The CapTex Triathlon: My Race

It seems so surreal that on Monday I raced in Texas, and here I sit today, Thursday, in London.  The past week has been a blur – travel, jetlag, emotions, pain.

At one stage of the weekend I was on the phone to DH, going through some of what was in my head.  “Why did I come all the way to Texas to race this race?” I wondered aloud.  “Simple,” he replied. “You had to go to Texas to get the answers you needed.”

Indeed.  I had to go to Texas to answer my questions, to face my fears, to race my race, to have *those” experiences. I wanted to learn more about what I was made of. I had to go to Austin to prove, yet again, that any limits that I think I have can be beaten. 

And I did.


Saturday morning came fast.  A fitful night of jetlag induced sleep saw me awake by 4am, which is pretty normal for me when travelling west to the US.  I knew it was pointless to fight for sleep, so as any good social media addict does, I busied myself on Twitter, reading links, catching up with newspapers, and then finally I turned my mind to building my bike.  Of all parts of travelling to a race, rebuilding my bike ranks a close second to the airport process on my “most hated” list of things to do.  I am actually not sure what is worse – security checks, or handlebar alignment.  Inflating tires or removing the iPad from my bag for security screening.  I mean, why do you need to remove it from the bag anyway??

I built my bike in good time to attend the Challenged Athletes Foundation open water swim clinic at Barton Springs Pool.  About two miles from the hotel was this absolute oasis of Austin – a huge park and a “pool” which was more like an open water reservoir. 

Barton Springs Pool.  AKA a swimmer’s paradise just near downtown Austin.

I decided to cycle to the clinic to make sure I built my bike correctly and to see if I could remember how to ride it—and to settle my pre-race nerves.  A little spin around always helps my jitters.  But I wanted to ride smart.  I was cycling alone on roads I don’t know, and I didn’t want to have any mishaps with clipping and unclipping in traffic – I am not the most comfortable in going in and out of my pedals in traffic.  So I just wore normal shoes and headed off.

The clinic was a great chance to meet a few athletes.  It was a chance for us all to stretch out and see if we could remember how to swim and to pick up some pointers from some great coaches.  I did a leisurely 400m, with some focused faster 50s but nothing strenuous.  Really, I was just enjoying being out in the warm weather and sunshine, meeting new people, and having a great time.

I met Rafael at Barton Springs on Saturday morning. How lucky am I to have met so many wonderful people like him last weekend? Infintely lucky.

After chatting with Rafael about the afternoon handler meeting – and deciding that even though I don’t have a handler it would be a good chance to meet some people and learn more about the race – I climbed aboard my bike.  I was hungry and set off back to the hotel while thinking about stopping at Chuy’s (which I had passed on the ride to the pool) for an early lunch en route. 

I coasted downhill and saw the green light, and determined to make it I went through the intersection.  Maybe I was going around 13-15mph – nothing particularly fast.  I realised mid-turn that I was riding like I was in the UK, so heading for the wrong lane of traffic.  No problem.  Feathering the brakes I began to gently correct my trajectory, and then “POP”.  The next thing I knew I was on the ground, bouncing off my right side, and at a halt.  “Hey are you okay!” shouted a couple with a dog.  “I think so.  Am I bleeding?” I replied.  I got up, no blood noticeable, my right cheek was a bit sore from the landing, my elbow felt as if I’d hit my funny bone.  I collected my bike computer which had come flying off, grabbed my bike, and walked over to the side of the road.  Don and Tracy asked me if I was okay, and introduced me to Chilidog their lab.  I seemed fine, a bit shaken, but my handlebars had turned in the fall and my tire had flatted.  They offered to walk me toward Jack and Adams, one of Austin’s biggest bike stores specialising in triathlon, so I joined them and headed to get my bike checked out.  About 20 minutes and $5 later (labour for the bike check, handlebar straightening, and tube changing) and I headed off for food.  I opted to go to the BBQ place Don and Tracy told me about, and as they were also there, joined them for an outdoors lunch and chat. 

Never a dull moment.  Expect the unexpected!

Clear Eyes. Full Heart. Can’t Lose.

