Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Wrapping up my season HALF FULL...

This is not just a race report, this is also an "End of TRI season" report. As you may have noticed, things have been quiet on this blog and with good reason. I've been struggling with some undiagnosed pain issues and working closely with my Doctors to try to find the cause for the pain.

Of course, as you can imagine - this undiagnosed pain has put a real cramp into my active life style. Initially, in as much as I could manage, I had fought hard against letting the pain dictate my workout schedule. More than a little "hard-headed", I know but truthfully, sticking to my training plan and staying on target are important to my personal self-identity. The idea of "not working out" seemed wrong and I just couldn't see the connection between the workouts and the undiagnosed pain.

So after willingly putting aside IronGirl Columbia to watch my nephews in late August, the next race on the schedule was the Savageman Half with Team Shoemaker. A relay where I would swim 1.2 miles, my hubby Jim would bike 56 "very hilly" miles and then I would run 13.1 "very hilly" miles. Unfortunately, as the race drew closer, this "undiagnosed pain" I have been experiencing grew in intensity. I was skipping more workouts than I was getting in and while I knew I had the "base" to handle the distances - common sense and my Husband stepped in to suggest that perhaps this was not the best time to toe the line at "one of the hardest half ironman's race courses in the United States." So Team Shoemaker did not start the 2010 SavageMan Half but stayed home - to rest, do light workouts, and hopefully get some answers for my pain issues.

4 weeks have gone by, since this has all started, and I am sorry to stay that my Doctors and I are no closer to having any legitimate answers for what is going on. There has been lots of blood drawn, x-rays taken, ultrasounds done and still nothing to identify cause. That is good and bad news - because it means "More Tests."

In the meantime, while I am waiting on "more tests" and "more Doctor visits", my race calendar moves on. The next event on my calendar was this past weekend and was an event for a foundation that is near and dear to my heart: The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.

Teams "CT5K Chicks" & "RacerZ with Sole"

Holly & Jess - Ready To Swim

This weekend was the HALF FULL TRIATHLON to benefit the Ulman Cancer Fund and the LiveSTRONG Young Adult Alliance. I put together a great relay team with Team Z team-mates Leanne Layne and Meghan Rooney. Together we made the Relay Team "RacerZ with Sole" - Swim - .9 miles: Holly ; Bike - 56 miles: Leanne, Run - 13.1 Miles: Meghan. In addition, I had put together a fantastic crew of volunteers from CANCER to 5K and UCF's Team FIGHT to run the "Gatoraid Hill Aid Station" at Miles 1/7.5 of the RUN course. It was going to be a busy but fun-filled Race Day.

THE SWIM: .9 Miles - 51:29

Well, truth be told, I had it in my mind that I was going to set a PR on this Swim. I knew the course well (Centennial Lake - Ellicot City, MD) and I have a season's worth of swim PR at every race I have done in 2010 - so why would this race be any different....Oh how naive I can be...

The SWIM was a 2-person "time-trial" start with swimmers starting every 5 seconds. We were set in waves and paired up. I was in Wave 10 with the rest of the relay folks and was thrilled to start with Jessica Datta, who was racing with Judy Layne and Jennifer McRobbie on the "CT5K Chicks" Relay Team. Jess and I both got hugs from Executive Director of the Ulman Cancer Fund, Brock Yetso, and then we were in the water and on our way.

The first half mile of the swim felt good to me. I was having no problems sighting, I was not experiencing any shoulder pains nor any other significant pain of any kind (which had been a concern) and I really did feel like I was doing well. As I got to the first turn bouy, I did notice that there did not seem to be as many swimmers around me as before. I brushed it off and just put my head down and focused on the next turn buoy.

It seems to take FOREVER to get 300 yards to the next turn buoy and as I got there and sighted, I thought to myself again "Where the heck is everybody?" and I sat up for a second to look around. There were a few people in front of me but nobody behind me and that threw me into a little bit of a panic because I knew there were 2 waves that started after our wave. I didn't feel like anything was wrong with my swim, so where the heck was everybody?

I put my head back down and focused on getting to the next buoys and damned if it didn't seem like it was taking forever to go these last 400 yards. At one point I looked up and saw that a man pulling an inflatable raft and his son, was passing me like I was treading water. That got me moving - because I knew he was the last wave and if he was passing me, than I was in some trouble in terms of losing time and missing the swim cutoffs. Still I didn't look at my watch, just put my head down and kept swimming. At this point, my calves began to cramp - and I would have to stop for a moment - and try to let them recover. I now had a kayak escort, which confirmed for me that I must be one of the last swimmers in the water - and still it was taking me what seems like "forever" to get the last 100 yards to the Swim Out.

