Sunday, September 25, 2011

Make a Wish: The best of tris, the worst of tris

This weekend was the Make a Wish Olympic triathlon. After a year of health issues (most of them bothersome rather than life-threatening), I was excited to compete in a race I had done two years ago. How would I stack up? I knew my fitness is seriously decreased. Leading into the race, I was dealing with six weeks straight of migraines. Literally a headache every day. I have battled headaches since I was 10, but having them this consistently was new for me. To top it off, I noticed that my hair is falling out. Not in clumps, but noticeably. Again- none of this is life-threatening, but the headaches seriously impacted training.

In the days leading up to the race, I learned that Heather ZG, a tri-club member who often had encouraging words for me on facebook, lost a tragically short battle with pancreatic cancer. Like unfair short. The thing that strikes me about Heather is her consistently positive attitude. While we weren't terribly close, I was struck deeply by the loss of a vibrant mother of two young girls. I decided that I would race this race for her. I would enjoy being able to race, and having my family there (only Tommy's second time seeing me race in person since he is usually working or on munchkin duty).
Tommy and I Pre-race
This was the "what not to do" of pre-race experiences. We left home at 3:30pm. Worst-case scenario, it would take us 4-4.5 hours to get there. It took us 4 hours to get over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (usually a 1 hour drive). I was gearing up for a meltdown. Tommy and I were driving separate cars, and driving that long is a surefire way to get the arthritis in my sacroiliac joint flared up. Two hours into the drive, I was desperate for a potty break (all of the pre-hydration with First Endurance EFS and water...uuugggghh).  We didn't arrive in Bethany until 10pm. The CEO of Make a Wish called me to tell me packet pickup was extended until 10:30 pm. We got the kids and dog dropped off, and I ran to get my packet. Pre-race dinner was one half of a chick-fil-a wrap (no dressing)...not my ideal scenario. I was in bed at 11pm, after some serious stretching and foam rolling.

Wake-up was 5:15. I was so thankful to be 2 miles from the race site. 1/2 a bagel with peanut butter. I got my bike numbers on, etc., in the back of my minivan, and then headed to transition. Tommy was already there to meet me. I was so happy to have him there, especially with my Grandparents watching the kids so they could sleep in. All of the women were in the back of transition...less than ideal but at least we were all on equal footing. The numbering was messed up, so there were issues with the rack. Got everything set up, then went to talk to Tommy. I happened to go back to my transition spot, and noticed my helmet was gone. in nowhere near my transition. In a wavering voice I asked loudly where it was. Thankfully someone near me had seen it on the ground (when someone moved to our rack, they knocked it down, apparently), but they just picked it up and put it on the closest bike. I'm so thankful I went back. That would have been a bummer. Worst pre-race nightmare, only I didn't forget the helmet.

Tommy enjoyed watching me struggle with my wetsuit. While he isn't a triathlete, he has known me for almost 19 years and always knows what to say (even if it was in between laughter about my wetsuit antics). I was fortunate to be racing with a team of Montgomery County Firefighters (two of whom are in the top ten fundraisers each year for the race). We all walked down to transition. Yes- I peed in my wetsuit, and when I hit the cold water I was thankful I had!

The Swim: (50-some minutes for 0.9 miles)
They told us before the swim that the current was in our favor. This was not exactly true. The swim was much more challenging than in 2009. Granted- my swim fitness leaves something to be desired. This was one of my more comfortable swims. No freak out moments....just feeling like I didn't have a fast gear. The challenges? Being in a wave with bright yellow caps when all of the buoys were yellow- not helpful when you are at the back of the pack. Getting moved around by the current. Finally- trying to get out of the water with a serious undertow and some decent sized waves. The good news was if you breathed to the left you could see the high rise buildings near the finish. It made for a good landmark (though they didn't get close for what seemed like eternity). Then as I kept plugging along, I breathed to my right. The day was grey (to say the least), cloudy, and foggy. For a brief time, the sun shone through a break in the clouds. It was absolutely beautiful. I thought of Heather, and reminded myself that it was about celebrating my ability to race, no matter the time.

