Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Olympic Distance Triathlon Race Report

July 11th, 2010 I would be attempting something that I had never tried before. I would be attempting an Olympic Distance Triathlon. That means I would be swimming .9 miles, biking 24.2 miles and running a 10k (6.2 miles). This was another rung I needed to climb on my ladder to the Ironman Distance.

I had some challenges leading up to this race. I had taken a family vacation from July 19th-July 5th. We got home around midnight July 5th, so as you can tell I only had 6 days until my triathlon. On my trip I did what I could. I ran almost everyday and once I was in Southern California I went swimming at the local YMCA. I did what I could, but I was still on vacation. I was not on my regular sleeping schedule and wasn't able to eat like I really wanted to. On top of all that I had gotten sick early on in my vacation and was still feeling the affects of that after getting home. Wednesday, July 7th, I was hit bad with a cough and wheezing. I knew going into this race it would be tough, but I had trained. I had done all the distances, so I knew that I could do it and finish. I just wasn't sure at this point how well I could do it.

The good thing about doing this distance for the first time is that I had no time to try and beat, so that took pressure off of me. If you are an athlete of any kind, you know that once you have a time, you want to beat it the next time around. I was glad that wasn't the case for me this time. A few people asked me, "what was my time goal for the whole race" and honestly I hadn't set one. I was thinking in the back of my head that I would like to finish it in 4 hours, but really I just wanted to finish.

Since starting to get sick on Wednesday I really rested and did whatever I could to feel better before race day. I was feeling pretty good the day before the race, so I decided to go ahead and do it. I got plenty of sleep and woke up on schedule. I ate my pre-race breakfast of Oatmeal and some fruit. Packed up my gear in the car and headed out. I thought I would feel nervous, but wasn't yet. My coach had told me when I felt nervous to think of it as excitement rather than nerves, so that is what I was doing. I cranked up Black Eyed Peas "Imma B." I have changed some of the words to make it a triathlon song, so I was cranking that and singing my new lyrics (and no I will not post that here), then came "Ive Got a Feeling." That was cranked when I pulled into the parking lot. Instead of singing, "I've got a feeling that tonight's gonna be a good night" I was singing, "I've got a feeling that today's gonna be a good day." I was in the zone of positive thinking, smiling at everyone I met as I approached transition and was feeling great as I approached transition to get set up.

I got all set up and ready to go. This is the first race where I was signed up as an Athena. That is a division where all the women athletes weigh 150 pounds or more. When I got the the rack to set up it was obvious that I was well over 150 pounds. That started to play games with me mentally, but then I stopped my negative talk and knew that I earned my spot on that rack like the rest of them. I had trained, I had lost weight, I had every right to be there as the thinnest athlete. I was not going to let those negative thoughts get the better of me and I didn't. I finished setting up and it was time to get my timing chip and body marked.

I knew my Masters Swim Coach, Marsha, was volunteering so I went and found her before getting my timing chip and body marked. I found her. She was so supportive and encouraging before the race. It was so great to have her out there. She reminded me that I had swam the distance before, that I could do it and said some other stuff that I don't remember. Marsha has really been there for me through really learning how to swim. In my first Masters Swim class I couldn't swim 25 yards without stopping and even had a panic attack that class. Marsha talked me through it all and here I was about to swim a mile in a triathlon with her there. It was great!! I got my timing chip and by that time Darlene was there and setting up her transition area. When she was done we got body marked together. It's always great when we can do a race together. We may not see each other on the course, but knowing she is out there is a great feeling of support.

Next up, the waiting game. We were in wave 5 of 9 waves. The race started around 7am and we were in the water at 717 I believe. I got to see my family before the race. It was so great to have them there for me. Parker was upset because he was at summer camp. When he got home one of the first things he said was, "Mom, I need to see your triathlon pictures." That meant a lot to me. Here is Dar and I before the race waiting by the lake for our wave to start.

We headed to the beach after this to line up and wait for our wave to go when I heard my name. Four of my friends from Weight Watchers had come to watch me race. The nice thing about this race was it was in Lake Zurich, IL. That is literally 10 minutes from my house and the same town where I go to Weight Watchers and workout at the YMCA, so quite a few people came to cheer me on. It was an amazing feeling to see so many people out there for me. I said hi to them and then went and lined up. That's when the nerves hit me. I hadn't done to much lake swimming in preparation and now that I could see the buoys and how far it looked I started doubting myself and wondering why the heck I thought I could do this. Next up wave 5. I pushed any negative thoughts out, hugged Dar, told her to have fun, told myself that, and then BOOM, we were off.

