desert carnage

I’m not sure whether being in Kona for the biggest to-do in the sport of triathlon is the worst or the best place to be after your your first DNF (“did not finish”). I could be jealous watching everyone parade down Ali’i in the shape of their lives; or, I could be thankful to be in the company of exactly the people I need right now: those who’ve been through numerous battles and setbacks of their own. I’ve only been here a few days, and am already feeling more positive. I’ll go with the latter.

I’ve already put it out there publicly (maybe too much so) but here it is again, maybe more for my own sake than anyone else’s: On Sunday I attempted to race Ironman 70.3 Silverman, and dropped out at mile four of the run. Sometimes you just have to look something in the face. So here it is, my first DNF.

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The trip had all the makings of success. And in many ways it was: A condo full of training partners and friends, plus my parents who flew down for the occasion. (And of course, the bike-packing, party bus driving, sherpa-ing husband.) Good results from everyone else rounded out the weekend, and my friends’ happiness helps ease the sting of my own race.

Silverman 70.3

On a pre-ride with the gang Saturday.

Given my recent condition post-esophageal injection, I probably shouldn’t have been racing. Or at least, probably shouldn’t have been expecting to run fast, as I’d been doing in training up until the procedure. But I was signed up and wanted to give it a shot. In retrospect, I should be ecstatic with my result given how badly things had been going the week leading up to the race.

It was a slow swim overall, but surprisingly I was right there in the mix of the top swimmers in my AG, aside from some ridiculously fast 28:05-er. I felt satisfied with my 34:25, given a) how uncomfortable swimming has been since the injection, and b) the fact that I opted not to wear a wetsuit in the high-70 degree water. Lake Mead offers a beautiful, clean swim, and it was refreshing to swim sans wetsuit and just really feel the water.

Happy at the start, with my crew.

Onto the bike, I felt remarkably comfortable. The eventual winner of my AG and I rode almost the exact same time–if I’d finished, I would’ve ended up with the third fastest bike split in my group. That felt good. The course, though strikingly beautiful and smooth, was more challenging than anyone had anticipated. (Magali, the women’s pro winner, rode a 2:41, for perspective.)

Felt comfier than usual on my Cannondale Slice. (Thanks for the fit, Keith!)

I got off the bike and ran an 8:15 mile before the chest monster took over. Deep breathing became impossible, and I started walking. Friends passed with kind words. Aid station volunteers said everything they’d been told to, and fellow athletes offered salt tabs. I wanted to see the whole course, so I ran/walked both out-and-backs, eventually succumbing to tears around mile four. Another first. When I saw Mark, he called me over and said one simple sentence: “Jenny you don’t have to do this.” That was all I needed, and I collapsed in his arms.

I laid down on my back in a patch of shade, and Mark gently talked me through it, putting everything in perspective. My parents rubbed my salty legs, and I eventually stopped crying. I got up and headed to the finish line to cheer for a pile of friends, all of whom raced well on a tough course in hot conditions.

A bleary-eyed DNF-er and a bright-eyed finisher! My columnist and friend, Ryan.

Photo by Katya, who came up with term “carnage.”

Over beer and pizza and ice cream, we relaxed and celebrated. We talked about disappointments, as much a part of this sport as doing laundry and pumping tires. I thought about why I’d been so emotional on the course, why the tears had been so weirdly uncontrollable. It had been a mix of frustration and pure sadness that I simply can’t do what I love right now. And I guess the thought that it might always be this way was just too much for me in the weakness of the moment.

Fun around the palace, with some of my favorite people.

The next morning, the party bus left to return to San Diego, and my parents and I headed to Red Rocks Canyon. It was quiet, remote, and beautiful—a good place to get perspective. Then I introduced them to the simple joys of In n’ Out burgers, and was on my way to Kona for my fifth rodeo at the Ironman World Championship.

Playing tourists at Red Rocks preserve.

Stripes and silhouettes.

Training-wise, I’m in limbo. I’d been training hard, making improvements, and hungry to race. Now, the thought of doing Ironman Arizona in five weeks seems ridiculous. Running and swimming for even 30 minutes hurts. I have no appetite, and I’m losing the drive that’s so essential to racing Ironman. The flip side is that I’m in an experimental phase, so why not head to an accessible race and test out the treatment again, which may have not even really kicked in yet?

Over dinner last night, one of my friends (and Nytro teammates) said something wise: “I think you already know what you’re going to do, you just have to uncover it.” I’ve been absorbing all kinds of new advice (from stomach bacteria to racing too hard), genuine empathy, and distractions I can while here on the Big Island. Because underneath the lean, veinous bodies are a bunch of people just like me—who know what it’s like to chase hard.

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