Later Saturday afternoon I headed to the transition area to attend the paratriathlete handler meeting.  Although my neuromuscular disorder qualifies me to participate as a paratriathlete, I do not have official handlers – handlers mostly assist triathletes who have prosthetics or chairs, who need assistance in and out of the water.  But with Rafi’s words in my ears “It is an opportunity to meet other paratriathletes!” I headed to transition.  I knew it was an opportunity to get a guided tour of what race morning would be like. A chance to learn about race day AND to socialise?  I was there.

As I walked along the shores of Town Lake I heard someone say my name.  “Donna D! How the heck are you!” I looked up and couldn’t believe it.  Shawn Collins, and his daughters!  Shawn and I were at the University of Maryland together, and I am sure fate intervened to make sure I was wearing my Terps t-shirt that afternoon.

Of course it all seemed rather surreal.  Here I was in Texas, chatting with Shawn, who I know from Maryland, who I last saw in London about 3 or 4 years ago.  I found myself explaining that I had come to Austin for the weekend – from London – to do a sprint distance triathlon.  When I said it, it all seemed kind of crazy.  But… It’s Texas.  Go big or Go home.  Right?!

Terps, Tie-Die, Skull & Crossbones. Smiles & Sunshine. What an awesome chance meeting!

When I got back to my hotel room later Shawn had posted the photo on Facebook and wished me good luck for the race.  His tag?  “Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can’t Lose.”  Friday Night Lights! Texas Forever!  Indeed… Those are the words I carried with me to the start line on race day. 

The Race

A lot happened between meeting Shawn on Saturday afternoon and Monday morning.  I went for my paratriathlon reclassification (I need to be classified every year as I have a progressive degenerative condition). I attended the Wounded Warriors Foundation dinner.  My sister arrived, as did John (aka Hellasound) and Lindsay (aka Stellar_Zee, USA Triathlon’s online media superstar) – we all went to dinner on Sunday night.  I met some incredible people.  I experienced a whole series of highs and lows emotionally.  I’ll save that for a different post, as this one is already novel length…

And I iced iced iced my shoulder and chest.  I kind of was developing “a niggle”…

Ice ice baby, too cold too cold…

Before I knew it I woke up for the race.  Race day for me is ALL ABOUT THE RACE.  I was determined to go out and race my absolute best race on the day.

I did my usual preparations. Up. 500ml water. A coffee. A banana.  Oatmeal.  And I did some new preparations.  Like applying my Punk Rock Racing Tattoos.  I spoke with DH – this was my first triathlon without him around.  We agreed that if anything hurt from my fall on Saturday I would just stop and DNF (did not finish) the race.

“So the plan is that if I feel INJURED, not just aching, I will DNF.”

Honestly?  I got to the race and I didn’t really think about anything other than having the best race that I could.  I set up my transition area.  I made sure everything was in good order, assembled in an easy to remember way.  I wanted to spend as little time in transition as possible.

Cycle shoes and ankle braces ready

I smiled and hugged a lot of the people I had met.  I took a lot of photos and was more or less ready to go.  There was so much goodwill in transition it was like nothing I have EVER experienced. In fact, the whole pre-race was full of firsts.  A prayer, led by John Register an above the knee amputee and Paralympic long jump medalist (who spoke at the Wounded Warriors dinner on Saturday and who I chatted with after the athlete briefing on Sunday).  We sang the national anthem – hundreds of athletes.  Am I alone in getting teary every time I sing “the land of the free and the home of the brave”? 

I gathered myself together emotionally and got ready to RACE.  MY RACE.

Peace, love and triathlon

I dove into the water from the pier and took a few strokes.  Tight.  Aching.  Hm. 

I threw away race goal number one before the gun went off.  I had wanted to swim a sub fourteen minute swim.  Instead, I decided to swim as strong as I could that morning.  As strong as my tight chest would let me.

Swim Time:  15:32 for 750m

To put this in perspective, this is only 4 seconds slower than my 2011 Blenheim triathlon time, but there was current at CapTex and none at Blenheim.  However, I had cruised splits at swimming on the 19th of May which would have seen me finish in 13 minutes 30 seconds.  My sighting was perfect, I was really pleased with that. But I could not get a comfortable stroke going. I found I could not pull well, I could not extend fully, and rotation was difficult on my right. So I eased off and enjoyed the swim as much as I could. I mean, I do love swimming.