I started off in a good rhythm, but it was hard to sight because of swimming right into the sun, but I was able to make it to the first buoy without anything too exciting happening. I had to stop a few times to get my bearings, but then would get on my way again. My breathing was off and it was hard, but I knew I could do it. I turned around the first buoy and was going and then BAM, I had major cramping in my right foot. Had stopped to stretch it out and continued to swim, only using my arms. I was thankful for all the swim practice with the pull buoys. However, it was at this point that I was trying to hack up a lung. I mean, really, who needs both lungs while swimming. Seriously, at this point when I was swimming along, stroke, stroke, hack, hack, breathing, repeat. I knew it was going to be a long day, but then there I was in the water, at this point not sure if I was the last swimmer, but knew I was close, I heard someone yelling, "You've got this Melissa, keep going." It was a fellow Master Swimmer. He was one of the support crew in a kayak. For the rest of the swim, every time I breathed to my right I could see him along side of me. It was great and I was very thankful for his support and encouragement at this point. It is just what I needed right at that moment. I also could see the many boats at this point, so figured I was the last person out there. Here is a picture of all the boats that were following me. You can see my little head in there somewhere.

The shore was getting closer and closer and I couldn't have been happier. Here I am getting out of the water. I had lots of friends and my family there waiting for me. I saw someone from the YMCA, my swim coach, my family, and my weight watcher friends. It was amazing. It took me an hour to finish the swim.

Once I was out of the water I headed into transition. As I was running to transition, which was about 1/4 of a mile swim, I started wheezing, almost hyperventilating, and crying a little. Marsha was running along side me, encouraging me, telling me what a great job I did, telling me I could do it, reminding me I was just on vacation, and not feeling well. SHe also told me to slow down and that i could walk to transition, but I didn't want to walk and am proud to say I jogged the whole way to tranistion.

I could see Tricia out of the corner of my eye running besides me and I made sure to tell her that I was ok. I knew I was, but I just needed to regroup. Later I found out that my friend Sharon, from the YMCA, was also running next to me. She and I have become fast friends and it was great to see her while I was in transition about to head out on my bike. I headed into transition and really was trying to catch my breath and calm down. I was told heading into transition that I was not the last swimmer, but once I hit transition I knew that was a lie as I was the last bike in the whole area. I was able to transition more quickly than I thought and got my bike and headed out of there. Here I am heading out on my bike.

My breathing was now under control and I was on my way. I started biking and knew that it was going to be a challenge pretty much out of the gate. What was nice was even though I was last out of the water there were still people out on the bike for the second loop. It was nice to be back by other athletes.

I was getting a good pace going and then all of the sudden it was like my legs had been set in cement and the cement was starting to set. I was approximately at mile 10 when this happened. I tried to get up out of the saddle to stretch my legs out and my arms were like jelly. I guess all the swimming I did without my legs took its toll on my arms. I have never had arm fatigue on a bike ride before. This route was more hilly than I had anticipated and there was no way for me to be out of the saddle on the hills due to the fatigue in my arms and legs. I had never had this happen before and it was at this point I knew the reat of the bike was going to be tough. All of this was happening between mile 10-12 on the bike.

I was approaching a group of volunteers that were yelling. There job was to tell people whether or not they needed to do another loop or head into transition. There was a little miscommunication and I was sent towards transition. I realized it very quickly, vented my frustration out loud, turned around and headed back for my second loop.

I headed out on my second loop, all by myself, and that’s when the mind games started. What was I thinking doing this? You think you can do an Ironman? Did you see how big you were compared to the other athletes? Right away I squished those thoughts because I realized how amazing I was. I knew I could do this. I know that I will be able to do an Ironman, and I yelled at myself, out loud, to shut up. I hadn’t thought of quitting up to this point and wasn’t going to start. I knew that this second loop would be a battle, but I just kept telling myself to keep peddling and stay positive.

Right after I had this conversation with myself I realized I wasn’t alone anymore. I had my very own police escort. At first this pissed me off and on one of the first, very tiny hills I came to I hear this voice coming from the motorcycle, “Come on just push it. Push harder.” At this point I must admit I really didn’t want the cop coaching me. I was pushing it as hard as I could and I didn’t need him making me feel worse than I was already feeling.

