Note: In eighth grade I was diagnosed with vocal cord dysfunction (VCD). VCD is a breathing disorder that occurs when the larynx (or your throat) closes when I inhale and opens when I exhale, the opposite movement of a normally functioning larynx. My throat was 80 percent closed when I inhaled during testing. I was told that in competition, it is over 90 percent closed. The closure results in heaving and high-pitched gasps, rather than breathing. When diagnosed I underwent treatment involving speech therapy and teaching myself how to breathe again while running. I only underwent treatment for running, because in eighth grade I was a runner. I didn’t even know triathlons were an actual thing. Little did I know.
Collegiate Nationals Race Recap
Original race plan:
Swim: Swim as fast and as hard as I can
Bike: Bike hard, really hard, and hold on to a pack
Run: Leave it all on the course
This was hard, different and intimidating. Going into the race my greatest fear was being lapped on the bike and not finishing (it’s a four lap bike course, and if the leader laps you, you have to drop out of the race). I wish I were a better swimmer. Here’s a play by play:
Swim: We started at the wall, pressing start on my watch made me lose the first kick-off with everyone; I was swimming strong and fitting my way into the pack telling myself I could hold the pace; there was the expected thrashing, pulling and kicking. About 200 yards out my breathing was sporadic, another 50 yards later or so my body seized up, the girls swam over me, and my throat completely closed. I immediately stopped swimming and treaded water; I held out the neck of my wetsuit (more so a mental coping mechanism than anything) and tried to catch my breath. I couldn’t get a wisp of air, and the normal wheezing that accompanies VCD attacks was absent. I forced myself to breathe in through my nose as I watched every single girl swim ahead of me. Far ahead. I was finally able to open my mouth without exasperation, after at least a minute, and I was hyperventilating and trying to make eye contact with the nearest lifeguard. I was about to wave her over, thinking my race was completely over; there was no way I’d be able to catch up on the bike. Period. Frazzled and disoriented I took a few strokes, the exasperation returned and my throat tightened up again. I stopped, caught my breath, watched the girls near the far buoy, about 100 yards away, and took a couple more strokes. They were slow and controlled with minimal kicking. Every five or six strokes I had to stop, tread water and orient myself with the situation, my breathing and my surroundings. As I turned the buoy I caught up to a girl. As I turned the following buoy I caught up to another girl. My plan was the drop out of the race and swim to the swim finish after the first lap. I was still disoriented, my breathing was only controlled because I forced it by swimming – whenever I treaded water or sighted the next buoy it would become a heaving mess with wheezing and hyperventilating. The mental game being played out in my head was outrageous: get a lifeguard. Give up. Stop. You cannot breathe. Okay, just make it through this lap, swim to the ladder and breathe. As I neared the final buoy, where I could either swim in or turn for the second lap, I felt embarrassed. Each breath as I swam was a loud raspy gulp of air, which everyone had the opportunity to witness from the edge of the water for 100 meters. I didn’t swim into shore, and I have no idea why. As I finished the second loop I tried to catch the pack in front of me, but I couldn’t go any faster without feeling a wave of panic wash over me in the water. I survived the swim and decided I’d move on from there.
T1: Coming up the ladder and into transition, my vision was blurred, and I was disoriented. I got the top half of my wetsuit off fairly quickly and took assessment of the remaining bikes around me. There weren’t many. Fine motor skills were a problem. I couldn’t get my bike shoes on, couldn’t get a hold of my sunglasses; I swear an hour passed while I was trying to buckle my helmet. I felt like a fish out of water – my mouth was opening and closing but no air was coming in. I stepped to the dismount line and climbed on. I was embarrassed being so far back, I felt like I belonged in the middle. I left the only girl who mounted with me.
