I just want to begin with a disclaimer. I hate writing race reports. In many aspects of my life, I can make a concise and logically ordered documentation of an event. In my week day job as a lowly grad student, I have to do this all the time. When it comes to personal narrative, however, I’m hopeless. Narrative writing for me is about as pleasant as … well… getting a concussion (but that comes later, so I’ll not get too ahead of myself).
But here I am, writing about my weekend in LA.
Everyone will say this while they’re in the midst of their racing season, but I’ll just throw it out there: my season hasn’t been shaping up quite as I would have liked. Since I have one race left, I’m still allowed to be optimistic and hope for a huge break through race. The days leading up to LA carried that air of optimism. It was my last Olympic for 2012, and against a very strong field of seasoned professionals. I wanted it to be a showcase of all the work I’ve done, and all the time and effort my supporters and friends have contributed on my behalf. Part of what is so great about the sport of triathlon is that how you feel about just one race can really make a season go from “meh” to “WOW!” I was shooting for a “WOW!” moment with LA.
Instead, I got an “OW!”
But let’s back-up some more. The weekend was truly terrific. I rode to LA with my friend Ken Rakestraw and his girlfriend Elyse. Kenny was racing too, to end his race season. We were super fortunate and got to stay with Lesley in Encino. I am a huge fan of Lesley. She is this incredibly successful lawyer with her own firm, an athlete, a sports superfan, and the most outstanding hostess. Pretty much I just want to be half as cool as she is. Lesley took us to get sushi on Friday night when we arrived. After a perfectly relaxed evening, we slept in and had a huge breakfast on Saturday: egg-in-a-hole with sprouted wheat toast, avocado, bacon, fruit salad, and coffee. Kenny and I did some race prep workouts around a park in Encino (and I learned when we got back that my wheel had been rubbing the frame the whole time, making me seem really slow during the warm-up – there is nothing better for pre-race confidence than to find out that you’re not slow, and it’s actually a mechanical problem). After a short run, we headed downtown for the pro meeting.
Since this is my first season as a pro, I still get kind of nervous for these meetings. This was a great meeting, however. Not only did I get to see some familiar faces, but also the race director was hilarious. Dinner was an elaborate make-your-own burrito affair, we watch a movie, and then I was off to bed.
Race morning started with a big bowl of steel-cut oats and blueberries. Then Kenny and I drove to downtown to park the car and take a shuttle to the beach for the race start. We got there with plenty of time… except the shuttle was late and the line of racers (+ bikes) trying to get on was enormous. We finally arrived at Venice beach with very full bladders and only about 20 minutes to get set-up.
First, I’d like to clarify that this race is huge. Equally huge was the line for the bathroom. I clumsily set-up my transition area in a stressful 5 minutes (mostly stressful because I was doing the “I gotta pee” dance the whole time) then set off for the port-a-potty line. I barely made it to the beach before the Pro Men’s wave started, and begged for some quick assistance from a very nice Aussie man in zipping my wetsuit. Then, I was in the shoot and lined up for the race, with probably the worst race prep I’ve ever had. Oh well. More adrenaline = better race, right?
The waves were about 3-4’ high on our way out, nothing crazy. I was with the main pack up to the first buoy, and then upon turning around that buoy, I found that everyone had put a huge gap on me already. How did that happen? Anyway, I picked up the pace and started getting close to the back end of the main pack through the third turn. At this point, however, the waves were really getting big and I couldn’t see the red buoys anymore. I started following the splashing arms of another swimmer wearing my wave’s cap. Except when I caught the splashing arms of the swimming wearing the Pro Women’s cap, it was actually a dude wearing board shorts and was just out for a swim at Venice Beach in the midst of a few thousand people doing a triathlon. I got myself back on course and was maybe a minute back from the end of the group heading into shore.