I decided if he kept it up I would tell him kindly, to shut up, but what ended up happening is that he was so encouraging the rest of the bike. He asked me my name. He cheered me on. He kept me going on those hills. Not only did I not tell him to shut up, but when he got quiet I asked him to keep cheering. Marty, my police guardian angel, is a HUGE part of why I finished. We made it through the bike and he sat at the edge of transition while I got ready to run. I came in off the bike. I could hardly walk at this point, almost fell over in transition. People were there, collecting their gear and rooting for me. I didn’t see my family at this point, but saw a friend from Weight Watchers cheering me on. Later she told me, “When I saw you getting off the bike and getting ready to run I knew there was no way I would have ever done that. I would have laid down at that point and cried.” It was great to have here there cheering me on. I did the bike in 2 hours.

I headed out on the run. My legs wobbling and feeling like they were ready to give out at any moment. It was going to be the biggest challenge, mentally, that I had ever faced in my life. Marty was right there cheering me on. At one point he had to go get gas so someone named, Bob, was there on a bike riding along with me, encouraging me. I told Bob as he was about to bike away, “Please keep the finish line open for me. I need to cross that finish line.” He told me he would see what he could do.

The run was hot, it was hard, and honestly looking back on it, I don’t remember much about it. I was doing the walk, kind of jog, shuffle, walk, routine. Marty came back and was again cheering me on. At one point we were talking while I was walking and it turns out that Marty does Marathons as a charity runner, so was determined to see me to the finish line.

There was a nice lady somewhere along the route that came out and greeted me and said just around the corner they had a sprinkler set up and that she would be there cheering me on. She also told me she was one of the Kayak people out in the water and that she was cheering for me all day. Sure enough when I got around the corner, there she was with a cowbell I believe and a sprinkler. It was so refreshing and just what I needed at that moment. God really knows what we need, when we need it, even when we don’t know what we need or what to ask for. Pretty cool.

Around mile 4 Bob came back on his bike and told me he didn’t think he could keep the finish line open for me. I only had 2.2 miles left and that is not what I needed to hear at that moment. I burst into tears and told him, “I needed a finish line.” He biked ahead, I plugged along, but at this point I was just hysterically sobbing. I think it was just from the whole day and knowing how hard I fought. At that point I didn’t even need to have an official time. I just needed a chute and a finish line. I just mentally could not come back into that park to no finish line. At that point though I knew there was nothing left to do, but keep plugging along and get to the park and see my friends and family.

I knew it would be harder if I kept crying so I remembered what a couple of my triathlete friends had told me in the past, “Suck it up Buttercup.” So, that is what I did. I sucked it up, stopped crying like a girl, and dug in to get this race finished. Whether or not there would be a finish line I knew I was finishing what I had started almost 5 hours earlier.

Bob came back up on his bike and told me they would have a finish line for me. I was so happy. Marty was still there cheering me along and then at some point before mile 5 a lady volunteer asked if I minded her running with me. I told her I didn’t mind, but didn’t know how much I would be able to talk. She said that was fine. At one point she asked me something so funny I almost burst out laughing, but really didn’t have the energy to do so. She asked me, “So what pace are you running at? I don’t want to slow you down or mess up your pace?” How sweet is that? I just smiled and said, “I’m on pace to finish.”

We turned a corner and it was home stretch to head back into the park and finish. I have people honking from their cars, Marty on my right and look up and who is coming towards me, but my husband, daughter, a friend, and my coach. Coach was on his bike asked me how I was doing. I answered, “Coach it was tough out there today.” He said he would meet me back at the finish line.

My daughter, Keith, and friend Siren were there to see me to the finish line. The next thing I know there is another cop pulling up and she handed me Body Glide and said, “This is from your friend, Darlene, in case you need it.” At that point I did need it. Keith got this great picture of me and Marty as I was coming into the finish line.

I was heading into the park, very emotional, and ready to finish strong. From what I hear it was quite the fanfare I had with the police escorts and all. I look up and there are about 20 people holding flags, so I would have a chute to run through. These were family members, my coach, weight watcher friends, Darlene was there, Darlene's family, and people I didn't even know that waited for me to finish. It was amazing and something I will soon not forget. They were all there for me, cheering me on, encouraging me on in my journey.