I got to transition and my chest was sore.  But I didn’t think too much about it.  I knew that the bike would be okay.  Besides I wanted to see what I could do on the bike, and with the run off the bike which I had been working on since April’s Egg Hunt.

My goal on the bike was to get as close to 40 minutes as I could, but on a two lap ride that I did not familiarise myself with before the race, I knew that on lap one I would take it easy and try to remember how to ride on hills (my first hill ride since last summer) and then my second lap I would test my legs and see what they had left.  As I headed out of transition and got into my drops, I knew that my chest was uncomfortable.  But I was prepared to ride the best that I could.  So I did.

Bike Time:  48:27 for 20km

I was pleased with this time.  Although it was not on target to meet my goal, I pushed myself on the bike.  For my first time on hills in almost 9 months it took a while to get into a rhythm, but by lap two I felt good.  I enjoyed it and although no two courses are comparable, I found myself thinking that this was ideal preparation for the Blenheim Triathlon, with the pitches climbs and bumps.  And this time was faster than any Blenheim time I have done previously.  With more bike focus I know I can improve more, with more leg strength on bike work I know I can learn to go faster.  But on Monday, I raced the best race I could on the bike.

And then I got out of the drops and prepared to get off the bike.  Oof.  My lateral muscles attaching my shoulder to my chest had gone into spasm.  Sitting up was tough.  Straightening my arm was tough.  Things were no longer straight forward.

No longer a happy triathlete.

I came into transition and sat down and started crying.  I just was in that much pain.

My best race on the day had me in tears.

As I sat in transition crying, Mike Lenhart of the Getting 2 Tri Foundation and my friend John stood by me.  I could hardly speak. Mike calmly crouched down and said “You don’t have to run the run. Just walk it. You came to Texas to race. You don’t need to run. But you can still finish.”

So that’s what I did.  I started out of T2 and knew that I would not be running the run.  It is ironic because for months I have been plagued by peroneal tendontitis in my ankle and foot, I have been getting intramuscular stimulation and acupuncture to relieve some of the pain from that, and I was worried how I was going to fare on the run.  But on Monday I was feeling better in my legs than I had in a long time.  I had been practicing running off the bike and knew I had it in me to race a good race.  And here I was, with a lateral muscle spasm and pulling and pain in my chest.  I would not be running.

I don’t really remember much of the run.  I walked out of transition and only started running in the chute.  As I approached the TP Therapy tent I started to walk.  I jog-walked my way to an aid station and drank some water, calming down and assessing my pain level.  I decided to try to run through to the next aid station, with my right arm tucked into my left strap on my top.  I got myself there and begged the volunteers for some ibuprofen.  I took three tablets and calmed down.  I set off again, doing a run walk.  My posture was messed up, I knew I was going to be in bad shape at the end. I just wanted to get around.

I crossed the bridge to downtown Austin and I think that was my low point.  I was walking and volunteers were handing out water.  They asked “Are you okay?” 

“No. I hurt. I’m having my worst race ever. But this is the best I can do today. I’m frustrated. I can’t believe this.”

I somehow got myself back to the bridge and saw John Register coming.  Seeing him was a bright point and I made a point of high-fiving him when I passed him on the bridge.  I knew I would finish the race. 

I crossed the bridge and saw the best sign ever. “RUN BITCHES.” I laughed.  It hurt to laugh but I decided to try to run again.

I passed my sister, catching her before she had to go catch her flight.  She screamed “I love you.”  I did my best to run. And I knew I would finish the race.

By this point it was nothing more than determination between me and the finish line.  I knew when I finished I could get some ice for my arm, and get a massage person to release my chest muscles that were in spasm.  I entered the chute.  And it was over.

Running to the finish. Thank god it’s over.

Run Time: 43:05 for 5k

To put this into perspective, this was a relatively flat run although not a pancake like Egg Hunt.  At Egg Hunt I had a 39 minute run breaking 13 minute miles for the first time in a triathlon.  Here I had 14 minute miles.  But I walked about half the run.  It was still faster than my hilly run at Blenheim last year.  But I wish I could have run the whole thing, to see what my legs would have felt like.

At the finish I headed immediately to the medical tent.  I waited around for the sports therapists to finish working on the pros and asked for a quick stretch out of my chest and shoulder.  I packed my bike up and then Hellasound and I went to lunch.  I had chips and salsa, a salad, and a hamburger.  And when I got to the airport I had an ice cream cone and bought myself an upgrade for the long flight home.

