Gathering at the parking lot at the Deer Creek Reservoir trail head, I was teetering right on the very edge of a panic attack. I knew I had trained hard. HARD. I left nothing on the table. I did before hand what I needed to do before hand. I had done my hill repeats. I had tested out my hydration and nutrition. I had done speed work. I had tested out wearing the camel pack during the run. Mentally. Physically. Emotionally. I prepared. I knew I would be slow. I knew that I could do it. I knew that I would walk a LOT of the course. I knew all this as I paced the parking lot.
And yet I was certain as I paced that I would fail!
Don being pulled from his swim leg in the lake was banging around in my head like a drum. It was hot standing in the shade. I was flushed. I was freaked out.
I loaded my camel pack with the nutrition that I knew I would need. I put on the pack. I loaded my fuel belt with the Nuun that I would need. I knew that I was two containers short and wished that I had been able to find another two 10 ounce bottles to attach to my fuel belt. But I hoped I would not come to regret not having them. I put on the fuel belt. I loaded my phone and extra Gu in my phone belt. I didn’t know how long it was going to be until Jared got there on the bike so I grabbed my final piece of gear. Dad’s gardening hat.
The race coincided so closely with the two year anniversary of Dad’s death, and the closer it got to race day, the more I thought about Dad as I trained. I knew that I was going to be in full sun for most of my run and I worried that I would sweat off any sunscreen in a quick hurry, so I texted Mom and asked her if she knew where Dad’s hat was, and if she thought it would be OK if I wore it during my run leg. She was all too happy to bring it for me. She handed it to me at Jackie’s house when we were gathered there for our pre-race dinner.
I put the hat on after I finished gearing up and immediately the tears began to fall. I was already feeling a little over heated and I was scared. I was scared that the heat would get me to the point where I wouldn’t be able to finish this leg, or the rest of my legs. I was scared that the heat would get me and there would be no way to get me off the course. I was scared that I was going to have to leave on my run leg and not get to see or hug Melissa and Julie before I left. I was just scared. That, combined with the emotions of putting on Dad’s hat meant tears. I walked a little bit onto the trail where I would start my run so that I could pull myself together without the folks in the van having to witness me falling apart.
When I saw the Suburban pull around the corner, the relief was overwhelming. Melissa raced out of the van and over to me to hug me. The moment she embraced me, the tears started falling again. She hollered for someone to get her a bottle of water because she was going with me. I insisted that she couldn’t do that because she had her own VERY difficult legs to worry about without adding an additional 7.62 miles ahead of time. She would have nothing to do with my protests and had her water bottle in her hand about the time Jared came into the parking lot on the bike. I was wiping away my tears as my teammates strapped the baton onto my leg. I was just ready to head onto the trail when Julie came out of the van and yelled for me. I turned around so that could get a hug from her before I headed out. And then we were off. Me and my baby sister.
All the mental preparation to be alone on the trail was very happily not needed. The stress of this leg was greatly diminished as I headed onto the trail with my sister. The first mile or so was straight uphill and I told Melissa that I normally did a brisk five minute walk prior to running, and she assured me that it was fine. Whatever I needed to do, I should do. So we walked the five minutes and then took off on my ever-so-slow run pace.
It was hot. HOT. HOT. HOT! My goal was to do 8 minute run segments and 2 minute walk segments. Not once did I hit my 8 minute run goal. It started off being more like a 4/2. Did I mention it was hot? Before we hit the second mile mark I think I had mentioned how hot it was about a hundred times. Melissa said, “Just give me the bracelet and I will do this leg for you.” No. That was not acceptable to me. I adamantly refused and reminded her that this was my leg. It was the thing that I had trained for, and if I had to walk the whole way I would walk the whole way, but I would do this leg. She backed right off. I’m not sure what she was thinking. Maybe she thought I was worried I couldn’t finish because I kept commenting on the heat. And the heat was brutal! So very intense. But that’s just what I do. I WHINE about the heat. Melissa is a lizard and LIVES for the heat.
