Monday, May 10, 2010

It was the best of times & worst of times-The Gulf Coast Tri

May 8th, 2010 had had a huge red circle around it since January...and here it was...the day I had a lot of hopes riding on. At the beginning of the year, it was the weight loss goal date for Ironman. When we realized a scheduling conflict with my husband's 25th college reunion would keep me from racing Ironman in 2010, May 8th became my A race date. When knee surgery kept me from completing the entire half ironman race, it became the date that two friends would come to my aid to help me at least participate in one of my favorite races.

Along with the incredible support of Mike and Vi Auld, Rebecca Babb and Sandi Fuller got up early Saturday morning and headed down to the transition area to set gear and get body marked. As we awoke, I made a beeline to the balcony and, to my shock, the weather had changed dramatically overnight. Even in the dark, I could see the whitecaps beyond the surfline and felt a very strong wind. It was gonna be a challenge today.

We returned to the room after setting gear, ate some breakfast and waited. I hate the waiting. It puts my stomach in knots. Since we were a relay team, that put us in the last wave leaving the beach at 715am. It also meant a rougher sea. I watched from the balcony to see how the other swimmers were handling the conditions. As I watched the professionals getting pushed off course and crossing the timing mat 5 to 9 minutes slower than usual, I knew...I was in for a difficult task.

Finally... I am on the beach, gun goes off and I hit the water. The temperature is perfect but you could feel that the sea was disorganized and messy. There was no rhyme or reason to the wave cycle and it made breathing and being consistent in my stroke nearly impossible.

Getting to the first turn buoy at the end of the first leg of the counter clockwise course took FOREVER. The support teams seemed to be having a hard time staying upright in their kayaks let alone being able to help swimmers. I was all over the place and I don't usually have a problem siteing but the buoys going out on the course were GREEN...and so was the water. Oh Lord, I thought, I gotta make this cut off.

I finally made it around the first turn buoy and didn't dare look at my watch. Working against the current, I made it to the other side of the course and the second turn. It was only then that I looked at my watch in absolute horror. 40 minutes ! WHAT!? A wave slapped me in the face and I ingested enough seawater to make me a little ill. For a single second I thought I was going to need some help. I composed myself with a few breast strokes and got back to the task of swimming.

The current pushed me so far off course that I ended up siteing the condo building instead of the buoys. I decided it would be
easier just to go to shore and run up the beach than to try to go against the current and get back to the buoys. I would later find out that I was not alone in this issue. Over 3 dozen swimmers ended up running up the beach to get to the swim exit.

I got nervous and started looking at my watch too much and the negative thoughts came pouring in. Finally I screamed underwater, DON'T GIVE UP!! It became my mantra as I headed into shore....Don't give up..don't give up...don't give up.

As I finally made it to land, I broke into a run up the beach. Three steps in, my knee reminded me that I was 3 weeks post op from surgery and I was in agony. Walking on pavement had become easy. Running on sand was brutal.

I looked at my watch....I was 2:30 minutes from the cut off as I headed towards the timing mats. I looked like a woman possessed as I struggled to the timing mat. I looked at the official and said "Im on time...I made it..." She must have thought I was insane because I was determined to get by her without her stopping me. Apparently, I WAS on time...they had allotted an extra 5 minutes to the swim cut off due to the conditions. I stepped on the mat at a time that I thought was past the cut off, but I had 4 minutes and 45 seconds to spar. I turned around and looked behind me and saw swimmers still coming in!! Oh my god, Im not last!!!

Up the sand I went, knee screaming at this point to stop. I was focused on getting to the relay tent and handing off the chip to Rebecca to get her on the road. The skies were dark and I was afraid that the rain was coming. The sooner she was out there, the sooner I would know she was back and ok.

As I made it through the tunnel, Rebecca screamed with joy!!! I am sure she thought that I was NOT going to make the cut off. I told her I had made a date with her and I don't stand up my dates!! I took the chip off and collapsed on the ground . She wanted to help me and I just said GO GIRL...and off she went for 56 miles of wind on the bike course.

Volunteers are angels with wings. Two came to my aid and helped me to a bench where I could put my knee up. They got ice to try to get the swelling down on my knee so I could make it back to the condo. I got out of transition and hobbled to the side of the road with Mike's help. Vi and Sandi were already there waited for Rebecca to make the small loop that circled back in front of us before the longer section of the bike course. She pasted us with good speed and a smile and we headed up to the room to wait for her return.

