DNF. Did not finish.
At the end of the day, the best explanation remains that I came prepared to race with my head, not my heart. So when things went to shit in a leaky bucket, my head was smart enough to call it a day, and my heart wasn’t there to override it with impassioned stubbornness.
I don’t regret stopping after the bike; I regret that this race was not the race where I prove how much fitter I am.
I’ve brooded over this for hours; more than Not Regret, I’m almost proud of choosing to take a DNF under this particular set of circumstances. I’m cringing a little at those icky letters, but I still wouldn’t change what I did.
First and less significantly, the race was gutted. A bad weather system came through, so the Half Ironman 1.2mi swim, 56mi bike, and 13.1mi run turned into a just a 31mi bike and 13.1mi run. No swim?! How was I going to practice going all out? Where was my edge going to come from? I’d rather swim in 56 degree water than not swim at all. I came mentally prepared for a Half and motivated to PR a Half. Not do this thing, whatever it was. I felt miserable.
I also realized that my bike strategy changed from comfortably-uncomfortable-into-a-negative-split into HAUL ASS!! With no way to ask my coach about any of the proceedings (which I admit was rattling me; I was so afraid I was going to choose “wrong”), I assumed that’s what she would have advised with a shortened bike, so that’s what I would have to do: flat haul ass.
After brooding over my bike and having a giant argument with The Committee about what to do, I shed my jacket (no! I had shivering for hours!) and put on my bike shoes. I figured I’d practice my bike nutrition, practice pushing through the pain of a TT-esque bike effort, practice my bike-to-run transition, and more than anything, practice thriving during the run. I was worried that my already-stressed tibia would end up getting worse or finally fracturing, but surely it could survive just thirteen more miles. I told myself it would be worth it.
Second, the biggest problem emerged a couple minutes before we set out on a TT start: I had to pee.
Holy Mother of God and All Things Sacred, I had to PEE.
My desperate attempts to create a stockpile for the swim start (because duh I was going to pee in my wetsuit) and to rehydrate during the delay had backfired with a burning viciousness; for the first time in my life, I was fully prepared to pee on the bike. I knew that the minute I gave my body permission, it would happen. But since the swim was cancelled, the entire field was clumped together behind me, and over half a dozen bored officials were patrolling half the distance they were meant to cover.
I looked, but never was there a stretch of road where I could piss myself without ruining the day of at least two or three people drafting behind me (those shits) or about to pass me (those shits), and despite how much I FUCKING HAD TO PEE, that would be unconscionably rude.
So, most those roads are bumpy. Those roads are notoriously bumpy. Every time I hit a bump (a sizable *WHA-BUM* that rattled bottle cages every 2-3 seconds–yes I counted Mississippis–on ⅔ of the course), I had to clamp down on that pee even harder. And the winds were ripping, so I was already clenching my bike like mad trying not to get blown off the road when the trees gaped. This was beginning to feel like a terrible idea. Would it really have been so bad to sacrifice 1 minute to the Blue Box of BM? In hindsight, probably not.
But not until somewhere between bump 10,000 and 20,000 did I realize that I was in a lot of pain, and it wasn’t my biking muscles. It was my groin muscles; I’d been mistaking the burning in my inner thighs with the burning in my bladder and legs, and I had inadvertently let my split drop by assuming that the burning was just from effort. With only 10 miles to go, I was determined to keep my racing partner behind me and clock a proper split I could own, so I just clamped down harder and sent every bit of energy I had into making that bike fly (and not peeing).
When I got into T2, I staggered my bike over to its spot, racked it, changed my helmet for my hat, clipped on my race belt, changed into my running shoes, grabbed my run nutrition… and then penguin-waggled my way over first to the ports-potty (OH THANK THE GODS) and then to the official to turn in my timing chip. T2 transition completed.
I was done.
This race was no longer worth it to my head, and my heart wasn’t there to suggest otherwise. I didn’t want it badly enough to fight anymore. Am I making excuses? Judge how you like.
The weirdest part is my rationale: I didn’t want to risk the upcoming months for a gutted course. How would I train as effectively as possible for my Channel crossing in September with another injury? How much time would my coach and I lose building my run for next season if I fucked something here by being stubborn about a Never DNF rule? For once, I had priorities AFTER the race that needed consideration.
I could devise my own damn 70.3 on my island and do it on my own damn time if I needed to, but I couldn’t undo any damage I’d do running on whatever it was that kept me from lifting my knees. (It is clearly a tweaked inner thigh/groin at this point: I can’t go up stairs or climb into a car without cussing, and I walk like a challenged penguin. Yes, I’ve taken my NSAIDs and have been sitting with a bag of ice shoved between my legs every couple hours since I waggled over to the medical tent and demanded one the instant I left T2.) After fighting all week to motivate myself for the race and fighting all morning to accept the race changes with at least determination if not a positive attitude, I was done fighting.
My original plan was to race from grief. Someone I love dearly is leaving for good this week, and my heart aches. If I think about it too much, it feels like my sternum is developing fault lines and my throat is closing. So, I figured I’d just layer the emotional pain with physical pain and blaze through this triathlon from some suicidal death-wish, the aggrieved flight of someone who just doesn’t give a damn anymore.
Would this plan have worked and given me the time improvements I was looking for? Maybe. It’s worked before. Do I want to encourage that kind of mentality? Maybe not.
Is it a sign that I’m stronger in some important way that Things That Happen After The Race merit consideration now, that I chose to sacrifice This Right Now for some hypothetical In The Future? I think so. Honestly, this shift might be more important than any run I could have clocked today or any day. Coach said to take the lessons, look to tomorrow, and be positive, so here is the best I’ve got: little by little, I think I’m starting to believe in a future beyond the next finish line.
P.S. Bonus: I got to be there for my dad’s run turnaround in his first big triathlon as well as the finish, and he admitted that he was really happy to see me there cheering for him. Today was his day.