Monday, June 2, 2014

Disappointed, not discouraged. The dreaded DNF comes a-haunting...

I had my first DNF yesterday- Did Not Finish, for the uninitiated. I'm not surprised how disappointed I'm feeling, and it's not pleasant. I felt feeble, weak, and unprepared, all negative garbage my body knows I'm not, but my mind is more shot right now than my body. I'm certainly humbled.

Forgive me as I recount the morning in high detail. May it help any reader gain knowledge without experiencing it.

I rode to the race with a headlamp while it was still dark out, being that the venue is only 6 or so miles away, the hometown race. It was chilly - around 45F - but I wouldn't say it was cold. Of course, I was riding, so I didn't notice as much, I was wearing a sweater over my kit and didn't feel underdressed. The goal was to get there right as transition opened to get a good spot on the racks. For the next hour and a half though, we basically stood around. I eschewed going for a run - even though I ALWAYS go for a run, somehow rationalizing that any sweat would freeze and cause issues. Why, I don't know. This was bad decision number 1. Instead I chose to put on the wettie at half mast to stay warm, and then get in the water early to reach the same end (water was balmy in the mid 60sF). I swam a bit to get my heart rate up and gathered at the beach for the start.

My race was over literally as it began. I went to jump to start the dolphin dive and both calf muscles cramped and locked immediately. My legs were not even in the water and both legs were barking. Of course, I'd lined up in the front, preparing to draft off a buddy who I knew I could keep pace with, so I spent the next minute getting beat up as other swimmers pushed past me as I was trying to swim with absolutely no functional legs and feet I couldn't point. My left leg unwound slightly enough for me to straighten it out and at least engage in a one beat kick, but at this point I was in the middle of the pack getting clobbered. Any feet I saw I overcame with half a stroke - I was a stronger swimmer than any of the folks I was around at this point - and so I couldn't get out of the melee. I tried several times to veer to the edge, but ended up swimming over another pair of feet to do so, making matters worse. All the while, the right calf is still locked and I am starting to realize this is going to be a bad day. Still, I pushed on. I rounded the last buoy and took 5 seconds to collect myself and try to shake off the juju. I couldn't get the cramp out, and did the best I could to swim out the rest using nothing but arms. The clock on the beach greeted me with a miserable 15 minutes on exit, and coupled with the pain that was grabbing me, I was starting to feel defeated.

I hobbled down to transition and tried to get the wettie off, but of course since I couldn't point my toes on one foot, it didn't work out so well. A friend volunteering saw the pain that on my face and encouraged me to try and walk it off, which I did indeed try. I have no idea how long I spent in transition, I'd guess 3 or 4 minutes at least. Finally, convincing myself that I could somehow shake this off with a good bike, I unclipped the shoes and rubber bands, hobbled out to the mount line and tried to ride. This was bad decision number 2.

The first mile was agony. I couldn't push at all. The meter said my biggest thrust was around 225W...I did what I could and shifted to a small gear and started spinning through it. I have no idea how many people passed me between transition and this mile, but it was a lot. I hit a descent and said screw it, I don't care how much this hurts, everyone hurts. This was bad decision number 3. However, for the next 30 minutes, it felt genius. I shrugged off pain like I have so many times in training and lit the course up. I passed anyone I could see, breaking hearts and crushing dreams. Then I started passing people I knew...from my wave. I'm not a scientist, but I put together how fast I was actually going, and rationalized that I may had actually put myself back in the race. I came down the last descent and saw the lead runners - knowing they were only at most 3 minutes ahead of me. However, on the same descent I tried to stretch out the right calf against the pedal and


it felt like someone had stabbed me in the leg. I made the decision right there, the only good one I made, to resign the race. I rolled down to the dismount area, and had to ask for assistance to get off the bike - I couldn't move the leg at all by this point.

The doctor I visited afterwards felt around and decided he felt no deep tears, but of course prescribed a slow and strict rehab. He suggested that if it didn't start to recover or worsen in a couple of days, I should seek an MRI, but he was reasonably confident that it was simply a bad cramp that got worse, and that the damage I did was to try to push through it. He felt the lack of warmup was the culprit, didn't suspect hydration issues, kept coming back to the contrasting temperatures and sudden start. Everything he said was thoughtful and deliberate, and I thank him for his professionalism and attention.

A friend graciously offered to give me a ride home, which he did after sticking around the award ceremony. Many friends asked what had happened, and I did my best to keep the story short and keep the attention on their accomplishments, where it belonged. Nobody needs to hear a sob story while they're receiving an award for a job well done.

My father and I spoke later, and he recalled a sermon he had heard that morning discussing the difference between disappointment and discouragement. How fitting! I feel the former, deeply looking forward to my next chance to train and race and achieve what I am capable of. However, in the meantime I can't describe what I'm feeling as anything other than anger and depression- I simply didn't perform, and the reasons were within my control. Discouraged would mean I don't want to race again...something I can't imagine feeling right now. Right now I want to lay the Wrath of God on the next course I see.

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