The run took me a total of 2 hours to complete. Every step I was in pain, but every step I knew I could do it and finish. I learned a lot out there about myself. I learned that no matter what I will finish something I started. In my wildest dreams I would have never put myself at the starting line of an Olympic Distance Triathlon. I would have never dreamed even a few years ago that I would have accomplished what I did out there. It was the biggest mental challenge of my life. It was the biggest physical challenge of my life so far. I had easy childbirths, so yes, this was harder then having kids. I overcame the mental battle and completed the physical battle. For someone who was once 306.2 pounds this was a huge accomplishment for me. I never once thought of quitting and that, too, is huge. I had every reason too, everyone would have understood, but it never even crossed my mind.

Another aspect that came out during this race is all the people that care about me on my journey. ALl the people that are there cheering me on. Before race day I had all kinds of wishes on my phone, emails, facebook. I had people at the start line, that probably had better things to do that day then to get up on a weekend at 7am to see me off. The finish line is something I will never forget. I had people from all walks of my life out to cheer me on. Here is a couple pictures of everyone that was there for me at the end. This doesn't count all the people there for me throughout the day. It was this support that really showed me how much my life and what I am doing is touching other people's lives and for that I am truly grateful. I hope that through my determination and courage and I can inspire someone else to get off the coach and do great things with their lives.

One thing that I love that my coach often says is, "this is an opportunity for greatness. Are you going to accept this opportunity?" July 11, 2010 was a tough day for me. I had everything working against me from the swim to the finish line, but I accepted the opportunity of greatness and had a great day out there. People worried that this would make me feel negative about triathlons. The opposite happened. It has made me even more on fire to hit my weight loss goals as soon as I can, get as fit as I can, and kick some booty out there next year. Next year, is the year I am slated to do a Half Ironman and a marathon. I'm very excited and say, "BRING IT ON." This triathlon showed me how mentally strong I am and I cannot wait to catch up physically.

Three days after the Triathlon I was diagnosed as having severe bronchitis and a bad sinus infection. I was told I probably shouldn't have done the triathlon by my doctor. Obviously, he doesn't know triathletes very well. :-) I am not able to workout for two weeks now. I just finished my 1 week working out and am still wheezing and coughing, so it is one more week of rest then I am back at the gym and get the next chapter in my journey started.

Here are my official times for the day. In my mind these times really don't matter. I finished a hard race and learned a lot about myself in the process. That's official enough for me, but I know all my tri friends like the numbers, so here you go.

Swim 1:01:48 T1 6:00 Bike 2:03:35 T2 2:30 Run 1:53:49 - Total Time 5:07:4


M said...

great race report M.

there were so many times that a lesser athlete would have quit, would have let those thoughts lead them right to a DNF - but not you. no matter what that clock said, you finished - you finished what you started out to do.

every time we tackle a new distance in this sport it is a learning experience - we never quite know how our bodies will react each time we push it to new lengths. so consider that day a learning experience, a block upon which you will continue to build your Ironman house.

well done M.

Melissa said...

I love and appreciate you so much M. Thanks for these encouraging words. HUGS!!

Smarticles said...

You are amazing. All day long I was praying for you, that God would send his Angels to be with you. Of course, He did! Thank you for sharing your story.

Bob Mitera said...

You were pretty sick. You are a faster swimmer than that and your next international distance race there is no doubt you can knock some serious time off.

More work to be done. We'll be taking the next step as soon as you are well.

Siren said...

I couldn't be more proud of you! I was so happy I could be there to cheer you on to your big finish, and I can't wait to see what you can do when you're not sick!

Shelley Moore said...

You had me in tears reading your race report! I think I mentioned on your last post that we are on similar journeys, and I'm training for my first Olympic distance on Aug. 15th, and reading your post was like looking in the mirror... The last Sprint I did a couple of weeks ago was the longest Dprint so far, and I even screamed out loud at the hillls on the bike "YOU CAN"T BEAT ME"... Thank you so much for sharing your journey with me!

Melissa said...

Shelly, Please email me at or friend me on facebook. I would love to talk to you more. My name on facebook is Melissa Joy Bastian Black. I would love to get to know you better.

Keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

finding the inner strength to follow a dream is the hardest thing.

Toni said...

Great race report, and well done on getting to the finish. You rock!

Sara Cox Landolt said...

Oooh what excellent, beautiful race pictures! My favorites are of you and your friend standing pre-swim & showing off the race #'s. I love that pose!
Well done!

Team Brazo said...

Busy summer - so I haven't checked in lately. Read your race report.

AWESOME job!!! I'm so impressed that you kept it going and finished. That is all that matters - you started something and you finished it!

Great job!