Race: Florida Challenge Half Ironman
Location: Clermont, FL
Date: Sunday, Sept. 21, 1997


This is my first year in triathlon. This is my experimental year. Train a lot. Race a lot. Test my limits. Find my weaknesses. After this race, I'm thinking my weakness is triathlon.

What made this race different from all others I've done:

- It was 3 times the distance of any other race I'd done
- Expected temperatures in the high 90s (Scottish/Norwegian ancestry does not produce a heat-tolerant being)
- My recent drastic increase in cycling mileage had left me with horrible knee pain while running
- I had to deal with feminine hygiene issues during transition

Pre race:

Usually force myself to eat two power bars and a bagel before a race, but today one power bar and one bagel fills me up completely. Don't feel like stuffing myself. Sip on a little water. Don't drink much. I'll have plenty of time to drink on the bike.

Set up in transition next to a very nice woman in my age group - Geri Ann. She mentions bringing a peanut butter sandwich to eat on the bike. Man that sounds good. I wish I had one. I have 3 power bars wrapped on my top tube (covered with Saran Wrap) + 1 bottle Gatorade, 1 bottle apple juice, 1 jetstream water.

Went for brief warmup swim to make sure goggles didn't leak. For once I was not at all nervous about the swim. The run scared the hell out of me because of my knees.

The Swim:

First wave goes - women 40+ and some other group. I'm in the second wave - women 39 and under. I love all-female waves. I start to get excited. I really want to start this thing. I've been anticipating this day for a very long time.

Horn blows. Finally! My first 1/2 Ironman has started! I run towards the outside away from the crowd. I love this! Dive in and start swimming.

Swim is uneventful. I swim slowly. Don't want to get out of breath. Just finish.

40:58. Good enough.

T1/Bike:

Take my time in transition. Don't forget anything. Peel saran wrap off power bars. Pull on orange cycling tank top and struggle endlessly to unwad it from under my arms. T1 time - 5:11.

Run with bike to exit, jump on and take off. This is where I will pass everyone. This is where I'm going to get my big lead, in case my knees hurt and I have to walk during the run.

I feel like crap almost immediately. Both knees hurt. Right away. I feel slightly nauseous and light-headed. I have no idea why. This sucks. A few miles into the ride my lower back starts to ache. Why so soon? I really feel like crap. Maybe I just need to warm up. I'll feel better soon.

FlaChalBike.jpg (39173 bytes) Up and down hills. It's starting to get hot. My back hurts more. Knee pain comes and goes. Nausea goes away. I still don't feel normal though. I want to maintain an avg of 20. I hold this for a while, but watch it slowly tick down. I'll feel better after Sugarloaf (the "mountain" everyone complains about).

Hit Sugarloaf at about mile 25. It looks straight up, but it's not that bad. I've climbed worse. Stand up and crank. Pass quite a few people. As I'm climbing, I notice that I'm really short of breath. Someone described an asthma attack as feeling like you're breathing through a straw. This is how I feel. I can't get enough air in. I don't know why. Ignore it. Keep cranking. You're almost to the top. Finally get to the top and catch my breath. Flat stretch. Big downhill. Up and down more hills.

Peel power bars off top tube and munch. Alternate between drinking water, gatorade and apple juice. I'm really sick of sugar. Envy Geri Ann eating her peanut butter sandwich. Top off Jetstream with water at every bottle exchange.

The bike is supposed to be my strength. This is not a good ride. This is not going to be my day. My calves start to hurt. This is a new one. It's really hot. Knees hurt a lot. I resolve myself to the fact that I will be walking for 13.1 miles in the sweltering heat. My knees will not allow me to run. Increasing my cycling mileage by 250% in one week, two weeks prior to this race was most likely not a good idea. I experimented, and this is what I got.

My tri suit bottoms aren't padded enough. The pain becomes excruciating. A burning like I've never felt before. I want to get off this bike - RFN! I'm getting depressed. I'm getting really hot. I'm probably not drinking enough. This sucks and the "run" is going to be worse. There must be *something* good about this ride. Well, I've been passed by so many men I can't count them all, but only by one woman. This is a good thing. That's the only good thing I can think of.

I can't keep my mind off the fact that I just might have that 3-hour half marathon that I jokingly dreaded. How humiliating.

I finally finish the bike in 2:59. 18.7 avg. This is a big disappointment. Forget about it. The real race is about to start.

T2:

Okay. This is where I have to deal with the feminine hygiene issue. This sucks so badly I won't even go into details. It's infuriating, to say the least. (Side note: To all you guys who are so worried about how to pee while riding a bike - I think your problem pales in comparison to this. I don't even have the option of doing this while I ride a bike.)