Finally, I was standing up on shaky legs, to kind hearted cheers of some friends/CANCER to 5K teammates and the SWIM OUT volunteers and running up the long parking lot and up the steep hill to Transition. My Teammates let out a big "Yeah Holly" when they saw me (THANKS FOR TEAMMATE LOVE!) and Leanne and I switched the race chip as I apologized profusely for taking so much time to swim. Leanne would hear nothing of it and just told me she was happy to see me finish and she would see me when she got back from her BIKE. Meghan was super sweet and supportive and gave me a hug and told me not to worry about my swim time, we all have the occasional unexpected "rough swim" and told me not to be so hard on myself and I took her comments to heart and tried to do just that but I was still secretly feeling awful for having taken away a good 15 minutes from Leanne and Meghan on the race clock.

Holly, at Swim Out, Looking as Rough as I felt...

The Next Stop was to change clothes and then leave Meghan to take a rest in her car (and stay off her feet) while I headed up to the top of Gatorade Hill to work the Mile 1/7.5 Aid Station with volunteers from Team CANCER to 5K and Team FIGHT.

If I do say so myself - WE ROCKED THAT AID STATION! We were placed at the top of the first significant climb on a very hilly 2-loop Half Marathon RUN course. We had GU, GU CHOMPS, Water, CereSport (electrolyte replacement drink) and 10 volunteers for the AM and PM shifts! We rang cowbells of all kinds, left motivational signs on the course coming up the hill and played some awesome music on an portable iPOD stereo system to keep the energy UP and help all the Triathletes stay strong and fueled as they tackled Gatorade Hill twice on their way to finishing the HALF FULL TRIATHLON.

Just a portion of the GATORADE HILL Crew!

We got your GU, right here!

Working Hard for the Triathletes on Gatorade Hill....

Highlights of the Day:

1.) Witnessing CANCER to 5K volunteer and Relay Runner for "CT5K Chicks", Jennifer McRobbie, running so strong on the course! Her Marine Corps Marathon training made this 13.1 mile run look effortless and she proudly represented for Team CANCER to 5K!

Jenn McRobbie of "CT5K Chicks"
looking strong at the top of the climb!

2.) Watching CANCER to 5K volunteer Andrea Hampton keep a strong and steady pace on the run course. HALF FULL TRI was Andrea's first attempt at the Half Ironman distance in Triathlon and she expressed concerns that she might not make the bike cutoffs - so seeing her come up Gatorade Hill, strong and steady, was just a thrill! I knew deep in my heart that as long as Andrea made that bike cutoff, NOTHING was going to keep her from finishing the race! And FINISH she did - with a big smile!!

Andrea looking "great" coming out of the water...

Andrea looking "great" AGAIN on the run course...

3.) Seeing my "RacerZ with Sole" teammate Meghan, come running up Gatorade Hill, in all her bright green Team Z glory. Until that moment, I had no way to know if teammate Leanne had made the challenging and hilly BIKE cuttoff (SHE MADE IT WITH 1 MINUTE TO SPARE) so seeing Meghan brought of flood of relief. Meghan would have the toughest challenge of us all, she was in the back of the race pack, with 13.1 hill miles of running ahead of her. Talking to her, as she jogged through the aid station, she expressed some concern but said that she was going to do what she could for the first loop and then see how she felt. I could tell she was nervous but I also knew that her reason for racing with our relay team was to honor the passing of her grandmother, who recently passed away from cancer. So if anybody on our team has a reason to keep going, even with it got tough, it was Meghan.

When I saw Meghan for her second loop, it was like a fire had been lit deep inside her, I jogged up to her to ask her what we could get her from the Aid Station and asked how she was feeling, she told me, in no uncertain terms that "I am finishing this damn race, even if they take the finish line down!" I told her that Leanne and I would meet her at the Finish and that, according to my RUN COURSE Captain, she was not even the last runner, so she was doing great!

It was a good 10 minutes before the last runner came through the Aid Station and we were released from our Volunteer duties. We cleaned up the station and I headed towards the finish line with Meghan's friend Giovanni, to see Andrea and Meghan finish their races.

Leanne and Judy had gone to the park entrance, 1 mile from the finish line, to keep an eye out for Meghan while I stayed near the finish line, waiting for both Andrea and a text from Leanne, saying that Meghan was on her way. It was an honor an a privilege to be at the Finish Line of the HALF FULL TRIATHLON in that last hour.

As a slower, or "Back of the Pack" athlete myself, I know what kind of physical and emotional effort it takes to race when you are clearly one of the last racers on the course. It takes courage and deep inner strength to find a reason to keep going, to shut our the negative voices that can creep into your head telling you that you are "slow" or "not good enough" or that this is "too hard" and too keep putting one foot in front of the other. As much as I love to marvel at the fast racers and cheer the average athlete, my heart and soul goes out to the "Back of the Pack" because I believe there is a completely different "race" that these athletes experience. One by one, the last athletes made their way across the finish line. You could see in their faces the struggle and the deep pride in what they accomplished.

