Cape Henlopen Triathlon, June 12, 2016: I can turn it on

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"I hope it's not her."

After my swim coach Terrence Oakley completed Sunday's Cape Henlopen Triathlon and was waiting with my family for me to cross the finish, he told Mia that when he heard the announcement that a woman was missing her wetsuit, he was worried that woman might be me.

It was just before the National Anthem that I discovered that my wetsuit had disappeared. I looked everywhere around my then-tidy transition area, but it was 100 percent gone.

And I was 200 percent certain that I brought it with me.

My voice was trembling as I let the crew member with the microphone know that I was looking for my wetsuit. There was a slim chance that the suit would turn up before the race start. Already many athletes had begun the 1/2 mile walk to the beach. Only a few people would hear the announcement.

I saw Terrence for the first time that morning as I walked back to my spot.

"Can I do this without a wetsuit?" I asked him. Because the wetsuit kept me buoyant, it had become a safety issue, at least for me.

He hugged me.

Before he could answer, Mia, who had walked with me to the transition, called out to us and said she had the wetsuit. 

"It's here!!!!" There was a lot of wind that morning and the expected chaos. Someone had inadvertently picked up my wetsuit and returned it. I'd wished I could have seen who it was so I could say thank you.

I was in Chris Brown's yin yoga class at Equinox a few nights after the race when I was still struggling to put into words why it was important for me to finish a triathlon.

“You’re building a foundation so you can flourish in every other aspect of your life,” Chris said.

He was talking to the class, not to me directly, as we were holding pigeon pose for 5 minutes.

“Lean in to the sensation, and try not to make it a big story.”


I am actually finishing this.

I was halfway into the run on Sunday, the final leg of the race. That's when the notion that I was about to complete my first triathlon popped into my head out of nowhere. Most of the time, I have visceral memories of last year's attempt, which ended in a DNF.

I am actually finishing this, and I am never doing this again, I smiled to myself.

Because I am not a naturally anxious person, it didn’t occur to me until 5 days before the race that I was experiencing extreme anxiety related to the ocean swim. What I understand now was that my swim in the ocean during the Bethany Tri last year traumatized me, and by last Wednesday, I was unable to eat or drink or sleep. I called in sick at work because I was queasy and had an epic headache.

On Thursday night, Terrence coached me out of the pool after only 20 minutes. 

“Go relax,” he said.

“Should I stretch, take a walk?” 

“Just relax.”

At my physical therapy session on Friday after work, Kevin, sensing my level of anxiety, asked me if there was anything about my worries that was within my control. I know Kevin's a DPT and not the other kind of therapist, but perhaps because he's in the health care industry he's got some serious cognitive behavioral therapy chops.

My fear was mostly about being pulled under by a shark.

So no.

It turned out I was also worried about the bike. Even if I was able to perform well I could still run over a piece of glass and get a flat tire or my chain could break or a distracted driver could swerve into the bike lane and kill me.

So, again, no.

I felt better. On the drive to the beach Friday night, Bob and I chatted lightly and listened to music and podcasts.

I met Terrence in Rehoboth early Saturday morning for a practice swim in the ocean. We tried to go out as far as Terrence thought we'd need to during the race, and then we swam in both directions so I'd have the feeling of swimming against the current and with it. I was in a wetsuit, which made me more buoyant, so I think that's why I was able to practice floating on my back more easily than I expected. Terrence had been a Bethany Beach lifeguard for several years, so these waters were home for him. Even though the water temperature was cold (about 67 degrees), he seemed fine swimming without a wetsuit.

The experience raised my confidence, but at lunch with Mia and Bob at Nectar in Lewes on Saturday, the food looked awesome on the plate yet very little made it into my mouth. They joined me for the packet pickup at Cape Henlopen State Park, and we stayed for the brief orientation meeting and walked down to the beach where some of the athletes were getting ready for a group swim.

We had dinner at Mango's Saturday night, and I remembered what Kevin had suggested just before I left on Friday.

"Just think of it as a great time at the beach," he said.

We were sitting outside overlooking the Bethany boardwalk, which was full of people and there was live (not terrible) music in the bandstand. So with that thought in my head, I shared jerk chicken with Mia, and life felt good.

Here's my race report.

The Swim

The race director announced that for the first time in 6 years we would be swimming north to south instead of south to north. That meant I'd be breathing into the horizon, into the waves.

"It won't matter," Terrence said. "It's so calm out there, it's like a lake."

I did some stretching and gazed at the water, contemplating my situation.

