RACE REPORT: Lisa at Hy-Vee Triathlon

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As athletes, we are sometimes faced with circumstances that test our resolve, leaving us to question our ability to continue in sport. In the last 18 months, a series of frustrating setbacks conspired to do just that. Cycling through injuries like Liz Taylor cycles through husbands, I moved from a 6-week layoff in Jan '07 (Morton's neuroma) to a 4-week layoff in May '07 (patellar tendinitis) to the 12-week granddaddy of them all in Sept. '07 (plantar fascia near-tear). Of course, I've been told that I deserved the latter injury, as I failed to yield to the insidious pain that developed at mile 7 of the 10-mile Capital Pursuit road race--that became excruciating pain by mile 9. As if my physical suffering was not indicative enough, I knew I was in bad shape when the race announcer loudly proclaimed "Here is the women's winner! Oh…it looks like she's got a cramp…" which was followed immediately by a confluence of EMT's, eager to assist.
After 12 weeks of no running and an insane amount of stationary cycling, I was finally healthy enough to resume running in January of this year. I hit the treadmill with a vengeance borne of anger and a sense of unfairness…as well as a desire to storm the running scene with an age 40 debut at April's Drake Relays half-marathon. In addition, I supplemented my run training with thrice-weekly lunchtime forays on the stationary bike, in preparation for a re-transformation into a triathlete by summer. This, to continue a semi-successful career begun in 4 B.C. (Before Children, circa 1994) but placed on a ~10-year hiatus, as well as to enjoy a relationship with Rassy's by competing on their newly-formed tri team. By March, I was ready to rumble. Bring it on baby! You name the place, I'll do the race. No matter how far…guaranteed PR. On top of the world, I celebrated a rare beautiful day in March with a 16-mile long run. Seduced by the weather and lost in the hard rock blaring from the iPod, my pace ratcheted up into tempo territory. It was so good that I could almost ignore the pain beginning to emanate from my shin. Oh yeah. OK. Shin splints, every runner's nemesis, right? Except shin splints are supposed to get better after 3 weeks of reduced and easy running. Except shin splints are supposed to be felt in a general area of the shin and not in a pinpoint area of the shin. And, you are not supposed to see swelling on the front of the bone with a shin splint are you? The MRI confirmed the disastrous news: high-risk anterior tibial stress fracture. The worst kind of tibial stress fracture. The kind that is prone to delayed healing, non-union, and the insertion of titanium rods into shins. How can this be happening to me again? My 4th injury in 15 months, and 3rd lifetime stress fracture (other 2: femur shaft). Doc ordered the full workup: caloric nutritional analysis, calcium and vitamin D nutritional analysis, vitamin D blood test, bone density test. Results: normal, normal, a bit low, normal. This was not what I wanted to hear. I wanted some reason other than that I train too much and too hard, you know?

Forty-six long days were spent only in the pool. Sometimes 90 minutes of pool running. Sometimes 45 minutes of pool running and 45 minutes of swimming. Sometimes an hour of both. Pumping iron when I got the chance. Trying to retain as much aerobic and muscular fitness as is possible without being able to feel the sweat trickle off my body and watching it pool on the treadmill or on the floor. Trying to avoid the inevitable weight gain from not being able to torch calories with weight-bearing exercise. Dealing with the pain-in-the- arse air cast that I needed to wear at all times when upright. In May, back to the doc. Sweeter words were never said: "You may now begin your return-to-running plan." My happiness was tempered by the news that my "return-to-running plan" involved a week of walk-only, followed by 8 more weeks of increasing run/walk ratios that would have me running only 3 miles per day by the 9th week. Now what? Copper Creek tri—definitely out. Hy-Vee tri—most likely out. Who knows what after that? So I began to walk (and continue to stationary bike, and swim, and pool run). Then run 1 minute/walk 4 minutes, then run/walk 2/3, then 3/2, then 4/1 (and stationary bike, and swim, and pool run). By week 5 (June 9), I'd had enough. No more walking. It was run 3, run 4, day off, repeat. By week 6 (Jun 16), I performed my Hy-Vee triathlon test: a 6 mile run. Made it! By Jun 20, D-day had arrived. Pick up the Hy-Vee race packet or don't pick up the Hy-Vee race packet?? Answer: PICK IT UP, girl.