Bike: The first lap was lonely. I saw a girl who stayed well in front of me, and I was hyperventilating the entire time. I wanted the pace car to lap me, so it could all end. I was riding on the fine line between hammering it and backing off admitting defeat. I couldn’t catch my breath throughout the first lap; I guess I decided to hammer it. Coming into the second lap I felt the need to make up for the lousy swim. I wanted to catch the girl in front of me. I also wanted to catch my breath and be lapped by the leader. Badly. I tried to near the girl who had been riding in front of me. On the turn around I realized I was second to last. I’ve never felt so terrible. I realized during the third lap that, if I could finish it, I’d be able to finish the race. Something clicked and I passed five girls within a couple of miles. Each girl I drafted off of, imagined I heard the pace car behind me, and told her to latch on so we can finish the race and rode to the next speeding dot on a bicycle. I stopped using any caution, no more breaks on turns, no more coasting, just pedaling. I ached in the pit of my stomach, fearful of what was behind me, angry about my swim and wanting to prove myself. At the turn around, I saw that the leader was coming. I’ve never ridden so hard. In the fourth lap I pedaled harder than ever before.
T2: I threw everything into the bucket and ran. I opted against wearing socks for the run, despite my original plan to wear them. No one has time for socks.
Run: I felt groggy, sluggish and winded. I couldn’t extend into my normal gait. I was shuffling. As I reached the two-loop section of the course, The leader was heading out into her second lap, I tucked in behind her and for about a third of a mile stayed within five feet of her, all the while cursing out everything. Water stop. Profanity. Seeing the swim course to my left scared me. More profanity. A lot of people were yelling for Indiana, which helped. But little do they know, they also received subconscious profanity. Sorry. That run hurt. I passed a few girls on the run; few passed me, if any. I forgot I was wearing a watch, so I had absolutely no idea what my pace was, I assumed 8-10 minutes per mile. Turns out it was a little faster than a 6:30 pace. Coming into the last 200 meters, I heard some people yelling at someone to catch Strong. They received a lot of internal profanity. I’m not sure where that last bit of energy came from, but she didn’t pass me, whoever she was. I finished. I was relieved to finally be done. That was the longest hour and eleven minutes I have endured. It was just as much a mental race as it was physical. I still have no idea why I didn’t swim to shore after the first loop. Seconds before making the turn into the second lap of the swim I was trying to figure out what I would say when I emerged from the water disheartened, shaky and broken. I guess I couldn’t figure out what to say, so I kept swimming.
I hate thinking that VCD is an excuse for a bad race. Because it was a bad race, a terrible race, complete with a traumatizing swim that left me horrified of entering the water ever again. I spent the entire afternoon convincing myself I was not cut out for this sport and that I should pursue running. Just running. For a little over an hour I waved my dreams goodbye. But I am proud that I finished. I am proud that I wasn’t lapped, that I gritted my teeth and got the job done. Having a VCD attack in the water has been my greatest nightmare, and it came to reality. I know what to do when it happens on the run and bike, but not when I’m in a body of water surrounded by thrashing bodies all trying to swim forward, sometimes on top of one another, clawing, scratching, kicking and pulling. I’m proud that I stuck it out. Watching my competition swim away from me was the most sickening, defeating and demoralizing feeling. I was overwhelmed with disappointment and knew my race was over, but it wasn’t. My first ever draft-legal race is in the books. Here’s to a better one, because, despite what I’ve been saying all weekend, I’ll probably be doing it again.
Olympic Distance nondrafting race
Original Race plan:
Swim: hard and fast
Bike: Get into position and stay there; don’t be comfortable
Run: Find my stride and put down the hammer
Pre-race/Swim warm-up: I was so incredibly nervous going into the swim. I just didn’t want a repeat of the day before. Anything but a repeat of the day before. I was in Wave 2 – the middle wave, and hopefully the less violent in the water wave. In the swim warm-up, I swam all out to get myself ready for the start. I changed my game plan: survive the swim. Just survive it. Your race will start after the swim.
