It’s been 4 days since ITU Cross Tri Worlds when I thought I was going to have one of the best race results of my career, but actually turned out to be quite the opposite. Initially, I was sad, disappointed, frustrated and upset but now that I’ve had a few days, I’m still sad, but also a little worried and frustrated. I know I wrote a bit about my day already on social media, but thought that putting everything in writing would help me deal with the stress, self-doubt and other emotions that I’ve been having ever since.
*Years ago I had similar experiences with breathing trouble so the docs told me I had exercise induced asthma, but I’ve always doubted that diagnosis because the episodes have always been sporadic. I’ve had them all over the world in very diverse climates so I can’t link it to a particular environmental trigger and in the past few years I’ve only had a few incidents. If anyone has had similar experiences with trouble breathing and/or a very high heart rate or might have any suggestions, please send them my way. I really want to get to the bottom of it so I can get on with my training and racing and not worry about it anymore.
So here’s a little more detail about what happened on race day:
I went into the race with some of the best confidence I’ve ever had and truly believed that I was a contender for the top spot. When I started having difficulty breathing during the swim, I talked myself through it and managed to barely hang onto a little bit of draft with the lead girls. I came out of the water 4th and exited T1 in 3rd. I struggled a little to get my feet in my shoes on the bike and the Spanish U23 girl who was just in front of me out of the water got on my wheel. We rode together up the road and the KVR trail, initially taking turns pulling and drafting, before she decided to sit on my wheel and not take her pulls anymore. It made me kind of mad because I was still struggling to breathe and my HR was way too high and not settling into my normal sustainable range in the 160’s. I reminded myself to race my own race and not worry about her and I focused on gaining control of my breathing and finding a rhythm and pace that I could maintain. Unfortunately, my HR still wasn’t coming down and just before turning onto the single track portion of the climb (about 20:00 into the bike course), a pack of 3-4 other women caught and passed us so I knew we weren’t riding very strong. We promptly got on their draft and went with the group up the singletrack, but my breathing only got worse as the hill got steeper. My legs started to feel like they were becoming depleted and I had to slow down to try and recover but I didn’t feel like I was actually getting any recovery. Up to that point I was hellbent on pressing through it, just willing myself to keep focused and stay in the race, refusing to give in. But over 45 minutes into the bike course, my HR was still in the 180‘s and now my legs were giving out and I began to crack mentally too. I got frustrated and actually got off my bike. I thought that if I took a minute to just breathe and calm my body down, I could recover and get back in the race. I was having flashbacks to years ago when I had episodes like this and one of them took me out of the race at Xterra World Champs in Maui. I started up again when I thought I was ready but the HR and breathing went right back out of control. I rode for a few minutes, again trying to use my mental strength to power through but started wheezing and had to stop again. Now several women had passed me and I realized I wasn’t recovering and probably wouldn’t be able to get back into the race so I resigned myself to just finishing. It was a hard reality to face, but at that point I didn’t have much choice anymore; I was pedaling in such an easy gear that I was barely moving and my chest was still so tight I couldn’t get enough air in and my legs continued to deteriorate even further. I rode the downhill clean and with enough speed to catch a rider or two in front of me, but still lacked my normal power in the legs when it came to pedaling through some rocky, uphill sections scattered throughout the downhill that I had flown through on my course preview rides. Once back down on the KVR trail for the 5km back to T2, another small group of women came barreling by me. I got in their draft and used them to pull me along for a couple km’s, but once we made the turn onto the pavement up a real small hill, they accelerated and I couldn’t hang. I rode into T2 solo, took my time in transition, making sure to get all my gear into the box in order to avoid unnecessary penalties, then headed out on the run course at a much slower pace than my normal race effort. I was trying to keep my body in check, but when I hit the long, super steep climb my HR had returned to the 190’s and I was wheezing badly so I hiked to the top and began jogging again on the flat KVR trail. There were spectators along the KVR trail, giving general cheers and encouragement and when they told me I was “looking good” and “stay strong” I wanted to fire back “Oh please- there’s nothing strong about the way I’m going right now… this is so embarrassing, I should be DONE by now…” but I kept my mouth shut and just ran on, trying to maintain my composure and not burst into tears…until I finished that is. By then I couldn’t hold it in any longer and couldn’t help letting the tears fall when trying to talk about it; I was frustrated, disappointed, and downright mentally and emotionally fatigued. I couldn’t believe that what I had envisioned being my best day had turned into my worst. I was, and still am worried about why it happened and if it’s going to become another regular occurrence in the near future.
I took a couple days off to rest in hopes that my body would recover and reset back to normal. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and even wondered if I just got overly excited and went out too fast. Maybe the reality is that I’m just not as fit and strong as I thought I was and I have to re-think my race effort. I also thought that maybe I got too confident and when I got gapped from the lead girls on the bike I (subconsciously) began to panic? Did I crack under pressure? I don’t know…I looked at my Garmin file and my power numbers seemed to be right where they should have been and my HR average was 15 beats/minute higher than in previous races so I’m back to thinking that something is really going on physically.
Meanwhile, back at home and three days after the race I went out for the local drop ride. Right away as I warmed up to the meeting point I could feel my chest was still tight and I just didn’t feel right. I gave the ride a go anyway, thinking maybe I just needed to get good and warm and flushed out. Unfortunately as soon as we hit the first hill and my HR and oxygen demand increased, my chest was so tight my breathing went south again. My legs were fine so I wheezed through it and pulled myself back up to the group, but the next acceleration had me wheezing again and I dropped for good, realizing that my body was in no condition to go hard. Another wave of frustration, disappointment and worry… I continued riding in hopes that I still just needed time to flush something out, but didn’t seem to feel any better after nearly 2.5 hrs of riding. So now the worry is increasing and I’m wondering if I’m just over fatigued from the season of hard training, travel and other emotional upsets that have been lingering for a couple of months now. I’m going to take a few days off and hope that my body just needs some rest. It’s not ideal timing for having a peak performance in Utah at Pan Am Championships, but who knows, maybe losing a little fitness but being fully recovered will give me a little more mental energy to push myself harder come race day. So in the next few days I’m going to take the following steps: 1- try to get in with some doctors to see if there is something of physiological concern, 2- return to a more strict gluten free diet, (which I’ve been thinking about, maybe that is what helped clear up these issues when I was having them more frequently years ago), 3- deal with some other emotional stressors that I’ve been carrying around for a couple months, and lastly, let my body rest and recover.
Again, if anyone has any experience with this or advice about recovering from this mentally, please feel free to comment or send me a message!