My knee was not happy with the sandy run but after a bit of a nap, it felt dramatically better. A hot shower, a little to eat and I was golden. I grabbed Mike's cane that he let me borrow as a fail safe and after 2.5 hours of waiting, we headed back to transition.

We waited..and worried. There was word of a crash with a number close to our 1149 team number. We waited some more..and worried. Rebecca arrived exhausted but smiling after a windy 56 miles with a touch of rain to make it interesting. She tagged up with an impatient Sandi who couldn't wait to get to the run. So began the worry for Sandi as she started her run close to the middle of the day.

As fates would have it, the sun came blazing out as Sandi started her run earning this 13.1 miles the Gulf Roast..instead of the Gulf Coast. We got Rebecca back up to the room where she took a cool bath and relaxed. She shook her head at me as we headed upstairs saying "Melissa..I don't know how you do this....all three events at once...its seriously tough!!!"

I once again closed my eyes for a quickie nap but before I knew it, it was time to run across the finish line with Sandi. Mike had headed out on the course to let us know when she was a mile out. It was a good thing too. It seems some of the volunteers had left their posts early and she didn't have much encouragement in those last two miles...but you gotta love Mike...he is always there with a smile and a cheer.

Rebecca, Vi and I waited impatiently at the finish line for Sandi's arrival. In the distance, we finally saw her...with incredibly perfect form considering the conditions running down Thomas Drive. She was hot but she gave us a wave and a smile (and some other gestures that are very hard to describe...Ill show you sometime!!) and we all three headed towards the finish line!!! All smiles for the camera and a cold beer for Sandi (we promised after 13 miles we would have a beer waiting) and it was time to celebrate.

Did we win any awards?? Nope! Just a finishers medal that we would learn later is actually a bottle opener (Im not really sure how I feel about that...)..but no prizes for us. Our times were horrible but I guarantee you...we had the MOST FUN of any team on the course. When returning to the room and our view of the ocean, I cried. How blessed am I to have friends who would step up and take on this challenge with me. How even more lucky am I to have friends who will travel 6 hours to support our efforts. I swear...this race brought me back to center again and reminded me...this sport is suppose to be fun and not all pressure. On this was about teamwork...and joy...and celebration...and laughter...but above all...for reminded me of why I got into this sport. Its a medal I will cherish the most because me friends helped me when I couldn't do it alone.

Another amazing life experience for the books...I am so incredibly lucky.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Back to the scene of the crime

You would think I would hate this place...but, Lord help me I love it here...

Greetings from Panama City own personal crucible. I have had some great moments here. I have had others that broke my heart. There were moments on this beach where I thought about giving up my dream of become an Ironman but its just not in my nature to walk away for a goal such as this. I may be taking the year to get my body in order, but this place...this goal...this dream is alive and well in me.

The sun is rising over the beach. I am perched out on the balcony of my condo at the Boardwalk Beach Resort overlooking the swim course of the Gulf Coast Triathlon that starts tomorrow. It will be a unique race for me as I participate in a relay team. I will only be doing the 1.2 mile swim because of my knee surgery. Its hard to walk around and watch the race preparation unfold but I am excited for my friends who have stepped up to be on the Team Tri Hard Half Ironman Relay Team.

Once I exit the water, Ill be tagging up with my friend Rebecca Babb. She is a 20's something up and coming triathlete with a positive attitude and a lot of talent. She has had her share of bumps in the road but she is strong and eager to do well in this race. She and I raced at the Nation's Triathlon last year for Team in Training and she blistered the course with her speed on the bike and run. She is famous in Orlando for wearing her purple tutu to 5k races or stashing her superhero cape in transition to compliment her outfit on the run of a triathlon. This is JUST the type of person I need on my team...determined...but doesn't tae it all too seriously.

As Rebecca completes her 56 mile bike, she will tag up with one of my dearest friends, Sandi Fuller. Sandi has been doing marathons and half marathons with me for over 5 years. We have enjoyed a beer standing in the surf at Virginia Beach after numerous half marathons and braved the race elements in cities like Nashville, Tampa, and Cocoa . Sandi is fast and naturally talented so when we suggested this relay she was thrilled. It will be her first time participating in a triathlon and her first triathlon medal.

