are generally lethargic. I was buoyed by this conversation thinking it was just taper blues as its called and that come race day my body would respond. I ended up not doing the sprints, rather opting for a soak in the jacuzzi and getting my bags ready for drop off at transition.
The rest of Saturday after checking my bike in and dropping things off was uneventful and I was even able to fall asleep relatively easily. Now, most people I’ve spoken to and blogs I have read say that they are wired before a race and are lucky to sleep more than 2-3 hours. I slept the entire night, woke up ok but just didn’t feeling that buzzing sensation I usually feel before a race especially before the largest race of my life!
As the rest of the house slept, my dad and I stood outside our town home waiting for the tram to pick us up. Luckily, a fellow racer in a brand new suburban stopped and asked in broken english if we wanted a ride. We gratefully accepted and rode down together. He must have been a city official or police officer as he knew exactly where to park and it was almost as if he had a spot waiting for him as close to transition as possible. It was great!
We walked through Mont-Tremblant village into transition with the swarm of people. I got body marked with my race number 2252 and my new age, 30, on my calf. I went to my bike, borrowed a pump, checked things over and chatted briefly with fellow racers. The nerves started to roll in as I put my special needs bags in the large trashcans designated for them so they could take them out on the race course. We made the long walk to the beach from there and I was glad I was ahead of schedule with time to spare. I made the requisite port-o-potty stop which was perfectly time as when I stepped out, the line was doubled up on itself and extremely long. I got my wetsuit on, took some pictures and headed to the beach. As my dad and I stood there waiting for the opening ceremony and the pro waves to start, I got really nervous and anxious. This is what I’m accustomed to and my dad knows to expect it now. I knew I needed to get in the water and calm down so I said good bye with tears in my eyes and headed for the warm up area. As soon as I got in the water, I felt much better and acclimated. Before I knew it, I was hopping into my wave on the beach and heading towards the start line.
The all women’s wave spread out before the start and I purposely seeded myself several rows behind the front group as I’m not a fast swimmer and didn’t want to get crawled over. There was heavy fog sitting over the lake allowing for only 100 meters of visibility. As we started the swim, I felt comfortable despite the crowded scene in front, behind and next to me. Sure, I got kicked in the chin, hit with arms etc but things opened up and I was able to swim my own pace. I took the inside line without even really trying to so that the buoys were on my left.
Each buoy was large and had numbers on them so we could keep track of where we were. There were 13 buoys and then the turn buoy. At some point, I thought I was at buoy 10 but found myself at 13! Sweet! I made the turn and swam parallel to shore for the 200 meters before making the turn home alongside the final 13 buoys. This is the first swim ever where I didn’t get the feeling in the first couple of minutes that there was no way I was going to do the swim and that my body wasn’t going to cooperate. I carried this through the rest of the swim and found myself enjoying being in the race and watching the sun rise over the mountains as we swam in an Ironman event.
I came out of the water smiling and feeling good. I even heard my name and city announced and they commented on my joyous attitude. I saw just under 1:30 for the swim and was so happy to see that I actually hit my target time. My dad later remarked that it was my best swim he’s seen me and I wasn’t in the back part of the pack but was right in the middle of mine! (I’m always playing catch up on the bike and run).
The path was carpeted all the way to transition and people lined the entire length. I smiled the entire time as I carried my wetsuit over my shoulder towards the changing tent. I grabbed my T1 bag and headed into the women’s area to change. There were volunteers helping but I didn’t have one until the end but I did ok making certain I didn’t rush. I wanted to ensure I dried my feet off properly (learned this from Swim Bike Mom’s experience at Couer d’Alene) and got everything how I wanted it. Got outside, grabbed my bike and headed out of transition.
