Or - my first DNF. That's right, Did Not Finish.
I'm sure there are many reasons for my first DNF. Lack of training for the past couple of weeks as I've been sitting with Mom at Mayo, the ease with which I could go to bed and not do my workouts on those days. Maybe it was the 90 degree weather with the heat index of 102 and the humidity of a sauna that I had not prepared for. Maybe I really was hit by a super heated metal bar as I felt...
Here's the "race report", judge for yourself, but don't be too harsh, I'm pretty disappointed.
Tour de Kirkwood, Kirkwood, MO (suburb of St. Louis)
I woke at 5am, ready to face the day. As I headed out the door of my brothers house, the heat/humidity physically slapped me in the face. But it's been hot up north, and I did do a couple of runs and bikes in the early morning heat back home - though pretty short.
As we loaded up the bikes and headed for the venue, I felt as ready as I could be. Mom had come to Mayo a day over two weeks ago, and I've spent most of that time with Dad at the hospital. I missed many, many of the workouts I had planned, but did do a few. I wasn't too worried, as the bike was 12 miles and the swim was a pool swim of 400 yards. I've done more than those distances before, so I had no stress about the distances.
We were nearly the first ones there, and literally the first to park in the competitor area, so my brother Jason wisely parked under a tree and we got excellent transition spots very near both the bike in and out and run out areas. After setting up our transition areas we headed up to check out the pool. After a while they opened up the pool to warm up should anyone desire. And I did!
I hopped in and was shocked, SHOCKED, at how warm the water was. It was like a hot tub with no bubbles. The air had become warm and humid, and I thought a quick swim would be just the thing to cool down, but the water was so hot that it actually felt better getting out of the water. I have only swam in that warm of water once before, at a high school swim meet in Rock Island twenty years ago. And it was slow, slow water. So warm that everybody had times slower than ever. The water today was too warm from a week of solar heating at 110 degrees, and I thought it would be slow. Jason had beat me by 8 seconds during our practice swims, so he would be in front of me to start. I decided to keep up with him as best I could.
There was no timing mat between the swim and T1, which was strange, so the whole swim/T1 time would be mixed into one. We would have to hustle through T1 to get a decent time, but our transition spots were really close to the timing mat on the bike out.
Jason's wife and kiddos came out around 7:15, along with Dad, who was there to cheer on his boys. He was registered to do the TdK, but the heart attack in March was a bit of a deterrent, and while he held out hope that maybe he'd do the swim and walk today, it was so stinking hot and humid, that he wisely decided to just watch and cheer.
To be honest, as the morning progressed, I wondered how I would do with the heat. I knew I'd need to go a little slower than usual and be careful. So noted in my head, the National Anthem was sung and we all headed for the pool to line up by time for the start. Jason and I blended in to the six minute group, noting that there were a few people lined up in front of us that we had seen warming up in the pool that were apparently wildly optimistic about their swim times. Jason told me his goal for the day was to break six minutes on the swim. I jokingly told him that my goal was to pass him and the person in front of him! As the race started and the six minute clump formed into a line, a couple of push guys decided they would out swim us and got in front of us. No big deal, as Jason had an excellent idea. Since time did not start until we crossed the timing mat as we jumped (feet first) into the pool, when the timer told us to go, we would wait a few extra seconds to give those in front of us a little more time to swim, so perhaps we wouldn't have to pass. Then we could just swim and go as fast as the water would allow.
Jason got the go ahead from the timing official and after a few seconds was on his way. I noted that he looked strong and fluid in the water. He'd be hard to catch. Then the official told me to go. I took a few extra breaths and jumped. The hot water greeted me like a nice bath, but it was time to swim.
I usually count my strokes while I swim in a pool by counting each time I breathe. In training, it has taken seven and a half or eight strokes to cross the pool once. This time I was pleasantly surprised to find myself starting my flip turn at six! I was so happy that as I counted on the way back I hit six, looked up at the wall (which seemed to be just a shade farther away this time) and did my flip turn. And completely missed the wall. I sheepishly stood up and went back to touch the wall, hoping that nobody saw me, but pretty sure there were snickers and guffaws all around. GRR!
Now I was mad at myself (and a bit embarrassed) so I focused on my stroke and my turns with laser like attention. The swim was going swimmingly. Pretty soon I looked up and saw that Jason was right in front of me. I had a brief thought of just drafting behind him for the rest of the swim, but since he bikes as well as, if not faster than me, and he can out run me any day and twice on Sunday (which this was), then I'd better get as far past him as I could! I tapped his foot to let him know I'd be passing, and on the next turn he took an extra breath as I went around. It was great to pass him, but only because he knew how to be passed (by waiting an extra second or two at the end) rather than making me pass him in the middle of the lane.