It was an honor to be there to watch my friend and CANCER to 5K volunteer Andrea Hampton cross the the finish line. She toed the line to this race not really sure that she had what it took to complete a Half Ironman but ready to take on the challenge and all to honor her sister Sandra, a breast cancer survivor. Andrea's smile as she crossed that finish line and was handed her FINISHER shirt and race medal was just beautiful and I was so proud and happy to be able to share in her accomplishment.

I sat with Andrea for a few minutes, listening to her tell me about her race and finding out that she and Meghan had exchanged encouraging words throughout the race - switching back and forth with the last runner and the bike sweep during the last few miles. Then I got the text from Leanne, telling me that Meghan was on her way. At some point late in the race, Meghan and the last runner had switched places and as the second to last runner came into the finish line, I was already looking up the course, to the corner where I knew that I would catch site of Meghan on her way to the final climb to the finish line.

I rang my cowbell like I was a crowd of 1,000 people for Meghan - so very proud to see her with a big smile on her face, heading up to the finish line to complete what Team RacerZ with Sole had started at 7:45 that morning! Both Leanne, Judy and I ran to the Finish Line corral to congratulate her and we all received our HALF FULL Finishers Shirt and Finishers Medals and were the last RELAY TEAM to complete the Inaugural HALF FULL TRIATHLON on October 3, 2010. It was quite honestly, the perfect way to represent the Team Z BOP. We may not be fast, but WE WILL ALWAYS FINISH WHAT WE STARTED!

Meghan, just yards from the Finish Line!

Team "RacerZ with Sole" - HALF FULL TRI finishers

TEAM "RacerZ with Sole" - 8:12:59 (51:29 - 4:48:12 - 2:31:48)

As I drove home, exhausted but happy with my experience both as a RELAY RACER and a VOLUNTEER for the HALF FULL TRIATHLON, I took some time to think about some good advice that a fellow Triathlete and a CANCER to 5K volunteer and teammate Coleen, had given me while we were working the Gatorade Aid Station. She had asked me, in reference to my currently issues with undiagnosed pain, if I had considered simply taking a break from training and racing. To give my body a break and to take "exercise" out of the equation as a possible "cause" for the pain. At the time that she asked me, I hemmed and hawed, not really comfortable with considering the possibility, especially in the midst of the excitement of a race. But now, alone, coming down from the long day and race excitement, I took Coleen's suggestion to heart.

With all that that happened in the last 4 weeks, "What did I have to gain by trying to push through this pain and try to race the Beach2Battleship Half Ironman" in 6 weeks? Wasn't it more important to really focus in on getting some kind of answers to this pain? Isn't part of holding myself to the "LiveSTRONG" motto, facing unexpected challenges that come along and having courage? Maybe the courageous thing to do right now was to call this a season, and take a break from training and try to figure out where the pain is coming from and work with my Doctors to get back to being pain free?

The connections, if there are any, are still up for serious debate, both by myself and my Doctors but in an effort to "eliminate a potential cause", I've decided to completely back off of my regular training schedule for the next 2 weeks - to start. This will allow me to track the pain and determine if it is truly associated to any of my workouts.

Additionally, I am getting ready for another round of tests which should get a more detailed picture of what is going on internally. I have the love and strength of my friends, family and teammates at CANCER to 5K, the ULMAN FUND for YOUNG ADULTS, Team FIGHT and TEAM Z to help me through and I know that the future holds miles and miles of races for me so for now, the 2010 TRIATHLON season is closed and that is fine....

Because I am ending it HALF FULL! Who could ask for anything more?

Never forget, Life is Good! LiveSTRONG!


Anonymous said...

That was one of the best race reports I've every read! It brought tears to my eyes! You are a strong beautiful woman. I'm honored to have raced with you, call you a teammate and more importantly a friend. I admire you so much! Keep the glass half full you are a strong lady and I know whatever this pain is you will overcome it! Throughout the tests if you need anything let me know! love ya!

Krisfergie said...

You ROCK, Holly. Thanks for being awesome!

Kevin said...

Congratulations!! Great Job!!


joe said...

fantastic job! sounds like an awesome day. way to tough it on the swim and then find energy to take onthe aid station/cheerleadng!! hope the tests end soon and you get some good answers!


Michele said...

Holly --

What a fantastic race report! I didn't get a chance to get a full update on how the race went last week, so I'm glad to read it here, and so proud of your team, CT5K Chicks and CT5K volunteers at Gatorade Hill! I'm sorry I wasn't able to be there but look forward to cheering you on next year. :)

Here's hoping the brief training break will help you to get some of those elusive answers!