As I got on my bike, I was still smiling, enjoying the fact I was racing and doing my first Ironman. I stayed steady, taking in my nutrition as planned and thanking volunteers when possible. The sun started to rise and the fog began burning off. As we headed out of town, I felt good. I spun up hills and bombed down the other side (my bike is super fast on the downhills). For the first 50 miles of the bike, I felt great! I was chatting with fellow racers, encouraging those struggling, enjoying the sight of the pros as the zipped by and generally being “in the moment”. As I got to the last section of the first lap, I knew what was ahead of me. We had driven the entire bike course by car and knew I needed to stay steady and calm.
Well, I needed more than that as the climbs were steep, too steep for me. Some areas were 8-12% grade certainly more than anything I trained on here in Florida. I ultimately had to push my bike three separate times, twice on the way out and once on the way back (this section is an out and back). It was during this section that my breathing and heart rate started to get to me. My energy dropped like a rock and I felt awful. As I mounted my back after the last push, I remember getting to the crest of the hill and just sitting on the bike waiting for gravity to take over for me as I had nothing in me to pedal forward. I have known to expect the “suck” moments and to learn to identify them and welcome them as they will pass. I was mentally prepared for that yet these suck moments never passed. It took me about 40 minutes to do 6 miles on my bike. Some people run this fast!
The out and back brought us back towards town where my family was waiting for me. I don’t remember much of this section other than thinking “how the hell am I going to be able to do all of that again?!”. I saw my mom and sister first and remember seeing my sister’s hand out to give me a high five and thinking very slowly that I should reach out my hand and high five her. It took everything I had to do that. I didn’t see my dad or brother in law but they were there as well and my dad told my family that I didn’t look well.
As I headed back out for my second loop, I made the commitment to get back to special needs and restart from there. The hills that were fine the first time, kicked my ass this second time. I stopped in special needs, got what I needed, read a quick note from a friend and headed out. As I tried to climb a hill my stomach turned on me and my thinking was foggy. I don’t really even remember making the conscious decision to get off my bike. There was no internal debate, I just found myself dismounting. I saw someone in a tshirt the same color as the volunteers and asked him to hold my bike as I thought I was going to get sick. He wasn’t a volunteer but a kind citizen of Mont-Tremblant! I went of the road to get sick. As I was doing so, someone asked me if I was ok and I nodded my head without turning around. Well it was a medic on a bike and he wasn’t going anywhere. He could tell I wasn’t right. As he rode off to talk to someone, I asked the citizen if it was chilly out where we were as I was cold and he kind of chuckled and said no, it was warming up. At this point I knew I was in trouble as I had been hydrating and eating well yet was getting sick and having chills already. The bike medic came back and radioed for an ambulance to come check me out. He told me take some of my Nuun electrolyte mix and it immediately just came back up. Not good.
The medics came and spoke french which thankfully my citizen translated for me. They wanted to check my vitals and make certain I was ok. I asked if that meant my race was over and they said no, they just wanted to check me out so I agreed. I got in the truck and they took my HR, BP and other things. They told my blood pressure was high and that I didn’t look good and wanted to pull me from the race. At this point, I was extremely torn inside as I knew my body had reached its limit and that this was not an ongoing suck moment but something more serious but at the same time, I was facing the DNF status of my first Ironman attempt and all of the month’s of training and sacrifice down the tubes.
As we rode back to the village, I was in tears over how quickly and dramatically things had changed. It felt awful riding in the ambulance past racers and spectators looking into the truck, knowing I was probably one of the first racers out of the race. They strapped me to the bed, pulled me out on the stretcher and rolled me inside the medical village. At this point, I couldn’t really move my arms or legs and was completely reliant upon assistance. Before each Ironman race, you are weighed. The first thing they did was weigh me when I got in there. From Thursday to Sunday I had lost about 6 pounds. I’m assuming it was mostly water weight since I have only gained weight all season. As I went to sit back down on the stretcher, my legs gave out and I essentially collapsed onto it.
