The Race that wasn’t – Rev3 Venice, FL

Venice,  FL is an unfinished race for me.  The unexpected happened and I got my first DNF. It was not for a lack of training. It was not for a lack of desire. It was because of an accident while on the bike that left me unable to continue. Thankfully  the person I hit and I were OK, but my bike was unrideable after the accident. So with that detail covered (no one was severely harmed)I will start from the beginning.

We drove down from Atlanta on Friday. I enjoy racing and like to take my time and not feel rushed. My husband Carlos, teammate and friend Cameron (who was also racing) and I made the journey.

Hurricane Sandy was making her presence known in many places by the wind she kicked up. Venice, FL was no exception. We arrived Friday evening and went to Sharkey’s – the race start site – and surveyed the site. The waves were pretty big. There were riptide current warnings. The swim was questionable.

Waves at the swim start the day before

Saturday, due to the wind, the practice swim was cancelled. They couldn’t even get the buoys out. Yeah – it was rough. No biggie. Cameron, Carlos and I went out for a short spin and to get feel for riding in high winds. It was a challenge. Some parts seemed surreal with the sand whirling around us. My thoughts were “Even if they take off the swim, the extra effort in fighting the wind would not take away from the effort of the day on Sunday.” Cameron and I also went for a short run – even running was hard when it came right at you.

The wind never let up. We relaxed. I napped. Football games were on, and I got to see part of NBC’s Kona replay. I had had a headache all day and was hoping it would go away….soon.

I slept as well as I have slept the night before a race. Was it really just because I figured they had to cancel the swim? Does it really cause me that much anxiety? I have had problems, but also have developed a warm up where the swim problems I have experienced are basically a non-issue. What ever it was – I slept well. That was a nice change of pace!

Race day morning. I had my breakfast – 1.5 packets of instant oatmeal, 6 almonds, 8 oz of silk vanilla soy milk and a banana. I have started eating this before a race since working with my nutritionist (with variations for different distances) and it works well for me. She has helped me a lot with overall sports and daily nutrition and I feel the stronger and more well prepared for it. I also know my blood sugar tends to dip, so I carried a couple of fig newtons to keep me going (I always am an early arriver on race morning – Team in Training has drilled that well in to most of us and it makes for a calmer race day morning which I appreciate), and a few sports beans for just before the race.

We met Cameron downstairs, learned the swim was cancelled, loaded the bikes and were off by 5:45 a.m. Carlos was driving us, would hang out at the race site until just before the start so I could give him my morning clothes (it was a bit chilly!) and then head back to the hotel until the run.

I went to transition and set my area up. Revisited it a couple of times (changing my mind on my set up). The wind changed a few factors in my set up. This was also my first race with my aero bottle where i was focusing on speed. I need to work on that set up.

I saw Carlos, and then headed out for my warm up run. Short and sweet, but I look forward to it. I say it “gets the junk out”…any mental items I may have lingering and gets my body ready to go.

I returned to Carlos and we pretty much hung out until he left – just before the pros did their 1.54 mile run in to T1. I told him I was running through my emotions – wondering why I was there and ready to be done. This is good as, when it comes to a race, I typically am a light switch and that doubt has started to disappear and it is all about capturing that race feeling I am learning to love.

Marni, my nutritionist, was there with her husband (who was racing) and the previous day had mentioned that with the winds as they are it is a mental battle – those who will say it isn’t worth it and just ride, and those that will fight. Given what my coach and I had been working on – pacing, mental strength, effort levels, this was the perfect race for me to test all of those things. I was suddenly, even in my “why am I here” mode, ready. I knew there was no better race set up for me. I had my power meter. Although I haven’t tested for zones yet, I had ridden enough that I knew where I need to be for this race. The wind would make me rely on my power meter for my effort. I was excited. I was ready to run strong after the ride! And nervous if I have gotten strong and smart enough to do it.

Without the swim they went to a time trial start. They lined us up numerically and every three seconds one person went. We started barefoot and without helmet to simulate coming in from the swim.

We did pretty well lining up in increasing numeric order quickly. I was 139, and in amongst the women in my age group. We were chatting. One woman was wearing a splint of sorts on her left write – about a week before she had a run in with a raccoon and avoided him but had some serious road rash and hurt her wrist. another woman had a fracture in her foot which was OK for running in shoes, but the transition to swim was not something she had considered(but would be OK). So many interesting stories. I always doubt myself and just listen. I know each one has the potential to beat me, and I love to hear how they got here.