I asked Terrence if he thought I should swim with my head out of the water for the first 50 yards so I did not have to worry about exhaling underwater until my cardiovascular energy system kicked in.

"No," he said. He demonstrated how lifting my head would ultimately constrict my airway.

"Swim with your head down just as we practiced," he said. And then he was gone, racing with the first wave.

I turned to Bob and asked whether my family history of aortic stenosis might be the cause of my breathing issues when I swim.

"No," he said. "But you can ask your doctor when you see her."

"If I have aortic stenosis would it be a problem if I push through?"


By then, it was my wave start, and I entered the water slowly. I began to swim with purpose, putting my head down, getting into a rhythm, and noticing my breath.

Soon I was at the first turnaround buoy and was swimming consistently. I had told myself I would take a break and float on my back in between the 1st and 2nd buoys but I didn't need to; I kept going. After the 2nd buoy I realized I was being carried away from the shore and I was farther and farther away from the line of the next buoy. I focused all of my energy on getting back in line and by then I was at the 3rd buoy.

Between the 3rd buoy and the final turnaround buoy, I floated on my back for a few seconds but then figured I'd be able to body surf into shore so I pushed through. 

Yet the current continued to pull me farther out, and I struggled to swim in to the shore. This was the most challenging part of the swim and the most unexpected.

As soon as I could, I touched the sand. My sense of elation was instantly eclipsed by searing pains in both of my calves. As I walked along the beach toward the pathway back to the transition area, I tried to figure out what was going on. Mia had my shoes waiting for me; I put them on and began to try to jog the 1/2 mile to the transition area to get my bike. There was so much lactic acid buildup in my muscles, and I just didn't know how long it would take for my body to recover and allow continued aerobic activity.

The Bike

I just want to say straight out that although I do not have a tri bike, I do have the most awesome Jamis Allegro and would be hard-pressed to find any bike that is as responsive and as much fun. When I took it for a tune up at CityBikes earlier in the week, we played with the gears to find the perfect combination so I could cover more ground with every rotation. Bob pointed out I've got small wheels so to speak so it takes more effort for me to cover the same distance as someone as tall as Terrence, for example, or someone with bigger wheels.

About halfway into the ride I thought at any moment we'd have the wind behind us. That was not to be as we rode directly into the wind the entire distance.

Still I had no issues, rode much faster than during my training rides even if swimmers who came in after me passed me regularly. I drank about half a bottle of water with Skratch powder and had a few segments of a California orange.

The Run

My calves didn't ease up until halfway into the run, so this was disappointing for me. While I was on the bike I could see there were many people walking instead of running and I wondered about that. Now that I was on the route, which was hot and sunny, I did a fair amount of walking myself.

As I entered the chute, on the grass, Terrence came out to sprint across the finish with me and that was a huge rush.

What I Did Well

  1. I did not perish
  2. I FREAKIN FINISHED!!! My official time: 02:05:14
  3. I did not come in last, although that would have been fine
  4. Of the 3 events, the swim was surprisingly my best effort
  5. I was coachable. Of course both Kevin and Terrence made that part easy. My work with Terrence in the pool and my breath work with Kevin were the big pay offs of this race
  6. I had a good attitude
  7. My Zoot Sports BYOB tri suit was clutch. When I look at the pictures it was a little pinker than I remember but hey if you're gonna put yourself out there you may as well, you know, put yourself out there

My Challenges

  1. My nutrition sucked; in my first conversation with Sue James, the Orioles team nutritionist, she told me about players who get anxious before games and have special diets for these times. I thought she was being melodramatic - boy I get it now
  2. I'm embarrassed that my transition from the swim to the bike took 6 minutes - most people take 2. That's down from 9 minutes in Bethany so I guess that's an improvement!
  3. My cycling - that'll be a goal in the coming month

Would I Do This One Again?

Bob: I can't wait to advertise your wetsuit on CraigsList

Me: I peed in it



Bob: I know where this is going

Terrence and I weren't in the water for very long on Saturday, but he had us going both north and south so we could experience swimming with the current and against it. And we practiced floating.

Terrence and I weren't in the water for very long on Saturday, but he had us going both north and south so we could experience swimming with the current and against it. And we practiced floating.

Yeah man that's my coach Terrence taking home a medal! 

Yeah man that's my coach Terrence taking home a medal! 

With Mia, seconds after my wetsuit reappeared!!

With Mia, seconds after my wetsuit reappeared!!

So happy to be a finisher and sooooo inspired by triathletes who compete at any distance!

So happy to be a finisher and sooooo inspired by triathletes who compete at any distance!

See you next time!