Swim: I started toward the back and side of the group, out of the way so I wouldn’t get pummeled. I kept my distance and tried to find an empty spot where I wouldn’t be pushed under. I focused on my breathing and keeping it consistent. I didn’t spot much until I found a place in the pack. I followed this pack, and took the swim piece by piece. Make it to the shadow of the first bridge, good. Now get through the bridge, even better. Pass this girl and then make it to the next bridge. Great. Bit by bit I managed the swim. I was in a pack of girls, and the safety boat and kayaks led us to the wrong buoy. They started yelling at us to first go to the other buoy. I had to swim an additional 200 meters to get from the buoy they led us to, to the buoy on the right, and then back to the original buoy we first arrived at. It was frustrating. But I kept calm, maintained my stroke and remembered the time I swam an extra half-mile in a race because there were no buoys. I swam on and kept at pace. I was deep in my comfort zone, but after the previous day’s race that was okay. I just had to survive it. Just survive it. One bridge at a time I came to the final turn and finished in the second pack, behind the lead pack of my wave. I felt very comfortable and relieved I finished.
T1: The transition area was huge, and I wasn’t running as fast as I should have been. I didn’t have trouble finding my bike amidst the 1200 something bikes, but I did have trouble getting my bike shoes on again. I need to work on my mounts.
Bike: I passed a lot of girls on the bike and paying close attention to where I was in comparison to the other girls. I took the turns really slow, with the new bike I wasn’t sure what it could handle. The bike was WONDERFUL. HOLLAH FOR FELT BICYCLES. It rode so smoothly, was the perfect size, I was completely comfortable and felt like it was made just for me. I just wanted to keep riding. The ride went by fast, faster than I had anticipated (last season every ride took ages), but I wasn’t sure how hard to go with a run up next. I never know how hard to push on the bike. Should I push the envelope, put down the hammer, or consciously save some for the run. This time around I pushed it. I still don’t know where my limit is on the bike, but I know I wasn’t there. Being a runner, riding is a bit of a gray area. I need to learn to navigate my riding. (Mental note: this is a season goal). I didn’t drink any water, which was dumb on my part. I was afraid to reach for the bottle because I had never used a cage there on a TT bike before. That and I’m afraid of bikes. They just scare me.
T2: Again, forewent the socks, which may have been a mistake. But I’m pretty good at running through minor pains like blisters, so it wasn’t a huge issue and they’ve already healed pretty well (all seven of them…). The dismount was anything but graceful, and I was slipping and sliding around on my cleats. I must work on transitions (Another mental note: this is a goal).
Run: I couldn’t find my stride at all during the run. It was so close to clicking at the beginning, and throughout the first mile; I was on the verge of feeling that fantastic snap where it all falls into place, but it never came. It just deteriorated mile by mile. It didn’t help that I could not figure out for the life of me how on earth we got to the other side of the lake and to the finish. I had examined the course beforehand, but I still had trouble believing that it was a mere 6 miles away. The nearest bridge was a speckle on the horizon. And how was that water stop so far away on the opposite side of the lake. I was confused. After the first turn around I started to get into a decent clip and was passing quite a few girls. No one passed me on the run; I just passed them. But I knew I wasn’t going very fast. Around mile 4 or 4.5 my legs became lead, and the previous day’s work hit me. I was just running toward the finish, that’s all I wanted. To be done. I still could not figure out how I was supposed to reach the finish line within 1.5 miles, which created a hefty mental barrier. In the last mile I didn’t feel too well, and running became really laborious. In the last half mile I felt out of it mentally and physically and somewhat lightheaded. I should have drank water during the ride. As I neared the finish it took everything I had to get down the chute. I had no idea if someone was behind me or not, I just wanted to finish. Once I did I must have not looked too hot, because the volunteers made me hold onto them until I appeared steady. I was speechless for a while. But it was done.
It was not what I expected. I’ve been humbled and realized I have a lot of work to do, but I’m excited and ready to do it. I’ve also realized that I am young (a lot of the competitors were 24-27 years old, some over 28), and have time on my side. This weekend has left me with some better direction for the season and for my training. One weekend of racing down.