So with a little help from my friends, I will complete this race. My only fear is getting up the sand on the beach to the transition area....and...of course, I have the fear of not making the cut off. The relay wave is the final wave of the day at 715am...I have until 825am to complete. My average time in the swim is from 55 minutes to 1 I should be ok...but i always worry...ALWAYS!!

As I sip my coffee and look out of this beautiful water (which right now has not been touch by the oil spill near Louisiana), my mind can't help thinking about that day in 18 months when I will be crossing a finish line and achieving a dream...

Ill keep you posted on the race tomorrow...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Believe..and you will achieve

Its the quote I tell my Team Tri Hard athletes over and over again. On Saturday morning, over 200 swimmers, triathletes and general fitness enthusiasts decended on Lucky's Lake to complete the 1K open water swim. Swimming at Dr. Meishenheimer's home on LIttle Lake Cane in Orlando has become the stuff of national radio and T.V. spots and famous the world over as the place for triathletes to get a good open water workout in.

My athletes were a little hesitant but over the last few weeks, they all have completed the Open Water Swim. Once you complete the get the honor of putting your signature on the wall (or ceiling) of Dr. Lucky's Pool area. He also gives you a patch and a bumper sticker to celebrate your accomplishment.

All my athletes had jumped this hurdle (some of them on their own the day after my knee surgery) except for one. Ethan..or as we call her "Ethee" has become a solid cyclist and runner over the last few weeks...but the water just isn't her strong event. She struggles with breathing and sometmes gets nervous just doing her workouts in the pool. Lucky's Lake was the ultimate challenge.

She had entered the lake on the weekend when I was not there but did not do the crossing. She made it to the first or second buoy and returned to the dock to cheer on her teammates. Today, it was my goal to help Ethee see that she could accomplish this goal....See it...Believe it...Achieve it!!

With over 200 people enter the water, my group hung back to give way to the super fast swimmers. We stepped onto the small beach and past the plaster alligators that Lucky has placed on next to his dock. A few of my athletes were a little unnerved by the reminder that...this is a Florida never know!!

Ethee and I enter the water together. She was wearing a SwimSafe belt (an floatation device that can be inflated if an emergency arises) provided by one of my more experience athletes and I promised her I would be with her the whole way. As we swam, she got into a rhythm of freestyle, breast stroke and floating on her back. My goal was simple for get her there and back.

We got to the same buoy she had turned at on her first attempt and she thought about returning to the dock. I told her that was simply not an option. Today was her day to complete this and we were going to do kick at a time. She made it to the third buoy and finally to the other side of the lake where we celebrated. She had completed half the distance and got a breather on the beach.

As we stared back to the other side, you could tell what she was thinking in this moment. "Can I make it?" "Do I try?" "Will I drown??" "Im 50..this is crazy!!" she told me. I should be swimming with a noodle (a foam flotation that some of the swimmers were using). I told her the only noodles she would be enjoying that day were over lunch and NOT in this lake. You can't use a noodle during the race..why would you use it here!

We started off back across the lake and she had moments of doubt and accomplishment cross her face. She was scared...and she was elated. It was absolutely amazing to watch this determined woman make this crossing. Each stroke got her closer to her goal.

As we approached the could her our team screaming her name. She looked at me and said "Now they are embarrassing me!!" I told her to be proud...its not everyday you face your fear and complete a goal!!! She came up on the beach and highfived me and another swimmer, Lynne who had been swimming with her coach Jane!! She had completed what she thought was impossible.

We took pictures of her signing the ceiling in Lucky's Pool area...and also with her new swimming buddy, Lynne!! I got in my car and I was very proud of Ethee...and her team of triathletes.

As I drove home, I contemplated the morning's events and realized that is was for moments like this that God has brought me to coaching. I certainly don't look like the typical Triathlon Coach but I understand what its like to be slow. I know what its like to finish last..but the point today was...Ethee had the guts to start...and finish!

In this downtime that my body requires from surgery and as I enter a new phase of self improvement, I am honored and humbled to have wonderful men and woman that call me coach and bless me with experiences like I had today. I have no aspirations of coaching elite athletes...but I do have aspirations of coaching those with more heart and drive than any olympian!

As I walked back to my car, I past a vehicle with three stickers on the back window: one was an Ironman logo, one was the word TRI and the final one was a famous quote in the world of endurance sports

The miracle isn't that I finished the race. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.--John Bingham

And that, my friends, is what my world is all about!!

As always...Ill keep you posted