Pull off cycling jersey. Pull on running tank, running shorts. Hmmm. I need more suntan lotion, but mine is in my bag, all the way on the other side of the bike rack. Spy a bottle of Banana Boat 30 on Geri Ann's towel. That'll do. Rub it on my face, chest and arms.

Grab tampon, cleverly wrapped in used Power Bar wrapper, secured with rubber band. Don't want to run through transition with white stick in hand.

Run out "run exit" and ask announcer where the bathroom is, hoping he doesn't speak into his microphone when he answers. "I don't know".

Run to girl reading out race numbers as people exit for the run. "Where is the porta potty?" "Those are the only ones I know of" as she points to the ones outside of the transition area, towards the lake. "Will I get disqualified if I run out of transition, over there?" "I don't know."

Ask the next volunteer. No one knows if/where there are toilets on the course. I don't want to carry this thing for 13 miles, hoping to find a toilet. A woman suggests I squat behind a bush. "I've got to change a tampon!" I announce. Man this is turning into a fiasco. "OH!" Mood changes. Everyone wants to help. "Just run over to those toilets. You won't get disqualified."

I run *back* through the run exit, while everyone else is running out. Hop over orange fencing. Run into porta potty, which has heated up to approximately 140 degrees. Decide to pee while I'm in there (since it's so darn comfortable and smells so nice, why not spend some time in there?) and am immediately reminded of excruciating burning from bike ride. I try not to scream but I can't help it. Let out a restrained scream while digging the heel of my hand into porta potty wall. Exit porta potty and am hit with a blast of cool mid-90-degree air.

Hop back over fencing and head out run exit again. Lots of smiles and waves from folks who had already seen me run by twice.

T2 time: 9:39

Run:

Will my knees carry me even half mile? Let's just see. Trot out of transition and uphill. They're working!

I plod along in heat like I've never run in before. Later found out the temperature reached 97 or 98 degrees. No shade. No clouds. My knees work, but I don't know if I can take the heat.

Hit mile 1 aid station and am thrilled to find bucket of ice cold sponges and a carbohydrate smorgasbord. Cookies, bananas, bagel pieces, pound cake, Power Gel, cinnamon rolls, orange slices, the works. Sponge off chest, neck and face. Drink 1 cup water and 1 cup Race Day. Eat cookie and half banana.

The next 7 miles were about the same - walk up the hills (surprisingly, *everyone* I saw walked up every hill), trot/run on the flats and downhills. Just try to make it to the next aid station. Sponge off, drink 2 cups fluid, eat a little. Over and over. Right before 10K mark, see young guy, probably 18, sitting on the curb with his head in his hands. I feel only a little better than him. Hit 10K mark in 1:12.

After mile 7, no more hills. I thought this would be a good thing, but now I have no excuse to walk. I'm supposed to keep running, but I can't. The heat is wearing me down and the constant sunshine is demoralizing. No shade. No relief. Hear Geri Ann and a friend talking behind me. I wish I had someone to talk to. I feel alone, tired, unmotivated, and very depressed. My knees hurt more. I think I'm going to vomit. I can't take the heat. I have so much further to go.

I think I'm hitting the wall. I don't know what the wall feels like. I stop and walk. I have no desire to run. Geri Ann and friend pass me. I don't care. I wish I had someone to talk to. I'm alone. I hate this. I feel like crap. I don't want to continue. I want to cry, but I can't. I try to run, but stop after about 10 feet. I'm too hot. I've never been this hot before. Then, a miracle! A cloud moves in front of the sun! Where did that come from? I look up and there are several clouds in the sky. Everything is different now! I can run!

I start trotting again. Pass mile 8. Pass mile 9. Sun comes back out. I walk again. Start feeling like crap again. I pass a golf course and see four men golfing. I realize that things could be worse. I could be doing what they're doing.

I look down and notice that my shorts are covered with dried salt, front and back. How long has that been there? This is not good. Decide to drink 2 cups water + 1 cup Race Day at remaining aid stations.

After mile 10, my calves start to cramp horribly. A knotty kind of cramp. Each time it happens I yell "ow!" and stop dead. Walk it out. Run again.

Mile 12! I love the number 12! It looks so nice on that little sign. I want to cry. I want this to be over with. Calves cramp two or three more times. Walk them out.

Finally hear announcer in the distance. I'm getting close! Round the corner and see two large purple "Finish" banners. What a sight, but so far away. It's going to take me at least two minutes to get there, and this is an eternity.