I ran out of the water and past Tommy. I believe I yelled "that freaking sucked!". I knew I was 20 minutes slower than 2009. Slower by 8 minutes than my 1.2 mile swim last year. Wow- I knew I was out of shape but SERIOUSLY?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Transition wasn't bad (so thankful my helmet was there).

The Bike (25.5 miles, 18.5mph pace)
I have been waiting for this bike course on my Kestrel Airfoil Pro. The bike was made for a flat, fast course like this. I got a new computer installed this week, and tried to keep my speed >20mph. I played leap frog with another woman (I swear she was drafting for a while). I caught a few in my age group, but definitely felt the lack of fitness. When my computer said we had 3.5 miles left, I passed a volunteer who said "5 miles to go!". What?!?!?!? It was then I realized my computer was set for 700 wheels, not 650. Crap!!!!! I was much slower than I thought.

Oh well. The woman who I had been leap-frogging with passed me toward the end, but I hammered to catch up with her (and for the record totally beat her out of transition and on the run...I did compliment her on her bike as we passed in opposite directions on the run). Tommy and the kids were there as I rode in, and to cheer me as I went out on the run. My heart totally swelled. I was so happy to see them. They cheered for me like crazy.

The Run: (9:40 pace/10K)
The run was tough. My fitness just isn't there. It is an out and back, so you really get to see where you stack up. The first place female finished as I started (always a bit demoralizing, since we stared in the same swim wave). I must have pulled a lat muscle on the swim. I had pain when I took a deep breath near my left shoulder. I walked some and tried to stretch it out. Walking was fine, but every breath when I ran was painful. I was walk-running. for a bit. The volunteers were awesome. I tried to run more than walk, and the pain started to subside. I hit the turnaround, and by that point realized I wasn't as far back as I thought. There were a lot of women behind me (we were all in one wave, so you knew exactly where you stood). For some reason, after the turnaround I started to think about Heather, and about having my family there at the finish. I realized that I can't cry and run. I made a few awful sounds and then decided to suppress the tears. As my teammate Andree told me during my pre-race meltdown....I needed to let it all out on the course. So I did. I thought of Heather and her family a lot. Again, we weren't super close, but it could have been any of us, and her amazing spirit touched so many. I thought of all Tommy and I have been through this year, and gave thanks for being able to race (no matter how slow). I thought of seeing my kids at the finish. About 2 miles from the finish, I actually got lost in my thoughts. I had to remind myself I was in a race. Being rather competitive, this doesn't usually happen. My pace picked up toward the end. I got near the finish chute, and saw my family. I looked back to make sure there was no one close to me (so that we didn't get in their way), and then put out my hands for the kids to join me. They raced to the finish with me (there were two awesome volunteers there waving us on), and both got medals. The finish time was not pretty (30+ minutes slower than 2009), but a victory nonetheless. I did find out from several other triathletes (including the second place female swimmer), that the swim was slower than years past.


Make a Wish puts on a great race and party. It is so nice to hang out with the Montgomery County crew, and they have a child/adult who was granted a wish as the guest of honor. The woman who spoke this year received a heart transplant as a child, and a second transplant at 14 years old. Listening to her talk was another reminder that it doesn't matter if you win, just that you are there and can actually participate. I started this race hoping I could beat my previous time, and ended it thankful just to be there. By far, my slowest Olympic but my most meaningful race ever. Many thanks to Tommy and my Grandparents for making the weekend possible, and to Andree and other good friends for the pre-race pep talk.


  1. Sometime it's the lessons rather than the results. Glad you got back into it after some tough times though. I'll see you in a couple weeks!!(right? Rev3 SC?)

  2. Great report! I am pretty impressed with that run! I love those pictures of you crossing the finish line!

  3. You are such an inspiration!! I love your attitude, so proud to be your teammate!! Great job out there!

  4. awesome report and what a great reminder to love and be grateful for every minute we have. Proud of you Kier!!