Race morning. Up at 2:15 to eat some cereal. Got almost 6 hours of sleep in, thanks to taping Hefty garbage bags to our large southwest-facing master bedroom window. Going to bed at 8:45 is a new thing for this standard 1:00 AM night owl. Decide at last minute not to take the shuttle to start, and park in neighborhood near Raccoon River Valley Park instead. Walk to start is peaceful at 3:45 AM. Weather is going to be beautiful! I enjoy the heady aroma of the outdoors, ever more enjoyable after weeks spent whiffing chlorine. It's much better to be very early for these things; I am prone to freak-out before triathlons. Remembered panic attack last year when nobody could get the tires on my race wheels pumped up; had to ride that race at less-than-ideal tire pressure. Stupid sew-ups. Crappy 12-year-old stems. Time: 45 minutes to starting gun. Go for a run to verify shin status and get loosened up. Don't want to warm up in the water; old ladies start at 6:24, which would leave me shivering in the cold air for 39 minutes. Oh and by the way, what is up with the 78-degree no-wetsuit rule? Those of us who are still cold swimming in 90-degree water hate that rule; body temp is 98.6, is it not? No doubt--that rule was the brainchild of a man with a high metabolism. Glad the water temp is 75 and I can be relatively warm in the water in my wetsuit. Worst case would be water temp at 78.

Gun goes off, I attack the swim. As usual, the swim attacks me back. Choking, coughing, sputtering, and flailing through a million bodies, I finally manage some semblance of a rhythm by the second orange sight buoy. Dang, my butt is sinking! Kick, you idiot! Every time, you lose the race on the swim. Fight, girl, fight! Why don't I do duathlons? Answer: duathlons are cheating. Sure, just get rid of my weakest event. What challenge is that? Overshooting the swim exit by a little bit, I finally feel the gritty pleasure of terra firma underneath my fingernails. Swim is not too bad for a brick. About 3:00 faster than last year, which I'd like to think is due to increased pool time this year, but is probably due only to the effect of the "cheatsuit." Run like a cheetah to my spot in T1. Mine is the row marked by the first Kybo after the one with the smiley face. Feel slightly irritated at having to carefully stuff my swim crap into the white trash bag, but get mad at myself when I think of all the work Hy-Vee had to do to even get this event run this year. How late did those people have to stay up this week to pull this thing off? Unbelievable. Tear off on the bike. Annoyed that I am so far behind, and now I have to pass people on a 2-lane road while trying to avoid a drafting penalty. Love the rural bike course and the hills; they make me feel tough. Before I know it, I'm at T2. Have no idea what place I'm in, but I'm going for broke. Put on my new "racing flats" which are now "lightweight trainers" in deference to turning 40. Need to remember the Vaseline trick next year, if I continue to run sockless. Not feeling too shabby, considering I just gave a near all-out effort on the bike and I've only done one 6+ mile run since March. See my stud friend Robyn Friedman, finishing her team's 10K as I'm starting mine. Wish I was her. She's never injured and she finished 9th at this year's Olympic Marathon Trials. Hey! Kelli Mente…great job on the bike for that team! Burn through the first 2 miles at 6:12 pace. Is that too fast? I hope not. I still feel good. Pass mile 3 and look for my co-worker who lives in the area and said she was going to watch. Consider asking her if she can spare a donut, but decide to hold off until the post-race refreshments. See my friend Melinda who is admiring my new Rassy uni and giving me the thumbs up. Nice to have the support of friends! Ready myself for the final hill. See my friend Keith who is telling me I'm looking good. Chug, chug, chug, up and over and into the finish straight I go. Hearing the cacophony of cowbells, I cross the finish line. I see my friend Jenny in the finish chute and give her a hug. I slap hands with my husband, who also did the race. I am jubilant! PR, it was not, but jubilation…yes it was. Jubilation at being able to toe the line at a race for the first time in 9 months. Jubilation at finishing the 10K in under 40 minutes off very little run training. Jubilation at finishing overall 11th and master's 2nd under the circumstances. And jubilation at managing to complete a race without straining, tearing, cracking, or breaking a body part. I don't know what the future holds, but I plan on enjoying any run of health that I am able to sustain. Morals of the story:

* Sometimes you have to make the best of the hand you were dealt
* Never lose hope
* When injured, purchase H2O Audi's waterproof iPod case. Load the iPod with appropriate motivational theme songs such as "Pain" by Three Days Grace. Wear the unit while pool running and ignore the strange looks from the water aerobics ladies when you yell out the refrain: "…Pain, I can't get enough. Pain, I like it rough. `Cause I'd rather feel pain than nothing at all…"
* I need a swim coach

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