From there, I was brought to a row of chaise lounges like you find out by a pool but with higher legs. My vitals were taken again, symptoms discussed and the infamous Ironman soup fetched. Damn that stuff was delicious but it didn’t really want to stay down either. I was given “gravel” for my upset stomach. Pretty funny what stomach medicine is called in Canada. As I lay there, I couldn’t move anything, it was the most unusual sensation ever. After being there for about 15 minutes, I got extremely cold as well. It took me about hour to an hour and a half in the medical area before I was able to get up and go to the bathroom. In the mean time, the race contacted my dad and told them what was going on. I was just worried about making my mom freak out knowing I was in the medical tent. My dad was able to write a note to me while I was in the back as he and my siblings waited for me. Eventually I felt ok enough to get back to the town home. My bike was no where to be found but thankfully I had signed up for TriBike Transport and they were able to get for me. I was moving slowly back to the tram, feeling dejected, sad, and overwhelmed at just how quickly things had gone south.
Post Race Aftermath:
The rest of the day I laid on the couch and tried not to mentally beat myself up. I called my coach shortly after getting back and he asked why I was calling him. I explained what happened and honestly didn’t get the sense that he truly understood what had happened and that I had just pussyed out. Sorry but that’s my own opinion. In fact, I haven’t spoken to my coach since then even after I sent him a a text after several doctor’s appointments to update him on things when I was home in Florida. He’s not the only one who has let me down in this arena but I’m moving on and chalking it up as another life lesson.
I went to bed once the sun was down and tried not to think about things as it was just too much disappointment to handle. I woke up feeling ok and went to get the rest of my gear from the village. It was difficult to be there with everyone else as they were wearing proudly wearing their finisher hats, medals and other gear (rightfully so). I felt like a fraud and a poser walking through there and couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
That evening, my parents and I had dinner together and just after dinner, a sudden wave of fatigue and heaviness set in along with lightheadedness. My parents got me to lay down on the coach and try to relax. Again, my legs and arms felt pinned to the couch. I had tears rolling down my face but I couldn’t even lift my arms to wipe them away. Then the chills came again and they put a heavy blanket over me. I stayed like this for over an hour until I slowly started to regain some feeling and sensation.
Doctors Appointments Galore:
As we travelled back to Florida and I returned to work, this same thing would continue to happen to me at least once a day. I saw a cardiologist first since I was having trouble breathing and would often feel the need to “catch” my breath. Not normal for someone who has been doing so much cardio work. He ordered tests to be done but more than anything, he was concerned my infection from last summer had been present throughout my training. While we weren’t able to determine if this was true, I believe I did have something brewing all season which resulted in my poor immune system and all of the colds I’ve had this year.
Ultimately, over a period of a couple of days, I did a full blood panel test, chest xray, echocardiogram and stress test on the treadmill. Throughout this I thought the problem was my thyroid as all symptoms pointed this direction and my family has a strong history of thyroid problems. Well, my blood work came back and everything was “normal” in fact right in the middle ranges of everything except for my white blood count which was on the border of the low and normal range. Now this cardiologist I saw was completely on my side, knowing my symptoms were real and that things were not right for me. Especially since the first time I saw him, I was laying on the examining table when he came in as one of those episodes happened right when I got to the office.
As the test results came back and we had one last appointment together, we spoke about what it all meant. Health wise, according to the tests, I was healthy in fact I did really well on the stress test and my heart in the echo was excellent. He advised me to not to work out but to rest. Should I feel like working out, I then I should workout but only if my body was telling me and not my mind. While these symptoms are not really his area of expertise, the doctor is a leader in his field and has done endurance events before. What resulted was the “diagnosis” of extreme fatigue. While I have no official medical reason for why body gave out on me, I firmly believe I pushed it to its limit and it broke.
I haven’t really posted anything on Facebook about my health and the race as I didn’t really know what was going on and didn’t feel like explaining things there. People assumed I felt “better” because I joked about posting the medical sign as my FB pic but honestly, I was in a tough place. This injury has been difficult because its not something people can see physically like if I were in a crash or something rather its internal and doesn’t show itself all the time. Those in my office experienced my symptoms the first day I came back to work and thankfully came to my aid quickly and quietly and I was able to get back to work once things passed.
