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Deflated in Santa Cruz

Thank you, Ashworth Awards, for a medal I've
never worked so hard to earn. 
I've struggled for the past two weeks with how to present the story of a race day I'd wish upon no one. Up until Santa Cruz 70.3, my "bad races" involved nothing more than slower than desired split times and bad stomach aches. Therefore, I preface by saying after 7 years of racing, I guess my time for struggle was well overdue. Long story (really long bike ride) short, the three flat tires and one yellow card penalty put me out of the race. Really out of the race.

During my efforts to wait for help (after I'd used all my spare tubes and CO2) and eventually fix my first and second flats, I felt determined I'd finish the race. I remember talking out loud with myself and with God, holding a conversation filled with only optimistic ideals. After having to stop for the third flat, however, I certainly had the feeling of defeat envelope me completely. The cold I felt as a result of the foggy, breezy air encouraged me to find that dreaded car ride and get my sorry butt back to transition. If not for the nice gentleman who left me with an extra tube and CO2, I would not have found that last thread of hope to pull me out onto the run course.

On my way out, before trouble struck.
I'd really rather not bore you with the details of a miserable bike ride. It is not my goal in this blog post to create a "woe is me" tone. I'll take responsibility for the second flat because I did not properly fix the first. Yet the first and third flats could only be attributed to the terribly dirty roads. If I had the balls to confront the race director (knowing full well he'd likely laugh at me regardless), I'd ask why not have the road swept? California traffic forced athletes onto the shoulder, and despite my efforts to avoid riding in it altogether, even Sunday morning traffic scared me. Avoiding glass, trash, and random vegetables seemed daunting. Can anyone say they've crossed paths with a stray brussels sprout? 

Despite my bad luck, the bike course did have its positive attributes. The ride along the coastal highway felt smooth, thanks to relatively new pavement. Never mind all the trash. For a 5 mile stretch, the course took athletes on a side road whose conditions were not as smooth. A steep ascent and descent should have helped to set me apart from weaker riders, but even my strength on the hills couldn't counter the approximate 45 minutes of wasted time I'd experienced during my first two flats. Regardless, athletes rode home on the same coastal highway we rode out on to the turnaround. The views toward the ocean, on any other bike ride, would have kept my mind off the pain of physical exertion. This time, I had too much time to eventually loathe the view while waiting for help after my third flat.

Two flats down, one still to go.
Like I said earlier (sorry for the terribly unorganized post), I made it back to transition. On my bike. Deflated. Cold. Eager to finish off the day. At the time, I wasn't thinking about how such a slow time would look on my resume. All I could say to myself in an effort to keep my mind in the present was, A slow time with a corresponding story will look better than a DNF.

The motivation I felt one mile into the run suddenly disappeared when I crossed paths with the first place female making her way to the finish line. Following her, girls at the top of my age group breezed by in their 11th and 12th miles, me on my second. I felt my pace slow. What a disappointment. Thankfully, the first three miles of this course follow the shoreline, so I used the scenery as a way to redirect my attention. As a competitor, though, my eyes fell on the backs of men and women who had started 45 minutes to an hour after I did. Why not eat them up?

Trying to ignore all the finishers making
their way back to the finish line.
I still have a half marathon to run.
My pace improved as my goals changed. No longer was I running for a higher finisher placement. I ran to see how many girls from my age group (shoot, people in general) I could pass. I seemed to make my biggest gains in miles 4 through 9 when we turned off the road and onto a trail that took us through one of the state parks. We ran out onto a cliff that overlooked the ocean. I thought it ironic that the night prior, I feared the ocean swim more than I did anything else on this race day. Come to find out, it was the only part of this day that went smoothly. No big waves to dive through, no mouthfuls of water, no stomach aches. Just smooth, easy swimming in cool, but tolerable, salty water.   How could the day have taken such a turn for the worst?

Happy to reach the turnaround, I started keeping my eyes peeled for Bryan. Back at my third flat, I wondered if he'd catch me. Perhaps we could have run to the finish line together, which prior to my bike ride, seemed impossible considering he had started an hour after me.

Happy to run on packed dirt. It's what
I train on in my Newtons. 
I think we crossed paths at my mile 8, his mile 6. He looked good, and I continued to push my pace for no other reason than to see how quickly I could finish off this day. My pace slowed considerably when the course's final challenge involved running about a quarter of a mile along the sandy shore to the finish line. For much of this quarter mile, we could find firmer sand at the water's edge. However, the last 100 yards to and through the finishing chute involved the type of sand you normally enjoy walking through barefoot. Running through it on tired legs did not feel as wonderful. Though on his day, I realized it didn't matter.

And so my day complete, my year over, I sat just past the finish line, exhausted. Mentally and physically. On this day, my head hurt worse than my body. Physical pain stops at the finish line; mental anguish does not. It is silly, but I've needed two weeks to realize that what Bryan and my coach said just hours after my flop was true: I can't let one bad race define my entire season.

So, I finish this post. I move on and sign up for another race. I definitely buy new tubes. I take pride in not just PR'ing my fastest 70.3 time, but my slowest time, too. All in one year. The Spokane half marathon awaits me. Thankfully, it doesn't involve my bike.


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