The Aftermath

Some people say the results of a race are all that matter.  Well my results have me setting a new personal best. Can you believe it?  On a race that felt like a personal worse.

But for me this race and this weekend wound up being a lot more than just the race.  It was profound in so many ways, I have one if not two more blog posts in my head about various aspects of it.  But clearly, the most lasting part of the race (for the next few weeks anyway) will be what happened to my chest.

You might be wondering why I just didn’t quit the race, like I told DH I would do if I felt truly injured.  To be honest, by the time I felt like I should quit, I was on the course somewhere downtown about halfway into the run.  I had left transition having made the decision then that I would walk. So that is what I did – for most of the 5k.  When enough was enough, I pushed the thought away and decided to get myself back to the finish.  I suspect that nothing I did in that last mile of the race would have changed anything about my physical condition anyway. 

Now I may do stupid things but I am not dumb.  I knew by the end of the race that the “niggle” I felt pre-race was actually something *wrong* with my chest.  I thought I had strained my lateral muscles on my topple on Saturday and frankly so did the medical staff in the tent.  So on my way back from the airport I called my various sports therapists and physios and arranged to see one of them quickly before I went to work on Tuesday.  I had my arm taped up and headed to work. 

I am now one of *those* people wearing sports tape around. It’s a good look.

I knew by the end of the day Tuesday – when laughing, coughing and sneezing had become painful – that I would spend the best part of Wednesday at the doctor’s to make sure I did nothing serious to myself.  I went to the GP and then A&E (accident and emergency), had some x-rays and walked out with a diagnosed rib fracture along ribs 5 and 6 (or maybe it was 4 and 5) from the impact of the topple.

This morning I went to see Michael Collins, my trusted sports therapist, and he worked to release all of the muscles which tightened during impact or which spasmed during the race.  In two hours he treated everything from my neck (kind of like impact related whiplash type tightness there) to my lateral muscles and rhomboids, to my lower back and left glute (right upper body injuries lead to tight lower left bodies).  With a bit of prodding and feeling of the tissues he also confirmed that I had no apparent muscle tears. Which is great news (although I am probably going to make a special sports physiotherapy appointment to reconfirm this). From my own past experiences bone injuries are much easier to manage than soft tissues.  And I have broken ribs in a bicycle crash before when I was hit by a car in 1994. So things are looking up and with the “collateral tightness” gone and movement restored, I’m feeling heaps better already. 

Now as far as triathlon, training, and the next part of my 2012 season…  Like I said, I may do stupid things but I am not dumb.  I know, for example, that my long weekend of riding in Suffolk is off.  I will be going but I am not bringing my bicycle with me.  And that sucks big time.  I also know that I am not going swimming on Saturday.  Which I hate. Because I love swimming. And bootcamp on Tuesday and Thursday? Let’s just say that weight bearing and lifting is not going to happen.

There is absolutely nothing that can be done for fractured ribs.  You can’t isolate movement in them.  It just takes time to heal.  Sure, the healing may be sped up if you stop moving.  But at the same time, movement and deep breathing is better for the lungs.  I asked the doctor what to do and his reply?

“Pain is your only limiter.”

So basically the way forward is for me to determine, based on my pain levels and how my body feels.  If there is one thing that I learned at CapTex it is that pain does not stop me. It may slow me down but I know I can push through it.  For this injury though, right now, my only plan is to rest through the weekend and then start to see how things feel.

What a surreal few days…

5 responses to “The CapTex Triathlon: My Race”

  1. “It’s OK, I can race. I’m not injured, I JUST HAVE BROKEN RIBS”

    Kind of awesome, in a way. I’m really impressed by how fast you covered that 5k with a lot of walking, you must be a speedy walker.

  2. You know, maybe I did run about 80%… I just don’t remember. I did see the finish line video and my gait was all over the shop. If anything I just staggered around and made it.  Live and learn. Hell, now I have deepest respect ever for how fast Chrissie Wellington went with a torn pectoral muscle. She never even stopped…

  3. i think you overcame so much over the weekend to finish this race. i’m glad to have met you and proud to say i am your friend. smile

  4. I was riveted by this post and couldn’t stop reading. You are inspiring and I love your view of the world!

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