There were only a few lengths left, but I noticed that ahead of Jason were two or three people starting to clump together as the faster swimmers caught the optimistic, but slower swimmers. As I started the final length, I could see at least three people in the lane ahead of me and pushed a bit to try and catch them. Much to my delight, I was able to finish right next to one of them as two others were splashing their way out of the pool.
I jumped out of the pool with Jason about two seconds behind me, trotted over to grab my glasses on the thoughtfully provided table, and jogged into the transition area. I walked the last fifty feet to my bike to catch my breath a little. It was much more humid than I was accustomed to, and I decided then and there that I wouldn't worry about keeping up with Jason because this heat and humidity would be dangerous to me if I pushed it too hard. There was just no way to prepare for these conditions up north without training in a sauna. But I was determined to do the best that I could.
My transition was very smooth, and I was out before Jason by a few seconds. I hopped on my bike and headed out, keenly aware of the heat. The course was well marked and lots of volunteers ensured our safety. I kept it in a lower gear and at a lower speed than normal for me, but I still felt strong. I was having a little trouble catching my breath, as every inhalation was like sucking in a hot mist.
After the first half mile my legs felt pretty good again, and I knew I was getting into the groove. Jason passed me at some point, but I could keep pace with him OK, and my plan became to try and keep him in view. There was a steep hill where I sped up to over 30 MPH, which felt great! After a turn at the end of the hill, we headed up a long, medium steep hill. I could feel my body heating up, and took a drink. I could also feel my head heating up, so I dumped a little water into my helmet to cool off a bit. Nearing the top of the hill, my head felt really hot. There was a right turn and another shorter, steeper hill to climb before a nice level spot. I decided to gear up a little and push up the short hill, then rest on the long flat area. But I couldn't seem to get the shifters to work. It was very frustrating. I felt like my hand was just slipping on the sweat and I couldn't get the traction to crank the shifters. I got very agitated and started cursing at the shifters. At the time this didn't seem odd to yell at my shifters, but it is very unlike me when I ride. Also in hindsight I don't think the shifters were too wet to turn, I think my hands lacked the strength to squeeze the grips tight enough to turn them.
As I reached the top of the hill, my head felt like it was on fire. Suddenly I got very, very dizzy. As if I had been spun around too many times, like that dizzy izzy game where you put your forehead on one end of a baseball bat with the other end on the ground, spin around a dozen times and try to run a straight line. Very funny on foot, not so much on a bike. I blinked a few times to try and clear my head, and noted that I was getting a mighty powerful headache. I had not eaten much for breakfast, just the usual Clif bar, energy gel and lots of water, but felt like at any moment I would be throwing them up as I rode. I blinked a few more times, and when I opened my eyes again found myself in a strange way. I was sitting on the grass in the shade of a tree, my bike in the grass next to me, and my helmet on the grass on the other side off me.
It was very confusing. Very confusing. I had just been on my bike. Then I blinked and here I was relaxing on the grass. Several passing bikers asked me if I was OK. "Yes" I answered, still a bit confused. I wasn't scraped up or hurting anywhere, so I don't think I fell of my bike. My head was pounding and hot, so I knew I wasn't dreaming. I poured half of my water bottle over my head and felt a little refreshed. I also knew that if I sat here much longer, some well meaning triathlete would tell an official, who would send an ambulance, who would probably pull me from the race. If I wanted to finish, I had to get going. As I stood, my legs felt a little shaky, but I got on my trusty yellow beast and pedaled slowly on.
There were a few gentle hills ahead, and I decided that if I still felt dizzy and weak after those, I'd consider dropping from the race. It was not an option I particularly cared to consider, but as my head cleared a little more, I realized that blacking out would not be too helpful during the race either. But as I entered the shallow rollers on the downhill, I was feeling not too bad. Then came the uphill. With the slightest effort cranking the wheels around I got really dizzy and nauseous again and my headache throbbed. By the second little uphill, my head was feeling really, really hot again, and I knew what I had to do.
