Yesterday was like any other race day at the Boulder Rez. I rolled into the parking lot, unloaded my bike, and headed to the transition area with 700-some of my fellow athletes for the Without Limits Colorado Triathlon. As I was setting up my transition area, familiar faces kept popping up around me. Most were excited to be racing again after unseasonably cold temperatures and late spring freak snowstorm a few weeks earlier. It’s one of the things I enjoy about racing, is seeing friends from all over the front range convene in one place.
My goal for this race, to have fun. Pretty simple. After going through my pre-race prep, I headed down to the water for a quick warm up swim. The water was comfortably chilly. I swam for a few minutes in the athlete warm up area and couldn’t help noticing an unsettling feeling I haven’t experienced in a long time. Pre-race jitters? Maybe. I didn’t think anything of it and figured I’d be able to shake it off.
When my wave came up, I placed myself in the usual spot. Right in the middle along the buoy line. Again, so many familiar faces…and most of us with our fingers ready to push the start button on our Garmin devices. The horn went off and the kicking and thrashing around commenced.
As usual, my heart got a bit excited and I could feel the throb starting to increase in my chest. No big deal. As I made it out a bit further into the water I noticed that no matter what I did to try to calm down, breathing became extremely difficult and my chest started to tighten. I kept forging on, putting my head down in the water trying to settle into a rhythm. Still no success. I even laid on my back, which I hadn’t done for many many years. Heart still tightening and shortness of breath getting worse.
After a few minutes I could see my swim wave getting farther and farther away and the next wave behind me drawing closer. I knew if I continued on, it was going to be a huge struggle. In fact, the last time I felt this way was back in 2009 when I had my only DNF. That was the year I was diagnosed with a thyroid disease – Graves’ Disease. Although it’s managed pretty well, every so often my heart will start racing. During that race (Nations Triathlon), I experienced the same phenomenon. Shortness of breath coupled by increased heart rate topping in the 200 bpm range. After struggling for over 30 minutes, I called a jet ski over to take me out of the water. Later I was talking to a physician in our group who gave me a little bit of insight. Had I continued on, most likely my lungs would’ve filled up with fluid and heart failure would be imminent.
After 8 years that same feeling came back. I made the tough decision to call it a day and wave down a jet ski. I hopped onto the raft and got taken back to the loading dock. I felt so embarrassed but it was the right thing to do. Negative thoughts started to run through my head. How on earth could a 4-time IRONMAN finisher not finish a silly swim in a sprint distance triathlon? I love swimming in open water. Heck, I even did a race where I swam and ran from island to island in the northern Atlantic (Casco Bay Islands SwimRun). Even the race personnel on the dock looked at me as if I was a “newbie” who didn’t train.
The paramedics were gracious and took me back to the ambulance to measure my heart rhythm. After a few moments, they determined that I was all clear and what I experienced was a little tachycardia, just as I suspected. I gathered my pride and walked across the beach towards the transition area. When I saw my friend and race director, Lance Panigutti, he asked if I was okay and said if I felt fine was more than welcome to continue on with the bike and run. Okay, I’ll do just that.
Entering transition, I saw my friend and podcast co-host Rich Soares and told him what happened. He was so positive and encouraging. Even offered to go on a ride with me later. I decided I was going to “finish” the rest of the race to clear my head. The rest of the day, he was right there cheering me on as if I didn’t miss a beat.
As I was riding, I could feel the power in my legs come and go and taking stock of how my chest was feeling. I decided to take it easy and cheer on friends as they rode past me. It was good to get out and have the wind in my face. It was good to go really fast on the downhills. It was good just to be out there – grateful that I was able to get on my bike.
Transitioning to the run, I took my time trying to enjoy the rest of the race. Even stopped in the porto potty before heading out (Frank Samour would be proud!). I could’ve easily sulked in my own misery, but that would’ve been the worst thing to do. With every familiar face I saw I high-fived and shouted words of encouragement…and with that my “race”day started to turn around. It was fun again…and that’s what it’s all about. Having fun.
Coming through the end of the run was the obligatory finish line slip ‘n slide. And so I ended my day by jumping onto my belly and landing in a pool of water. Not too shabby.
As most triathletes are typical Type-A (some Type A-holes, ha), we have a tendency pick apart and analyze every situation figuring out ways to improve, etc. Rather than waste my energy doing that, I figured it was not my day. Even talking to a few friends, they said to me “you have nothing to prove” and “there will always be other races.” One even said “any day we can race is a good day.” They were right. So thank you to all my friends who were out there yesterday with all your encouragement and support. Just when I thought I was “done” with this sport, looks like I’ll have a redemption race in the future.