The line started moving. And soon I was at front. The counter said “Go” and all doubts were off. Race mode was on. I hauled butt to my bike, focused on a fast transition. Throwing on my gear I quickly ran out of transition to the mount line and was off. I was soon passing people.

I played back and forth with one woman in my age group (we chatted a few times. I wish I had noted her number – I really enjoyed her on the course. We were pushing each other,but I also kept my power meter range) and one man on a relay team. At one point, within the first 7 miles or so a judge came by and his pad of paper. I was thinking “Wah?” and even exclaimed “I am not even pedaling!” and was about 2 bike lengths behind the relay rider. The woman came up to me and we grumbled about the judge and time penalties.Give us some time to clear out. I always worry about drafting and do my best to avoid it, so that annoyed me. And shortly there after a peloton of about 4-5 men (obviously drafting) came flying by. That left a bad taste in both our mouths.

The course was beautiful and for the first 25 miles we had primarily a tail wind. In the first 20 miles we crossed 3 draw bridges. The woman commented she hates them (due to an accident) and loses speed. I said “there are 4 on the course. You are 75% done with them.” I think she liked to hear that and asked how I knew – Athlete’s briefing was my answer. They had said to slow down on the bridges as they couldn’t put carpet due to the wind and crossing them is like riding on ice. I made sure to slow down as well.

Soon we were on a straight away. I remember seeing I had cleared 20 miles in about 51 minutes. I let the woman go ahead some as I was focused on my power meter. I knew I would reap benefits once we hit the headwind and on the run. I was about 10 – 30 seconds behind her.

An intersection was coming up – a busy one. And a second shortly ahead. I was watching the light and the cars at the first one to be sure they didn’t do anything crazy like cross in front of me to turn right. I was clearing the intersection and look up. And there I saw it: a motorized wheel chair right in front of me. I looked right: curb/posts/cars waiting to turn in to traffic. I looked left: his wheel chair was too big for me to clear it in the time I had. And Cars in the left lane. What the hell is he doing there? I have nowhere to go! I ran head on in to him and his chair. I flew over him, knocking him out of his chair.

There are a few seconds I don’t recall. But soon I as sitting up and looking around. A woman was coming towards me. I see the police officer directing traffic (he has to – so many cyclists still coming). The guy I hit was on the ground saying his back hurt and “I thought I could make it.” The police officer called an ambulance. The woman was talking to me, and I stood up looking around. I saw the athletes coming through. They slowed and looked. I saw they guy in the wheelchair asking for his phone to call his dad. I asked where it was – walking to his chair. It was in the bag he was wearing, no where near the chair. Bernadette, the woman I saw, got him his phone (I believe).

Things started calming down and shaping up. Bernadette,offered me her phone to call someone. I called Carlos saying “I am OK. I have been in an accident.” I told him where I was and asked him to drive carefully emphasizing that I was OK. Just shaken. Bernadette offered to take me somewhere with her car if Carlos couldn’t get to me. He was able to, but given we didn’t know the area it took awhile. I heard Carlos on the phone asking for directions on the race course. I hung up as the EMTs arrived and one wanted to check me out. I sat down. He asked me questions, had me walk, took my blood pressure, and kept asking if I wanted to be taken to the hospital. I was fine. I had no problem answering his questions. Mary, Bernadette’s sister, who was also spectating that day, offered me a drink of Vitamin water. I knew I needed to get something in me and took it, saying thank you. Mary and Bernadette stayed with me.

At one point Cameron came by and he stopped. He came up to me and asked if I was ok. I told him I was fine and to go race! Luckily Cameron was he to race and I think he also knows when I say something I mean it the first time so he left to finish his race.

Carlos called Bernadette’s phone to get more directions and we passed the phone to the second EMT to help him. They put the guy from the wheelchair on a back board. He is in his early 40’s. Him mother was there. She came over and looked at me briefly to see how I was. At that point I assumed her son wasn’t too badly injured, just shaken (with good reason). He stated he thought be may be having a seizure. Soon he was in the ambulance. Both EMT’s stayed with me, filling out a form. He asked me my SSN. I couldn’t remember it but for the last four digits. It has been a long while since I have needed it. He moved on and then after a bit I recalled it and gave it to him.

Bernadette had gone to the Wendy’s behind us and gotten ice to put on my legs. They were already bruising from where they hit my handlebars when I flew off my bike. Mary offered me her towel. I started out sitting on it, but soon cooled down enough I wrapped it around me.