The hills led back to the park again, and I saw an official waving people into the second lap. The debate in my head seemed to go on for a lot longer than it actually did, because I really wanted to at least finish. But the paramedic in me was yelling that if I picked up a person in my condition I would strongly advise them to get some place cool, drink plenty of fluids and rest and recover. Not to mention the voice of my wife calmly telling me that if I had a heat stroke, she would not be pleased with my decision making abilities.
I stopped at the official and she sent me over to a driveway leading back around the pool to the transition area. Dad just happened to be stationed right at the driveway to get shots of us going past. I rode over to him and told him what was going on. Then started walking my bike back to the transition area, trying to get my head around what I had just done.
I was soaked to the bone, but my skin and especially my head felt as hot as a griddle. Maybe I should just sit for a few minutes and get back out there, I thought. But when I turned my head to look back at the course, a wave of dizziness and nausea washed over me. I went back and racked my bike, changed into my running shorts and sandals and called it a day. If I sat in the shade I felt OK, and had many, many second thoughts that I was just being a wuss and needed to get back on the course. So I'd stand up to get going again and get dizzy and nauseous. It was very, very frustrating.
When I could stand without feeling like I would fall over, I started making my way back to Dad along the bike route. I saw Jason coming in to finish and cheered for him, taking him completely by surprise as evidenced by the look on his face. He was soaked to the bone, too, but still going strong. I decided that if he could keep going, I should keep going. So I turned around and started to jog back to the transition area to get back on the bike. My time would suck, but I could finish. I got two steps before I stumbled and dropped. Yeah, I was done.
I entered the transition area as Jason was jogging out. All he had left was the 5K. I was so proud of him and disappointed with myself. I saw Dad coming around the other end of the pool, and we got me a chair from the van and we set up right next to the finish line. It took another twenty minutes of sitting before the dizziness finally went away, and as I cheered the people finishing, I noted very few smiles, and nobody cheered for their finish. Most looked downright miserable and a few went right to the medical tent to lie down.
Jason came across the uphill finish strong, the only one I saw raising his arms in victory, and shouting "I am a magnificent beast!" He was doing OK until he stopped and the guy grabbed his ankle to take of his timing chip. Then he got dizzy and nauseous too, and we headed him over to the medical tent for some cooling and rehydration.
It had been a brutal race for everybody, and I was kicking myself for wimping out because of the heat. Jenny, Dad and the kiddos headed for home, and Jason and I packed up our gear and followed. As we drove back to Jason's house, I told him what had happened. He was confused as to where I had stopped, because I told him that I remembered reaching a landmark at the top of the hill before I started feeling crappy, but was describing a place a couple miles down the road as the place where I was lounging on the grass. It took me a little while to believe what he was saying, but it slowly dawned on me that I had no memory of riding a couple of miles past the top of that hill, including past a fire station, and an entire high school campus. It was a little scary to think that my body had been on autopilot for that long, especially since there was a spot in there where we bikers had to merge into what little traffic there was to cross a street. I'd describe it better, but you see, I can't remember it.
I spent the rest of the day, the entire trip back to Minnesota, and much of the next day racking my brain to remember anything I could about those two miles which probably lasted around ten or twenty minutes. I have a snippet of a memory of a little kid, or maybe two kids, in a stroller waving at me, and my front tire bumped the curb a few times, which when I remember it I think at the time I thought it was supremely funny. I must have stopped at some point to climb off my bike, as I had no scrapes or bruises, though I have no recollection of that.
The decision to stop had been the right choice. The smart choice. Even though I had agonized over it at the time, and still do to some extent. To continue would have been to court a hospital stay or worse. It was very disappointing to have to stop, but I have to keep reminding myself that it was a good call. Sometimes the right thing to do is the hardest, and this was one of those cases.
Jason and Jenny called last night as Dad and I were driving back to my house to tell us they had found time stamps on the pictures Jenny took of our swim. According to those time stamps, Jason swam a 6:12. Not bad considering he had to wait a few second for me to pass him. I had a very nice swim of around 5:55! A new PB for me and one happy thing I can take from the TdK. That is one of the most difficult things to grasp over this whole thing. Up until the heat got me, I was having a pretty decent race. GRRR.
So. My first DNF in a triathlon. Hopefully my last. In the future I will try to be more aware of the weather conditions at the venue, though I don't know how I could train for uncomfortably high humidity and temperatures.
My final triathlon this year is in five weeks. The Hickory Grove Triathlon. I'll be training hard for it, as it will be the first time I race against myself from a previous triathlon. I won't let the TdK worry me too much, but I don't want another DNF... Ever.