FlaChalRun.JPG (23478 bytes) Stumble across finish in a daze. 6 hours 34 minutes. Almost fall over when I stop to get my tag torn off. Young boy hands me something red. Head directly for shade. See Jeff Cuddeback who tells me I should head to medical tent for IV. I assume he's joking.

Pack up stuff and drive back to hotel. The worst part is about to begin, but I don't realize it. 


The Aftermath/My Living Hell
:

Start to get nauseous on the way home. Ignore it. Just get back to the hotel.

Pull in, grab 200-lb transition bag and haul upstairs to room. Set down bag. Go into bathroom and vomit. Whew. Now I feel better. Call husband. Take shower. Lie  down for a few minutes.

Wake up an hour or so later. My head hurts so badly I can't stand it. Feels like someone hit me with a rock, squarely in the forehead. The beginning of a migraine I can tell. Take two tylenol or advil, can't remember. Vomit again. Take more tylenol. Lie  down. Get up and vomit again.

This isn't good. My head hurts terribly. I'm dizzy. I can barely sit upright. Can't stand up. I'm freezing. I can't get warm enough. Keep turning temperature gauge on air conditioner to warmer setting. I know I'm dehydrated. I know I need food. What do I have? Power bars, Balance Bars, Think Bars, tootsie rolls - yuk. I can't even look at sugar. It's nauseating. I find a small can of tuna salad with crackers. Eat it lying in bed. It tastes *so* good. Something other than sugar! It tastes better coming up than a power bar would have tasted going down.

I need food and liquid. I'm going to die if I can't keep something in my system. I was extremely dehydrated after the race and the vomiting is making it worse. I can't even keep water down. I don't want to die in a motel room. Do I need to go to the hospital? Never in my life have I felt that I was sick enough to rush off to the hospital, but maybe I'm that sick now. I don't know how to tell.

Gil and the others I know are not at the hotel. I don't know where anyone is. I decide to page Gil. I'll tell him how I feel and he can tell me if I need to go to the hospital. Page Gil and leave hotel phone number on his pager. Never occurs to me to leave my cell phone number on his pager. I don't hear from Gil and don't even know if he has his pager with him.

I don't want to call an ambulance. I can't possibly be that sick. I just have to keep some food and liquid down. All the food in my room is nauseating. I need something else. I can't drive to the store. I can't even make it to my car. I'll have to have food delivered. I remember how good the Dominoes pizza tasted after riding the Wilson Century a couple of weeks ago. I'll order a pizza.

Ordering a pizza involves picking up the phone book, looking up the number and placing the call. After falling in and out of sleep a few times I still haven't mustered the energy to reach down and get the phone book. It's right beside the bed, but it will be so heavy. I run to the bathroom and vomit again. I wonder if any of the tylenol is still in my system. It must not be because my head hurts so badly. Take two advil.

The only time I feel anything other than near death is immediately after I vomit. I use this opportunity to call Dominoes and order the pizza. Lie down immediately. How will I answer the door when it arrives? Decide to open the curtains so the delivery person can see that I am there and I am trying to make it to the door. Don't want them to leave thinking it was a crank call. Lean/crawl to window and open curtains. Lie down and go to sleep.

Pizza arrives. Set it on table. Open box and examine contents. Run to bathroom and vomit.

Am I dying? I really think I might be. I don't know what to do. Is it dehydration? Maybe I need salt. Gatorade has sodium. I'll drink some Gatorade.

Drinking the gatorade is sickening. Sugar sugar sugar. I'm so sick of sugar. The gatorade comes back up immediately, bringing with it every single thing that's left in my stomach. This is the biggest purge of all. But, this also makes me feel better than I've felt in a long time.

I use this opportunity to wolf down half the pizza. I know I'll start feeling nauseous again soon, but maybe if I lie still I'll be able to stave off the urge to vomit. I realize I haven't iced my knees yet. Fill my ice bag, get in bed, lie on my right side and ice my right knee. Wake up 10 minutes later and flip over to ice my left knee. Wake up 45 minutes later. I don't believe it. I've made it almost an hour with food in my stomach! I drink water. More water. Continue to lie down. I feel so much better! I think I might be okay.

After drinking more water I eat three more pieces of pizza. I no longer feel like I'm going to die. I think I'll actually be all right.

Change into pajamas, drink more water and get to sleep around 9:00.

Woke up the next morning at 6:15. Knees hurt a little, but my sides ache from the vomiting. Leave hotel at 7:30 and head home.

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