For the past month, I have slowly regained my energy though it took a solid three weeks of literally doing nothing to even feel remotely “normal” again. It was until last weekend did I feel like myself again, the self that I was before this training took over and Ironman was crowding my thoughts. My mental state improved as well as a fog felt like it was lifted and I could for the first time in months think clearly, be alert and absorb what was being discussed with me. I still believe my thyroid is off as having normal results doesn’t mean there isn’t something off with your thyroid but I will get to that eventually.
Yesterday, I woke up with energy and put my running clothes on for the first time. It felt like the right time to get moving again. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other and repeating it. I ran two miles without stopping and felt good despite the month-long layoff. When I returned, I put on Pandora and the first song that played was “Hall of Fame” by The Script, the very song that Ironman used for this year’s pump-up video. A video I have watched over and over again this season. Everything came full circle yesterday.
This has been a super difficult time in my life. Having dedicated myself for the past two years to accomplishing the feat of an Ironman and yet falling short of this goal and in a very public way has been painful, exhausting and embarrassing. Throughout this time, I have learned who my true friends are and who I can and can not count on in a time of need. Unfortunately, this is something I need to accept and move on from. I’m thankful my health has started to return and the symptoms have subsided, allowing me to enjoy life again as a new homeowner.
Its not all negative though, I have learned so much with regards to my inner strength, will and determination. My doctor said I have a high pain threshold and I just don’t recognize when my body is wanting to slow down and stop. This is both a good and bad thing because now I have broken it down so much that I wasn’t able to race. I pushed myself to the brink and know what it feels like to be at the bottom of the barrel. I’m picking myself off, dusting myself off and starting down a healthy path to recovery.
I’m stronger than I give myself credit for and am just now understanding all that I demanded of my body, especially with stresses outside of training being placed on it. I haven’t been ready to write this post for some time but I knew yesterday the fact that I was ready and willing to run yesterday (and even get in some strength work in the afternoon) that I was ready to face this post and get down to it. I have felt exposed and raw like never before, the closest being when I closed my store but I think this even harder because I pour my heart and soul into this and a lot of times felt it still wasn’t enough because my body wasn’t able to respond the way I was used to it responding when putting it up to a challenge.
Now for the question that I’m most used to receiving: when are you going to do it again/will you do it again?
As of right now, I have no plans to purse another Ironman. I couldn’t really think of triathlon for the past month and though of enduring the months of training, weekends filled with workouts and training plans honestly left me nauseated. The internal battle I have been struggling with is the fact that I so badly want to cross that finish line but am unsure if I am willing and able to put my body through it again. So no, right now, I want to have fun again, enjoy the sport and come back to it naturally. I had lost the fun and saw it as a daily responsibility, a boulder to push up a hill each day rather than an experience I got to enjoy and play around with.
I need a mental break from anything structured and so serious. I’m focusing on my health, my home and moving forward from this experience. I’m glad I attempted Mont-Tremblant. I truly enjoyed the first 52.4 miles I did with a smile on my face and no one can ever take that away from me. I have all of the miles of training stored mentally with me for the rest of my life even if my body was left broken and beat up.
Writing this is cathartic and I hope someone going through something similar will find a reassurance that you’re not alone. Even pros DNF! There will be another race and another day.
First and foremost, I want to thank my parents for always supporting me no matter what, for picking me up when I have fallen and for being there during my long runs and rides and talking me through things when I wanted to call it a day and throw the towel in. They are my biggest cheerleaders and best coaches.
My sister and brother in law joined us in Canada and it was awesome having them there. Not only to lighten the mood but to add to my experience during race week.
My friends and teammates who have always checked in with me to see how I’m doing, to provide encouragement and to keep me in better spirits. I truly appreciate you all.
Last but certainly not least, the warriors and cancer survivors/fighters whose names I carried on my bike and run bib. I have done this for them and to honor them. I hope to carry your names again in a race soon.
If you made it this far, thank you for reading. A large chapter has closed but a new chapter has already begun and it looks to be an adventurous one ;)
Photo credits: My father