Within sight of the swim-out arch, I tried to catch a good wave to body surf in, but it was too small to move me very far. So I started sprinting. At the next breathe, however, the surf ripped out and I saw a 6’ wall of water that had already crested dropping right on top of me. The only thing I had time to do was get as low in the water as I could before everything went catastrophically wrong. I got absolutely pulverized, flipped, and smashed into the ocean floor head first, very violently. I had just enough time to find one breathe before the vigorous next wash cycle began. I think the lifeguard saw me thrashing, and came to break the next wave. I told him I had hit my head really hard twice, so he held onto me while we stood in the water and asked the standard list of questions –
“Does your neck hurt?”
-I don’t know.
“Did you lose consciousness?”
-I don’t know.
“What’s your name? Do you know where you are? Does your neck hurt? What day is it? What happened again?”
After we stood for a while, he decided I was coherent enough to keep going if I wished. I dashed for T1, convinced that not only was I going to be the last out of the water, but by a long way. I got to the rack to find, to my huge relief, that 5 bikes were still there. I transitioned as fast as possible and set out on the course.
At first, it was great. I felt strong and smooth and the course is really flat and fast. But as it kept going, my neck and back started getting really sore. I focused on getting faster through the ride instead of thinking about it, and think I had a good bike. I don’t know for sure, however, because I lost my timing chip at some point during the swim, so I can only calculate my times based on those who came in and left T1 and T2 around me to know for sure. Anyway, I think it was around 1:05.high. I’ll take it.
When I got to T2, I was in agonizing pain, but felt surprisingly smooth on my feet, even though I was disturbingly dizzy. YES! Finally, all of the running I’ve been doing this summer was going to pay off! And then about half a mile into the run, I made very close friends with one of the downtown LA trashcans and said farewell to my breakfast. I’ve never vomited from running before. Not in the 16 years I’ve been running competitively has this ever happened. I took a moment to collect my thoughts and face this new possibility, and decided I had better get to running again or I was going to be dead last. But then I made friends with a new trashcan a few blocks away from the first. Thinking to myself, “there can’t possibly be that much left in my stomach, I had breakfast more than 3 hours ago,” – I found out there was a lot of seawater in there. Feeling even more behind, I took off for the Disney concert hall and made it all the way to mile 3 before another trashcan beckoned. At this point, I was so dizzy and shaking really badly, that I decided to listen to the small (potentially more reasonable) voice in my head that said – this isn’t right, stop right now.
And that is how I dropped out of my first race. I have not let myself do this yet, in triathlon, because it opens the floodgates of self-doubt for future races. Every time my mind says I should just stop, in every race from now on, it will seem like a more real option. And with this disappointment, I made my way to the med tent. They told me I had a mild concussion and my heart rate and blood pressure took about an hour and half to settle down. It didn’t help that all of my competitors were finishing 10 feet from the tent, while I was pathetically being held up by a medic and having my blood pressure tested repeatedly.
Thankfully Kenny, Elyse, and Lesley were around to collect my belongings. And despite being super out of it, I was very lucky to have some of those familiar faces from the race meeting come to talk to me and take my mind off the potential of being sent to the hospital. Rudy came to chat about his race and how school is going and to tell me how everyone in Boulder is doing. I wasn’t thinking quite clearly enough to have a good conversation, but this helped enormously to make me feel less upset.
Despite a killer headache for a few days and very tender bruise on the top of my head, I think I’m recovering quickly. I had to assuage the fears of my mother, who now thinks racing is a terrible idea. And I just can’t help but think that perhaps growing up in Kansas didn’t prepare me well for how crazy powerful and awe-inspiring the ocean is. In the meantime, I promised I would ride my bike on the trainer only this week, so I’m really looking forward to an (cautious) outdoor adventure in a few days.
So, the moral of the story here is that concussions suck. I like my brain, so I’m trying to behave myself. But, whacking my head also reminded me of something I’ve forgotten a little bit of this season, and that is that I’m showing up to races to RACE. I fear I’ve just been going through the motions a bit too much this season – swimming and biking and running all in one day at a faster pace than is comfortable for the sake of experience. But the fire-under-my-butt kind of racing has been missing since I raced MTS in March. I have one race to go, and a lot of pride to recover and fun to have in a few weeks in Austin, so maybe it is the swelling inside my skull, but I’m looking forward to training and racing every day more now than I have been in months.