Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Scarlet DNF


The calm before the freak-out
I like to try new things because I feel there is always something to be learned from those experiences, even if we learn that we don’t like something. Yesterday I had to learn how it feels to DNF. Unlike poor Hester Prynne, no crowd gathered to disparage and mock me. In fact, I don’t think anyone there outside of my family knew or cared that I didn’t finish. But I care and right after I pass through this phase of humiliation and regret I hope to move on to learning how to handle other such freak-outs.

What really has me frustrated is that I base my courage to do a lot of things in life on my physical activities. I finished the MuckFest course, of course I can finish writing a novel in a month! I finished an Olympic distance triathlon, of course I can read my poetry out loud!

So if I use physical success to boost my courage in other endeavors, how do I apply a physical failure to other endeavors?

Presque Isle Triathlon

I registered for the Presque Isle triathlon a few weeks ago, excited about the flat, fast bike and run course. And the swim in the bay didn't worry me.

My run and bike training has been good but problems with the skin around my eyes has made it hard for me to get in the pool. In fact, I wasn’t allowed to swim with goggles for the first two weeks of August, so my swims were basically some half-effort head-above-water kicking and pulling drills.

As the race neared, I wondered if I should do it. We were out every night the week leading up to race. Then I had some kind of stomach distress on Wednesday and Thursday and I decided Thursday night not to do the race.

Friday I felt better and guilty for skipping the race. Two things happened: the race my husband wanted to do was sold out. And the Magic 8 Ball said “yes.”

The pit crew for Racer 161
So I scrambled last minute to get our hotel reservation back, pack up the three kids, pack up all my tri gear, get gas in the car and get dinner for the road. I made record time on the drive to Erie. We visited the race site Friday night. The water was cool but welcoming. Gentle waves caressed the pebbly beach. I found my transition rack and spent the evening prepping my gear and mentally reviewing my race plan.

Race morning we were rushing, but it couldn’t be helped. I squeezed my bike on the rack and laid out my gear. I found a fellow runner from Pittsburgh who was doing his first triathlon and gave him a pep talk, which I now feel was hypocritical and ironic.

The race director announced that the current was strong enough to change the direction of the swim. No problem - buoys on my right, not left. Yellow swim cap on. I cheered and clapped going into the fog-blanketed water. I was pumped! A small chill ran up my spine but the temperature was manageable. I could do this. I even had the multisport feature on my Garmin set correctly! I attempted a few freestyle strokes but waves crashed on my face. I spluttered and surfaced, frustrated. I decided to breaststroke to the start buoy.

We started. I tried my freestyle. Waves rocked me. I couldn’t get into a rhythm. I coughed and choked on water. Switched to breaststroke. My chest felt tight and I couldn’t get my face underwater. I would go under, breathe out, surface to breathe in and get more water in my face.

I started to worry, then get scared. The first buoy seemed so far away. And for the first time, I called to a guard for help. I clung to his float.

I started again. Made it to a kayak. The woman in the kayak talked to me calmly and it helped me relax a little. I got the courage to make the turn around the first buoy and she was waiting for me.

“You’re doing great,” she said as I clung to her kayak again.

I talked about my kids to the woman in the kayak. I told her how I had encouraged them to push past their fears in swim lessons this summer.

My foggy goggles made the next buoy seem far. I contemplated going for the next kayak, the white one.

The jet-ski and patrol boat hovered close. I couldn’t calm down. I said I wanted to stop. The woman in the kayak raised her paddle and the jet ski picked me up.

As soon as I climbed up on the deck of the jet ski, I regretted it.

I looked back and my first thought was “It’s not that far!”

But it was too late.

I emerged from the water and began the long walk of shame down the pier to let the race officials know I was out. I was sure everyone was staring at me and whispering “DNF” behind my back. It’s not like I was injured. I was just scared and couldn’t tap into any calming self-talk. Race volunteers who saw me sobbing gave me water and told me I could finish the bike and swim on my own, not officially timed. Maybe I should have, but at that moment my spirit was broken.

I felt guilty for dragging my husband and kids two hours to Erie to watch me fail. Later at lunch, I fished for reassurance from my husband asking him if he would be disappointed if I DNF'ed my lunch, too. He has been awesome through this whole challenging (disappointing!) experience.

With a little help from my friends.
And then of course, there's the boys. When they saw me crying, the boys burst into tears. I got lots of hugs even in my soggy wetsuit.

“I’m sorry you’re sad, Mommy,” my middle son wailed. “But can we still go to that sandy beach like you promised?”

I said of course, because life goes on.