My plan along the way changed from timed intervals to Run Downhill/Walk Uphill. Then it changed again to run from shade to shade and walk through the shade while I drank my Nuun and water. Then, providing the sunny parts weren’t uphill, run some more. I have chuckled to myself that somewhere along the way my original 8 minute run 2 minute walk plan somehow got reversed to be 2 minute run 8 minute walk intervals. And that’s OK. As my walk segments got longer, I was totally OK with it.
About mile 4 there was a Doxa volunteer sitting in the shade with a cooler full of water. I happily took a cold bottle from him and dumped it over my neck, down my chest, and down my back. It helped so much to cool me down a little and gave me an extra boost.
I was glad to have Melissa along with me the second we stepped on the trail. But by this time of the race I knew that having her there was going the be KEY to me even being able to finish the leg.
When we hit mile 5 I noticed that the muscle that runs along my shin bone (what is that called?) began cramping up on the run segments in my left leg. It was fine while I was walking. But the runs caused a lot of tightening. It wasn’t really painful, but it was certainly noticeable. I was running low on Nuun and it was reinforced in my brain why I felt at the beginning that I needed those two extra bottles of it for my race.
I had brought a couple of instant ice packs because I knew that the heat was going to be an issue for me. I cracked open one of the packs (or had Melissa do it because my brain couldn’t figure it out) and put it in between my boobs. That got me through to about mile 6.5. The cramping in my shins were affecting both my legs by this point and I didn’t know that I was going to be able to run. I was still not having any pain in my legs while walking so I knew I would be able to finish. The bigger problem about mile 6.5 was the nausea that was starting to set in. I knew that this was NOT GOOD AT ALL!!! I know what nausea in the heat is a precursor for, and before I even finished my run leg, I began worrying about my bike ride. 33.13 miles on the bike. I had to focus on Melissa. She kept up a pretty good stream of chatter and was able to distract me from the thoughts of gloom and doom that were beginning to not just filter into my brain, but rush in like a roaring, cramp-filled, hot river.
We came up over a ridge and could see the parking lot. In the distance I could see a person going the wrong way on the trail. Melissa goes, “I think that’s Julie.” Just the thought that Julie was heading out to meet us gave me a lift. We did a little bit more running on the downhill slides. My calves were now starting to cramp up, but I was able to push through that as we would run downhill. There was a section right around this point with a long uphill climb. I stopped to catch my breath and Melissa, knowing that I was cramping in my calves, encouraged me to keep moving so I didn’t tighten up too much. I knew she was right so I kept putting one foot in front of the other and walked up that long hill.
The last mile was mostly shaded, and that was a welcome relief. I was still extremely nauseous, but without the sun beating down on me, I knew I was going to make it to the transition point. I also knew for sure that it was Julie heading towards us because of her wildly waving hands and funny little dancing jig that she did for us. Of course, that could have been a mirage from my heat exhausted brain. But we knew it was Julie. When we met up with each other she began quizzing me as to my physical state. I told her about the nausea and the cramping and she made me remove the camel pack. I insisted that the camel pack felt cool on my back and she said that may be the case, but it was extra weight that I needed to remove. So she took my pack and carried it. We dug through the pack to see what kind of food I had (besides the Gu because the Gu was really upsetting my stomach). She pulled out a Kind Bar. “Take a bite.” So I did. I walked and chewed on my Kind Bar. “Now drink some water.” I drank some water. “Now take a bite.” “Now have a drink.” “And now a bite.” “And another drink.” And on it went. One of the sisters called Jeff to have them send more water. I don’t recall who made the call, but before I knew it, Garrett was there with another water bottle as my sisters basically spoon fed and watered me. Without this help, I would not have been able to even get on the bike at Leg 19. I am 100% certain that my sisters saved my own personal Doxa. I will be forever grateful to them for being there when I most needed it. They talked me off many a ledge during my long training days before. But they WALKED me off the ledge when it came right down to it on race day. I’m so glad Melissa insisted on accompanying me on that very isolated, very hot Leg 14.
We crossed over the timing ramp arm in arm with all my teammates there to welcome us with hugs. I removed Dad’s horribly sweat soaked hat and handed it to Mom. She said, “You can keep it if you want it.” I declined, knowing that it hangs on the wall in her bedroom and gives her comfort. We hugged and cried and then I began to prepare mentally for my bike ride.