Bruised but smiling

The EMT’s made sure I had someone on their way to pick me up and left. Mary, Bernadette and I were left waiting. We chatted. They kept me smiling and talking (and listening) while waiting. They were absolute angles in the whole event. Sometimes I started to realize what had happened and would cry a little: shock, disappointment, shock, that “Holy Cow” feeling. But would shortly I would come back to reality.

Soon most of the racers had past. The police officer came over and asked a few questions. Before he could talk more he had to be sure all racers had passed.

The last racer soon went by and Mary, Bernadette and I cheered him on.

The police officer came over and we talked. He stated he was going to give the guy in the wheelchair a citation for disregarding his directions to not cross. He gave me a case number so I could get the report later, made sure I was ok and soon left. Mary and Bernadette stayed with me.

Soon a Rev3 employee/representative came by picking up the signs and stopped. I explained what happened. He called and made plans atop have someone pick me up. Carlos arrived at that time and I told him that I was ok….my husband was here. He made sure I was ok and moved on.

Bernadette and Mary helped gather my things and get them over to the car. We loaded my bike and that was the first time I really saw the damage.

I said a last thank you to Bernadette and Mary and soon Carlos and I were off to the start line.

The first person I called was my coach, Mary. She was as disappointed as me. We talked and she was soon looking for my next 70.3 event to make up for this one. We had both worked hard on this race, and neither of us were going to let it slide by.

Next I texted Marni, posted on facebook to let my friends who were waiting for race results, and then called my parents. They were traveling and I knew their cell phone would be turned off. I was fortunate and had my relatives phone numbers, with whom my parents were staying and visiting, and soon was on the phone and getting the number to call them. I left a message and they soon called me back. I was on the phone or texting with friends.

The rest is anti-climatic. We returned to the start. I stopped at the information booth and explained what happened, gave the police report information, and returned my timing chip. I headed over to medical where they checked me out. I returned every 50 minutes or so to get ice for my legs until Cameron finished the race and had a massage.

I saw Marni and we chatted and she gave some advice for which I was grateful. I told her I was giving myself 24 hours to “wallow” and then it was time to move on. Before 24 hours was up I was on the phone with insurance, and planning my next race (replacement race) with my coach. I was soon in full swing, although a little stiff!

I headed over to the massage tent per the recommendation of the medical tent. Dr. Joe wouldn’t touch my legs with a massage, but did put kinesio tape on them and we talked. He is a very interesting man – working with many athletes and following them to Ironman races.

Soon Karel, Marni’s husband, was in. We all walked together to transition to pick up our things. While in there Karel asked what had happened to my bike. Given that he is a cyclist gone triathlete I appreciated his input and advice on what to expect/do with the bike.

This was all new ground for me. And I was still processing it and advice, stories and smiles were appreciated.

As I exited transition I said I had no bike due to an accident with a wheelchair. The volunteers exclaimed “You’re the one!” Word gets around fast.

While waiting the race director, Alex, came over to speak with me and make sure I was doing OK. Disappointed at not getting to race, sore, but grateful it wasn’t worse and in good spirits. My reply to questions of how I felt was “You can’t keep a good girl down.”

I was grateful for and comforted by the outpouring of concern and friendship from my friends and teammates and family. I was grateful it wasn’t worse. There wasn’t a lot that couldn’t be remedied in a reasonable time. I was lucky. Since the moment of impact I never felt alone or scared. Shaken and in disbelief, but never afraid. There were too many people around me to let me feel that. I always was aware that someone was there to help me…starting with Mary and Bernadette. And the list got longer very quickly: Carlos, the EMT’s, the police officer, Cameron, Mary, Marni, and then all my friends who started checking in on me. I never take for granted what I get and love to do: train and race. And I have always been grateful for the love and support of friends and family. This just made me feel it all the more.

Now, over one week later I sit here marveling at the human body’s ability to heal. Granted I didn’t have a horrible injury, but I did have some big and beautiful bruises on my quads, back and middle finger. And daily I see (and feel) improvement. Today I was excited at how much better my legs felt from yesterday. The aches are gone and it is down to the areas most injured when my legs hit my handle bars. The bruises on my back from hitting the ground are gone. The swelling in my finger has gone way down. Think about it….the human body is pretty amazing.

And I have race plans. I am working on a new bike. My insurance has been very helpful.

Yes. It wasn’t the race I thought. It was the race that wasn’t. I would never chose this option, and won’t say I am glad it happened. But I exit this little adventure stronger, more confident, and all the more ready to work for my goals. And I do plan on finishing the race next year! And looking forward to my next race (and resuming training).

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